Glass artist Karen Wallace in her studio

2024 Studio Tour

Step into my lair studio! Don't mind the dust, it's a specially formulated mix of refractory substances like zirconium, alumina, and silica.

My studio is in the back of my garage. It started off just in the back of my garage, and then I got more kilns and a large air compressor, and now it's crept into the front of the garage.

Let's start with mold storage. This is an IKEA PAX wardrobe on wheels, with a mix of regular and pull-out shelves. I know what you're wondering, and no, particle board shelves do not hold up under the weight of ceramic molds. I will need to replace some of these soon, especially the pull-outs.

Glass artist Karen Wallace in her studio

Next to the mold shelving is my vitrigraph kiln. This is where I make the patterned glass cane that I chop up and use as tiny cylinders in a lot of my work. I load up a crucible with glass arranged to make a pattern or color combination, heat it to 1500 degrees, and pull rods of glass out the bottom. Toasty!

Under the vitrigraph kiln is a homemade rolling storage shelf holds kiln furniture (dams, legs and feet that I use to prevent glass from puddling out and elevate kiln shelves and molds inside the kiln for air flow). The big space at the bottom is for used kiln shelves waiting to be scraped, painted with a mix of clay and minerals that keeps the glass from sticking to the shelf when hot, and dried in the kiln. I go through a lot of these shelves as each piece I made goes through the kiln 3-5 times. I keep hoping that the kiln fairy will visit overnight, wave her wand, and magically scrape, vacuum, prime and kiln-dry the stack of used shelves, but she never does!

Lastly on this stage of the tour, on the right is my sink. I don't have plumbing, so this is a big Ikea storage bin that I fill from the garden house or with a bucket of water from the house, depending on the season. It's giant because I make large-diameter work that I need to fully submerge to rinse it after sandblasting or grinding on my lap grinder.

Cold Working Area

This is my cold working station. All glass cutting/grinding/polishing equipment has to be water-cooled. If you abrade glass without coolant, it will immediately heat up and crack. My studio doesn't have plumbing, so all the machines have pumps that feed out of a 5-gallon bucket.

On the left is a tile saw with a diamond-coated blade. I use this for cutting up slabs of glass, or trimming off pieces. Even though it uses a specialized blade for art glass, it still chews a fairly rough cut, so removing less material is best done on a lapidary wheel with a diamond-coated grinding disc.

In the center is my 12" lap grinder. Magnetic-backed diamond-coated discs stick to the top, and a flexible hose shoots water onto the spinning disc. I store the discs on the wall behind the grinder on a steel memo board.

To the right of the table is a 20" lap grinder. Yes, that's a tire. Industry-standard tire! Every large lap grinder I've met in person has been built inside a tire. The grinding discs for that one are in a giant steel hinged book on the wall.

Why do I have two lap grinders? Because the discs for the small one are much less expensive than the discs for the large one! The 12" was my first lap grinder, purchased so long ago that the company no longer exists and the factory where they were produced burned to the ground. The second is a recent acquisition, purchased secondhand from another artist.

Tucked into the corner is a HEPA vacuum cleaner. A glass studio generates small particles that you don't want to breathe, so a vacuum with a good filtration that won't just blast the particles right back into the air is a necessity.

Mmm, ground glass sludge cake!

Waste water from cooling the machines is full of ground glass, so it can't be recirculated through the equipment. It goes through a multi-part sediment catchment system so that the glass falls out of the water as it passes through. While ground glass is environmentally inert, I make enough of it that I prefer to trap the sludge.

The Southern Wall

Here we have my largest kiln, an Evenheat GTS 2541-13. Yes, you could fit in it. Not recommended. The lid is so heavy that it has a lid-lifting system with springs to assist. This is the only kiln left in my work area.

The others have been booted out into the other half of the studio, beyond a set of french doors in the un-air-conditioned area, where I can fire them in the summer without raising the temperature in the work area to 105º. When I have to fire this one, I open the door to the outside. In the winter, that keeps the temperature tolerable. In the summer, I give up and leave until the next day. The air conditioner is no match for a huge chamber bleeding 1500º air.

Next to the kiln is my sandblaster, a third-hand Skatblast, which I also treat as a giant magnet board. When heating glass to 1500º, the release primer that we use to keep it from sticking to the kiln shelf sticks to the glass instead, so it has to be removed with a sandblaster.

Small Parts Storage

Cutting shapes out of large sheets of glass generates a lot of leftover bits. With sheets of glass costing $115 to $300, you don't just throw these away. Every artist develops their own storage system, but I've discovered that the Container Store's house brand shoebox fits five across in a 40" IKEA PAX wardrobe, with an allowance for a three-quarter inch shelf support in the middle. And boy do we need that shelf support!

Also pictured: shoeboxes full of murrine, slide cases full of color samples, and the glass artist's repertoire of methods for securing tiny rolling parts on the way to the kiln: glue gun, hair spray, glass glue.

Many colors of glass don't look quite the same, or at all the same, after being heated, so I have two vintage 35mm slide cases full of fused samples that I consult on a regular basis.

Sheet Glass Storage

Glass comes in 20x35" sheets that weigh 8 lb each.

When I moved into this studio, I brought three-quarters of a ton of sheet glass with me, which I carried myself, one or two sheets at a time, out of a basement, up the stairs, though the house, down the driveway, up a ramp into a box truck, and into a set of wooden packing crates.

The glass factory in Oregon uses these wooden packing crates to ship glass to its distributors. Every glass store uses the crates for their retail display, and a lot of artists use them for studio storage.

Outside the Perimeter

Outside of the conditioned area, and recently finished and insulated (no more squirrels! not 20° in the winter! such luxury!), are the rest of the large-ish kilns, and the air compressor.

On the left, an ancient Paragon octagon with a low-medium-high dial. I got it at an estate sale auction, and its former owner had already outfitted it with an external computer controller, which broke not long after I acquired it. The new touchscreen controller is ... an acquired taste. I think I prefer the 12-key controllers.

In the middle, a Paragon Fusion 10 that I bought from a fellow artist who was closing her fusing practice.

My wonderful friend with a pickup truck helped me get the Fusion 10 home from southern Maryland. The three of us visited Point Lookout State Park on our way home.

And on the right, a third-hand 80-gallon air compressor to power the sandblaster. Are you seeing a trend here? Buy old equipment!

Behind you is another kiln, an Evenheat 14" Studio Pro. Behind that is the unkempt garage-y part of my garage, so we won't look at that!

Thanks for visiting!

Glass artist Karen Wallace in her studio