Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How a Potter Became a Bead Maker - by Duane Collins

So how did a potter become a bead maker? I've been a maker of pots since the early 70's and never in my wildest imaginings did I ever see myself as a beadmaker. Not that I disdained beads...I never even thought about beads! I was a potter and the wheel was my only love. I could sit and spin for hours and lose total track of time. Throwing is hypnotic and the meditative nature of the process is one that is hard to duplicate. I was all about vessels. I also loved slab building and making wall pieces. After 30 some years, I was completely immersed in forming methods, decorative processes, glazing and firing. This was my life and I never imagined any other. Fast forward to 2009. My wife, who is an elementary school teacher, decided that summer to play with beads for fun and relaxation. I offered to make her some beads to add to her menagerie. Little did I know at the time I was opening a Pandora's a completely good way!

I had been doing summer art shows for a number of years and I persuaded Collette to put out some of her work along with mine. It couldn't hurt, I told her..let's see what happens. Well, she did great! Sold more than she anticipated and was really happy. All this from someone who didn't think she had a creative bone in her body. There were a few inquiries as to where she obtained the ceramic beads she had incorporated into her designs. Pointing at me she would say, “He made them.” Well, probably she said it with a bit more flourish than that! Anyways, I did have a couple folks ask if I made them to sell. At that point, it had not even entered my mind to sell beads, therefore my response was tepid. We wrapped up the summer shows and Collette began to make plans for her anticipated Christmas sales and handmade bead inquiries were happening throughout this time frame. Christmas is a busy time for those of us in the arts. Gearing up for the season is all encompassing so I had no beady thoughts during that time. Winter however, is the time I take for studio organization and developing new ideas.
The winter of 2010 was a watershed event for me. I was looking at what was happening for Collette and being very happy for her! I also started looking at this whole beaded jewelry making phenomenon. I wanted to see what was out there, who was doing what, and as I began to research this arena, I became aware of the vast scope of beading. I looked at all that was being done, and I began to entertain the notion that bead making might be something I would be interested in. I could see how my decorative techniques and my surface approach to color could be adapted to a whole new way of creating. And that is how it began.

One constant in my work has been my fascination for how glaze responds to texture. I love the way glaze changes as it breaks over a ridge, or impressed mark in the clay. Glaze naturally thins over high spots creating a shift in hue or tone. Some glazes have a greater tendency than others to change dramatically over texture. I also love the way some glazes look when pooling in deep spots. Glaze is an important way to emphasize texture. I often choose glazes that have these properties much like painting with watercolor. Rough watercolor paper has a prominent tooth, or textured surface. This creates a grainy effect as pools of water collect in the indentations in the paper. It is a way of adding expression, mood, and feeling.

I use a variety of tools to make marks. I have metal ribs with serrated edges. I use bamboo tools for their ability to smooth as well as indent the clay. The edges of wooden strips, the tines of a fork, fingertips, cheesecloth, lace, and burlap are all in my vocabulary. I also use fired clay stamps and natural items such as rocks and fossils.

Texture can be emphasized by brushing on clay slip. Slip is a colored liquid clay. Colored slips can be used in isolation as a decorative medium or glazed over. A colored slip under a glaze will bleed through the overlapping glaze, further enhancing texture. A technique I am particularly fond of is to brush on black slip and wipe it off. The slip is retained in all the depressed areas highlighting all the texture. I then will lightly brush on other colors hitting the raised areas to create contrast and depth. I liken this approach to India ink and watercolor illustrations in classic children's books.

Raku is another process I use. About Raku:
When the kiln reaches 1850 degrees, the red hot pieces are removed from the kiln with metal tongs and placed into a barrel of paper, straw, sawdust which instantly ignites. The barrel is then tightly covered and the work is allowed to smoke for a duration. When the pieces are removed, the glaze is metallic with areas of copper, blue, rose, green, and violet although there are many possible colors that can be achieved.

My main themes are flora, fauna, and fantasy. Combining these themes seems like a natural progression since I have always maintained a sense of wonder about the natural world. It is an endless source of inspiration and one I will doubtlessly always be compelled to draw upon.

I began selling my beads on Etsy in March 2010 and reached my 2 year mark last month. It has been an amazing 2 years. I now consider myself a full time bead and pendant maker. 2011 was a year of transition. I had been trying to maintain these 2 tracks, one as potter, and the other as beadmaker. I knew that at some point I would make a total commitment to beadmaking and in mid 2011, that process was complete.

Recently I was invited to become a member of the Beads Of Clay Professional Artists Team.
My work is used in two projects by Erin Siegel for the summer issue of Stringing magazine.

Also, my beads are used in a project in a jewelry-making book. The book is called Bohemian-Inspired Jewelry: 50 Designs Using Leather, Ribbon and Cords by Erin Siegel and  co-author Lorelei Eurto and due out in May 2012, published by Interweave Press.
I am still evolving as a beadmaker. I have new ideas in varying stages of development. There are new processes I will be trying as time goes on. It is a work in progress. For me the bottom line is creativity and pushing my boundaries. That is what drives me and bead-making has become my chosen vehicle for that journey.

To see more of Duane's work please visit:
Duane's Etsy Profile
Duane's Shop on Etsy - Elements Pottery
Elements Pottery on Facebook

To see some of Duane's wife, Collete's work please visit:
Collette's Etsy Profile
Collette's Shop on Etsy - FireflyMyst
Firefly Myst on Facebook

This was written by Duane Collins and published on his behalf. All photographs shown are property of Duane Collins and are not to be copied or reproduced in any way without his prior consent.

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