Author Archives: Mandy Ramsdell

Get Rid of Your Color Blocks

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I’ve recently gotten into doing a lot of mindfulness work and other than achieving it’s main objective of increasing inner peace in my life it’s had a lot of smaller ripple effects. One of these is how I see color. I live in rural Maine and one of the best things about living here is that nature is everywhere, and because we have such pronounced seasons it’s always changing.

I’ve always deeply loved nature but I’d never before been present enough to notice it quite as deeply as I do now. I’ve especially noticed the extraordinary way that nature puts colors together. It’s like living in the most fantastic art show of color and lights but it’s so pure and unobtrusive that we have to still our minds to even notice. Once you do it seems downright insane to worry about something when in the midst of nature but of course I still catch myself doing it all the time. When I’m fully present with nature a few flowers in a field have the power to move me to tears.

Noticing nature’s uninhibited use of color has made me realize that I have way too many conceptualized ideas about color and what looks nice. We all know that color is a huge part of style and trends, that’s why there are even color forecasts from Pantone. Supposedly companies even project four years into the future what colors people will want for various appliances and that marketing influences us on color preferences. We’ve been taught at early ages what colors clash or look bad together. While having this knowledge of color can be incredibly helpful for graphic design and marketing, I think it also has the potential to hold our art back. It also even limits our own appreciation of the colors we see in everyday life.

So if you find yourself stuck with your art start to look at color with an open mind again. Let nature be your teacher. Is mustard yellow really ugly in itself or have we been taught that it is? Does blue really evoke the color of sadness or is that a silly cultural assumption? If blue is a sad color why does a clear blue sky make us feel so very happy?

It’s true that we intuitively know that cool colors calm and hot color invigorates on some level. The complimentary colors and science of the color wheel still applies, but realize too that the beautiful of the color wheel is that it’s infinite!

Of course you can argue that if we are in the business of making things for people to wear or things to grace people’s homes we have to be sensitive to trends. However most people looking for handmade items or art want something OTHER than what is marketed to them everywhere. Our main selling point is being authentic and unique. So I challenge you to find a color or color combination that’s daring, and that really speaks to you. Then go see what happens with it.

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The Shame of Calling Yourself an Artist or Crafter

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There is little that makes me more uncomfortable around people I just met than being asked what I do. A few people are fascinated when I tell them “Oh, I’m a glass beadmaker,” but the majority give me a reaction that tells me they just heard me say “I’m an unemployed, uneducated person who has a lot of time for crafts.”

It’s not their fault that they hear that. If I didn’t do what I do I’d think the same thing. That’s because most of our society has the following assumptions.

1. We don’t produce goods in America. Most people haven’t even met someone who works full time making something themselves. The people who do that are found in Chinese factories, or at least they have more important people telling them what to make.

2. You can’t make a living doing something creative.

3. Things made to be decorative or beautiful are worth little. Unless they have some recognized name brand stuck on them somewhere of course.

4. When you tell me what you do for work, I can infer from your job title how educated you are and how much value you are to society… in other words how much money you make.

The responses almost always make me feel uncomfortable and even bad about myself if I let them. Most people assume that because I’m married I don’t have to work so they don’t ask further questions but I can tell what they are thinking. If I’m really lucky the next part of the conversation is about Chihuly or some glass blower they saw somewhere on vacation or how glass art is made in general.

Sometimes I’m asked “Can you actually make money doing that?” I love the people who ask that, awkward though it is. I’ll usually answer with something like “Yeah, I know it’s crazy!” or “Who would have thought?”

But I don’t think that’s true. I really don’t think it’s crazy at all.

I think I stumbled on an opportunity that no one seeks for themselves because no one knows it’s possible. How sad is that?

Please stop thinking that creativity is just some rare stroke of genius that is only someone like Steve Jobs had. Please stop thinking that you have to have employees, or that you can’t produce a product yourself to have a successful business. Please stop thinking that you can’t work at home, doing what you love and maybe even make a very good living.

I’m here to tell you that you can! Is it easy?

No! I have put in more unpaid hours of work learning to work with glass and doing research than I would have getting a bachelor’s and then master’s degree. I had to figure out through trial and error what would not work both on the level of making my beads and then solving the problem of how to sell them. All the time there was no “finish line” in sight. I never knew if I’d ever get to say “O.k, that worked, I made it.” But in return I get to do exactly what I want with my time. I get to research what I want to research, learn the skills I want to learn. I’m free to take my work in whatever direction I want to take it. And because the whole time I was so very engaged with what I was learning, it really didn’t feel like work at all most of the time.

Here’s the secret. One of the most fun, rewarding jobs there is out there isn’t pursued by many people. No one respects crafts because no one takes them seriously. They are considered nothing more than just a hobby that people pick up and drop within the span of a month. But if you love something enough to take it seriously and put thousands upon thousands of hours into it, you’re eventually going to come up with something great enough that people can’t ignore. Sometimes great doesn’t translate to money, but often it does. And as long as we have our basic needs met is more money important or is it more important to wake up every morning inspired to start your day?

If you are a creative person, take your creativity seriously. Stop thinking of crafters as crazy people who love to use glue guns to stick ribbons and doilies on everything in sight. Make time for your creativity and honor it. Especially if you are one of those previously described crafters with a glue gun. :) You never know where it could take you.

It’s enough just to make the world a more beautiful place. No matter how small the beautiful things you make are. :)

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How to Find Your Calling

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1. Eliminate everything unnecessary in your life. This may include gossip, mindless TV or other entertainment, clutter, even junk food and other bad habits. The appeal of these things is that they distract us from doing the hard work we need to do and asking the hard questions that we need to ask ourselves.

Tip: Do this little by little but make small changes that you make stick.

2. Discover Your Authentic Self. Most of us do not realize how many of our choices are made in an effort to please others. Sometimes this may mean we make choices in order to please one particular person and sometimes it may mean pleasing our entire culture as a whole. We may find ourselves doing things that diminish our happiness or sense of fulfillment in life, just in the pursuit of being “normal” or being accepted.

Tip: This doesn’t mean you have to immediately dump your friends or people who are important to you. Certain people may drift away on their own while other relationships will deepen. Deep down no one wants a relationship with someone who has repressed who they really are in order to please. In fact those are the very relationships that often go wrong and cause us intense pain when they do. We all do this in big ways and subtle ways, and the trick is simply realizing when we are doing it so that we can examine it and change.

3. Clear your Mind. Go for a walk, or a run, preferably in nature. Do yoga. Mediate. Or just sit and spend time your dog or cat. Find any activity that really works to clear your mind. Most of them take a little bit of practice so we can go beyond thinking about how to do them, to achieving clear minds through them.

Tip: The discovery you will need to make through this is that thoughts are overrated, and you can never think your way to your life purpose. The thoughts are not who you are, but rather the still space between those thoughts is the true you. You can be told this but it sounds silly because it means nothing until you experience it yourself. Ironically when we realize this and honor it and learn to make space, the answers we seek will come. After we become ok with not knowing, we can finally know.

4. Act. By now if you have gone into steps one through three and have done them thoroughly you will probably feel fulfilled and at peace. You no longer feel the NEED to have a life purpose. This is key because we can never find our calling when we are coming from a place of lack or needing to get somewhere or make something happen. You can even stop here if you like. Maybe your life purpose is to simply do nothing. Would you be ok with that? Or you may act and do wonderful things in this world.

Tip: Many of us have lives that are dynamic and ever changing in ways we could never have predicted. Finding your life purpose is not an end all be all. Continue to be open and have a clear mind and you’ll receive the extra bonus of naturally being able to embrace change as it comes.

Disclaimer: I wish it were as easy and straightforward as I have written out here. Unfortunately it’s usually messy and involves a lot of stalling and relapsing, and wild goose chasing. But that’s just because we are human. It’s ok. :)

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“Worry Stone” Series Beads

A while ago I was making a bead and had a beautiful aqua base covered in dichroic glass ready to become an encased flower garden bead. Before I could add leaves and vines, the bead release broke. So I stuck the mandrel in a jar and tried again with a new one. Later when I was removing the failed  bead from the mandrel I noticed how pretty it was. It was a freeform shape because I had just finished the stage where I pressed the dichroic glass into the base bead and had not shaped it when it broke. The bead was so pretty that I put a silver core in it and kept it for myself. It became one of the beads I always reached for first when I redid my trollbeads bracelet.

And so that bead inspired my “Worry Stone” series. To these I added a second layer of dichroic glass, some encasing and a touch of enamel flecks on the surface to give the beads a stone like look. They are then shaped to be mostly round but slightly freeformed like worry stones.

The latest version of my “Worry Stone” beads is the color change version. These beads are made half one color and half another, so that the color changes as the bead turns on the bracelet. Using these in your bracelet designs will result in a bracelet that is never quite the same each time you glance at it.

Here are three photos of the same bead.

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New Seascape Necklaces

 I’ve been so busy trying to keep my shop stocked with charm beads for months and haven’t had a chance to make necklaces until now. I love making the beads for these because they are bigger and allow for more complicated designs. These beads are made by essentially painting in glass. I start with a white background like an artist starts with a blank canvas and add all the colors in layers. Of course unlike with a painting I have the benefit of being able to heat up my whole “painting” and manipulate the glass to get more flow or move around an area if I want to.

                                                    Moonlit Seas Bead in the making.

 After I’m happy with my seascape “painting” I shape the bead, and add the moon detail.

Both of these piece are currently available here on eBay.

If you are a glass beadmaker I do have tutorial available on my seascape beads here.

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Growing Up in a “Disadvantaged” Area

It’s funny to think that I spend all most of my time making art and pretty things because I was raised to be VERY practical. My parents did not introduce me to art or teach me to appreciate beautiful things but they did make sure to teach me the value of hard work. My mother never wore jewelry, makeup or nice clothes. I grew up in a single wide trailer but there was never any feeling of shame or lack about that fact. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I learned that rural Maine and our home in particular were something many people would look down upon.

I’m very thankful for the people who did introduce me to art. My elementary school started an art program when I was about halfway through and the teacher we got was wonderful. I was lucky enough to take private sewing lesson from someone who creates the most artistic quilts I’ve ever seen and does other amazingly original fiber art projects. I then went on to high school where I had another excellent art teacher and was lucky enough to have art class everyday all four years of high school.

That said I don’t regret that I wasn’t raised in a city with lots of art museums and culture, or that my parents weren’t highly cultured people or even artists themselves. They encouraged me and helped me to pursue my interests even if they knew nothing about them. Anything more than that would have been unnecessary.

My rural, practical upbringing was an amazing gift and though most would look at Washington County Maine and see a depressing place lacking in opportunities, I realize that it was the very thing that gave me such a valuable and unique opportunity.

How exactly? If my parents had had a perfect beautiful home they never would have let me set up a torch and kiln and melt glass in it as a teenager. Keep in mind I had taken no classes, watched no youtube videos on the subject because we had dial up internet at the time and I had no idea what I was doing. My closest previous experience was probably with 4th of July sparklers. Dad was willing to risk his old workshop/shed that he and mom built out of logs however.

If my parents had had high hopes for their honor roll student going to an ivy league college they never would have let me live with them while I figured out how and if I could make a glass bead/jewelry business grow straight out of highschool.

If as a teenager I had had activities and parties and a fantastic social life I never would have had the time to devote to learning lampwork.

And of course there are many more reasons just like this.

Today I don’t live in a fancy home and I have to drive a long time just get groceries or go to the doctor. I don’t own nice clothes not because I don’t like them but because I work from home. Even when I do go out in public, everyone else is dressed in jeans and flannel for the most part anyway.

But in return for those small sacrifices I have a job not only doing what I love, but the very job that I dreamed of doing from the time I was a teenager. I live debt free in a half renovated 1860’s farm house with unlevel floors so I can be sure to continue to do what I love. And I live in what I believe is one of the most beautiful places in the world so I am never lacking for inspiration.

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This is what it looks like outside.

Beautiful yes, but the lack of color can get old quite fast. Not surprisingly I love making beads in the winter because I get to snuggle up (but not too close) to a warm (2000 degrees Fahrenheit) torch by a wood fire and dream up scenes like this…

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Wearing Charm Beads in Unexpected Ways

 This is a necklace I wear all the time, and while it’s very unique to me personally, I wanted to share it with you so it can give you an idea of how to wear my or other brands of charm beads without a Pandora, Trollbead or other brand bracelet.

The gold chain is
antique from I think the late 1800’s and it’s a little longer than I
like. It came on an antique locket I got lucky and won in an eBay auction. I thought about shortening it but because it’s antique I didn’t
want to alter it. However with the beads added in this way it’s the perfect
length. The lion charm is a very sentimental piece that I’ve had since
junior high. The two glass beads are beads I made and liked how they
turned out so much couldn’t bare to sell them. One is a simple encased
dot bead and the other is one of my large focal flower garden beads. I SO adore teal with a little bit of purple. This necklace combines many things dear to me, gold AND silver, lions, flowers, luna moths, and antique things.

To make a piece similar like this, all you need is…

-A charm or pendant

-One of more charm beads

-A flexible chain, preferable in some kind of link style. Most chains sold as rollo, cable or link should work. Make sure to get a length longer than the length you like to wear. If the chains clasp is not simple or is too wide the beads may not fit but for the vast majority of chains this is not a problem.

Add your beads onto the chain  first, then add your charm and simply double the chain through the beads again. Center them out on the chain and you’re done! 

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Reflecting on my Disasterous Resloutions for 2015

2015 was an amazing, life changing, full of surprises year for me.Yes, I’m expecting a baby early this year, but my pregnancy was one of the few things in 2015 that I actually did plan. :) This time last year I had a lot of goals and expectations for myself which I won’t even bother to write out here. Instead of presenting me with smooth sailing and the opportunity to accomplish them, 2015 threw new challenges at me that I had not dreamed of facing. To top off an incredibly difficult year, my closest friendship ended in a way that was completely devastating and I’m still not able to fully process it. I had had such a difficult year and I had lost the one person I went to to talk about everything… even the most minor annoyances of my life.

Towards the end of this year I had so much STUFF to process that the only thing that kept me sane was trail running. The endorphins together with the beauty and peace of the woods were the very best therapy I could find. Then within one week I got sciatica so severe I could barely walk across my kitchen and had to give up running and even walking outside at all.

Though I might be tempted to think it, life is not against me. Life is showing me that I’m much much stronger and flexible than I think. For every setback there is an equal blessing, if I can only look past my disappointment to see it. In losing my friendship, I learned to appreciate my family and others in my life so much more. Because of being forced to stop running I
discovered yoga which I never dreamed of having the patience for before now.

Leo, who writes one of my favorite blogs, http://zenhabits.net/ says
that goals are not always helpful and that instead of making a goal we
should focus on making a small change of habit, or by setting a “rule”
for ourselves. For example if you want to write a book you don’t make a
goal to finish a book by 2017, instead you simply schedule 20 minutes of
time to write in your day. The only real difference is that the focus
is on the activity (writing) rather than the end of the road (the book).

I’ve learned to aim more for intrinsic versus extrinsic goals, and at least some of the time I now remember more than ever to be grateful for the incredibly rich life I do have. I’m a lot happier with myself, and happier in the moment. It’s not about goals, it’s about life as a journey as a whole and more than that it’s about accepting each moment as it is now and seeing the beauty in it’s imperfection. You can’t focus so much on goals that you forget the big (and invariably better) picture. You can’t try to force things into being perfect or how you want them to be without missing the beauty in what is.

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