Saturday, March 15, 2014

Interview with lampwork glass artist Helen Chalmers

Hello ABS-ers! I have a real treat for you today - an interview with one of my favourite bead artists, Helen Chalmers. Helen is, like me, from Edinburgh, and I first came across her in one of my favourite bead shops, The Little Bead Shop (sadly now closed), where she used to work some years ago.

You know there are some bead artists whose work you just can't stay away from? Well, Helen is one of those for me. I don't know if it's her colour and texture choices, her distinctive use of the disc bead form, or her tantalising bead set titles (usually place names) - but Helen's beads seem to make their way into my work on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. I know many of you are fans too, and so I decided to ask Helen a few questions about her art to share with you all here. Make sure you stay tuned til the end for a special coupon code that Helen has for you all...

{Oh, and P.S. - any of you North of the border in the UK, don't miss the chance to see Helen's beautiful work in person tomorrow at the Scottish Bead Fair in Edinburgh at The Assembly Rooms, George Street!}

Kamo Jinja
Q1.How long have you been creating, and what led you to begin?

A1. I have been lampworking for about four years, but I have always been interested in jewellery, art and specifically colours, colour theory and how they evoke emotion in people. My good friend and mentor Emma Baird first introduced me to lampwork, and after a couple of dabbles on her torch, I was hooked and ordered my own kit!

Ancient Persia
Q2.Why do you get out of creating – be that emotionally, physically, mentally?

A2. Knowledge that a little expression of something I am inspired by will be handled and appreciated by someone else, and usually eventually worn. I find lampwork so satisfying because the final product can be used and appreciated by anyone. I also get excited working with hot glass even after four years, its a very exhilarating process
during which I can totally lose myself and focus only on the job at hand.

Cherokee Lentils
Q3.What do you find inspiring?

A3. I am inspired by colour, travel, and evoking feelings in people through my work. My favourite thing is when people come up to me at craft fairs and say my work reminds them of a certain place or time in their life, so they feel a connection to it and they understand what is being expressed in it. I also really enjoy illustrating urban scenes and street art, and I think my use of line and colour in these in turn inspires my glasswork. I’m addicted to Pinterest,and use it to log photos which have inspired a particular set, so if you are interested in seeing where I get some of my ideas for colour combinations, patterns and textures from, feel free to pop over for a look.

Moscow State Circus
Q4. You studied at art college and were (I presume) exposed to countless styles and media. What drew you to jewellery and beads
in particular?

A4. I was exposed to quite a lot of different media, and I was particularly passionate about mixed media illustration (which will be featured in my work more soon, I have a plan up my sleeve!). Having said this, there is something so wonderful about jewellery’s 3D qualities, and the fact it is worn means it will be seen and admired and handled by countless people.

Park Guell
Q5. What is it about working with hot glass that you enjoy?

A5. I have an inner pyromaniac! I absolutely love working with fire, and seeing the glass melt and form its shape and character in front of me, it’s like a kind of magic. Lampwork is one of those disciplines where you can lose track of time because it is so mesmerising. I love teaching lampwork too, its amazing seeing my student’s reactions when they realise they are in control of sculpting hot glass!

New Scrapyard
Q6.Other than hot glass, what are your favourite materials to work with and why?

A6. I still do the odd bit of silver work when jewellery season comes around, and I’m hoping to do a lot more of that this year, its something I really enjoy, but I just can’t lure myself away from the temptation of the torch most of the time.
I also still draw, sketch and illustrate, again which I hope to do more of this year. Watch this space!

Q7. I love that you name your bead sets after there a particular reason for this? What places would you like to capture in bead form that you haven’t yet and why?

A7. When I was little, I spent hours pouring over maps with a fascination in place names and what these places must look like. Some days I will have been on Pinterest, or seen something from a particular place and intentionally gone into the studio with an idea of how to express what I have seen.
These sets are named before they are made, and I will have the name in my head for the whole time they are in the flame. Other times, I will make something evocative of a general place, such as the Middle East, and then get my map out and find a place I feel suits the set, in terms of its name, location and images. I’m a secret Geographer really!
I think naming my work after places helps people understand the inspiration behind the piece and what I am expressing as soon as they see it. My goal is for my customers to feel an empathy with my work and hopefully be inspired by it.
Strangely enough one of the places I have never expressed in bead form is Edinburgh, my home. I put this down to the fact that I know it a little too well to be able to look at it objectively and pick out the colours and textures to use.

Q8. Describe your workspace – how is your studio set up? Do you have a home studio or do you keep work and home separate?

A8. I keep my home and studio separate, mostly because I live in a pretty small flat near the centre of town, and propane and kilns wouldn’t work too well there! I’m very lucky to have a studio space in the gorgeous and vibrant Summerhall in Edinburgh. I share with some other jewellers, including a couple I went to University with. It’s great to have company at work, share tools with people and discuss our aspirations and worries.

Q9. How does it feel when you see your beads (which you make jewellery with yourself) used by designers with a completely different aesthetic to you? Exhilirating? Unexpected? Inspiring?

A9. I love to see that! My jewellery is very simple in terms of structure, as the majority of my time and expression goes into the colours, patterns and style of my beads. I really enjoy seeing how people interpret what I have made and what they team and match the beads with. Most of the time it is entirely different from what I would have
come up with so its a lovely surprise. It is inspiring to me to see what some people can create with my work ­ it puts me to shame a bit!

Kyoto Gold
Q10.If you were to draw attention to a favourite designer or artist, who would it be and why?

A10. Can I give two?! My favourite artist, who I have admired since I was about 12 years old is Frida Kahlo. Her use of colour to express herself and her surroundings is still fascinating to me, the presence and sense of place she communicates in her paintings with her unique use of colour and form is a huge inspiration.
In terms of my peers, I should mention my studio mate, enameller Jessica Howarth. She has a beautifully intricate way of layering pattern and form in her work, which I very much admire. You can see more of her work at

Q11. Do you have a question you would ask yourself if you were interviewing yourself?
A11. I’m not sure! If anyone does have any questions though, I would love to hear from them - {You can email Helen at hello @}

Thanks so much Helen for sharing with us today! 

And now a thank you to our readers - Helen is having an exclusive sale for us through til the end of Wednesday (18th). You can take 20% off anything in her etsy shop with coupon code 20ABS. Helen is also very happy to remake old sets too, so do take a trip through her Sold Items as well!

You can also connect with  Helen and check out more of her work in these places: 


Divya N said...

These beads are gorgeous- Haven't seen such vibrancy and mix of colors before- They evoke a lot of strong feeling in me

Liona (Blue Merlin Creations) said...

Having purchased my first set of Helen's beads, I can see coming back for more - the colours she uses inspire all kinds of ideas!