Helen Prole is a part-time bead maker living in the UK. She learned glass fusing from Jodi Wright and lampwork beadmaking from Laura Sparling. Helen makes beads and fuses glass in her Paragon SC-2 kiln. “I love my SC-2. It's been a fantastic little kiln. I've used it for annealing beads and fused glass projects so far, but I know there is much more it can do.” You can see her work at her website.
We interviewed Helen recently:
Q. What emotions do you feel before opening your kiln to view the fired pieces?
A. Ooo, it does feel a bit like Christmas morning, the anticipation of seeing what gems you've got hiding behind that little blue door. The temptation is overwhelming sometimes--it takes all my will power not to open the door and take a peak as the kiln is cooling. I have to confess, occasionally when there are just a few degrees left to go and curiosity has got the better of me, I have been known to take the bung out of the top of the kiln and peep inside with the aid of a well-angled torch light.
I look back on how inept I was when I first got my SC-2 and laugh now. I was too scared to even turn it on for the first couple of weeks.
Q. What are your favorite glass colors?
A. Cobalt, Intense Blue, Aqua and Pale Ink Blue Moretti and Vetrofond for lampworking. And when it comes to fusing, any transparent blues or dichroic, but Fipple Pink/Teal on Black Bullseye is gorgeous and looks like dragonfly wings when they catch the sunlight.
Q. What are the most interesting reactions between metals and glass that you've seen?
A. I love silver reactions, especially when you apply silver leaf over black or blue glass, add in some clear, do a bit of striking and reducing with the torch, and watch the reactions pop. You can achieve anything from little silver sparkles to delicious iridescent blues and greens depending on how much you work the glass.
Q. How do you react when a fired piece turns out poorly?
A. I do feel disappointed varying in severity by how much time and glass I've just wasted. Things don't always go according to plan, but that also means you can have happy accidents, too, and create something wonderfully unexpected. The little surprises are half the fun. Tiny sprinklings of bicarbonate of soda in fused pieces, for example, are fabulously unpredictable.
Q. What has been most challenging about making glass beads?
A. Learning about the different glasses, how to control them in the flame, and the fascinating way certain colors and metals react with each other. Every time I light my torch, I learn something new.
Q. Where do you get ideas for beads?
A. Sometimes unexpected shapes and patterns will form as you are working, and they will trigger an idea for a new bead. I try to keep a sketchbook handy to write down the ideas, as half an hour later you've usually forgotten them.
Q. What goes through your mind when you are working at the torch?
A. I try to concentrate on what I am doing. The torch is so hot and melts the glass (and fingers) so quickly that you haven't got time to daydream. Beadmakers all seem to have had burns in awkward places and just plain forgotten there is an EXTREMELY hot flame in front of us whilst reaching across for a glass rod. The smell and sensation of several burnt fingers is not a pleasant one, I can tell you. Fortunately I always have a large jug of water next to me for plunging hot tools and singed fingers into when I work, and this has saved me from many a nasty burn.
Glass can be pretty unpredictable some times, and bits can easily shock and pop off the rod as you introduce them to the flame. The red-hot shards seem to have a life of their own and a built-in guidance system for anything they shouldn't land on. They always manage to find a gap on your work bench to drop down that leaves you scrabbling around with a pair of pliers trying to find it before it does any major damage. And they also have the uncanny knack of landing and attaching themselves limpet-style on any bit of exposed flesh too, however well you are covered up!
Speaking of which, hot bits of glass seem to have a liking for dropping down the front of clothing whenever the fancy takes them. How a red-hot fragment has the skill and sense of direction to pop off a glass rod and fly straight down the front of a high necked t-shirt I'll never know.
Q. How did you get interested in making jewelry as a teenager?
A. I'd always loved jewelry and all things sparkly from an early age, and my mother, who was and still is a keen knitter, used to drag me round local handicraft shops when I was younger, looking for materials and patterns. So I was like a kid in a candy shop when I came across the little trays of brightly colored beads and findings that I could buy with my pocket money. There wasn't much of a selection available back then, so I started out by making simple bracelets. Then after having my ears pierced and discovering headpins and earring wires, I moved on to making earrings, “borrowing” my father's pliers (much to his annoyance). He was very happy the day I bought my own tools and he could have his back.
Q. Any last comments?
A. I've had the privilege to meet many talented people over the last couple of years who have been an amazing source of support and inspiration, for which I can't thank them all enough. Rob and Petra, who sold me the kiln, have been very helpful. I've met many fantastic people, made new friends, and above all had lots of fun. I've loved every minute of it, and long may it continue!