Beading Times: How long have you been making beads?

Judy Carlson: I made my first beads in June of 2000… and never stopped!

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

Curiosity mainly. I saw Deb Crowley’s fish and wanted to understand how these were created. I took a beginners workshop in San Diego which included making a fish bead.

Were you interested in making beads before that?

I liked glass beads, but I hadn’t really thought about it because I didn’t really understand what went into making them…until I saw fish beads.

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

I have been crafty all of my life. I always did well in art class, including jewelry making in high school. I have played with watercolor, clay, faux painting and crafty things for fun. My job before doing beads full time was a make-up artist, which included some special effects work. That is definitely an art!

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

Hmmm, I think I’ll stick to just showing my glass art….it’s better

What has surprised you most about working with glass?

What I can do with glass surprises me most! Also the way my beads have evolved over the years…when someone shows me a bead they got from me a few years ago, it’s sometimes a shock. There is definitely something to be said about practice, practice, practice!

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

I have 3 artists in particular that inspired me in the beginning and still to this day. Deb Crowley because of her beautiful and realistic fish and sea life. Sharon Peters whose book on silly sculpture really helped me “see” the shapes and whose beads continue to amuse me! Corina Tettinger whose book, “Passing the Flame” was my glass bible! It had just come out when I began lampworking and I read it cover to cover, made at least one of each bead and was lucky enough to take Corina’s class 6 months after my beginner’s class. I have also taken classes with Deb and Sharon. I am happy to say that I consider all the above to be friends as well.

Whose beads inspire you the most?

I think I answered that in the above question, but I am inspired by so many, it’s hard to name one.

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

I sell my beads both ways. I mainly do bead shows. I only do one jewelry show a year…it’s a lot of work! I enjoy designing with them and like to have jewelry made up at the bead shows so people get ideas of what can be done with my beads.

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

Not really. I immediately began making fish beads. I am a SCUBA diver and have a large diver friend base. I went on a dive trip and brought some of my beads. My friends all wanted them! So I started making more beads and jewelry….and people bought them!

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

I started selling my jewelry at a few local craft shows. Then I did my first bead show in San Diego and was amazed I could sell just the beads! (less work for me!)

Do you have any tips for first time exhibitors?

Don’t’ be afraid to talk to the customers! Many folks look at my beads and have no idea that 1) they are made of glass and 2) what lampworking is. I try to educate them. I have a large photo of myself at the torch, a rod of glass and a bead on the mandrel. This helps them appreciate the art more and explains the cost too!

Do you sell your beads in stores or other venues?

I don’t wholesale my beads, so I haven’t ventured out into stores or galleries. I want to keep my prices reasonable for everyone, which makes it tough to sell to retailers.

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 have a website and I began selling on last year.

What’d your friends and family think of your beadmaking?

Both my family and friends were happy with my beadmaking. I was showing everyone how to make a bead, letting them try it. It was fun. I think the novelty of it all has worn off a little, but they still like my work

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

I use a Carlisle mini CC with an oxy concentrator and propane. My first kiln was a small AIM 84BD, which I would fill up before I was ready to quit. Then I got a big double door AIM CR 420, which is so big, I have yet to fill it! I love it!

What type of glass do you use?

I use primarily 104 glass. But I do have stashes of 90 and 96 that I play with occasionally. I have some boro on the top shelf, but I don’t play with it much, even though I am amazed by what this glass can do!

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

Jeez, tough to answer…I love ivory glass all by itself. I can make 100 shells with it and not one will look the same….just like real shells! And even though purple is my favorite color, in glass I am drawn mostly to the blues, greens and teals, ocean colors.

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

Only that they are pretty together!

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

I wish I had a favorite bead release. I use to LOVE foster fire, but the formula changed and it’s not the same….been looking for something better ever since.

I love making shell beads with tongue pink glass. It’s fun to watch the color strike as you work the bead.

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

As mentioned above, I have to go with “Passing the Flame” and The Wild and Wonderful World of Sharon Peters and her Silly Sculptural Shapes.

Do you have a favorite technique?

I think using glass as a tool is one of my favorites. It’s a basic technique that is so incredibly useful. I learned this in a boro class I took about 8 months after my beginner’s workshop. I have been using it ever since and some of the effects I get could not be achieved using any other tool.

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

Definitely FOCAL! Little beads drive me crazy!

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 believe my “Food Chain” bead is my signature bead. One day I was making a hollow fish bead and before I closed up the hollow, it reminded me of a mouth opening. Then I thought it would be funny with a fish inside….and “Food Chain” was born. Which by the way, I always have to thank Sharon Peters for naming my fish in a fish, “Food Chain”

What was your biggest obstacle to overcome?

Making an even, round bead….still is!

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

A bicone or barrel bead with perfect ends. I think that is why I like nature beads, nothing it totally symmetrical. The easiest is a fish bead…anything that doesn’t go the way it was intended, gets fins, lips and eyes!

What is your favorite kind of bead or technique?

I do enjoy making encased floral beads…but my customers come to me to buy fish, so florals didn’t sell well at shows. So I began putting frogs on them, now they sell like crazy and I still get to make encased florals!

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

Absolutely! I have a string of them as well as my very first fish, Goldie. I was so proud of them! And I still am. My beads have changed quite a bit, but I still love that first string of beads. Goldie goes to shows with me…I like showing her to people!

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

My beads have definitely gotten bigger. I think the more comfortable I got on the torch, the more glass I began using. My first Food Chain is so little! I can’t make one that small even when I try!

They have also become more precise and detailed.

What was your scariest beadmaking experience?

Making a clown fish murrini. I took a class with Pati Walton and learned murrinis. The first one I made was a clown fish It took over two hours and when I went to pull it out and saw the colors all stretch out, it looked weird. I thought I had done something wrong. My heart was beating fast and I was upset thinking that it hadn’t worked. But I nipped it in the center and saw a little clown fish! I was so excited and then frantically worked on getting it into the kiln. I was pleased with the out come…but have never attempted this again!

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

I don’t know how humorous this is, but one day I was trying to strike one of those silver colors and my mandrel broke. About 2 inches of my mandrel, including the bead dropped onto the table. It honestly took me a few seconds to figure out what exactly just happened. That was kind of funny.

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

I like to call these “DUH” moments…and at the moment, I can’t think of one, but I know I have had them! Basically, it’s figuring out something using common sense!

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?

U2, Coldplay and Bare Naked Ladies are my go to’s. I use an ipod and have several mixes too. Sometimes I just listen to the radio. On the weekends I like some of the shows on NPR for a change.

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

Listen to the glass…when it is not doing what you want, think about what YOU are doing. There is always a reason the glass is or isn’t doing what you want. Use your common sense.

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

I haven’t invented anything, but I do have a set of ice tongs from Crate & Barrel that are the best for shaping fish bodies.

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


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

Tough to say, I’ve never kept track, probably should. Before a show, I am out there pretty much every day for at least 6 hours, two to three weeks prior. But it depends.

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

I have an Olympus E520 and I like to use a 50mm lens for close ups. I like sunlight! Sometimes, direct or filtered slightly. I have two of the photo tents, but tend to put the bead on a stand and in the sun and shoot away. I’m not the best person to ask this question

TIP: Do you have a cat? make sure there is no cat hair on your bead BEFORE you begin your photos. Nothing more frustrating than spending all that time taking the pictures, upload them, only to see cat fur stuck on the fish face!

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?

Both. It definitely feels different since my beadmaking became a business. Some days I go into “production mode” for example, I might spend all day making shells beads. This is when my favorite music is most important! I usually “play” or experiment just after a show, usually inspired by something or someone. But I always seem to have another show coming up, so I am usually preparing for the next one. I still love it! It’s the longest I have stuck with one craft and still have fun!

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

I am pretty happy with where my glass art has taken me already, but I think I would like to be known more in the diving world.

I do one jewelry show a year. It’s a SCUBA show in Long Beach, CA. It is my biggest and best show every year. I have a great time designing jewelry for 2 months prior to the show. I have become well known at the show with vendors from around the world and the local diving community. I would like to do more shows like this, expand out of CA.

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

My latest favorite is my SCUBA frog. I made my first one last summer (2008) and it has become quite popular. It is also the most expensive bead I sell. Each one takes about 1 ½ hours to make, not including the prep They consist of all kinds of twisties, murrinis and striped cane. At the moment, these are my favs.


NAME: Judy Carlson, Jujee Beads

LOCATION: Redondo Beach, CA

(310) 562 2029