perspective

sunrise-through-skyscrapers

I don’t say a lot about my life in the urban jungle, mostly because I spend far more time than is strictly necessary feeling unhappy about it. My soul lives in the water, in the forest, by the ocean. But my body and my mind live here.

It’s one of those great challenges in life, I think, to find beauty in the present moment. In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

A couple of days ago, I woke up to this view of the sun rising between the skyscrapers in the heart of the city, frost on the rooftops, crane operators starting the day, and I was so grateful for that moment.

As views go, it’s not my super-favorite of course. I don’t think I’d immortalize it in a watercolor painting or anything. But the other day, a few blocks from where we live, I passed a man in a wheelchair, sitting on a street corner with his head bowed down. It was really cold out. As we drove by in our car, wearing our fancy clothes on our way to a wedding in a fancy hotel, where we got to eat fancy food, I said to Dan, “Do you ever think about how amazingly lucky we are just to have a place to SLEEP at night?”

And we are. So very, very lucky.

Since then it’s been especially present on my mind. My view may not be awe-inspiring, but it means I have a window to look out of. From the inside of a warm house. And you know, I *am* kind of in awe about that.

It’s not the ocean, but it is what it is. And it’s something to be thankful for.

It’s hard to find the beauty in some things. But I’ll keep trying.

I’m an artist – it’s what I do.


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do yourself a favor…

and make this right now….

homemade apple crisp

so you can have leftovers for breakfast.

homemade apple crisp

add some blueberries,
blackberries,
strawberries,
rhubarb,
peaches,

whatever.

it’s summer, you’ve probably got something good hanging around.

homemade apple crisp

ice cream is a nice touch.

but maybe don’t use a fountain pen to write your recipe cards.
(though it does makes them beautiful…)

it’s 375º btw.

xo

rounding the corner

You know that place where the finish line is finally within sight, and you just need to GET THERE? Your legs have no feeling in them, you’re sucking wind, sweating profusely, you want to throw up, or maybe die, and you start to make these really elaborate bargains with yourself and anyone who will listen…? That place?

That’s me. I’m there. Rounding the corner, nearing the end of the weenie race.

(for the new folks, I offered a made-to-order sale in my Etsy shop not too long ago for my ‘weenie’ beads and sea glass bead pairs, and it was… ehrm… popular. So I’ve been working on that for about a month…)

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here are some weenie beads – teeny tiny spacer beads in all sorts of beautiful, unusual, and sometimes rare colors:

Weenie beads by Julie Wong Sontag

And here are the ‘sea glass’ beads (they’re not genuine sea glass, made by Mother Earth, they’re lampwork beads with the look and feel of sea glass, made by me!)

sea glass beads by Julie Wong Sontag - Uglibeads

4 hour days at the torch, every day.
No weekends off.
Discipline.
Focus.
Total weenievision.

But the last few days, I’ve been entering that euphoric place where you realize you’re going to finish this thing.You’ve been pacing yourself, checking your fancy Garmin robo-watch every 5 seconds, and you’ve timed your glorious final stride across the finish line perfectly. That big goal that you’ve been training so hard for… it’s so close you almost taste that huge post-race bottle of ice cold water.

And then,

weather advisory

Oh AHS, I see your Heat Advisory warning, and I raise you. I’m going to sit down, turn on my 960 degree kiln right here beside me, and light my 5000 degree torch flame, right here in front of me, and turn on my oxygen concentrator, which is like the hottest heater you can imagine blowing hot air on my feet while I work. Because, you see, I’m absolutely hellbent on finishing these beads.

If I just leave all the curtains closed and torch in the dark (yes, I can almost make a weenie bead with my eyes closed…) it will be ok.

Or not.

There are places I didn’t know it was possible to sweat. Like, in your ear for example. I don’t know where that ear sweat actually originated, it may have some from somewhere else, but it’s a thing.

About an hour, 40 weenies and 7 glasses of ice water later, I was feeling maybe done for the day. Or forever.

scary studio selfie

Oh, why yes… I am a master of the scary studio selfie. Thank you for noticing.

That was me shortly before I melted into a puddle on the floor. I look really happy.

So, yeah.

And they say it will be even hotter today.

I read this great line, I can’t quite remember where, but I feel like it was probably Danielle LaPorte (a kind of wild, inspirational-modern-guru type lady, I like her) – and it went something like, ‘No matter what – oh wait, ok I just found the exact quote on a sticky note. I wrote this down a couple of months ago, and I look at it every once in a while to remind myself to chill the frick out. Here it is:

Danielle LaPorte

So – if you don’t finish the race today, don’t worry – you will.

And if you finish two minutes, or two hours, or two days later than you thought you would… Guess what?

You win.

a walk in the wilderness

Something that I find so interesting about making things is the creative evolution that happens as I explore an idea. One idea leads to another idea, that idea leads to a series of work, and suddenly, I’m traveling a new, exciting path. It’s the pattern of footsteps along this path that ties one thing to the next.

If you look closely at the things someone has made, you will see elements that may be slightly – or wildly – different in appearance, but they’re connected by that person’s stories. Their spirit. Their curiosity. And their commitment to what they’re passionate about.

But here’s the thing.

Like me, many creative people share the day-to-day aspects of what they do. What we’re working on. The latest thing we’ve made that we’re proud of. A new tool. A messy workspace. But we rarely tell the story of the evolution of our work – which is more than simply ‘what’s happening in my world today’. It’s the iterative process of interacting with the things we create. Making changes, experimenting, incorporating new ideas, and moving forward. So although you may follow the progression of someone’s work, you rarely hear directly from the maker about how that development is taking place.

Part of it may be that when you’re busy making work, there isn’t a lot of time to sit around reflecting on the journey. New work just happens. How you got from point A (what you were making 6 months ago) to point B (what you’re making now, today) seems obvious – to you. But to those who don’t have access to your sketchbook, the pile of scribbles on post-it-notes building up beside your computer, or those standing-in-the-shower-letting-the-water-flow-over-you flashes of inspiration, the whole thing may seem quite mysterious.

How does inspiration lead to an idea, and how does that idea lead to a series of objects, all tied together with a common thread?

I got thinking about it because I’ve been meaning to share the story of my ‘Vivid Wilderness’ series with you for some time. The ‘Vivid Wilderness’ series took a lot of inspiration from the beauty of our natural surroundings:

Vivid Wilderness Series lampwork beads by Julie Wong Sontag - Uglibeads

Rocks. Plants. Trees. Earth. Water. Sky.

But before they could be inspired by the earth and the sky and the water and the trees, there were many stages of development in my work that were absolutely necessary in order to reach that moment of inspiration. The Vivid Wilderness series was born out of a major shift in my style of working, and could not have happened otherwise. So if the start of this series of work was point B, there must have been a point A.

And there was.

The first thing that brought these beads to life was a radical decision. I decided I was really tired of doing ‘stringer’ work. So tired. Like, ‘never again’ tired.

For the non-beadmakers in the crowd, stringers are pieces of glass that you pull out very long and thin. You melt them onto the bead, to ‘draw’, or ‘paint’ designs and patterns in the flame.

This is what stringer looks like – both ultra, ultra fine (almost too fine to handle!) and some much thicker, commercially-made white stringer:

black and white stringer

[Beadmaker side note: Yes, you can buy pre-made stringer. If it is a color and a thickness that you use a LOT in your work, it might be worth it for the time-saving factor. Pulling stringer in preparation for making a certain bead design takes a considerable amount of time. Time that you may not enjoy.]

Here are a few examples of beads I have made where stringer was used to create the designs and patterns.

These etched ivory and turquoise beads are stringer work at its most basic: lines and dots:

Ivory and turquoise lampwork beads by Julie Wong Sontag - Uglibeads

When you’re getting started in lampwork beadmaking, lines and dots are a good place to begin. It helps to build your technical skill and your control of the glass, and those things are really useful no matter what style of beads you ultimately end up making.

Here’s another set with very precise, fine details. These were created by applying various thicknesses of black and white stringer to a base of black:

Black and white lampwork bead set by Julie Wong Sontag - Uglibeads

After I applied the designs, I melted them flat (in stages, so I could layer the colors to create the designs), so these have a nice smooth surface.

[Beadmaker side note: I’ve been asked many times how I managed to get the black stringer work on these beads to stay black. When you pull Effetre black into stringer and melt it in over a light color (especially white!) it often appears purple. This happens because Effetre black actually is a deep transparent purple, not black. I used Reichenbach Deep Black here, and it works perfectly. It is a little more costly, but if you’re only using it for stringer, a little goes a long way. It is worth the investment. The base black on these beads is just plain Effetre.]

You can also leave the designs raised, melting them in just enough to attach them properly to the beads (so they won’t pop off when they’re handled or worn!), but leaving them slightly elevated to add some interesting tactile interest, like in these funky cubes:

Lampwork beads by Julie Wong Sontag - Uglibeads

Stringer can be used to create freeform designs with the glass, such as the leaves, and some of the flowers on these beads. I made these in 2004. Of all the beads I’ve made, ever, these are the ones that keep me awake at night, sobbing quietly, wishing I’d never sold them. The only consolation is that they sold for almost $500 on eBay. That, and I know that they made someone very, very, very happy.

Floral squeezed lampwork beads by Julie Wong Sontag - Uglibeads

So…. you’re thinking… ok. No stringer. Earth-shattering. Really? But truthfully, it did feel that way. Very fine, precise, controlled patterns and designs made with stringer had really characterized my work up to that point. It was the reason some people loved my work. It was my ‘thing’! So it was a BIG, scary, risky (but thrilling) change.

When you have a no-more-stringer-ever moment, how do you move beyond that style of working?

Step 1: put your stringer away.

If you use stringer a lot and you are a packrat and throwing things away makes you nervous, you end up with jars full of stringer. Leftovers from past projects. When you’re prepping a design, you never know how much you’re going to need, so you always end up with extra. I had little jars sorted by color sitting right in front of me on my worktable, so I could reach for whatever I needed while I worked.

When I had my sudden, dramatic, life-changing no-more-stringer moment, I put my stringers away. I didn’t throw them away – you never know – but out of sight, out of mind.

Banished to the back of the studio shelf, out of reach.

photo 1

Step 2: from now on, apply the glass directly from the rod.

The glass rods, when you buy them, are thicker, like this:

Effetre glass rods for lampwork beadmaking - Julie Wong Sontag - Uglibeads

So when you’re decorating a bead with a rod that’s about 50 times the thickness of the stringers you’re used to, things are bound to change.

From the very first no-stringer bead, I felt so FREE. It was new. It was different. It was exciting! I had that feeling of just being able to ‘splash’ glass onto the surface of the bead in an unpredictable way, layering colors, melting, adding more… until something beautiful emerged. I made a set in bright colors, and I called them the ‘Pollock’ beads – I imagined myself working over a huge canvas, splashing paint everywhere.

When I made these beads I was REALLY excited about them. Like… SO excited. The quality of the lines was completely different from anything I’d ever done before. Happy. Fun. Wild. There’s a looseness in them. Freedom.Pollock Beads by Julie Wong SontagOf course, like a Jackson Pollock painting, there is an art in applying glass to produce something… um…. not ugly. Even if the process feels spontaneous and free.

Once I’d put my stringer away, there was no stopping me. It was a creative leap that led to so much inspiration, and excitement about what to do next…

This was the next no-stringer exploration:

Southwest lampwork beads by Julie Wong Sontag - Uglibeads

The way I applied the glass also has a random feel, but with a much more deliberate repetition of certain elements. Small dots. Big dots. Patterns. The way the lines overlap. A raised detail wrapped around each bead. Having worked without stringer for a while, my control when applying the glass from a much thicker rod was improving.

Then came the ‘Spirit of the North’ series. I was asked to create a special gift for someone who had just moved to Northern Canada. I had been thinking about the spirit of Canada’s Northern people… about the land, and the water and the sky. I created a necklace for her, having made some beads with these ideas in mind.

Spirit of the North necklace and earrings with lampwork beads by Julie Wong Sontag - Uglibeads

I was really captivated by the colors and the energy of these beads, and I continued to work on this series for about two months, exploring different forms, all with the same unifying color scheme. I began to experiment more with controlling the character of the lines:

spirit-of-north-focal-1

And etching the beads became part of the look of the series:

spirit-of-north-pair-1

spirit-of-north-pair-2

Eventually, I knew I was ‘done’ with the Spirit of the North series, and it was time to move on. But the patterning on the earring pair above, some of the last Spirit of the North beads I made, led directly into my next exploration, the ‘Vivid Wilderness’ series.

Point B.

These were the first beads in the series, from September of last year – about 6 months ago. These was a softly-ringing echo in them… of the very first no-stringer beads, the ‘Pollock’ beads. But the color choices were completely different. It was autumn, my favorite season, and the colors reflected the changing and falling leaves.

Vivid Wilderness series lampwork beads by Julie Wong Sontag - Uglibeads

There was something really special about this series, right from the start. To me, I had reached a place in my glass journey that looked different from all the places I had been before. These beads symbolized that moment when you’re walking along a path in the forest, and you come to a place with a breathtaking view.

A view toward Saltspring Island from Galiano

It’s so beautiful that you have to stop, maybe sit down… and just be there for a while, taking it all in. That place feels inspiring. You feel connected. At peace. Comfortable with yourself and content with your place in the Universe.

(and yes, that is a real place that I sat in for a very long time, reflecting on how beautiful life can be – Galiano Island, British Columbia, Canada).

And just like that place where the forest cleared, these beads said something important about who I was and where I was going. They spoke to me deeply, and they felt like the root of something big.

Forest, Galiano Island

In the beginning, each of the sets was named after a strong, mighty tree. Oak. Poplar. Birch. Alder. There was something very grounded and natural about them. They had a story… a history. And a future – reaching up into the sky.

forest, Galiano Island

When I knew that these beads would be around for a long time, the series needed a name. I asked for suggestions on my Facebook page, and there were so many good ones. But a fellow beadmaker said that they reminded her of some of the Group of Seven paintings. The Group of Seven was a group (obviously) of famous Canadian painters who focused on wilderness themes.

Yes.

There was something there.

As I mulled it over, the phrase ‘Vivid Wilderness’ floated through my imagination, and it just said everything.

Since rejoining the beadmaking world, it was the first series that became what you might call a ‘signature’ series for me. We all have things we make that become recognizable because a) we make them a lot and b) other people buy them, create with them, wear them, and honor the unique spirit in which they were made. When someone sees one of your signature beads, or a piece of jewelry that’s uniquely yours, the spirit and energy they see can be connected back to you, the maker. Every one of us knows that experience of seeing a photo of a bead, a piece of jewelry, a work of art, and knowing instantly who made it, without even needing to see the name.

Sometimes when you make something that’s a bit different, you’re also lucky enough to be recognized for that. This series has been published twice, and that is really over-the-top exciting. Just ask my husband. He heard about it for DAYS.

They were chosen for a two-page spread (it was eye-popping!) in the middle of the October 2014 issue of Creative Bead Chat Magazine, and they were also featured here on the Art Bead Scene Blog in January of this year. I was really, really proud.

From a business point of view, they’ve been on my ‘Bestseller List’ since I started making them. Authors have New York Times #1 Bestsellers, and beadmakers do too, no doubt about it. They’ve been used in so many creative ways by so many talented designers, and that inspires me to keep making them. If you’d like to see some AMAZING examples, you will find them here on my ‘Uglibeads Family’ Pinterest page (a collection of the beautiful work of Art Jewelry Designers who use my beads).

There have been many iterations of this series, with subtle variations in each, but when I started making them into tiny earring pairs, that was it. For me, it’s what the design was meant to be.

Vivid Wilderness Series Lampwork beads by Julie Wong Sontag

Every new color combination is my ‘favorite’. Until the next one. When I make them, I pull out every color of glass that fits the spirit of Vivid Wilderness… whatever ‘speaks’ to me that day. Turquoise, corals, browns, ivories, oranges, ochres, greens, reds, yellows… and always a few surprises here and there, just for fun.

Glass rods for lampworking

I put the specific color combinations together as I go. As I’m working, I see colors in the pile that catch my eye, and I set them aside in groups of three. Three is such a good number. Don’t you like it? Yeah. Me too.

I don’t make notes, and often I can’t remember which color I used on a particular pair of beads. That’s what makes each pair special. One-of-a-kind. Like a moment in time, never to be repeated in exactly the same way.

To begin, I make the base bead, usually in a rich, earthy, neutral color, and then add freeform decoration in two contrasting colors. Finally the organic silvered ivory decoration, in dots or lines. I try to choose combinations that are a bit unusual, but still rooted in that very organic, earthy feeling.

Vivid Wilderness series lampwork beads by Julie Wong Sontag - Uglibeads

Finally, they’re etched (treated with acid solution to remove the glossy surface of the glass) to a soft, matte finish. Though I’m currently debating that – some of my latest experiments with this series are really lovely when they’re left shiny:

Vivid Wilderness series lampwork beads by Julie Wong Sontag

There have been some absolutely BEAUTIFUL color reactions, because the silvered ivory interacts with many of the colors in unpredictable ways:

Vivid Wilderness Series lampwork beads by Julie Wong Sontag - Uglibeads

Vivid Wilderness Series lampwork beads by Julie Wong Sontag - Uglibeads

Vivid Wilderness Series lampwork beads by Julie Wong Sontag - Uglibeads

When I get in the mood to make these beads, I hunker down, get in the groove, and spend a day or two focused on them. It’s been a while, but I was feeling very Vivid Wilderness a few days ago, and I went for it.

Since the last big batch I made in February, I’ve acquired some new, really yummy glass colors. I had a ton of fun seeing where I could go with a familiar design and some new color combinations. For a beadmaker, there’s nothing more exciting than having new glass to play with.

Making them, I ended up totally lost in the zone, and it was the greatest day. And I needed that.

It’s been kind of a weird week. You know those weeks when something taps you on the shoulder, maybe something kind of ugly, and your emotions spiral out of control?

I needed these beads to lead me back to myself. To find balance. To find my center. As this series developed, they spoke to me about spirit and strength and individuality. They represented the need we all have to find a path through the wilderness, to celebrate the journey we are on, and to find beauty along the way.

forest, Galiano Island

When I sat down at my work table, I literally put my hand on my heart, closed my eyes, and said to the Universe, “Please let me find peace today. I need to feel compassion and respect. For myself and others. And please let me make these beads the most beautiful I have ever made them.”

And then I got to work.

Vivid Wilderness Series lampwork beads by Julie Wong Sontag - Uglibeads

And they are beautiful. The most beautiful? I don’t know. It’s in the eye of the beholder, right? But to me they sure are. And in the end, that’s what matters.

[Bead fan side note: if you’re interested in owning a little piece of this wilderness journey, I will have these for auction in my Facebook group next week].

When I emailed one of the photos for this post to myself, in the subject line, I typed ‘stringer’.

It autocorrected to ‘stronger’.

Ah, Universe. We are speaking the same language.


All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring;

Renewed shall be blade that was broken,

The crownless again shall be king.”

– J.R.R Tolkein, from The Lord of the Rings


the heart of the forest

I’ve been muddling with my daily routine in the interest of having more time to work on things that fall more squarely in the ‘productive’ sphere than things of the more time-wasting variety. There are so many habits that take up a huge amount of time that are so easy to fall into. Some I’ve managed to (mostly) kick to the curb – scrolling through my whole Pinterest feed every day, for example. The latest in a series of triumphs is getting a handle on checking in with Facebook. I used to feel compelled to see what was up every hour at least. I’m free of that now (thanks to a couple of new tactics that are working well) and not to exaggerate, but I feel much more alive, like all that extra time means possibility. More on that later, maybe.

There are only so many hours in a day and it’s important to fill them with things that make our hearts sing. Things that help us to feel connected to the earth and the sky and the people and the wonder of it all. Yes, that feeling can be found on Facebook – some of the time. But not all of the time.

Blogging is still a tough one. It is one of those productive things I aim to do more of. Because, I like it. A chronicle of someone’s artistic journey – their thoughts, perceptions, observations… a backstage pass to what goes into making art and living a creative life. I find that so interesting and valuable. We read, we find something of ourselves in other artists’ realizations and struggles, and we don’t feel so alone. I have a hard time getting there. But I’ll keep trying.

Maybe I just have to let go of that part of myself that is so bleeping WORDY. As if that will ever happen. But a challenge is good sometimes.

Speaking of challenges.

Sitting at the torch one afternoon, I was listening to CBC Radio (Canada’s public radio station) and the program was all about the life of Canadian painter Emily Carr. It was interesting stuff, because I’ve always been so drawn to her work. I had the good fortune to see many of her paintings at the Vancouver Art Gallery one afternoon a long time ago, and I remember that day well. Just sitting on a bench surrounded by these deep, dark, woody, damp, moody things was a deeply spiritual experience.

Emily Carr
 ‘Forest, British Columbia’ – Emily Carr (1932)

So I was listening to this show, and they were interviewing people who had known her during her life. People remembered her as odd, uncompromising, kind-hearted, and passionate about the things that inspired her.

Emily Carr

When I look at photographs of this interesting, strange lady, I love her but I am also kind of scared of her and based on what I’ve heard, it sounds like that is not far off the mark. She was ousted from a short-lived teaching position at the ‘Ladies Art Club’ in Vancouver for her rather un-ladylike habits – smoking and swearing at her students. In her day, clearly, she was a real badass.

Most Canadians, reflecting on her legacy, will probably think of her paintings depicting First Nations iconography. Her first visit to an aboriginal village was in 1898 to Ucluelet on Vancouver Island. There were other visits throughout the years to other villages in Canada and Alaska. She documented the sculptural arts she saw in these places – the beautifully carved totem poles, in particular.

Emily Carr, Big Eagle, Skidegate BC, c. 1930.
 Big Eagle, Skidegate BC, Emily Carr (1930)

Her work was beautiful, but it was also meaningful and purposeful. Through her paintings, she educated the public about the incredible, impermanent beauty she saw, and she said in one of her lectures:

“I glory in our wonderful west and I hope to leave behind me some of the relics of its first primitive greatness. These things should be to us Canadians what the ancient Briton’s relics are to the English. Only a few more years and they will be gone forever into silent nothingness and I would gather my collection together before they are forever past.

She started her most iconic work at the age of 57, the deep dark forest paintings that I mentioned earlier. She had her first solo show at the age of 64. Sometimes I think about the fact that I’m almost 40, and I mourn the ‘lost years’ – creative years – when I was busy pursuing other interests, and not making anything at all. I think of all that could have been made had I not given it up for so long. It is a mournful feeling – I can’t describe it any other way. But then, Emily’s story just serves as a reminder that any time is the right time to create. Wherever you are, whenever it is, just start now. She had a creative dry spell 15 years long (while she busied herself running a boarding house), yet went on to do incredible work and to earn a place among Canada’s great painters when that dry spell ended.

Emily Carr, Self-portrait
 Emily Carr, Self Portrait

Believe it or not, this is really a post about a bead. For those who don’t know Emily Carr’s work, I felt it necessary to share some of her fascinating story. She was a total expression of a singular creative vision – the way she dressed, the way she interacted with people, the way she painted. It’s inspiring – and reassuring – to know about other creative people who were relentless in embracing their eccentricities.

But.

The bead.

As I continued to listen to the radio program, I became totally possessed by the need to make a bead inspired by one of her paintings. I chose one called ‘Heart of the Forest’. The lines, the complexity and layering of the color, the movement, the primitive brushstrokes, the light and the dark… it all said something to me. And maybe… about me.

Emily Carr 'Heart of the Forest'
 Heart of the Forest, Emily Carr, 1935

I propped the image of the painting up on my worktable and frantically plucked glass rods from my jars. When I was done I probably had 25 colors out on my table. I really should have taken a picture of that. It was a sight to behold.

I wanted to make a hollow bead, because for me, those are the most soul-stirring beads I make. Something about the shape, the weightlessness, the large, receptive surface. Of course, once it began, it was a totally in the zone bead, all compulsion and flow. Sometimes your hands and your heart do the work and you just get the hell out of the way.

Julie Wong Sontag hollow bead
Emily-hollow-5

After all was said and done, it wasn’t a close representation of the painting – not that it was meant to be. The way I was able to apply the colors was much more crude than I had hoped. Glass doesn’t move the way paint does. But the spirit was there. It was special.

It became a special bead on more than one level after it was made. A few days after I made it I saw that the monthly challenge on the Art Bead Scene blog was an Emily Carr painting. I love those moments when you realize that people you don’t know are on the same creative wavelength, finding inspiration in the same things. Synchronicity is maybe my favorite thing ever.

A little while later, during one of my online sales, I showed a photo of some beads I had yet to list. Just a crummy 3 second shot with my phone.

11131909_10152822046013175_2035838224_o

Do you see it in there, the Emily Carr bead?

In the end, I didn’t have time to list it, and truthfully, I wasn’t sure I was ready to let it go. Or if I would ever be ready to let it go. I just had the feeling that it needed to be appreciated in some special way and that maybe I was the only one who could do that.

The day after the show ended, one of my lovely, lovely customers sent me a note. She had noticed a particular bead in that crummy group shot, and was wondering whether it might be available. It spoke to her, sitting there, barely visible.

I knew right away that there could not be a more perfect person to own this bead. This person has the mind of a dramatist – finding scenes and dialogues in everything – beads and stones carry on an act in her mind as she looks at them. I knew that the story of this bead would be appreciated.

I teared up a little, trying to explain the inspiration behind it all. The whole process of creating the bead was so rare and so moving. And all the happy memories of that day spent wandering the art gallery many years ago – taking in the wonder of Emily Carr’s powerful work – came flooding back looking at it.

And the future owner of the bead said, “I bow before the Spirit Bead (sorry, not quite the right name, but there’s everything in this bead, not only forest, also sky, and insights, and even difficulties, when you fall and get up again, and everything in life has been worth it), and if she’s willing to undertake the journey, I would welcome her with the greatest enjoyment.”

You can see, this bead found its rightful place in the universe, as I believe all my beads do, somehow.

it’s o f f i c i a l

It’s MARCH. Whoa. Am I the only one wondering how the heck that happened? I love March because I feel like spring is ‘officially’ just around the corner. The light has been brighter for a while, but the word ‘March’ kind of spells relief.

You know what I was thinking though? Pretty soon it’s going to be SOOOOOOOOO freaking hot in my studio while I’m torching. I don’t know if you remember but I said I would not truly complain about the winter cold, or wish it away, not even once (because it’s so lovely to work without sweat pouring down my face…) and I didn’t. Not once. And it is COLD in the winter in Edmonton. Real cold.

Come spring and summer, all bets are off. There WILL be a lot of howling up in here when the temperature starts to climb.

Today will be my first day back at the torch post-vacation. I’m mostly caught up on all the non-torching stuff. The plan is to spend one or two days working on some new things to send to Beads of Courage. It will help me get back in the swing of things, and I get to do some good at the same time. If you don’t know about Beads of Courage, it’s a beautiful arts-in-medicine program that provides beads to seriously ill children in hospital, to help them stay strong and to honor their journey. http://www.beadsofcourage.org

I love to donate beads when I can, and in the past what I’ve done is a ‘one-for-one’ system. Whenever I sell a ‘cutesy’ bead – a ladybug or a turtle, for example, I donate one just like it to BOC. July 18 Beads of Courage envelope

I’ve done some other fun things too 🙂 The hungry caterpillar…Sept-26-beads-of-courage-caterpillar

Crazy butterflies….Sept-26-beads-of-courage-crazy-butterflies

Wise owl…Sept-26-beads-of-courage-owl

And fun, bright, bumpy beads…Sept-26-beads-of-courage-set

It’s fun for me to take some time out once in a while to make things that are really outside my comfort zone. I am NOT a sculptural beadmaker, that is for sure. But when I make beads for kids I can be for a day 🙂

I loved all those beads, and I’m sure they were appreciated, but I was thinking… what kinds of beads do the kids actually WANT? What kinds of beads are they really hoping for?

I’m not totally up (down?) with what’s cool these days, since I’m not a parent, or a teacher, or someone who spends a lot of time with the younger set. But I was curious. I hadn’t seen a good list of recent requests anywhere, so I put out a plea on Facebook the other day.

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The response was amazing!! There were over 70 replies, mostly from parents of the amazing, brave BOC kids. I wanted to share a few of them, to give you a glimpse into the value of this special organization and what it means to the parents of the children who participate.

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And man, ideas, ideas, ideas! No shortage of inspiration! Parents are full of good ideas. Fellow beadmakers, take note!

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[As a side note – I wondered about the legalities of making and donating beads that feature copyrighted/trademarked characters like Spiderman, Mine Craft, Elmo, Minions, etc… and had a little chat with someone from BOC about it. There was no ‘official’ answer, though the feeling (and my feeling too) is that if you are gifting them to the program, and not selling them (which is a BIG BIG NO-NO), that is ok.]

Some things are hard to find, I think because they’re REALLY hard to make! I hope that someone out there will take up this challenge:

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At the end of the day, I was feeling very humbled that I’m able to make a small contribution to such a special thing. I’m always saying that beads are never ‘just beads’ and if this doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.

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EACH one of those beads – every single one – represents a treatment, a procedure, or a milestone in little Luke’s journey to recovery. More than 1400, and this adorable little guy is 2 years old. Now, that is BRAVE. That is COURAGE.

If you’re a beadmaker – I highly recommend donating some of your time to this amazing program. Making beads that are used to create beautiful jewelry is very special and very rewarding, but knowing that your bead is being held by a child lying in a hospital bed, helping them heal… Well… that is beyond words.

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Feeling teary? Me too.

If you are thinking of donating beads, it could not be more easy. All the guidelines are covered in detail right here: http://www.beadsofcourage.org/pages/donatebeads.html. There are a few little technical things that you need to know about what kinds of beads are allowed (ie. no unencased silver glass, no ‘sticky-outy’ bits that could break off, preferred hole size, etc.).

For the Canadians in the crowd, there is a Beads of Courage Canada website that you can visit for information on where to send your bead donations! Click here: http://www.beadsofcourage.ca

If you are not a beadmaker, you can show your support too! BOC has a ‘Beads From a Distance’ program, which provides beads to children who are not located in major centers where the program operates. From time to time I donate a portion of sales to this program, and customers and friends have matched those donations, which is amazing 🙂 It’s an easy, 5 minute process to make a donation:

https://www.crowdrise.com/BOCGivingTuesday/fundraiser/beadsofcourage

Don’t forget, if you’re a fan of Amazon, you can shop through their ‘Amazon Smile’ program to support your favorite charity. Beads of Courage included!

Well, I’m inspired! And motivated to make some fun things. I guess I’d better get busy!

Wishing you a joyful, creative, inspired month of March.

xo

a tour of the weenie factory

Weenie beads!!!!

I know what you’re thinking.

What on god’s green earth is a weenie bead?

They’re my really teeny tiny little lampwork spacer beads. ‘Spacer bead’ just means a plain round bead in a solid color that people use as accents in their jewelry designs. The average size of a weenie bead is about 4 x 7 mm.

SOSOSMALL.

Here they are!

weenie spacer beads by Uglibeads

They look ginormous!

Until you see this:

weenie spacer beads by Uglibeads

Or this!

teeny tiny beads by Uglibeads

Those were the original weenie beads, made in February 2014! Yes, 4 of them fit on a dime!

(you can find the weenie beads – and lots of other good stuff too (when I’m not sold out!) – in my Etsy shop! Click here: http://www.uglibeads.etsy.com)

Anyway. I had a little contest on my Facebook page, and to enter, you had to guess how many weenie beads I could make in one hour. The guesses were wildly different – from under 20 to over 200! I realized, reading the guesses, that unless you are a beadmaker yourself, it’s very hard to conceptualize the time that goes into making even a simple bead. And even more difficult to figure out is all the time that goes into that bead after it’s made and before it gets to you.

The correct answer, by the way, was 45!

Now, if you’re doing the math, you’re thinking – 45 weenies per hour, times $1.50 per weenie (I sell them in sets of 6 for $9) – that’s $67.50 per hour! WHOA!!!!!!!! Time to quit the day job and start making beads for a living!!!!!!!

There are a lot of people who see lampwork beads selling for a lot of money and think… I could do that too – and it looks like a dead easy way to make a living. Work at home in your jammies, make fun stuff all day, mess around on Facebook… what’s not to love? Thousands of new folks take up lampworking every year and many, MANY of them dream of quitting their jobs and living on their bead money.

There are also many people who look at lampwork beads (even those who buy them regularly!) and don’t quite ‘get’ why they are so freaking expensive. They are expensive. They are. I know.

Here’s why.

Using the weenie beads as an example, I’ll run you through what goes into the making and selling of the SIMPLEST of simple beads.

The last time I made weenies, I made 135 in 3 hours so we’ll use that as a guide. First let me say that of those 135 weenies, there were 30 that I couldn’t sell in pairs, because they didn’t match in size. So we’re talking 105 successful weenies. I don’t usually sell the leftovers. I give them away.

Recipe for a weenie:

Step 1: dip mandrels – 6 minutes = 0.057 minutes/bead

Step 2: make beads – 3 hours = 1.71 minutes/bead

Step 2.5: anneal beads – 5 hours – but we’re not going to count that since I can do other stuff while I’m waiting…

Step 3: clean beads – 47 minutes = 0.45 minutes/bead

Step 4: organize into matched pairs = 10 minutes = 0.095 minutes/bead (if you’re a visual kind of person, you can learn about that adventure in a short video I made – click here to watch)

Step 5: string beads onto cord for display/photos = 15 minutes = 0.143 minutes/bead

Step 6: photograph beads for listing – 10 minutes for 6 beads = 1.67 minutes/bead

Step 7: list beads for sale – 6 minutes for 6 beads (since I have a template I can copy and use again) – 1 minute/bead

Step 8: shipping – 60 minutes for 105 beads = 0.57 minutes/bead

TOTAL time per bead = 5.7 minutes

(If you add etching, which I offer to do for free – for now – add another 45 seconds per bead, but we won’t count that)

So for every minute I spend at the torch, I spend THREE times that doing all the other things that need to be done before I can ship the beads. In the end, the actual hourly rate for the weenies is $15.79/hour. This does not include:

– time spent ordering glass and shipping supplies, refilling propane, etc.
– time spent researching and developing the design
– time spent marketing my work (it is a LOT)
– time spent communicating with customers (also a lot)
– time spent practicing my technical skills (years)
– money spent on classes to improve my skills (an average 1-2 day class is $300-$600)
– market research time (and I’m talking serious time, not surfing Pinterest for 5 hours)
– raw materials including glass
– tool costs
– torch – minimum of $150 for an entry-level oxygen/propane torch
– kiln for annealing – $900
– oxygen concentrator – $400-600
– specialty eyewear – $90
– ventilation – at least $100 – typically $300+
– propane tank, regulator, hoses, flashback arrestors – $275
– etching liquid for complimentary etching – $90/bottle
– electricity
– propane
– computer costs
– camera
– photo editing software
– Etsy fees
– PayPal fees
– advertising costs
– rent
– insurance
– taxes

Lampworking isn’t looking like such a get-rich-quick scheme anymore, is it? 🙂

And you know what? Weenies are my MOST profitable beads. Most of my beads are priced at about $30/hour for torch time. Now you have some idea of how far down that goes after all the extra work that goes into that bead. Often we’re hovering at less than minimum wage ($10.20/hour where I live).

I think the moral of the story is that artists don’t do the work they do for the money. They do it because they love it. They do it because they can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s possible that they’re not wearing the fanciest clothes, driving the fanciest cars, or living in the fanciest houses. But for people who choose to live their lives creatively, making beautiful objects for others to enjoy, the reward goes far beyond material wealth.

Ok. So we will not get started on people charging very little for their beads because it’s a hobby and they just want to buy more glass with the money they make. If that is you, please don’t sell yourself short. If you don’t value your art, who will? It’s a bit of a sore spot with full-time beadmakers. When our customers see those low, low, low prices, sitting beside our much higher, fair-wage prices, it’s confusing, and it does not reflect the true cost of what we do.

On the other hand, if you’re looking at beads made by a full-time lampworker, considering the investment you’re about to make, take a moment to appreciate all the time that went into those beautiful objects. They were made not just with minutes or hours, but years (and maybe even decades) of love, dedication, and skill. Whether they become part of your creative process or part of your personal collection, you’ll get great enjoyment out of them and so will future generations. Beautiful art glass objects will remain on this earth for a lot longer than any of us will. Cool, isn’t it?

So whatever it is you’re paying for those beads you love so much…

It’s worth it. And so are you.

xo — julie

*this is an old post, but since it’s making the rounds again, I thought I’d mention, for the sake of the beadmakers in the crowd:

since I wrote this article (over a year ago) I:

a) raised the price of my weenie beads from $1.50/bead to $2/bead

b) implemented a surcharge for etching (after all, it takes time!) – $0.50 per bead

c) now sell the single (unmatched) beads in mixed sets

Take the time to re-evaluate every once in a while. You deserve to be well compensated for the good work you do, and the best customers out there want that for you too.

the gift of g e n e r o s i t y

This post has been brewing for a long time, but sometimes you just have to sit with something for a while before you’re ready to share.

Something amazing happened back in…. December I think! It was a while ago now so I can’t quite remember. Anyhoodles. I won an incredible giveaway contest on Janine Lucas’ blog. Janine is a super duper super talented jewelry designer. She’s also a really interesting person who has done a lot of traveling, and she’s very very lovely too! It’s impossible not to love her.

She does a really fantastic series of interviews with artists who make the components she uses in her work (lampwork, metal, polymer clay, etc.). I have to say… of all the interviews out there, hers are some of the best, most thoughtful and revealing. It’s obvious that she puts a huge amount of care and work into them.

Along with the interviews, she always offers a HUGELY generous giveaway contest – with the opportunity to win a piece of jewelry she made with the featured artist’s work, and sometimes the featured artist will offer a little giveaway as well.

I thought what the heck, I’ll enter. And I WON. And I received this in the mail:

Bracelet by Esfera Jewelry

Let’s just stop and stare for a moment.

I so enjoyed photographing my beautiful bracelet because it’s impossible to take a bad photo of the thing. It’s just beautiful from every angle with so many special, intricate details.

Bracelet by Esfera Jewelry

Here’s my favorite thing about it: a thing that you could never know until you actually put it on your wrist and wear it around for a while. The little butterfly ‘tinkles’ as you move. Not an annoying tinkling, but the most musical, pleasing tinkle you can imagine! Plus the word ‘tinkle’ just makes me laugh. I love jewelry that satisfies your sense of sight, but sound as well… that’s special.

Here’s one more shot I just couldn’t resist…. because…. details.

Bracelet by Esfera Jewelry

And here’s a classic Julie ‘duh’ moment – I’d sort of mixed up which artist she was featuring the month I won this, and just realized that the lampwork beads were made by my good friend Kimberly Rogers of Numinosity Beads. So it’s even more special to me now. As if that were possible!

Here is a link to Janine’s blog where you can find her monthly interview series and giveaway contests – http://www.esfera.me/travel/

Her Etsy shop, where you can purchase her wonderful work (prepare to be amazed) – https://www.etsy.com/shop/esferajewelry

And here is a link to the original interview with Kimberly Rogers with the bracelet I won!

Thank you Janine – for your talent and your generosity! ❤

a sign or two

Obviously I’m the worst blogger of all time. It’s ok. There were a lot of things I added to the ‘must try harder’ list in the new year, but you know, blogging wasn’t one of them. It could have been, it probably should have been, but… it wasn’t. I do often think of it, but I’ve had so many other things on the go… and… you know… choices.

But recently there have been a few signs from the universe that I really should pick it up again. First off, there were a couple of challenges going around on Facebook – there was an art jewelry/art bead challenge, and then the #artchain challenge. The idea was to post an image of your original artwork once a day for 5 days and then to nominate another artist to continue the chain. I’m a bit foggy now on what all I posted for the bead and jewelry challenge, but these are the beads I posted on the final day:

hollow series by Uglibeads

Definitely my proudest beads in recent history. They are hollow! Empty! Nothing inside! Whenever I’d attempted hollow beads in the past, they were an epic fail. Tricky, but now that I’ve got the hang of it I just. can’t. stop. Maybe I won’t! They’ve been selling pretty well too, so I’m thrilled about that – a little piece of my soul is in every single one of these beads. Hey, maybe they’re empty so all the love can fit inside. Alright, I’m weird! But you guys already knew that.

Anyway, back to the story about the challenge. On Day 3, I nominated the very lovely, very talented Claire Fabian, an artist from Germany. She makes beautiful artisan jewelry and a lot of her own components -with polymer clay, especially – and she writes a great blog – saraccino. She got me thinking about blogging again because instead of nominating other artists, she chose to share a few of the blogs she follows. One one of the days, she mentioned that she reads my blog, and uhhh…. there’s nothing new to see here. Sign #1.

I straight-up copied Claire when I started the second challenge (which I still haven’t finished, but c’est la vie!). On Day 4, I shared the amazing blog of another dear friend I met through beads and jewelry, Sharon Borsavage. Of course her jewelry is a constant source of inspiration. Check out all the wonderful work in her Etsy shop. But besides the jewelry, I’ve been so inspired by her absolutely mind-blowing mixed media and collage art… She’s one of those multitalented people who will make you absolutely green with envy. There’s jewelry, there’s art… but it doesn’t end there. She’s a great blogger too: Livewire Jewelry Blog. I’m really inspired by that. Inspired enough to feel like blogging again. Sign #2.

Did I tell you my creepy blog secret before? The one where I find a blog I really love and read it from start to finish like a novel? I’ve been working my way through Sharon’s blog for about 4 days now, whenever I have a few spare minutes. There are certain obsessive aspects to my personality that probably make me a better artist and craftsperson… but they also make me a creepy creeper. Surely somebody else out there does this too? Don’t tell me I’m the only one!

Seeing her beautiful art has really pushed me to spend some time doing non-glass creating too. Here’s a fun thing I was working on the other night – totally mindless, color, repeated motion, meditative, simple, fun… I have an irrational love for art supplies that are really meant for children. I used every single color in my coveted set of Crayola markers and some nice thick graph paper. It’s going to be the background for something. Eventually.

marker art by Julie Wong Sontag

So here I am, back in the saddle again. We’ll see how long this wildly successful blogging streak lasts 😉