If you’ve ever observed a craftsman blowing glass, you know it’s a mesmerizing process that results in one-of-a-kind pieces of art. Whether you make intricate, architectural glass sculptures like Dale Chihuly or functional pieces like vases or wine decanters, glassblowing is an interesting and unique art form.
But can you turn glassblowing into a career? If you want glassblowing to be more than a hobby, there are a few things you need to know. Get answers to all your questions—from “What is a glassblower?” to “How much does a glassblower make?”—in the guide below.
What Is Glassblowing?
Glassblowing is the art of shaping molten glass into a variety of different objects by blowing air into the glass through a tube. Artists who create these works are called glassblowers.
Glassblowing originated in Syria between 27 BC and 14 AD. Craftsmen first created vessels by blowing the hot glass into molds shaped like shells or clusters of grapes. This type of glassblowing is referred to as “mold-blowing.” Eventually, however, they moved away from molds and began to use a “free-blowing” method, which allowed them to create more organic, spherical shapes. That same general technique is still used today.
What Does a Glassblower Do?
If you’ve ever watched a glassblower in action, you’ve seen the smooth, perfectly choreographed dance that takes raw, molten glass and transforms it into a work of art. First, the glassblower collects a ball of molten glass—which has the consistency of molasses—at the end of a blowpipe. The craftsman blows air into the tube, inflating the glass into a bubble. Then the glassblower manipulates the glass with a variety of tools (e.g., shears, blocks, paddles, or tweezers) and techniques (e.g., rolling, reheating, and stretching) until it reaches its final form.
The artist can also add color to the glass with a few different techniques, including rolling the hot glass in powdered colors or other pieces of colored glass.
Finally, the craftsman places the glass into a furnace that slowly cools the piece over a period of hours or days. This is a critical part of the process; if a piece of blown glass isn’t cooled properly, it may shatter due to thermal stress.
Glass-blown pieces can vary widely from artist to artist. Some, such as Dale Chihuly, create large-scale architectural installations, while others focus on smaller or more functional items, such as earrings, drinking glasses, or ornaments.
How to Become a Glassblower
Because glassblowing is a fine art, there’s no one linear path to making it your career; rather, it comes down to learning the process and mastering the tools and techniques. And, because this art form involves direct work with molten glass, it’s essential that you learn the craft from a reputable source so you can practice it safely. With that in mind, there are a few different ways you can learn how to be a glassblower.
You don’t necessarily need an art degree or design degree to become a glassblower. However, there are several colleges and universities that offer glassblowing programs. Colleges and universities can be an ideal place to master the art of glassblowing, as they offer access to the facilities, materials, and tools that could be otherwise difficult to acquire.
The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), for example, offers a 4,800-square-foot hot shop equipped with a full six-station glassblowing facility—an ideal place to learn and practice glassblowing. Alfred University in Alfred, New York offers a program in sculptural and dimensional studies that includes work with glass as well as neon, paper, wood, and metal.
The specific degree may vary from school to school. At UTA, for example, you can earn a bachelor of fine art degree with a concentration in glass.
Aside from traditional colleges and universities, there are well-known craft schools that specialize in teaching art forms like glassblowing. The Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine, for example, offers workshops for craftsmen of all levels, as well as a studio residency program for more established artists. Similarly, at Penland School of Craft in North Carolina, you can take one- to eight-week workshops in glassblowing taught by visiting instructors.
These schools are ideal if you want an immersive learning experience without the commitment of a full, years-long degree program.
Apprenticeship in Place of a Degree
Attending a craft school or university isn’t the only way to learn the glassblowing process; you can also learn from another experienced artist—also known as an apprenticeship. Unlike corporate internships, which typically involve a formal application process, finding an apprenticeship is often an informal process. You might, for example, start by volunteering at a glass studio—even if you’re simply working in the gift shop. Then, as you get to know the glassblowers and become more familiar with the process, you may be able to express your interest and take on an apprentice role.
As an apprentice, you will likely start by supporting the glassblower—by, for example, doing prep work, operating the furnaces, or cleaning up. However, over time, you will observe and learn glassblowing techniques and begin to make projects of your own.
Classes at Local Studios
Perhaps the most accessible introduction to the art of glassblowing is taking a class at a local glassblowing studio. Many studios offer beginner-level lessons under the guidance of an experienced artist. Generally, these classes last anywhere from thirty minutes to a few hours, and you walk away with a completed piece of glass art. These classes can be a great way to get a taste of glassblowing before you commit to a more comprehensive and time-consuming program.
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Average Glassblower Salary
How much does a glassblower make? Because glassblowers are artists, their income can vary widely depending on the exact pieces they create, their prices, their level of skill, and whether they supplement the sale of their work with other income opportunities, such as teaching classes.
With that in mind, some sources report that the salary can range from about $10,000 to well over $200,000 per year. But what can you realistically expect? According to Glassdoor, the average glassblower salary is just over $39,000.
Types of Glassblower Jobs
As a glassblower, you can choose to work for yourself or as an employee of a school, studio, or gallery.
Many glassblowers work as independent artists. By pursuing self-employment, you can retain complete control over your artistic vision and the prices of your art. You may sell your art online, in a studio or retail environment, or at pop-up events, like festivals and art shows. This can be the most difficult path for how to be a glassblower, as your income is fully dependent on your ability to build a reputation and sell your pieces to the public. However, it also offers the most earning potential and creative freedom.
Museum or Gallery Employment
Many museums, glass factories, and galleries hire glassblowers to not only create custom pieces of art, but also to demonstrate glassblowing techniques to their patrons. Often, glassblowers in this type of setting work in teams to create a large volume of pieces.
At some point, you may decide you want to pass on your mastery of glassblowers to other craftsmen. So, you may choose to work for a studio, college, or university as a glassblowing instructor. These roles can range from a full-time professor to a short stint as a visiting instructor at a craft school or gallery.
Let Your Glassblowing Career Take Shape
As a glassblower, you have the opportunity to transform shapeless globs of molten glass into beautiful works of art—all with your own breath and hands. Whether you want to establish your reputation as an independent artist or teach others the craft of shaping glass, you can build a successful glassblowing career.
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