Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Designer Interview: Melissa Lee

Terra Trinkets by Earthenwood Studio, fine silver shadow box and toggle clasp by Melissa Lee

What is your personal name, website and location?

My name is Melissa Lee. I am a novice bead maker and jewelry designer. I live in Illinois, and I have a jewelry and knitting blog at

What kind of jewelry do you make? What types of materials do you prefer? what kinds of art beads do you use?

I work primarily with glass, ceramic, fine silver and resin beads. I make some of the glass and resin beads and all of the fine silver beads myself. The art beads I use are mostly glass and ceramic. I have a limited number of pieces in my portfolio at the moment, but it’s fair to say that my work is largely theme-based. My tastes are eclectic, but in the end I tend to favor simpler designs without significant ornamentation.

Pendant by Michele Goldstein, accent beads by Melissa Lee

How did you get into jewelry design?

In a fundamental way, my son has enabled me to start designing jewelry seriously. Before he arrived, I kept fairly long hours, working as an intellectual property lawyer. I didn’t have enough time to be anything except a really casual beader. It wasn’t until I stopped working as a lawyer and starting learning how to be a mother (another job with a demanding “client” and long, irregular hours – but so much more rewarding, may I say) that I finally decided I needed to explore interests that I had shelved for many years. First, I started learning how to make my own beads. While I had had an interest in lampworking for several years, I never actually looked into it seriously. My schedule was a hindrance, and, to be quite honest, I was scared of the torch. Much to my surprise, once I started, I discovered that I loved working with the torch. Later, as I considered investing in a kiln for annealing glass beads, I decided to try working with metal clay, just to see if I should buy a kiln rated for both materials. Again, much to my surprise, I loved the experience. From making beads, I started taking jewelry design much more seriously.

The problem I have often had in my jewelry design is not being able to find all of the components I needed for specific projects. Being able to make certain items myself was very liberating. In turn, I started investing much more time and energy into the design of a piece, whether or not I made the components myself or not.This has been a learning experience but an exciting one. I feel that I am in a period of growth right now. Although I have always enjoyed working with my hands, I have no real background in art or design. I am working from the ground up, and I love it.

Boro beads by Sarah Moran

What is your workspace like and how do you work in your studio?

Ermm, do I really have to tell you about this? I’d like to say that I’m a methodical person whose work space is as neat as a pin, but in fact, I’m a complete packrat and I just have an accumulation of, well, stuff, everywhere. I really liked Emma Ralph’s description of her workspace as being “ordered chaos”. I’m afraid my workspace is just plain “chaos”, though. I have a generous workbench in the garage. However, more often than not, I spend my time working in the far left corner of it, as that’s the only space that tends to be clear of clutter. Once I have the components collected together and ready to assemble, I usually just work on the dining room table.

What is a typical day like? Ideally, I come up with a concept, then do preliminary sketches of a piece in my notebook. In reality, I take what time I have, and I often end up drawing the first sketch on my son’s art table with a crayon, while we’re coloring together. This process goes hand-in-hand with working out the best way for me to execute the idea from a technical perspective. Once I have a handle on these two aspects, I begin to make the actual beads and/or collecting together whatever beads I need from my stash or need to buy. Completing a piece, from initial concept to stringing the beads, has taken anywhere from 2-4 weeks, on average. Having said that, I have a number of ideas right now that have yet to make it past the sketch phase, mostly due to limited time on my part.

How do you stay inspired and motivated?

Well, the Art Bead Scene challenges have been a great source of inspiration! I have recently had three pieces accepted for publication in BeadStyle Magazine, and they have all been inspired by the ABS challenges. Primarily, the challenges have taught me that I am much more successful at designing when I have a complete, well-thought-out story to tell in my work. I find many of these stories by rediscovering poetry that I loved when I was younger. I have an M.Phil. in English Renaissance Literature. I never used this degree in my career, but this time as a student was an extremely happy period in my life. For many years after completing the degree, I hardly picked up a book of poetry, but now I find myself going back and re-reading John Donne, Andrew Marvell, George Herbert, Ben Jonson, Shakespeare, Dorothy Leigh, Anne Bradstreet – all of the works that moved me when I was a student. Also, I have been reading more modern writers like Yeats, Wallace Stevens, Seamus Heaney and e.e. cummings.

Sweet Shoppe Necklace with Banana Split focal and spoon accent beads by Melissa Lee

What kinds of art beads do you look for?

I’m extremely greedy when it comes to art beads. I love so many different kinds, and I admire so many different artists. I collect primarily lampwork beads – the work of Sarah Moran and Michele Goldstein are particular favorites, but there are many others. I also have a small stash of beautiful ceramic beads from artists such as Earthenwood Studio and Joan Miller. I love Anne Choi’s silver beads. I have fallen hard for Green Girl Studio’s lovely work as well. These are just the tip of the iceberg for me, though. I could go on and on all day about beautiful beads. Ummm. Beads…

Is there a bead you wish an artist would make for you?

Well, it’s impossible to anticipate what forms the next great inspiration from my favorite bead artists (including those favorite artists I have yet to discover) will take, but I’m sure I’ll love them. Having said that, I am waiting for Anne Choi to make a set of John Donne beads. Also, there’s a specific color palette that Joan Miller sometimes uses that I love. An example of this is the set of beads that are pictured on her Etsy store banner. I would love a set of round porcelain beads in those colors with similar designs.

What beady plans do you have for the future? Do you have new designs or ideas you will be exploring soon?

With the end of summer, I have been leaning towards autumn-themed pieces. In the next month, I hope to finish a new work based on the quote “By the pricking of my thumbs, / Something wicked this way comes” from Macbeth. I would also like to do a collaborative piece with my son. More generally, I hope to continue to improve my technical skills, both in bead making and in jewelry design. I do not offer my work for sale at the moment, but I also hope this will change in the future. This is a very exciting time for me. The old adage that “it’s never too late to learn something new” seems to hold true. I don’t exactly know where all of this will lead, but I’m certainly having a good time getting there.


melanie brooks said...

Thank you for taking the time to answer our interview questions, Melissa. It was great to get a little peek into your thought process!

Melissa J. Lee said...

Thank you for asking! This is still a little embarrassing, though... (eek!)

AJ said...

Great interview, Melissa! It's awesome to see your work on the blog as well as in the flickr folder :D

Cynthia Thornton said...

Beautiful work! What an insightful interview!

Melissa J. Lee said...

AJ and Cynthia - thanks for your kind comments! I have to thank everyone at Art Bead Scene again, though. They've really made this a welcoming place, even to newcomers like myself - I really appreciate it.

Cynthia, I'm hoping to do a little shopping with Green Girl Studios on Sunday! I will be sure to say "hi" if I make it to the show.

Anonymous said...

really beautiful stuff!

Melissa J. Lee said...

Thank you so much, Lisa!