While I've always been a creative soul into drawing, painting, and writing, it was 'round about 2002 when I discovered fire and glass. I had spent some time chatting with a glassblower at a local studio and decided to sign up for a class. I'm not sure what motivated me to do that - maybe it was the fire, the danger, the allure of light shining through pretty colors, but regardless, it reeled me in hard.
I took the introductory class, but life got in the way and I was never able to finish the last project (a mug with handles). But I did make the cute purple pumpkin above, and it's the only surviving souvenir I have from the class.
Intrigued by this magical liquid solid (apparently the debate is still out on which it is), I took a fused glass class next, and it was fun, but it just didn't let me get as personal with the glass as I would like. Someone at the class told me about a glass beadmaking class (it's called "lampwork") being taught by Jackie Marr, so I signed up. It would be a couple of hours spent learning about the Mapp gas fueled hot head torch and beginning bead making techniques, and was presumably something that I could do at home if I liked it.
It was just me and about 50 others in a darkened room and I was terrified that I would either blow myself up (it was pressurized gas, after all, plus fire, which has to be dangerous, right?) or light myself on fire. With great care and no preconceived notions of what glass beads should look like, I produced these beauties (drum roll, please):
Aren't they amazing? Seriously, it's a wonder I didn't run straight back to the glass blowing studio (a.k.a. "hot shop") and pick up where I left off. But I loved these homely orbs and on a whim decided to buy the kit we used that night in the class and continue practicing in my garage at home. With great care and concern for safety, mind you. I strung these first beads on some wire and now carry them with me in my purse, to remind myself of my roots.
For months I would sit at a table in the middle of the garage (lest a tiny shard of hot glass should fly across the room and ignite something), with the lights turned out so I could see the flame and learn how to work with it. I used the little 1lb cylinders of Mapp gas and my Hot Head torch, which clamped to the table. I read everything I could get my hands on about bead making, and bought Corina Tetinger's book Passing the Flame, which contained lots of great information as well as projects.
Each tiny creation was loved as only a mother could, and they made their way into crude pieces of jewelry that I either wore myself or gave away as gifts. After buying a kiln I decided that I could possibly sell my beads (a kiln is essential to anneal the beads, which ensures that they won't break), and sold a few of them on eBay, mostly as orphans.
I persevered with my Hot Head, lurking on the Wet Canvas Technical Glass forums learning about how to hook up bulk fuel to my torch to get a hotter flame to allow me to make larger beads, despite the stern warnings from a few safety conscious members. It would be several years before I built up enough confidence (and skill) to take intermediate classes where I would stretch myself and become truly comfortable with the medium. Eventually I gave up my beloved Hot Head in favor of a Minor burner which mixes propane and oxygen to make a hotter flame.
Gravity beads, circa 2009. These are 2 inches tall and about 3/4 inch across. Photo by David Orr.
Now I don't get anxious when I melt glass; in fact, it relaxes me. My beads have gotten much more complex and refined, and I've enjoyed learning from a number of masters in the field. There is so much to learn, and so many different ways to interpret this material. Though humans have made glass beads for thousands of years, the art of lampwork is enjoying a renaissance of sorts right now, and information and tools are plentiful. It's a very exciting time to be involved in it.
Aside from a PMC class I took so that I could make my own clasps, the jewelry making part of my art has been self taught. I'm sure that years from now I'll look at some of my jewelry designs and they will seem as awkward as my first beads do. Though they were my passion as a kid, I don't do much with seed beads these days mostly because they're so tiny and I just don't have the patience for intricate bead weaving techniques.
But metal, there's something that's been calling my name lately, no doubt because of the wonderful work I've come to know from artists such as Cyndie Smith and Maire Dodd. They both have very organic designs that appeal to me. I have come to know and collaborate with Cyndie over the last few years through the ISGB (International Society of Glass Beadmakers) exhibit challenges and she has kindly given me some instruction and tools. If you're interested in these collaborations the first one is here and the most recent is here. I've also had great fun doing a few creative exchanges with Mary Jane this year, and hope to combine creative forces with her as well in the future. While I myself don't have the patience for seed beads I feel fortunate to have met Rachel Nelson Smith a couple of years ago, and we've collaborated as well. It's so much fun working with creative people who know no limits, and see the world through such different lenses.
Encased ornate gravity bead, circa 2009. This one is about 2.5 inches tall and about 3/4 inch across.
Photo by David Orr.
Photo by David Orr.
So that's it, my roots in a very large nutshell. In the future I'll share some of my ongoing work as it progresses. Thanks for inviting me into the group!