After several years of thinking about it I finally entered Bead & Button's Bead Dreams handmade beads competition. Hey, and guess what?! I won second place! Woo hoo! I thought it might be kind of fun to show you some of the process in making these beads. They were a real labor of love (with a heavy twist of crazy).
In a nutshell, this is the bead lowdown: they are handbuilt, hollow form, hand carved, big-ass beads. Each one measures approximately 2 inches in diameter and each took about two hours of work.
I started by making a bunch of halves by forming the clay over a hump mold. The white powder you see inside each piece is cornstarch which kept the clay from sticking to the mold I was using.
Usually I would construct the beads while the clay is still a little wet but I wanted to have a little more time to work so I let each piece completely air dry. Then I sanded the edges smooth so that the halves would fit together flawlessly.
Here you can see all of the halves which have been sanded and bushed clean. I made a lot of pieces just in case I messed up (which I did...several times....).
This is paper clay. Paper clay is one of those things that I can't live without (along with duct tape, Goo Gone, my tumbler and various food related items which may or may not contain a lot of bacon, garlic and/or salt). Paper clay is a mixture of clay slip and paper fiber (in this case I used a roll of toilet paper) which can be used to join completely dry pieces of clay. I could build a house with this stuff, it's that awesome!
Here are the beads in a pretty rough state after I joined the halves together with the paper clay. They look pretty messy and unfinished and this is where my trusty sponge comes in. I have often joked that I could take a solid block of dry clay and make a set of dishes using only my sponge. I kind of love it. A lot. It allows me to shape the clay just the way I want it with no harmful dust or special tools.
After I got the beads cleaned up and shaped the way I wanted them I took my torch and burned off the paper clay seam. Yes, I am extremely anal sometimes. This step is really completely unnecessary since the paper will burn off in the bisque firing but I wanted to have a really clean piece to work with. That and I wanted to see what would happen if I torched them. (Incidentally, they will blow up if you get them too hot and there is no hole is the piece to allow air to escape. Just so ya know...)
And here is a stack of perfect, hollow beads waiting to be carved. At this point I was kind of thrilled just to look at them. They look edible. Don't they? Or is that just me...
I failed to take any photos of the actual carving process but here are the beads after I finished. I drew the design directly on each bead freehand with a pencil and carved the dry clay away with my micro carvers (this set, actually). This was a dusty job and I don't really recommend carving dry clay unless you have a mask on and really good ventilation. However... carving dry clay is pretty darn nice. As long as your tools are very sharp you will get a smooth, clean line and you have a lot of control. I will carve dry again. Outside. In an open field. With a fan blowing. While wearing a hazmat suit.
I agonized over how to glaze these beads for quite a while but finally settled on this look. The carved side of the beads were layered with several colors of underglaze. I would apply a layer, wipe it off with a fair amount of water to achieve a watercolor effect and then apply another layer and do the same. The back of the beads are a solid glossy purple but I left the front unglazed and matte with only the underglaze.
So that's the story of the beads. Hope you found it even just a little interesting. I'm already thinking ahead to next year's contest and what I will make...