On New Year’s Day I made a post with a resolution to create a new murrini (glass rod with a pattern inside) each week this year.  From the looks of it on the blog here, I’ve not been successful, but in fact I have!  I’ve been posting them each week on my Instagram account and decided to post them here on the blog in 3 month increments.  They’re not really worthy of a whole blog post on their own each week, so figured for over here this was a better format.

I’m still learning, so there are some winners and some stinkers in the mix, hopefully by the end of the year we’ll see progress in my skills.  Below is the batch from January – March, during this time we had a month of all hearts in celebration of February and some skills tests, like trying to see if I could create a triangle and pull it while keeping the triangle shape.

Hope to be posting here more regularly soon.  There’s been a lot going on in addition to coming up with new murrini to make each week.  I’ve been busy in my studio getting ready for a dual exhibition with another artist coming in May!  Hope to have more on that to share soon!  In the mean time, here’s 3 months worth of murrini!  😀

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The last couple of months of 2017 and first couple of 2018 have been a whirlwind.  Just starting now to surface for a bit of air!  Big things have been happening one after the other and I haven’t had a chance to write about them all here on the blog, so am catching up now because they’ve been too good not to share.

The best thing that happened in all of 2017 for me – was an opportunity to go be an Instructors Assistant for Sherri Warner Hunter at a Concrete Sculpture class held at the Arrowmont school in Gatlainburg, Tennessee at the end of October/early November for 2 weeks.

I was floored when Sherri wrote and asked if I’d be interested.  At first, I thought the email wasn’t real and had to read it a couple of times – I couldn’t believe she’d thought of me and was so ecstatic.  I’d taken a course from her in concrete sculpture many years ago (you can read about it here) and always admired her and her work so much.  From her course, I’d learned a ton about sculpture and how to properly structure an armature.  It gave me such a wonderful foundation to move forward in my own work creating 3-D sculpture bases to mosaic.  That and it is just feels kind of kick-ass to bend re-bar.  😀

Decided to drive to Gatlainburg from my home in Ottawa Canada.  It was great timing for fall colors.  I’d never been to Gatlainburg before and was excited to see it and the Smokey Mountains.

More exciting though was discovering the Arrowmont school.  This school is astonishing.  Visit it at arromont.org, if you have any interest in art, craft and learning this is the place to be.  The staff are so warm and welcoming, they bring in world-class instructors, feed you tons of fantastic food and are tireless promoters of the value of arts and crafts.  Go to their site, look up their classes – you will be amazed.  I fell in love with this place.

I was nervous about being an assistant and hoped I’d be good.  Wanted to do a good job for Sherri and for our class of 10 students.  We had a class of all women which was kind of cool!  They were all so amazing, came from different backgrounds and were truly delightful to get to know.  Sherri is a phenomenal teacher and I learned a ton watching her teach and seeing how she is with the students.  It was a great opportunity for me to not be on the learning end in terms of the sculpture – but to get to learn and observe from a teaching perspective.

When the time came for me to help students it was so great!  I love love loved helping them!  I loved seeing them learn, seeing them create and watching their ideas come to life.  It was great to see their confidence build and help them be successful.  They all created such different sculptures and each and every one of them was fantastic.  It was truly a room filled with talent and I’m sure they will all continue to do great work going forward if they choose – which I hope they will all continue with it.

There were a few other workshops going on at the same time as we were there, a paper making course, water color, photography, wood marquetry and a pottery class right next door.  There was so much talent around the whole time, it was inspiring to see what the other courses worked on.  Fun for us – the pottery class had a huge kiln outside our studio and they did a soda spraying technique which caused big flames to come out of the kiln.  It was tremendously cool to watch!

As a bonus for me – when we had slow time or on the weekend I was able to work on concrete sculpture projects for myself.  It was great to be able to use the facilities and Sherri’s awesome tools, as well – having a block of time just do work on sculpture and get messy without the responsibilities of home was incredibly freeing.  I got going crazy on the weekend and carved a bunch of styrofoam like mad and created way more than I’d intended.  But sometimes inspiration (or insanity) takes over.

I could write a novel about everything that happened and how wonderful it was.  Believe me, writing just this abbreviated version has been a challenge but don’t want to make an endless blog.  Wish I could express how much I cherished this opportunity, how thankful I am to have had it, but it feels like nothing I could say expresses it enough.  I thank Sherri Warner Hunter to the moon and back for this.  She’s amazing and generous with her time and knowledge – if you’re interested at all in sculpture – consider taking a course from her, you will learn so much!  She’s here on wordpress – you can find more info on her workshops at:  https://swhartstudioinc.wordpress.com/workshops-events/

If you’re interested in any other kind of arts & craft, look up Arrowmont’s schedule for 2018.  They’ve got a drool-worthy list of workshops available.  Wish I could live there and take a gob of courses myself!

 

 

Happy New Year!!  😀

Most of us make some sort of resolution each year, usually things that aren’t terribly fun and often abandoned after a few weeks.  This year, my resolution is a little challenge that will hopefully be fun, not quickly abandoned and also improve my skills.  It will be to create a new murrini (or millefiori) and post it each Monday.  I’m going to post these sometimes here but each week for sure over on my new Instagram account (@studioambenz) under #murrinimonday.

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the logo

For the first week of the year – this murrini comes with a bit of a story.  I actually created it last year (had to if it was going to come on Jan 1!).  It is a bit special as the pattern is actually my logo.

Since starting in mosaics, I’ve always signed the back of my art with my name and a piece of murrini, but it was commercially made murrini and the pattern wasn’t anything special or related to me.

I wanted to make my logo in murrini and start using that in my signature instead.  The design is a stylized frog foot – (read why by clicking here)– doesn’t look too hard on paper but try building that from nothing with molten glass! o_O

You have to slowly build up the design.  A bit of black glass for the middle, then add a toe, fill in some green. All the while keeping it warm enough so it won’t blow up but not too much that it melts out of shape!  It is an intense amount of very focused work.

It took 2.5 hrs to create the design and the blob of glass was HUGE!  When you’re doing murrini you’re holding your blob in a flame and constantly rotating it, kind of like a rotisserie chicken.  As the blob gets bigger, it can get quite heavy, it is hard work on the shoulders and neck, especially after 2.5 hours of constant movement!

The I day made it, there were several people in the studio.  My blob got way bigger than originally intended and drew a bit of attention (I’m not good with attention….).  It was so big another person helped me hold one end when it came time to pull as there was going to be more glass than the width of my arms!  We pulled, I cut it so it would fit in the kiln to cool down and in that one cut could see it looked good.  I was so worn out and shaky after the intense 2.5 hrs that I had to sit down and rest before getting in my car to go home.

Wish me luck in my attempt to stick with the resolution and create 52 murrini this year!  Hopefully the end of the year will show 52 interesting patterns and some improved skills.

Best wishes to all of you for a wonderful, healthy prosperous 2018 and success in any resolutions you choose to undertake!  😀

Each December, I like to create a mosaic that is holiday related and post it here.  This year a little micro-mosaic was planned but the past couple of months have too busy and time got away from me.  So instead I’ll share a photo that will hopefully bring you a holiday smile 🙂  my studio mate Ozwald at his annual visit with Santa.

Wishing you all a holiday filled with happiness!

Enough

Posted: November 29, 2017 in Enough
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The past two months have been a whirlwind of tremendous things happening one after the other.  Life is kind of ramping up at the moment for me, but in a good way.  Hope it is the sign of more to come.  🙂

I’ll share with you over the next few blogs all of the great things happening. Today’s is about a piece of mine that was accepted in a juried show!   The show was a special one to get picked for as it was the 1st year of the Canadian Annual Mosaic Exhibition.  It was such an honor to be a part of the inaugural year.  It was held at the Flagship Gallery in Hamilton Ontario during November, and there were more than 30 stunning works in the show.

The piece of mine that was chosen is a micro-mosaic called “Enough”  This technique is a little different than traditional mosaic, all the pieces in her are very tiny and have to be set using tweezers.  They range in size (width-wise) from 0.5mm to about 4mm.  All her glass was melted and pulled to size by me in a flame at GSS Flameworking.

her special murrini

I also created a special murrini (glass rod with a pattern inside) in black and white to go in her dress.  The tiny pieces take quite a long while to put together, when most are between 0.5 and 2 mm wide it is time consuming to fill even 1 square inch!

So why is she called “Enough”?

In today’s world we’re constantly connected, bombarded by so many demands on our time, so much negativity, unending terrible news stories in the palm of our hand.

A couple of folks getting up close for a better look at her tiny bits!

A feeling of frustration at this constant connection and negativity inspired to me create an abstract drawing of woman in a beautiful dress looking down with eyes closed, hands to head, having simply had enough of all that was going on around her.  The drawing laid around for months till finally she came to life as a micro-mosaic.

She is smaller (the actual mosaic size of this piece is 5 x 7, overall size 8 x 10) and floats surrounded by a background of swirly darkness representing conflict.

Really came to love her a lot and was so thrilled she was chosen for the show.  Her bits are so tiny, included below are some pictures but for best viewing click to make them larger.  I also made a little time-lapse video of her progression – if you’re interested it is at the bottom of this blog!  Be forewarned though, it was my first time doing this so it jumps a little.  Next time I won’t kick the tripod out of place so much!  😀

The whole reason I got into working with molten glass at GSS Studio was to learn how to make my own murrini (or millefiori ) and to pull glass into stringers in the colors and sizes I wanted for micro-mosaic pieces.

starting a murrini

the start, 2 layers of glass so far!

So what are murrini anyways?  Most likely, you know what it is – or you know it by the name millefiori.  It is slices of glass, cut from a rod that has a pattern in the cross section.  It is most famously made on the island of Murano outside of Venice Italy.  Often you see it in jewelry or on decorative vases or paperweights. The pattern can be anything – when it is a flower based pattern it is called millefiori (a thousand petals) other patterns are called murrini, though many would use the term millefiori loosely for any pattern as it is the more well known name.

Murrini are complex to make, involving many layers of molten glass being put together and shaped, then heated up till red hot and finally pulling the hot blob by hand into a long rod.  You have to be careful to not twist or turn the blob of molten hot glass when pulling or you risk messing up the pattern created inside!  After the rod has cooled, it is cut into slices revealing the pattern in the cross-section.

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rod just after it has pulled

I buy commercial murrini made in Italy and use it in my micro-mosaic jewelry.  So why would I want to learn to make it?

While I love the murini I can buy, I just thought it would be so cool to create unique patterns myself.  Then if I’m using my handmade murrini in my handmade micro-mosaic jewelry designs, it makes the piece of jewelry that much more unique, that much more “one-of-a-kind”.  Truly, no one else in the world will have anything like it.

Most of my murrini patterns so far are abstract (my ultimate love) or geometrical.  There will be more complex designs as time goes on but so far it’s a good start!  Here’s some pics below – look for some of these in this year’s holiday collection of jewelry coming soon!  😀

Remixin’ it up!

Posted: September 28, 2017 in Mosaic General
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In Ottawa each year there is a neat festival called Remixed.  It is held in Chinatown and pairs local businesses with artists for 1 month.  The idea is to “remix” the businesses and neighborhood.  Bring art into groceries, restaurants and shops where you might not expect to see it and draw in art lovers to some of these same shops they might not know about.

It’s a fun and different vibe with businesses all along the main drag of Chinatown participating.  On opening day there is a big festival atmosphere.  All the artists sit with their installation in the business they’re paired with as visitors walk around stopping at each location to collect a stamp for a chance to win a prize.  There’s fun stuff happening outside too, along the route you’ll find various performers, demonstrations, or large scale artists working.

Art House Cafe building

The festival is a juried entry and this year I was lucky enough to be one of the artists chosen!  😀  In another but of luck, I got paired with The Art House Cafe, a great business that opened this year in Ottawa and is a hub for artists and art lovers alike.

Three of my mosaics went up on their wall and will stay there for a month.  During the opening day I had a 2hr time slot to do demos.  It was a hot day but that didn’t stop a steady stream of folks from visiting.  I’d taken a project to work on during down time but didn’t have any so only stuck a few bits on!

Roman-Byzantine-Modern Mosaic styles

For the demo, I’d set up a little “history of mosaic” table showing different styles of mosaic ranging from Roman to Byzantine to Modern.  There was also a table with examples of materials and backings you can use, some fun tools and several books with amazing mosaic pictures.

As an interactive bit for visitors, I offered to let them try out cutting a some glass with the traditional tools of the hammer and hardie.  The hammer is heavy and it shocked everyone who picked it up, but they all did great making a cut and had fun.

It was a great day, so much fun to share my love of mosaic and my art with others.  I am so happy to have been a part of this wonderful event.  If you’re in the Ottawa area visiting, the art is up throughout Chinatown till October 16.   Find a map of all the locations on chinatownremixed.ca

 

 

The second half of our spring trip that gave my brain a good shakeup was in Kyoto, Japan.  I’m really drawn to the Japanese way of life, sense of style and history.  Kyoto especially had long been on my travel wish list.

We spent most of our time there visiting gobs of temples, admiring beautiful cherry blossom trees just starting to bloom and eating like crazy!

We decided to make Kyoto an adventure in food as well as history and natural beauty.  We tried high end kaiseki, low end (but great!) conveyor belt sushi, fermented wonders, yummy sweets, street food, you name it – we tried it!

beautiful tamago rolled omlette (not done by me but something to aspire to!)

Loved so much of what we ate – and how we ate – that I’ve tried to incorporate it into my eating at home.  After the trip, I figured out a bunch of recipes that mimic what we had in Japan – including eating fish for breakfast(!), cooking mushipan steamed cakes, and working on perfecting my technique of the tamago rolled omelet in the new purple tamago pan I bought (oh so good!).  I got a little book of 300 bento style recipes and have been experimenting with all sorts of new things.   Cooking lotus root is a delightful new find!

The way we ate while in Japan made so much more sense to me, it felt much healthier than what we do at home even though we’re pretty healthy eaters by North American standards.   I’m eating so much fish now that I can probably ditch that Omega-3 vitamin!  😀

Our last day in Japan we left the traditional beauty of Kyoto for the lights of Osaka.  Capsule hotels are so fascinating and I always wanted to try one, but they don’t often allow women.  The husband was able to find one that did and he generously put up with a crappy room all so I could sleep in a tube on the women’s floor.  He’s a good man! 🙂  The experience was super fun but not one I will repeat.  Love the energy in Osaka, so many people, crushing almost – but everyone is respectful and polite.

a few of the mushipan experiments

Japan shook up my brain in a great way, exposing me to some beauty and giving me renewed interest in food and cooking after having been in a rut for awhile.  I was so set on getting just the right mushipan recipe that I went nuts trying tons all in one day.  The husband saw the day’s production all laid out on our counters and wanted to know if I was starting a mushipan factory!  But it’s great, stimulating new areas of the brain and learning new things can only be good for all other areas of my life.

Below are some pics from Japan.  Next blog is back to stuff about glass and mosaics as summer is now upon us and I can get to work under the glorious sun outside. ☀

 

Have you ever not realized how much your brain needed something to shake it up?  I’d not realized how in need my brain was of something completely different till recently when we went on a big trip.

I’m not good at being “in the moment”, my brain is always moving, usually bouncing around future and past thoughts more than present thoughts.  It is hard to not think of things elsewhere from where you are, whether it is a worry, a project, a conversation you recall out of nowhere.

We took a trip this spring that I was looking forward to (we’d been planning it for 2 years) but didn’t realize how much it would impact me.  We were to visit China (Beijing, Guilin & Shanghai), the husband had lived there in his 20s and wanted me to experience it a bit, and after China a stop in Kyoto Japan (my choice due to a long love of most things Japanese) for cherry blossom season.

China was our first stop.  I knew Facebook was banned there, but forgot about Google being banned – and thus my email, which is a gmail account.  Immediately, I had no contact with anyone back home and decided to take that opportunity and run with it by not going online to read daily North American news.  It was a complete disconnect from all things tech and news from everything at home – which was wonderful.

Not that I had the time for tech and news anyways!  I was blown away by China.  Beijing and Shanghai were wonderfully fascinating places to visit.  We saw some amazing sights (the Great Wall, Hutongs in Bejing, the Marriage Market and Propaganda Museum in Shanghai) and learned so many interesting bits about life from various guides.  But my new love on this planet is the Guilin area of China.

I’d long wanted to see the mountains around the Li river and we spent several glorious days there with a suburb guide.  We climbed up peaks in the dark to watch the sun rise over the mountains, we rode on small rafts on the river surrounded by gorgeous vistas, went to ancient villages and met the most amazing people who let us take their photos and told us about their lives.  I can’t even being to describe without writing a novel how many things I learned, how much I cherish the experiences we had, how wonderful and warm the people were.  My brain never once thought about anything back home (except checking in on the beloved dog) the entire time we were here – every day was simply amazing.  I hope with all the hope in my body that I get to return to the Guilin area one day.

We had a week+ in China and on our plane ride to Japan both remarked how wonderful it had been and that we could have happily gone home at that point and counted it as the best trip ever.  But we got one other week in Japan which was spent in Kyoto – I’ll share more about that with you in the next blog post.

So I’m home now, with a rested brain that is humming with Chinese and Japanese inspired ideas.  🙂 It will be fun to see what all comes out of it (kind of want to try and learn some basic Mandarin now).  The 2 weeks of being so stimulated with everything new and interesting that it didn’t allow my brain to be anything other than “in the moment” has sort of held.  I’m doing much better at being in the now and looking forward to the rest of the year in a much more relaxed mode.  Think my brain was really in the need of learning and seeing some new exciting completely different bits.  Before this entry gets any longer, will end with a bunch of favorite photos from the China portion of the trip, and a wish that you too get to experience a brain shake up (in a good way) soon.  🙂

Thar she blows!

Posted: March 21, 2017 in Lampwork
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me blowing on the pipe

While I’m busy working on new mosaics to blog about in the future, I’d like to share a bit of my other glass journey, flameworking.  Started flameworking at the wonderful GSS Studio in late 2015.  You can read about my initial foray in this old blog post -> here.

Early last year I learned a new skill at the studio – glass blowing!

This is glass blowing on small scale, not big vases or cups, but beads or little forms.  To do this, you use small hand held metal pipes, get a blob of glass molten in the flame and stick it to the end of the pipe then blow on the opposite (this part is important 😉 ) end.

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grabber tool and 2 pipes with ruler as size references

Sounds simple, but it’s hard to get an initial bubble of air into a blob of glass.  It feels as if you’re blowing your lungs out sometimes and nothing is happening!  You can help your initial bubble along by holding your pipe certain ways and also using your tongue to stop up the air in the pipe which forces it to expand into the glass.  But, once your bubble gets going it’s really easy to then blow too much – or hold the air in the pipe a bit long and it expands too quick – then POP!!  Your glass bubble blows up and out and all over the place in tiny little shards.  Sadly, this has happened more than once to me but now with practice it is a lot less.  🙂img_7674-516x640

After learning round bubbles, I’ve tried making different shapes or opening the bubbles up and sculpting them to make some fun forms.

Don’t know what I’ll do with what I’ve made so far – some have turned into necklaces and the rest are just some pretty baubles resting in a clear glass container.  I’ve been playing around with some ideas for incorporating them into the mosaics – but not sure yet how that will play out.  For now, this small scale glass blowing is just a bit of super fun stuff to play with and relax.  Some pics of the creations so far are below.  🙂

Getting ready to go on a little adventure, so will be MIA for a bit but will return soon with fun pictures to share!