Sea of Glass : Handmade Jewelry and Beads

This interview with glass bead and jewelry artist Cynthia Tucker is a little nugget I have been holding onto for a while now.  Cynthia gave me a delightful glimpse into her studio, inspiration, and how she became involved in this fascinating art form.  I truly hope you enjoy!

Can you tell us a little about your business, Sea of Glass?  Happy to!  I melt colored glass rods using a 2000°F torch, winding the molten glass around a steel mandrel, sculpting and shaping the glass into tiny works of art.  In a word, I make glass beads.

What first attracted you to lampwork, and what keeps you engaged in the art?  A friend showed me a handful of beads she had made.  I started assembling some things for her, using her beads (bracelets, key chains, landyards), and over a year later, progressed to learning to make my own beads. I’m eternally grateful to Linda for her encouragement over the years.
I continue it for several reasons:  Melting glass is like therapy ~ enjoying a rainbow of colors to work with and the mesmerizing of the flame.  There is also the challenge of creating something new and unique, or doing custom work.  Possibilities are unlimited.  In addition, I stay engaged because it helps with income.

I see your tag line is “nature inspired, formed in fire” do you have a favorite source of natural inspiration

  

I’m a big fan of the seashore and all of its lifeforms, both land and amphibious.  I have interpreted many of these creatures in my work:  Fish, starfish, turtles, octopus, and a variety of shells.  Creating an image of a seascape in glass is one of my most enjoyable beads to make.       

What is your studio space like?  When I wanted to start making beads in 2006, I had no spare rooms, so taking a cue from my friend who made glass beads in her laundry room, I carved out a space in mine.  My supportive and capable Mr. built a custom table to fit on one wall of my laundry room.  

   He made my work bench absolutely fireproof, using a large sheet of thin stainless steel stock, and even added a support beam at the bottom for a shelf and a foot rest. 

My torch is a Nortel Minor Burner, a surface-mix torch, securely fastened to my tabletop.  The red hose delivers tanked propane, which sits outside under the window.  The green hose delivers oxygen.

(stock photo)
Instead of using tanked oxygen, I opted for purchasing an oxygen concentrator, which pulls in air from the atmosphere and provides a continuous flow of processed oxygen.  This unit paid for itself the first year I owned it.

     

Using some designs I found on the net, he also cut pvc pipe and fence rail for my glass rod storage, so that the colors are clearly visible and handy when torching.  (Can you tell I’m a lefty?

This storage unit holds my glass stringer (spaghetti sized rods).  Again, made by the Mr. and now protected by the “Glass Guardian”, MissyCat.
 

The one below contains full sized glass rods (6-10 mm), and each cubbie will hold 2 pounds of glass.  The unit can hold up to 96 pounds of glass!


My chair is an adjustable and comfortable office chair with wheels, handy since my kiln is behind me, and I just roll backward 2 feet, to place the finished piece in the computer controlled kiln.  

  
I can and do reprogram it, depending on how long I want it to run, or how hot it needs to be.

Do you teach any lampworking or jewelry making classes?  Yes I do!  I began teaching Beginning Glass Beadmaking classes in 2007 at Poplar Grove Plantation Cultural Arts Barn.  Currently, I’m teaching classes at Art Exposure, a gallery with studio space north of Hampstead, where I have also taught a wire-wrapping class, using my beads.
When someone comes to you with a custom order for something different from the norm how do you approach the challenge?  I’ve had quite a number of custom requests for things I’ve never made before.  When someone asks, “Do you make owls?”, I reply, “No, but I WILL!” 

   

I try to discover from the customer what the most important feature would be for the piece:  color, size, shape.  If it’s an animal, whether they prefer full body or head only, and how much detail to include.  After gathering this info, I do research on the item or animal, for example, having a variety of photographs to study shape, form, color and placement of facial features.  I then proceed to my studio to gather and prepare the specific materials. 

  Which color of glass rods will best represent their idea?  What sizes/diameters will I need for the project?  If “hair” or trees are involved, I would need to create special cane made from 2 or more colored rods of glass.  If tiny legs are part of the piece, I would create very fine, hair-thin glass stringers.  Some requests are more challenging, and I will refer to my periodicals to get ideas, for example, I recently had a request for a dragonfly.  I tried making one, and then another, but the design didn’t satisfy me.  I browsed through my glass magazines and came across a dragonfly that was made in 3 pieces, which would entail more time and steps to accomplish, but the result was exquisite!

Tell me about some of the people you have met in connection with your business (customers, distributor, other lampworkers)? 
I attend a workshop most years, in the mountains of NC I attend a 3 day workshop most years, in the mountains of NC, where glass peeps from around the southeast join together to learn from each other, play with glass, and generally have a great time together.  Glass artists, or lampworkers, are fun and inventive, and I’ve made friends there, who return year after year.
The guys at Mountain Glass Arts in Asheville, NC,  are great to work with when I need to order supplies.  They’re almost local and ship the same day. 
I have a great following of return customers, and many of them visit my booth at the markets.  I’ve completed few large custom orders for businesses, who want certain colors and items.

What networking do you do that you feel helps your business?   One that I think gets the most visibility would be when I create special items for my fellow vendors at the 2 Farmers’ Markets I participate in.  I create items for them to wear that represent their work.  For example my buddy Angela makes peppered pickles, so I have made pepper earrings and necklaces for her, even some with jars! 

Another market neighbor, Megan of Grassy Ridge Farms, sells tomatoes, (among other farm items, free range!) so I made tomato earrings for her. 
  

My friend Bethany makes delicious vegan goodies, and her logo is a frog on the earth…I made frog/earth earrings for her. 

 
My fellow vendor, Colleen Bannerman, makes wine, for her I made grape earrings very similar to this pendant.

 

These friends and fellow vendors wear their custom-made designs, the public notices, and they are referred to me. 

Other networking opportunities would include all of the cyber options:  Facebook; Networked Blogs on FB; Bead Soup Blog Party; “Lampwork Etc.”, and other glass forums.

What do you do when you aren’t working on beads and jewelry?  So glad you asked!  A few weeks ago, I started quilting.  I had been thinking for a long time that I wanted to take up quilting in my old age ~ both of my grandmothers quilted and all their female siblings.  I have so many lovely and lovingly made things from them.
Earlier this year, I reconnected with an old friend, via blogville, and this has spurred me on to begin.  Freda has made oodles of quilts, giving them to family and friends.  I made beads to represent the quilt blocks she made for her grandchildren, and sent them as a bracelet. 

 

She has encouraged me in beginning to quilt…she even gave me a private lesson!  I have pieced together less than a dozen blocks so far.  Bet you can tell which came first!
  

If someone is interested in your work, how can they find more. (Disclaimer from the blogger, not all links may remain active after the posting date.  If you find a “dead” link or dated information please comment below.  Thanks)

A website, Sea Of Glass Beads
 My blog of course, Sea Of Glass Beads 
Visit my booth ~ Sea of Glass ~ at local Farmers’ Markets:
 Riverfront Farmers’ Market in downtown Wilmington on 1st and 3rd Saturdays 8 a.m. – 1 p.m., from April – Dec, closing a week before Christmas.
Poplar Grove Farmers’ Market, each and every Wednesday, 8a.m. – 1 p.m., from April – Dec., closing the week before Christmas.
I also have retail space in the following:
Art Exposure Gallery in Hampstead carries my work.
River to Sea Gallery in Chandler’s Wharf has a line of my items available.
Carolina Décor and More in Surf City has my items available.

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