Hi! This is the long version of how I became an artisan glass beadmaker.
I have been struggling to remember exact dates for a long time, and I finally found the missing link that allows me to pinpoint my beadmaking anniversary! Yay! I got my start making beads in late April 1992, just before my 21st birthday. My friend Constance's handsome young uncle Tim was teaching beginning lampwork at a local stained glass supply house in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. Constance and I, and our friend Jen, all planned to take this class, but we were young, and somehow found other things to spend the $60 class fee on. (Clothes, beer... well, OK, that's what *I* spent the money on!) Serendipitously, Jen and Tim started dating (I said he was young and handsome!) and he taught her to make beads. She, under Tims' eye, gave me a beadmaking demonstration in the kitchen of her apartment, and guided me through my first three lampworked beads. I was addicted! Fortunately, my birthday was nigh. With the help of a gift certificate from my mom, I was able to purchase my very own Hot Head torch and an assortment of glass rods, and by May I had the start of my very rudimentary studio setup.
Keeping in mind that I had never taken a class, had never heard of the ISGB, and the soon-to-be-published seminal works of James Kervin and Cindy Jenkins were still but a twinkle in the eyes of their authors, it will be no surprise to you that my first few years making beads were spent fumbling in the dark. Pointed edges around the holes? File 'em off! I'd never heard of the now de-riguer dimpled ends, didn't know jack about techniques for plunged florals, raking, twisting, reduction, or preventing undercuts in my raised decorations. I didn't even know what the technique I was using was called! In 1995, some research on the Internet turned up information on "Lampwinding", and I at least had a name for what I was doing. By then, I had moved to the San Francisco Bay area, and was living in a tiny house in Oakland with my fiancee. I had been selling simple pendants and earrings made from my beads on a limited basis to friends and coworkers, and had a few items placed in a small gallery in Portland; I now got brave and approached the Berkeley storefront of a local gallery chain. My work was immediately accepted, and I started selling a few items a week consistently.
Looking back at the quality of those beads, I am so embarrassed! Not one of them was annealed... I was cooling them in vermiculite in an electric wok. My round beads were a nice shape, but my teardrops had pointed ends at the top, which I simply filed smooth. My dots had undercuts, and overall they were just AWFUL. All I can say is... I didn't know any better!
In 1996-1997, a job in a chain bookstore followed by a move back to Portland brought changes. I was able to special-order Jim Kervin's "More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About Glass Beadmaking", and shortly after that, Cindy Jenkins' "Making Glass Beads". (I was disappointed to discover that I wasn't the first person in the world to have thought of making Goddess beads, LOL!) The quality of my beads improved dramatically. Thanks to a generous gift from my in-laws, I now had a beautiful new Evenheat kiln (which I still have- it's a wonderful fusing kiln) but I wouldn't start using it for over a year - I would soon discover myself pregnant with my first child. We purchased a house, and a new kind of responsibility limited my time for glass. However, in 1999, I "traded up" my job at the bookstore for one in the samples department at Bullseye Glass Company, where the mind-numbing tedium of cutting sheet glass into 2 x 2-1/2" squares was mitigated by the wonderful educational opportunity and the enjoyment of working with interesting, creative people. I finally learned to use my kiln, and my responsibility of doing QC inspection for their new line of glass rods for lampworking was a source of delight. Bullseye was generous with their scrap and rejected glass as well as offering an excellent employee discount... benefits which I appreciated deeply, as they allowed me access to materials I couldn't have afforded otherwise.
Fast forward to 2002. Two small kids, a divorce, and a demanding job left me with little time for lampwork, but I squeezed it in there and there, still working on a nearly decade-old Hot Head, and annealing in a top-loading fusing kiln. I always seemed to sell what I made, but it wasn't any great shakes... Goddess beads, fish beads, beads with stacked dots or plunged dots, a tabular pendant here and there. For years I'd longed for a big, hot, oxy/propane torch and a bead kiln and a better studio setup, but a single working mother hasn't the time or the money for that kind of luxury! My skills had improved, but were limited by my lack of time and my equipment. Basically, I was stalled, but with encouragement from my then-partner, I took my tax refund for the year and, in early spring of 2003, I started ordering equipment. A Midrange Plus torch, didymium glasses, and a whole lotta glass (as if I didn't already have enough!) was followed by a digital camera and a bead annealer, which was followed by a bigger, better bead annealer and a decent ventilation system. I found some helpful online forums (www.lampworketc.com and www.torchbugs.com are a boon, whatever your experience level) and started meeting other lampworkers. With the new torch and new input for my creative inspiration, my work improved far beyond where I had been in a very short period of time. A decade of more-or-less dabbling proved to be a good foundation for my new thrust as a serious lampworker, and, a few months after the birth of our baby daughter, I left my retail job to earn my living with artisan glass - which brings me to the present.
I live with my three children and a plethora of pets in a 1909 bungalow in Portland Oregon. I am grateful for all the circumstances that led me to this point, because this is exactly where I want to be, and I am happy!