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Understanding Glass Art & its Techniques

Example of blown glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly, a contemporary master of Glass Art
Dale Chihuly, Garden and Glass, Seattle Museum, Washington. Jiaqian AirplaneFan, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Charlotte Lydia Stace

“I want people to overwhelmed with light and colour in a way they have never experienced.”

Dale Chihuly

Glass art has been with us for thousands of years, and still remains a prominent creative medium of contemporary art

So, what is glass art? This medium includes artworks that are either partly or entirely made of glass. Works may include glass vases, stained windows, and pieces of jewelry. Yet, it’s not only the objects that are created from glass that are interesting but also the varying methods in which this art can be made. While we may all be familiar with glassblowing, we may be less so with other styles such as fused or knitted glass art. 

But when did the making of glass art begin? Glass-making can be traced back to at least 3,600 years ago in Mesopotamia, but the discussion on where the first true glass was made is still open among academics. Nevertheless, the use of glass for functional and decorative purposes has never ceased to exist, and craft techniques have developed and expanded over the centuries. Glass art production has captured the zeitgeist of different eras such as the Middle ages, with the magnificent examples of stained glass windows in Gothic churches, monasteries, and cathedrals across Europe or, later on, the early-20th-century spirit with the signature Art Deco and Art Nouveau decoration motifs, or also the experiments run by the American Studio Glass movement.

Read on to dive into the different techniques and styles of glass art. 

Example of Art Nouveau stained window, 1898-1899
Art Nouveau window by Józef Mehoffer, Fribourg Cathedral, 1898-1899

Glass Art Techniques

From antiquity to the 21st century a number of different glass art techniques have been employed by artists around the world. Let’s explore these in more detail.

Blown glass

Blown glass art is created by molding molten glass into different designs. The glass is molten before the artist uses a metal pipe (or blowpipe) to blow air down into the molten glass to create a bubble that can be shaped into the most creative designs. Among today’s masters of blown glass is American artist Dale Chihuly, who created world-famous works such as Pacific Sun (2011) and later the Glasshouse Sculpture (2012) in Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle.

Blown-glass sculture by Dale Chihuly titled 'Pacific Sun' at the Dale Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle.
Dale Chihuly, Pacific Sun (2011) and Glasshouse Sculpture (2012) at Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle.

Flame-worked glass

Flameworking, also known as lampworking, is a technique involving the use of a torch (or a lamp) to melt the glass and then shape it using specialized glassworking tools. Most notably, flame-worked glass art became popular in 14th-century Murano, and in the mid-19th century it was extended to France for the production of paperweights realized by working bits of colored glass with a torch into the shape of flowers, fruit, or stylized animals, then incorporated into a glass dome.

Cast glass 

Another technique commonly used is cast glass – or glass casting. This method creates objects by channeling molten glass into a pre-designed mold. Following this, the glass is left to solidify. It is an approach to creating glass art that has been in use for a long time. In fact, historians have dated its development back as far as the 15th century BCE in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Example of glass art: a kiln cast glass sculpture by NZ artist Sue Hawker
A kiln cast glass sculpture by NZ artist Sue Hawker, Wikipedia Commons.

Fused glass

Fused glass art is made by literally fusing different pieces of glass together in a kiln. In some cases, the glass may be completely molten down until the two initial pieces mix together. Yet, in other cases, the glass may be molten to the point that it becomes ‘sticky’ so that the artist can create particular designs, shapes, and patterns. 

Stained glass art

A commonly seen form of glass art is stained glass. Due to the captivating effect of sunlight shining through the stained glass panels, the technique is particularly associated with the windows of churches and other significant places of worship, especially those built during the Gothic era. Stained glass is colored using metallic oxide coloring agents such as copper or cobalt, which are added to the molten glass and mixed to create the desired shade of color.

The Notre Dame’s Stained Glass Rose Window
The Notre Dame’s Stained Glass Rose Window, Paris, Wikipedia Commons. 

Cold glass 

While the previous methods of making glass artworks have all involved the use of heat, cold glass art, as the name suggests, does not. Instead, different techniques are used to create the artworks, including engraving, polishing, etching, and cutting. Such methods rely on changing the shape or surface of the glass without heat in order to create the desired effect. 

Knitted glass 

A fairly new addition to the field, knitted glass has been made famous by just a few practitioners. One of those is Seattle-based glass artist, Carol Milne. Since 2006 she has been creating knitted glass through a process that involves knitting, mold making, and kiln casting. Firstly, she creates a wax sculpture of the object she would like to produce in a special type of mold which is used in hot temperatures. Then, she uses steam to melt down the wax, leaving an empty space inside the mold. She adds glass to it, which has been heated down, and waits until it cools. Then, she can shape it to form her knitted pieces of yarn that loop around needles. 

Broken glass art

Broken glass art simply uses pieces of broken glass to create the desired artistic effect. For instance, mosaics often use pieces of colored broken glass to create art. These are commonly found on walls, floors, and even home decorations. Similarly, some artists have used it to adorn tableware or pottery with intricate designs. In many cases, the artist will take sheets of glass, break them into smaller pieces, and use the pieces to create new designs.

Relevant sources to learn more

Related articles on Artland Magazine
Read about Louis Comfort Tiffany: The American Glass Art Innovator

Other relevant sources
Learn more about the American Studio Glass Movement

Wondering where to start?