Colour, light, play: glass bead lampworking with artist, Avril Bowie

Colour, light, play: glass bead lampworking with artist, Avril Bowie

Avril Bowie is a local glass artist who hand makes beautiful glass jewellery using traditional Italian glass techniques.

Based in Brisbane, Avril sources glass from around the world to produce unique and high-quality pieces. The colours and effects Avril creates are simply amazing.

Funky yet elegant, Avril’s glass beads are a must for every wardrobe!

We recently caught up with Avril to find out more about her experience of working with glass.


When did you become interested in working with glass? 

I never knew glass bead making was a thing until talking to a woman I met at a party in 2005. I was working in web design but I had been fascinated by glass objects since I was a child. In my 20s I got into jewellery making as a hobby, just so I could play with glass beads but was frustrated by the small size and limited range of beads available to buy. Sharing my frustration with this woman, she casually quipped that I could make my own glass beads. Well, that was it – I was intrigued and excited, and I knew that this could possibly be my thing. That night and the following week, I researched all the information I could find about it and enquired about classes. I was about to travel and move to Ireland, so I had to put classes on hold until I got back in 2007.

During my travels, I managed to see the clay beads and the silver jewellery of the tribal people in Mali, Africa. I also saw glass bead making in Ghana, which is very different to the Italian way of making. I visited museums in West Africa and learnt how beads were used for trading, and what beads can signify in different communities today. I now have more of an appreciation of beads used in different cultures around the world. I try to find areas of bead making in every country I visit.

 

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Large end of day beads sourced from Ghana. Photo by Avril Bowie

 

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Glass beads being fired in a kiln in Ghana. Photo by Avril Bowie.

 

You use a traditional Italian glass work technique called lampworking to handcraft your glass works. Can you tell us more about this technique and where you learnt your skills?

The history of lampwork starts in Italy in the 13th Century, though glass bead making started way before that. Lampwork, also known as torchwork and flamework, is an old term used to describe handmade glass beads and should not be confused for glass blowing, which is quite different. In early lampworking, glass was melted over a flame emanating from an oil lamp and the artist blew air into the flame via a tube to make the flame hotter, hence the name lampwork. Now, our lampwork torches are more modern and far safer.

I learnt to lampwork in 2007 at a beginners class at the Creative Glass Guild in Red Hill. During this time, I did a private class with a local lampworker but also learnt from books, searching the internet and glass forums. After a year of practising my skills, I attended glass workshops in Murano, Italy, learning from international artists. After classes, I managed to watch and meet the local Muranese glass bead makers which helped form my direction with my glass work. I’ve managed to attend more classes with national and international artists over the years, but in between those times, it was practice, practice, practice to develop my skills.

 

Avril making glass beads. Photo by C.Chu.

Avril making glass beads. Photo by C.Chu.

 

How do you create the beautiful range of colours and shapes that you use in your jewellery pieces?

Glass naturally rounds itself off when it is melted, which can be constraining. Sometimes I like to change and play with its shape with using tools to create straight sides, cubes and facet-cut looks. I think this mix of a curve and my shaping creates a look of something that’s been made by hand, which is important to me. I love big beads so I make my big beads hollow to lighten their weight, but it also can add to that handmade look – the bubble of air trapped inside liquid glass just wobbles and bobs about until the glass cools and hardens, leaving an off-centre lean.

I also just let the colour of the glass take the centre stage.  My glass is already coloured when I receive it. I fall in love with glass colours all the time, working with different glass companies trying to find the perfect glass colour for the right bead.  Hollow beads also have the benefit of making transparent colours look bright, allowing the light to pass through the walls of a bead to highlight the beauty of the glass colour, which I just love. I also mix colours to create shades that aren’t in the glass colour palette.  Though, not all glass colours can mix like they would in the paintbox; but, it’s fun to try.

There are also constraints with glass and the different colours, too numerous to mention, but these are the limitations with glass and I’m happy to go along with them and try to find another way around them. What’s that quote? Opportunity is found in limitations?

 

Hollow glass bead necklaces - Avril Bowie.

Colour light play necklace, Avril Bowie.

 

Where do you draw inspiration from for your designs?

I love looking at other creative mediums like ceramics, textiles and even architecture, trying to figure out how to adapt similar textures, colours or lines into my work. I also like to look at colourful paintings and graphic design – the more colour, the more of an inspiration buzz I get! I could talk about inspiration all day long as I get it from all sorts of places – nature, fashion and interior magazines especially, and of course, Instagram. Travel also is great for developing ideas. There’s nothing like getting out of your four square walls of life to help look at creating ideas and solving problems in a new light. If I’ve had too much inspiration though, I tend to head to the white, black and clear glass and make neutral pieces until I can work out colours again. But most of all, the glass colours themselves are my greatest inspiration.

Lighting from Arik Levy. Image sourced from http://www.ariklevy.fr.

Lighting from Arik Levy. Image sourced from http://www.ariklevy.fr.

Example of kumo shibori. Image: Deborah Schlegel, sourced http://artthreads.blogspot.com.au/.

Example of kumo shibori.
Image: Deborah Schlegel, sourced http://artthreads.blogspot.com.au/.

Beads inspired by shibori textiles - Avril Bowie.

Beads inspired by shibori textiles – Avril Bowie.

Avril is inspired by the work of ceramicist, Bridget Bodenham. Image: winged condiment bowl with spotty gold spoon by Bridget Bodenham. Image sourced from http://bridgetbodenhamceramics.bigcartel.com/.

Avril is inspired by the work of ceramicist, Bridget Bodenham. Image: winged condiment bowl with spotty gold spoon by Bridget Bodenham. Image sourced from http://bridgetbodenhamceramics.bigcartel.com/.

Necklace inspired by ceramics - Avril Bowie.

Necklace inspired by ceramics – Avril Bowie.

 

Tell us about a typical day in your studio!

A typical day sees me in the studio straight after I’ve dropped my daughter off to school. The light in my studio is best in the morning so it’s the best time to be looking at coloured glass. For bead making, I will spend about 20 minutes getting ready for the session – I switch on my kiln and other equipment to warm up and take a quick stock of what’s needed to make the beads for that session, pulling out glass and cleaning it, fill up my water bottle and download podcasts to listen to. By then the kiln has come up to temperature and my torch is switched on and ready.  I’ll then sit for a few hours melting glass, making beads, occasionally getting up to stretch.

I’ll make jewellery pieces, clean any beads that were made the previous work day and set them out to dry and plan new colour combinations all in the afternoon to take advantage of the day light. At the end of the work day the kiln is set to cool and I have to wait until the next morning to open the kiln again to see and handle the beads.  It takes another day for the hollow beads to air dry after I’ve cleaned them, so it can be a couple of days until I can make a necklace or even know if I’ve got the right sizes made!  If I don’t have the right sized beads then it’s back to the torch to make more.  I tend to make big batches of beads over a week or more before I start on making necklaces.

 

Avril in her studio.

Avril in her studio.

 

Where can we keep informed with your latest news?

Instagram is where I post images of my latest work. I also have a blog. And then I have Pinterest and Facebook too. Artisan is THE place to try on my pieces!


You can find Avril’s fabulous glass pieces online and in store!

Feature image: Dappled blue and clear glass necklace by Avril Bowie.

 


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