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.

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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.

the uglimug

Yesterday was a great day. You know when you have a great day and you just NEEDED it? Yeah, one of those. The creative batteries have been running a little low lately. The groove is just off a little bit. It happens. I think the heat is finally getting to me. It’s been hovering around the ‘too hot to torch’ zone for a while now, and there doesn’t seem to be rain or cool in sight.

I keep dreaming of a little backyard with a deck, where I could hang out with my feet up, enjoying some shade and a cool breeze. I’m putting my vision of that out into the universe. Beautiful shady backyard, I want you! Maybe next summer.

When it’s 30 below and we’re covered in a blanket of white, do NOT let me complain about how cold and miserable it is.

Anyway, back to the greatest day ever. I decided to just relax. Nothing bead-related. Usually when I need to relax I end up in the kitchen. Lately I’ve been into making picnic dinners and taking them to the park. That’s our version of a backyard I guess. Isn’t there something about eating outside in the summer? It makes you feel like life is just a little better somehow.

Fresh from the garden beet salad with freshly squeezed orange juice, pistachios, and goat cheese.

Roasted potato salad with fresh basil, garlic, rosemary and thyme.

Chicken with mango chutney and brie.

YUM.

I don’t know what it is about puttering around in the kitchen that’s so restorative. I think I inherited that from my Mom. That’s what she loves to do. Hang out in the kitchen, making yummy things. And not in a barfy 50’s housewife kind of way, but there’s something that makes you feel at peace when you’re making good food for someone you love.

So there was that.

There was also a visit from one of my sweetest friends. We talk every day, pretty much, but we hadn’t seen each other since we were 18 years old. Oy! When I saw her smiling face at the door, it was like looking at the exact same person I’d last seen 19 years ago. Exact. Same. As though we’d seen each other yesterday. I’m one of those people who worries that I won’t have anything to say, that I’ll just be a stammering idiot when I see people in person but of course it wasn’t like that at all. She’s got the best energy – just one of those really radiant, genuine people. I was on cloud 9 all day.

Incidentally, she’s not just an old school friend, but one of my best beady buddies too. Every day there’s something new to ooh and aah over. And something new to make fun of. It’s not nice to make fun, I know, but let’s be real. There are some funny looking beads out there. Of course there are always the unintentional penis and vagina-looking beads. But our real favorites are the goddess beads. I’ll admit I don’t really ‘get’ the appeal of the goddess bead… to each her own I guess… but to us, they’re a constant source of entertainment. There’s always the tacky leaf and flower placement, the frit that looks like venereal disease, misshapen butts and colorful nipples. Well. I’ll leave it at that but seriously.

Our bead conversations take the most interesting turns, especially those late night ones when we’re feeling extra silly. One night I was trying to write the ever-awkward ‘artist bio’. I was trying to think of a word to describe the people who follow my Facebook page. Fans? Maybe not. Followers? Well, I’m not exactly Jesus. Then it veered into uncharted waters and we considered every variation on ‘Ugli’. Ugligeeks, Uglipeeps, Uglibabes… you get the picture. Out of this came the most epic piece of Ugliswag ever to grace the earth. The Uglimug.

So Tracy delivered this thing yesterday. She had these MADE especially for us!

It’s a mug. Black. Shiny. Pretty!

Picfx-6

But not just any mug.

No.

When you pour your hot coffee into it, this happens:

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Honestly, it makes me laugh so hard. I tried it out this morning and just kind of stood there staring at it for a few minutes.

This, people, is what I’ll be drinking my coffee out of every morning as I make beads. My very own Uglibitch mug.

For realz.

what’s on my work table

New conundrum: when you make beads and headpins and stuff, how do you decide what to keep to use for your own jewelry and what to set aside to sell? I don’t know how other component makers find that balance, but I’m curious.

I made some headpins and earring pairs last week. They reminded me of little cotton puffs with the fuzzy patches of ivory. Don’t ask me how these colors ended up together on my work table. I have no idea – but they worked together. I couldn’t resist keeping a pair of headpins and a couple of the round beads to play with for some new earring designs.

So far, works in progress, just experimenting, playing, fussing.

Cotton headpin earrings in progress

I got these really cool boro ‘vertebrae’ beads (top left) from a beadmaker who does amazing things with color – Kristan Child. Such a great shape! They’re much more blue and purple in real life, picking up on the colors in the headpins. I’m not sure what direction these are going in but they’re sitting on my table waiting for inspiration to strike. Some funky wire-wrapping?

Aug-3-scorched-earth-and-pebbles

I paired these roundy cotton-ish beads with purple eggplant-ish ceramic drops from Petra at Scorched Earth. I like the beach pebbles too but I’m not sure. Still playing, but I feel a kind of serene, earthy, grounded thing going on.

Do you ever feel like your energy is totally off? I mean, not your creative energy, but your energy in general? I’ve been in a weird, slightly aggravated phase lately. I’m not sure what it is. Some cosmic planetary misalignment? The weather? Not enough nature in my life? Too much time hermited up in my apartment working?

I’m trying to breathe, be calm, be introspective. So far I haven’t discovered the mystery of it all, but I’m working on it.

imagine immensities

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

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

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

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

Etsy Treasury featuring Uglibeads

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

 

feel the fear and do it anyway

Calgary Stampede midway ride

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

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

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

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

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

Well, ok.

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

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

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

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

Hallelujah moment.

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

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

Necklace by Julie Wong Sontag

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

one for one

July-11-beads-of-courage-bug-and-turtle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One for one.

And double the smiles 🙂

basic black

I made a set of black and white beads recently and had a few inquiries as to what type of black glass I used to get the totally black black designs on white:Black and white beads - UglibeadsThe problem that we beadmakers run into with black is that plain old Effetre black, when used as surface decoration over white, can get a ‘purple-ish’ look to it. The source of the problem is that Effetre black is not actually opaque – it’s dark transparent purple. So of course, when you layer it over white, it looks purple. In this pic you can see what I’m talking about. Or maybe you can’t. I just realized how small and useless this pic is:

black and white beads

See those purple-y lines? Kinda? Yep. When you’re going for a nice crisp black and white, those aren’t cool. I struggled with this for the LONGEST time until I wised up (thanks to somebody’s post on lampworketc.). It’s all about the Reichenbach Deep Black, people. Purple problems solved.

It’s amazing that you can be a beadmaker for so long and not know this. Years of frustration.

Reichenbach black is significantly more expensive than Effetre, so it’s totally fine to use Effetre as the base for your black and white beads. It’s only when you layer the black over white that you need to use the denser black.

Another option is to use Effetre Intense Black, which I have also used, but I must say I much prefer the Reichenbach. Some people have had luck with Vetrofond black, but I’m not a fan, as I had some cracking issues with it a while back. I did some research, and other people have had the same problem. So I steer clear.

In other news, I have a couple of projects that I am REALLY REALLY supposed to be working on this week. So of course, I’m playing with things that have nothing to do with these projects. The other night at the end of a midnight torching session these just floated down from the heavens. What could be more inspiring than avoiding your creative obligations…?

Galaxy Beads - Uglibeads

Galaxy beads, what??

Oh, and don’t worry about those projects… I’m like a diamond.

I shine under pressure.

Yes, you may roll your eyes now.

the agony and the ecstasy

I think that one of the most challenging things about being an artist is pushing yourself to come up with things that are original… things that feel like they are uniquely ‘yours’… things that no one else is doing in quite the same way. It’s the greatest feeling when you make something that you haven’t seen before. For a few days, you feel like a total genius. Then, you figure out that someone else has already done it, and your happy little bubble bursts.

I did some experimenting with headpins last night, manipulating the part that is embedded into the glass – bending and balling up the copper wire. I’m sure there are people out there who’ve already thought about doing this, but they’re new to me, and they genuinely came from the recesses of my creative brain without any outside influence, so I’m pretty stoked about that.

Headpin experiments

It’s kind of tricky business when you see someone else doing the same thing you’ve really, truly, come up with on your own. There is a lot of synchronicity in the creative world, and people DO come up with the same thing at the same time. You see that a lot in the world of science. But in that case, he (or she) who publishes first gets the credit. He (or she) who gets ‘scooped’ usually abandons years of work because it’s not ‘theirs’ anymore. In art, maybe there is room for all of us. I’d like to think so.

If you know in your heart of hearts that you came up with the idea on your own, don’t you think you should go for it – even if there’s something else like it out there??

Back to the experimental headpins. If you’ve seen this before, don’t tell me.

I’m still feeling like a genius.

Although it feels good to strive for something new, the creative process benefits a lot from finding things in others’ work that inspire you, and incorporating those elements into your own stuff. Here’s a refreshing – and generous – take on that issue, that Fanciful Devices posted in her blog sidebar:

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Nice way to look at it, don’t you think?

brights, brights baby

So now that we all know about my focal bead saga, I wanted to show you some I made recently that I’m really proud of.Focal beads by Julie Wong SontagOne of these days I might get over my obsession with bright colors. You know, grow up and adopt a more ‘sophisticated’ palette.

Like some of my favorites:

Anvil Artifacts
Fanciful Devices
Numinosity Beads
Toni McCarthy
Scorched Earth

Or not.

focusing on focalling

This is where people apologize profusely for being such ‘bad bloggers’… I haven’t posted in so long… I’m a terrible person… yada yada yada. Yes, it’s been a month. But I must admit that my feathers aren’t all that ruffled about it. There are far too many things in life to beat yourself up over, and I decided long ago that my ability to blog regularly just isn’t one of them.

Something interesting is afoot this week. When I make beads, I feel different. I feel like my hands suddenly just ‘know’ what to do. There’s an ease – a confidence – that hasn’t been there before. When I noticed that easy feeling I silently rejoiced. You know, Hallelujah Chorus and everything. Ode to Joy. Because before this, it’s been anything but easy. I’ve been struggling with my beadmaking for a little while. Feeling frustrated. Feeling stuck. Spending a lot of time sitting in front of the torch, looking at my glass, feeling lost. I know we’ve been over this whole ‘creativity is cyclical’ thing before, and feeling lost comes and goes. But finding my way again this time was different.

When things started to improve, I felt like I’d really stepped up my game. Like I was starting to inch my way, bit by bit, toward some new things that I’ve had my eye on – for a long time.

It’s interesting how progress happens. Or doesn’t. I find that I can think about things a lot. You know, new ideas. Wanting to learn something new, do something new. I can plan, and hope, and dream, but no matter how much mental energy gets thrown at the problem, sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Although it’s frustrating waiting for that next step forward to become clear, I try to trust that when I’ve worked hard enough to get there, everything will fall into place. Faith is important when your livelihood depends on creativity.

Something that’s on my wishing-and-hoping-and-dreaming list is to become a better ‘focal bead’ maker. In my previous beadmaking life, I really hadn’t made focal beads in any significant way. One or two here and there. Not a regular thing. But it’s always been a goal of mine to move away from making bead ‘sets’ (groups of coordinating or matching beads), toward making focal beads. I’m just so drawn to the idea of making something that stands on its own… that makes a singular statement. As a set maker, I know how much work and planning goes into making a spectacular set of beads, and I can appreciate that, but I’ve always been enchanted by the ‘art’ of a really amazing focal bead. In the deepest, darkest recesses of my heart, I long to be a focal bead maker.

In the bead world, there tend to be set people and focal people. Of course, there are lots of people who do both. You have to be in a different sort of mindset to make a nice set of beads. It requires a different skill set – precision, good color sense, concentration. Some people say that they don’t have the attention span required to make a bunch of beads that go together. I suppose that different personalities and artistic temperaments are just drawn to different modes of expression. What’s interesting to me, though, is that the ‘big name’ beadmakers, almost without exception, are focal bead makers. Sometimes you’ll see a set now and then, but it’s rare. Somehow, as lampworkers, it seems that we have a certain respect for the almighty focal. And bead buyers do as well. A beautiful, well executed focal bead sells for a lot. Sometimes sets of beads do too… sometimes. But for the most part, it’s hard to charge what they’re really worth.

So back to my problem with focals. The last couple of weeks, I’ve been really actively trying to force myself to work on things I’m not comfortable doing. Top of the list: the elusive focal bead. I can’t really explain what it is that I find so difficult about them. Lots of things, I guess. A bigger surface area to cover, challenging to shape, more pre-planning required, more time lost if it doesn’t turn out… but I think mostly it’s a mental barrier that I’ve unwittingly erected over the years. When I sit down to make a focal bead, I get sweaty and uncomfortable. I have a few moments of panic before I light the torch and pick up the glass. I literally have to take a deep breath. It’s silly. I mean, what’s the big deal? If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. I’ve wasted a buck or two worth of glass and some time. But my pride is bruised and it’s disheartening. Nonetheless, when I persevere, it works out. Almost all the time. Practice pays off. Revolutionary, I know.

Yesterday I was making a focal bead. In a style that is really new for me. Totally experimental. As I worked, I literally felt something shift inside. I had an overwhelming feeling that there was a ‘before this moment’ and ‘after this moment’. When I finished torching for the night, I turned to my husband and I said, “I’m a focal bead maker now.” He probably thought, thank you god… maybe now she’ll stop blathering on about how she really, really needs to learn to make focal beads. All. The. Time.

Finally, the scary is gone. From now on, that deep breath will be filled with anticipation rather than fear. I’m all for having faith and trusting in the process, but really. It’s about time.

grey steel amphora