A lampwork gift

Courtesy Dan Pacamo

Courtesy Dan Pacamo

I’ve had some success “painting” birds on lentil shaped beads, using fine stringers to lay down dots and stripes of color.  My initial attempts were inspired by my niece, Sydney.  As a class assignment she wrote an excellent essay about a young schoolgirl, told from the point of view of a chickadee.  I was impressed by her inventiveness, so when thinking about a birthday present for her I decided to try to “paint” her a chickadee in glass.  A lentil shaped bead would give me enough room to work with, so I downloaded some photos and decided on a simple composition with the bird perched on a branch with berries.

After studying chickadee photos for a while I realized that the body is almost spherical, which I could create with a large off-white flattened dot, adding darker grey stripes for the wing primaries and tail, and then a smaller offset dot of black for the head.  Then I could add a small dot of white, heat it and pull it to a point to form the triangular white patch.  The final touch would be to heat the edge of the black dot and use a glass point to pull a very slight point for the tiny bill.

Easy in theory, but it took six or seven attempts to get one I was happy with.  Before making any beads I blended custom stringers for the branch, the berries, and the various greys in the wings and tail, and blended ivory and white to get a cream colored stringer for the sides of the breast.  I realized quickly that I needed to use “intense black” (Frantz 591066) for the head dot, because the standard Effetre black I used on the first bead is actually a very dark purple, which was apparent (and inappropriate) in the finished bead. I also struggled with stringer and dot placement, which has a powerful impact on the proportions of the birds.  One promising bead cracked while I spent too much time working on the details of the bird.  Heat control is a constant challenge when working with anything more complex than a simple donut, because a large mass of soft glass will crack if it cools too quickly, and especially if it cools and is then reheated.   Even a simple donut shape will explode if you let it cool a bit and then put it back in the flame.

And to top it off, I didn’t get decent photos of the best bead before I sent it to Sydney!  Several others I made at the time are pictured below, some I’m happy with, and others that will go in the “junk pile”.

I enjoyed this process, and have had requests for other songbirds since then, so I’ll be working on my methods.  Thanks for the inspiration Sydney!