Beading Times: How long have you been making beads?

Pam Brisse: I started making beads in the fall of 2002.

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

I was making jewelry and had discovered the world of lampwork beads. One day I was wearing a bracelet I’d made with some beautiful silvered blue beads and a receptionist at a doctor’s office remarked on it and said she used to make lampwork beads – and if I was ever interested, she still had all her tools and kiln and would be interested in selling it to me! It was an “ah-ha!” moment – anyone could make beads – I had no idea! So I signed up for a class at the local community college to see if I could really do it and if I would enjoy it – and called her up the next day with an offer to buy her lampworking equipment. Talk about Serendipity!

Were you interested in making beads before that?

No, I would like to say I’ve had a life-long yearning to work with molten glass… but I’d be lying. I really didn’t think it was something just anyone could pick up and do.

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

I’ve always been crafty or had artistic hobbies – when I was a little girl I’d make macramé jewelry (it was the 70’s after all and the thing to do!) and later on it was Halloween costumes, painting, photography, mosaics, jewelry, knitting. My mother and grandmother and great grandmother were all artistic, from painting to fiber arts to beading to dressmaking – I grew up with women making beautiful things with their hands. It only seems natural to keep up the tradition. It all translates, color theory, design principals, knowing what beads will actually work in a wearable piece…

Can you share a photo of some of your other works with us?

Sure, and lots more on my flickr page:

What has surprised you most about working with glass?

That it’s so addictive, obsessive, meditative… and fun. Playing with fire, melting glass into hot molten liquid form, watching the chemical reactions of one glass pop and sizzle with another, and then having something wonderful come out of the kiln. I walk around with a pocket full of beads half the time just because I like the clink noise they make.

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

I don’t really have a mentor. I have a lot of “glassy girl friends” online at the various glass forums that I like to connect with and share ideas with. There are also lots of amazing tips and tricks in the archives of those forums that the more experienced bead makers have contributed – it’s a real treasure-trove. So I would say I have lots of virtual mentors, lots of generous women that have shared their experiences for the love of the art.

Whose beads inspire you the most?

There are so many amazing bead makers out there, and so many beads I admire. But I really try not to be inspired by other people’s beads – I’m terrified of that “c” word (copying) for one thing, but really, inspiration is not about other people’s beads, it’s about taking something from life, nature, the universe, and translating it in some way with glass… that is what I try to do.

That said, I adore Jennifer Geldard’s work, Andrea Guarino-Slemmons beads and silver work, Kimberly Affleck, Corina Tettinger, Anastasia, Karen Ovington, Kate Fowle Meleney, Gail Crosman Moore, Sarah Hornik, Shirley Cook, and Stephanie Sersich. And many many more.

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

I sell my beads on Etsy ( and every once in awhile I get an urge to make them into something wearable. It comes and goes, the urge to make jewelry vs. the compulsive obsession to melt glass.

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

Initially, I thought I’d just use the beads in my own jewelry designs. But then I started to enjoy melting glass more than stringing beads… and so making beads wins out over jewelry making most days.

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

I did one small country show, in the rain, with the smell of cow manure from the nearby fields wafting through constantly… and have not done one since.

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

I enjoyed designing my booth set up and jewelry displays. I enjoyed the people who admired my work. I did not enjoy standing around all day waiting (I’m not good at waiting) and freezing (I hate the cold).

How do you feel you have benefited from the experience? 

I now have an understanding of how much work goes into selling at a show and that gives me a greater appreciation when I go visit art and craft shows. And I also know that that venue isn’t something I’m ready to try again for awhile.

Do you have any tips for first time exhibitors?

Choose your venue wisely! And have lots of help for setting up and tearing down and getting a break; wear comfortable shoes.

Do you sell your beads in stores or other venues?

No, not yet. There is a little gallery in town I want to have some things in someday though.

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

I sell my beads on Etsy:  

What do your friends and family think of your beadmaking?

Well, they are all very supportive and complimentary, but I don’t have any way of knowing what they really think! My husband and son are probably my biggest supporters and biggest critics (aside from myself). “Not your BEST bead, Mom” is a common comment.

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

I have a minor burner with propane and an oxygen concentrator, an arrow springs kiln, and a funky farm water tub for a ventilation hood.

What type of glass do you use?

I use soft glass. I’d love to get into boro, but I am not ready to upgrade my set-up.

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

Lately I’ve been messing around with CIM’s Unique Stone as a base and all kinds of colors for murrini and twisty decorations. I also adore Lauscha’s Steel Blue Opaque as a base with the old ASK browns and ivory for decorations. And there is always the silvered glass, which I’ve been combining lately with zebra twisties and really like that look.

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

The CIM Unique Stone with Silver Foil turns the base golden, with lots of yummy texture and nice reactions with ivory for example. This is one of my favorite things to play with these days.

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

I love the Cattwalk crunches – I use them every day. The TP Masher is also a wonderful tool.

Do you have a favorite beadmaking book or piece of instructional material ?

I love all the 1001 Glass Beads and Glass Bead Masters books for inspiration, and Corina’s Passing the Flame for instruction. Corina’s stringer video is also great. What is really wonderful these days is all the tutorials out there.  Using one of them is like taking a class without having to travel and spend a lot of money – you can get 10 tutorials for the price of one class! Sarah Hornik’s Think Pink! tutorial is a true treasure.

Do you have a favorite technique?

I have come to adore making twisties and murrinis. They used to scare me, but now I find them very enjoyable to make. They are a great way to relax into the glass, get into the flow, play with color combinations. And then I love using them in my beads.

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

I’m definitely a focal bead person. Big honkin’ squished lentils and crunched beads are my thing. I don’t know if I can even make a set of more than three beads and it’s been a long time since I even made a round bead. Not at all my specialty!

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

I don’t believe I have. I’m starting to hear from people that they can recognize my beads right off, but I don’t think I’ve gotten anywhere near that point of bead maker stardom yet!

What was your biggest obstacle to overcome?

Time. Finding the time. I started this when my son was two. It was really important for me to have a creative outlet, but this one I chose is really time-consuming and not good to do with small children around! So it’s been several years of struggling to find the time. Now that my son is in school, I’m able to get out several times a week for good several hours at a time.

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

I can not make most of the beads in Corina’s Passing the Flame – the round decorated beads? I don’t seem to have the patience to make perfect little dots and designs. And encased florals… they will probably never be my thing. That said, I do enjoy what I call “painting” a design on a base bead with a stringer – a tree, an octopus, a starfish, a coffee cup, a bird, that should be hard, but comes pretty easily for me.

What is your favorite kind of bead or technique?

Oh, that is like picking a favorite color – how does anyone pick a favorite?

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

I do! One is still stuck on it’s mandrel and decorates a houseplant. The others are made up in a bracelet and while I have not worn it in awhile, I still adore it. They are red and ivory and black beads – perhaps the only real set I ever made! I’m kidding of course, but it has been a long time since I made a set. Anyway, each bead is different and certainly not round, but I was very proud of them at the time and have received way too many compliments on them over the years, for what they are – beginner’s beads.

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

In the beginning, I kept trying to make perfect round designed beads. I loved Corina’s beads and Kandice’s beads… but I wasn’t very good at it and it was frustrating. Then I went to organics, but didn’t know what I was doing and the beads just looked like a mud pie – though they were very satisfying in their sizzle and pop while melting them – loved the reactions, but the end result was never worth the wasted glass. Then I started making sculptural flower and starfish buttons and flower discs that were lots of fun to make, but not easy to string or create jewelry with. THEN I saw Kimberly Affleck demo her seahorse bead at Frantz. That was an ah-ha moment – I just needed a canvas – a bead canvas – and I could “paint” pictures on them. From that day on I made trees and flower gardens and bird beads and coffee cup beads… all on crunched glass canvases. These days I’m back to organics, after taking a weekend double class with Corina and Kimberly at Frantz last year, I finally “get” organics… and now beadmaking is the most fun it’s ever been for me.

What was your scariest beadmaking experience?

Oh, most definitely the day a flying chunk of glass managed to get past two layers of shirts and into my bra. Other than flying glass, and a spider here and there, I’ve made sure my studio is really safe and non-scary.

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

It’s not really all that funny…except that it is. I was working on a bead and it was coming out really well, I was really liking it – and then all of a sudden I speared my finger on a sliver of glass and started gushing blood. I am really a baby when it comes to blood, it seriously makes me feel faint… but I kept going! I tried sucking on my finger, until all the Twigh light books started playing through my mind and I was getting even more queasy, and I tried raising my hand in the air when I didn’t need it to do something with… and it was just gushing, and everything was getting sticky… and then I finished the bead as best as it was going to get and stuck it in the kiln. I was so proud of myself for sticking it out and not fainting…. And perhaps it’s just the crazy in me, but I was laughing when it was all done.

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

No! Do people get those? I’ll keep my mind open to some!

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

One thing I discovered that changed my beadmaking experience was that the Cattwalk crunch tool tops – the parts with the handle – make a great handheld shaping tool.

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?

There are days when life in general has been too noisy and so I go out there for just the hum of the concentrator and the whir of the ventilation… but most days I like to listen to the radio (just current hits) or my ipod, or an audio book. KT Tunstall, P!nk, Santana, Gwen Stefani, Feist, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones… are all great beadmaking tunes.

Do you have any advice or encouraging words for someone who is just starting out in glass? 

Take classes and watch some beadmaking videos. Sometimes it’s just a matter of seeing how someone else does something that makes a technique click in place. There are lots of ways to do things, it’s finding the one that works best for you. And if all else fails and you feel stuck, go back to making something you know how to do well. I find that always helps restore confidence and things just move on from there.

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

No, I have not invented a tool, though I did create my ventilation hood out of a watering trough! 

Could you share with us some pictures of your studio set up?

Sure, I love my studio. It’s a little cottage we build in my back yard.

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

I am satisfied if I get out there 3-4 days a week for a minimum of 4 hours at a time – but no, it’s not really enough. I’m usually just getting into a grove when it’s time to go pick the kiddo up or whatever. But 3-4 days a week is dreamy compared to what I was able to eek out a few years ago.

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

I love my camera, a Nikon D70s with a Nikon 60mm f/2.8D AF Micro-Nikkor Lens. I have a little light box I made up from a Tupperware bin, with some background paper, some driftwood and rocks I found on the beach, and a couple of lights. It works ok, but I still think my beads are better in person.

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’s both. It’s been playing around for awhile, but now that my son is in school, I want to turn it into more. Right now it supports itself, but I’d like for it to also pay for my son’s tuition, and a house cleaner, and a new kitchen, and…. Well I could go on and on! I want this to work because I can’t envision a “job” I’d rather do right now. This is the best “job” I can think of!

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

I am very inspired by mixed media artists like Kelly Rae Roberts and DJ Petitt, Judy Wise, the art and crafts you find in magazines like Cloth Paper Scissors, and Somerset Studio, and Mixed Media Explorations… and also by fiber and quilting arts, like those my grandmother creates, as well as what you might find in Quilting Arts magazine. I would very much like my beads to become little glass treasures that look like a mixed media piece or a crazy art quilt. That is where I’m trying to take things these days at least.

Do you have a favorite bead, a “best bead.” Can you share a photograph with us?

My favorite bead is a bead I made in Corina’s class and I wear it as a pendant all the time. Of course I always have a new “favorite bead” every few beadmaking sessions… I usually sell them thinking I’ll make another but then never do. These are some of the beads I miss the most.


NAME: Pam Brisse