Apr 10, 2014

In the summer of 2010, during a particularly hot week, I decided to spend a little time in my studio and make something easy and relaxing, like a murrini (yeah, right…). I had been making a new style of “Ocean Beads” over the last month, but all of my beads were “Japanese Ocean Beads”: All the fish in the area are Sushi.. so, the only “fishy” stuff in my beads is starfish, sea turtles, jellyfish, Mantis shrimp (!)… I felt something “ordinary” would be needed.

Deciding WHAT fish to make was not an easy feat – something not all too complicated (like a triggerfish) for example, something not too boring (like a shark, which is mostly just grey and a distinctive shape…), so I settled on a clownfish. Not an uncomplicated choice, since one might accuse me of trying to copy Pati Walton, but on the other hand it’s a good and “obvious” choice, because of the distinctive colors and pattern, so, even if you mess up the shape and other things, it’s still recognizable as “Nemo”.

First I did my image research – it’s always good to have something to look at when building a Murrini:

When I looked for the images on Google, I noticed one strange thing about myself: whenever I make something “alive” on a bead (except for the frogs) – I have to have it look to the left! (I guess I should have flipped the top picture in Photoshop). I wonder whether it has something to do with being right-handed, but I could not imagine making a fish Murrini where the fish looks to the right. As if it makes a difference. ..

When planning a Murrini from nature, one decision is how detailed you want to make it. In this case, what to do with the pectoral fin (the fin that appears in the front half of the body…)?! I looked at some pictures of other people’s clownfish murrini (there are quite a few), and most people pretty much ignore it (which, looking back, I wholeheartedly agree with!).

Pictures of Clownfish

It doesn’t look like much of a big deal to throw that little detail in there, in reality, it’s a huge hassle, especially since you have to create a concave curve – and while I was holding on to an already much too big mass of glass, I was scrambling to find something to create the curve – none of my marvers would do… I finally dug out a big ring mandrel that did a decent job, but just as I pulled it out from a pile of other rarely used tools my Murrini-to-be started cracking and I spent 20 minutes with damage control.

My first “directive” in making the Murrini was: START SMALL. And pick the right glass. I have so many different shades of orange – of course, as it turned out in the end, I picked the wrong shade. It wasn’t really orange (I figured out too late), but one of those endless variations of coral Effetre got carried away with, and while the rods looked decidedly orange while there were in rod-shape, in the final Murrini they are more like a muddy peachy yellow. Not good.

Then for the white, I had a choice of Effetre/Vetrofond white – and CIM white. I picked CIM, because it’s a lot stiffer than Effetre, and since I had to start the Murrini with white (the way I learned to make Murrini, you always start in the center of the design), I thought I’d be better off with the stiffer CIM white. In the final fish, the white doesn’t look crisp white anymore, more mucky grey. Not good.

But all of this is something I didn’t know yet during the process, so, at this point, I was still quite happy, about 2 hours into it. Or was it three? It seemed forever.

I came to the point where I hadn’t even reached the face or the tail yet, and already the mass in my left hand was almost too heavy to carry, so I called in for support: roommate Sheri.

Sheri has no interest whatsoever in making beads, but she has been helpful several times in keeping something hot for a few minutes. So she didn’t mind stepping in so I could shake out my hand and have a sip of water.

(Is that a look of contemplation? Panic? Or just the fact that Sheri temporarily misplaced her glasses and couldn’t see a thing….?)

As the FTB (Fish-to-be) continued to grow, I had a fantastic idea (or so I thought): I would bring in my Soup ladle! What on earth is that? No, not a new tool I have up my sleeve – but it’s literally a soup ladle that I stole from my friend Mary Garcia. During my last class in Gilroy, someone mentioned that Michael Barley is using a soup ladle to enhance the heat around a larger bead. I found that the soup ladle wasn’t only great for getting more heat from the torch – but it was also great to “rest” the murrini mass in it and get a little break for a few seconds.

Speaking of break, if you are ever in a similar situation as I was, keep the following in mind: just because something goes well for two minutes, don’t count on it still being well after three minutes! (kind of like falling off a skyscraper and being fine after 30 floors…)

Since at this point I was already 4 hours into this (not YET cursed) adventure, I needed to use the bathroom. “SHEEEEEEEEEEEEEERI”…..I handed her the punty, the soup ladle, short instructions, and I took off.

When I came back, there was a timid “hmmm, I think I got stuck” from behind the torch. That must have been the understatement of the year, Sheri didn’t only melt part of the Murrini to a degree that it had wrapped itself around the edge of the ladle, but the stainless steel ladle itself had melted and stuck thoroughly to the FTB. Here is a picture of what the ladle looks now:

For the next hour (by now it was midnight) I tried to get the Murrini un-stuck and peel off the metal stuck to the outside – a process during which the Punty with which I was holding the by now insanely heavy mass on the left, broke – and the Murrini blob landed first on my lap – and then underneath a shelf, where I had to crawl underneath my workbench, put out the flames from Sheri’s stray candy wrappers, AND figure out which of my tweezers/pliers/knitting needles would open wide enough to grab the fist-size mass of smoldering glass.

Here are some pictures of things that got burned in the process of attempting to make an innocent clownfish (if there is ever a restaurant with clownfish on the menu, I shall order a double helping!!!!!). All of this disaster was NOT caused in that first drop, but during the consecutive FIVE other times, the FTB landed on my lap (that was only the first step of the downward spiral) – and the floor.

With all the strange things going on during this process, my PANTS are actually the biggest surprise! You can barely see a burn mark, and when I checked the composition (all of my work pants are from the thrift store, 100 % cotton, or so I thought) – this particular pair (fuzzy on the inside), was 50 % cotton, 50 % polyester. Who would have thought?

The fake leather of my travel tool bag that was on the bottom shelf didn’t fair as well (quite glad THAT wasn’t my lap..):

And not much more luck for the base of my marver block, as well as the fire-proof airline fabric covering my wrist wrest.

As you can see, there was a flaming inferno in my studio. And still, I didn’t give up. I just took a break – by sticking the FTB into the kiln, taking a shower (mostly to get the smell of burning material out of my nose), and going to bed. Tomorrow is another day.

Good night!

So, are you ready to get this thing over with? I sure was, making sure to have a bottle of water close at hand, and visit the bathroom first – and I stepped up to the kiln.

Before we can take the FTB out and stick it back into the flame, a short “discourse” on keeping something hot in the kiln in order to work on it later. This process is called “garaging”, and this expression could not possibly have been chosen by an American, because American garages are way too full with “stuff” to be able to garage anything else in them, even things smaller than cars. So, Garaging must have been invented by a German, although, on second thought, Germans wouldn’t put anything BESIDES a car into a garage, so, the origin of the expression stays a mystery.

Nonetheless, American flame workers garage things all the time, and one of the many useful things I learned from Loren Stump 10 years ago was to keep a garaged item HOTTER than annealing temperature. More like 1100 degrees, rather than 950, to minimize the shock of taking something out of a hot kiln and sticking it into a MUCH hotter flame.

The thing I DID not learn in the previous 10 years is how to re-program a kiln-controller, but at least I learned how to reel in the proper boyfriend, so Todd talked me through pushing the right buttons (a skill I am usually quite proficient at…) – and my kiln was happily climbing up the temperature ladder (me silently praying that it would stop at where I set it – AND come back to my annealing temperature eventually) – since I had programmed it to “soak” for one hour at 1100 degrees I walked away to practice my cherry-pit skills (does this sound like I am leading up to a disaster?)

When I eventually came back, wrapped in cotton clothing like a mummy, well hydrated and chipper – the kiln temperature was at 660 degrees, I had missed my one-hour window and had to start over.

The next time I checked, it read “1085” degrees and I decided that was good enough. Speaking of “checking” (and you can tell this WILL be a lengthy story since there are all those things I HAVE to mention first….it’s called “verbal procrastination”, and I’m good at this even in real life, which is why I missed my one-hour soaking window. To tell you the truth, I had a mile-long list in my head of things I would RATHER be doing…), but back to the checking – remember yesterday, how my FTB kept breaking off the punty and went into hiding under my furniture?! Part of the problem (no, THE problem) was the fact that I didn’t use Borosilicate for the punties. Not that I didn’t HAVE any clear Borosilicate, but – again, blaming it on someone else – a couple of years ago Sheri decided to surprise me and sorted my clear glass. Her idea of “sorting” it was to grab all the different piles of thick clear rods laying around and putting it into a nice bundle with a pretty tie around it….about 5 pounds of it. I never took the time to figure out which was soft glass and which was Borosilicate, but now, faced with the need for long, thick clear rods, I just grabbed something from that “mystery bundle”, and prayed.

Well, my prayers weren’t heard, so every 10 minutes or so it went “crack” and I kept picking the blob up from the floor, using my soup ladle as a “catcher”….telling myself every time “this is the LAST time, the next time, it’s the bucket!!! I don’t think any self-respecting clownfish likes the idea of dying in a bucket, so from then on, it “stuck” (and I finally hit pay-dirt and got ONE rod of Borosilicate, which made the whole endeavor that much easier). I actually JUST got off the phone with Frantzartglass, to order a pound of Borosilicate, which I shall have Sheri mark with a little wrap of duct tape at one end).

Now you would think I had smooth sailing till pulling it out – but far from it. When the blob fell, a few times it touched the tip of my torch, and accordingly some glass got stuck there and plugged up some of the jets. Never a good idea to just ignore that, but a) I had no time to take care of it, and b) it would probably take me just as long to find my torch cleaning wire as it took me to make the FTB so far…

Unfortunately, now the outer layer of clear around the fish started to get “sooty”. I had used the ASK clear I got a while back from Arrow Springs, the stuff that was very cheap (like $ 5.99/ pound), and very not compatible with anything else but itself. Ah, I figured, for Murrini it will be just fine since it’s only a small amount compared to the big mass, but I haven’t used it enough to know how it would hold up while being heated for a long time (some glass just doesn’t like that, understandably). Maybe the “soot” was caused by the fact that some of the jets were plugged up and looked like long yellow candles, maybe just the fact that I was using a relatively big torch (a Nortel RedMax) with a medium “grade” concentrator, and there was just not enough oxygen to burn a clean flame.

Be the reason what it may, the outside of my FTB was now brownish grey, and nothing I did made a difference, I had already peeled off so much clear that I was nearly touching the outer fin, so, gee, what the heck. Maybe once I pulled this sucker out, the soot would only be a smidgen around the outline and I could hide it behind some seagrass or a coral or two…..

Major decision here: give up, put it all in the kiln as a testimony for a) bad planning b) too big of an ambition c) inferior equipment and d) not sufficient stamina – or just hang in there and hope for the best.

Okay. Hanging in there. The next (and almost last) step was to heat the literally fist-size mass enough to be able to pull it out (poor Sheri, I “commanded” her to stay close by, to make up for getting this thing stuck in the first place.) After an hour of heating, and NOTHING whatsoever moving inside my mass, I let her go, just making sure to have her phone close by… I gave it another half an hour, trying to get the heat to travel to the core of the fish while keeping the outside “in shape”….and then after the second hour, I just had it. It moved a tiny bit in the blob, hopefully, there was enough heat to get something going – pull, or the bucket.

And pull we did – so hard we could barely hold on to the punties….first, not much happened, but then it was almost like something inside the glass decided to “let go”, and Sheri stumbled backward…and anyone who has ever listened to Loren Stump can guess what’s to come: we basically pulled the majority of the murrini too thin. Now I have a lifetime supply of Clownfish babies…in dull colors. Here is a look at one of the thicker ends:

(You can see how little clear glass is left around the top of the fish. Hmmm, in this picture the orange doesn’t look all THAT bad, neither does that white…)

Here is the entire “bundle” of Murrini I managed to “cold pull” (had I spent the proper amount of time to heat the blob, I think I could have gotten about twice as much. But I felt that my torch (with the concentrator) was just at its limit on how hot it could get this thing…)

Of course, now I had to know how this disaster-fish would look like in a bead, so I nipped off a few slices of the thinnest end (nipping or cutting Murrini is a whole story in itself, the CorinaRopex nippers are doing a great job for small murrini, but when the diameter approaches 1/2 inch or so, you have to use a saw. I recently purchased an Inland Swap-top machine, but when I tried to put the circular saw to work, it literally shredded the Murrini, so now I have to spend some more money and get a super-thin diamond saw blade….) and made a small sample bead:

As you can see, these fish, the first one I applied, was a disaster. The murrini slice was a little too thick around the head, so I tried to gently heat it and “push” the edges only the bead, but that just smeared the glass. The second one turned out much better, I spot- heated the base bead and pushed the Murrini into the hot glass, which made him almost flush with the bead before I started the encasing.
Another look at the backside:

The orange is actually not as bad as I thought, but the white indeed is not really white, but more grayish. Overall, Mr. Fish turned out better than I thought, after all he had to go through to be born, but it will be a while before I attack another Fish Murrini.

To sum it all up, in case YOU feel inclined to give it a go, some tips gained from this experience that might make your life easier:

To sum it all up, in case YOU feel inclined to give it a go, some tips gained from this experience that might make your life easier:

  1. Make sure you start the M early in the day, it WILL take longer than you think
  2. Work from a picture, but don’t get hung up on too much detail, sometimes just getting the “defining features” of a creature right is good enough.
  3. Great tip from my friend Anne, who learned it from Beau Anderson: make a sketch in the size of the gather that you can think you can handle (or xerox-shrink or enlarge the image you’re working from) – that shows you how big to start.
  4. Make sure not to have too many flammable things on the floor. Wear a leather apron.
  5. Have a bottle of water at hand.
  6. Don’t use a color or glass you’re not familiar with
  7. Steal or buy a soup ladle, it will come in very handy, as long as it’s in YOUR hands
  8. Use Borosilicate punties, 12mm or more in diameter
  9. Don’t let anyone else “organize” your glass.
  10. Don’t make the gather bigger than your torch can handle. Maybe even rent a bottle of oxygen for the occasion
  11. Don’t pull your murrini too thin.
  12. Train a family member to keep glass hot, if not, be prepared to pee your pants to get it finished.

Now I can only hope that this cane will last me forever…..so I don’t have to make another one any time soon…..