Lately, I have been receiving an influx of emails from advice-seeking new lampworkers. First, I’d like to say, “Welcome to the wonderful world of glass!” Now, I’ll move on to the “meat” of what this post is all about. I’m writing this as a point of reference to the new lampworkers, based on the questions that I am most often asked.

1. What is your torch setup?/Which torch do your recommend for new beadmakers?

I can’t really recommend a torch. Instead, what I can do is tell you how I learned to lampwork. I started on a hothead and used Cindy Jenkin’s book, “Making Glass Beads”. It’s a wonderful resource for any new beadmaker. I also searched the technical advice areas of Wetcanvas and Lampworketc, as those sections have a great deal of information to offer to all levels of beadmakers. 

The hothead is fantastic torch for beginners because it will allow you to dip your toes in the water before making huge equipment purchases that you may find yourself later regretting if for some reason you lose the desire to work in glass. It is not uncommon for a person to get into lampworking only to find out that the time and money investment is a bit too demanding. Of course the investment dollars are far outweighed by the time that it actually takes to learn to make “good” beads, much less the ornate/artistic/masterful ones.  

As I said earlier, I began on hothead. Back in those days, I had a regular day job so I was only using it as a hobby torch.  A year after I started, I upgraded to a Nortel Midrange. I didn’t like it because the flame was too large and detail work was difficult, so I sold the Nortel and purchased a Mini CC. Today, I still work on my Mini CC. It is powered by propane and an M-15 oxyconn. I also have a Cheetah for large work and it’s powered by my M-15 with an oxy holding tank. Because my experience with other torches is very limited, I can’t really make a torch recommendation other than to say that the ones I use are pretty awesome. I can’t tell you though how they compare to other torches on the market because I simply don’t know.

2. What books do you recommend?/Should I take a class?

I only used one book as I was learning, as mentioned in my answer to question number one, Cindy Jenkin’s “making glass beads”. I recommend it because it starts at a very basic level and the basic level is where all new lampworkers need to begin. If you have a nearby resource for classes, I highly recommend a beginner’s level class. It will save you TONS of time in terms of trial and error. I didn’t choose not to take classes. None were available to me in my area.

3. What type of glass should I buy and which colors?

I would start with 104 Effetre. Get a half a pound of white opaque, half a pound of black and half a pound of clear. I’ll go into why I suggest these colorless colors in the next section of text.

Humble beginnings. . .

At this point, most of you are bursting with ideas and inspiration and just can’t wait to get that torch set up so that you can sit down and make pretty, ornate little baubles to give to your friends and family. I’ve been there so I know the feeling. Now that I have experienced many moments of extreme frustration that resulted from my personal failures due to over expectation of my skill and ability, please allow me to give you some very sound advice. . . SLOW DOWN. Pretty baubles shouldn’t be your goal at this point. Making round, proportioned beads with even holes is where you need to start because it the very foundation of a “good” glass bead. Decorative beads will need to come later, once you’ve mastered the round and donut form. I mention this as a result of many conversations that I’ve had with new beadmakers who want to sit down at their new torches and start pumping out beads that have lovely scrolls, dots, plunges, and even ornate designs. It simply does NOT work this way. Glass is NOT an easy craft to learn. It commands a great deal of respect, disapline and dedication. It will never EVER be YOUR slave and you will never be it’s master. You can manipulate it into doing what you want it to do, once you’ve really gotten to know it, but you’ll always remain it’s slave.

As a slave to glass, it’s necessary that you start off in your journey very slowly. Be respectful to the medium. Pay attention to how the glass flows as you wrap each mandrel. My suggestion is to start with clear glass and make a bunch of spacers until your skill at making spacers yields a set of five that are uniform and consistent in size. Generally speaking, clear is stiffer than opaque glass and is therefore easier to control. Once you have your five, try to do the same with black opaque. It’s softer than the clear and is most consistent with how most Effetre opaques tend to melt. After you have five good black spacers, try the same exercise with opaque white. This will be harder because white can become quite soupy. Still, it be a great way for you to learn a bit about heat control. Melting the white requires more patience and alertness as you make the spacers.

So, you’ve learned to make the white spacers. . .Now what? LOL! Oh my, I may have stepped in “it” here. I could go on and on but that would unfortunately leave me with no torch time. So, I’ll promise to build on this at some point next week. I PROMISE. (I know I make these empty promises from time to time, but if I don’t update this little lesson next week, you have my permission to nag me via email until I do.)

Here’s another thing that I thought about as I was preparing to write this . . .Not to be redundant here but, so often I see new lampworkers putting the cart before the horse and wanting to fast track their experience. I know, I wanted the same when I started but it didn’t take me long to realize that glass is not a medium that EVER accommodates shortcuts. There is no way to fast track experience. You can learn all kinds of crazy new techniques written in tutorials but those are only helpful if you’re willing to sit your fanny down at the torch and sacrifice your time to the proverbial “torch gods”. That’s what they want and if you’re not willing to give it to them, they won’t grant your wishes.

Many times I’ve seen this comment in the lampwork forums, “I just don’t have time for all of practice! Can someone tell me how to. . . ?” Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but you will only be as good as the time that you are willing to put into the craft. I began to get a great deal of attention during my second year as a lampworker. The progress during my first year at the torch was quite lack-luster as I had little torch time. I came home at night, fed my family and then torched till bedtime. Basically, as soon as I warmed up, it was time for bed. Year number two, I began to blossom as a new lampworker. I didn’t have that full time job anymore, my daughter had moved out and my husband worked during the day. I was able to work in my studio from early in the morning until early evening. I did this for six to seven days each week (STILL DO). I mention this because so often I have been asked how I got so good at this so quickly. This is how I did it. . .I torched until I could barely hold my head up. I did exercises at the torch that I absolutely LOATHED. I practiced until I was at the point of tears. I sacrificed my family time to the “torch gods”.

If you are a hobbyist, don’t worry so much about what I just wrote. Have fun, work at your own pace and enjoy the ride. However, if you are someone who’s long term goal is to sell your work and hopefully gain notoriety in this business, follow my advice to the letter. Be prepared to sacrifice your very precious time and remember that there ARE NO SHORTCUTS to experience. They simply don’t exist. Once can show or teach you a technique, but it won’t be retained without repetition. Melt . . .Wrap. . .Repeat. Melt. . .Wrap. . .Repeat. Do this another 100 times and you’ll remember what you learned. lol

I would apologize for taking the wind from your sales, but it would be disingenuous of me. The advice that I just gave you is worth it’s weight in gold so please take it as it was intended. Now go melt that glass and send me questions if you have them. I’ll answer. I may not answer quickly, but I WILL ANSWER.