An Interview with Melanie Brooks Lukacs

Melanie Brooks Lukacs is a clay bead artist who specializes in whimsical porcelain beads. A quick visit to her website, Earthenwood Studio, reveals bead categories like "fairy and critter beads," "wicked trinkets", and "moon and pixie beads." Her original jewelry designs featuring her beads regularly appear in Simply Beads and Stringing magazines. Be sure to download instructions for Melanie's necklaces, Pixie Parchment and Dancing Daisy.

Michelle: How did you get started making beads? Do you have a formal art background?

Melanie: I started making beads seriously when I was in art school at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. I had actually started my degree in jewelry metalsmithing, but was drawn to clay. So during college I made pottery and sculpture. Near the end of college, discovered I could make beads with fired clay, combining my loves of clay and jewelry, and I have focused on that ever since. This was in 1996, and around that time there were a lot of exciting things going on in the world of art beads, particularly glass. It was an exciting time!

At the time, there was little information around about making ceramic beads. There still is, honestly, although there are books coming out in the next year, including Ceramic Bead Jewelry, 30 Fired and Inspired Projects by Jennifer Heynen. I had to learn about the entire process of ceramics in order to be able to narrow my scope and develop my own techniques for bead making. There is so much to learn about clay, I barely touch the surface with what I do.

Peapod pendant and soybean charms. (Photo by Larry Sanders.)

Michelle: Any tips for someone who might want to explore this type of beadmaking?

Melanie: I recommend for those interested to take a basic ceramics course to learn about kilns, the different types of clay and glazes, and all the different techniques, so they can see what they are drawn to most. I have also been active in creating an online resource and forum for ceramic beadmakers of all levels called that is a great place to learn more and find information about this type of bead making.

Michelle: I noticed that your beads are all labeled porcelain. What does that mean? How does that differ from other types of clay beads?

Melanie: All of my beads are porcelain, and to be specific, they are a mid-fired porcelain. This means they are fired to about 2200 degrees Fahrenheit. Porcelain is a very fine white clay that contains a lot of kaolin, and it can be fired to even hotter temperatures. I love porcelain because it is so very fine, so it captures many details. This is perfect for the intimate nature of the small bead form. I work with porcelain in solid form, like a potter would. It comes in large bricks. It is very squishy, feeling almost like cream cheese. I have to always be aware of the water content . . . too much and it gets slippery and slimy, but too little and it cracks and dries. It is a constant dance with moisture and time.

Sea Swoosh Pendants seen in Melanie's Mystified necklace in Stringing Winter 2007. (Photo by Larry Sanders.)

There are many other types of clays, like stoneware and earthenware. I actually use both of those in my non-bead work. (I also make stoneware tiles and terra cotta ornaments.) But different clays have different textures and looks. These other clays I use are much more earthy. But for beads, I love porcelain for its whiteness and detail, because I love to make beads that become a canvas for all the glazes I use. Having a wide palate of different glazes gives me much opportunity to play with color and texture, and I think my customers appreciate these qualities as well, as they are able to customize my beads to their designs.

Michelle: Where do you get your ideas for beads?

Melanie: I tend to be inspired by a lot of non-bead things. Fantasy, mythology, toys, pop culture, and nature all inspire me in different ways. Sometimes I will get an idea for a line of beads and I will sketch it out until I am ready to work on it. Most of the time, though, it just rattles around my brain until I make it come to life in the clay. I like to respond to the material and the tools mostly, instead of planning elaborate sketches.

Pixie Parchment Necklace

Michelle: Tell me about the Pixie Parchment necklace. How did you get the idea for this necklace? Is this typical?

Melanie: In addition to being an art bead maker, I am also an avid art bead collector. It is one of the reasons I love doing bead shows: I love seeing what my friends are making, and meeting new amazing artists. At one show last year, Tony and Lisa of Zoa Art were at the table next to me. I fell in love with one of their PMC and resin pendants, one that contained a picture of a moon face that looked like it was from an old map. I brought some of my earthy moon-faced beads and placed them next to it, and was immediately in love. I bought it right away and then later the rest of the necklace happened. I usually work like this, starting with one or two special pieces that go together, and later playing with different things to get them to work together. I think I had played with the chain and silk combo for another piece, but then the two separate elements found each other, and the necklace was born.

All my jewelry designs feature my own beads, but I try to be diverse in my designing, playing with new materials and colors that I am not as comfortable with in order to grow. I also love using other art beads, even ones that are very different from my porcelain beads. I have been inspired in the last year from my work with other designers and bead makers on the daily blog that I am a part of that is dedicated to designing with art beads called It has provided a great deal of inspiration for me by writing, reading, and participating in the monthly challenges and the articles I write for it. Inspiration is all around! The real challenge is to find the motivation (and time) to let the inspiration take over.  

To learn more about Melanie and to see more photos of her beads, visit her website, Earthenwood Studio.

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