Creating Porcelain Beads: An Insider's View

From Lump of Clay to Beautiful Bead

I asked bead artist Melanie Brooks Lukacs to describe her process for transforming clay into beads. Even if you never create your own beads, it's fascinating to see how much work goes into a single handmade bead! I took a clay class years ago where the instructor looked at my work and asked, "Who's in charge here–you or the clay?" While I can tell that Melanie is very respectful of her clay and its properties, I'm betting that she is definitely in charge!–Michelle Mach, Beading Daily Editor



I use several different techniques to make beads. All start with the wet clay, but the techniques vary. Sometimes I use a rolling pin and custom rubber stamps and cookie cutters. Other times I use rubber or ceramic molds that I have made. Yet other times I just use simple tools and my hands. Lately, this last method is my favorite, because it is more direct, and I enjoy the challenge of working in production without molds or stamps. One final way I work is a combination of mold and handbuilding techniques, like I use for the Pixie beads in the Pixie Parchment necklace.


Glazing the pixie bead

Attaching wet clay"berry"
to pixie bead

Using wooden tool on leaf
on pixie bead

For a Pixie bead, I start with a rubber face mold that I have made. The clay goes in and sets up to a leather-hard state. Then it comes out of the mold with the little face imprinted on the clay. I poke a hole, and then add all the hair and berry details by hand. This is done with tiny balls and coils of clay, which I gently press onto the base bead and mark with tools. When done, I repoke the hole and leave the bead to dry overnight. When dried, the beads are fired in my small electric kiln. The first firing is called a bisque. It is a low temperature firing that turns the clay to a solid form and makes it easier to glaze because it won't dissolve in water anymore. Then I glaze the bead, using a variety of commercial liquid glazes and a paintbrush.


Creating the bead hole

Looking inside electric kiln, after firing, with beads suspended on wires

Finished pixie bead as seen on the Pixie Parchment necklace

The bead is then strung onto a wire and placed in the kiln for the glaze firing. All the beads and charms have to be suspended from high temperature wires in the kiln because glazes are like glass, and if the glaze on a bead was touching another bead or the kiln shelf, it would fuse right to it. This is the most difficult part of the process, probably, and it has taken me years to learn the physics of firing so I end up with a batch of mostly successful beads. There is always the unknown or unexpected with ceramics though, so there is usually a surprise or two in each kiln. It is a constant learning process, so it keeps me on my toes!



Read the interview to learn more about clay artist Melanie Brooks Lukacs and her design process, plus tips for getting started with clay. You'll also find out where to see more of Melanie's work and how to win some of her beads! That's right–I said "Win!" Good luck!

At left: Fairy beads by Melanie Brooks Lukacs. Photo by Larry Sanders.





Pixie Parchment Design Tips
Here's what I learned by studying the Pixie Parchment necklace by Melanie Brooks Lukacs:

  • Mix it up: Not just with textures (the chain and ribbon), but also with metals. Who says copper and silver don't mix?
  • Sense of humor or surprise: All the faces are sleeping except one (the pendant) and that makes us "wake up" too! An unexpected twist can be very satisfying.

Coming Monday: Tips and ideas for using bugle beads.



Michelle Mach is the editor of Beading Daily. She is going to finish her beaded gifts this weekend–really!

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