It’s the hands, not the tool

The Eternal Tool Debate reared its pointy little head once again in the lampworking cyberworld recently, fueled in part by the same Belle Armoire Jewelry article on Carter Seibels that I wrote about a couple of days ago:

…there are all kinds of other shortcuts that bead buyers need to understand.? Many bead makers have turned to press molds, where the beads are formed by pressing molten glass into a mold, much like a polymer clay mold, rather than by forming unique beads one at a time, by hand, as Carter does.? For the bead artist, the process of hand crafting the individual beads is as satisfying as the finished piece itself; and the difference between a molded bead and a hand-formed bead is the difference between an off-the-rack dress and couture.? You can still wear it, and it will look nice; but the workmanship and artistry just aren’t the same.

There’s one clause in the quote that I don’t take issue with at all — the process IS as satisfying to me as the finished bead.? The rest of the paragraph, though, makes me think that neither Carter nor Rice Freeman-Zachary, who actually wrote the article, has a clue about the current generation of bead presses.? I rather suspect that they were both thinking of the Czech pressed glass beads, which ARE mass-produced, or of furnace glass beads, which are extruded complex canes cut into pieces and polished.? Neither of these is what most beadmakers consider a PRESSED bead. Artist-lampworkers that use presses are indeed forming unique beads one at a time, by hand, since the press allows you to shape only ONE bead at a time.? Wind the molten glass on the mandrel, melt down, preshape in the flame, PRESS, back into the flame to reheat and add more glass if necessary, PRESS again, repeat as needed, with a final polishing in the flame to remove the chill marks left by the tool before optional surface decoration, then pop into the kiln to anneal.? Repeat individually for each bead.? Pay careful attention to getting exactly the right amount of glass, in the right place, with nice ends and no bead release flaking off to get stuck where you don’t want it.? Though there are other lampworkers as well that consider presses a crutch, they actually take time, practice, skill, and patience to use well. Certain shapes of bead are nigh on impossible to achieve without the use of a press, especially heavily faceted ones such as these crystals made with the Zooziis Chunky Crystal Duo press:

Another example — this set of mine includes beads made with the Zooziis Gem press:

Lampworked beads shaped with a press can be butt-ugly, or exquisite works of art.? Lampworked beads shaped “by hand” (actually, with the use of paddles and poking tools made of brass, stainless steel, or graphite) can be butt-ugly, or exquisite works of art.? I’ve seen examples of all of them.? “Butt-ugly” or “exquisite” wasn’t determined by the use of press or no press — it was the result of the technical skill and the aesthetic vision of the maker, and neither method is inherently superior despite what Ms. Seibels has stated in a very public venue. The debate will probably go on and on, both with lampworking and with other media:? machine knitting vs. hand knitting, computer-controlled weaving vs. traditional stomp-the-treadles weaving, pottery kickwheels versus electric wheels, oils vs. watercolors vs. acrylics, and so on.? No matter the media, it’s rather ridiculous — a tool is just a tool.? Get over it, people.? It’s what you do with the tools you use that counts.