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The Process of Sand Etching Glass

Simply put: the glass is covered with a protective layer, the outlines of the design are cut using an exacto knife, I peel off one piece at a time and sandblast the exposed glass. By playing smooth areas, which look dark, against rougher sandblasted areas, which look white, I can get parts of the picture to look round or flat, soft or hard, near or far. It's a lot like doing airbrush or spray paint, only I have a 1/4" hole in a pistol-sized gun, and the marks are made by silica sand blown out of the gun by high pressure air, chipping very tiny pieces in the glass where they hit. I use all sorts of materials to protect the glass and get textures I want: thick sandblasting resist, contact paper, glue, paint, ferns, sticks, rocks, and shapes cut out of milk cartons. When trying to get the texture of a bull elk's mane one day and a mermaid's tail the next, you get pretty creative.

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Before I get to blast, I spend lots of time in Photoshop working up artwork so that the client and I can tell how the finished piece might look. Then I simplify it and make an overhead transparency for myself. I project the image on the resist-covered glass, draw the design on, and cut along all the lines. I use very fine sand (70 grit silica) since I do mostly tempered glass; it allows me to etch lots of detail and not go too deep. (I never use acid, which looks washed-out and blotchy, and is not at all enviornment-friendly.) The sand is blasted at low pressure (~45 psi) from a gravity feed pot that allows the sand to be siphoned up as the air blows by. The sand blows out of a gun controlled with a squeeze handle, through the ceramic tip and sprays out in the shape of a cone. I blast along an edge of a shape I've peeled off and exposed, making it look shaded. Look at the dolphin's face and body; see how I've sprayed along the edge and center of the exposed shape, first having peeled pieces from and blasted along it's mouth, melon and eyes .

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If you think this looks like fun (it is!) and want to know more about how to do etched glass, I'm more than happy help you try it. Lots of people taught me along the way, and I'm delighted to pass on the favor. Just call or email. I can save you some time or agony; for example, don't buy a compressor just because it says "sandblasting" on it-- you'll want to get a monster, or rent because you'll need to be able to move a whole lot of air for several hours. And just get the inexpensive gravity feed pot, I use it for almost everything, even though I have lots of fancier toys. But a word of caution: sand dust causes silicosis, a disease where the tiny shards of broken glass you breathe in cut their way through your lungs forever. This causes scarring, which makes your aveoli hard, and you'll drown in your own juices. You must use a very good respirator, ok? If you don't need to buy a compressor, you can be set up for less than $200.

Jill Pridgeon

email: sandblaster@charter.net

Phone: 541.265.3779

Fax: 541.265.2699

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