CrowBirdieBeads interviewed by fauxsure
What sorts of things do you offer in your shop?
Well, right now I mainly sell my handmade lampwork glass beads, although I'm planning on making some of the beads into jewelry for folks who just want to be able to wear one right away. Occasionally I have some of my vintage bead collection up for sale too, or a bit of destash to make room for the ongoing bead hoarding. I've been collecting beads since I was old enough play with them without trying to eat them.
What got you interested in glass beadmaking?
I mentioned that I have a bead collection. It's a great way to have a huge collection in a teeny storage space so I highly recommend it to everyone. I started collecting beads when I was little and my Grandmom would take me to flea markets with her. I was the cute little kid who would help her get a better price, and then I'd help her sort out the beads when we got home. I could do that for hours! I didn't get to keep them though because she used them to make crafts for bazaars for charity and I was getting serious bead envy. Soon as I could I started buying vintage and antique glass beads at markets, auctions, wherever I could find them, because at the time glass beads weren't really at the stores anywhere. The more I learned about them the more I was amazed at what little bits of history and art they really were. And how complex they could be!
I started selling vintage beads on EBay so that I could buy other beads, and it turned out to be very self-sustaining. I got involved with a great community of bead folks through a discussion group called "Beads, Beads and More Beads" and they encouraged me to try lampworking myself. I'd always sculpted in polymer clay so I fell in love with it after getting a basic setup and making these um, really ugly beads at first. It takes a lot of practice to make a good, solid bead! There's something amazing about juggling molten lava on the end of a metal stick in a flame and coming out with a piece of wearable art.
How did you first start selling on etsy? How long have you been selling? Do you sell anywhere else?
I was selling antique and vintage beads on EBay for years, and then started selling my lampwork beads, and more than one friend told me to check out this site that was all about the handmade movement and buying direct from the artist. I took a look at it and to be honest I was pretty intimidated. I didn't actually try it out until a fellow lampwork artist "strongly suggested" it as a better outlet for my work while we were doing a local show together. I've been really happy with it, especially with the community on here. I still sell on EBay because I like the auction format and my "regulars" who support me on there (reminds me of the neighborhood auction when I was a kid) but I love having a real storefront and the support of Etsy to go with it. It's the perfect segue way at local bead shows too, when someone is looking at my work in person and I can say "Hey - have you ever checked out Etsy? I have a shop there!" and I can hand them my card. It's even better when they respond with "Really? I’m on there all the time!"
Tell us a little about your typical creative process and how you go about making your work. What kinds of steps do you usually go through?
I have a full-time job that is fairly intense because I am the main computer and software support for an accounting firm with about 50 employees. The glass is a way to reconnect with the creative spirit and to take what amounts to a meditative break from things. Normally I'll either torch on the weekend or get up early before leaving for work so that I get about an hour at the torch. I might only get one or two beads out of a morning torch session but it makes a huge difference for me spiritually.
I try to have a plan, get the glass rods out beforehand and warm them up on the kiln a bit, try to have a picture in my head of what bird or fish or animal I want to make. Usually the fact that I'm so easily distracted means that I sit down, get the flame set up just so, go to pick up the planned color, and see this other color on the way that's perfect for something completely unrelated, then go off on a tangent and forget what I sat down to make! It's a lot of fun but makes custom work take longer ;)
As far as the actual lampworking process, I start with colored glass rods called "soft" glass or soda lime glass that have a lower melting point than borosilicate. I have a steel mandrel (think, um, like a bicycle spoke) that's dipped in bead release to keep the glass from sticking to it. I get the mandrel hot and the glass rod end hot in the flame, and then start to wind the glass around the rod. This forms the basic bead. After that I sculpt the bead using simple tools like tweezers, other glass rods, pliers with flattened ends, dental picks - whatever works to get the shape that I want. I add other colors of glass, like a white dot and a black dot to make eyes. Once the bead is finished I put it into a preheated kiln for the annealing process. This strengthens the glass so that it's less likely to break over time.
Later on, much later, maybe the next day if I was torching at night, I'll open the kiln and it's like Christmas! Hopefully the good Christmas where you got what you wanted, or you got a great surprise. Not the one where you find out Aunt Martha gave you socks again. I take the bead off the mandrel and clean out the release, and it's ready to go.
Besides art/ crafty stuff, what else do you like doing in your free time?
My Partner MJ and I recently moved into this great sturdy little fixer-upper with about an acre of land in a rural area in Maryland. Our plan is to get the gardens and house turned into a small homestead, with plenty of berry bushes, a veggie garden, a butterfly & bird garden, and tons of sunflowers! And chickens - can't wait to get a small flock of laying hens again because chickens are the best. Talk about personality! They keep your sense of humor intact. I love watching the wild birds at the birdfeeders and you can see how they inspire a lot of my work. I read a lot, my Partner and I hang out with friends and go on daytrips to Gettysburg, museums in Baltimore and DC, and generally stay pretty busy.
Does your queer identity come into play in your work?
Yes, I'd have to say it does. Of course the obvious times would be when I make rainbow beads or put rainbows into the animals somewhere. But I'm out in my shop profile, in my life, at work, online - everywhere. It's just part of who I am, and my Partner is a big part of Crowbirdie Beads. She is my inspiration, the one who throws out these interesting challenges when I'm stuck (make a flamingo! Make a zombie bead!), and she's also the shipping department and co-photographer! I hope to do more queer activism through my art as well, either through supporting other diverse artists or directly, through charitable sales or through our Etsy Queer Team shop.
What are your hopes for the Queer Etsy Street Team? What brought you to join?
I had been searching the Teams regularly trying to find a Queer Team, a group of people with similar life experiences. I started looking about a week after I joined Etsy! It has grown so much to include some amazing artists. I have hopes that we can become a force for promoting diversity and getting the word out that we are good people as well as being creative and artsy. I like belonging to a community of exceptionally interesting folks who can brighten my day. I'm proud to be a part of it. I am hoping also that our Team Shop can help generate some much-needed funds for charity, as the shop gets more established. It's great to be a part of a community, and even better to know that you're a part of something trying to do GOOD for other people.