Painting with bubbles is truly an art form, the effects are subtle and only develop after firing. Once fired, there is no way to change the size and distribution of bubbles in the piece, so there is no going back. Thus you have to use a lot of imagination to make the image in one medium, whilst looking into the future all the time, trying to think how it might one day look!
First off, you must find your suitable subject matter. The technique is pretty low-fi, so it can’t have much detail, but it has to be striking enough to stand out in the finished result. Here I’ve chosen a swimming otter, not a lot of detail, some subtle shading and a very recognisable animal.
The subject is sketched up and drawn to the required scale. The drawing is quite sharply defined, since as the painting progresses it needs to be seen through several layers of textured glass.
The first sheet of glass is placed over the sketch and I start to apply the bubble powder to the design. The bubble powder is a fine black powder like soot, it can be applied and manipulated by sifting, stencils, paint brushes, even your fingers. Some is removed using a damp cloth to make lighter areas. More sheets of glass are added and the design is built up across the layers. The layers can be used to create depth in the piece – the bubbles are at different depths in the finished glass, or they can be used get more complex effects and edges.
The image is starting to come together now, but note how this looks like a charcoal sketch, nothing like an image made of bubbles in clear glass! Can you see ahead far enough to envisage how this is going to turn out?
A final layer of clear glass is added to cap the piece (the bubble powder needs to be capped with glass to trap the bubbles as they form). A signature is also added.
And then into the kiln. Fingers crossed for 30 hours or so!!!
And “Hey Presto”, this is what you are hoping for! In this case a little stained glass tracing paint has been added just to complete the definition, but this is not always necessary. Any defects and sharp edges are addressed and the piece is low fired again to gloss the surface and make the trace paint permanent.