What are Lampwork Beads?
Imagine putting rods of glass through a flame and melting the glass. Maybe you saw this process at a craft fair where the artist produced glass figurines. That was my introduction to handblown glass until I became a beader.
After a few years of designing with Czech glass, Swarovski crystals and semi-precious gemstones, I met a gal at a craft fair who told me she made her own lampwork glass beads. What are lampwork beads? She explained that simply put, what she did involved rods of colorful glass melted by the heat of a torch. She then wraps the molten glass around a steel mandrel (a little metal stick or rod) that she covers with a bought bead release so the bead would slide off. Once the glass is in a molten state, she shapes the glass and forms the bead using hand movements and tools. I asked her why it was called lampwork and she laughed a bit and said, “A long time ago, the heat source was from a table lamp”. Today, a gas flame torch is used and an artist must work very slowly not to crack the glass as it heats and turns. A great amount of skill and hand coordination is needed just to make one bead. The process of crafting handblown glass is centuries old.
Fascinated with HandBlown Glass
I was intrigued and on a trip to Italy visited a Murano glass factory. There I watched artisans create amazing glass bowls, vases and works of art. I resolved to spend some time searching out lampwork artists using the internet. It didn’t take long before I was mesmorized by the glass beads of one particular artisan. I discovered Judith Billig on Facebook and my love affair and multiple purchases began. In an interview Judith Billig gave last year, she was asked why she choose glass as her medium. Judith replied, “I was never as fascinated with any other medium as I am with glass. It is difficult for me to explain what exactly it is – but I can completely relax while melting glass, and I always call it my ‘Zen’.”
Perhaps I am most drawn to Judith’s artistry because we share some similarities: our inspiration comes from nature, we seek intriguing color combinations and we are both always looking for something new and exciting to create. Here are two examples of Judith’s inspiration and expression.
Over time I have become interested in different types of lampwork beads and found other artisans. Sometimes I want to use every bead in a necklace while other blown glass beads have so much personality and special interest, I can only use a few in one design or as a focal point as in “Arbor” and “Gustav”. Initially I am drawn to the smoothness of a bead visualizing it laying flat and gliding onto flesh or a sweater, like “Merle”. I also like the way some of these beads seem to bring the essence of nature to you as in “Marshland”.
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When working with beads with a matte finish, as in “Persian Princess” or “Hang 10”, it is as if I am beading with chalky dried clay or stringing stones and they remind me of my pottery collection. The ultimate beads are the ones that resemble paperweights and snow globes, especially when held up to the light. These beads have anywhere from 3 – 10 different colors to coordinate with an outfit. They also need very little combining with other materials like “Cotton Candy” and “Berryland”. One thing all lampwork beads have in common, no matter who creates them, is that their colors are magnificent.
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The excitement is in deciding which other materials to combine with the lampwork beads for contrast or to emphasize their texture. I don’t think I will ever tire of creating with lampwork beads. I can’t wait to begin designing our spring collection using these new lampwork beads. The top two are from my all time favorite designer Judith Billig of Icarus, and through an online auction I am delighted to have found a new glass blower, Kim Quigley who made ‘Caribbean Splash’ and ‘Plum Valley’.
Visit us at Earth and Moon Design to see more of our designs.