Friday, January 5, 2018

Why Are Lampwork Beads So Expensive

Long ago, when I was just a simple bead stringer, I fell in love with lampwork beads.  These exquisite pieces of tiny glass art captured my fancy and ran away with it.  I became an eBay addict and would set my alarm to bid on beads.  Eventually it got to the point that our budget simply couldn't keep up with my desire for more beads.  They were just so expensive. 

Along the way, I was gifted a few sets of lampwork beads from our local Big Box craft store.  and even my inexperienced eye could tell a difference.  The sparkle wasn't there.  The designs weren't consistent.  There was mud in the holes that just wouldn't wash out.  If I tried to string them on jewelry wire the mud flaked off and caused a mess.  I put those in a bead box and put them at the bottom of my pile.

One day I attended a seminar for work and met a man that would change my life.  He said he had recently started making lampwork beads at his dining room table.  All I needed to get started was a $40 torch called a Hot Head, a crock pot, a bag of vermiculite, and a couple of glass rods.

I ended up buying a beginner kit to get started.  I started doing research and watching YouTube videos to find out how to make beads.  The information I found blew my mind.  Sure, you can get started pretty inexpensively and end up with some beads made from glass.  But in order to make beautiful works of art, or even beads that can be sold or used in jewelry, it takes much more.

Using the items in my kit, I melted the glass in the flame around a mandrel coated in bead release (mud in the bead holes), then gently inserted the finished bead into the crock pot filled with vermiculite.  They are then left to cool slowly because glass that experiences extreme temperature changes has a tendency to shatter.  Just ask anyone who has accidentally tried to fill a hot coffee pot with cold water.

There are so many things wrong with this scenario.  First off, if your beads are very big they break anyway.  Second, if you are too excited about getting those dots just perfect and don't give it the exact right amount of time to cool off before plunging it in the depths, you end up with a smashed bead with bits stuck in it for all eternity.  Third, and most importantly, the beads aren't annealed.  This basically means that glass needs to cool very very slowly through a certain temperature range to remove the internal stress caused by the different temperatures the glass reaches during the making of the bead.  Not annealed = explody glass bead.  A kiln to anneal the beads isn't a luxury, it is a necessity.

Do you remember me mentioning the Big Box lampwork ?  I'll wait here while you scroll up a bit if necessary.  You back?  I had a bead box with multiple compartments.  It housed my mass produced beads as well as some of my beginner beads.  They were ugly but I waited to get a kiln so all my beads were annealed.  Circumstances forced me to box up my beads and put them in storage for a few years.  When I finally got back to my beads, I opened that box to find that all of my ugly annealed beads were intact, but the majority of the cheap imported beads had exploded.  A few glass shards and a lot of glass dust.  I had nightmares about selling a necklace made with these beads only to have it explode on them during dinner.  Extreme, yes.  But my nightmares generally are.

The kiln was just the beginning.  I still needed ventilation.  Because of the fumes that are given off while lampworking I didn't feel comfortable doing it at the kitchen table.  Or even in my house.  So we built an addition on our carport and installed a decent vent fan, climate control (window AC and a space heater) and make up air source (a window).  Not cheap.

Now I get to my torch!  The Hot Head lasted about a month.  It was definitely a case of "it's not you, it's me."  So many talented lampworkers only use a Hot Head.  I couldn't make it work.  The mapp gas that it runs on was expensive and lasted about two beads.  Then they discontinued mapp gas and I switched to bulk propane.  Propane is dirty and I couldn't find the sweet spot where the glass melts and doesn't get sooty.  So I upgraded to the next torch up, a dual fuel torch.  It uses propane and oxygen.  So I had to buy an oxygen source.  Tanks weren't a viable option for me, so I chose an oxygen concentrator.

Now a few things I've mentioned so far are personal choices, not absolutely necessary.  Obviously if you have a suitable space already or opt to use a less expensive torch, it will cut down on your expenses.  But let's do some rudimentary math, keeping in mind this is what I spent and your mileage may vary.

Studio Space - $1500
Kiln - $500
Ventilation - $200
Torch - $250 for my Carlisle Mini CC
Hoses - $75
Regulator/Flashback Arrest - $50
Propane Tank - $30
Propane Refill - $15
Glass - $50 got me started with a sample pack.
Beginner Kit - $100 contained enough misc supplies to get started (mandrels, bead release, marvers)

There are some things that I'm forgetting because all that adds up to $5740 and I spent closer to $8000.  Probably tax and shipping and some non-necessities.  Keep in mind this is just the cash payout to get started.

Now lets talk about the time it takes.  A wise person would take a class or two (more money, a little time) but I'm not a wise person.  I am completely self-taught (no money, a whole lot of time).  I watched videos and read online forums, then I sat down and started practicing.  I probably could have saved a some time and a metric boat load of glass by having someone teach me the basics, but I like doing things the hard way.  It gives me an excuse to cuss.

It took me a year of making beads after work and on weekends before I could make a bead good enough to make jewelry out of.  It took another six months before I could make beads to sell.  These weren't complicated beads.  Just simple donut beads that would lay straight and had nice puckered holes that wouldn't cut and fray the stringing wire. 

That's a lot of hours. 

Now there are lampworkers out there that have made different decisions and taken different paths.  They took classes, they learn quicker, they use less expensive equipment, etc. but my experience is pretty average. 

So the next time you see a complex floral bead and wonder why the artist wants $40 for it, keep this in mind.  You are paying for the time it took to make the bead (probably an hour or more), plus glass ($10/pound minimum), plus the equipment, plus the practice it took to learn to make the bead well enough to offer it to you. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Flakes Aren't Bad People

As you can probably tell by my lack of blog update regarding the Bead Peep Swap n Hop, I didn't actually make it to participate.  I went into it with the best of intentions.  I was in a good place, things were going smoothly.  And then BAM!  Life hit us upside the head.  Again.

When we last left off in our story, my husband, my son, and I had sold our house in Ohio and moved to the coast of North Carolina.

Our New Back Yard
We signed a year lease on a beautiful home in a coastal community.  Our son started Kindergarten at the local elementary school.  

I decided to take the next step in my bead business and join a blog swap and hop!  This would motivate me to make some beads for the challenge, update my neglected blog for a change, and make some new friends.  Win!

Signups went great.  I was paired with the talented Maria Rosa Sharrow.  She sent me so many beautiful things!  I can't even begin to express how stunning these components were or how generous Rosa was.  If you are ever thinking about doing this, she is the partner you want to cross your fingers and hope for.

This was in mid-January.  The holidays were over, the kids were back in school, my husband was going to work every day.  I finally had some peace and quiet and could sit down and create.

Sun Room / Bead Studio

HA!  Not so fast.

We all know that bullying is becoming a common, everyday occurrence.  There are groups and meetings and causes and awareness ribbons that all seek to educate and prevent children from bullying each other.  But what do you do when your child is being bullied by his teacher?  Every day ended (or began) with one of us in tears because we never knew what she was going to do next.  I won't go into detail because honestly, that's a whole blog post, or maybe a novel, by itself.

This lead to my husband and I sitting down and having a long heart to heart conversation about our son's academic future and our financial stability.  Or lack of it.  It was finally decided that we would take him out of Kindergarten and I would home school him.

My bead business would, once again, take a back seat to family obligation.  I was okay with this decision because my children and family will always come before anything else.  I wasn't quitting by any means, just shifting priority.  If I had any free time, it would be devoted to my business.

This brings us to March.  The deadline for sending our care package to our partner was approaching fast.  I will admit I was not completely prepared for this,.  I read my partner's questionnaire about her tastes and dislikes.  It turns out she isn't particularly fond of the color red.  I decided to push her outside her comfort zone just a smidge by sending her red things.  Not bright red!  But still red-ish.

Ceramic focal, rounds, and lampwork headpins all made by me, bumpie lampwork bead by Lorna Johnston, lampwork bead set by Jill Cage, brass earring pair from Melinda Orr, vintage brass seed beads, antique skeleton key, and brass clasps

At this point I would dearly love to show you what Rosa sent me.  Unfortunately, I packed it as soon as I received it.  Because right in the middle of the time of upheaval with my son, his school, some other family related things, the Blog Hop obligations, and my husband starting his new job, we bought a house.

Here's the timeline so far:

September 2016 - Moved to North Carolina - Rented a House
September 2016 - Son starts Kindergarten
January 15, 2017 - Signed up for Blog Hop
February 16, 2017 - Informed school of intent to remove our son
February 20, 2017 - Saw pic of cute house for sale online.  Loved the location, hated the house.M
February 21, 2017 - Drove around the neighborhood.  Saw cuter house for sale.
February 23, 2017 - Met realtor at the cuter house.  Made offer.
March 24, 2017 - Got keys to new home
March 27, 2017 - Moved into new home
April 8, 2017 - Blog Hop reveals

I completely missed the reveal.

My beautiful components from Maria Rosa are in here somewhere.

This is what my room looks like today.  I literally got up from the computer, walked to the door, and snapped this picture.  My blog hop components are still in here.  Somewhere.  I hope.  I never actually found them when I was putting things away.  Granted, there is still a large stack of boxes over on the left hand side of the room that you can't see.  I'm praying they are in there somewhere.

I had every intention of doing a late reveal.  April melted into May.  May turned into June.  There comes a point in every procrastinator's life when they throw their hands up and declare, "well it's too late now!"  I'm there.  It's too late now.  I am a flake.  I'm not a bad person.  I have such good intentions.  But a flake, nonetheless.

P.S.  I will update the instant I find my components from Maria Rosa!  They are too beautiful to remain hidden from the world.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

It's been awhile since I've visited my blog.  I have about 10 drafts saved that I haven't published yet. Oops.  This past year has been an adventure, to say the least.  The short version is we sold our home and moved to a different state.  The long version will perhaps come later in a blog post entitled "Home Selling Nightmares:  Everything That Could Possibly Go Wrong Did - And Then Some."

Lest you think I'm all doom and gloom, there was a very bright .925 sterling silver lining hiding in my rain cloud.  I got to quit my job and start focusing on building my empire!  That might seem like a tall order, but I believe.  I believe I can.  I believe I will.

I've taken a couple of baby steps.  Then I took the ginourmous leap.  I signed up for the 2017 edition of the Bead Peeps Swap n Hop.  Bead Peeps is a rocking little Facebook group.  You have to check it out if you haven't already!  Anywho, you get assigned a partner to exchange beads and findings with.  After everyone has made something from their goodie bags, there's a big blog reveal and everyone hops around checking out all the eye candy and talent.

One of our "assignments" is to introduce ourselves to the organizer and our future partner.  Here I go!

My name is Dana.  I am an early 40s mother of 3, grandmother of 3+, wife of one.  Now I am a SAHM.  Prior to my career shift, I was an administrative assistant.  My husband, my son, and I live on the coast of North Carolina.  My two daughters are grown and gone and have blessed me with grandchildren I get to see when we visit West Virginia and Georgia.

I have been designing jewelry for over 12 years.  After getting frustrated trying to find beads that fit my "vision" I became a lampworker in 2006.  I took a bit of a break from 2010 - 2012 in order to move and welcome my son into the world and cater to his every whim.  I finally got my studio set back up in early 2013 and resumed lampworking.  My jewelry making skills evolved from simple strung designs into more complex creations and I started making my own components and findings.  When we decided to move again in 2014, I realized I wouldn't be able to take up lampworking immediately, so I decided to take a left turn into another medium.  I experimented with polymer clay a bit and then fell in love with ceramic clay!  I have been making ceramic beads for a few years now and really enjoy the sculptural capabilities.

Now onto the good stuff!  Jewelry!  What do I like to make?

  • Bohemian
  • Gothic
  • Victorian
  • Steampunk
  • Earthy
  • Eclectic
  • Colorful
Lampwork and Copper

What don't I like?
  • Contemporary/Modern
  • Minimalist
  • Cold
My favorite materials to work with:
  • My own handmade beads and components.  (Ego?  Maybe!)
  • Wire - mainly copper, but I like sterling silver and stainless steel as well.
  • Chain
  • Artisan beads - ceramic, lampwork, polymer, wood, bone, beaded beads, altered art.
  • Vintage beads and buttons
  • Textiles and fibers
  • I'm not a "seed beader" but I have incorporated seed beads into some of my designs.
Materials I don't enjoy working with:
  • Beads that are plastic or acrylic.
  • Tiger Tail
  • Rhinestones
  • Bubble Gum beads
  • Wool - it itches!
  • Beads that have rhinestones embedded in them.
I hope this info helps my partner and doesn't scare her away!  I'm really not as hard to please as it looks on paper (screen?).   Good luck to all my fellow Swappers and Hoppers!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Source of Inspiration

"Where do come up with this stuff?"

That's the question I hear the most.  The truth is, it comes from everywhere.  But then there are times that nothing happens.  I surf Pinterest and Instagram and still nothing appeals to me.  Going for a walk doesn't jolt anything out of my muse.  So then I have to get creative with ways to get creative!

A few weeks ago I had a two-day virtual trunk show on one of my Facebook groups.  During the course of the event Inspiration knocked on my laptop screen.  I didn't know what to give away as a prize, so I asked the participants to design their own!

As you can see, there were some really great suggestions.  There was also a lot of room left for interpretation, which sparked my dormant creativity.  And since my creativity spark was lit, I decided to fan it into a full flame and make them ALL!

Since I didn't make them in order (and there's one left to do at this point), I'm not going to reveal them in order.  Let's start with the winner!  A mushroom in the colors of the fiesta danglies - variegated shades of mint, turquoise, and purple.  

Wait.  What?  You don't know what fiesta danglies are?  Ah!  You weren't at my trunk show!  Don't worry, I will include a link to the group at the bottom so you don't miss out on the fun again.  I'm unbelievably thoughtful like that.

Behold!  Fiesta Danglies.

I have been known to give my beads and jewelry components cutesy names.  Don't judge me.  

First up, I have to make a mushroom.  The first mushroom attempt will not be shown.  This is a family friendly blog, and we all know what mushrooms look like.  *nudge nudge wink wink*  So here is the second attempt at making a mushroom that doesn't look so much like a mushroom looking body part.

Still bears a slight resemblance, but there's really no getting completely away from it.  Unless I did a morel mushroom.  Now why am I just now thinking of that?  Because my mind stays in the gutter. Obviously.

I neglected to take a picture of the mushrooms after they were bisque fired, so just image those same 'shrooms in white.  But since our Winner didn't request white, they got all fancied up in fiesta colors!

Well, one did.  I haven't done anything with the second mushroom yet.  That may be another Design Your Own contest in the future!

As promised, if you would like to join in on the fun, just join my Facebook Group.  It features all handmade jewelry components!  

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Layout Testing

This is what my pictures used to look like.  Pretty bad, huh?

Then I got the idea to use a textured background!  Even worse!

Then I got sidetracked and started looking at cupcake recipes.  Wait a minute.  Cupcakes aren't photographed on plain white backgrounds.  Or on burlap.  Or from above.  Let's see if we can photograph beads like cupcakes!

An interesting background, some props, a little prospective.  I think I'm on to something here!

A little over cropped, but still more interesting.  What do you think?