I sat out there in the Bead Tent the other night and cranked out over 150 beads. Granted, they're small and relatively simple beads, but that's still a pretty good day's work. I call these Zen Beads, because of their lovely simplicity, and because they're how I "chop wood and carry water" these days. I thought you might enjoy a little photo essay on just what it takes to get all those beauties from the tent to the customers. Here we go...
Here I am in the Bead Tent. It's a 10x10 EZ Up, set in the dirt behind our trailer. As long as the wind doesn't blow too much, it works great. The moths at night are kind of distracting, but not as bad as the flies in the daytime!
All the late-night beads are left in the kiln to anneal over night. This cools them very slowly and removes the stress from the glass, so the beads will be strong and beautiful for years and years. This is what 150 beads look like when they come out of the kiln. I make them 5 to a mandrel, and at this point they still need to be cleaned... not my favorite job.
Here's the Bead Cleaning Station - a bucket of water, a dish tub, pliers, a wire strainer, and a Dremel. It's a sloppy, splashy job that requires water, so I like to do it outside under the trees.
Once the beads are wiggled off the mandrels, each one is individually cleaned with the Dremel and a diamond burr. The chalky looking stuff on the mandrels is called Bead Release, and that's exactly what it does, releases the glass from the steel mandrels. Quite a bit of it sticks to the insides of the bead holes, and has to be cleaned out, bead by bead, one at a time.
Cleaned beads catch the light and toss it around like a beach ball. They look so much more beautiful once they're clean. Compare beads like this with a cheap bunch of imported beads. There's a world of difference in the look of them, as well as in durability. Cheap imports, often made in Chinese sweat shops, are rarely annealed or cleaned. The result is an inferior bead that's likely to crack at some point. Don't waste your money!
After cleaning the beads, I lay them all out in the sun where I sort them by size and color, and stringthem into sets. When making 5 to a mandrel, there are usually a few that get too cold in the process, and break in half when shocked by the heat of the kiln, which is set at 970º. So now, out of 150 beads, I have 120 to use in sets, and a handful to toss in my box of Strays.
Next stop is the Photo Station. I change the way I do this, depending on the light and the weather. When I can shoot outside in the sun, I let Supermodel Veronica help prop up a piece of sheer grey mylar, stuck to her back with a bit of blue poster goo. A swatch of off-white knitting makes a nice backdrop texture under the mylar. I have an older, fairly simple 7.2 megapixel Sony Cyber-shot. I use the macro setting, and often use the flash when I'm in the sun. Bead photography has never been an exact science for me. Different beads, depending on the color, transparency, reflectivity, and texture, will need different things. I do wish it were simpler.
Here's how they look after a small amount of editing. I usually have to adjust the brightness and contrast, and sometimes the color, to make the photos as accurate as possible. No matter what I do though, the actual beads in your hand are much prettier than any picture.
After all the pictures are edited, I post the new listings in the BeadShop. With simple beads like these, I can do a lot of copy-and-paste for the descriptions. Larger, fancier, more expensive beads all get their own unique blurb. Sometimes it takes longer to list a bead than to make it!
Once the beads are posted, I send out a note to my mailing list, and sometimes pop something on Facebook. Then I wait. Sales are not what they used to be, for me, or for anyone else I know. But beadmaking is still a better gig than I could find in town, and at least I have control over my schedule and productivity. Sometimes I worry that I'll have to go out and get a real job, and everything in me says no, no, no to that. One thing I'm pretty sure of, I won't ever have to go back to being a cocktail waitress. I'm too old, too fat, and too cranky to take what goes along with that job ever again.
Moving forward. Always moving forward, even though it's sometimes in the dark.