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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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:


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



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.


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.


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

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.


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.

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: 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:

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:

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.


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 –

Her Etsy shop, where you can purchase her wonderful work (prepare to be amazed) –

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! ❤

i can see clearly now

Double Helix Zephyr glassOne of the perks of taking a class in an actual beadmaking studio was that I got to do some shopping while I was there! I’d completely run out of clear glass, so I wasn’t hopeful about doing any encased focal beads for the trunk show. But I managed to pick some up over the weekend, so we’re in business.

For many beadmakers, the search for the ‘perfect’ clear glass is frustrating. There are many options out there, some better than others. The problem with clear glass is that if there is a flaw or scratch within the glass rod itself, it shows itself in the beautiful clear casing that you’ve worked so hard on. That sucks. Nasty bubbles, ‘scum’, generally gross looking problems, all can ruin a beautiful bead. If you order plain old Effetre clear, that’s likely what you’ll get. The next step up is Effetre ‘Super Clear’. I’ve recently tried some, and I can’t say that I was all that wowed with it. Compared to the amazing clear I now use exclusively, it’s not that impressive.

We’re lucky that there are many more options in glass now than there were 10 years ago. Now, there is an amazing clear glass made by Double Helix, an American glassmaking company. I swear that their clear glass, Zephyr, will change your life. If you’re – ahem – willing to pay about $44 CDN a pound (compared to $12 for Effetre Super Clear). I’ll admit I was skeptical about this ‘magical’, frighteningly expensive clear glass, but after trying it out, I wouldn’t even consider using any other clear. It’s that good. Aside from the fact that it really is crystal clear without any scum or bubbling (hence no tedious stripping of your molten rod before you can apply a gather to your bead) – it melts like BUTTER, so encasing a bead is much, much faster. It’s just so easy to use. To me, it’s totally worth the steep price tag because it makes things stress-free and efficient, and my encasing always looks beautiful. I can’t say enough good things about it. I’m sure it’s made from Unicorn tears.

If you make the switch to Zephyr but still have a bunch of crummy clear glass you need to use up, there are a bunch of things you can do with it. The easiest might be to use it as the core of a bead that you’re going to cover with an opaque color – which has the added bonus of sparing your more expensive glass. If you’re going to etch a bead made with clear glass, I don’t think the imperfections will matter much. Here’s one other thing you can try: some say that pickling your clear glass does help, and I’m sure that’s true (read a discussion on LampworkEtc. about it here). In the past I’ve soaked mine in vinegar for a good long while, and it seemed to greatly improve things.

So now that I’ve acquired two whole glorious pounds of Zephyr, I’m looking forward to sitting down to make some beautiful galaxy beads, encased prairie beads, triangle beads… uh… flower beads…

I also treated myself to some raku frit that I’m looking forward to playing with. It does really interesting things, turning different colors depending on how you work it in the flame. Something new to experiment with is always fun.

I’m off to the torch today to see what I can do with my newly acquired beadmaking skills. Stay tuned.

on a wing and a prayer

A few weeks ago, I heard about a beadmaking class taking place in Calgary (only 3 hours away) that I really, really, REALLY wanted to take. Unfortunately, I heard about it too late. When I called to ask about it, it was already full. You should have seen my sad face. Between the time I’d heard about it, and finding out it was full, I’d kind of managed to get my heart set on it. Do you ever do that? It’s a bad habit, really, because you only set yourself up for disappointment. But when I get my heart set on something it’s like a focused high-power laser beam of want.

So. Oh well. Moving on.

If I show you a bead made by the instructor, maybe you can better understand my heartbreak:

Amy Waldman-Smith lampwork bead

I know, people. I nearly cried. Amy Waldman-Smith is an extremely talented lady, and a fellow Canadian! She’s from Ontario, so it’s really neat that a local studio managed to book her for a class. Apparently she’s an amazing teacher. Here’s her website, if you want to take a gander: Seems like each of her beads is more detailed than the last. Her work is all based on dots – raked, layered, masked. Since I’ve been on a dot kick lately, I thought, that would be SO super perfect. But alas, it was not meant to be.

I decided to console myself by bidding on one of her hilariously amazing birdie sculptures. She’d posted it in one of the auction groups I belong to, and I’m kinda embarrassed to say that I got it for a lot LOT less than it is worth. I guess that’s how auctions go sometimes. I told her that I hoped that the crazy bird was going to bring good beadmaking mojo with her, and that I had plans to display her on my work table. A mascot!

Here’s Amy’s bird creation. This is a new series of work that she’s been doing, and they’re all totally unique, with different personalities. I’m in love:

Amy Waldman-Smith lampwork bird sculpture

I have a hard time letting go of things sometimes. Once I have my heart set on them, you understand. At certain times in the past this has turned out to be a beneficial quality – you know, follow your dreams, persevere, stick to it, never give up, all that.

The fact that I was hoping very intensely to still take the class wasn’t totally out of the realm of possibility. I mean, I was on the wait list. So if someone cancelled, I’d be in. I looked at my bird every day – many times – as I was working, and wished and hoped and wished some more.

You know, it’s weird. I just had this odd feeling that it was all going to work out, and that I’d get to take the class after all. And wouldn’t you know, yesterday I got a call – somebody had cancelled – would I like to take their spot?

Why yes, yes I would.

The last time I took a beadmaking class was in 2003 (I think). So it’s been a while. I’m totally beside myself with anticipation.

Even better, I get to stay with one of my best friends in the whole world, and we haven’t seen each other for a long while.

Happy Weekend to me!

owl and butterfly

owl and butterfly

 This has been the last few days.

An owl and a butterfly.

Wisdom and freedom.

I used graphite pencil, pencil crayon, gouache, and paper collage (the butterfly). I haven’t worked with gouache for years, and I really like it. Also, I’m having a love affair with neon pink.

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.




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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.

nailed it


Just admiring my pretty red manicure as I make beads… 

Here’s a fact: making beads is MUCH easier than painting your own nails.

While we’re at it, here’s one of my beadmaker pet peeves: if you’re going to show a photo of the beads in your hand to give an idea of how big they are, for god’s sake, CLEAN YOUR FINGERNAILS. While you’re at it, maybe trim them too. Gross, dirty claws are so… gross.

The end.