Handling Glass – the Fascinating Science Behind Glassblowing

FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE. Working as a team at Gent Glas. Photo: Evert Van Laere

Through the creative process of making art, one channels their inner thought into the material world and shapes it according to their will. This presentation of one’s inclination and its originality is the beauty of the process which makes any piece of art unique and one-of-its-kind.

Artists use various canvases to create their wondrous pieces. Glass is a medium that many artists use to practice their craft, as it is a versatile material and can be shaped into various forms. Through different techniques of molding and shaping, artists behind glass art create astounding pieces that leave their audience baffled and amazed.

Mickey Mori. The Hollowed Family. 2022. Blown and Sculpted Glass. Photo: Mike Van Cleven

There are three main types of glass art; hot, warm, and cold. While hot glass art requires higher temperatures, warm glass art can be practiced at lower temperatures. Both these forms require a rise in the temperature as the medium needs to be malleable to reshape it into unique designs. Meanwhile, cold glass art doesn’t require a change in the structure and is created through polishing, etching, and engraving methods.

Out of all the forms of glass art, Glassblowing is an entirely novel and distinctive art. Owing to the expertise required, only a few can truly master this method, rendering it particular and exclusive. No two pieces of glassblowing art are ever similar, which makes one wonder about the extensive and peculiar science that is at work behind the whole alluring process.


Glassblowing art is not a modern invention – it has existed for years, dating back to ancient times. This rich history adds to the value of the whole artistic process. The first credits lie with Israel, Iran, Palestine, and Lebanon in the 1st century B.C. Then there are prominent traces found during the time period of the Roman Empire, where large glass shops were popular, crafting for decorative and practical purposes.

The Process

Even though glass is a fragile object and can break if it is bent or put under pressure, its versatile properties enable it to turn into a liquid form which opens the door for a variety of ways it can be molded. This quality of the amorphous solid, which is rigid but can be bendable, stems from its molecular structure, which can be best described as random. This randomness of structure also makes glass transparent.

Glass is made of silica, a high-quality sand. To bring down the melting point of the mixture, metal, and metal-oxides are further added to it, along with lime (calcium oxide) and soda (sodium dioxide). These ingredients are then added to the batch to melt in a furnace in the workshop called a hot shop by glass blowers. This is where the magic begins!

Raising the temperature to 2000º F, the art of glassblowing begins. The lead glassblower is called the Gaffer; however, as it is a challenging task, a whole group provides assistance to him. A blowpipe, a hollow iron or steel tube that is commonly about four feet long, is used by the gaffer to dip into the furnace and coat the end with a glob of molten glass.

Molten Glass. Workshop at Gent Glas. Photo: Evert Van Laere.

In order to blow a bubble into the molten glass, the gaffer then blows into the blowpipe. He can shape the glass using a large, flat surface known as a marver, depending on the type of object he wishes to create. To mold the molten glass into the desired final product, the gaffer, and his team use additional equipment such as blocks, jacks, heat shields, and paddles.

The glass frequently cools down during shaping to the point where it is unusable. When that occurs, the glass must be placed in a second furnace (known as the glory hole) to reheat it and make it flexible enough to continue being shaped. During this time, the gaffer unleashes the artist within and introduces color to the mix depending on the vision in mind.

Once the product has the desired shape and color, the final product needs to be gently cooled. The cooling process occurs in a third furnace called an annealer until it solidifies yet retains its transparency. Glass can crystallize and lose its translucent nature if it cools down too quickly, becoming incredibly fragile and prone to shattering easily.

While many glassblowers prefer the traditional way of manually blowing, some resort to the help of machines. Technological inventions like bellows and electric blowers can aid in creating the air pocket; however, often, that doesn’t provide the same results. The gaffer celebrates the art of glassblowing authentically by blowing air himself, taking the whole process to match his idea of perfection.

Glassblowing is an individualistic practice that requires dedication and commitment from its artists. As the history of the said art dates back centuries, the artists have to keep close to the tradition in order to create authentic pieces. Along with this, the creative process requires close attention to detail, from melting glass in the hot shop to cooling it down in an annealer. The extensive journey of transforming glass into exquisite pieces is what defines the glass artists and the art of glassblowing in a class of itself.

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John Moran
John Moran is an accomplished glass and mixed-media artist renowned for his captivating Poppolitical art. With a Master of Fine Arts degree from Illinois State University and a Ph.D. from the Academy of Art and Design in Wroclaw, Poland, he has established himself as a leading figure in contemporary art. He has participated in several residencies and exhibited his unique work in many galleries and institutions. As one of the best sculptors in figurative realism within the glass art community, he has presented multiple times at the Glass Art Society Conference. In 2022, he was hailed as the winner of Season 3 of the glass-making reality TV series Blown Away on Netflix. Currently, he resides in Belgium, where he has a non-profit community glass studio – Gent Glas, along with his website backdoorart.

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