Bead artist believes art is essential to life


Carol balances on a stool in her home studio and carefully holds a glass rod, heating it with her lampworking torch. Steadily, she applies the molten glass to a stainless steel mandrel (metal spindle) she holds in her other hand. She turns the rod slowly, melting the glass around the mandrel. Without hesitating, Carol picks up a different colored glass rod and layers the new glass onto the mandrel.

Art educator Carol Watson has been crafting lampwork beads for the past thirteen years. But she’s not just a crafter. She’s also a teacher. Carol believes that artists, writers, and musicians are the foundation of any civilization because they record history and philosophies. She says, “It’s part of creative problem solving, a twenty-first century skill that we’re trying to give our kids. It’s about paying attention to the world around you, noting the details, and being informed enough to comment on them in a different way.”

Paying Attention

Most of Carol’s creations, she says, begin with a color family. “I sometimes like colors that vibrate against each other, that are complementary in an opposite sort of way. Other times I go for things that are soft and comfortable, like lavenders and pinks.”

After Carol is satisfied with the effect of the layered and melted colors within her beads, she moves them to a small rack inside her tabletop kiln. While they are still on the mandrel, she heats the beads to their maximum temperature, and then slowly cools them down to eliminate any hairline fissures or cracks. Next, Carol takes the mandrel from the kiln, removes the beads, and cleans them with a reaming tool. After the twenty-four-hour creating process is complete, she is finally ready to begin designing a jewelry series.

Each bead in a series has its own narrative; often, an event, person, or song sparks Carol’s narratives. In her San Gabriel series, the river’s record-breaking flood inspired her to restrict the color pallet to browns and blues. Carol says, “I was thinking about how I loved the river, and how I loved the parks, and so I was working with browns and ivory, toffee colors, topaz, and a denim-y kind of blue.” In another series, the Beastie Boys’ song, “Intergalactic” inspired Carol to create an extraterrestrial-themed color scheme. She says, “The whole series was black, dichroic, and orange with different flashes of color. I kept looping that song the whole time I was making the beads.”

The Creative Process Is Important

Carol explains, “When I’m in a flow, my eyes lose focus; I get really relaxed, and I’m just thinking about the colors and how I’m going to interact with them.” She describes the process of melting glass as mesmerizing and meditative; it’s what keeps her coming back even when she’s tired and busy. “It’s very therapeutic—the sound of the torch blocks a lot out,” Carol says. She appreciates that the process requires patience and her full attention. There are no shortcuts in lampwork beading.

The most intimidating part of the process, Carol admits, is “getting started, carving out the time, and making it important enough.” In addition to lampworking, Carol sets aside time for many creative outlets when she’s not teaching ceramics and sculpture at East View High School. Carol says, “As an art educator, the one thing I really wish I could get across to my kids is the interconnectedness of art and why it’s important in their lives. Not why Picasso is important in their lives, but why the skills of an artist are important in their lives.”

In Carol’s experience, many of the most accomplished artists in her classes are those who show up each day, prepared to continue working on a project. Carol explains, “The act of daily work, the creative process, and the ethic required to persist in these efforts is where inspiration lives.” Carol believes that everyone is capable of creating significant artwork; it is a tangible goal, as long as the creator pushes through lulls and consistently puts work into the projects in the creative pipeline. “I’m trying to help build the creative state of mind in my students,” she says.

An impassioned artist at her core, Carol says, “I have this beautiful melding of art and teaching right now. I could do this for another twenty years—and I may!”

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