• sisters on a mission.

  • Three sisters. One in Virginia. One in London. One in New York. None of whom wear shorts. Ever.

  • the mission?

    Taking delight.
    Learning Italian.
    Getting to Italy.
    Wearing shorts.
    In Italy.
    June 2011.

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zen and the art of marble making

I love to learn – especially if it involves making things.  Crafty things to be specific.  So, when my friend MK suggested taking a class on marble making at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond I was intrigued.   I had never taken a class there and had never dealt with glass and/or torches so this would be something completely new for me.  And in my book, new = fun (at least 85% of the time).

In preparation, we checked out on-line tutorials and you-tube demonstrations to get a better idea of what we were getting ourselves into.  Now, I have to admit, I’m a confident crafter.  That is, I go into things assuming I’ll be able to do it and do it well.  Unfortunately I’m also a perfectionist with sometimes often ridiculously high standards.  Turns out MK and I have a lot in common in that arena.

By the time we got to class, we were both a little worried.   Our research showed us that marble making looked hard.  And potentially dangerous what with the fire and shards of glass.  Nonetheless we got ourselves together, put on our sexy safety glasses and selected our spots across from each other at the worktable.

Brad, our instructor, made it look easy as he turned a long thin rod of colored glass into a perfect sphere, adding contrasting dots for flair.  The tools: a torch, a metal rod, tongs, and a half spherical mold.  Now it was our turn.

Step One: selecting the glass.   I fiddled around and around and finally, in a panic to get started, chose a translucent blue for the base and red for the dots.  So very all-American.

Step Two: turning on the torch.  I’m pleased to say I successfully avoided singeing any part of my body as I finessed the mix of propane and oxygen to get the perfect flame the first time out (although, I did manage a wicked long flame on my next attempt).

Step Three: making the marble.  I would like to say that I was able to accomplish this with the skill of a zen master but that would be a big fat lie.  Instead, with the metal rod in a death-grip in my left hand and a glass rod held like a fragile pencil in my right hand, I held my breath and began the twisting dance of melting the glass onto the rod.  The once-pliable muscles in my shoulders gave way to rock hard knots as I slowly created an unsightly molten lump on the end of the metal stick.   The only thing that made me feel marginally better was that MK looked like she was in the same boat.

Deep breaths.  In.  Out.   In.  Out.  Now, into the flame to try to round this sucker out.  Finally after a few minutes it started to look like a little balloon.  Back out of the flame and a quick swish around the mold and OMG it was starting to look like a marble!

OK, OK need to calm down and add the red dots.  First one on – so far so good.  Second one – still good.  Third one – CRAP!  I botched it, leaving a trail that turned my dot into a sperm.  OK, shake it off.  This is your first marble, no one expects it to be perfect.  What to do?  Ah ha!  I’ll just make a bigger dot to cover it.  Brilliant.

More flame work, more swishing and finally I was ready for the dismount.  This is literally a make it or break it point.  I won’t bore you with the sordid details but suffice to say it’s tricky and stressful for the uninitiated.  But finally it was done and I deposited my round(ish) patriotic ball of glass into the kiln with a sigh of relief.

We made five marbles that day, each successively more complicated.  A lunch break of sushi and pep talks kept us going but by the end of the day we were wiped out.

I confess that when I first pulled them out of the kiln, I immediately focused on the  imperfections.  But then I stopped, looked at them as a whole and thought about the journey.   And now I can honestly say that my little band of marbles makes me happy.  I guess that acceptance is my moment of zen.