b e d t i m e . t e a t i m e

I think I’m becoming an ACTUAL genius in my old age.

Every night I make myself tea about 1-2 hours before I’m thinking of going to bed. It’s just a small ritual, but somehow it really makes me feel like I’m taking care of myself. Quiet time. Me time. Shut off the day time.

Except sometimes I forget until it’s too late and then I get really mad at myself.

Then I had my genius moment, and I set a recurring alarm on my phone. Every night at 9:30 PM the ‘b e d t i m e . t e a t i m e’ alarm rings.

Genius, right?

tapping the force

There are good days, and there are GREAT days, and some days are SO good, SO great, they really give you moment to pause and reflect. Today was one of those days.

It’s been a pretty steady run lately of things going right creatively, and that always helps immensely in terms of boosting the happiness quotient. I think part of it is that I’ve been forcing (or, really, allowing) myself to spend some time each day to do something new, different, experimental, untested. Since I’ve started doing this my feelings of achievement and satisfaction, really, have gone through the roof. As a creative person, time to play is a gift you MUST give yourself, and yet, so often it’s so easy to forget. So anyway, that’s my ‘me’ time, and we all know that me time is happy time.

I woke up today looking forward to my morning coffee, to catching up on stuff online, to turning the Christmas lights on and getting some tunes going. All that good morning stuff that in truth, I look forward to every morning. When I checked in on Facebook, I was greeted with three different jewelry artists’ posts having to do with my work. Two totally beautiful creations made with my beads, and an excited post about the arrival of some of my beads overseas. I say often that my greatest pleasure as an artist is making things that become part of someone else’s creative journey – in whatever way. It’s very special and I never take it for granted.

Maybe that’s what got me going this morning. In any case, by 10:30 AM, I was worked up into a positively incandescent state of bliss.

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The day had established itself as a freakishly fabulous day, and it wasn’t even noon. How often does that even happen? Some days I’m not even up by noon! As the day wore on, I kept thinking about how lucky it was that I was having such a great day, and how thankful I am to be doing what I do every day.

And then it got deep.

I realized that a year ago today, more than likely, I was lying in bed in the dark, wishing and hoping that I could fall asleep again so I wouldn’t have to think or feel anything. I was firmly in the grip of a very serious, deep depression that had been going on for a while. Quite a while. For months and months and months on end I’d been trying to sleep my life away – it was the only thing that brought me any relief. When I was awake, I was wrapped up in blankets reading a book when I could concentrate, or watching my 16th hour of TV that day. I was alive, but I felt dead. My greatest fear, and something that I thought about over and over and over again during that time, was that my creativity would never come back. That I would never paint, or draw, or write, or make beads again.

But I did. And I am. And as I type this, tears are welling up when I think about how much things can change in a year. How much we can survive before we begin to thrive again. It is in us, that ability to withstand. Strength and resilience have been my constant companions throughout life, mostly out of necessity. I know a thing or two about it. And I know, with every fiber of my being, that just when something looks like it will never EVER be good again, it will.

It really will.

The other day I was thinking about what I was like as a person, as an artist, back in the early 2000’s – a decade or so ago. Before a lot of life happened. Before a lot of sadness, a lot of suffering, a lot of loss. I was different then. I know I was. It makes me a little sad to think of it, because when I do, I know that somewhere along the way, I lost some of my magic. Some of that sparkly energy I used to be able to share with the world is gone. Old artist me was a colorful bright happy plant that bloomed without effort, and new artist me has grown gnarled roots and some of my leaves have dropped off. But I still see beauty in everything, and I guess that is a kind of magic in itself.

I will have to think about this more, but I do know that whatever I am now, I am happy. I’m here. I’m creating stuff. And life really is good.

You will love this interview with Caroline Casey, which just resonated in so many ways with all I was thinking and feeling today.


“Handmade things will feed your ancient soul because everything has a story, the story of the maker and then the story of the person who receives the work. By making handmade things, we’re tapping a force that says we’re not destined to accept what fate has assigned us. We want to make things because it’s a way of changing our lives.” – Caroline Casey


free to be

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Sometimes there’s a lot to say. And sometimes there isn’t. I find myself cycling through phases. The talkative, writing, word-spewing phase is full of analyzing, pondering, and reflecting. I’ve always felt that self-reflection is an integral part of being a creative person – heck, any kind of person – but a creative person especially. Writing is always a reliable reflecting pool. You write, and occasionally, you see your soul revealed on the page. It’s a good habit, writing. I’d like to do it more. But sometimes, for me, there are silent phases. Mostly, those phases are just about doing. No talking, no writing, just doing. Planning, working, growing, changing, but above all, doing. I’ve been there lately. The words ran dry for a while.

That’s ok.

They always come back.

I find the Facebook / Blog balance a difficult one, and I’m sure many artists who inhabit both spaces struggle in the same way. Sometimes you have a long-winded thing that is clearly blog territory, but most days you think of a little tidbit to share on Facebook as you go about your day, you post it, and you carry on. You could say more, maybe, but it’s so easy to just post and run. The problem, I find, is that by the time you’ve done a week of Facebook updates, the well has run dry. A blog post is the last thing on your mind.

I feel a little sad sometimes that artists have mostly moved over to sharing their stuff on Facebook instead of on their blogs. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE Facebook – for the ease of communication, the wonderful connections I’ve made with bead lovers, friends, far-away family, and other makers. It’s also been a wonderful, friendly, super easy place to sell beads. The thing is, I find that you see a different side of someone on their blog. Facebook isn’t the place for sharing your struggles, your doubts, your insecurities, your vulnerabilities. Nobody likes a sadsack beadmaker/artist/jewelry designer. Mostly, people come to see pretty photos of your work, to gain a little insight into what you do, and maybe read your incredibly inspiring thoughts (ha!).

But how do we connect with each other? I mean, really connect? We find ourselves in others’ stories. We take comfort and solace in knowing that other people survive the things we go through too. It’s reassuring. It means that we’re normal, we’re human. Those struggles, those challenges, that IS life. Real life. Nobody’s life is always shiny and happy and filled with tropical vacations. But on Facebook we all try to be the best, most photogenic, entertaining versions of ourselves. And that’s why I feel much more comfortable leaving the rough edges exposed on my blog. It’s my own little place. A place where people actively come to seek me out, to find out what kind of person I am, to read what I have to say. It’s a place where I can bare my soul and not worry that someone is going to ‘Unlike’ me for it.

Being ‘unliked’ is a phenomenon that I’m somewhat familiar with… I mean, in Grade school I was bullied… When I was a teacher, some disgruntled student wrote ‘BITCH’ in big, bold scrawly letters on my mailbox in the hallway. But before I started my Uglibeads Facebook page, I’d never been exposed to the idea of being ‘Unliked’ in such a literal and graphic sense.

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yes, I can chart my ‘Unlikes’ on a graph.

On a Facebook business page, you can see how many ‘Likes’ the page has. And whenever I’m on my own page, so can I. I see the number so often, I know when it goes up. Or horror of horrors, DOWN. Which means that someone has ‘Unliked’ my page. They actually visited my page for the express purpose of unliking it. How’s that for an ego boost? I know, I know! There are so many reasons why people ‘Unlike’ pages, and really, it is 100% ridiculous to take it personally. But when you put a little bit of yourself into everything you do, it does sting. It is, after all, a teeny, tiny, anonymous rejection. Sometimes, despite my best efforts to focus on the positive, when I see that someone has Unliked my page, I have one of those miserable days filled with self-doubt. Artists really are the absolute best at crippling self-doubt. That little voice inside keeps repeating, “You must have done something wrong! What did you do wrong?” It’s the same nauseating carnival ride every time –

self-doubt…
self-criticism….
self-pity…
self-soothing…

I suppose the key is that the end of the cycle is always, once again, self-respect.

I think it’s healthy to check in with yourself from time to time to make sure you’re happy with what you put out there into the world. But second-guessing never led anyone to a good creative place. It stops the flow, closes you off, puts up little walls around the most interesting parts of who you are.

On the ‘Unlike’ days, I always end up thinking the same thing: I can’t be anything other than myself. And really, truly, I want to be surrounded with people who ‘get’ me, who understand me, who ‘Like’ me, just the way I am.

Yeah.

Don’t we all?

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: http://amywaldmansmith.com. 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.

STOP!!!

YOU’RE NOT HAPPY!!!

SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT!!!

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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

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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.

magic milk

On my sister’s recommendation I watched ‘Magic Mike’ last night. Well, I tried, anyway. You do get to see Channing Tatum’s naked butt several times, and by several times, I mean many times. But even that couldn’t save it. Really, it wasn’t even worth having on for background noise. That bad.

You know what is magic though? Milk. I have a new milk trick, and it’s not spraying milk out my nose. It has to do with etching beads.

When you see beads that are ‘etched’, it just means that they’re treated with a strong acid that eats away at that nice shiny glassy surface. It creates a silky, matte finish that’s very tactile and smooth. Some bead designs really come alive when they’re etched, and etching totally transforms transparent colors – making them look like beautifully weathered sea glass.

BHB-sea-glass-A-2

When you take the beads out of the etching solution (or cream), after you wash them off with lots of water, it’s a good idea to neutralize the acid, or, apparently, it will continue to eat away at the glass over time.

Most people use a little baking soda in water, which reacts with the acid to produce stuff that isn’t harmful to you. When you dunk your newly etched beads in the baking soda solution, it may bubble, because the reaction produces carbon dioxide gas. The magic of Chemistry!

Aug-15-blue-lentils-2

I recently read that some people are using milk instead of the baking soda solution. While milk is slightly acidic, it also contains large amounts of alkaline minerals – calcium, magnesium, and potassium… which, I guess… works. My inner Chemistry geek is a little skeptical about the exact details, but it’s been so long since I studied Biochemistry or taught Chemistry labs that I’m not that fussed about it.

Anyyyyyyway. The milk fans say that dunking the etched beads in milk makes them sooooooooooooo soft and silky feeling. I rolled my eyes when I read this, but I swear it’s true. I’m a milk convert.

Some people report that the milk curdles when they do this. I haven’t experienced that, but heads-up if curdled milk makes you want to barf. After I do the milk thing, I run the beads under water again, and give them a good scrub with a toothbrush and some dish soap. And voila! Lovely, smooth, etched beads. 

If you have beads that are etched and they’re starting to look a little dull or dusty after a while, a quick scrub with a toothbrush and some dish soap should have them looking like new.

Milk. It does a body good. Depending on your dietary preferences and food sensitivities, of course. And etched beads too!