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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn
Joy Munshower Class
learning beads are always ugly

One of the things I spent some time, unsuccessfully, before signing up for Joy Munshower's 2 day ‘Surf'n’Turf’ class was looking for other student reactions to the class. Since I didn't find any[1] I decided to write one.

L to R: nugget, jellyfish, manatee, nautilis, from day 1. CiM & effetre. The beads in the second row were ‘extras’ of the class assignments.[2]

Given that horses were the very first animal I tried to draw once I picked up a pencil, this class was a natural for me. It was very reasonably priced, most of the other students were fellow guild members, my roomie was bead bud Frances, the space was good, the hotel was within walking distance of the studio, and I was generally so predisposed to like the course I made a fancy embroidered pouch for some of the special tools. So, okay, I was prejudiced in favour right out of the gate.

However, I've probably taken 8 or 10 classes and acted as studio assistant at 4 or 5 more over the nearly two decades I've been messing with warm glass, so I have actually developed parameters. Some aspects of a successful class are (mostly) out of the teacher's control, such as venue,[3] or making sure everyone has the proper skills, glass and tools. For this we have the fabulous Joy C. to thank, whose meticulous spreadsheets and many emails meant we were all equipped with the special tools (and correct glass).

This class, like most of well developed courses I've taken, started with a warm up bead; we then proceeded through three more for the ‘surf’ (sea animal) part of the class, with each bead building on the skills learnt in the previous one. Day two was a little more freeform, because we were a big group with divergent wants. Munshower satisfied these by doing a lot of demos and relying partially on her excellent class materials: we all received a folder with step by step instructions for three of the beads, reference photos and/or drawings for same, with additional info for the horsehead.

Like just about every good teacher I've had, she permitted us to take photos of the demos[4] , was prompt at answering questions during the practice sessions, and even went so far as to provide a link to a video of the horse-head demo and to provide after-class support, such as answering questions about glass colour for particular animals or or problems recreating the beads. While other teachers have implied they'd be happy to talk to us, she really made this aspect explicit.

I appreciated that we used her ‘real colours’ in recreating the beads, though she also chose them with common availability in mind (i.e. avoiding limited runs). Overall her approach meshes well with mine—she's a minimalist with regard to tools, [5] works relatively hot, is not over-concerned with perfect base bead shaping, yet is passionate about the important bits.[6]

Personality wise, good teachers are flexible and adapt their curricula to student needs,[7] which she did in spades (which is how she ended up demoing six—count them six beads on day two. By the end, the person especially wanting the last demo pre-made her base bead and garaged it for her so she'd have time to complete before we got kicked out at 5:30. And those of us who wanted to practice horse heads still got to do that. Impressive.)[8]

In fact, even without our divergent requests, the class is a stripped down version of a week-long seminar where the projects are a little more broken down. All in all, I learned some fun new techniques, and mebbe this time I'll finally make some real progress in detailed sculptural pieces. Even if I don't, I think doing some of the squishy sea critturs/scenes will be a lot of fun, and now I have an excellent idea of how to approach those.

The descriptive term one's looking for is ‘generous’ and nowhere was this more evident when, as there weren't, even with all the extra demos, enough to go around, Ms Munshower pulled some beads (including a couple of horseheads!) from her sales tray so everyone would get a souvenir to take home. Sometimes the venue scarfs up all the demo beads (another point in West Michigan Glass’ favour, they didn't) but this is, in my view, a nice bonus but not something to count on.

The fact that I got a horsie (& Frances the tentacle-maker an octopus) made for a perfect ending to a great class:)

Tool list:

It just about drove me bananas that this wasn't published anywhere, so here ’tis.[9]

Tools needed/used for this class, from l to r: alcohol, pointed tweezers, sharpie, graphite stump shaper, tungsten rake, butter knife, peters tweezers, no. 5 forceps (aka knotting tweezers). The 5 tools on the right were specific to the class.

  • eye protection (not shown)
  • bucket of bead bubbles (optional, not shown, for taking beads home same day, if shipping from venue is not available/practical); mandrels, 3/32 preferred, ditto; bead release, dip'n’go-blue sludge recommended, ditto
  • wrist rest, i.e. creation station or arrow springs airplane wings (optional, not shown)
  • alcohol & rag for cleaning glass (optional, rag not shown)
  • graphite block (optional, not shown, very useful if your torch doesn't have a torchtop marver)
  • tweezers, preferably italian style smooth pointed ends
  • sharpie, optional (for marking possessions)
  • favourite marver
  • tungsten rake
  • butter knife
  • peters tweezers, optional, but bring them if you have them.
  • knotting tweezers (these are just one of my faves, totally not needed)
  • specialized tools for class

I hope this page will help in deciding whether this class is a good fit for you!

04apr20: minor (grammatical) edits.

[1]Admittedly, my google fu sucks.

[2]Because I had a bigger torch than some of the other students, I had more time:)

[3]It's super frustrating, frex, if the ventilation is so loud your students can't hear you talk. It's frustrating for the students if their flames bounce around. I never noticed ours.

[4]But also like a lot of them, no video.

[5]Though you should plan on spending about $60 to get the specialized ones required for class, because though you only need five of them, they come in kits.

[6]I was absolutely fascinated by a horsie ‘facial expression’ class she took. The teacher had them model clay musculature over a resin cast skull, and students then had timed sessions to recreate various equine emotions.

[7]I think by this time she trusted us enough either to practice at home, or acknowledge that the main goal of the workshop might be other than mastering the materials. Sometimes, girls just wanna drink have fun, yanno?

[8]Two other examples: despite her lack of enthusiasm for presses, she didn't say anything about my use of one, which I chose to do because I've been practising decorative stringer work on hollow lentils, and didn't want to think about making large solid beads, which is so not my area of expertise, particularly with regard to heat management. Two other students, with unbreakable obligations, split the class, always a favourite ploy guaranteed, I expect, to have a teacher pulling her hair out. Granted the woman coming in on day two is a professional production bead-maker with extensive sculptural experience, but still, it's gotta be frustrating to have someone skip half the class.

[9]I feel glass colours are something you learn in class, so I'm not detailing them here; tools are sort of borderline. I will note that Ms Munshower likes to use short tools in nice fat handles—frex, her tungsten rake was a piece of tungsten mebbe 30mm long chucked in a handle. I usually substitute mandrels for the item all the way to the right, since I have them in a variety of diameters, but again, that handle is nice for additional torque.