imagine immensities

MOO (the company I order my business cards and other printed stuffs from) just published a short interview with designer Debbie Millman. I Love this:

If you could give any budding designers one piece of advice, what would it be?

“Whether they’re just beginning their career or reconfiguring midway through – Imagine immensities. If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve. Do what you love, and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time. In order to drive for a remarkable life, you have to decide you want one. Start now. Not 20 years from now, not two weeks from now. Now.”

In other news, the beloved Bamboleo beads have been featured in another Etsy treasury (their 4th!) full of bright goodies. Click on the pic to visit:

Etsy Treasury featuring Uglibeads

Slews of stuffs coming up on Etsy this week – finished jewelry, beads, and headpins too!


pin binge

I could spend literally an entire day looking at jewelry and beads on Pinterest. It’s a sickness. I’m kind of in the middle of one of those days. Oddly, I don’t feel the least bit guilty.

I do keep my sketchbook at the ready and usually I manage to fill several pages with ideas for new work… so… it’s work, right?


tiny tip: please release me, let me go

Fusion Bead release

Just hanging out, eating gluten free toaster strudel for dinner (I know, shame on me), and I spied my beloved bottle of bead release sitting on the counter. I’ve been meaning to say a few words about bead release. Ya, I know, boooooring. But the perfect bead release is sort of like the Holy Grail… Ye may seek and never find. What’s perfect for one person may not work for someone else, but I’ve finally found what works for me. If you’re just starting out, maybe I can save you some frustration.

For the non-beadmakers – bead release is a clay-like substance used to coat the mandrel (the stainless steel rod that a bead is made on) before you make a bead on it. It forms a layer between the hot glass and the metal so they don’t stick together. Thus, when the bead comes out of the kiln, you can actually get it off the mandrel. Here are what the beads look like still on the mandrel with bead release:

Beads on Mandrels

The bead release is dusty and powdery, and it has to be cleaned out of the holes using a dremel tool with an abrasive bit (under water, protect your lungs!). I use regular diamond whatever reamer tips (they’re cheap) but I’ve recently been told that the BeaDreamer is magical (and magically expensive – saving up for that).

There are as many bead release recipes as there are beadmakers. For good reason – if your bead release isn’t working it’s a major PIA. So there’s lots of experimentation going on to find the ‘perfect’ formula. All kinds of things can go wrong with your bead release, but the thing that’s plagued me the most is being nearly done a complicated bead with many many layers and tons of work in it, and having the bead release break. Seeing your lovingly crafted bead spinning around the mandrel with bead release flaking off is not a happy sight. Major sweatage ensues. Yes, there are a few ‘Hail Mary’ tricks that you can try in an effort to save your bead, but most of the time they don’t work.

Bead release breakage was happening to me so often that I finally began the search for a replacement for my old (and mostly ok for small beads) FosterFire. In my search, I came across a lot of weird and wonderful suggestions… blenders, chemicals, keeping the algae at bay (really!)… but in the end it seemed that a lot of people like Fusion Bead Release, and now that I’ve been using it for a while, I’m a convert. Here’s what I like about it:

– It has a nice consistency and when it gets a bit thick, adding water fixes it right up and it mixes well.

– It coats the mandrel with a nice thin, smooth layer of release, no bumps or gritty stuff. I think you could double dip very nicely though I haven’t tried it.

– It air dries quickly (within a few minutes) or flame dries in a few seconds – and I haven’t had any trouble with breakage either way.

– I can dip mandrels and use them weeks later and the release still doesn’t break.

– It holds up to large focal beads with multiple layers of encasing – and I am not particularly careful about pushing and pulling on the glass.

– It’s been perfect on every size mandrel I’ve tried – 1/16″ up to the 3/16″ for big hole beads.

The only small drawback I’ve noticed is that it can be tricky to get the beads off the mandrels. Really tricky. Especially with a long focal bead. Which make sense – the bead release doesn’t break when you’re making the bead, but it doesn’t want to break up when you’re trying to get the darn thing off the mandrel either. I’ve bent more mandrels in the past 2 months than I did in 4 years with my FosterFire. I just remind myself that I’d rather lose a 60 cent mandrel than a bead that’s worth $30.

So there ya go.

*This post is not officially endorsed by Grumpy Cat or Boo.

my cart runneth over

I have, oh, I don’t know… about 35 things in my Etsy shopping cart right now, just hanging out. I visit them daily. Imagine that they were mine. Drool. Lust. Want. Resist.

A pair of earrings, many many ceramic beads, ear wires, copper beads in all shapes and sizes, vintage lucite beads, some frit, some STUNNING artisan-made bronze beads…


Am I the only one who does this?

tiny tip – where old stringers go to die

stinger disposal

There are all kinds of little tips and tricks that make life as a beadmaker easier… I feel a bit dumb sharing some of them because they seem so obvious and simple. But if I didn’t know about them after many years in the bead world, maybe some of you didn’t either.

One of those things that is a pain is disposing of all those sharp nasty stringer bits that you’re done with. I used to dump mine in a bowl of water, but then I always had to deal with this nasty, swampy bowl full of sharp glass bits. Wait for the water to dry up, brush the nasty bits into some container so they wouldn’t rip a hole in the garbage bag… Ugh.

Then I read someone’s suggestion to get a big plastic bottle and drop the stringer bits right in there. Genius! It’s like my favorite thing on my work table. When it’s full, you just put the lid on and throw that sucker in the garbage.

I’ve also heard of people using those big tough dog food bags… that seems like a good idea too, though maybe a bit large to put right on your table.

I do have little jars that I keep hundreds of decent, usable stringers in (why??? I don’t know), but this is for the ones that I’ll never use again. Too short, etc.

Are you loving my geeky ‘nebula’ photo filter? The plastic stringer bottle really is that cosmic and magical.

feel the fear and do it anyway

Calgary Stampede midway ride

I have this book that I read many, many years ago – something about face your fears, yada yada yada. I don’t remember much about it other than that it was kind of a slog to get through. But the idea is good.

My creative fears are many, but one that’s bugged me for a long time is that I have an irrational fear of making jewelry. Back in the WAY back days I used to make jewelry. Long before I started making beads. Really simple stuff. When I look now at the things I made, they’re truly laughable. But we all start somewhere. I had a little business that I called ‘Blue Mouse Beads’. I had a tiny table at an arts market. I think I made one sale.

I don’t know why the fear now. I guess I’ve just felt that my talents lie more on the beadmaking side of things. I like to send the beads out into the world, and let people who really make jewelry work their magic with them. Truthfully, I’ve had no real desire to make anything with my beads.

A while ago, I had a friend get in touch with me. Could I make something special for his wife’s 30th birthday? Maybe a necklace and some earrings? Of course I said yes. No problemo!

Then the inevitable panic set in. What the frick was I going to make????? I don’t know how to make jewelry! I’m an idiot!! Try something new!? What?? No!

Well, ok.

I had a few vaguely formed ideas in mind, but nothing solid. I thought, I’ll just go to the bead store and surely something will jump out at me. Soooooo many beads, and soooooo few ideas. I wandered around, feeling lost, examining all the strands of beads, all the findings. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. I started to feel ultra-crummy about the whole thing. What if I couldn’t do it? I actually got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I know what will make me feel better! Some new glass! So I left the store with nothing for the jewelry project and 3 new colors of glass rods to make beads with. Jewelry FAIL.

What do you do when you feel no ideas coming on and you have a project that has to get done? Apparently they’ve done studies showing that many creative people have their best ideas when their minds are relaxed and they’re not actively thinking about the problem. In the shower, out for a run, vacuuming the floors… etc. Somehow in letting go, your subconscious mind works it all out.

I was drifting off to sleep one night, and I saw this strand of beads in my head that I’d liked during my failed bead shopping experience. Some little zuni bears, in wonderful shades of black, turquoise and brown. Suddenly I saw it all – the finished piece – all the components I needed. Everything.

Hallelujah moment.

So back to the bead store. Copper chain. Crimp beads. Beautiful copper beads. Clasp. The zuni bears of course. All the bits and pieces. When I got home with all my treasures I couldn’t wait to lay everything out on the table to plan out the beads I needed to make.

A couple of days later, beads ready, I sat down to put it all together. I’m telling you, it was a nearly spiritual experience. I don’t say that lightly… but really, it was like the necklace made itself. Some kind of creative energy struck me like a bolt of lightning and flowed, until I had exactly the piece I’d pictured in front of me. I can’t really overstate the joy and relief I felt in seeing it all done. I was bursting with pride. It didn’t even look like a ‘beginner’ piece of jewelry. It looked like I knew exactly what I was doing.

Necklace by Julie Wong Sontag

In the end, accepting the challenge was a process fraught with emotion – but the commitment I’d made forced me to persevere. If not for that, I would definitely have thrown in the towel after that first trip to the bead store.

Conquering my jewelry making fear has been incredibly empowering. There’s something transformative about turning a big ‘I can’t’ into a resounding ‘I can’.

Since then, I really don’t know what has possessed me. The floodgates have opened. I’ve been making things like crazy. Jewelry things. Earrings mostly. I’m in a totally different mindset than when I’m making beads, and I love it. I find it so relaxing, putting things together, wrapping wire, adding this thing, taking that thing away… fishing through the stash to find that one perfect bead that finishes it all off. Seeing the finished piece, ready to wear, knowing that you made the whole thing, start to finish… So rewarding.

I’ll list some things to list on Etsy next week, so you can see what I’ve been up to.

I haven’t felt this kind of thrill since I started making beads. It’s a whole new world of possibilities to explore. A whole new category of things to buy on Etsy. Not that I needed that.

What’s your fear? What’s holding you back?



one for one


It’s me, back to the cute beads again. You probably know all about my weird relationship with cute beads. I blogged about it a while ago (here) so I won’t bore you with the details again.

I think I’ve finally found a way to make peace with those gosh-darn-it-they’re-so-cute little critters. From this day on, they’ll be made not just for their ability to make people smile, but also, for their ability to – well – make people smile. Hear me out.

It’s always nice to feel like you can give something back to the world. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I can do to in that department. Looking at various charities… reading… thinking… waiting for something to grab me. After thorough exploration of the options, I realized that what I was looking for was right in front of me.

I like and appreciate and support businesses who’ve worked some kind of charitable giving into the way they do things. One model that I really like is the ‘one for one’ approach. When someone buys something, the company gives one to someone in need. TOMS does it with their (awesome) shoes. Warby Parker does it with their (awesome) glasses.

You might be thinking, who really NEEDS a bead? Well, actually, there are people who do. Brave little people, undergoing treatment for serious illnesses in hospital, need beads. There is a wonderful program called Beads of Courage that provides beads to these children in an effort to support and encourage them, and to celebrate milestones in their treatment. More information on the program is available at their website here: There are a lot of different facets to what they do for the kids, their families, and for health care providers involved in their treatment, but the basic description is as follows:

“The Program is a resilience-based intervention designed to support and strengthen children and families coping with serious illness. Through the program children tell their story using colorful beads as meaningful symbols of courage that commemorate milestones they have achieved along their unique treatment path. Upon enrollment each child is given the Beads of Courage bead color guide with a detachable membership card. Their Beads of Courage journey begins when each child is first given a length of string and beads that spell out their first name. Then, colorful beads, each representing a different treatment milestone are given to the child by their professional health care provider to add to their Beads of Courage collection throughout their treatment as determined by the Beads of Courage Bead Guide (available from Beads of Courage, Inc.)
The Beads of Courage® Program is available for the following:
  • Cancer and Blood Disorders
  • Cardiac Conditions
  • Burn injuries
  • Neonatal ICU Families
  • Chronic Illness

The amazing thing about this program is that the most special beads that the kids receive are handmade by glass beadmakers. Those of us who love beads know that there is a certain kind of joy that comes from adding something new and special to your collection. Imagine if you were lying in a hospital bed, being poked and prodded and monitored and fussed over, feeling crappy and sad… and then… and THEN… somebody brought you a whole bunch of cool handmade glass beads to choose from?

The thought of that kind of makes chills go down my spine!

So, from now on, whenever you purchase a ‘cute’ Uglibead, I’ll donate one just like it to the Beads of Courage program.

One for one.

And double the smiles 🙂

because you’re worth it

I’m not about to wax philosophical about hair dye (but thanks, L’Oréal, we are TOTALLY worth it).

Most artists who sell their work would tell you that their least favorite part of the process is pricing their work. Yes, ME ME ME, I hate pricing too. It makes me feel uncomfortable in a whole rainbow of ways. There are many complex reasons why it’s such a challenge. Not valuing your work is one of the things that every creative person fights. The ‘I’m not good enough’, the ‘will people really pay money for this?’. You want people to be able to afford your work if they love it. Maybe it even feels like you get so much joy out of what you do it seems kind of ridiculous to charge money for it. But if you want to keep a roof over your head and food on your table, the money part is something that you can’t ignore.

Of course, you look at what else is out there that’s similar to what you do and you compare your prices to what other people are charging. There will always be people out there charging more and less than you do. It’s kinda sad when you see someone who clearly undervalues and undercharges for their work. Other artists often complain that this makes it hard for people who are ‘serious’ about selling their work to charge a fair price.

There is one thing that kind of gets my goat about pricing lampwork beads. Charm bracelets. Pandora, Troll, etc. First, let me tell you that I got one for my birthday, and I will fully admit that I’m into it. I hardly ever wear jewelry when I’m just doing my thing during the day, but I do wear this. It’s really sturdy, really comfortable, and I don’t even have to take it off to shower.

Although I make my own ‘big hole beads’ to wear on my bracelet, I also buy the ‘real thing’ too… once in a while. What I find amazing is that people do not even BLINK when it comes to paying $30 – $50 for a single glass bead made by one of the big charm bracelet companies. A bead that is produced thousands and thousands of times over.

I bought this one yesterday:

Trollbeads Scirocco bead


It’s an ‘authentic’ Trollbead, and it cost me $35 including tax.

Trollbeads Summer Meadow

This bead is $45. It’s nice and everything. But look how plain it is! Did I mention that it’s $45?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not knocking the commercial bracelet brands – after all, I buy their stuff too, and I love it.

But here’s the thing – I’ve yet to see a lampworker charge more than $30 for a bead that’s made for these bracelets. Why is that? They’re made very lovingly, and usually they’re one of a kind, or made in very small series – so they’re much more unique than the ones you can buy in a store.

Why the price difference?

I think it’s really about perceived value. If you walk into a jewelry store to buy something, you just expect to pay more.

When you compare the price of one of these beads to other types of lampwork beads, this is where it starts to get interesting.

I listed this bead on Etsy today:Galaxy Focal bead by Uglibeads

I decided to charge $35 for it, and to be perfectly honest, I feel pretty guilty about it. That seems like a lot of money for a bead. But it’s complex – it has many layers, it has two kinds of silver in it, and I used a color of glass that costs $80 a pound. And it took time – and skill – to make.

But you know, I read something really smart a while ago, and the gist was that you can either put your work in the ‘worth it’ category, or… the other one.

I’d rather be worth it. If I don’t value my work, why should anyone else?

I resolve to stop feeling guilty about charging fair prices for my work. My beads are special, they’re made with love, they’re often one-of-a-kind, and they’re TOTALLY worth it.


your best is good enough

I swear to god after this I am really going to stop procrastinating. But I was just thinking about something.

I made some headpins the other day… they’re really simple. Sometimes simple is good.

Headpins by Uglibeads

I’ve seen others like them – they’re just one of the ‘standard’ headpin shapes you see out there. But once in a while you see some that are really poorly made. Which always gets me thinking.

I’ve been chatting with a few of my bead friends lately about beads they’ve purchased that were a big disappointment because the quality of the work was bad bad bad. Sloppy dots, really ragged bead holes… Beads with issues. Not my beads, of course. Everything I make is 100% perfect.


If only that were true.

But I really feel that if you’re going to put your stuff out there, it should be the very best work you can do. Something you’re really proud to stand behind. Well constructed. Nicely finished. It’s true that everybody’s ‘best’ is different, and that’s ok – we’re all learning, and we all have different preferences, aesthetically. There’s also that kind of desirable and deliberate imperfect.

When you’re aiming for the best you can do, sometimes it means scrapping things that aren’t quite up to snuff. Like the green headpin on the far right in this pic – it goes in the reject pile because the wire isn’t quite embedded properly. I have a huge jar filled with my rejects and probably every other beadmaker does too. People who make jewelry are always tearing things apart, changing things, reworking until it’s ‘right’. Painters have reams of work that nobody ever sees.

Perfectionism can be sort of a disease that’s toxic to creativity. But I think you can create with process in mind (not perfection) and then select the best of it to represent you in places where you’re building a reputation. The experiments, the epiphanies, the creative leaps… those are for you, and if they’re imperfect, so much the better.

Any thoughts?