Glassblowing: Be an Artist and Your own Boss

Are you considering entering the glassblowing business? Whether you watched glassblowers during a workshop and decided to take it up as a hobby or you were inspired by unique glass pieces and want to try it for yourself, you’ll find that it’s possible to launch a career in this craft with training and the right tools. 

To find out more, here’s a guide to becoming a glass artist and setting up your own glassblowing business. 

What is glassblowing? 

Glassblowing is the art of shaping glass that has been softened using heat. As its name suggests, the practice involves the glassblower blowing with their mouth into a pipe. At the end of this pipe is the molten glass, which forms a bubble when blown into. While it is soft, it’s manipulated into the desired shape using tools such as tweezers and a marver – a smooth surface used to roll the glass onto. 

The glass itself is made from a combination of sand, limestone, potash, and soda ash. To achieve the right levels of flexibility, the glass is heated to over 1,000⁰C. 

The history of glassblowing

Glassblowing was discovered by Syrian craftsmen in the 1st century BC. However, it was around the time of the Crusades that it became a popular craft, with glass manufacturing being developed into an industry in Venice. 

By the 1500s, Venetians had moved to other parts of Europe and set up glassblowing factories, with English glassmakers adopting the practice by 1575. It was just over 30 years before glassblowing reached the United States. 

While machinery was introduced in the late 1800s and early 1900s to develop processes such as automatic bottle blowing, the original skills involved in manual glassblowing remain today. 

How to train as a glassblower

If you’d love to be a glassblower, you’ll find that there are different ways to pick up this craft, from attending workshops hosted by glassmaking companies to gaining formal academic qualifications in glass techniques via a college course. If you’re planning on setting up a business as a glassblower and selling your work, the academic route could be a more suitable option as this is a detailed look at the different ways to mould glass. 

As a student, you’ll learn the basics of using a blowpipe, how to shape the glass with tweezers and the marver, and use the paddles, jacks, shears and punty to add to the design. You’ll learn to make everything from glass ornaments to scientific equipment. 

Consider what you need

As already mentioned, there are certain tools that are needed in order to successfully shape glass. When studying the practice of glassblowing, you’ll be taught about the main tools so that you can form your own glassblowing kit. 

Other equipment to consider is protective wear. The temperatures used to melt the glass down are extremely high, so health and safety needs to be paramount. Again, you’ll be taught how to safely handle the heat and the molten glass, but before you set up on your own, invest in protective wear such as goggles, gloves, and arm protection to prevent coming into contact with the flames

Become a professional glassblower 

Venice may still be the glassblowing hub, but you can still establish yourself as a glassblower here in the UK. After you’ve qualified, you could set up and produce private commissions, exhibit your work in a gallery, or join a workshop where you can showcase your skills to the public. 

Will you take the plunge and try a career change in this exciting craft?