Lis Simpson

Lis Simpson takes us through the fascinating process of creating her unique jewellery...

Liz at work
Her tools
Liz explains:
For the past eleven years, I have been working on an oxygen propane torch to create my art glass beads, which are turned into jewellery after they are cooled and cleaned. My beads begin as glass rods which come from Murano, Italy.
 I was featured in the Fall 2011 Surfacing art magazine and most recently invited, along with the other featured artists, to create a piece for an exhibit at the Station Gallery in Whitby.  I challenged myself to go beyond my usual skills and learn new techniques for this project – it took many days, with “trials” and “back to the beginning” steps.

Since one of my popular beads is called “Fire Opal”, I thought I’d use that as the focus of the project.  So I made a few of those beads (each one turns out differently). 

The various molten glasses are wound around a stainless steel, coated mandrel and kept warm in the torch flame.  This glass thermal shocks (explodes!) if you don’t keep it warm “like a baby” in or near the flame the entire hour or so you are creating it.  Once a bead is started, you cannot stop!

Then I thought a “flame” bead of some sort would be good as additional accent.  My first attempts were to pull out “strings” of red, orange and yellow glass from the core bead.  Here’s some along with other possibilities to be used in the final design:

Do they look like flames to you?  I wanted them more “pointy”, but you can’t have sharp points on finished jewelry – ouch!

They didn’t look quite like the idea I had in my mind.  So I decided to create small “flames” on wires that I could put at the base of a focal bead and draw the wires up through the hole.  New skill for me:  making ribbon cane.  I put the red, orange, and yellow stripes on the base red rod; squished it flat; and then pulled it out to be smaller – voila’ “flame” ribbons!  I then cut some sterling wire into pieces.  The ribbon cane was heated in the torch and then the molten blob pushed onto the end of the wire and some of it pulled away.  Small “flames”!

Now I needed to make a chain for this pendant.  However, my idea was for “fire” and “flames”. My web research didn’t turn up anything like what I had in mind  (pen drawings at the top of image), so I started playing with craft wire to see what I could come up with for links.  I narrowed down my choices to three – single, double, and triple flames. 

Then I figured out how to duplicate these designs on the wire jigs. ‘Created many, many links out of sterling silver wire:

Next a clasp.  I first tried it with Art Clay Silver, but “if you don’t love it, don’t fire it!”  So back to wire, but I needed a heavier gauge!  Now to bend and manipulate wire, one needs it to begin as “soft” temper, but all I had was “hard”.  New skill to learn – annealing wire with a torch or kiln to make it “soft”.

I had to buy a stainless steel bowl to do it in the kiln.  The wire on the left was six inches of 14 gauge coated with flux to deter fire scale.  One hour in the kiln and then cool down.  The flux was cleaned from the wire, and then it was malleable to bend into shapes.

 Assembly.  This is the fun, but often challenging part.  I played with bead arrangements and putting the chain links together.  Argh!  The first chain links I’d made had wire that was too small in relationship to the larger beads!  I made an entirely new chain of links with larger wire!  I also cut down on the number of beads in the design.  I was finally pleased with my design.

In keeping with the theme of “fire”, I had a fused glass pyramid that had broken into chunks and been re-fired that would be perfect with this necklace!

My beads are rarely named except for these special projects.  I began playing with words and ideas from the net.  Pele is the Hawaiian Goddess of Fire:

 “As She Who Shapes the Sacred Land, Pele reminds us of our own dynamic creative power.  We are reminded that we constantly create and shape our own life with the powerful energy that we project through our thoughts, through our words, through our emotions, through our beliefs and intentions and through our imagination.  In this way, we will create that which we actually desire to create and experience.”
 Here it is! – “Pele’s Promise – Created by Fire”

 Come see the actual piece at the Station Gallery in Surfacing’s exhibit,
Off the Pages”, from September 8th to October 14th, with the Opening Reception on Saturday, September 8, from 1 to 3 p.m.  I’ll be there!