brights, brights baby

So now that we all know about my focal bead saga, I wanted to show you some I made recently that I’m really proud of.Focal beads by Julie Wong SontagOne of these days I might get over my obsession with bright colors. You know, grow up and adopt a more ‘sophisticated’ palette.

Like some of my favorites:

Anvil Artifacts
Fanciful Devices
Numinosity Beads
Toni McCarthy
Scorched Earth

Or not.

your own music

I get asked a lot whether I wear my own beads or jewelry. I don’t, really. I much prefer to collect and wear things that other people have made.

I know, I know… it’s great advertising to wear your own work. I hear that many people even sell things right off of their bodies when they are out and about!

But for me, I just get so much more joy out of expressing my individuality through my very lovingly curated jewelry collection – purchased from many wonderful artists over the years.

I’ve thought about this at length, and the best way I can explain it is as follows: think of someone who plays/sings music. If they kicked back in a chair to listen to some tunes, would they choose their own music, or someone else’s?

If you were going to eat a delicious meal, would you want to eat your own cooking, or order something special in a restaurant you haven’t tried before?

I could go on, but I won’t.

focusing on focalling

This is where people apologize profusely for being such ‘bad bloggers’… I haven’t posted in so long… I’m a terrible person… yada yada yada. Yes, it’s been a month. But I must admit that my feathers aren’t all that ruffled about it. There are far too many things in life to beat yourself up over, and I decided long ago that my ability to blog regularly just isn’t one of them.

Something interesting is afoot this week. When I make beads, I feel different. I feel like my hands suddenly just ‘know’ what to do. There’s an ease – a confidence – that hasn’t been there before. When I noticed that easy feeling I silently rejoiced. You know, Hallelujah Chorus and everything. Ode to Joy. Because before this, it’s been anything but easy. I’ve been struggling with my beadmaking for a little while. Feeling frustrated. Feeling stuck. Spending a lot of time sitting in front of the torch, looking at my glass, feeling lost. I know we’ve been over this whole ‘creativity is cyclical’ thing before, and feeling lost comes and goes. But finding my way again this time was different.

When things started to improve, I felt like I’d really stepped up my game. Like I was starting to inch my way, bit by bit, toward some new things that I’ve had my eye on – for a long time.

It’s interesting how progress happens. Or doesn’t. I find that I can think about things a lot. You know, new ideas. Wanting to learn something new, do something new. I can plan, and hope, and dream, but no matter how much mental energy gets thrown at the problem, sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Although it’s frustrating waiting for that next step forward to become clear, I try to trust that when I’ve worked hard enough to get there, everything will fall into place. Faith is important when your livelihood depends on creativity.

Something that’s on my wishing-and-hoping-and-dreaming list is to become a better ‘focal bead’ maker. In my previous beadmaking life, I really hadn’t made focal beads in any significant way. One or two here and there. Not a regular thing. But it’s always been a goal of mine to move away from making bead ‘sets’ (groups of coordinating or matching beads), toward making focal beads. I’m just so drawn to the idea of making something that stands on its own… that makes a singular statement. As a set maker, I know how much work and planning goes into making a spectacular set of beads, and I can appreciate that, but I’ve always been enchanted by the ‘art’ of a really amazing focal bead. In the deepest, darkest recesses of my heart, I long to be a focal bead maker.

In the bead world, there tend to be set people and focal people. Of course, there are lots of people who do both. You have to be in a different sort of mindset to make a nice set of beads. It requires a different skill set – precision, good color sense, concentration. Some people say that they don’t have the attention span required to make a bunch of beads that go together. I suppose that different personalities and artistic temperaments are just drawn to different modes of expression. What’s interesting to me, though, is that the ‘big name’ beadmakers, almost without exception, are focal bead makers. Sometimes you’ll see a set now and then, but it’s rare. Somehow, as lampworkers, it seems that we have a certain respect for the almighty focal. And bead buyers do as well. A beautiful, well executed focal bead sells for a lot. Sometimes sets of beads do too… sometimes. But for the most part, it’s hard to charge what they’re really worth.

So back to my problem with focals. The last couple of weeks, I’ve been really actively trying to force myself to work on things I’m not comfortable doing. Top of the list: the elusive focal bead. I can’t really explain what it is that I find so difficult about them. Lots of things, I guess. A bigger surface area to cover, challenging to shape, more pre-planning required, more time lost if it doesn’t turn out… but I think mostly it’s a mental barrier that I’ve unwittingly erected over the years. When I sit down to make a focal bead, I get sweaty and uncomfortable. I have a few moments of panic before I light the torch and pick up the glass. I literally have to take a deep breath. It’s silly. I mean, what’s the big deal? If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. I’ve wasted a buck or two worth of glass and some time. But my pride is bruised and it’s disheartening. Nonetheless, when I persevere, it works out. Almost all the time. Practice pays off. Revolutionary, I know.

Yesterday I was making a focal bead. In a style that is really new for me. Totally experimental. As I worked, I literally felt something shift inside. I had an overwhelming feeling that there was a ‘before this moment’ and ‘after this moment’. When I finished torching for the night, I turned to my husband and I said, “I’m a focal bead maker now.” He probably thought, thank you god… maybe now she’ll stop blathering on about how she really, really needs to learn to make focal beads. All. The. Time.

Finally, the scary is gone. From now on, that deep breath will be filled with anticipation rather than fear. I’m all for having faith and trusting in the process, but really. It’s about time.

grey steel amphora