Whatever new innovations in beads come our way, nothing quite beats the beauty of a handmade lampwork bead to inspire amazing creations. The colors, shapes, and patterns of unique flameworked glass go so perfectly with our favorite techniques and materials. One of my favorite lampwork artists of late is Serena Smith, whose floral creations are a delight to behold.
Inspirational Beading: How did you first get started with lampwork?
Serena: In 1991 I was working my first "real job" after college in Seattle, at a company called TSI that sold jewelry and lapidary supplies. I found out through them about the Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle where they were doing all kinds of art classes, including glass. I took the bead making class and not long after I turned my bedroom in my 1 bedroom apartment into a studio and moved into the living room, bought an oxy/propane set up and supplies from Frantz, and started making beads. Not long after that I returned to school to get a degree in glass art from the Rhode Island School of Design. At that time, lampwork was not given much respect in the art world and the department didn't even have a lampworking torch - other than mine. With my degree I learned about all different kinds of glass working, some of which I still do today, but lampwork is my first love.
Inspirational Beading: Do you remember your first bead? Where is it today?
Serena: Not my first bead, but I do remember the first demo the instructors did on sculpting beads. Most of the class was about how to make a round bead with dots on it. But they demo'd a pudgy little bug thing and warned us that sculpted beads were pretty much guaranteed to break so the demo was just a throw away idea. This was back before annealing kilns were on the market, didn't even know about fiber blanket, we used vermiculite in a can and flame annealing was considered a myth by a lot of people. But, once I saw the potential in sculpting glass that was pretty much it for me, I knew that was what I wanted to do. I used vermiculite for years and did in fact have a lot of luck with flame annealing. I still make a version of my first sculpted bead designed after the Venus of Willendorf sculpture.
Inspirational Beading: Where do you look for inspiration? How does it translate in your designs?
Serena: I have a lot of books with flower pictures in them, but I think I get most of my inspiration just from nature in general, as well as the glass colors they make now. I work in my garden and grow flowers. I also go for long walks, and especially when the flowers are blooming I get inspired to get into the shop and try to create some new bloom or color I've never noticed before. That's how the japonica style flower came to me. I saw bushes in a parking lot that had masses of wee flowers and I took a close look to see these lovely vase shaped blossoms I'd never seen before. I looked them up when I got home to find the name (japonica pieris) and started working with the shape. I don't always try to be faithful to the original flower, as you can see in some of my fantasmagorical Lady Slippers.
Inspirational Beading: Do you have a favorite color or combination to work with?
Serena: Always, pinks make me happy even though I think my favorite color in general is turquoise blue (I have a terrible time with high metal content opaque turquoise glass). These days there are so many more glass colors to work with, some fantastic pinks from Bullseye glass and not just the ruby pink from Moretti that used to turn brown. It's amazing to me to think back to when all we had was Moretti (Effetre) to now when we have so many manufacturers and some really incredibly beautiful colors to work with. I think one of my favorite new colors these days is from Bullseye, an opalescent blue purple color which is fantastic over petal pink.
Inspirational Beading: Do you have a favorite bead style or shape to create?
Serena: That's a tough one. I don't think I do as far as making them, what I like is to be able to have a variety of things to work on so I make things in small batches. It's not fair to the pretty beads I make to feel irritated because I had to work all day making the exact same thing so I try to avoid doing that. Regardless, I am always cheered when I open the kiln and see a beautiful bouquet of flower beads in a rainbow of colors. What could possibly be better than that? As far as shape, I think my favorite flower to look at right now is the tulip. Simple but lovely.
Inspirational Beading: What is the most rewarding moment in your design process?
Serena: I think it must be that "aha" moment when I finally know how to do it, whatever "it" is. Getting the color right, or just figuring out how to create a shape. There is a certain amount of frustration when you first start out something new and you can't "see" or "feel" it, and when it settles down into your hands and they just start making it happen, it is a really good feeling. I've learned not to let those moments of frustration deter me from believing that I can really, truly, figure it out. And the only way to fail is to quit.
Inspirational Beading: What is the most exciting design in your shop right now? What makes it special?
Serena: I have been making a lot of Lady Slippers this month and it has been fun. I designed them a while ago but sort of let them go and hadn't made any in several years when I looked back through some of my history and realized how long it had been, and how special they were! They are a real joy to make, each one comes out different and I am playing with different colors and details and combinations that really makes it fun. I love the moment I open the kiln! Sometimes on my walk from the studio into the house I forget what I'm doing and just stand in the yard looking at each one and smiling.
Inspirational Beading: Do you have any plans for new bead styles or themes in the works?
Serena: I've always been interested in different forms of glass work so I do casting, fusing, pate de verre, etc. always looking for ways to incorporate lampwork. What I have been working on this last 6 months or so is how to make cast beads, and also fused components like cabochons. The cabochons often include a lampworked element, like the heart in this cabochon, and just recently I've made just a couple of lampwork blobs that I want to put in the kiln and fuse and just see what happens. I might try fusing some holes into the cabochons to make them into beads. Not sure yet, just expanding my horizons!
Inspirational Beading: Who do you hope to inspire with your work?
Serena: Definitely jewelry makers! But, speaking as a person who likes to try just about every craft, I really would like to reach people who work in areas I might not know anything about, and who might never have considered that their work could include lampwork or glass components. For instance, I also do needle felting and have incorporated my beads into those projects. People think of beads as just for jewelry but they are so versatile and useful and add a wonderful element to any kind of creation.
You can see more of Serena’s gorgeous lampwork beads at the 2016 Best Bead Show in Tucson, Arizona, on her website Serena Smith Lampwork, and on Etsy at Serena Smith and 4GlassCabochons. Follow along on Facebook to see her latest creations and inspirations!
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Copyright 2016 Inspirational Beading and Serena Smith