Glassblowing is exactly as it sounds: a glass smith puts a bubble of molten sand at the tip of a tube and delicately, meticulously blows it into the desired shape. The process takes a long time, a tremendous amount of skill and practice, hellish heat, and true commitment to an ancient process of creation.
Glassblowing is an art form that has been around since the last century B.C. Glass was a precious commodity at the time of the birth of glass blowing, thus giving the early Mesopotamian people who were the first glass smiths all the more reason to carefully transform glass into an aesthetically pleasing, functional work of art. Modern forms of glass blown products include many examples including awesome dab rigs and bongs.
Glass itself shares a history that runs parallel to the history of humans. Glass, in fact, ultimately predates life, seeing as glass occurs naturally. During heated natural phenomena, such as volcanic eruption or lightning storms, if certain types of rock get superheated and then cool rapidly, they form Mother Nature’s glass. It’s thought that humans discovered this process by observing lightning striking a beach and then witnessing the resulting glass.
The process of glassblowing came about when someone thought to add the power of inflation to the previously established art of glass working. Because the atoms in glass are strongly bonded, glass is capable of being inflated into various shapes while maintaining its shaped form. It then quickly hardens that way, resulting in glassware.
In the centuries since glassblowing was discovered, glass smiths have implemented many new techniques. Two of the distinct techniques that emerged in the craft of glassblowing are mold-blowing and free-blowing.
A glass smith can choose either to use a mold – wherein the glass is blown into a wooden or metal mold to shape it – or shape the glass freeform. The free-blowing method came first, and it involves a lot of finesse on the part of the smith. Either way, the results are equally stunning, and neither is considered to create an inferior product.
Mold-blowing is more “reliable,” but it does lose some of the intense skill and artistry needed for free blowing. It also requires more equipment, whereas free-blowing only calls for a capable glass smith. A well educated glass smith can fashion any item out of blown glass by carefully rotating their blow tube and applying the right amount of blowing force and cooling time. The more experienced glass smith can shape the glass expertly into any shape desired.