When Que sent me the photos for the mushroom tutorial (see last blog entry) there was one image which made me laugh out loud and suggested what our next tutorial could be - creating a caterpillar! Besides being super cute, these are an excellent way to learn to recognise your heat base in soft glass and how to time your joins so that everything flows together happily while also retaining clear definition.
First, choose your favourite caterpillar colour. Transparent colours are generally stiffer and easier to work with if you're just learning to sculpt, and if you have any of the translucent CIM colours these are a good choice, they're sort of soft and sticky at the same time, lovely for sculpting. You'll also need a colour for an eyeball, and black for the pupil, and a punty made from your caterpillar colour - just pull it down into a blunt point.
Gently heat the end of your rod and let the glass condense and form a pea-sized ball. The next step is easier if you can narrow the neck - where the ball and rod join. With a nice sharp little flame heat the rod in that spot and then hold your glass vertically with the ball at the bottom, it should stretch a little to form a neck.
Let the ball cool again and then reheat just the tip of it to an orange glow, heat the end of your punty briefly and kiss them together to join. You can see in the photo it isn't fully melted in but is sitting securely on the blunt tip of the rod. Once joined let them cool again - these are very small pieces of glass and if you work too fast without giving things a chance to set up everything will moosh together and not keep the lovely ball shapes.
With a nice sharp flame heat the line where you creased the ball and once it's glowing pull the two pieces apart and then let the ball round up into a sphere. If it's too small you can add a bit more glass before rounding, if it's too big you can wipe off a bit of the excess back onto the rod while it's still hot. (If you have trouble with this step make sure you heat the line and pull just enough so the flame cuts through the join, instead of pulling too far and elongating everything.)
All of this gets easier with practice, and we recommend melting things back and starting again until you feel happy with your shapes. One of the many advantages of working so small, it's pretty quick and easy to practice, practice, practice!
Before long you will develop a rhythm for this; make a pea-sized ball on the end of your rod, heat and hang to narrow the join and let it cool. Reheat just the tips of the last ball and the new one and once they're glowing kiss them gently together out of the flame. It can help to do a little push-pull movement here to ensure a good join.
Remove the rod at the narrow point by flamecutting. Round up the ball into a nice sphere and while it's still warm you can add two little feet, giving them enough heat so they flow and form a smooth connection. Avoid undercut joins as they're almost certain to crack off eventually. In this way continue to join as many balls, with feet, as you like, making sure to line the feet up with previous feet so your caterpillar will be able to stand.
To finish the body, begin to join the balls so they start to angle upwards by changing the spot where you heat. It's fun to really play around with this and make longer curvier caterpillars, once you get the hang of it.
When your new friend is as long and tall as you like it's time to add some eyes. While the ball is still warm from rounding it up add two dots of colour (or white with a transparent colour on top) and gently flatten with a knife or paddle. Well, I flatten them with a paddle but Que likes to leave them round, preferring the more googly cartoony-looking eyes. Two smaller black dots for pupils and suddenly your caterpillar will come to life, don't be surprised if you get the giggles at this point, there's something really funny about your creation looking back at you!
For the final touch heat above the eyes and add another two dots for feelers. Do these the same way you added feet but this time once they're on pull them out longer and into a curly shape, or keep them shorter and flatten the ends for a different sort of look. Or of course, practice making teeny tiny spheres in various colours and stack them up! Que also adds a crease with a knife to give them a mouth but Penel doesn't bother with this step because her eyesight is not as good!
Because you've been working your way gradually along the caterpillar it won't have a whole lot of heat left in it at this point and so it's safe to pop it into your vermiculite or fibre blanket to finish cooling off. You can make a whole herd of little creatures this way and then batch anneal in the kiln later.
When your caterpillar is cool you can hold the head and safely melt off your punty, forming a smaller sphere or a curly tail tip as in the photo above.
Remember the photo I mentioned that made me laugh out loud? Here it is below; once Que starts playing with an idea she tends to get carried away. I just love this little critter with the fancy toadstool cap holding another one on a leaf, and check out how nicely curved the segments are, with two points of contact for the feet to stand on.
If you've enjoyed this tutorial and made some caterpillars please share them with us on facebook or instagram - we'd love to see them!