Fueling The Passion

Mike Close

Mike Close

Spotlight on our newest “Hall of Flame” member, Mike Close!

Mike CloseMost of the members of the So. Cal. Flame Surfers are primarily glass bead makers, but the talent amongst our artist’s doesn’t stop there. Starting out as a collector of marbles, he expanded his interest into designing his own marble mold and from there making his own fantastic marbles. I first saw his marbles about a year after he first started making them, and was in awe over them back then. And now, even after only 2 ½ years of part time torching, his skills in glasswork are amazing. A natural talent he’s uncovered in himself and we’re fortunate to have him as a member of the SCFS’s.

Mike CloseHow long have you been making marbles and beads?
About 2 ½ yrs.

What sparked your interest in making marbles and beads?
I started collecting antique marbles. At the marble shows, along with all the antique and vintage marble collectors and dealers, there were always a few contemporary marble artists displaying their art. I was drawn to those marbles as well as the antique ones and soon had a small collection of contemporary glass art marbles. In talking to, and getting to know the artists,Mike Close graphite tools I found out they use graphite tools to help shape the glass. I own a small manufacturing company and we machine graphite in the shop all the time, so I thought I could make some graphite tools and sell to the artists. After checking on the internet, I found this was already being done, and for much less then I could do it, so until I had a unique idea, I would just be content to collect the glass art and antique marbles. One day, we were doing a job and we had a big piece of graphite machined up and as I walked by, I thought to myself, that would make a good marble mold!! But it was way too big. So I had this idea for a unique design for a marble mold. I created a prototype of the geometry and machined the first sample. Mike CloseI called an artist friend of mine who lives close and asked if he would test it. The artist was Cal Sugita ( RAZ ). He tested the prototype, with me looking on, and said it works good and I should try it. So I reluctantly sat down behind his torch and nervously picked up some glass and asked “What do I do now?” I used that prototype to make my first marble and a second. I was surprised they came out more or less round!! I was hooked big time after that night. A few refinements to the geometry of the mold and we had a pretty nice, new style marble mold that is currently available for sale. I continued to go back to Cal’s house and my interest and desire to work in this art grew from there.

Mike CloseWhat other arts/crafts are you involved in, and if any, how have they influenced your marble and beadmaking?
When I was younger, I made jewelry. Silversmith, goldsmith, lost wax, lapidary. I have always enjoyed working with my hands.

Have you taken classes or are you self-learned? If you have taken classes, from whom?
Well, Cal got me started and I worked at his studio for a few sessions at the very beginning. But this was all marbles, all the time. I got some books and read them. I watched videos and got some ideas, tips and hints from them. And I just worked and practiced. After a time, maybe a year, of mostly making marbles in my garage part time, I did take a 4 day class with Slinger. The class was at Revere Studios in Berkley, Ca. I learned a lot there. It was primarily a class on working with tube.

Mike CloseWhose beads or glass work inspires you the most and why?
I love to look at glass art. Each artist brings their own style and creative techniques to the table and this is reflected in their art. As with all things, some I like, some is not for me, and some really resonates and I am just drawn to it. But even from the art that does not appeal to me, I can learn things and can appreciate the talent and artistic vision of the artist. I have a few marble artists that consistently inspire me to improve my techniques and broaden my artistic vision. Josh Sable, for his precision and execution, Travis Webber, for his attention to detail, and creative vision, Mike Gong, for his whimsy and mystic designs. These are just a few that make me want to continue to improve my skills and vision.

Mike CloseWhat type of glass do you primarily work with?
Mostly Boro. I have tried the soft glass and it is really hard to keep from burning for me. And I still have plenty to learn about boro, so I’ll stick with that for a while before crossing over.

What torch do you use?
I use a GTT Phantom on tanked oxy.

Do you have a specific technique you use?
For marbles, I use whatever is required for the design I am trying to make. For beads, I tend to follow a certain technique with a few variables that produce a wide range of designs and patterns. I make a twisty with a cMike Closelear rod as the base and striking colors applied to the outside, then twisted. This is wrapped on the mandrel and then a couple layers of clear are wrapped. The clear is melted down over the twisty to form the bead. Then, I let it cool a bit and strike it in the back of the flame to develop the colors. After it looks like I want, it goes into the kiln. From this basic technique/process, I have used silver and gold fume, different shaping techniques, etc. But most of my beads, at the moment anyway, are basic round beads encased in clear. I let the fantastic colors from the boro bring the design home inside the clear.

Do you have a “signature” marble or bead? If so, how did you develop its concept?
At this point in my lampworking journey, I have not developed what I would call a specific signature design in beads or marbles. On the marble side, I do like to spend time decorating the backs of the marbles with raking and pinwheels. Many times, I like the backs better then the fronts! For beads, I feel they are a pretty basic bead. Nice designs and colors, but nothing where you would say “ Oh! Is that a Mike Close bead?” Not yet…….

Mike CloseYour very first beads…..do you still have them? Do you want to show comparison pictures from those to your present day beads? C’mon, it’ll be inspiration for those just starting out!
Hahaha. My first beads were wonky and out of round. I made them after watching a video. My wife strung them and we gave them away as Christmas gifts. I must have made 30 or 40 that first group. Not all at the same time. It took a week or more working part time. The next time I made beads, about 6 or 7 months had passed. I found that these next beads were coming out much better. Consistent in size, they were pretty round. I was impressed! I was expecting more of the wonky, not so great stuff I had made the last time. But just the time spent working with hot glass making marbles helped me to relate to what was going on with the beads muchMike Closebetter. I had a better feel for the glass and why it was behaving the way it was on the mandrel. I know it was only time and practice working with glass that accounted for the improvement. So I am here to tell you, each time you work with glass, you learn something. Each time, you take away something that will help you next time. And over time, you will develop skills that you thought you could never master. I tell my students, “ This is not as easy as I make it look, but if you practice, you can make it look this easy too”.

Where is your studio set up? Home, garage, rented space, etc.?
I have a spot set up in my garage. I have room for 2 torches.

Mike CloseHow much time per week do you make beads?
I work on glass about 5 to 10 hrs a week at the moment.

Is your bead career a full time job for you? If only part-time; spare time, what else is your career or your career aspirations?
Glass work is a hobby for me. As I said earlier, I own a small manufacturing company. We build Plastic injection molds for all types of plastic parts. Basically, it is a pretty well equipped machine shop.

Mike CloseDo you teach bead making classes?
I teach a Beginning Boro Class at Glass Obsessions in Yorba Linda. It covers beginning beads and very simple marbles. Really it is an intro to lampwork using boro as your glass. I also teach a marble class there.

What new techniques do you want to learn?
Oh, there are so many. And I am sure, there are techniques I want to learn, but I don’t even know about them yet! When I first started lampworking, I was all over the place, because I wanted to ‘try’ everything, do everything. I have settled down a bit now and am refining the things I do know and am careful about what I will attempt next. There are still some aspects of working with tubing that I really want to develop. I think I would like to make some hollow tube imploded beads with striking colors and fume…..In my mind, they look awesome. I wish you could see them! I wish I had the knowledge of the technique and the skill to execute them as I see them. Not yet, not yet. But this is a journey, and there is plenty of road ahead of me.

Mike CloseHow would you like your glasswork to develop over the years? Are you content with beads, or would you like to expand into other venues, i.e. marbles, vessels, etc.
I love making marbles. I do this for my own enjoyment. But they tend to multiply and where do you put them all? My wife wants me to do things that have some function, some use other then looking good. So the beads and pendants fill that need/request at the moment. I would like to be able to do more with vessels, cups, small jars and such. There are Christmas ornaments, door and cabinet pulls, chain pulls for ceiling fans and lamps…….the opportunities are endless and they are out there. I’m sure I will branch out into other things.

Mike CloseAny final words of wisdom for those aspiring to learn this art form?
This is a wonderful art form with which you can express yourself in so many ways. And, it might end up paying it’s own way as your friends and relatives see your work.
This may seem like a solitary endeavor. And truly, when you sit behind your torch, the world fades away as you focus on that hot glass spinning in front of you. You have to control it, form it, shape and decorate it as you see it in your mind. The world around you becomes that one piece of glass and you working on it. All the other cares of the day go to the back shelf as you concentrate on your work. I have found this to be a very cathartic aspect of the art. For a while, I can get lost in the glass and forget the troubles of the day.But that is only one aspect of this wonderful art. Another is the people you meet as you get involved. Join a club, go to a show, stop in at a store for supplies. Everyplace you go, you meet like minded people who are sharing your love of glass art and melting glass. Even if you have never met themMike Closebefore, soon, you are old friends talking about a particular color or technique. Maybe you find you have mutual friends, or even like the same foods. Who knows? But what I do know, when this happens, when you meet a new friend or meet up with an old friend or group of friends, again, the cares of the world fade away and your love of glass takes over. There are smiles all around and a good time will be had by all. It is good to know that even though you may be sitting alone working on your art, you are not alone in your love of it. And a quick phone call or email puts you in touch with friends all over the country and even the world. It is a wonderful way to express yourself, meet other lovers of glass art, exchange cultural and artistic ideas and interact with people on a more personal level. I think it helps you grow as a person, as well as an artist.
Marble On!
Mike Close

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