birds of a feather flock together

One of the things that can be tough sometimes as an artist is finding your own creative voice and making things that are uniquely yours. With glass beads it can be especially hard… sometimes it seems that everything has been done before, in one form or another. People are always coming up with new variations, but the techniques and the materials are largely the same.

Solution: play, experiment, find new inspiration… rinse, repeat.

I wanted to make bird beads, but I had to do a bit of research first to see what other people were doing so I could come up with something different. There are a lot, and I mean a LOT of beadmakers who make bird beads.

Stephanie Sersich makes birds:
Stephanie Sersich bird bead

Amy Johnson makes birds:
Amy Johnson Bird ring

Isis Ray makes birds:
Isis Ray bird pendant

Lucie Kovarova-Weir makes birds:
Lunacy Glass bird pendant

And now I do too!
Julie Wong Sontag bird bead

Happy Friday everyone! Have an amazing weekend.

people are so nice

Case in point: yesterday I received a cute little package in the mail all the way from Australia, containing a rod each of the most popular Double Helix silver glass colors. This (rather expensive) glass is reactive, which means that it interacts with the character of the torch flame and with other colors (and probably which way the wind is blowing…) to produce beautiful, unpredictable colors. If you look at beads made by 10 different beadmakers made with the same color of silver glass, they all look different. It’s mysterious…

I’ve never tried silver glass, which spread like a virus (um, the good kind of virus?) through the beadmaking world when it was introduced in 2005 or so, right around the time I stopped making beads. I mentioned this in passing on Lampworketc.com, the forum where many of the glass beadmakers hang out online, and someone offered to send me a few things to try from her personal stash. Thanks to Robyn of FireSongCreations for this sweet and generous RAOGK (Random Act of Glass Kindness)! Check out the beautiful beads she makes in her Etsy shop here. Now I just have to work up the courage to give this stuff a try.

Double-Helix-Rods

ready set… no!

Paint Box

It started with a week off, while my husband was at home. It was great. I relaxed, recharged, and tackled a few things that I had been pushing waaaaaay down on the ‘to do’ list. It felt great. I moved last year, and I brought with me a LARGE number of boxes packed with stuff. Some important stuff, but mostly stuff that I’ve been carrying around for years, that I don’t really need. I went on a mission to be ruthless in the throw out and donate department. And I did really well. Pat on the back for me.

In one of those boxes was a bunch of CDs on which I’d burned photos of my beads from 2003-2004ish. I thought I’d lost all the photos of my past work when my old laptop bit the dust, so I was beyond excited to find these. It was so fun to look back on all the things I’d made. I was kind of in awe of some of it… How did I think of that? How did I come up with that design? I spent a couple of days transferring the photos onto my computer and studying them, hoping to find inspiration for what I’m doing at the torch now. I’ll admit, it was intimidating. I’d started to develop a particular ‘style’ of bead set that I was good at making, and in addition, virtually EVERY set consisted of matched pairs. Since I’ve started at the torch again, nothing, and I mean nothing, has matched. Not even close. Looking at those old beads, it seemed that the neatness and precision that characterized my old work was never going to happen again. It made me sad, and wistful. And then I got stuck. Big stuck.

I’d dug myself into a creative black hole. I had no desire to make anything. Not a single thing. It was a bit painful. I knew that I had to struggle to overcome the uncertainty and self-doubt that was surfacing, but I wasn’t quite sure how to go about that. Of course, this isn’t the first time this has happened over the course of my life, creating things. It happens all the time, and I think it is common to all creative people. Sometimes you just don’t see how you’re supposed to move forward.

Fast forward a week, and I think I’ve fought my way back. I just cleaned my work table, which until today, I’d just been staring at blankly. And ignoring. Completely. It was a disaster, totally preventing me from sitting down to start something new. A clean workspace always creates some mental clarity. I can breathe again.

I’ve spent the week trying to stretch my mind out in some new directions. I tried to distance myself a bit from the lampwork bead ‘world’ to see what else is out there. I spent time researching jewelry designers who use artisan made beads in their designs, and I found many people who are doing amazing, wonderful, inspiring work. I’m looking forward to following their blogs to see what they’re up to. I joined a few Facebook groups made up of beadmakers and designers, hoping to create a bit more community for myself… When you work at home by yourself, feeling connected is important. After seeing so many beautiful designs, I felt inspired to try my hand at making some jewelry again… we’ll see.

I spent some time in the kitchen, trying out new recipes, which was fun. I found a recipe for stuffed mushroom caps which is absolutely *to die for*. Um, bacon. ‘Nuff said. Here’s the link to the recipe, in case you’re interested: http://www.mountainmamacooks.com/2011/02/bacon-and-cream-cheese-stuffed-mushrooms/.

Last night, I dug out my paint box, a piece of nice, textured paper, my brushes, and I sat down at the table to create something. Anything. I wasn’t after a masterpiece, but the act of mixing colors, making brush strokes, seeing one color of paint bleed into another… I’d forgotten the feeling of slipping into that certain kind of meditative feeling… Amazing.

Now I’m ready to resume my 30 day challenge. I feel like I just can’t wait to get back to my beads. I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter what I make. More making. Less thinking. That’s the important thing. That’s everything. I may not have a ‘style’, a plan, or even a direction… but sometimes uncertainty is where the journey begins.

recalibrating

Of all the brilliant ideas I’ve had in my life, making beads every day for 30 days WHILE MY HUSBAND IS ON HOLIDAYS FOR A WEEK was not one of them. I love sitting at the torch making cool things, but I have more pressing stuff to do this week. Like sitting on the couch with my buddy watching movies, hanging out together in the kitchen making good food, clearing all the crap off our table so we can have a romantic dinner with placemats and everything, wandering the mall looking for the perfect coffee grinder, sleeping in, drinking coffee, and staying up late.

Long story short, the challenge has been postponed, but it will not be abandoned.

Oh yeah! New beads on Etsy! Inspired by origami paper! Click here to go to my shop.

Squeezed lampwork focal bead

brushing up

Mason Pearson brush

For Christmas, Dan bought me a hairbrush. Not just any brush. A Mason Pearson brush. They’ve been making these brushes in England since 1885. It’s not the kind of thing you just buy on a whim, as they are insanely expensive, but I’ve been coveting this brush for years, and it was a lovely gift.

If you read online reviews, you will come to believe that this brush is almost as good as a magic wand. It’s supposed to make your hair healthy and shiny, and all the things that hair aspires to be. I’ve been diligently brushing my hair morning and night. But it wasn’t until yesterday that I noticed the magic of the brush. I decided to blow dry and straighten my hair, which I hadn’t done for a while (I’ll get to that in a moment). My hair is naturally somewhere between wavy and curly, and it just generally doesn’t look great unless I put some major work into it. It goes up into a ponytail every day. Super fancy. I envy people who roll out of bed every day with straight, shiny hair… Sigh. In any case, as I was doing my hair, I couldn’t get over how soft and shiny and healthy it looks. Like, it’s never looked this smooth and nice before. I’m giving the brush all the credit for this transformation.

I got up this morning, my hair still looking gloriously smooth, and brushed it, wondering why I don’t do my hair all the time. I used to. Not that long ago, I was one of those people who made an effort to look nice. I blow-dried and straightened my hair every time I washed it, I used nice shampoo and conditioner. Now, it’s an enormous $5 bottle of TRESemmé. Hold the conditioner. Why bother, it’s just going into a ponytail anyway. In days gone by, the thought of leaving the house without at least some makeup was not a thought I entertained. Ever. I was a daily gym-goer. Now I’m 60 pounds overweight and the most exercise I get is walking down 1 flight of stairs to check the mail. I took a lot of pride in wearing nice clothes and picking out the perfect accessories. Now it’s leggings, a t-shirt and a hoodie every day. When I look at photos of myself from a few years ago, I look like a different person. I was fit. Healthy. Happy. Stylish.

I remember when I was younger, looking at women who weren’t looking their best, and promising myself that I’d never ‘let myself go’. Looking frumpy seemed like the ultimate defeat. And it was never, ever going to happen to me. I think you can guess what’s coming next. It happened. It wasn’t an overnight thing. I spent a long time walking the path to frumpdom. There was always something I didn’t understand about how this happens to people. But now I get it. It’s not really a choice, it just happens. Life happens.

The last few years have been very difficult for me. So difficult. A lot of big life changes, a lot of sad times, and a lot of challenges to overcome. At times it’s been a struggle just to survive. I see all of these things when I look in the mirror. I see the sadness, I see the struggle, I see the disappointments. At some point, I just stopped caring about how I look. It seemed like the least of my concerns. But I’d totally forgotten how good it feels to look good. That feeling of seeing your reflection in a window and thinking, “Damn, I look good today!” I haven’t had that feeling in a while. But I did get a glimpse of it last night, with my sleek, shiny, swishy hair.

Usually when things head downhill for a while, you can look forward to an uphill battle trying to turn them around. I know it won’t be easy, but I know in my heart that I can do better. So much better. The makeup, the moisturizer, the straightener, the tweezers, the nail polish, and the exercise DVDs are coming out. And I’m coming back.

no peeking

no peeking in the kiln

New rule: no peeking at the beads in the kiln until the next morning. Even if they’re cool enough to come out before I go to bed. There’s nothing like waking up and running downstairs to check out the new beads! It’s the absolute best way to start the day. It’s almost like Christmas morning, every morning.

(For those who aren’t beadmakers: when I’m done making a bead, it goes straight from the torch into the kiln – a hot oven, which sits at a high temperature, keeping the beads warm. After I’m done making beads for the day, the temperature of the kiln is lowered very slowly, using a digital controller. This allows for the structure of the glass molecules to settle in such a way that the internal “stress” is eliminated. The process is called ‘annealing’. This is what makes lampworked beads strong, durable, and almost indestructible. I’ve dropped beads on a hard floor and they always survive!)

I have a new set of beads on Etsy since my last post: check ’em out. My husband is annoyed because he thinks I’m pricing my work too low. “Where are these random prices coming from?” he says. Each bead is priced based on the level of complexity, and therefore, the time that went into it. I’m currently pricing at 2 to 4 dollars less than I used to for each bead, and then I take 2 to 4 dollars off the total price of the set. It’s a bit painful, but hey, you gotta start somewhere. The market isn’t what it used to be. People have less disposable funds for things like beads. And yet… I know that there are people out there still buying. I’m gonna find ’em.

“Creativity takes courage.”
-Henri Matisse

I’m loving the 30 day challenge. I’m feeling good about the beads, but more importantly, I’m feeling good about myself. Bring on Day 5…

start the insanity

Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 12.32.16 PM

I had this crazy idea. I’ve been thinking about how people truly dedicate themselves to things that they struggle with. I guess this could apply to a lot of things in life – changing bad habits, adopting new habits, eating healthy food, exercising… And of course, productivity, whether it’s at work or at a pastime. Of course, you need a goal. You need to challenge yourself. And you have to start somewhere. I’m not one of those people who can start slow and work my way up to things. I have to go all out right away. This scares some people. Like my husband. But it’s just the way I am.

I want to make good beads. Better beads. Beads that excite me when I pull them out of the kiln. It seems obvious that the only way to improve at one’s craft is to log hours creating new things. In one of his books, Malcolm Gladwell (fantastic author) studied many people who are considered to be very, very talented at what they do. He estimated that in order to become a ‘master’ in their fields of work/study, they each logged at least 10,000 hours of practice. That’s a lot of hours. There is no substitute for practice. You can’t skip it. There is no easy route to success. Someone who makes beads every day is going to improve more quickly than someone who makes beads once a week. I’m in the once a week category at the moment, and I don’t want to be. But there are so many excuses to get around making beads regularly. Too tired, other stuff to do, don’t ‘feel’ like it… I know myself, and I know that if I give myself the *choice* of torching or not torching, I will tend toward not torching. There is also this weird kind of fear/hesitation that prevents me from starting most days. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Some days you spend a few hours at the torch and everything you make is crap. Often I worry that if I sit down to work I won’t be able to make anything ‘good’. So I don’t make anything at all.

This is dumb.

And so counterproductive. Of course anyone, at any skill level, will make a mix of things. Good and bad. But in order to have some success, you have to accept the inevitable failures. Ironically you usually learn more from the failures. They help you grow and change.

So I had this thought. I thought, if I eliminate the *choice* of whether I’m going to work or not, and I light the torch every day whether I feel like it or not, I will learn much faster. I will probably have more fun. I will worry less and create more. I’m going to attempt to do something insane (in my mind): I’m going to make a commitment to myself to make beads every day for 30 days. Every day. For at least one hour. If I’m frustrated and nothing is happening, I can quit, but I have to try. So far I’ve got one day in a row under my belt. I feel good about this. I could use more self-discipline in many aspects of my life. I think that feeling productive and disciplined with my work can’t help but spill over into the rest of my life.

Wish me luck.

I almost forgot: new beads on Etsy today. Click here to check ’em out.