Monday, February 22, 2010

I met this wonderful couple on a Yahoo Glass Chat group - Art Glass Pic, if you have an interest in learning and chatting with some a great group of people, check this group out, you will LOVE them !

Stan and Heather Micallef make some of the most amazing glass windows, lets get started learning more about their art …...

DM: What is your artistic medium?
DG: The glass side of Dragon Glass is Fusing and Slumping. We also teach and sell Art Clay Silver products, and Bronzclay and Copprclay. The third side of Dragon Glass is the Chain Maille!

DM: Where can your art be seen?
DG: Mainly on our web site, as we don't really make to sell, as it would be in competition to our customers!  and follow links to the other sites!

DM: When and how did you first become interested in your medium?
DG: Most potters eventually put a piece of glass in the kiln to see what happens! We started about 18 years ago, when the studio glass movement was getting strong in the USA. The Lindstrom books had become available, and so we eventually decided to bring in some Bullseye glass to try with. We began teaching a 3 day workshop, using both Bullseye and float glass. This became very popular, and in order to reach a wider customer base, we put the course onto video, plus a lot more information. "An Introduction to the Fusing and Slumping of Glass" was the first of several videos - and as soon as it became established as a learning tool, we stopped doing "live" classes.

This was the time to concentrate on developing our supply base. Bullseye Glass having proved to be too expensive to import and use, we expanded our range of float compatible products. The strongest is of course Thompson Enamels, as this is the cheapest form of colouring float glass! We are also agents in South Africa of the wonderful Spanish Flosing products, which include frit, stringers, eggshell (confetti), bubble powders and flash coloured glass!

Naturally we import dichroic, where would we be without this great innovation in glass!

As moulds were also a problem, it was natural to be able to use our ceramic background to develop a range of specialized moulds for slumping glass. Previously people were using pottery bisque ware, but as you all know this is not really satisfactory. Our moulds all have a proper finished footring, which is important in creating an up-market glass product - not a "wobbler" as was so often the case with bisque.

We also had to develop a proper glass kiln. Fortunately, we have some good kiln builders in South Africa, and with much trial and error, eventually the Dragon Glass kiln was born.

So in reality, Dragon Glass can be considered the people who gave the kiln formed glass movement in South Africa it's kick start!

The first video led to the follow up - "Answers, Ideas and Troubleshooting Kiln Fired Glass" - in which we try and solve problems, as well as introduce more advanced techniques etc. These led then to "All About Moulds and Other Things" which is self-explanatory, and a specialized little video on using the Flosing glass products! We also made a video on Decoupage Under Glass, as this is a good way of encouraging people to buy plain glass bowls and plates.

DM: Once you decided to pursue your art, how did you start off, trial and error, books, classes, videos, formal schooling?
DG: Teaching ourselves was a matter of studying what books we could get, and much trial and error. The folk at Bullseye were very helpful as well, as they still are to this day! As there was no one in South Africa to help us, we had to go it alone from the start. One of the main difficulties was in finding a source for materials in South Africa, so we developed our own kiln wash, prefire glue and other essentials to make it easier for anyone to take up the craft.

DM: Out of what you tried, was there any particular thing that you would recommend to someone just starting out?
DG: Buy the biggest kiln you can afford! You will regret having a small kiln once the bug has bitten and you want to make larger items.
DM: I soooooo agree with this one, we have 2 different sizes and they never seem quite big enough !

DM: What do you enjoy most about working with your medium?
DG: Any craft that deals with "fire" is exciting - in our case it is electric, but still the heat is the important part of the process. Fusing is also so much faster than other glass crafts - most modern crafters want a quick result of their labours, and kiln formed glass can give this gratification!

DM: What do you find the most frustrating?
DG: Telling people NOT to do something you know wont work, only to have them come the next time to show you that they tried it....and...guess what! It does not work! Probably this is every teachers' frustration, students who do not listen!

DM: Where do you find your inspirations for what you create?
DG: Mainly in nature. Natural forms are appreciated by the majority of people, so anything which is based in this style usually will find a ready response with customers. Abstracts are what interior designers go for, so often when you are "stuck" for a design, some simple geometric shapes fill the bill here, and are easy to do!

DM: Tell us a little about one of your favourite creations:
DG: Our studio windows have been the biggest challenge, and the results beyond what we anticipated!

DM: Have you ever experienced artist block and how did you overcome it?
DG: Probably, although not having to make too much finished glass commercially, we have been lucky! Best thing is to relax and play with some scrap glass until you find a happy design that makes you feel good, and use that! Your creative muse will follow naturally!

DM: What is the biggest mistake you have ever made as an artist? What did you learn from it?
DG: Not too sure - probably trying to do something that is not really possible - pushing the boundaries just too far. Lesson learned of course – keep within the "rules" of glass, but still push your creativeness to improve all the time. What really comes to mind is spending time painting a piece of glass, and then not burning off the painting medium (binder) before putting the top capping piece of glass over it. Results - an ugly black burned coloured piece instead of all the lovely colours, plus a large bubble! Lesson quickly learned not to do that again!

DM: Would you please tell about your studio set-up?
DG: Our studio began in the garage, and has evolved over the years to include 2 more large rooms, and the new jewellery studio is now above the garage. The windows we made are in the stair well, and one can be seen from the street! The picture shows the front of our house on the left, and the studio to the right, with the - as yet unfinished - new jewellery section on the top. The windows are just out of sight on the left of the upstairs section! Our poodle Lucie is in the foreground!

DM: When is your favorite time to create?
DG: Actually - when we HAVE time! Running a wholesale/retail glass materials business, as well as teaching and supplying metal clay and chain maille products, keeps us pretty busy!

DM: What advice would you give someone starting out in this medium?
DG: Do some homework BEFORE you buy anything. Have some lessons, see what others are doing. You don't want to spend time and money only to find that you don't like what you are doing. We always ask potential customers to first buy our DVDs, especially the first 2, go away and watch them, and then they can decide on which direction they would like to go.

DM: Are there any artist that inspire you or that you admire?
DG: Most of the artists who were associated with Bullseye in the developmental days made timeless and beautiful pieces - for sheer colour beauty that you can look at over and over again - Claus Moje is the king!

DM: Tell us a bit about yourself.
DG: Short bio of us - Dragon Glass consists of 2 people - Stan and Heather Micallef. We have been self-employed craft teachers and suppliers for more than 18 years, working from our studio at home in Benoni, South Africa. After both being laid off from our jobs, we turned to crafts to make a living!

Started in ceramics as we had a long ceramics background, and naturally progressed into glass fusing!

Stan is more on the technical side, Heather the artist, although Stan has developed his artistic side over time! The kiln formed glass progressed into some glass jewellery, especially once the dichroic glass was more readily available, and this in turn led to us becoming the Art Clay Silver representatives in South Africa. We have also developed a unique range of silicone moulds for the metal clays!

Now of course we also have Bronclay and Copprclay, and the new Art Clay Copper! Lovely to combine with glass too.

The chain maille came about because we wanted copper and brass chains to go with the new metal clays, and it was a natural progression yet again to making them ourselves. We also cut the rings here for chain maille, as no one else in South Africa does!

Of course - following our usual way - this led to yet another 3 DVDs, one on Art Clay Silver, one on chain maille, and one on working with the Bronzclay and Copprclay! Our jewellery DVDs in NTSC are available in the USA from Art Clay World USA, and all the DVDs in PAL system are available from our son in the UK, who acts as our agent there. Interested? Contact him on (PAL system will play in a computer!)

We have been fortunate enough to travel to the USA in the past to teach glass classes - using float and float compatible products. Our students in both California and Portland Oregon were thrilled to be shown how to use enamels and enamel paints to make classy items that could rival those made with the more expensive coloured glass. One lady who is a teacher in a college was so pleased that she could finally offer her students colour in their glass without breaking the bank! And adding that lovely little scrap of float dichroic just sets it off so well.....!

As far as the Art Clay Silver is concerned, we have both had success at entering the annual competitions sponsored by the parent company in Japan. To have pieces selected for Honourable Mentions or for a prize amongst entries from all over the world is really exciting!

DM: Anything else you wish to share?
DG: Always remember that in times of recession, crafts are what people turn to for both relaxation and stress relief, as well as another source of income. In fact, Stan's favourite story is of the commercial "Thin Red Line". When interest rates climb above the "red line", people need to find extra income to cover their shortfalls on loans etc, and when interest rates fall below the "red line", people need to find the income to make up the deficit in interest earnings! Crafts are always the easiest and most rewarding things for people to become involved in, and this has been proved to be a fact through many ups and downs in economic times over the last few decades. As long as you can produce quality goods, at a price which suits buyer and seller, you will survive through thick and thin.

DM: Heather thank you for that very deep look at your business in South Africa and the many layers of what you can do with glass.

Till tomorrow ... keep creating !
Tina aka Daily Muse


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