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Did you paint that? How I make a glass bead.

I've often been asked at shows 'did you paint that?' referring to my little world pendants. The answer is yes and no, yes, I created the image, but no I didn't use paint and a brush. I use rods of coloured glass to paint the pictures, so what you see is all solid glass, not a surface decoration applied to the bead afterwards.

There are both challenges and joys in 'painting' with molten glass, the biggest challenge is colour compatibility, I use soft glass, partly for the extensive colour palette, and partly for the lower temperature needed to work it, but not all the colours like each other, and some of them are are very fussy about their how they're heated. These challenges can sometimes also be joys, some colours curdle to make a beautifully atmospheric sky, or rock pattern, and some oxidize with a little torch adjustment to create a wonderful luster.

Last year I was asked to write an article for Glassline magazine, with step by step instructions on how I make one of my little world beads. Here's an abridged version of that article with a few of the making photos to help answer the question 'did you paint that?'


How to make a lampwork glass bead, step by step.

  1. Inspiration, this bead was inspired by the beautiful gorse hedges we have in Cornwall.

  2. Select the glass colour palette.

  3. After dipping the steel mandrel into bead release to ensure the bead won't stick to the metal, define the size of the bead by applying the top and bottom glass.

  4. Fill in the middle to give the bead a solid core.

  5. Start to build up layers of coloured glass, working from the back of the picture to the front.

  6. Apply each layer carefully, while remembering to keep the whole bead warm to avoid cracks.

  7. Melt the layers to give a flat surface for the next layer.

  8. Apply detail to the foreground last.

  9. Melt everything together, and warm the bead through.

  10. When the bead is glowing red it's soft enough to shape in a brass press.

  11. Warm the bead through again and cool slowly to batch anneal.

  12. Finished bead, the hole is cleaned out to remove the bead release, and this one's been tumbled to give it a matte surface texture

These beads each take some patience to create, the glass dances to it's own time, if I try to hurry the process and heat it too quickly it can boil, or the colours react badly and it'll be ruined. As frustrating as they can be, they are my favourite things to make, I love to try and create an image I have in my mind in the glass, and all the challenges keep it interesting.

I've recently uploaded a selection of new little world pendants to my shop here, and I have a handful more, including earrings yet to upload. You can also see a few in Simpsons Penzance, and keep an eye on my Instagram and Facebook pages for updated on events I'll be attending, that's where you'll find my biggest range of everything I make in one place. My first event this year will be the Una Spa spring fair in Carbis bay on the 25th May, if it's anything like last year it'll be a glorious day with live music, delicious food and real mermaids, my daughter is very excited!


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