Painting With Frit or Frittering Your Life Away
By Gil Reynolds
Originally published in Stained Glass News July 20, 2005
Sometimes I wonder why I bother saving all of my scrap glass. I sort it all by expansion, 90 in this box and 96 in another. Then if I get enough of one color I'll even start a separate box for 96 Red - 96 Blue, on and on. Well, the reason I save it, besides not wanting to waste glass, is so that I can crush it up into frit. Because the more I play with frit, the more I like what I can do with it.
Frit is a genetic term that can be used for a wide variety of granular glass products. In the Art Glass Industry, frit has become the common name for compatible pieces of sheet glass that have been crushed into small granules. The sizes range from mosaic sized pieces (7.6 - 15+ mil.) down to Fine frit (.2 - 1.2 mil.). Powders are even smaller grains of crushed glass sheets (.25 and smaller). The coloration of theses frits varies depending on how dense the original sheet was. Enamels are very fine glass powders that generally have a greatly increased color density. (More info on Frits, Enamels, Powders and Paints can be found in my 4 part SGN series starting in Aug - 98)
All of these different types of crushed or ground glass can be extremely useful to any glass artists who work with hot glass - be it with a kiln, torch or furnace - it's all hot glass (glass doesn't melt when it warm). Their uses are many and the incredible visual affects they can achieve are even more varied. With the development of more glass frits, powders and enamels has comes an increase in the number techniques and products relating to crushed glass.
These products range from books on how to use the glass particles to casting molds especially designed for frits to commercial binders that holds the particles together until they are fired in a kiln. The use of binders is really exciting to me because it allows us treat the glass in new ways that haven't previously been explored. And I just love an adventure - don't you?
Binders or mediums for kiln work need some special attributes if they are to really be of much use. They need to burn away clean during the firing because we don't want our glass to be contaminated with ash and foreign debris. They need, at least in my book, to be non-toxic. I get enough poison in my food and from my TV. That pretty much takes Super Glues or Crazy Glue type products out of the running - cyanide gas fumes and all.
I also want a binder to be able to hold the glass particles in place until the glass is hot and sticky enough to bond to it neighbor. This can be a problem with a lot of common holding agents like white glues. They tend to burn out to soon and that allows the glass to move around - not good.
Then there is the area of workability when the glass is wet or in the green or unfired state. Depending upon your particular application, this may or may not be an issue. If you are just going to glue it to a flat surface and fire - then who cares? If you want to be able to mold, form, shape or even draw with the glass, then workability become paramount.
So let's play with some different products and see how they work best. Thomson enamels makes a popular product called "Clear Fire" (now all of these products mentioned are distributed nationally, so just ask you local retailer for them) that is a staple in many kiln crafters studios. It is a fairly runny binder that has excellent holding properties and as the name implies, it fires clear. This is a great choice when you want to paint an area with a binder, sift powders onto that area and have them stick just to the painted areas. Some brands of Aloe Vera gel can be used in the same manor. It is a good holding agent when you are just applying frit to a flat surface. One fun technique to play with involves covering the entire piece of glass with a thin layer of the Aloe Vera gel, then sifting an even layer of frit over the entire piece. Now you can come back with a tool (I like to us the sharpened, non-bristle end of a paint brush) and scrape away the frit to create a design. It's fun and easy and the results can be exceptional.
If you ever find that you need to keep loose frit from moving around, you might want to try spraying it with a light coating of White Rain Hair Spray. It is nice and sticky and it dries hard. I prefer the unscented pump style, that way there are less fumes and none of the aerosol additives to deal with.
Pate-de-verre Glue by Fuse Master has been around for over 10 years now and it is a favorite among many of the artists who pack frit into molds so it can be fired into a solid, dimensional form. This thick gel doesn't burn out to soon. It holds the glass particles in place until the glass partials are sticky enough to bond together. By mixing a ¼ teaspoon of PDV Glue and a teaspoon of water with a tablespoon of frit you create a paste of frit that is easy to position exactly where you would like inside of your mold. This allows you to make controlled designs out of different colors and sizes of frit. Very cool.
One of the newest players in the frit binder game is Liquid Stringer Medium. This is also a gel, but it is mixed one to one with the frit to make a paste that can be squeezed from a cake decorator or squeeze bottle. (This is technique used by Robert Patterson out of TX. and Richard LaLonde up in WA.) The line that is produced is very similar to glass stringer. This allows you to literally draw any image you want onto a piece of glass. If you only fire it to the 1350 F range, the frit line retains it's dimensional quality.
Another unique property of the LSM is that it can be mixed into a thick claylike paste. This paste can be shaped and molded into sculptural forms or different colors of frit can be combined to make pattern bars or millefiori at room temperature. The bars need to be fired in the kiln of course, to bond all of frit particles together. Results are very similar to Fimo clay except that they are made out of glass. This is an area that I find extremely exciting, and one that holds a lot of potential.
Even though people have played with frit pastes for thousands of years, it is still a relatively new field for contemporary glass artists to explore. The advantages of using frit pastes are many and don't be surprised if you find yourself laying in bed at night thinking of all the new things you can do with frit and all of those boxes of scrap glass.
Until Next Time,
Keep a Warm Kiln,