Lampworking, or flameworking, uses a torch to work glass and a kiln to cool the pieces. It is used to make mostly jewellery and small, colourful pieces like buttons as well as small sculptures and decorations.
Casting involves molds and makes bigger objects. Finally, blowing is the most complicated form of glass art. It's expensive to set up and very hard to master. It usually makes hollow pieces, and bigger shapes and sizes can be handled.
Young Post meets lampworking artist Shan Luk and discovers what it takes to be a glass artist.
For lampworking you need sensitivity to colours and details, and an interest in jewellery. You also need steady hands to get an even shape. With blowing, you need great body co-ordination - not only hand co-ordination - and strength. You need to enjoy working with a team and be prepared to work in a very hot environment. For casting, you need to have a good 3D sense and experience in wax moldings.
For all techniques, you need to be creative - or have fashion sense - and a high dose of patience.
There are no glass art schools in Hong Kong, but the Academy of Visual Arts at Hong Kong Baptist University provides professional training in major areas of glass art. It also has Hong Kong's only well-equipped glass blowing studio.
Shan Luk advises those who are interested to study the arts (visual, fine, design) and then find a short course to specialise in glass art.
If you want to make jewellery, it's best to take a jewellery-making course and a production design course, both of which are available at HKBU. If you want to expand your horizons and study abroad, there are famous glass schools and workshops at the Sculla de Abata Zanetti in Venice, Italy, and at the Corning Museum of Glass and the Pilchuck Glass School in the US.
The pay varies, but now is a good time to start. The art market is expanding and people in Hong Kong have become more sensitive to the value of unique pieces of art.
Shan Luk says it's hard to make money the first year as you have to focus on learning your craft.
After a few years full-time, Shan Luk says glass artists can earn around HK$20,000 from sales at flea markets and from teaching glass art at workshops. Gallery sales bring the most profits.
Shan Luk used to work for the government but decided she needed a change and signed up for jewellery design at Baptist University. She also took an FGA course in gemmology (read our careers article on the jewellery expert for more details, Young Post, February 24). She then looked for a job in the jewellery industry but couldn't find one that paid enough to support her family.
It was on a trip to Osaka, Japan, for a short lampworking course that she discovered glass art. Before heading home, Shan Luk bought material to work with and converted her kitchen into a studio.
After a few months, she wanted to learn more and searched for a course on the internet. She found and enrolled in a lampworking training workshop in Venice, Italy. There she met her master Lucio Bubacco and truly fell in love with glass art.
Shan Luk says if you plan to set up your own business, fusing and lampworking techniques are easier and cheaper to set up. It will be important to polish your social skills because you will need to expand your network and teach your art.
It's best to start practising the art as a hobby before deciding whether you want to earn a living from it.
Shan Luk says glass art is enjoyable because there's always room for improvement and the learning curve is steep, especially for fusing and lampworking.
She now wants to expand into wearable art and produce more sophisticated pieces that could open the door to galleries.
Because the Hong Kong market is limited, she wants to visit international fairs and exhibitions to keep up with her trade. She recommends the International Expositions of Sculpture Objects and Functional Art in the US.
A day at work
When working on a new piece, Shan Luk starts by making the glass part. She uses her torch and tries different sizes, shapes and colours. She puts the pieces she made in the kiln to cool overnight. The slow cooling kiln helps stabilise the colours and prevents the glass from cracking.
It's always a surprise when she opens the kiln the next day. She takes the pieces out and cleans them. She then thinks of the different ways she could turn the pieces into jewellery. She usually uses metal to compliment a piece and turn it into jewellery. Sometimes she also uses the fusing technique to make a more sophisticated piece.
Shan Luk produces about 20 pieces a month, depending on demand and orders. The pieces can fetch up to HK$2,000 if sold through galleries.
She also visits other artists and fairs. She teaches about two workshops a month and travels to get inspiration.
Although her income is not always steady, Shan Luk loves her work because she can create something unique every time - "something that no one can get even close to".