The Many Faces of Glass Beads

glass beads 4 430x443 - The Many Faces of Glass BeadsTo round out this week’s quick focus on beads, I thought I’d share focal beads in another medium that is very well-known for them–glass.

Glass artists have some very particular and, literally, inflexible limitations and yet they create these extremely intricate and amazing beads. They do get to work with super clear transparency–a characteristic of their medium that they use to great advantage–which is something that is difficult to achieve in polymer, but their forms and patterns are something that, I think, could be a gold mine of inspiration and a jumping off point for ideas in polymer that go beyond the basic and common beads seen in polymer.

Here are just four examples of the intricacy and beauty in glass bead making today. Starting from top left is a bead created by Leah Nietz, top right is Lisa Fletcher, bottom left is Andrea Guarino, and bottom right is Ikuyo Yamanaka. You can click on each artist’s name to reach their shop or website to look further into what they create. You can also immerse yourself in glass focal beads by putting that very phrase into a Pinterest, Google Images, Etsy, Flickr, or even Instagram.

Weekly Inspiration Challenge: Choose your favorite image posting service, such as those just listed above, and enjoy the art and inspiration that comes up when you search for “focal beads”. Choose a couple of images and try to determine what you like best about the bead or beads and then figure out how to recreate those characteristics in polymer. Hopefully that leads you to some original and very fulfilling polymer bead explorations.



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A Collective Shine

mosaic wallThe art form with the ultimate bits-and-pieces approach has to be mosaics. With mosaics you can take any material that can be collected in chunks that are small enough to puzzle together among themselves or with other smallish chunks. That makes for a lot of possibilities. The possible forms for the application of mosaics is pretty wide open. Even opening the form is possible and breaking the frame is a possibility with mosaics.

Robin Evans‘ choice of material is primarily glass from which she creates jewelry and, apparently, some pretty amazing wall art in a mosaic style. I hesitate to call it a full mosaic as it looks like the swaths of gold, copper, and green are cracked glass or mirrors which gives the impression of a mosaic even though it’s not although it is a pretty cool look.

Then there are the actual mosaic parts which not only flow through from one panel design to the next but also move right off it and onto the wall to make their ways across. This not only connects the vertical panels but brings the piece alive with movement that breaks the frame of each one. And it’s shiny!

I couldn’t find a gallery of much of Robin’s wall art or at least not a gathering of it but you can find pieces scattered among her jewelry on her Facebook page, in her Etsy shop and on Instagram.

Weekly Inspirational Challenge: Create something beautiful from unassuming elements. This could be a great way to use old canes, extra beads, scrap clay and even cured and deserted elements. See what you have in your spare bins and boxes in your studio space and see what can be resurrected from the stuff you set aside.


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Outside Inspiration: Glass Reveals

I know very little about making glass beads, so I can’t even begin to guess how Harold Williams Cooney made this amazing piece.


So … do you cut into glass to get this? Grind it down? Carve it out while hot some how? Yep, I’m clueless on the technique. The only thing I do know is that this kind of thing could be done beautifully with polymer clay by cutting, carving, or grinding. It reminds me somewhat of Jana Roberts Benzon’s lazer cut technique, just with more form and less cut away. Also, consider Vera’s beads from yesterday’s post. If they were covered by a solid sheet of clay and the cuts were farther apart to allow more surface, the cut-out areas would look something like what we see in these glass beads. But it’s definitely something to think about–especially for all you extrusion-mad clayers.

Harold is a particularly prolific artist with a lofty goal. It’s hard to explain his single-source American Trade Bead collection, but basically he is collecting his own work in order to create the largest collection made by a single bead artist. If you’re interested in his concept, you can read more about it on his blog. But if you are more interested in wonderful glass beauties, go look at his Etsy shop. There are more than just this bead to inspire a polymer artist there!

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Outside Inspiration: Color Contrast

Yesterday we talked about the one aspect of color that actually removes the importance of what many consider the defining characteristic of color–hue. So, knowing how important color is to most of us in this community, I thought today we’d treat you to a little color overload.

With color, i’ts not too hard to go overboard and go from harmonious contrast to chaos. The point between those two is a very fine line. So how can you tell if you are heading for the precipice of chaos? Well, for our outside inspiration Friday, let’s examine some extremely colorful glass beads that amble up to that point, but delightfully avoid heading over that cliff.

These juicy beads are the creation of Israel’s Michal Silberberg. She uses almost every color of the rainbow in these, setting up a whole array of contrast between all the various colors. There are quite a few other contrasting elements here as well–round on square forms, thick lines running side-by-side with dotted lines, small and large circles, and statically centered nested circles on top of energetic moving lines. For all that, it doesn’t feel like she’s gone overboard. Do you know why? Hint … it has to do with a lack of contrast.


The trick to using contrast well is balance. If everything contrasts, there is no order to anchor the viewer. These beads work because of an element with no contrast, a bit of restraint and some adherence to order. Okay … can you identify the element that is not contrasted? It’s a characteristic of color. What’s that? Saturation you say? Well, yes! That’s it.

All these colors are heavily saturated and bright. Even the black is just black and the whites are just white, with no grays. This consistency in saturation makes using every hue in the rainbow workable. There is also some restraint in the use of other elements, like only using circles and squares rather than a myriad of shapes. And then there are the two different types of lines–dots vs. solid lines–which follow the same paths, making them feel related. If she had increased the contrast in either of these areas, she would have tipped over into visual chaos.

Alright, back to working on the final details to get the next issue off. Go enjoy your weekend. Keep an eye out for contrast and note how it works in the the designs you enjoy. Becoming more aware of the elements as you observe them will translate to being more aware and more in control of such things when creating your own work. You can start by checking out more of Michal’s wonderful bead designs in her Etsy shop. A big dose of color on a Friday is always a good thing!

A Little Faux Lampwork

Wow … thank you all for chiming in with your comments and emails on what to do with the rest of the week. It’s really very cool to hear from you all. Perhaps we’ll pose options (and giveaways!) for upcoming weeks on a regular basis. You can tell me what is of the most interest … I get very energized writing because of your feedback rather than the ideas that pop into my head, out of the ether. And who doesn’t like a chance to get free stuff! Sounds like a win-win to me!

So, faux came in heavy right off but a call to see more about variation started coming up from behind as the evening went on. The end result is … we are going to start with faux this week then look at how to work out variations next week.

Since Iris and Hilla brought to our attention another art form emulated in polymer, why don’t we stick with other craft arts that we can create in polymer? Try to keep in mind as we look at these techniques that the objective is not to find other arts to emualte but to see new directions that polymer can be pushed in your studio. For instance, I thought we’d start with an artist who’s faux lampwork has fascinated me since I stumbled on it a few years back. I love experimenting with liquid polymer and I was fascinated by how high Sharon Solly makes her glass like dots and how well controlled they are.



Sharon may have an bit of an advantage over the rest of us as she actually does lampwork. I am really curious as to how similar the work is. I know I experimented for a while trying to get the dot not to spread. My solution was to either add just a smidge at a time, hitting it with a heat gun between dabs or preheating the base clay so the dot of liquid polymer would start to solidify immediately. The pre-heat worked well on flat items as I could lay the base clay on a hot plate/mug warmer and work on that but the round beads  … I just couldn’t get the same effect that Sharon is getting. But if you can work on building up liquid polymer like this, you could add a bit of the faux lampwork look to many things you couldn’t add glass to in the first place. There are tremendous possibilities for decorative dotting!

If you are in the least bit interested, do look through Sharon’s Flicker pages. This one image is a bare tip of the iceberg … she has a broad body of work showing her on-going experimentation with this process. Actually, Sharon looks to be a major faux experimentator with a large variety of stones and dichroic-like pieces done in polymer.

So go explore some faux! Tomorrow we’ll announce the winner of the Cosmic Ceramic giveway as well. See you then!

Outside Inspiration: Glass–The Original Translucent

Of course polymer work in translucents has been heavily inspired by glass art. Glass was the original crafted translucent art material. Glass making can be traced back as far as 3500 BC but it wasn’t recognized as an important decorative art until the 19th century. So although glass art is not nearly as young as polymer, it is actually one of the younger crafts and a kindred spirit of sorts. There are many art glass applications that we have translated in polymer and other applications that were organically developed in polymer but look similar in approach to some types of glass work.

Take a look at this stunning vase by glass artist David Patchen …


What came to mind? Don’t tell me you didn’t wonder for half a second if this artist was influenced by polymer caning.  If it weren’t for that unmistakable deep, pronounced shine of glass, which polymer still can’t quite replicate, one can imagine this being made with translucent cane slices. So, okay, we can’t quite get that shine that permeates all the way through glass but on the other hand we could do similar work with much more intricate patterns.  That’s the advantage of polymer.

I’m going to have to leave it at that for today–so much to do getting ready to send the Summer 2013 issue of The Polymer Arts magazine off to the printer. But if you want to immerse yourself in some gorgeous translucent colors and get some ideas for creating patterning with canes from a master artist, take some time to look through David Patchen’s portfolio especially his vases. They’re just gorgeous.



Outside Influence: Ideas from Lampwork

I have meet numerous polymer artist who also work, or have worked, in glass.  There are similar approaches to designing beads in lampwork so it’s no surprise that there are ways that this bead below could inspire polymer bead makers.


This is a bead from Jennifer Cameron’s Nightmare Insomnia series. I suspect from the name that these are the result of those late night forays into the studio when new ideas grab you and don’t let you sleep. I think many of us have been there! But beside the commiserating, the inspiration of the components here are something to ponder.

First of all, the bead caps are wonderfully fun. Rather than just cover the end of the bead, Jennifer extends the bead caps into the body of the bead making it an integral part of the design. This would be a simple addition to a polymer bead design with all kinds of variations to explore. Then there is the wire mesh inclusion. It’s a large inclusion but who says inclusions need to be small and scattered? We have liquid polymer and translucents that could show off all kinds of larger non-polymer additions below the surface.

And a side note … I visited Creative Journey Studios in Buford, Georgia this week and had a wonderful lunch and visit with Ellen Prophater and Sue Sutherland. I wish I could have stayed long enough to take Christi Friesen’s workshops there this weekend. If you are close enough, do consider attending. The studio space you get to work in is an inspriation in and of itself with a huge retrospective gallery of polymer from nearly all the masters and innovators of our community. That is worth the drive down alone! Check it out here.

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