Call me a magpie, but I really love fancy pieces of colorful, shiny glass. That is what attracted me to the art of making handcrafted glass beads, called lampwork. I also sometimes call the beads artisan glass.
I was intrigued to the point of wanting to learn the process. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to take classes in this art and then to have the time to explore it further. I no longer make my own beads as that can be a full time job in itself, but still occasionally incorporate them in my jewelry designs, such as the necklaces pictured above.
The name lampwork comes from the centuries-old process when glass beads were made with the heat of the open flame of an oil-fueled lamp to melt the glass in order to form it into the shape of a bead. Nowadays, the artist uses a special torch with a combined oxygen/propane high heat flame.
The artist sits at a table or workbench with the torch clamped to the table in front of him/her with the flame pointing away from the artist. With a glass rod in one hand and a metal rod in the other, the artist melts the glass in the flame until it becomes molten. With extreme control, the artist twirls the metal rod while wrapping the soft glass around it to form the bead. It is necessary for the artist to know when to place the bead that is forming in the flame to soften it in order to form it and when to take it out of the flame to cool its slightly so that it doesn't melt completely off the metal rod.
Trust me when I say that it takes a lot of patience and practice to get to the point of making a nicely shaped plain round bead. The real artistry comes in when shaping and decorating the beads by adding additional layers of glass on top of the base bead, which takes a great deal of skill. Over time, the process becomes second nature to the artist and the rods become extensions of their hands the way a paint brush becomes an extension of the painter's hands. The left side of the brain takes over and the artist no longer thinks of the mechanical process that she/he worked so hard at perfecting, only the creation process.
The finished beads are placed into a kiln while they are still warm for the annealing process. This process heats the beads to a uniform temperature and then slowly cools them, relieving any internal stress in the glass . Once they cool from this process and are removed from the metal rod, the beads are durable and safe to use without fear of breakage.