hello september

Good morning sketch

Sometimes I have these quiet moments of desperation when I realize that in my day-to-day beadmaking life, I’m not making art with a capital ‘A’I do believe that glass beads can be art. I’ve talked about this before – and really enjoyed your thoughtful comments and emails on the subject – but at my current skill level, most of what I make isn’t. You know, triangle beads… dot beads… They do involve some creative muscle, such as choosing pleasing color combinations. But mostly, they’re just skill and technique. That’s not to say they aren’t beautiful. They are. It’s just that according to my personal feeling about it, they’re not art.

Because I am actively engaged in doing ‘creative stuff’ every day – making beads, taking photographs, writing – I hadn’t really realized that there was a hole in the fabric of my creative life. The other day, totally randomly, spur-of-the-moment, I had the urge to start drawing and painting again. Regularly. Habitually. I thought, really, there is no reason why I shouldn’t be drawing at least a little bit every day. When I took out my paintbrushes and filled the page with color, a feeling of immense calm washed over me. It was like some mysterious void had suddenly started to fill.

As a teenager and a young adult, I spent a LOT of time drawing and painting. Art was always my refuge. My safe place. I was happiest when the house was quiet, everyone but me was sleeping, and I was working away on something. Every school assignment turned into an art project, even the ones that were totally NOT creative assignments. Social studies presentations, title pages, book report covers. Just everything. My teachers, surprisingly, were incredibly encouraging and supportive, and they always humored me. Sometimes they even wanted to keep what I’d made to decorate the classroom. In Grade 7 I took my first ‘formal’ art class and I was hooked. A whole new world opened up. Art became my ‘thing’. It was something that people knew about me.

She makes art.

It became a huge part of my identity. When I was 24, I enrolled in art school. It was a revelation. Finally, I really, truly belonged somewhere. I was with my people. I spent a whole year drawing (that is usually what you do in your first year of art school). Figure drawing, still life, self-portraits. So many drawings. Eventually you get sick of drawing but you work through it and you make some good stuff, and then some great stuff, and that keeps you going. I didn’t really have a plan for the future, but I knew that I was really happy doing what I was doing.

During that first year I took an elective in Glassblowing. Wow. The heat, the molten glass, the physicality of it, the smell of the burning newspaper used to shape the glass… I loved everything about it. I took a Jewelry and Metals class too, which I also loved, but found way too tedious for my liking – I’m more of an instant gratification kind of person. It was so much work – heating, soldering, hammering, shaping, sanding, polishing… [this is why I will always admire those of you who have the patience and skill to do metalsmithing]. I liked painting, I liked drawing. There wasn’t much about art that I didn’t like. When it came time to choose a major, somehow I got it in my head that I wanted to be a commercial photographer. Yeah, I don’t know. I loved photography and I thought maybe it was a good way to make a living. That summer, I assisted an actual commercial photographer, and like many things in life that you dream about, once I experienced the reality of it, I realized I hated it. So it was kind of fortuitous when I got the news that I wasn’t accepted into the photography program. You know that thing they say about unanswered prayers? That’s one that I’m still grateful for.

Fortunately, because I’d been bitten by the glass bug, I’d signed up for a glass beadmaking class that summer. I remember really clearly, so vividly, the process of sitting at the torch making my first bead, and thinking, yeah, this is what I’m meant to be doing. So I dropped out of Art School and struck out on my own as a full time glass beadmaker.

It was wonderful. Except when it wasn’t. I had (and still have!) the most amazing, supportive, wonderful customers and bead friends. A really special community that surrounded me with support and encouragement and love. People really seemed to like what I was doing. They bought all my stuff! Yet that wasn’t enough to save me from repeated bouts of crippling depression. Those black times made the creative well run dry, over and over again. It was such a struggle.

I remember the time between then and now as mostly a blur. I taught Biology and Chemistry classes at a University. There was a short-lived stint as a graduate student in Respiratory Neurophysiology. There were three years of medical school.

I know what you’re thinking. Biology? Chemistry? Neurophysiology? Medicine? WHAT?

I forgot to mention that my undergraduate degree is in Biochemistry and Social Studies of Medicine.

I love science. I’ve always loved it. I’m so curious about the inner workings of the universe, the mind, and the body. Learning about all those things was fascinating. I’ve always had this interesting art/science duality in my life, trying to navigate both worlds. I could never really choose one over the other. At certain points I tried, like when I entered medical school, for example. But when I was finally faced with the prospect of choosing an extremely demanding, emotionally exhausting profession that requires you to make many, many sacrifices (I know, I married a doctor!), I began to have that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Every day. That inner voice started whispering, and before I knew it, it was YELLING.




Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 10.40.29 PM

There was one especially miserable day while I was doing a clinical rotation in Family Medicine. I got home, and I literally just collapsed in bed and pulled the covers over my head. I didn’t want to come out. Ever. I texted my sister, telling her how unhappy I was, how dead I felt inside. At some point I said, “I’d really rather be making beads.” I hadn’t made a bead in about 7 years, but it just came out, and I meant it. As soon as I said the words, something shifted inside.

She’s calm, and wise, and one of the smartest people I know, and she said, “Well, what’s stopping you?”

And here I am.

Where am I going with this story? I don’t know really. Other than to say that there is a transformative, healing power in creativity, and for me, art with a capital ‘A’. It requires you to connect with something really down deep within yourself. Something spiritual. Something primal. To examine how you think and feel about the world. To explore what inspires you, motivates you, excites you, brings you joy, and fuels your passion.

Julie Wong Sontag lampwork heart pendant

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that two days after dusting off those paintbrushes, I made what I think is my best bead ever. In my eyes, it’s maybe even an Art bead. To the average viewer, maybe it doesn’t seem that special, but to me, it was an epiphany. It was the realization of a way of melting and moving and shaping the glass – a way of combining colors – that I’d been striving for, for a long time. It’s one of the only beads I’ve made where the finished product was actually so much better than the version I’d imagined. It took me an hour and a half, which is a really long time working on one bead, and it felt like minutes.

The tiger lily is much more than a favorite flower to me. I’ve always seen them as symbols of strength, resilience, and beauty, even in less than ideal conditions. Years ago, I planted a tiger lily in my backyard, and waiting for those beautiful orange blooms to open was the best kind of anticipation. When they finally flashed their brilliant color, it was like some kind of small (but important) celebration.

The fall season always sparks the same feeling of excitement in me. New beginnings. Fresh starts. Exciting changes.

Hello September! I’m glad you’re here.

Though, if you could cut it out with the snow today, that’d be great.

12 thoughts on “hello september

  1. I totally get that void filling. I have had a lot of jobs and hobbies. One day a photograph (I was a professional photographer for 20 years) and my love of fabric, teaching and writing all came together in a new pattern. I felt filled to exploding. Then to have it become a huge seller world wide was icing on the cake.

    • That’s amazing, Susan! That fulfilled, happy feeling is just the best. There is such great satisfaction in making beautiful things. And when you can share them, it’s even more rewarding, I think. I’m glad you found your rhythm. I’m still working on mine, but the dance gets a little easier every day 🙂

  2. What a great story of your art/Art journey you shared! I loved reading this. Funny how I read it right after I mentioned changing things up a bit for myself in an every day kind of way. Nice to learn a little more about you too.

  3. That was an amazing read, I am thinking that just maybe another part of your creative being is writing. Whatever avenue your creative takes you follow your heart in all you do, never listen to your negative voice, but allow that heart and the possitive in you to flurish. Wonderful bead in colour and texture, wear it proudly, and always have time when a stranger asks about it to explain the process of glass art, it is amazing how many people still are as myself, just learning what lampwork art is. Now have to add this, me being me, but we always get answers to our prayers, just at times the answer is…NO… 🙂 🙂
    As for this gal in Ontario, I have to tell you, I am amazed at all you have done, my schooling is minimal, received my grade 11 at 34 years of age, so for myself my thought are you are very driven in life’s accomplishments, be proud of them all, and keep the possitive thoughts flowing. Have an utterly amazing, laughter filled day. 🙂

  4. Sharing your journey will give others the strength to do the same. Everyone has a happy place and when you’re there all things are possible! LU!

  5. I love this post. I think many of us creatives live with our emotions and senses closer to the surface than is perhaps always comfortable (I know I do) and that means that things can be more intense, harder, more wonderful, more challenging…..just ‘more’, I guess is what I’m saying! I am currently working at my original creative pursuit, music, and asking myself the big WHY questions – why me? Does the world need my (singing!) voice? Does the world need my jewellery? Do I make art? Am I good enough? Am I too emotionally weird to work with people day in day out when I’m used to only my own company? Anyway, I seem to have diverged from your post somewhat, but it really resonated with me; I feel like our experiences of life have some similarities, somehow! x

    • I’m glad I’m not alone, Rebecca! I haven’t gone through one of those ‘WHY’ phases for a while (which means I’m probably due…), but it’s always there, lurking at a shallow depth underneath the surface. It’s absolute torture. Having seen your work though…. the world needs you, and I really do feel like whatever form your imagination makes real is your ‘art’. Singing is an art. And I’m sure you have an incredibly beautiful voice that must be heard 🙂 xoxoxo

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