The art of the Press

When I first began melting glass I was averse to presses. I’ll admit it. I was a press snob. I thought they made the beads look too commercial…too perfect, no longer hand made. And, I thought they looked 'easy'. But I noticed that the trend seemed to be designers (who were doing most of the purchasing on EBay) with a huge preference for pressed beads, so some where along the way I decided to give them a try. The first one I bought was a spree. Someone said that was the easiest to start with. I think it was a good month before I had one bead fit for selling…granted, I did give up on it for a time and let it sit in the corner to collect dust for a bit before I decided to give it another go. So much for ‘easy’.
The use of presses to form a well balanced, nicely shaped bead with neat ends takes a good deal of practice and with the help of artisans before me I learned a few
tricks of the trade. Mostly I learned through trial and error. Removing and adding glass until my eye was trained to judge just how much glass and just what pre pressed shape looked right for that particular press. I no longer think that using presses is an easy out…I know the work behind them.
But, I have to admit, there’s still a bit in me that sees the resulting bead as a little too conforming…a little too exact. I seem to be a minority but in my heart I’ll probably always prefer the look of a free formed bead. Do you have a preference...press perfect beads? or freely formed?

A trio of unpressed beads


Back to work..

These came out of the kiln yesterday. A rather subdued earthy palette..

Last night I created a most beautiful bead in my head just before I went to sleep...shhhh..I don't want to say this too loud, but I think my muse is back.

Click on the image to visit the auction for these handmade glass beads


Notes to myself

..and anyone else contemplating serious changes to their blog template. Back it up first.
I know we've all heard that more than a few times. But seriously, back it up first.

I think I know enough code to squeak by and then I get myself into trouble and I realize that in reality I only know enough to cause problems. If my blog seems to be transient every time you come in here, its because I've ruined my template trying to install code to give myself peek a boo posts...you know the kind that if you have a very long post like the 'Artisan to Note' interviews, you can just post teasers on the main page putting the remainder else where on your blog with a 'read more here' link. It's the *elsewhere* that poses a problem for me.
Bear with me, I'm sure I'll work it all out.


Artisans to Note ~Kirsten Skiles

I've been fantasizing lately about learning metalwork. Just enough to incorporate it into my flameworked glass somehow. The act of hammering and flaming something as inscrutable as metal into a malleable shape is very similar to glass work I suppose ... Quite some time ago I came upon this wonderful ironworker, Kirsten Skiles and added her site to my ever growing list of 'Noteworthy blogs' so that I can share her with all of you.. and so that I could peek in from time to time. She's always hard at work.

Tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you to work with metal?
When I was a senior in college in anthropology, I decided to take a jewelry class. I thought it would be a casual class, beads, macrame, fun stuff. Little did I know, I was getting into a hard-core art class. I loved it. I got hooked.
Click on the images for more detail

Did you take classes or are you self-taught?
I finished up my anthropology degree (1996) and stuck around town to take jewelry classes non-degree. I also took 2 blacksmithing workshops at Penland in North Carolina. I developed a portfolio and was accepted to graduated school at San Diego State University. I received my MFA in 1996.
As all artists learn, in order to keep growing as artists, we eventually have to become self taught. So while I learned the fundamentals in a University program, I had to learn my own artistic style on my own. I also taught myself chasing and repoussé, the technique that I specialize in now.

I see you hand-forge large pieces as well as small pieces of jewelry..Do you have a preference?
I like both and often go back and forth. For the past ten years I've done much more large work. I am now at a point where I am more interested in small pieces, both smaller works of art (under 1 foot in any direction) and jewelry work. I can finish my work more quickly and do much more creative and technical exploration.
Every passion includes a nasty job..(for me, it’s cleaning the bead release from the beads..) what part of your work will you delegate when you make it big!
Grinding and finishing are my least favorite steps in the metalwork processes.
I learned long ago that it is often more efficient to subcontract the elements that are just not my strength. I try to pick the right people for the job, so that no one person is getting stuck with a lot of nasty work. I have my steel leaf blanks cut by a local blacksmith who has a CNC plasma cutting set-up. For much of my railing work, if I needed multiples of a forged piece, I would often subcontract to one of several highly skilled regional blacksmiths. The hardest part is finding the right artists to work with and developing the rapport that makes it easy to communicate my design needs.

What is it that you enjoy most about the process?
Hammering in form and texture!

What are your biggest obstacles regarding your art and what have you done to overcome them (it).
I think that for myself and for many others, my biggest obstacle is my own self-critical voice. I've learned to put one foot in front of the other (so to speak) and keep working, no matter what that little inner devil is saying.
These days, the rising cost of fuel gas (propane) and metal is becoming an obstacle. It costs a lot of money for me to run my propane forge, so I have to decide if I can raise prices on my existing ironwork designs or if I need to work on some other ideas that use less propane.
It can be difficult to work at home. Do you have a separate studio that you can go to or do you designate part of your home to your work.
We have a separate studio next to our home. It's nice to have it so close, but sometimes I'd rather be working within a greater community of artists. I'd love to have a workspace in a small downtown area near a coffee shop where artists gather for afternoon tea.
Is there anything else about yourself or your work that you feel you would like us to know?.
My blog is at
My shop is at http://knitsteel.com
My portfolio is on flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/knitsteel/collections/
I do teach workshops nationally. This summer I'm teaching at Haystack in June and at Peters Valley in August

Thanks Kirsten for being part of 'Artisans to Note'!

If you're interested in reading past 'Artisan to Note' interviews with the whimsical illustrator 'MarmeeCraft' or viewing the wonderful hand thrown creations of 'Mudstuffing' please click on the respective links.


Cake for breakfast

..and other treats for the soul. Do you indulge yourself? All the experts agree that it's vital for good mental health to treat yourself once in a while to those things you consider a luxury. and, if you're going to eat cake, morning would be the best time to eat it.

It was my sons 17th birthday yesterday and the cake was there on the counter this morning, as were the saucer and forks. All laid out and waiting..

I've a whole list of things to do today, if I run while doing them I'm sure I can work this off of one hip anyway!..Enjoy your day.


Scheduling your Muse

Thursday morning..
I'm trying to keep to somewhat of a schedule. Contrary to what those with a regular 9-5 may think, working at home is difficult. At least for those who are undisciplined ~like me.

I've decided that Thursday will be for blog writing..hence, the entry...and for working on the construction of jewelry, which I don't enjoy nearly as much as I do melting the glass. That would explain the 3 containers of beads you see in front of my work space there. The trouble is 'creativity' and 'schedules' ...and there is a word for this but my brain is failing me at the moment. They just do not work well together..it's as though someone is standing over you saying 'Create...NOW' One sort of rebels at that and locks up.
However, if you're going to be professional and make your work a successful business you have to find a way to keep your muse on call. I've filled my work space with color and past work...drawings, paintings, words...as well as clippings from magazines that stop me in my tracks and move me in some way. I remember reading somewhere that one of the tactics that work for teaching children with ADD is to have them work in a small cubby with no stimuli of any kind. hmmm, what think you about that? Vaguely disturbing somehow, although I do understand the reasoning behind it.
But it does make me wonder.
If I were to clear everything away, except maybe the color purple...would I get more accomplished?

The latest bracelet to emerge from
the cluttered den of
'Sweetwater Designs' ~ Lampwork and brass.

For purchase on Etsy.


Seeking inspiration

How do you find that colorful creative energy that is needed to fuel your work?

Here are a few concrete ideas that I have used in the past.

1. Curl up with some really great quilting/fabric or interior design magazines and just absorb the color combinations and patterns. Pottery and dishes are great inspiration for jewelry..as are museum catalogs..look up by gone periods and ogle some of the jewels or even the dishes of that time. Art Deco. Byzantine. Renaissance.

2. Add music to your space. Music can inspire and move you..be bold and listen to something you wouldn't normally listen to. Mood changes the flow in your environment and can definitely alter the work that comes from within.

3.Get outside. Breathe in the fresh air and try to see your surroundings through child eyes. Notice texture,line and color. Is it possible to take a rod of glass and mimic the pattern of wood? Notice how cool a shade of brown looks with a certain shade of moss..How is it that nature never messes up a color combination? Which brings us to...

4. COLOR. Play with color. Which artist said, "there is no blue without red." Picasso maybe, but its a great quote.
Put together combinations that are unusual for you. Move out of your comfort zone. Almost any color combination is possible if you're brave enough. Try just changing the tone rather than the hue itself...where orange is too strong a milder melon color may be just what is needed.

5. Don't take yourself too seriously. We should take our cues from children more often. Children are highly creative...it's really all play. Pretend there is no right or wrong way.

6. I know that I would be much more productive if I were to keep a notebook for ideas and thoughts and color combos that come when you're sitting in the doctors office or drifting off to sleep.
Without the notebook you're not prepared when those ideas of genius pop up. Napkins get lost..bits of torn paper wind up in the bottom of your purse or in white papery crumbs in the washing machine. I know I should get a notebook...

Just a couple of thoughts that I've used and that I've seen work for others in the past, maybe something here will be just what you need.
've actually chosen this subject to blog about right now in hopes of kicking my own self out of a little slump... Maybe I'll start by going out to buy myself a notebook.


I enjoyed creating this small botanical series of focals with the hand-pulled cane yesterday. These came out of the kiln this morning. I etched them all to bring out the background detail..which etching tends to do..and oddly the silver glasses in the leaf cane would not etch and remained fairly glossy. Just one of the design elements that the glass decided on.. These are very tactile and would make lovely pendants. Click on the image to check out the auctions.