Behind the handmade scenes – mushrooms

Sometimes running my own business seems like there are so many things to do that I am sprinting from one task to the next. And other times it feels like I am stuck in quicksand trying to get an item created and actually added to my website shop.

But why, though?

The short answer is that I’d rather be in my studio all day, every day, making things and coming up with new ideas for new things to make. Everything else falls by the wayside.

The long answer is more complicated. I am one person responsible for sourcing the materials, coming up with creative designs, learning new techniques (and improving on the old ones), managing a website shop, social media, and so on. Like pretty much all of the other artists and entrepreneurs out there.

So I thought I would take a behind-the-scenes peek at creating an item that may seem simple on the surface, but has many steps to completion.

Making Mushrooms

I love making glass mushrooms. I make mushroom jewelry and mushroom plant stakes and love the endless variations of color, size, and shape.

Glass Mushroom Pendants by Janet Crosby
Glass mushroom pendants

I recently started making much larger mushrooms. Mushrooms that light up. This is extra exciting for me since I love the interaction of light and color.

And these little mushroom lamps utilize a recycled bottle for the stem, which is also very exciting for me since I have collected/saved/recycled bottles just a day short of forever.

Red hot lava mushroom

Starting at the top

I start by sorting and choosing glass — what colors go well together, opaque vs transparent, and what design elements — glass powder? frit? lines? shapes? all of the above? So many choices.

Then I cut the glass into circles. I add the design elements. Then into the kiln for about 12 hours to fuse together the base glass and design elements.

Mushroom tops into the kiln for a full fuse
And… just like a TV cooking show, here are the mushroom tops fresh out of the kiln
Glass frit and base fully fused together. There is a lot going on in this piece.

Next up – shaping

These fused circles then go back in the kiln for a second firing to create the bell shape of the mushroom cap.

Mushroom caps ready to be shaped in the kiln

Meanwhile

I stay busy cutting glass bottles. I cut the bottoms off and sometimes part of the neck, too, if that works best as a mushroom stem. After cutting, I grind and polish the glass to remove sharp edges. I also cut in a little ‘mouse hole’ in the base of the bottle stem for the light cord to exit the base.

Research and development

When I started making glass beads in 2003, I wanted to be sure that they were durable and designed with longevity in mind. I wore those early pieces 24/7 to troubleshoot design layout and make sure they would handle normal wear and tear.

I am also doing testing with the lamps. The first one sat on my counter for a couple of weeks. Sometimes with a mushroom cap on it. Sometimes not. Sometimes with a lamp glowing, sometimes not. Everything seemed just fine until one day, about 1.5 weeks after cutting, I noticed a hairline crack extending up from where I had cut the ‘mouse hole’ out. OK. Good to know now.

Bottles vary greatly in thickness and quality. Most are only meant to be used once. The cutting/grinding/polishing adds stress in the glass and –ahem– as noted, cracks are a possibility.

So I modified my approach and did a couple test runs for bottle annealing in my kiln. Annealing is a process of allowing glass to sit at optimum temperature (in this case, 1050F) for a while to de-stress. Then the glass is cooled very slowly (over hours) to not introduce any new stresses. I also have to heat them up very slowly to not risk a crack/explosion as they heat up.

The bottle process short version: cut, grind, polish, sandblast, anneal in the kiln.

Recycled bottles cut, sandblasted, and kiln annealed

The fiddly bits

The lights I have for these lamps are typical ‘night light’ lamps — a socket with a metal butterfly fitting. I wanted it to be easy to remove / change the light when necessary, so I came up with glass ‘shelving’ that I adhere on the inside of the bottle

I use glass scraps that I cut into small rectangles. I grind and polish these so no one gets a nasty surprise when trying to change the bulb. Here is a before and after photo.

Cut glass made smooth by grinding

Here is the view from underneath — the small light sitting on top of the ‘shelves’ inside the stem.

Lamp wings sitting on glass shelves inside the mushroom stem

Updates (after countless revisions)

I have spent several weeks immersed in mushroom lamp creation — everything from glass to glue. Here are some updates to this blog post.

  • I decided to go with LED lamps. I have both ‘warm’ and ‘cool’ that I select based on the mushroom lamp colors. LEDs are energy efficient and stay cool to the touch and, especially for the ‘cool’ bulbs, show off the glass colors better.
  • After all of that work, I am not doing the glass shelves. I figured out a way to custom bend the light fixture to better fit in the stem and stay put.
  • I think silicone choice #3 is the winner. That took a while.

Almost there

By now, my mushroom caps are out of the kiln and (hopefully) nicely formed to resemble a mushroom. I use a clear indoor-outdoor silicone to attach both the glass ‘shelves’ and the mushroom cap. This takes several hours to cure.

And then…

Mushrooms happen!

A variety of glass mushroom lamps

This is where things slow down

Excited (sometimes confounded or intrigued) by what I find in the kiln, I push these mushrooms aside and make more. Or start off on a new path, exploring shape or color, or experiment with new glass reactions.

That’s all very fun and cool, but… this is how I fail to list things in my shop. #TrueStory

There’s photographs to take, measurements and specifics to list for each piece, and the task of writing up a description that is both informative and holds a viewer’s attention for more than a quick scroll. I also try to maintain a presence on Instagram and Facebook (which is spotty at best).

So you can see how this happens. 😬

Shop update this week

I have been immersed learning all that I can about fusing glass and doing my research and development, so I am nearing takeoff for listing new items by the end of this week. I will update this post at that time.

My Art for Sale Facebook group gets a ‘first dibs’ look at new listings and opportunity to purchase for ~24 hours before listings are public, then items will be listed in the shop on this site. Click the link to join the Facebook group for first dibs!

Shop

The story continues