A Matter of Style by Solar Flare Creations

25 12 2008

I was shopping with a girlfriend the other day (an exceedingly rare occurrence for me) and when she looked at the clothes I had selected to try one she said ” You definitely have a particular style dont you, I would have picked all of those things for you”.

Sometimes I think it would be nice to have my bead style so readily apparent.  My modus operandi really does not lend itself to developing a specific style or signature bead.

I like to try new techniques, skills and designs, but the reccomended ‘practice, practice, practice’ does not sit well with me.  I tend to try something new once, then look at the result.  If it worked well, I generally declare it a success and move on.  If it didn’t turn out well, I tend to mentally put it in the ‘too hard basket’ for a few months, when I will try again. Luckily, sometimes my skills seem to develop by osmosis – I do a lot of my learning in the back of my mind, mulling things over.  Generally when I come back to it, the technique will click and off I go.  That’s how I learnt to make hollows.  I’m sure if I had kept trying the first time, I would have got it eventually, but my method is a lot less stressful and wastes a lot less glass.

So while I do have some favourites styles, namely Warring States dot beads,  my work tends to be eclectic and touch on a wide variation of styles.  I worry sometimes I should be developing a ‘signature’ style or design, that people will look for and keep coming back. But then I also wonder if it works just as well to produce work that satisfies a wide range of tastes and interests.

I may not have a signature bead – but I guess I do have a personal style… to dabble, to experiment, and try everything once.



Shows – Susan Sheehan

13 08 2008

Many artists are solitary people. We love the time alone in our studios to do as we may. Selling online has made this even easier to embrace. I can list at all hours and the money comes in while I’m sleeping, torching or cooking dinner. I think if not for my family, I could easily lose all sense of reality. But the day I realized I was holding conversations with fixtures about what colors to use I knew it was time to get out.

Years of doing art shows for my photography left me dreading the idea of doing a bead show. The set up, the hours on my feet, the feeling of hope slowly deflating away as I left yet another show with comments of “I could do that.”, echoing in my head. What I had forgotten was the important information garnered from watching what people touched, lingered over and asked questions about. I realized I can’t see how long someone looks at my listings. I can’t know how many times they click through the pictures and what questions they are asking the screen. I needed to break free from my safe little world and face the world of shows.

I decided my approach to shows had been all wrong. Instead of making money being the primary objective, I needed to change focus. Market research was going to be priority number one. Unless nobody actually looked at my beads, I couldn’t fail.

I prepared for the first bead show in my most anal of ways. Lists galore, setting everything up in the basement to ensure a good looking table and focusing on a wide range of price offerings. I pulled out my dusty Bruce Baker craft show sales tape (where on earth did I have a tape player anyway?) and pumped up my ego.

I was in for a treat. First of all, carrying in 3 loads of table displays, supplies and beads was practically liberating. I was used to heavy grid wall, boxes of matted prints and framed pieces. Band-aids and a change of clothes weren’t necessary for a bead show. After setting up in merely an hour I had two to spare. How glorious! I promptly got a cup of coffee and a bagel. I browsed the other vendors’ tables and even had time to make a purchase or two.

When the show started I realized not only was the set up a dream, but the room was full of motivated shoppers. Bead shows aren’t the kind to draw in those looking for mere entertainment. The majority of participants were women in fashionable clothing and wearing handmade jewelry. What a bonus! I had actual examples of styles, colors and designs my target market liked to wear.

As the shoppers stopped by, I found I was unusually comfortable. Joking and chatting as if they were my friends. I wasn’t selling, I was sharing information. I had so much fun. I was learning plenty about what people wanted and what they loved.

After a break down in under an hour I drove home from my first bead show basking in my achievement. I had a head full of ideas, an exhausted voice and a sense of pride. I am good at what I do and others noticed.

I didn’t make thousands of dollars, but I did discover shows are good for my work and my sanity. They mean much more to me than a sales venue. They validate what I do, feed my ego and inspire me to make more beautiful beads.



Getting Motivated by Suzanne of Solar Flare Creations

13 08 2008

Motivation is a slippery creature – sometimes hard to catch and often even harder to hang onto.  I am often thankful that I do not need torely on my glasswork for a living, as I think that having to torch, rather than wanting to, would make motivation a very rare creature indeed.

I am motivated to melt glass by the joy it brings me, the fascination with the flame and the way molten glass moves and by the objects of beauty that are produced at the end of the process.  I’m motivated by the feel of glass beads in my hand, and by the appreciation of those who admire my beads.  I am motivated by a need to master new techniques and a fascination with a craft that has existed for over 3000 years.

Molten glass inspires wonder… and a sense of wonder is a powerful motivator.

Space Poppies on Etsy Now

Space Poppies on Etsy Now

The Balancing Act by Suzanne of Solar Flare Creations

23 07 2008

In responding to this topic, I should start by saying that I am not a career beadmaker. It is definitely a hobby for me, even if it does border on obsession at times. So, I must balance life, career (as an educator) and glass, which at times can be a tricky juggling act.


It would seem likely, even obvious, that the balancing act would be easiest in the holidays, when it would be assumed I could be found ensconced behind my torch for hours at time.  Strangely, however, I seem to manage the balancing act best when I am more pressed for time – when beadmaking can become a great escape from my everyday life. I never seem to be as productive in the holidays as I would like.


Between my responsibilities at work, and my beadmaking, I also manage to squeeze in my family, performing in amateur musical theatre, and involvement in the SCA.  So, a busy life that frequently borders on hectic.  When I sit at the torch and melt glass though, everything else falls away.  I have found that it reduces my stress, gives me a few hours peace when things are getting on top of me.  Working with molten glass is not an occupation for the distracted.  You must be totally focused on what you are doing, for the sake of safety and control, and staring into the orange glow of molten glass and flame can be mesmerising.


I’m not sure I always manage the balancing act successfully – I know Solar Flare Creations would be more successful if I could be more prolific in the number of beads I have available. It has, however, provided a valued refuge for me from my day to day world and the stress of work, so it’s a balancing act I will continue to practice.

Spearmint Pastilles

Spearmint Pastilles

Texture – Susan Sheehan

14 06 2008

One of the amazing things about glass is the ability to alter light.  Glass can transmit, bounce or reflect light.   Who doesn’t love a good suncatcher in the window?  The magic of sunbeams dancing about a room is fascinating. To create light altering beads I employ texture. 

Not only can texture send light flying in all directions, but it can produce a look that begs to be touched.  Adding depth to my beads is a challenge I enjoy.  Using a varitey of tools, I can manipulate glass in sculptural ways.  The beads can bounce light as well as take on an interesting shape.

Texture in glass is not only a feeling, but a look.  Silky smooth glass can also appear to have texture. A mixture of transparant and opaque glass is a subtle way to create depth. 

Creating with glass offers possiblity and challenge.  Employing the concept of texture helps add dimension and interest in glass beads.  Focus on texture in your next work and see where it leads you.


The Journey – Suzanne of Solar Flare Creations

13 03 2008

I came to glass beadmaking in a rather convoluted way, although, like many people it stemmed from jewellery making.  As I may have mentioned, I am a member of the SCA, a medieval recreation group.  There is something for almost everyone in the SCA – leather work, cooking, singing, brewing, sword fighting, archery, weaving, embroidery… the list goes on.  As I had no desire to get enormous bruises by being beaten up by big guys with swords, I was relegated to watching the tourneys, and for many of the women in the SCA, that means they are often spinning, weaving, sewing etc while they watch.  Unfortunately, despite the fact that I was a textile teacher, I hate sewing etc, particularly fine needlework.  I just can’t do it – I’m too messy for starters.


So, to entertain myself at SCA events, I started ‘merchanting’.  I sold feasting gear, fabric trim and handmade jewellery.  My ‘mundane’ (non SCA)  jewellery was made with purchased glass beads (ones I now know were mainly cheap imported beads from China and India) and silver plated findings, but my SCA jewellery was made with semi precious stones and pearls, as befitted the medieval period. When I eventually started making jewellery from my own beads, I wanted to produce a high quality product that did justice to my glass creations.  From then on, I only used sterling silver findings, semi-precious stones, and Swarovski crystals.


When I was at University, I had majored in Photography and Metalcraft.  When my husband suggested he get me a soldering torch for my Birthday, so I could return to silversmithing, an American friend in the SCA mentioned we could make glass beads on it.  I had never heard of lampworking, so that brief comment planted the seed that was to eventually turn into a fully fledged glass obsession. 


For one reason or another, I never did the get the soldering torch, but about a year later the same friend pointed out a lampworking course at a local TAFE (Technical and Further Education) college, and I immediately jumped on the chance to sign up.  I completed a 2 day beginner’s course with Kathryn Wardill, a wonderful Australian Beadmaker and Master Jeweller, who at the time, was one of the few people in Australia making a living from Glass Beads.  A few months later, I completed an advanced course, again with Kathryn.  I got a great grounding in the basic skills from Kathryn.  She ensured we understood safety issues, COE and glass compatibility, and insisted we learn how to hand shape a variety of forms, like tubes, squares, triangles etc.  She taught me that it is important to learn the fundamental skills that you can then build on as you acquire new skills and tools.



                        My first ever beads –  Day 1


                                    Day 2




I worked on a Hot Head torch for over 4 years, not being able to justify the additional costs associated with a surface mix torch, and not really feeling my HH was holding me back.  It did teach me patience, as I have always made large beads, but apart from extremely large vessels and sculptural forms, I never felt limited (although I could have done without the noise!).  Eventually I upgraded to what we beadmakers often affectionately call a ‘Big Girl Torch’ a couple of years ago, and I have enjoyed the increased flexibility (and the blissful quiet) that it allowed.

My glass journey has perhaps been slower than it could have been, had I not been a hobbyist with a full time career, but it has been enjoyable, inspiring, frustrating, fulfilling, enriching, expensive and rewarding in turns.  And it’s not over yet!




My Studio is…. Suzanne Tate

25 01 2008

My Studio is……a cupboard. Yep, basically a cupboard. A very large cupboard, but definitely a storage area. It is a cute little room, snuggled up under the eaves on the second story of my house. When my friend’s young children first saw the matching rooms (before one became my studio), either side of the ‘parents retreat’, they declared them Harry Potter bedrooms, and claimed one each.I used to torch outside in my husband’s cedar workshop. I had to pack everything up after every torch session. Yes, I did say everything. In winter it was freezing, and as it was right up the back of our garden, even getting up the enthusiasm to trudge up there in cold weather, or worse, late at night (it’s spooky out there!) was an effort. It was pretty spacious, so when it was my turn to use it, I could even have several torches set up at a bead meet, but if that arrangement had continued, I never would have been able to grow in my glass work as I have done.

We decided to move me into the house. Jason built me a wonderful custom made work bench, and another for my kiln and I moved in. Ventilation was problematic for awhile. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s a cupboard, so with no external windows, and only the open door behind me for ventilation, the use of enamels, metals, even reichenbach frit was outlawed. 


The fledgling studio – before the days of ventilation and a ‘big girl torch’.

Fortunately (you have to look on the bright side of these things) the ensuite ceiling was leaking and we had to make some major repairs. So, while all the tradie’s were there, we got them to install a rangehood and a whirly gig on the roof, and install power (no more extension cords). Double Helix glass, here I come (pity that the ability to make silver glasses ‘do their thing’ did not arrive with the ventilation).Since then I have upgraded from a HH to a Piranha, and finally started garaging my beads instead of batch annealing (yep, it took me over 4 years to overcome my fear of sticking my arm in a hot kiln. Go figure.) Just one more thing I learnt in the US (I was thrown in the deep end at the Anastasia class 🙂 . I have a new, somewhat precarious shelving arrangement for my presses (OK, so its a metal planter stand with cardboard on the shelves) and a creative glass storage system (cardboard tubes glued together and painted white). Are you getting the impression I’m good at scrounging and appropriating things? (You ain’t seen nothing till you have seen my husband build the Taj Mahal of chicken coops with recycled shipping palettes, recycled corrugated iron from our roof, left over insulation and 8 foot wire fences, without spending a penny on anything other than the screws and nails!)

So, now I can torch for as little as an hour or as long as I like, without worrying about sharing the space, the ambient temperature (heck, if its really hot I just turn the aircon on in the bedroom behind me) or the time of day. In fact, part of the initial impetus for the move was the plan to put my insomniac tendencies to use by torching in the wee small hours when I can’t sleep. So, even though Jason jokes he banished me to a cupboard, it’s a very nice cupboard and I am quite happy here!