Jen: How did you get started making lampwork beads?
Laurie: I began experimenting with hot glass with my daughter in 1999, so I’ve been making glass beads for about nine years, and jewelry for seven. I found out about the idea of making glass beads kind of by accident. I was working at a festival, and in the off season there was a lot of unclaimed mail around. I stumbled on a Lark Books catalog that had a glass beadmaking kit. It took me about two years to decide to give it a try. My daughter and I helped each other learn, one of us reading and correcting while the other one was at the torch. She's a fast learner, so I learned a lot from her!
Today, I continue to find glass, with its malleable colors and endless possibilities of form, to be a wonderful vehicle of creative expression. There isn't enough time in this life to learn everything there is to know about glass- I think that's what keeps us all hooked- there's always one more thing you want to try and figure out. And there is an element of surprise to almost everything. The colors react and reticulate with each other in unexpected ways, so there are often “happy accidents” when you open the kiln several hours later.
Jen: Can you tell us more about lampwork?
Laurie: Lampworking is the art of forming molten glass over an open flame. In the case of glass beads, colored rods of “soft” glass, most of it made in Italy, are torch-melted and applied around a steel rod or mandrel. Many different tools are used to shape the glass, from scissors and graphite paddles, to ice tongs and spoons. The beads are then slow cooled (preferably in a kiln) to ensure the stability of the glass.
Jen: Out of all the beads you create, which type is your favorite to make?
Laurie: I'd probably have to say fish beads, though on any given day there might be something else I just have to make.
Making the beads is my first love, but I have to do something with them, so I make finished jewelry pieces too. It can be fun making beads to use in a specific jewelry design. Often bead making and designing go hand in hand. I find that if I don’t have a picture in my head of what I’ll do with the beads, I come up with sets that don’t make sense. I do have some special designs that I use non-traditional sets for such as my mosaic necklaces and asymmetrical designs. But making one-off pieces like pendants, fish, butterflies, or cats is my favorite. They allow me the most artistic freedom.
Jen: Where do you find inspiration for the beads you create?
Laurie: There are so many influences and inspirations I could point to over the years, from my mother’s constant craft projects to my childhood in New Orleans, the work of other hot glass workers and onward. It seems like every time I leave the house there is something out there that gives me a new idea. Even TV shows can do it- color combinations, what people are wearing, etc. I have actually written a couple of pieces for my blog that show some of my inspirations, one of them carrying the reader through from the picture that inspired me to the finished product. Third try was the charm!
Glass has become sort of my obsession, so I’d love to visit one of the great glass centers such as Venice and the island of Murano. Of course, I’d settle for Seattle, city of my birth.
Jen: Is making glass beads your "day job," or something you do on the side? How long did it take to make your dream a reality?
Laurie: Making and selling glass beads is now my only job- not to say that I shouldn't be looking for something part-time for the slow months. I made beads for about two years before I ever sold one. After that, I just kept practicing for another year or two, until I visited a farmer's market in another city, and then discovered my local one. I was pretty much hooked after the first day when I realized that there was really a market for what I did. It took me another year or so to make this my primary job and then, when both of my part-time jobs disappeared at once, I was kind of stuck. In a good way!!!
One of my secret goals in selling is to keep things affordable so that everybody feels like they can have artisan-made glass jewelry. I love to see pieces go away. And the farther they travel the better. Since I sell locally, I sometimes see someone wearing one of my older pieces. That’s always a thrill.
Jen: What is your favorite Etsy feature?
Laurie: My favorite thing about Etsy is the sense of community. This is my first real foray into the Internet world, and it's been a nice experience. I joined my local street team- AREtsy for people in Arkansas, and they are amazingly supportive. I'm also a member of two glass street teams- the Creative Glass Guild on Etsy (CGGE) and LEST for lampworkers.
I love having such control over my shop. I'm always messing with things there and tweaking. It lets me personalize the shop so it really feels like my place.
Jen: What do you feel are the advantages to artisan-made glass and jewelry?
Laurie: Because it’s one-of-a-kind, artisan jewelry is made with a lot of thought, talent and even love, and that makes it so much more special than production stuff. When you wear it, you feel a special connection to the one who made it. When you meet or talk to the artisan, you may get an interesting story that you will think of every time you wear the piece. Nobody else will have (or have seen) anything quite like it. And, it supports artists, who usually need the help.
To see more of Laurie's work, visit her Etsy shop: