I am delighted to share with you that I will be participating as a guest artist on the Durham West Studio Tour held this weekend on April 25th and 26th from 10:00am to 5:00pm. I will be one of three guest artists at The Cultural Expressions Art Gallery at 62 Old Kingston Road, Pickering. This free, self-guided tour of 30 Artists at 14 locations is where you the visitor, will get a unique opportunity to engage with working artists and invited guests in their studio spaces to discuss techniques and processes. Many of the artists will have their presented works available for purchase, all adding to the idea of the event as a virtual treasure hunt where you will certainly expect the unexpected.
Here is a peak at some of the preparations. On the left is the glass bead making station where it all starts. Effetre soft glass rods are heated and wrapped around a stainless steel rod that has been previously dipped in a ceramic medium. This ceramic medium is very similar to what potters use on their kiln shelves. They use it to be able to remove ceramics off of their shelves after it has been kiln fired. Similarly, I use it for removing the bead off of the stainless steel rod (mandrel). While the bead is still hot, the mandrel with the bead on it go directly into a kiln. An annealing process removes any stress in the glass. Beads that you get at dollar stores are not annealed and will break when they hit the floor. Mine are hard like the marbles you played with outside as a kid. Annealing basically means the glass soaks at a high temperature for a period of time, then gradually cools at a controlled rate. Beads won't be ready, even to look at, until they are removed from the kiln when everything has cooled down completely. The bead still on the mandrel at this point is soaked and the bead is removed. Then the holes of the beads are cleaned to remove the inevitable residual ceramic medium.
My cleaning station is basically my laundry room and I didn't take any pictures, but on the right is one of the messy tables in my assembly area. The cases in the top right show my crystals which I use as embellishments, like the clear Swarovski 4mm bi-cones. It can get pretty hectic, usually working long and crazy late shifts (my record being about 5:00am last year before Maker's Hand). Yup, perfection is a disease, and I am all to aware.
I do think it is allot easier to make a "single" or a "one-of" bead like this photo of my heart pendant on the left, then it is to make a group of same size, shape, and coloured beads. When you have many of the same beads in one piece of jewellery, and its not made by a machine, by the millions, it is allot more work. So, the assembly of ready-made or purchased components is much easier then first having to make components from scratch. I'm just explaining why it seems to take so long, or why it is so much more work. Actually, a dear friend made the suggestion that I should just make beads like many others are doing now, but I love the design. Its my raison d'etre, and if I ever stop designing jewellery, I will always involve design. A good part of my life has been doing design including the design of our century home for the past 10 years. I also love doing shows (for the sheer exercise and having a goal) and meeting people (I'm not very social, so I understand that I really do need this). I don't want to just sit and make beads, besides its not healthy! So, I do a bit of everything and unfortunately the progress is much slower than for say someone who only does glass, or who only does assembly of jewellery. My glass beads are fairly simple, but they are also simply elegant. Hopefully they will stand the test of time as well.
I've always had a bit of guilt about making and selling jewellery because it is simply not a necessity in life, and for our planet, to adorn oneself with jewellery. We all have to do our part for our planet, and to also lesson our footprint. Perhaps to a certain extent, that is why I don't do very many shows. I have thought about making my own headpins and jump rings, but for now, I do buy these ready-made. In essence, the assembly and design stage becomes just as important and probably more important than the glass bead making.
Many glass artists only sell glass beads by themselves. Sometimes too much effort is required in designing finished pieces. My pieces are worn everyday and clients are surprised by how many compliments they get and also by how well they are made. Not having formal training in either jewellery design or glass, I do have to depend on the work selling itself. Many people don't even realize my pieces are made by hand and are most likely to think they are simply assembled. We all like to stick to what is known or previously approved of and we are a shy bunch in Canada. All I can say is that I guarantee my work on all fronts, and the big plus is that you probably will never see your jewellery on anyone else. I am far from doing production work.
My professional background is graphic design (by the way I'm always looking for new clients and new projects) and I was very lucky right from the beginning of my career to have designed my own work and not from under the guise of an Art Director. All my printed pieces are 100% original. I never ever copied or even extrapolated my graphic designs and I still try to continue in the same vein with my jewellery pieces. I have seen copies of my work, especially this head from a catalogue cover I did many moons ago.
The beads are all handmade and lend themselves to being one of a kind. In any case, I really find putting the pieces together challenging because I try to keep it fun, fresh, interesting, and always with a sense of timelessness in the back of my mind. I like seeing how each bead will be used in the final piece. I do sell some loose beads but never from my latest designs.
Its a harmonious assemblage and I've pulled apart many pieces because something wasn't quite right. Sometimes, it is not at all what I originally envisioned. Either it is not comfortable, or practical and most of my pieces are worn everyday. It is not as formulaic as one would think. A slightly different size or shape, or even the colour is off because I used rods from two different glass orders and the dye lot isn't spotted right away. Usually, it is detected only at the last stage and after photographing the finished pieces with daylight fluorescents. Perhaps someday, my line will be only a few different pieces. For now, I don't have that big of a market to be able to make only a few kinds. Until then, you can enjoy that my pieces are so different from each other and that I've sold pieces years ago that are still adorned today. So thank you for your support and I also look forward to meeting new people on the tour, and also seeing some familiar faces.