June 2, 2010

Artist of [Undetermined Timeframe] #6 - Glass Bead Artist Paul Buss

Blog, ever since I was little I’ve loved small things that shine. (Being one myself, ha ha! Sorry.) So of course when I discovered beaded jewelry making, I had to get into it. I love beads. I even wrote an erotic romance story about a bead store (“The Guy from Beadsville,” from Soulful Sex Volume III)...and the combination actually works. But I digress.

My friend Paul Buss recently took up a hobby that just thrills me. He makes lampworked beads, and they are amazing. Paul already had some experience with blacksmithing and other art forms, so it was not a total stretch for him to adopt this cool avocation. Paul volunteered to be our latest Artist of [Undetermined Timeframe], so let’s let him tell us about it. Meanwhile, you can peruse photos of a sampling of his work. Take it away, Paul!

My interest in glass, specifically lampworking as it is called, started when co-worker of mine, Dan Switalski, showed me his lampworked beads, wine stoppers and canapé knives. We began talking about lampworking and I made mention that it sounded a lot like blacksmithing. Dan thought I should give it a try.

A few days later Dan sent me a link to an intro class being held at The Vinery in Madison (Wis.). My wife Laura and I signed up for the four hour class. By the time we were done each of us had made about a dozen beads. Laura and I discussed how we both really enjoyed it, and decided to buy the $100 starter kit which would allow us to continue making beads at home.

Over the next months we made a lot of beads in our kitchen. After work we had enough time to make about three to five beads. We started with a torch called a Hothead. This torch looks just like a hand-held propane tank you could buy from the hardware store. The Hothead uses MAPP gas and obeys the laws of thermal dynamics...which means that after 20 minutes of use the tank would freeze up and quit working. We would then change the tank to a new one and keep the rotation going. After the beads were made I would take them to work to give to my friend Dan to batch anneal in his kiln. During this time we also bought an additional Hothead torch, more glass and equipment.

In June of 2008 we attended the annual Bead and Button Show in Milwaukee. Remember the stimulus checks we got? I used all of ours and more to upgrade equipment. Just doing my part as a patriotic American. I bought a Nortel Mega Minor torch which used oxygen/propane mix for fuel. I also bought an oxygen concentrator to produce the needed oxygen for the torch (you have seen these in hospitals). The last thing I needed was a kiln.

It was obvious that we would not be able to do this in the kitchen anymore. The transformation of one half of our garage to become a glass studio began. Just this spring, after about 18 months of work, the transformation is complete. I now have a wall running down the center of my garage and the studio part is completely insulated to be used all year round. I have added another bigger torch, a Nortel Red Max, which uses two oxygen concentrators. I have accumulated well over 100 pounds of glass rods, boro and soft, to make beads with.

On the creation side of things, my favorite thing is to just grab some glass rods and see what happens. This is a great way to learn how the glass works together. You learn how to use opaque with transparent glass, what colors work best with which colors, what not to mix together, etc. I have a number of beads that look completely plain because the glass combinations did not work together like I thought they would. I also made some spectacular beads that turned out so much better than I have envisioned. You find yourself going through stages with the glass also. I went through a phase where much of what I did used ivory glass.

I must say that I do prefer to make round beads. They are the simplest to make. It takes more effort to make barrels with well formed ends or bi-cones that have good symmetry.

Lately I have not had the amount of time to work on glass that I would like. Having a well organized studio will really help with that though.

Thanks Paul, and hopefully the thrill of being an A.O.U.T. on this blog will inspire you! I have no doubt some readers are going to flip over these photos of your work. Let me officially start the rousing chorus that will spread across the nation and the world: “Make more beads, Paul, make more beads!”


  1. Love, love, love! These are so beautiful! I really like what you are doing with these and can only say to keep it up. So inspiring.

  2. WOW! So beautiful! There's something magical about glass. Does Paul sell his creations?

  3. Thank you, Cherie...it just blows my mind all the people I know with unique and interesting talents. CC, I agree with you about glass! Paul just told me he doesn't sell his beads (he's going to make me a few bless him). But if he should ever decide to, you'll hear it here first!