Sea Glass: A Raw Material Used by Artists

Sea glass fragments are found all over the world and come in the most amazing rainbow of colors. It is usually found along the beach after a high tide and storms. Many beachcombers collect these pieces and simply display them at home in a jar or bowl right next to seashells.

Sea glass is the product of man-made debris tumbled on the ocean or lake beaches for years, eventually washing up on beaches all over the world. Before plastics and aluminum came into common use things were much more often packaged in glass. Seaglass hunters are having a harder time finding their treasures in these modern times. As a result of its growing rarity, many people have begun manufacturing their own sea glass in rock tumbling machines.

Genuine sea glass is created by Mother Nature’s own recycling process. Glass items in the sea are broken down and smoothed to a polish. The waves and currents act like a giant rock tumbler.

Glass Beach near Mendocino on the Pacific Coast is a popular North American spot known for its seaglass. From 1949 until 1967, the area was a public dump. Back then people dumped all kinds of refuse directly into the ocean including much glass. Now, one can find millions of bits of colored glass sparkling in the sun.

Another famous area that is a rich source of sea glass is the coastline of Seaham and the North East Coast in England where a Victorian glass manufacturer would toss the remnant end-of-the-day pieces over the cliff. This factory was shut down over a hundred years ago and since demolished, but there is great variety found there – even multicolored pieces still wash ashore.

The finest characteristics of sea glass are their colors and contrasts, which inspire many artists to transform this unique debris into some astonishingly beautiful art.

Artists working in clay may embed this glass as decoration into thrown or molded works. The usual forms include pottery and mosaics. By drilling holes into tiny pieces, a skilled jewelry crafter can string them as beads. Artists can also create 3D sculptures of wired glass free-standing or mounted onto canvas.

Genuine gathered sea glass is more fragile than the manufactured type available in craft stores; it can be easily fractured with a drill bit. One must take care to go slowly and work both sides if creating a hole. Immersing the sea glass in water first will help to temper the glass to prevent chipping, burring or breaking. This measure will also protect against breathing in tiny particles of glass while drilling.

Another popular use for collectible sea glass is in “stained glass” effect projects. Artists have created and sold pieces ranging from small pendants to sun catchers to window panes. Whatever form it is applied to, the finished effects can be very striking.

Colors, Rarity and Shapes

  • Quantities of some colors are extremely limited. Orange, turquoise, red, yellow, cobalt blue, purple, black, and Vaseline are the rarest and most desired. Orange and yellow are actually the rarest, yet red and cobalt are much sought after when set in jewelry.
  • Sea glass is often hydrated which can give it a “frosty” surface appearance. Hydration is a time-consuming process of leaching out the lime and soda from the glass. This leaves pitting on the surface of the glass. Soda and lime can be combined with other elements to form tiny crystals in the surface of the glass. Exceptionally good samples will sparkle in the light.
  • Natural tumbling is often uneven on rocky shores, where a piece of glass becomes embedded with a portion still exposed. This frequently produces triangular shards, whereas sandy beaches often make sea glass well-rounded and nearly uniform in shape.

Types of Sea Glass

  • Vaseline Glass: Vaseline glass is made with Uranium and will glow under a black light, and so it is also known as UV Glass.
  • Flashed Glass/ Flash Glass: This is glass that has multiple layers of colors which are clearly visible. Usually this sea glass comes from decorative glass vases, bowls, etc.
  • Cobalt Blue: Cobalt Blue glass is almost always from one of 3 types of bottles: Emerson’s Bromo Seltzer, Milk of Magnesia and Poison Bottles.
  • Red: Originally real gold was used to make red colored glass which means less of it was made to begin with and thus increases the rarity of finding red sea glass.
  • Sun Glass: Lavender sea glass that started off as clear glass, but then turned lavender or, in rare cases, purple when left out in the sun. This is due to glass made with the mineral Manganese added which purples in reaction to sunlight.