After working in dental laboratories for 16 years as a stainer and glazer in the porcelain department, most recently at Ottawa Dental Laboratory in Ottawa, IL, Michelle Rial was itching to apply the skills she had learned to a life outside the lab. Rial had what she calls "a lightbulb moment" during a visit to a glass supply house near her home. At the urging of her husband, Rial bought an instruction book, a kiln, a couple tons of glass and taught herself the art of glass fusion.
Glass fusion is a relatively unknown art form in which layers of colored glass are cut, stacked and fused in a kiln to create intricate, complex pieces that can stand on their own or be mounted on the wall. Powder glass and chips, on the surface or below, add interest to the design and create depth and texture. "Not too many people know what glass fusion is. Everyone thinks it's blowing glass or stained glass but it is much more complex with many variables and analysis involved; change a couple of minutes or degrees in the kiln and it can change everything," explains Rial, now a successful glass fusion artist with exhibits in California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois.
Some staining and glazing techniques from her days in the laboratory have carried over into her artwork, distinguishing her from her glass fusion peers. "Fusing glass powder is very similar to dental porcelain and has the same consistency. In fact, I use dental tools," says Rial, who orders dental picks online and still uses the same Kolinsky sable brushes she used at the laboratory.
Rial's experience in dental technology has been a positive influence on her art. "Working at the lab has helped my creative eye to see things differently," she says. Much like a ceramist's work, Rial experiments with luminescence, texture and depth to produce lifelike results, and also factors in how light will affect the visual impact of the finished piece. Her favorite part of the process? Strategizing how to develop and execute the designs that she says are already complete in her mind's eye.
Former technician Michelle Rial has created more than 650 pieces of glass fusion art since she learned the technique 10 years ago. She uses some of the same stain and glaze techniques that she used in the laboratory.
You can contact her through her website: www.glasstf.com/index.html