The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry, and a wise friend’s timely reprimand is like a gold ring slipped on your finger. Proverbs 25:12 (The Message)
John Phillips who Julie and I took lessons from was such an interesting man. If you ran into him at the Post Office, Subway or “The Goodwill” which he often frequents, you would probably draw conclusions about him that might not be kind. Or accurate. Thick about the waist, near sighted and speaking with a very heavy southern accent, someone who did not know him might simply label him a hick and be dismissive. What a shame for they would miss getting to know a brilliant, creative man. John knows the names, colors and numbers of every piece of glass in his huge shop by memory and can rattle off firing schedules for any kind of glass vessel or design without hesitation. He can diagnose what happened good or bad in a kiln with only a few pieces of information and a description of the final product. John is innovative and designs and builds time saving tools. He is very creative making beautiful pieces in either fused or stained glass. If you have ever traveled on Princess Cruise Lines, you have likely seen his work as he designs and builds most of the decorative glass work for their ships. John has studied with the “Masters” of glass art and is well recognized throughout the country for his work. If it is made of glass, he knows how to create it. Even more than his artistry, he is known for his teaching ability. People come from all over the nation to take classes with him. He practices just the right balance of letting a student experiment with giving sage advice and practical teaching to help make sure the finished product turns out well. He operates a well run and organized shop and is strict about some things like making sure tools are returned to the correct place and the glass must be cleaned thoroughly and not touched with bare hands before firing, but he is also generous with his supplies and tools and is willing to share everything he has with his students. Above all, John is a kind and gentle man who seeks to encourage everyone who comes across his path. I doubt that the people of the tiny town of Otto, North Carolina know what a treasure he is as an artist. But, he is well loved by his friends. In turn, he supports his local community’s organizations and businesses. We were blessed to be able to study with him for three and a half days. John is living proof that you cannot judge a book by its cover. On the way home from Fire and Light Studios, Julie and I started making a list of everything we learned from John Philips. We stopped at fifty, but could have gone farther if our journey had been longer. If you are not a glass fuser, this may not make sense to you, but the advice here comes from John’s lifetime of experience and was more precious to us than gold.
50 Things John Taught Us
1. When cutting curves or circles, make “relief” cuts, smaller curves, to give the scored glass a place to run to and prevent breakage.
2. After scoring a circle, turn the glass over, push along the score with your thumb to ease the glass into the cut.
3. Keep your glass flat when breaking. Pull it slightly off the table, but keep it flat.
4. Begin breaking at the end of the score.
5. Cover Sharpie marks with Chap Stick to keep them from rubbing off in the grinder or saw.
6. Take the extra step and time and fuse your base first for a cleaner piece of glass.
7. Look at your tool and make sure you are using the right side!
8. Mosaic cutters work great for nipping small pieces of glass away.
9. Slow the increase of temperature in your kiln for draped pieces. Take your time, don’t rush.
10. Prepare a metal container for draping by first sandblasting. Heat the metal with a torch between coats of kiln wash. Prepping the container well first keeps you from being sorry later.
11. When using a torch to pull glass into smaller shapes, heat the glass first with the “invisible flame” to keep it from cracking. Heat large pieces SLOWLY.
12. Weaving glass is a four layer process. 6 strips, 6 strips, 5 strips and then, 5 strips.
13. When cutting strips, make sure you have a right angle first. If you don’t, all strips will be off mark and end up diagonal.
14. Helioglass.com has instructions for making a strip cutter. No need to pay $250 for a premade one! They also have instructions for attaching a jar to mosaic cutters.
15. Don’t grind! Cut more accurately and use mosaic cutters for nipping. Grinding just leaves smudges on the glass.
16. Artistry over accuracy.
17. Draw your pattern onto kiln paper, then, glue pieces directly to the kiln paper. That way the pattern will hold together upon transfer to the kiln. The glue will hold the piece together and will then, burn away.
18. Remove the bit guard on your grinder and replace with a bigger sponge.
19. You can glue and fuse right away. No need to wait for glue to dry.
20. After sandblasting glass, rinse and dry the piece thoroughly to avoid water marks. Store it carefully, sandblasted side up.
21. Vent your kiln well. Don’t breathe the fumes (even if it smells good).
22. You can reuse kiln paper sometimes.
23. To make a color bar mold, build a “box” of clear glass taped together with scotch tape. Fill with colored scraps. The tape will burn away in the kiln.
24. Make sure the clear top layer over diachronic is large enough to cover and allow shrinkage or avoid having to grind. Only put glue close to the edge.
25. Glass tab is good for gluing in place when your design is laid out and you don’t want to move pieces.
26. Watch copper and silver inserts because they will react to some glasses.
27. Keep track of your firings and what glass you use to be able to recreate success or avoid failures.
28. Do test runs of new glass. Know your glass. Know your kiln.
29. Use dressmakers paper to draw a pattern and lay glass on top of it for cutting.
30. Iridescent glasses do not need covers and are harder than plain glass and will not soften as much.
31. Use sewing machine oil to keep cutters lubricated.
32. Do not use regular glass cleaners to clean glass before fusing. Alcohol and water works best.
33. Baby oil helps to hold powdered glass into a design.
34. If you are not sure two pieces of glass will be compatible, put a piece of kiln paper between them to avoid cracking.
35. To sift powdered frit onto glass, rub the handle of the sifter with your finger or a knife to get even coating.
36. Use a blender to make your own frit!
37. Fuse clumps of frit to make trees and bushes, then tack fuse to base.
38. Break a project down into steps and fuse more than one time. Don’t try to make a project all in one firing.
39. Make large fused pieces, then cut into cabochons, refine with belt sander and then, fire polish. Save all scraps for future projects.
40. Glass work takes PATIENCE. You can’t rush glass.
41. Two layers of glass work better than one and give a smoother finish.
42. Use stringer to make striped glass.
43. When making geometric shapes, fill with frit in between for a smoother finish.
44. When making and intricate pattern like a quilt, start cutting from the center of the pattern or draw the pattern on paper first.
45. Score metal inserts with a pen or embosser.
46. Remember French Vanilla glass is harder and will not soften as much as other glasses.
47. To make small beads for eyes, heat a piece of stringer in the torch until it melts and drops onto the table. Roll it until it cools.
48. Use frit to make shadows in pictures.
49. Use clear to make subtle patterns over colored transparent glass.
50. Make a paper pattern first whenever possible to keep from wasting glass.