I consider Michael Barley to be one of my two main glass mentors (the other one is glass goddess, Kim Osibin). I was fortunate to have taken a workshop in Port Townsend, WA July 2005 at Michael's studio. I only spent two days under his watchful eye but since then we have kept in touch regularly! Last year, I wrote an artist profile on Michael for Beadwork Magazine's October issue. Before that trip, I was still working full-time and then after my first Tucson exhibit, I knew I could not place glass as the second priority much longer. So the trip to Port Townsend was a very special turning point in my glass journey.
Once upon a time, I worked as a senior quality assurance engineer at a computer display company. The company was downsizing and their focus was no longer on "quality" but on profit, so the entire department was eliminated on April 20, 2005. I was only six days shy of being there ten years. So much for sticking in there and working towards that company logo (I think it was gold) watch. Too bad for them but good for me. While other long time employees received the same news and cried upon being laid off, I jumped for joy inside. I had been working towards becoming full time with my glasswork, but had planned to make the leap in 2007 or 2008. Well, sometimes things happen in our lives for a reason and Father Time was telling me to get to it.
One of the engineering directors also got let go and quickly took a position in a competing company just a few blocks away. He asked me in an email several weeks later, "Do you need a job?". I happily replied (paraphrasing my original reply but these were the sentiments) "No, I think it's time to leave the corporate world and engineering to work on my glass. BUT I will call you, if for some reason things don't work out." I haven't made that call yet, haven't looked back and don't miss the corporate world at all. Does it matter that I went to school all those years to get a BSEE only to work on glass now? Are you kidding? Besides, working with glass is very technical and so my engineering skills have not gone for naught.
What does this have to do with Michael Barley? I consider Michael's class as the first I have taken (outside of the initial beginning lampwork classes I took at the San Gabriel Bead Company so I would learn the basics and how not blow up the garage.) I consider myself predominantly self-taught but this also means I have unconventional beadmaking habits that may be wrong to some but right to me. Hey, if the results are the same, does it matter how you get there? Well maybe.
Last week, I received a Japanese Volcano Air Torch from Michael. He had an extra torch from a Japanese friend that taught at his studio earlier this year. When I recently voiced that I was "tempted" to play with Satake glass, Michael offered the torch to me with all the accoutrement. It was just the natural next step to jump in and get the right gear. I love new toys and gadgets so couldn't resist! And thanks to Michael, I now have the right tools and will work on the right skills soon. I really won't have time to play with the torch but when I do, it is here waiting for me!
The flame SHOOTS vertically up, which will take some time getting used to. I've lit the torch up, at a safe distance, a few times just to make sure everything was working. I've successfully made two simple spacer beads as well.
Why another torch? Satake glass is very soft with a COE (coefficient of expansion) of 120. The higher the COE, the softer the glass. As a comparison, Moretti/Effetre and Vetrofond has a COE of 104, Gaffer/Spectrum/Reichenbach has a COE of 96, Bullseye has a COE of 90 and Northstar/Glass Alchemy has a COE of 33. American torches would boil and bubble the Satake glass, as we tend to work hotter. Besides, have you seen the lovely Satake lead glass palette? I'm a color junkie and was converted instantly after seeing some of the beautiful Satake beads Michael makes. Not many American bead artists are using Satake, although the numbers are growing, so another enticing prospect. Besides, I'm a gigantic fan of Japanese esthetics and arts, so if I am going to discover tonbodama (Japanese beadmaking) then I might as well do it with Japanese glass and a Japanese torch!
What's neat about this torch is that it is an "air" torch. The torch only requires propane and air to work. An air pump is used and is so much more quieter than my Puritan Bennett oxygen concentrators! The softer flame also means one will be working slower but the rewards for patience is overwhelming.
The fantabulous Craig Milliron of Arrow Springs, an engineer's dream and magical toolmaker, was nice enough to entertain my emails on Satake's annealing schedule. Now my kiln is programmed and ready to go. It will take some time until I'll be ready to launch any bead series with Satake but it is something to look forward to. So, let the Satake adventures begin.
Now if only I can engineer a way to add more time to a day so I can pump up the volume on my production schedule. Hmmmm...