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Finding Inspiration

August 20, 2008

 I have been wracking my brains trying to think of a great blog topic for the week. It has been hard enough dealing with the fact that my bead mojo decided to take an unannounced vacation this past few days, but does that have to mean that all inspiration has flown the coop?

 In an either creative or foolish turn, I have decided to combine my conundrums, and face the beast head-on. What better topic for an artist’s blog than inspiration? I have taken three common areas artists often look to for inspiration. But the best inspiration needs to have a dash of creativity to it, so I have tried to assemble some uncommon ideas to get your mojo going, in hopes that it will also help mine find its way home!


Obviously other artists in your field will always serve as inspiration. But instead of confining yourself to your genre, choose another field entirely to use for inspiration. Since I work with glass, I would look to a favorite painting (Starry Night by Van Gogh); ironworks (an ornate, old gate to a cemetery); a favorite book or character (yes, I believe literature is art!); even architecture (imagine using an old Gothic church to move your muse). I think you get the picture (no pun intended!). Rather than looking at examples from your own medium, force yourself to open your world to the possibilities that exist within the artistic realm of expression.


Another major inspiration for many artists is nature. If you haven’t looked to nature yet, try it out. But don’t feel that you need to re-create a perfect replica of the rose outside your window (unless that’s your thing, of course!) Instead, try to view nature in abstract forms to apply to your art. What else is it about the rose that inspires you? The color, the shape, the scent? Allow you brain to take the idea of a rose and see what it connects with. All can be jumping off points for your imagination to create an unexpected masterpiece.


Using the right combination of colors can cause your work to go in directions you never thought they would go. But don’t just rely on a color wheel to get your imagination on fire. Look to textiles, magazines, and even product packaging, (all three of which are designed to catch your eye), for your next color combination. If you are feeling particularly brave, lay out a selection of colors and chose two or three. Now make something with only those colors. You will be forcing your brain to think in a different way, which will inevitably cause your end-result to be fresh and, hopefully, original. Choose colors that go with an abstract theme, such as “hope” and see what you get.

 Every artist faces times when it seems their inspiration has left them high and dry. But I believe the key it to get your brain making those connections between the world around you and the world of possibilities. Once you prime the pump, the ideas will likely flow so quickly you can’t catch up with them. And isn’t that a wonderful problem to have as an artist?


Living with a Bead Thief

August 11, 2008

 I live with a kleptomaniac. He has a very specific target, which is so hurtful to me as a glass bead artist and jewelry designer. He is a bead thief.


He is just over 11 years old, covered in orange hair, and also has a serious catnip problem. And for some reason, has developed a bead fetish in recent months, especially when they are packaged in plastic bags.


Bead Thief after a particularly nasty catnip binge.

Bead Thief after a particularly nasty catnip binge.

At first it was cute to watch him fly over the baby gate, precious stolen goods in mouth. Then, I began to find bags left by my bed, in the middle of the living room floor, hidden under the couch. The ones by the bed caused the hairs on the back of my neck to raise up; were they supposed to an offering, or a warning? Was I supposed to be proud of him for “catching” an, oh-so-quick-bag of beads? Or was I supposed to start beading with one eye turned over my shoulder (ok, so he also has a staring problem that can creep anyone out!)


 The final straw was last week. A beautiful set of five beads were drying after being cleaned. They were little purple trinkets of joy. And faster than you can say “meow,” when my back was turned, one of the beads disappeared. Just like that, gone. No where to be found. The bead thief had struck! I can only imagine what his treasure trove will look like in a year if we don’t stage an intervention immediately.

 The poor little bead set had to be listed without it’s sibling, whose absence was felt as I uploaded the picture

Note how the first bead can barely stand upright, due to its sorrow.

Note how the first bead can barely stand upright, due to its sorrow.

to my Etsy listing. I included a picture of the bead thief, just in case he is working as part of a larger feline bead operation. Maybe, someone will recognize his orange klepto behind, and he will be brought to justice, and my beads will be free.


Hopefully, we can work together to prevent future felines from straying down the wrong alley and our lovely beads from being ripped from their homes, only to lie among dust bunnies, bottle caps, and twist ties.



So What is This “Annealing” Thing You Speak of?

August 3, 2008

 If you’ve looked at even a handful of lampwork bead listings on Ebay or Etsy, you’ve undoubtedly seem the term “annealed”. Most likely, the seller pointed out that their lampwork beads are annealed for strength. But what exactly does that mean, and why is that important? Aren’t we supposed to accept the fact that glass is fragile, and will break?


If you were to look up “anneal” in the dictionary, you would probably find two definitions, one very general: to strengthen or harden; and one more specific: to subject glass or metal to a process of heating and slow cooling in order to toughen and reduce brittleness.1


If glass beads are not annealed they can and do crack right down the middle of the bead. So what exactly does annealing do to prevent this?


Without getting too technical, the bonds that hold glass atoms together have different strengths.2 This is what allows glass to be gradually softened and worked with heat. Then, the bead must be cooled, or else we couldn’t use it! However, these temperature changes can introduce what we call stress in the bead. This stress is what causes the bead to crack.


Think of a bead like the inside of a hot pastry…it may be cool enough to touch, but when you bite into it, the temperature change is so great, you scald your mouth. The same thing happens when you allow a bead to cool at room temperature; the outside cools much faster, and those atoms start to re-form their bonds. However, the inside of the bead has a much hotter temperature, and these different rates of cooling means the atoms cannot properly re-aligned themselves into a stable structure throughout the bead.


Reputable lampworkers use a kiln to anneal their beads. When the beads are still quite hot, they are put into a hot kiln and allowed time to achieve an even temperature throughout the bead. Then, the kiln lowers the temperature very slowly, so there are no great disparities within the bead in terms of temperature. Some people use fiber blankets or warmed vermiculite to slow the cooling rate of their beads, but these methods do not allow the bead time to achieve a uniform temperature before they cool, and are not truly annealed.


Annealing isn’t an absolute guarantee against breakage—if the glass is not worked properly in the lampworking process and is allowed to get too cool while still being torched, stress can definitely enter the bead, and will not be repaired unless the bead itself is thoroughly reheated to a high temperature. However, properly created and annealed lampwork beads should last a lifetime.


1. American Heritage Dictionary

2. “Annealing Glass” Corning Museum of Glass,

Why do Artist-Made Lampwork Beads Cost More?

July 25, 2008


Many people may admire artist-made lampwork beads, but, if they don’t exactly shudder at the price, they at least give a little quiver! What is the reason these little glass beauties are so darned expensive when compared to other beads? They are just glass after all, aren’t they?


Well, yes, they are made of glass. But, an artist-made glass bead goes beyond being “just glass” the same way a potters vase goes beyond just being a piece of clay.


First, a little aside to explain what I mean when I say “artist-made”. Every lampwork bead, by definition, is handmade—even the super cheap mass imports. This is where many unscrupulous sellers will prey on buyers—they are selling handmade goods after all, who cares if they are mass-produced in a factory? Handmade is handmade, right? Well, no, not really when it comes to lampwork. Artist-made beads refers to people such as myself—individuals or small co-ops, who imagine their own designs, which they produce themselves. Quality, not quantity, is the motivating force.


So back to lampwork beads being “just glass.” I mean, you can go to the local dollar shop and buy a drinking glass for $1 so glass must be a pretty cheap material, right? Some glass is cheap, but not the glass used for lampwork. Lampwork glass rods are specially made for the art, and some of the newer, exciting silver glasses can cost as much as $4 per 15” rod. That doesn’t go too far! Starting out a studio with a small selection of glass can cost over $100, and that is on the conservative side. Plus, the glass gets used up fairly quickly, and not every bead you create will make the quality control cut, so there is waste that adds up.


Even if a lampwork artist chooses to forgo any expensive glass colors, there are still a number of items that must be purchased to even make the beads, much less sell them. You will need a torch, fuel, a kiln to anneal the beads (more about this in a future blog), an oxygen source, mandrels, bead release…oh, and electricity to run the kiln!


So now we can make some simple round beads…if you want to venture into shapes and some really cool effects, you need to add tools such as marvers, presses, frit, silver foil, etc.


It should be easy to see that setting up a lampwork studio, even a modest one, is not cheap. We haven’t even discussed the idea of the artist earning any money from the beads, we have only covered the cost of supplies. Hopefully, people would understand that an artist needs to earn a living wage, just like the rest of Americans.


And that gets to the heart of why some lampwork beads are offered so cheaply on places like Ebay, Etsy and your local craft store. Any bead priced so low is definitely made in a factory, probably in China or India, and the workers are NOT being paid a living wage to crank out the beads. It’s simple economics. The prices of the cheap lampwork reflects that—believe me the factory owners and the re-sellers are taking their cut, so what does that leave?


When you buy an artist-made bead, you are supporting self-representing artists who care about their work, as much, if not more than, the money they make. Yes, artist-made beads are more expensive, but you will get what you pay for. I can, and probably will, fill another blog about mass-produced beads and what you get for your money, but for now, I hope you understand why you will not find my beads in the “cheap” sections of on-line venues. You are buying a piece of my imagination after all, and that is worth something!

Lessons Learned: Know your Market!

July 20, 2008


I did my first official “big-girl” show last week, the Buffalo Indie Market. I had a couple of jewelry showings in the past—a school fund-raiser and a home party—but nothing that put me in the same league as other handcrafters and artists.

I had attended the previous Indie Market, so I felt that I knew what I needed to bring out of my inventory to have a successful show. Since I make my own lampwork beads, I figured that would be my hook—I could offer beautiful jewelry that would truly be one-of-a-kind. Isn’t that what people want?

I discovered people want beautiful jewelry that make them feel like they are one-of-a-kind. Big difference! Beauty is wonderful, but it can’t break the pocketbook! While my prices are at the lower end of the spectrum compared to some other lampwork artists, they are still more expensive that typical beads. Even though math is not my favorite, even I can see quickly this means my jewelry is going to be more expensive compared to other jewelry artists. And while people admired, complimented and fondled my higher end items, they took home affordable, budget friendly earrings and bracelets (of which I hadn’t brought anywhere nearly enough)!

Am I discouraged?

Not at all.

I realize that people may admire my lampwork, but need to opt for the smaller items that will make them feel special. And I want to sell my work to people, so they can take it home with them…I’m not a museum curator after all!

So I need to review and re-adjust my plan of attack for this particular market. If I had paid closer attention to the market, and less time thinking about how I could be “special,” I definitely would have been much more strategic about which pieces I brought to the show. It’s wonderful to be able to market yourself as someone who is unique, but don’t let it go to your head!

The most important lesson, is not to take it personally. If you have found a good venue, which I feel I have at the Indie Market, find a way to make the show work for you. Rethink the proportion of items you bring in each price point…ask customers what they would like to see…and add those things to your already existing beautiful items. Don’t think of it as changing who you are as a artist, but rather expanding your repertoire!