Archived Featured Bead Artists
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Dwyn Tomlinson — DragonJools

Ontario, Canada

dwyn@dragonjools.com

by: Dwyn Tomlinson


This month, Beading Times has requested that Dwyn answer her own questions! If you think this seems odd, her husband would like to assure you all that she frequently has entire conversations with herself!

Beading Times: How long have you been making beads?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Just a little over 3 years now.

Beading Times: What got you started making beads?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Oh, there's a story. I took a contract in a beadshop and glass studio — to do internet fulfillment and web design. One day the owner, Jennifer Tough, said to me: "You know, you could use the torch if you wanted to and make beads. Want me to show you how?"
Sure," I said. "Sounds like fun." So we sat down at the torches, and she showed me how to turn them on and light them, warm up the glass rod, — and then the phone rang, and she went off to answer it, … and never came back! I spent the next hour happily playing with gooey blobs of glass. I had no clue, but I was fascinated to watch the glass flow and melt and change shape! It was magic right from the start!

Beading Times: Do you still have those first beads you made? What do you think of them now?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Well, not a single one of them came off the mandrels, so I was hideously disappointed with that. For a long time, I thought they were horrible. But I can look at them now and see some of what I was learning — and how I was desperately trying to run when I had no clue as to how to walk. In particular, there is one bizarre lump of opaque creamy-colored glass that I had the good fortune to put some of the opaque turquoise on and then melt the heck out of it. If you work in the soft glass, you know that some of them have interesting interactions, and ivory and turquoise are one of them, where the two glasses touch, you get a delicate black line. So I got this malformed blob of ivory, which went all caramel-ly, with this interesting turquoise and black and cobalt thing happening. I still love that color combo and use it even now.

Beading Times: Were you interested in making beads before that?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Not really! I had only discovered beads mere months before — any kind of beads, not even lampwork beads at that. You see, this is all Betty Kelley's fault. I had purchased one of her fabulous (and now, sadly, discontinued) broadcollar kits. I'd never beaded anything before, although I had been making jewelry for some time — but I plunged right in. The results were fabulous, if a little rough, in retrospect, and soon someone asked me to duplicate it for them. Well, then I had to source the beads! I knew that a friend of mine had gotten out of the computer biz and started a bead shop — so I went to her for beads. Soon, I was spending way too much money on beads, so when she told me she needed some help — I jumped at the chance to support my "habit."

Beading Times: Did you take a class?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Eventually, I took a class. One with Amber Higgins, of Worn Beadies, and later, I took one of Jenn's classes. That was actually in preparation to start teaching them myself when she took maternity leave.

Beading Times: So you teach now?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Yep, Introduction to Lampworking. Love teaching it — it is so cool watching the students learn, seeing what they try that I would never think of, and of course, I love getting someone addicted to my habit as I fully believe that addicts love company in their addiction!

Beading Times: Working with glass is an addiction?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Big time — read Cindy Jenkin's Beads of Glass— dozens of interviews and nearly all of them talking about finding the perfect medium, being mesmerized by the flame and the glass, of waking up in the middle of the night with an idea for a bead. That's me.

Beading Times: What has surprised you most about working with glass?
Dwyn Tomlinson: How hard it was to learn some of the aspects of it. I come from a very strong artistic background, and I pick up new skills very quickly — and there wasn't much that I had done that really translated well. Now that I have a better grasp on getting the glass into the right shape, I can draw on all that I know about color and composition and that works well for me, but initially, controlling the shape of something that you can't actually reach in and touch with your fingers — that was tough.

Beading Times: Have you had anyone that you consider to be a mentor? Tell me about them.
Dwyn Tomlinson: Well, Jenn — Jennifer Tough of beadFX — has been in a large way — she has been extremely supportive. She also holds me to a very high standard and she is a walking encyclopedia of bead-making. But the whole studio environment has been fabulous too — we all encourage each other and learn techniques and pass them on. One day we'll go crazy for something and the next day, there's a kiln full of hearts or transparents -over-silver or something else, all interpreted in different ways.

Beading Times: Whose beads inspire you the most?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Loren Stump — beyond a shadow of a doubt. Anyone exhibiting that amazing control of the glass in making sculptural forms — that excites and motivates me.

Beading Times: Do you sell your beads?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Yes, in the store — beadFX — and on Ebay.

Beading Times: Do you make beads for friends?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Sometimes. Sometimes if someone likes a bead, I will just give it to them. Sometimes I will be inspired to make one for someone. A friend of mine went in for heart surgery, and I know she is a big fan of the whole vampire goth schtick, so I made her a big red heart with black wings as a good luck talisman.

Beading Times: What do your husband and friends think of your beadmaking?
Dwyn Tomlinson: I think my husband is "bemused" — he's very supportive though, as with any of my artistic endeavors. Non-beady friends don't really get it though. One friend thought I should get a booth at the "Everything about Sex Show" — and sell my lumpy little goddess beads there!

Beading Times: What sort of set up do you have for making beads? (Type of torch, gas, kiln, etc.)
Dwyn Tomlinson: I torch in the beadFX studio, I don't have a studio at home, as the house I live in is so small you have to go outside to change your mind. The studio has 4 minor burners, with plans to add another and a mid-range — that'll be fun! We use natural gas, rather than propane, and we have both bottled oxygen and a concentrator. We have a digitally controlled kiln — so pretty much like all the toys. I also use a shield instead of the glasses, so that I can tell what color glass I'm picking up, and so that I can use an opti-visor magnifier, so that I can see the detail in what I'm doing.
The only downside is that I have to clean up and put all my glass away between sessions, as the torches are shared, and, of course, it's an hour's drive away, so popping into the studio for a half hour here and there is out of the question.

Beading Times: Could you share with us some pictures of your studio set up?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Sure thing!


This torch has a marver pad mounted on it, which I really like, as it is warmed by the torch, so that when you use it, you do not lose heat from the bead as fast. The shield protects my eyes, the mag-eyes fit over my glasses and allow me to see fine detail.


On the left is the great rolling metal drawer cabinet that I found at Ikea for $60. I can store my glass in it, the drawers are deep enough for 14 inch rods, and I can roll it out of the way. Being metal, it doesn't matter if the glass is still hot when I pack up. When I bought it, I found enough dichro and rubino oro in my stash that I didn't know I had  that it paid for the cabinet!

In the back is the array of oxygen tanks, chained to the wall. The blue box labeled "GT Pak" is the pressure booster for the natural gas, so we can run multiple torches. The black pipe on the wall is where the gas comes in from the street. The torch is running, you can see 3 minor burners here. The crockpot is new, for pre-warming those really shocky colors, like striking pink. Mandrels sit upright in a drilled board. The light illuminates the glass so I can see what color I'm using. Windex is handy for cleaning rods, and a variety of tools are on the bench, from a stump shaper to tweezers, graphite marver, etc. My dydidium shield replaces the protective glasses. The kiln, not visible, is a couple of steps across the room.

Beading Times: Do you have a favorite product, i.e. bead release, glass, etc.
Dwyn Tomlinson: I love the Foster Fire bead release — I love making those web effect beads where you really torture the glass and wind it around the mandrel tighter and tighter. With the Foster Fire, they slide right off in my fingers, but with other bead releases, I break more beads than not.
I love using the Lauscha clear — beautifully clear glass. The Vetrofond black, which doesn't purple. And the Vetro clear too and Dichroic glass. I'm having a fling with the Moretti frits right now, which are such fun. I talked to Peter at Nortel — they make the Minor brand torches — they are 10 minutes away from the studio — and he made me a frit tray that allows me to roll the bead in the frit, and easily dump the leftovers back into the tube — so that is fabulous too.

Beading Times: What type of glass do you use?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Soft glass, so primarily Moretti/Effetre, with Lauscha clear and some of the Vetro colours too. The Vetro ivories make a nice complement to the Moretti ivories, giving me 4 shades to work with instead of two. I love the brilliant transparents the most, but some of the opaques are wonderful too — so my work is kind of jeweltones and kiddy colours — but I mix them and come up with a more sophisticated palette.

Beading Times: Do you have a favorite technique?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Well, as I said, the "Jim Smirich web effect" is great fun. They don't sell worth a darn for me, but they are very relaxing. And my wave beads are wonderful fun to do — very meditative, very zen. In general, I like to work large.

Beading Times: Do you make sets?
Dwyn Tomlinson: I am not a set person. I just don't have the attention span for it — so if I do a set — it is a focal with some co-ordinated beads, or more of the funky, color-related kind of set that goes well in a bracelet, but doesn't look like they were all made to match.

Beading Times: Which do you prefer to make, a pile of beads or a single perfect bead?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Unquestionably, a big honkin' sculptural bead!

Beading Times: Have you developed a "signature" bead, a unique type of bead that is recognizably yours. Tell us about it, how you developed it, etc.
Dwyn Tomlinson: I hope this is a moving target -- that my signature style will grow and evolve. Right now, I seem to be know for my "wave" beads — and these are constantly changing and evolving. The early ones were single colors, then there were multiple colors — then hand-mixed colors. Now, I'm adding a lot of dichro — sometimes it's subtle — sometimes it is in your face. Before that, it was my lumpy goddesses, and before that, my monster fish.

Beading Times: What was your biggest obstacle to overcome?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Time, or lack thereof. Still is, and in pretty much every aspect of my life. It always comes down to having enough time to do the things you love and the things you must. But I'm very lucky too in having access to the studio and the expertise of the others that torch there. I've come very far, very fast as I have access to a lot of things that people working alone at home don't. And, of course, I get instant feedback from people there as to what is working and what isn't.

Beading Times: What is the hardest kind of bead to make for you?
Dwyn Tomlinson: A year ago, I would have said "spacers," but even these have gotten to be easier. Two matched beads, now that's a challenge! But mostly because I get bored making two the same.

Beading Times: The easiest?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Ah, that would be the wave beads again.

Beading Times: What is your favorite kind of bead or technique?
Dwyn Tomlinson: To make? The wave beads. But really, I love 'em all. Making beads is very Zen, very relaxing. I get cranky if I can't get in some torch time.

Beading Times: How have your beads changed? Since you started or over the years?
Dwyn Tomlinson: I've learned to be freer, and relax a lot. I used to try and make those sets of perfectly matched beads, and that is just not who I am. I have more control now, so I still play with the glass and get surprises, but I have a better chance of getting what I actually set out to get in the first place.

Beading Times: What was your scariest beadmaking experience?
Dwyn Tomlinson: So far, so good. Knock on wood. However, I have a couple of burn stories!

Beading Times: Ok, what was your worst burn?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Ah, that! I was teaching a class and I demo'd a big tablet bead with silver foil and encasing. When I teach, I don't put the beads in the kiln, I just let them cool on the table — that way the students can really see the bead, and it also demonstrates what happens when they are not annealled.  I put the bead down on the metal work surface — and some 5 minutes later — it was quite some time — I put my arm down to lean forward to better see what the student was doing, and put my forearm right on the bead. Burned the shape of the bead and the mandrel into the soft skin on the bottom of my forearm. Lasted for months. Nasty. I'm amazed that it actually faded and I don't have a permanent "bead brand!"

Beading Times: Have you had any "glass epiphanies" while working — some revelation or understanding? What were they?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Oh yeah, lots. Like, "There is no one perfect flame." — if you want more heat, turn the flame up, if the glass is melting out of control, turn it down.
Then there was the time the bead was getting away from me, as usual, and I took it out of the flame and watched it sort of "snap" into the perfect shape and stay there as I rotated it. That was the day that I learned about the balance between too hot and too cool, between solid and moving.
Learning that I wasn't crazy and different colors of glass do work differently, i.e. the white goes goopy and gets away from you really fast but the transparents are stiffer and more well behaved — that was a moment too.

Beading Times: Do you have a technique or method or tip to share?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Hmmm. If you want to get good at a particular technique or bead, break it down and practice the steps separately. So if you want to do spacer beads with dots, practice the shape. Spend 4 hours and do nothing but spacers in a single color. (I have piles of single color beads!) Then do dots for a day, and don't worry about the shape of the bead you are doing them on. Then, put the two together. Don't agonize over it, but practice, practice, practice.

Beading Times: Have you "invented" any new tools, or recycled something that wouldn't ordinarily be thought of as a tool for lampworking?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Well, I have an Exacto knife that I use for shaping the goddesses I make — I call it the "buttmaker." It is just exactly the right shape because I left it in the flame too long one day and burned the tip away!

Beading Times: Do you have a website or auction site that you regularly sell you beads on? What is the url/id info, etc.
Dwyn Tomlinson: I have a display gallery of sold beads on my site at www.dragonjools.com — go west from the main page — it's kind of a cryptic site, my homage to the days of text-based computer games. I sell on ebay as DragonJools.

Beading Times: What about photographing your beads — what do you use to get your pictures?
Dwyn Tomlinson: I have a digital camera and some white Plexiglas — the plastic sheet from a fluorescent light fixture — cut up to create a little studio.

Beading Times: Do you sell at shows or in stores or other venues? Do you sell the beads by themselves, or already made up into jewelry?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Like I said, I have some of my beads in the storefront at beadFX. I do the occasional show, but that is not really my cup of tea. I find that selling beads loose to the general public is an uphill struggle — without knowing what goes into a bead, people are unwilling to pay for the time and skill that goes into them. I think it is easier to sell them as jewelry. However, I'm totally happy to sell to other designers who want something very unique to design around.

I do teach a wired bracelet class, and I make beads for the students to buy for that, and those sell well.

When I do shows, I often partner with a good friend who also makes beads. For these shows, we are "Wise Dragon beads." We have a good synergy and our styles are very different.

 

Beading Times: Where do you see yourself going with lampworking/glassworking in the future? Or, where do you see it taking you?
Dwyn Tomlinson: A long way, I think, I hope. I'm not sure where, but I'm sure wherever it is we go, the glass and I, it will be fabulous. Working with glass is like other great pursuits — the principles are simple, the possibilities are endless. I can teach you enough to get started in a four-hour class — but you can spend the rest of your life exploring and experimenting.
My next goal is to make even bigger and more sculptural beads. I have all these ideas, it's just a matter of finding time!

Beading Times: Do you have a favorite bead, a "best bead." Can you share a photograph with us?
Dwyn Tomlinson: Now there's a moving target. LOL. There are quite a few, but here is my lovely little "pig with wings" that I am still quite proud of. I think if I had gotten the hole in the other direction, I would probably wear him, but as it is, he sits on my desk by the computer.



 

 

Beading Times is pleased to present a monthly article spotlighting a lampwork bead artist. If you, or someone you know is interested in being featured, please contact dwyn@beadingtimes.com.