where i actually talk about beads

I was perusing my previous blog posts and I realized that I almost never talk about beads here. I talk ‘around’ beads, but never really about beads. I’m sure people land here, and see that it is a beadmaker’s blog… then they read a few posts, and think, “Huh?” Where are the beads?

I really should talk more about beads, being a… beadmaker… and all… The thing is, I don’t know if bead talk is at all interesting for people who don’t make beads themselves – and I know that’s most of you. Maybe it’s helpful to have a little insight into the technical details once in a while? I hope so.

The last few days I’ve been absolutely obsessed with this color chart I found on Pinterest a long time ago. I’ve been meaning to experiment with it but just now got around to actually doing it. The chart shows beads made in colors that ‘spread’ and do other interesting things when they’re combined. After playing with them for a few days I have a few points that might be helpful, if you want to play with these colors too (and you should – they are a blast to work with!)

Here’s a small photo of the chart I’m talking about:

Color-spreading-chart

Click here to see the original pin so that you can get a larger copy to work from.

It looks like the person who did all the work putting this together was Candice Mathewson. Check out her Etsy shop, she makes lovely beads. She lists the colors she used under a photo of each combination, so you can see how the colors work together. Obviously a ton of work went into this, and I think it’s so generous when lampworkers share this kind of information with each other. So, many thanks to Candice!

Here are the beads I’ve made so far. I think I’ve tried almost all of the combos on the chart – and I like them all! You can see how there is a spreading effect that gives a nice definition between the colors. There are no lines here – just dots that do their thing when they’re melted in and heated a bit.

Color-spreading-beads

After experimenting for a few days, here are a few notes that may be useful:

1. The purple used on these beads is called ‘EDP’, which stands for Evil Devitrifying Purple. Apparently the ‘old’ EDP and the ‘new’ EDP are not the same. People say that the old stuff is far superior. But it’s long gone. I tried both, and honestly I couldn’t tell the difference. Because I only had one rod of the old left, I just used the new stuff, and I think it looks totally fine.

2. EDP can be a tricky beast to work with. If you look at it the wrong way, it ‘devitrifies’, which creates sort of a yukky grainy white schmutz everywhere. Not pretty. I tried a few things to avoid the devit situation: a) I read on the Frantz blog that turning down your oxygen so that the centre candles of your flame are slightly longer helps. I work with a concentrator, so I tried turning my propane up slightly once the dots were melted in (before that, and it just fried them)… b) try to avoid ‘flashing’ the bead in an out of the flame as much as possible – nice, consistent heat is the way to go… c) getting the bead nice and glowy again before you put it in the kiln can help, and d) somebody mentioned somewhere that if you blow on it (rapidly cool it) before you pop it in the kiln, you get a nice color. Seriously. Just don’t burn your lips! I did all of the above, and the color came out nice and bright, with no devitrification. So some or all of the above must have worked.

3. I tried and tried, but no matter what I did, I could not get my rubino / gold pink to strike before I put it in the kiln. It still came out a nice bright pink after annealing. I dunno. Remember to work the rubino nice and cool so you don’t burn it and get a bunch of nasty little bubbles.

4. My opal yellow wasn’t playing nice, so I replaced it with CiM Stoneground. Worked like a charm.

5. I tried some of the color combos on bases of colors that aren’t in the chart – orange, coral, etc. Got some ok reactions, but the ones on the chart are nicer, I think.

6. These colors seemed especially prone to getting little ‘kiss marks’ from where they touched the kiln floor. So I tried lining my kiln with fiber blanket – which didn’t help much – the fibers just stuck to the beads… I resorted to cooling the beads much longer than usual before I put them in the kiln. They’re pretty small, so this worked out fine.

7. I attempted a large focal with a combination of several different areas of these patterns. I found it nearly impossible to avoid the devitrification problem, because I couldn’t really keep the bead uniformly warm throughout.

8. I tried etching a few of these beads, and I definitely prefer them shiny.

9. These beads are an example of small beads that are very time consuming (and hence expensive) to make – each bead took me more than twice the time that a bead of this size usually takes. The reason is that you have to be very careful with these colors, and melt slowly, otherwise you get a mess. To me, they seem worth it because I appreciate the work involved in making them (and, I just love the way they look).

10. They’re addictive. I’ve already spent 2 full days working on these color combos, and I could keep going forever. Seriously. I’m now taking my favorites of the bunch and making Big Hole Beads (for Pandora and Trollbeads bracelets) with them. So far I’ve made 6 or so and I want to keep every single one.

Anyway, a few days of time well spent. I’ll definitely be adding these to the regular rotation.

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out with the old, in with the new

Encased floral bead - Julie Wong Sontag - Uglibeads

As a beadmaker, after a while you start to become known for certain things. When you make the same kinds of beads over and over, your customers and fans anticipate seeing more of the same from you.

Since I re-joined the beadmaking world, what I sell on my Facebook page is mostly ‘flower beads’, like the one in the photo above. I’ll tell you a secret: the only reason I make them is because I know they make other people happy. It all started with my Mom. When I was a new beadmaker, my flower beads were the first thing that my Mom went absolutely nuts over. When I show her one and watch her reaction, I can tell that they make her heart sing. And what could be better than impressing Mom?

Getting back into beadmaking, it was natural to gravitate toward something that makes my Mom happy – she’s been my biggest fan since the early days and I love to make things that she loves. There’s also the lure of the ‘Encased Floral Bead’, as beadmakers call them… they’re one of those things that a lot of people try to get the hang of in the beginning. It’s not easy to get everything just ‘right’, so when you do it feels like you’ve triumphed over a melty, hot substance that has a mind of its own.

I’ve made a bunch of flower beads now, and it’s been exciting because I get to send them out to family, to old friends, and to new friends – all over the world. They’ve been a way to connect with people – just by bringing a little beauty and happiness into people’s lives. But you know what? The more flower beads I make, the less I want to make them. They don’t make MY heart sing. Sure, when I look at one that works out perfectly, I feel happy and proud, and I really, truly do like making them.

But lately my creative spirit has been pulled in different directions. I’ve got a head filled with new ideas, stuff I can’t wait to try… and there are no flowers in there. Not like the ones I’ve been making, anyway.

So, a crossroads. Flower beads, yes or no?

No.

I agonized over the decision – I mean, when you do this for a living, selling stuff is good, and when you make something that people like, and buy, it’s tempting to devote yourself to making more of that. But what if I could come up with new things that people also like (and buy), things that DO make my heart sing? That would be even better.

I discussed it with Mom, Chief Flower Bead Lover, and she said something about how they weren’t really ‘me’ anyway. She’s right. I’m happy letting them go, because I know there are hundreds of people out there who are known for making amazingly beautiful flower beads… and I’m not one of them.

I’m not saying that I’ll never make a flower bead again, ever. I’ll just save them for special occasions.

You’re wondering why I would decide to abandon the flower bead in the middle of my ‘flower bead every (other) day in May’ thing… It’s good timing actually – this makes the rest of the month a farewell tour of sorts. I’ll try to come up with some really good ones for you. If you’ve had your eye on a flower bead, the time is now! Each one will be made with joy and love, and extra special attention, knowing that there won’t be many more.

If you’re one of those people who bought one (or many!) of my flower beads, you should know that it’s because of YOU that I can’t wait to get up every morning and try to become better at what I do. You reminded me that beads are so much more than small, pretty pieces of glass. You got me going again, and for that I’m eternally grateful. And, you now own a special, rare piece of my journey as an artist.

Are you up for a new adventure?

“Sometimes in the winds of change we find our true direction.” – Unknown

beeauty is in the eye of the beeholder

Julie Wong Sontag - Uglibeads

One day I was doodling, and I came up with a little drawing of a bumblebee. Who doesn’t love bees? I’ve always been drawn to them. When I was little, I went to a honey farm, and the owner explained to us that a bee would rather sting itself than sting a person. He held the bee in his hand, and well, it stung him. Nonetheless, it was the start of a lifelong fascination with these industrious little creatures.

A little while ago, I finally sat down to bring my drawing to life, and the finished product came out just exactly the way I had imagined it. Except cuter, maybe. Of course, I posted a photo of my new creation on my Facebook page and in a jewelry makers’ group I belong to. People went insane for these little guys. There’s something about them that just makes people happy inside.

Sometimes I wonder about making these ‘cute’ things. When I think about my goals as a beadmaker, being the person who makes ‘cute’ things is not on my list. I think, maybe if I stopped making things with eyes on them, people would take me more seriously. I mean, don’t we all want to be taken more seriously?

Everyone who creates things probably strives to make ‘art’. I don’t hesitate to call myself an Artist, because I occasionally work in other media – drawing, painting, photography, etc. Things that are considered ‘real’ art. I went to art school, and that’s totally legit, right?  As much as beadmakers like to insist – up, down and sideways – that we’re artists, the reality is that what we do is really more like fine craft. I see the term ‘artisan’ used a lot, and that seems fitting. Everyone has their own take on the art/craft debate, and I think it’s ok that we all see ourselves at different places on that spectrum. Call yourself whatever resonates for you. It’s your identity – go ahead and claim it.

There may come a day when I decide to stop making ‘cute’ things, but today is not that day. You know what? Little glass bees make people smile.

And that’s worth something.