Beading Times: How long have you been making beads?

James Bielenberg: I have been at the torch since 2003.

What got you started making beads? Did you take a class?

Let me tell you, taking classes with your wife can become a life changing experience. In 2003 my wife and I took a class at Petersvalley craft center in Layton NJ and it was amazing. From the first second I sat at the torch I was hooked.  It almost became  a zen feeling with the torch,  the  flowing glass, and the concentration of heat.  It was truly spiritual. Not to mention that it was nice spending time with my wife doing something so fun and that she enjoyed as well. After that when I got home I got on the web and found Frantz art glass.  I ordered a torch and glass and started working every spare minute I had.

Were you interested in making beads before that?

I have had an interest in glass since I was a little kid. My father worked for an industrial gas manufacturer.  At the labs where he worked, they had their own glass studio to make lab apparatus and one of the glass blowers made a fish for me.  I was amazed. Since that time I have always wanted to try glass work. So I jumped at the chance to take that first class.  It was not so much about beads at first; it was about glass in general. That first class showed me that beads are an art form. Shape, color and patterns - the sky is the limit. I don’t think people have the respect for glass  they have for metals or stones. I am always trying to educate my customers about the mechanics of glasswork so that they have a better understanding of the process and know that $100 pendant or focal bead is not something that was whipped up in five minutes.

Did you have an artistic or craft history before that? How has that translated into the bead making, if at all?

I have drawn and painted since I can remember. I worked as an airbrush artist in my early years. I worked as a photographers’ assistant for five years. Then I started my own construction co. and I started doing metalsmithing as a hobby.  I no longer do construction because of multiple injuries. I have always been able to see things three dimensionally which I feel is a big help. I try to envision the final outcome of the piece I am working on which allows me to try and figure out how to make it before I even start.

What has surprised you most about working with glass?

I would have to say the amount of abuse it can take when properly annealed.

Have you had anyone that you consider to be a mentor? Tell us about them.

Not really, although I have met some wonderful people that have been willing to share information and techniques. One of the nice things about glass artists is that almost everyone I meet is willing to help if I ask.

Whose beads inspire you the most?

Wow that’s a tough question, I have seen so many talented artists. I will name a few but this list would be too long to name every ones work. So here we go: Chris & Jackie Rice (CNY Glass) make awesome critter beads, Barbara Swift does great floral beads, Lezlie Winemaker has cool picture beads, Deb Crowley torches way cool fish, and WHOEVER made the cuttle fish bead used in the ISGB ad. Hopefully some one will be kind enough to let me know whose work that is.

Do you sell your beads? Do you sell the beads by themselves, or already made up into jewelry?

I sell beads, pendants, finished jewelry... anything that I make is for sale unless my wife steals it before I put a price tag on it.

Did you intend to sell your beads when you first started? What got you started selling them?

Of course, I needed to be able to buy more glass and selling my art was a good way for me to transition out construction.

Have you ever taken part in a bead or art/craft show?

Yes, but so far I have not ventured out of my home state. I have done juried shows as well as local street fairs.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered? What did you enjoy most?

Packing and displaying are the biggest challenges, Booth display is a big part of selling.  I have found that people need to be able to touch my products and not feel intimidated about trying on my finished work.

How do you feel you have benefited from the experience? 

I have learned to not take criticism personally.

Do you have any tips for first time exhibitors?

Keep smiling; you need to project a good vibe so customers feel at ease. Keep your booth open and as simple as possible. Hang photos of your work in your booth; Make them as large as possible and make sure they are of professional quality. And don’t be afraid to change your booth from show to show to make it work better for you. I know this can become expensive which is why I suggest keeping it as simple as possible, especially in the beginningt. Go to shows and pay attention to booths that you like and take notes and  talk to the vendors about doing the shows in your area. Most will be helpful and encouraging and will share information that is garnered from their experience.

Do you sell your beads in stores or other venues?

I have,  but a lot of stores want to work on a consignment deal, which I feel is not really beneficial to me, the artist. My warning to anyone who is willing to go down this road is make sure you have everything in writing - your product description, the retail price, your payout, how long after the product is sold you have to wait to get paid, who is responsible for lost or stolen items.  Then expect to have to check the stores out once a month to see for yourself if anything sold. If this sounds like I don’t like consignment you are partially right. It is a good deal for higher end finished work placed in a high end gallery that has a reputation to uphold and that pays their artist in a timely fashion. For loose beads and pendants I will only sell wholesale to a retail venue. Otherwise it just becomes too much to track..

Do you have a website or auction site that you regularly sell you beads on? If so, what is the url/id info, etc. 

So since my rant in the previous question, to stay out in the market place when I do not have shows, I have started an online gallery  This gallery  features other artists' work as well as my own.  I am hoping to grow this into a site that features art in all of its aspects. If there are artists out there that would like to be a part of this venture please feel free to contact me.

What do your friends and family think of your beadmaking?

I am lucky that my wife fully supports me in my endeavor to be an artist.

What sort of set up do you have for making beads?

Right now I am currently using a GTT Mirage with propane oxygen. I forget the name of my kiln but it has a sentry digital controller.

What type of glass do you use?

Any kind of boro.

Do you have any favorite colors or combinations of glass rod to work with?

I really like striking silver colors.

Do these colors (or combos.) create a special reaction when used in a certain way? Tell us about it.

They are magical in the fact that they can change in so many ways color wise.  You cannot always predict what they will look like when they come out of the kiln.

Do you have a favorite product, i.e. bead release, glass, etc.

K.R.A.G. Mudd bead release available from , any Amazon colors from Glass Alchemy and  infinite rim marble molds.

Do you have a favorite beadmaking book or piece of instructional material (video, etc.)?

“Passing the Flame” by Corina Tettinger  is a great instructional book for the basics.

“Beads of Glass” by Cindy Jenkins

“The Flow” magazine good articles and instructional materials.

Do you have a favorite technique?

Dots.  I think that they are truly the building blocks of almost any kind of design.

Are you a “set” person or a “focal bead” person?

I am definitely a “set” person.  Since most of my work is turned into finished work, sets are the logical outcome of what I produce.

Have you developed a “signature” bead, a unique type of bead that is recognizably yours? Tell us about it, how you developed it, etc.

My signature is my metal work combined with my glasswork. All of my finished work has capped and tube riveted beads with either sterling silver or 18k gold.  I also include handmade precious metal beads.

What was your biggest obstacle to overcome?

I would have to say getting out there and trying to sell my wares. It’s not easy in the beginning to put yourself out there for everyone to see. So for anyone that is just starting out, my advice to you is GET OUT THERE AND GET OVER IT. Otherwise, you will never know the joy of having your talent and your art recongnized.

What is the hardest kind of bead to make for you? The easiest?

Blown beads done with tubing kill me. I really need to make time to practice them.

What is your favorite kind of bead or technique?

Snake patterned beads are probably my  favorite technique.

Do you still have the first beads you made? What do you think of them now?

No I sold them in my Misc. bead bin during my first show.  They were pretty bad.

How have your beads changed? Since you started or over the years?

My colors are better and my dot placement is better. Overall, my beads  just come out better than they used to.

What was your scariest beadmaking experience?

This is not a bead making experience but it is glass related, I was making a vortex marble and just as I was finishing my cold seal punty broke and the 2 inch hot marble fell in my lap.  Needless to say I jumped up.  The punty proceeded to fall on the floor and roll away under a table. Luckily,  my floor is concrete.  And yes,  I was even able to salvage my marble after extensive cleaning.

Do you have a humorous beadmaking experience or moment to share with us?

Nothing really jumps to mind.

Have you had any “glass epiphanies” while working – some revelation or understanding? What were they?

Oh yeah, use your tools. That’s why they are on your bench. Why waste time trying to move glass around with heat and gravity when you can do it in one fell swoop with your mashers or a marble mold?

Do you have a technique, method or tip to share?

I have been toying with the idea of using my fordom hand piece as a lathe. This is still something that I am working on. I also have made large hole bead mandrels that have stainless steel rods on either side so you can use both hands to spin them. Look for these soon on my web site.

Do you listen to music when you work, or prefer complete silence? If you listen to music what is your favorite type of music or artist to listen to while you work?

I cannot work in silence - music is a must. I listen to anything from George Winston to Korn.

Do you have any advice or encouraging words for someone who is just starting out in glass? (Aside from persistence)

Keep your workspace clean and organized.  If you leave it at the end of the day, clean it before you start working the next morning. I cannot tell you how many times I have broken this golden rule and wound up frustrated and had to stop and clean.

Have you “invented” any new tools, or recycled something that wouldn’t ordinarily be thought of as a tool for lampworking?

As I stated previously, my large hole bead mandrels that can be held from either side.

How much time do you spend making beads (in hours) per week? Is it enough?

When I am doing glass work I will be at the torch for 8 to 10 hours a day,  usually for two week stints.

What about photographing your beads – what do you use to get your pictures and do you have any tips or tricks to share?

I am lucky that I have a friend that is a professional photographer that takes care of all of my photos. We are toying with the idea of offering photo packages for photographing other artists work. We would offer this service through my gallery.  The basic package would be 5 pieces of artwork (smaller than a breadbox) for $150.00,  That price would give you the photography with a disc containing 5 HI RES files and 5 LO RES files, retouched.  Please contact me if you are interested.

Is this a job, or a passion? Or both? How much of making beads/playing with hot glass is about just making them, vs making a living?

It is definitely a passion. If it was about money, I would have stuck to construction. Although I hope that as my work becomes better known, it will become more sought after and I will make a better living.

Where do you see yourself going with lampworking/glassworking in the future? Or, where do you see it taking you?

I definitely see more sculptural work in my future -  larger pieces containing all different disciplines of glasswork. 


NAME: James Bielenberg