Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Galaxy of Blues: Coloring on the Blue Galaxy Swirl beads


Each of the memorial beads pictured in this post is a Blue Galaxy Swirl, made by me, Christine Hansen...but as you can see, each bead is totally unique, both in design and coloring. As the Blue Galaxy Swirl is one of the most popular of my memorial bead designs, I thought I'd share a little bit about what makes these beads so special.
I begin each Blue Galaxy Swirl 1.0 bead (more about that later) with a base of black glass, which is necessary for the color of the blue to "pop." Without the black background, there is nothing for the "blue" glass to show up against. The "blue" that I use isn't really a blue glass at all. Instead, it's a very expensive ($80/lb. and well worth every penny!) reduction glass from Double Helix Glassworks...and it's PINK!!!

This picture is of one of the Double Helix glass rods that I use to make the Blue Galaxy Swirl beads - very DEFINITELY pink glass, no? The soft glass rods I use to make memorial beads with are all about the diameter of a pencil, and start out about a foot long.

This is the same glass, but in shard form - which means I make a bubble of the pink glass, and blow it out, let it cool, and then break it into pieces, which are called "shards." The piece on the left shows a really shiny patch on the surface - that is the metals in the color coming to the surface of the glass, and is part of what makes the magic of the blue color on the Galaxy beads.
I *don't* make the Blue Galaxy Swirl beads with shards, though. I use stringers instead. Here's a picture of a few of the stringers I'll use to make my next Blue Galaxy beads, along with the original rod I pulled them from. I'd say the stringers are about 1mm in diameter or so.
The pale aqua blue on the bottom is the glass I use for encasing the Blue Galaxy Swirl beads. I use the pale aqua *instead* of clear, because the pale aqua reacts less with the metals in the Double Helix reduction glass...crazy, but true! (I'm very grateful to fellow lampwork bead artist Jacqueline Parks for that pro tip!)

The coloring on these beads depends upon so many variables, that it's almost impossible to get the same result every time I make one of these beads - which is a huge part of the appeal for me - I have a pretty good idea of what the finished bead will look like, but I won't know for sure until it comes out of the kiln.
The blues in these beads are influenced by flame chemistry (the ratio of propane and oxygen in the flame while I'm working on the bead), heat (whether I work the bead "cool" or "hot"), depth of encasing (a thicker encasing "insulates" the color - which can work for or against me, depending upon the situation), and length of working time (shorter working time = better blues). Planetary alignment and moon phase also appear to contribute to the variations in these beads, but those elements are out of my control.

Because of the infinite variations possible in the final beads of this design, I tell my clients that I cannot guarantee a particular shade of blue, or how much blue will be on the bead. At some point, control over the process must be given up and the glass must be allowed to do its own thing. Having said that, I do try to gauge how much "color" will be in the bead before I put it in the kiln, and if it looks or feels a little skimpy to me (working the reduction glass too hot or for too long can cause the color to vanish), then I just make another bead while I've got everything ready. My clients are typically happy with this approach - they wind up with a gorgeous memorial bead, plus an extra that didn't quite meet my standards.

I've recently developed a 2.0 version of this bead - using a transparent cobalt core for the base puts a little more "blue" into the bead. The following collage shows how these beads turned out. The client I made them for is absolutely thrilled. What's your opinion of the 1.0 (black base) versus the 2.0 (cobalt blue base)?
I've been playing around with other colors for the base as well - transparent very dark green and transparent royal deep purple (but not together in the same bead!!!). I'll post pics of those once I've got lovely samples made up.

Thanks for reading and commenting! You can find my memorial art glass at my website, www.christinehansen.com.