Lampworking is a glasswork technique that uses a direct flame. Its name stems from the original use of an actual oil-fuelled lamp, using bellows to blow air into the flame and keep it alive. In approximately 1840, the oil was replaced by methane or propane gas, to enable the artist to work the glass more easily and quickly. Today, glass bead artists use dedicated oxygen-fuelled torches, which mixes the gas with pure oxygen from a canister or from a dedicated tool called a concentrator.
Lampworking techniques use glass rods produced by specialist manufacturers and these rods are available in many different shades of colour. The heat released by the flame of the torch, that reaches a temperature of 900° C (the temperature at which glass from solid becomes soft and pliable), melts the rods, which are then cast onto a steel mandrel covered with refractory material that has to keep rotating. Gravity makes the glass wound around the moving mandrel take on a naturally rounded shape, thus forming the base of the glass bead.
Starting from the round shape, the artist can make many more different shapes by exploiting gravity or by modelling the glass using dedicated tools.
If the pliable glass is rolled by delicately pressing it onto a flat surface you will obtain a cylinder; if the work top is not flat but has some grooves, these will form rises and indents on the bead surface. By slanting the steel mandrel on the work top, the initial round can be modelled to achieve more complex rhomboid, oval or truncated cone shapes.
If the rotation of the steel rod is interrupted, the glass drops downwards, allowing the artist to achieve elongated shapes whereas, if the rotation is not constant, the result will be irregular shapes dictated by chance.
There are many glass bead decoration techniques and each glass master knows the different effects and details achieved. The simplest techniques include decorating the surface with dots and dashes, distorting the decorations, modelling a sommerso or incamiciato bead and the application of gold and silver leaf.
The combination of the techniques, and the creativity and imagination of contemporary artists/artisans mean that an infinite variety of different solutions are created every day, enhancing the already rich expressions and fascination of this centuries-long art.