Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Old School

New Old Work!

I had some fun in the studio the other day, just playing, letting myself make whatever came to mind, and these focal lentil beads came to life. I call them "old school" because they're a style of beads I made a lot more often about a year ago than I do today, or at least the first three are. Three of them feature the baleen technique I learned in Michael Barley's class, plus bits of silver glass (a little of that goes a long way), a little sparkle. I love how these turned out.

I'm getting ready for the Bay Area Bead Extravaganza (BABE) show in November, trying to push myself to make more bead sets - a rarity for me. I don't know why I can sit down and make a focal that takes an hour, but the same amount of time spent on a set of coordinated beads makes me itchy. I'm also trying to push myself to remake designs that I know are popular, which gets easier it seems but still seems to fall just a penny short of satisfying my inner Dora the Creative Explorer.

I'm also almost finished with a new pendant setting for the Meanie beads - it's in fine silver and I know you'll like it. I will have them at BABE. For Heaven's sake, if you're anywhere near the Bay Area (it's in Oakland) on November 14th/15th, do stop by the Marriott Convention Center and drool all over the beads. If you're curious who will be exhibiting there, click this. I'll be sharing a table with my friend Joyce, of Choyce Creations. She'll have some of her amazing fine silver and anodized titanium and niobium components, as well as finished jewelry. She's a talented local artist and friend, and her work is usually on my Christmas wish list.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chalcedony or Raku?

I had a chance to play with some Chalcedony the other day, and here are some of my first beads with it. Well, they're not all Chalcedony - one was made using Raku - let's see if you can figure out which one. It's not that hard for me to get color from Raku, it just takes a lot of effort. It seems that decent color can be had from Chalcedony without the same level of effort. In fact, I found the color in the Chalcedony blooming even as I was putting glass on the mandrel. I'm going to keep playing with this glass to see what it can do.

Friday, October 23, 2009

I had a date today...with Gaffer!

I had a date this afternoon with a mysterious and exciting new attraction...Gaffer Chalcedony and Blue Chalcedony glass, just arrived at my door yesterday. I'm so excited to finally play with this glass! Beady friends Pam Brisse, Deb Batten, Mallory Hoffman and Lara Lutrick are all using it with some incredible results, so I could hardly contain myself until I found a few free hours to play.

I'll see if there's anything worth sharing when I open the kiln tomorrow. But I have a feeling there might be...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Essential Elements Part I: Lampwork Bead Making

I don't often do a series of posts on related topics, but now seems like a great time to start. An interesting subject to me is the things that you find essential - essential to make lampwork beads, to create jewelry, tools to market your creations, and last (for now, anyway), tools for your business. These are my own lists, but please feel free to comment with your own additions. I look forward to hearing all of the different perspectives everyone has to offer.

Essential Elements Part I: Lampwork Bead Making

We've all seen the forum polls and posts about "the one tool you can't live without". But let's be serious, we need more than one, right? Rather than focus on tools per se, I'd like to list the top ten things I find essential to my lampwork bead making. Many of these things are no surprise.

1. A Torch. This is a no brainer. With all due respect to a handful of professional bead makers out there using HotHead torches, most lampwork artists use a dual-fuel torch, that is, one that uses a petroleum based fuel such as propane or natural gas, plus oxygen. You can get a Cricket for as low as about $130, or could spend a lot more. The type of torch you choose will impose some requirements for the Oxygen part of your set-up, so consider those two things in tandem when you're putting your studio together. I use a minor and a 5 lpm concentrator, and find that it does me pretty well most of the time. But I suspect my impatient side will soon want some extra heat, so I'll either get a Cricket (which is rumored to do better on the smaller concentrators) or figure something else out (see Trey Cornette note in the next item). I can make some pretty large beads right now, and am in no hurry to go bigger.

All this said, I happily used a HotHead on bulk fuel for several years (with a kiln, of course - see #3) and only felt the need to upgrade because I wanted to work faster. Patience is not my forte. The HotHead is a very capable torch and many appreciate their ability to work more slowly with it than they could on a hotter torch. Apparently not me.

2. Oxygen. One of the best purchases I ever made was my refurbished medical oxygen concentrator from Unlimited Oxygen, through Arrow Springs. Gone are the days when I had to wrangle the cylinders into and out of my car, and make special trips to the welding store to exchange them. It paid for itself in six months' time, back when I wasn't even making that many beads. I find it so liberating to be free from the O2 supply chain, regularly dedendent on some vendor for that part of my craft. My flame is not quite as hot as it could be with tanked O2, but in my mind it's worth it. Trey Cornette has a very cool tute on his site on how to tank your own O2 using some inexpensive supplies from the hardware store. You rock, Trey!

3. A Kiln. There is no debate about this one - you need to anneal your beads (cool them down slowly) and fiber blankets and vermiculite don't count if you want to sell your beads and keep your reputation intact. The best way is to put them directly from the flame into a kiln ramped to the right garaging temperature for the glass you work with. I got my kiln before I got my Minor burner - I was still happily on a Hothead, using bulk MAPP and Propylene fuel, but tired of seeing my beads break (even those which I had batch annealed). I found my AIM 84 kiln new on eBay, and very shortly after bought the bead door ring, making it an AIM 84BD. A close second to the kiln is a kiln controller, so you really know what temperature it is inside. A digital controller is essential to ensure that your beads are soaking at the right temperature, and certainly for implementing firing schedules should you decide to try fused glass. If all you use is the manual, analog control dial that came with the kiln, trust me, you don't really know how hot it is in there. Don't risk your beautiful beads to chance.

Something to consider if you're interested in Part II of this series (on Jewelry Making) is whether your kiln will allow you to fire metal clay. Some kilns are only good for annealing beads, but some can handle the high temperatures required to properly fire metal clay (1650 degrees F for PMC3). Do your homework and know your plans before buying a kiln, and your kiln can flex with you as your plans grow.
4. Safety Equipment. The ISGB website has a downloadable paper on safety that everyone should read. It covers safety in handling fuels, ventilation, eye protection, chemicals (e.g. etching solutions), ergonomics (proper torching posture), and more. Anyone making glass beads should definitely be wearing special eyewear designed to protect your eyes from harmful radiation. I got my $13 360 cfm range hood at a Bargainland scratch and dent sale on eBay, and it cost more for shipping than the hood. I need to modify the installation to get it closer to my work surface, or install some kind of cowling, but the hood is great. Check Andrea Guarino's blog for a very helpful ventilation tutorial. I hope to modify my set up to more closely approximate hers some day.

5. Tools for pushing glass around. The ones that I reach for most often are my grocery store paring knife, and my tungsten pick. Probably a close third is my Uncle Al's rod grabbers to squeeze the last bit of life out of all my shorts! Yeah, I'm probably what they call a press whore, but honestly, I don't use many of them lately. I should trade them for things I really can use. But if you're going to press, I highly recommend Zooziis - the built-in alignment pins on the presses are brilliant and effective, but there are several good brands out there. That said, I think it's good to shrug the tools and glass bending tricks occasionally, and just let the glass do its thing. For me, this means making gravity tubes that require no tools at all to make. Freeing, to say the least.

"Gravity Tubes" necklace. Beads made without tool intervention, and fine silver molded from fan coral (already dead). More on the silver in the next installment on jewelry.

6. Leather Apron and Fire Proof Work Surface. I know, I always feel like a dork wearing this to my classes at Arrow Springs when nobody else sports one. But I get distracted easily, and sometimes will put a cold rod into the flame (pointed at myself - how does this happen?), and end up being the bullseye for a flying hot glass projectile. That, or my mind will start to wander when I'm wrangling a huge blob for a striped cane, and the whole mess drips in my lamp. While I'm not known as a clothes horse, and it wouldn't be the end of the world to get some burn holes in some of my duds, it's the principle that bothers me. I'd just rather not. I know, you're thinking, "what will she be like when she gets to that 'forgetful' age", and well, I'm wondering that too. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, aprons. Right. The leather of the apron gives me a few seconds' worth of reaction time to either 1) scream loudly, 2) jump up and brush the molten bits off, or 3) curse like a sailor when these incidents happen. I feel lucky to have never suffered a serious burn because of my scatter brained tendencies.

About the Fire proof work surface. I can't count how many times I've dropped molten bits of glass, either through some or no fault of my own on my work surface. I have a piece of wonderboard (essentially concrete wallboard) on my table, painted black (for reasons I can't quite recall), and the nice part about it is the 1" squares impressed in it. Comes in very handy when I'm trying to make matched earring pairs of tubular beads. The bad part is the icky smell I get when dropping hot glass on it (from the paint). My new studio will either have concrete or some kind of natural stone work surfaces.

7. Mandrels, glass, and decorative elements. You just have to do your thing here. I've got every kind of mandrel from the teeny tiny ones that Sharon Peters embeds in her creatures for appendages, to a 3/4" whopper that I'm still trying to work into my repertoire. Puffy mandrels, cone shaped ones, 2-hole, you name it, I've got it, just not the ones for Pandora or Troll beads, which is a craze I just haven't joined.

As for glass, I'm presently just a COE 104 girl, though I've got some COE 96 Gaffer on my table from a custom spacer order that I must clear off (could not find that green in any other brand). I've also got a couple of clear boro rods (with electrical tape on the ends to mark them) to use as punties when pulling cane.

My decorative elements are my own handmade murrini and cane, reduction cane (loving iris gold and silver blue), silver leaf and foil, fine silver wire, and of course, raku. I've dabbled with cubic zirconia, frit, enamels and pixie dusts, but just don't use them much. A little ivory glass, some silver leaf, and I'm happy as a clam. It really is possible to learn a lot and do a lot with just a little in this art form, but it's also easy to get caught up in every craze coming down the pike and soon half your paycheck is going to a glass supplier for the fancy $100/lb silver-glass-color-of-the-week or the latest tool you just can't live without. I urge you to resist, and just get to know the glass you've got for a spell. You won't be sorry.

8. An investment that totally pays for itself is a membership in the International Society of Glass Beadmakers (ISGB). For $55 you can virtually and physically hobnob with some of the most experienced bead makers on the planet (yes! it's INTERNATIONAL), learn about new bead making techniques in the forums, participate in challenges and contests, and more. And they put on a kick ass conference called The Gathering every year that is a Gold Mine of information and opportunity. Don't miss out on this - join now!

9. Who knew I'd be pressed to come up with 10 things. Oh, YES! My Dremel. While they don't seem to last long for me, a cordless high speed rotary tool is indispensible for wet cleaning beads. I've got thick and thin diamond bits from Widget Supply, and clean my beads in a small tupperware container of water, wearing old clothes and eye protection. Yes, there are better bead cleaning tools out there that are less likely to draw blood, but it works pretty good for me. Others are extensively covered in the forums, so check it out if you're inclined. Oh, and for God's sake, don't dump your container of bead cleaning water down your drain, or your chances of connecting to the intertubes (next item) will be greatly diminished. Seriously, go dump it outside - it's really bad for your plumbing.

10. Number 10 is huge. I have to say that the Internet is an absolutely indispensible tool for modern glass beadmaking. If you live in an area where classes are not easily found, or can't afford the bucks they require, or are just naturally curious what is going on in the world of lampwork and who is doing what or how to to that thing you saw, you must be connected. There are several great forums where you can learn for free, share your own successes and failures, and make some great friends. One is Lampwork Etc., others are Wet Canvas, the ISGB forum, and yet another is Torch Bugs. Some very impressive bead artists have never taken a formal class and have learned everything they know from reading books, the internet, and from trial and error in their own studios. Many artists freely share their knowledge online in their blogs and in forums, and it's all there for you. And for the most part, bead makers in general are the nicest, generous and helpful folks I've ever met, so get out there and get connected with some, even if it's through the inter tubes. You won't be sorry.

I have to write in a #11. I can do that since it's my list, right? I think music is key. I love torching to music, the louder the better, and while seated only 3' from my iPod player, I do use the remote control to jack the volume up or down as the songs dictate. And yes, I do tend to sing at the top of my lungs on occasion, just ask the neighbors. I'm pretty sure they're getting tired of my current playlist, and are planning to get me an iTunes gift card for Christmas. What do I listen to? Well, most of it my husband and mother don't care for (but my teenage son does), but there is a surprising variety from folk, bluegrass, alternative, classical, and rap. Yeah. Hmmmm. What's up with that?

In the next edition I'll cover essential elements for making jewelry with lampwork beads. Until then, what are Your essential elements for bead making?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Projects for Hair Dye, Masking Tape and Donkeys: Altered Zoo Art

Recall when recent Israeli blockades cut off supplies to Gaza? Well, tragically, zoo animals there suffered, and the zebras actually died from starvation. On a brighter note, a creative zoo keeper kept the spirit of the zoo alive for the kids by "altering" some of their donkeys into zebras, using hair dye and masking tape. I wonder what they would have done had they lost some elephants? Read more about it here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Breath of Fresh, Warm Air

The big storm that blew through here earlier this week has left everything wet (although Smoky reports that the fire danger is still "Moderate", which I find interesting), and covered in debris, but the air is gentle, fresh and clean, and it feels like spring.

The fragrance from our ginormous ginger plant (tree?!?) blossoms is just heavenly, and makes me want to float one in the jacuzzi and have a soak while sipping a nice mimosa. But I think we're going to go on a hike instead.

I continue to be amazed by the iPhone camera (which took the photo above). 3 megapixels!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Soquel Creek at Bargetto Winery, at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains, yesterday at about noon, in mid-storm. I can't imagine what it's like now.

Our neighborhood here in the Santa Cruz Mountains is humming with the sound of generators and chain saws after being whacked by the remnants of Super Typhoon Melor in Japan. As remnants go, this was pretty fierce. Friends nearby with weather stations on their roofs reported wind gusts near 70 miles per hour, and one friend tells me her rain gauge shows 12.5 inches in the last 24 hours, and while it's sunny now in the valley, the rain continues to fall gently up here in the mountains.

After taking my mom to the airport for her flight home this morning, I went out and walked around to survey any damage. Can't do much else with limited house power and no water. We fared well with no trees or major limbs down. However, something happened to our pump system overnight, which first had a leak and now shows no signs of life whatsoever. Rivulets of water have carved some channels in the hillside behind our house, and while on my usual hunt for errant tennis balls, I discovered a small stream on the property that wasn't there before. Debris is everywhere.

I'm doubly glad not to live where the recent fires (Bonny Doon and Lockheed) were, as those areas were evacuated during this storm because of landslide potential.

Bodie is ecstatic to finally have a chance to get out and stretch his furry legs, even just for a spell in the light rain. I had hoped to clear my head from the past week's worth of excitement by getting to my torch and melting some glass, but it's approximately 15' away from a roaring generator and even my iPod is no match for that noise. If I had water I'd make some soup. Guess I should have put a rain barrel out...

Monday, October 12, 2009


It's been a full week since I posted, but not because I haven't been busy. Shortly after my last post, my mom arrived for a visit, and I took her up on her offer to help me with a project while she was here. So, the horrible 25 year old wallpaper in the bedroom is GONE, and in its place are luxurious new walls in warm mocha and firebrick shades, to match a new set of bed linens in an exciting, Moroccan color scheme.

Sometimes it takes me years to build up a head of steam for a project like this, but when I get going, I am at high risk for missing sleep, meals, and personal hygiene to get it done. Which, by the way, provides some challenges when guests are in the house, but family is thankfully forgiving of those infractions.

But I gotta give my mom a ton of credit for hanging in there with the long hours, the up and down the step stool for painting near the ceiling, and the dinners that begin near 9pm after a frantic rush to the grocery store for ingredients. You're the best!

I wish I had taken some "before" shots to document the dramatic transformation, but I didn't. I did get this great shot of my mom armed with the wallpaper steamer, however. Some of the lovely elegance of the former wall treatment is evident in this image.

Today is my birthday, and we will celebrate it by putting a final coat of paint on the accent wall, cleaning the carpets, doing touch ups, and bringing the furniture back in from the deck before the big storm arrives tonight. I can't think of a nicer way to spend it. Thanks mom.

Monday, October 5, 2009

From My Heart

Plays With Fire booth at the 2009 Sacramento Fine Arts Festival

I just wanted to give a huge, heartfelt thanks to all of the wonderful people who stopped by my booth at the Sacramento Fine Arts Festival last weekend. It was my first time at this show, so much of it was challenging and unfamiliar to me, but it made my day that you cared to spend some time with me. We may have only commented about the live music (mostly great), the fabulous collection of over 200 artists there, or perhaps you lingered a while and learned something about how glass beads are made. Some of you were kind enough to adopt some of my works to take home with you, and to give to your family and friends. No matter how we connected, it was wonderful being there with you, and I'm grateful to have been a part of such an amazing show. Even if my feet aren't presently speaking to me after what I did to them for three straight days.

I was stoked to meet some new lampwork artists - Adi Braeman, Rita Forman, and Shawn Tsai. It's amazing how we all do the same thing (well, Shawn does sculpture and not beads), but our work is so different. Lampwork bead artists represented at this festival! I have got to get some help in my booth next time so I can get out and visit everyone else's booth.

I owe a special thanks to my mother in law, Sybil, for insisting that she go with me to set up, even though I tried to dissuade her because both of us knew that her age and physical condition would prevent her from doing much and would possibly result in her getting hurt. She wanted badly to be there for the actual show but a trip out of state to see her twin daughters prevented her from reaping the benefits of her labor. What a sweetie! One of these days...

Sybil helping with the lights.

"Mean Green Mother Earth" on display.

Since I presently have custody of the metal and glass piece ("Mean Green Mother Earth") I did with Cyndie Smith for the ISGB / Bead & Button Convergence exhibit, I decided to place her front and center to stop traffic, and boy did she. Soon she'll be wintering in Florida to check out the gallery scene down there.

There were several small disasters that kept me laughing during the set-up for this show - "discovering" at the last minute that my 2' tall banners would turn my booth into a limbo game for anyone over 5' tall, learning that I had brought but 7 of 8 required PVC table leg extenders, forcing a late night trip to Home Depot for a replacement, and on and on. Many thanks to Harlan Simon who had a great suggestion to move the banners as far to the side as possible, to create an unobstructed entrance at the corner, and to Joline for offering some of her heavy wire when I thought I could rig up some kind of high wire act to get the banners out of the way. I also need to thank my wonderful friend Mary Susan, for the incredible graphic design work she has done for me to date. Those banners are just awesome! Perhaps most of all I need to thank my incredibly supportive husband, whose surprise visits to my shows always make my heart go pitter pat.

As always, I'm still on the prowl for an improved booth set up. After this show I think I'm going to lose the heavy glass and frames on my hung photographs, and rethink the grid panel idea if they're not needed for structure. And oh yeah, since I fear I destroyed a hinge on one of my metal folding tables during break down, I'm probably going to revisit the whole table idea again. After schlepping everything to my booth site and back to the truck without the recommended cart, I'm thinking something on wheels would be a very good idea.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Off to the Show

OK, the next time you hear from me will be on Facebook, as I upload pictures from the Sacramento Fine Arts Festival this weekend. My graphic designer friend Mary Susan Weldon has done some amazing work on my banner, and I'm stoked to have them in time for this show. Come by if you're nearby - I'd love to chat with you!

Car Talk: It's Electrifying

2011 Fisker Karma concept vehicle. For a cool $87,500 it could be yours.

I'm thinking of that drag racing scene in the Travolta and Oliva Newton John movie "Grease"...can't you see the Fisker Karma leaving Crater Face in a cloud of dust?

I'm incredibly excited by the teasers out there for all of the new plug in hybrid and electric vehicles. Chevy is promising the Volt in late 2010, Zap is planning to release the Alias, and Renault will soon follow with not one, but four different vehicles to fit a wide range of lifestyles, whether you need to get around your retirement complex, or haul a family on vacation. Because that's what it's all about, right, matching the vehicle you drive to your needs? Hopefully most of them will be more affordable than the Tesla Roadster or AC Propulsion's Tzero, though few could be as sexy.

Here's one that intrigues me, and apparently it was recently debuted at Laguna Seca. The 2011 Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid. What's not to like about a name like that? Unfortunately Karma suggests a MSRP of $87,500 for this baby, which somehow doesn't fit with my present budget.

When I think back to my first experience driving an all electric car, and about how hard we had to beat on the California Air Resources Board to get automakers to give us the cars we want, I welcome these new promises with a little skepticism. OK, a lot of skepticism. I'll believe it when I see it. The sting from GM taking back all of their leased EV1s and refusing to sell them to happy owners is still fresh, as was the Bush administration's refusal to contemplate greener energy alternatives. One thing's for sure, though, and that is that we need all the help we can get to educate the public about these new technologies, and new ways of thinking about transportation.

Did you know that most Americans' daily commute is 40 miles or less? Did you know that back in 2002 we had the technology to build an all electric vehicle that could nearly triple that range? I know, because I drove one, and it was great.

Fortunately, the big companies with lots at stake recognize the need for new thinking (as does the new administration), and are slowly getting the word out. I hope that we've seen the last of the head-in-the-sand, military-styled gas guzzlers out of Detroit (or anywhere, for that matter), and will have a wide range of choices next time we shop for a vehicle.

Meanwhile, looks like my Prius is going to be recalled by Toyota soon, due to a floor mat issue that can cause the accelerator to stick.


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