Marbles-and-More

Ray Laubs Interview


 

Q. Hello Ray, thanks for taking the time to share a bit about yourself and what it is you do. How long have you been making marbles?

A. I've been at it for about 5 years.

Q. Is making marbles a vocation for you or just a hobby? How much time do you spend each day at the office, so to speak?

A. It started as a hobby but has become a vocation. The time varies from day to day. Being "self employed" I've seen days where I would get started at 5 am and finally come in around 9:30 pm. Then there are the times when I take the day off, but you know the story, if you don't work, you don't eat.

Q. Assuming all work and no play makes Ray a dull boy, what do you do to relax? Any other interests?

A. I enjoy taking Sandy and Becky on road trips. My wife works 3rd shift so that throws a wrench into a lot of things. When she's sleeping and I'm done for the day in the shop, thats when I find time to work on steel sculptures and perhaps stained glass projects, of course Beck is there to help me lose tools.

 

                   

Q. How does your wife feel about your passion for working with glass and making marbles?

A. She is a real encouragement. If I come up with a brain storm she's usually just agrees with me and hands over the check book per say. Somehow it seems like my brain storms always cost money.

Q. Lacking any artistic talents, I'm forced to stick with the ol' Hallmark card for special occasions. Have you come up with unique marbles for gifts on special occasions? Care to share any stories?

A. I had recently started doing 3 bubble letters in one marble, as in people's initials. I had an order for the letters MEL. The first one I made I wasn't satisfied with and it just so happened to be the same as my brothers initials, so I gave that one to him. Did I mention just about everyone in my family has marbles now? I think last year they all got icicles.

 

                   

Q. Where does your creative inspiration come from? Do ideas just pop into your head?

A. I do get request for some designs. The DNA swirl was an idea given to me by a lady who is in that line of work.

I read somewhere one time that with the antique sulphides, that nothing less than 3/4 of an inch was known to exist, it was at that point I came up with a set of pee wees. The smallest being 3/8 of an inch. In the initial stages I was losing 85 % of the figures due to breakage while cleaning them, due to the fact they are so tiny. I just about threw that idea out. I had then prayed about it and had to rewrite the processes of doing ceramics, now I might lose 5 %.

I have given ideas away as I dont have time to work on everything. One such idea, as well as the instructions for completion, was 2 interlocking bubble chain links. That particular marble takes a couple days to complete. Some ideas I still hold in secret.

There are a couple websites that sell charms. Ive had folks want specific figures for special occasions, buy the charm and send it to me, from there create a sulphide marble.

Q. In your bio you mention that your wife first shared with you sulphide marbles which began your passion, is there any particular glass artist who's work gives you inspiration today?

A. I appreciate a lot of other artist and their work. My focus is primarily on my own designs and not so much copying what others are doing. The air entrapments I've taken a different direction than what other artists (Geoffry Beetum and Mark Mathews) are doing with them.

Q. Have you made many marbles in the old style of Latticinio, Ribbon, Divided, or Solid Core swirls? I assume they're difficult to make, what's been your experience?

A. Yes I have made and am still making cane style marbles from 1/4 inch up to 1 inch. The hardest part of them is getting both poles tight. Other than that, they are relatively easy to make.

 

         

Q. Do you have any particular thoughts about the craftsman of old who made these types of marbles?

A. I do mine on a bench torch which makes it easier. Those fellows/gals from yesteryear didn't have that advantage. They really showed their talents and abilities in making the smaller cane style marbles.

Q. Having been a wood worker, I've always enjoyed the process of taking raw materials and making something for a particular use. When you make marbles, do you generally start the process thinking of the end result, or do you just jump right in and end up pleasantly surprised?

A. I'll sit down and draw out an idea and "chew" on it for a couple of days, ironing out the process in my head before I actually start on it. I have to have a goal in mind, if I don't, I find myself wandering aimlessly and not getting anything accomplished.

For cane style marbles, the color combinations are usually spontaneously put together. Yet there are times when I do want a particular combination and think it through.

 

                       

Q. The pictures I've seen of marbles being made quite often show a glowing ball of molten glass, at this stage how do you know that the design and colors are gonna end up the way you want them?

A. They have various shades of tinted lenses that torch workers use to see whats going on inside the glob allowing them to keep control over whats happening with something such as a swirl. Furnace workers are not exposed to the soda flare at the torch and therefore they can see inside realitively easy.

Q. How do you make the majority of your marbles, handgathered one at a time, cut from a cane, none of the above? How is the design put in your "air trap" marbles?

A. The marjority of the marbles I make are sulphides made one at a time, hand gathered from a crucible. On the little cane style marbles, I'll break the cane down into small pieces, preheat them and then pinch the poles together as I shape it into a marble.

For the air traps, I make my own tooling which enables me to do 3 letters or various designs in one marble. I really dont want to spill the beans on this one as there are artist (Geoffry Beetum, Mark Mathews come to mind) out there doing other variations of air entrapments and I don't want to interefere with what they have going, let alone slice my own throat in the process. sorry.

Q. Without getting too technical, what are the differences, if there are any, between the methods used today, and the way marbles were made back in the day?

A. They didn't have bench torches back in the late 1800's. The marbles then were all furnace gathered and the pontils then were all ground and seldom if ever polished. Today a small torch is used to melt them in or the artist may cold work them, that is to say, grind and polish them to a sheen.

 

                                  

Q. I'm fascinated by the effort you put into making your own sulphide figures, can you briefly tell us how you make them? How about the figures in your fabulous chess set?

A. I'll start with an original figure and make a mold of it. From there I'll cast the ceramic, fire that. If someone wants it "painted", then I'll apply a high temperature ceramic glaze and then re-fire the figure. The total process on a new figure will usually take a few weeks from start to the finished marble. I normally don't fire the kiln for 1 or 2 figures. It takes a few figures to make it worth firing the kiln, that's another reason it takes a few weeks.

Q. Having no knowledge whatsoever, I've always assumed making a sulphide was extremely difficult. Does the glass and the figure itself have to be the same tempature? If so, how do you put it all together so it comes out?

A. There are a couple methods, the first is using a figure at room temperature. Once encsed this one will retain some air in against the figure causing it to look like an antique one. If you preheat the figure to the same temperature as the glass, then you won't have the air or the silver effect.

 

                   

Q. Your spread winged eagle sulphide with the American flag backdrop is a good example, it just doesn't seem possible to make such a marble in molten glass and have it come out right. Any horror stories of your early attempts you might like to share?

A. Many broken and cracked wings! When I worked on the eagle and flag for the Wheaton Village collaborative vase, I had taken 5 eagle figures along with me just in case. I no longer offer these for sale to the open public. They are only for special occasions or dire need fund raisers etc... as they are a real pain in the neck.

Q. PeeWee Sulphides.....folks must of thought you were nuts! Is there anywhere in the spectrum of marble making that you won't go? Do you make any other glass items besides marbles?

A. I like to do things that no one else is doing. The only thing I wont do in a marble is the laser etchings inside. That's only because I can't afford the 1/4 million dollar machine it takes to do it on. I'm game to go anywhere with a marble design.

Around winter time I get into making icicles, I've done some knife handles out of borosilicate, Ive been wanting to start making some sulphide gearshift knobs but don't have the time. The only other thing that I'm currently doing is slumping thick plates with various colors and dichroic for use in some of my steel sculptures. (when I find the time HA)

 

                   

Q. I've never considered that setting a big ol' sulphide on the window sill could catch something on fire due to the "magnifying" effect, surely you must have an interesting story to tell us about how you discovered that tid bit of information??? :-)

A. A friend of mine one time told me he smelled something burning and figured it was his neighbor burning something. He kept smelling it and went to investigate, here the 3 inch semi round chunk of clear glass in his flower bed set the mulch on fire.

Scott Myer and myself got together recently and were working on some 4 inch sulphides. I took them over to New Jersey so we could both sign them etc... while standing at the back of the car looking at them in hand, we just about put pin point blisters on the inside of our hands. It was a quick and intense sensation coming from the direct sunlight. Let this be a warning to everyone not to sit clear glass marbles in direct sunlight.

 

       

Q. What's the future hold for Ray Laubs, anything in the works that you might like to tell us about?

A. I'm working on perfecting the 4 inchers and from there I would like to get into promotional and organizational work, moving away from the standard marble production. Eventually I have dreams of a 400 pound furnace instead of the small crucibles I'm currently using. Once I've gotten to that stage, then I can consider getting some helpers as I have other ideas for glass and just can't do it all.

Q. Lastly Ray, you are really an inspiration for everyone out there working with glass. Your creativity, your "no holds barred" approach, your enthusiasm - these traits and much more can be seen in your work. Based upon your experiences, what's the best advice you can give to someone just starting out in their adventure of making marbles?

A. IMAGINATION !! Don't fall into the trap of doing what everyone else is doing. It's okay to try what another artist does for the sake of learning, but develop your own designs and techniques. If you only copy what others are doing, you are not an artist but a mere copy cat.

 

       

 

Photos courtesy of SulphideMarbles.com

 

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