The process is called Lampwork. It involves a torch that is specialized for melting glass. My torch uses a mix of oxygen and propane – the propane comes in a barbeque tank that you can buy anywhere, and the oxygen is pumped in from an oxygen concentrator. The concentrator is the kind used for medical purposes. In fact, I have two of them now, and they both run at once. The more oxygen you have, the hotter your flame can be, and I am an impatient person. I don't like to wait too long for my glass to melt.
I buy glass rods from a variety of sellers both online, and locally. I tend to buy locally when I can, but there is some stuff that my local shop doesn't carry. Most of the glass comes from Italy (Effetre, Moretti, and Vetrofond); there are a few American companies I buy from as well (Creation is Messy and Double Helix). Most of my clear glass comes from Germany, because the best clear (at least, my favorite), is Lauscha, a German company.
My studio is in my garage, at my home in Victoria, BC (Canada). I have a little table in the corner, with the torch mounted on it, and a small bead kiln right next to me. The beads have to be properly cooled in the kiln (called annealing), so they don't cool down too fast. This makes them much more durable and less prone to cracks. The beads are made on metal rods called mandrels. I dip the mandrels in a clay product called Bead Release. This allows me to remove the bead once I am done.
Other safety equipment I have is specialized glasses that allow me to see more clearly into the flame, and protect my eyes, and a range hood fan that draws any fumes away from me, and outside. There aren't a lot of fumes in lampwork, at least not for me since I don't work much with enamels. I do sometimes work with metals such as silver leaf, or glasses that are fumed with silver, and this does produce a small amount of fumes.
My usual process is, get the torch and kiln going, fire up my iPod with either some tunes, or an audiobook or podcast, and then lay out my color palette for whatever it is I plan to make first. The actual how-to of making a bead involves dipping the mandrel in bead release, drying it, and then melting a glass rod around the mandrel. The mandrel becomes the bead's hole. I start with a basic bead, and then decorate it with other colors. I love polka dots and stripes.
I make a lot of bead “sets” - these are matching sets of usually somewhere between 6-12 beads (sometimes more), that are intended for jewelry designers to buy. Sometimes I use these to make my own jewelry, especially if they sit around and don't sell for a while. I also make focal beads, which tend to be really organic and unique. I make large goddess beads. I also make buttons. Just recently I have been making the Pandora bracelet style beads.
All of the different types of beads I create require different tools or bits of equipment. So as I have learned new techniques, I have slowly acquired a LOT of stuff. When people ask me how much it costs to get started with lampwork, it's hard to find a good answer, since I slowly built all that I have up over so much time. I have been making beads since the beginning of 2006, so almost 5 years now.
I sell my beads primarily in my Etsy shop, but I also do some local craft shows at Christmas time, and a farmer's market every weekend all summer long. I don't do this full time, in fact it often gets just barely squeezed in when the rest of my life gets super busy. I work almost full time, and I go to school part time. I am in the healthcare field, working for a nursing program (I am not a nurse, I do clerical work there). I am working on a science degree currently, which I am almost finished (should be done by Christmas!) I am also a pre-med student, and hope to become a doctor one day – although I don't plan to even apply to medical school until I have taken at least a year off from school. I am too burnt out from my undergraduate degree to jump in to another full program right away. I hope to keep working with glass, no matter how busy my life gets, because I find it very relaxing and a wonderful way to wind down. Also, since I am a creative person, I feel like I need something creative in my life to balance out all of the other stuff.
So that is pretty much it! I do have a website that talks about lampwork a lot, and I even have tutorials for some of my bead styles – so if you want to see more pictures of the process in action, or just learn more about it, you can go check me out at http://www.twoglassyladies.ca/
Thanks for stopping by this blog, and I hope you enter this challenge. Again, the winner will receive a $20 gift certificate to my shop!
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