Lampwork beads - interview with Julie Wong Sontag

Julie wong Sontag, Uglibeads, lampwork beads

My guest this month is the one and only…..drum roll…….Julie Wong Sontag.

She is a very talented Canadian lampwork bead artist I have been admiring for quite some time now. And yes, for a month now I’m the proud owner of genuine Uglibeads. I hope you are as curious as I am to learn more about this wonderful and kind lady.


Q: Can you tell us a bit of  the beginning of your career as a bead artist?

My love for beads began really early in life! As a child I was really enchanted by a necklace my mom had in her jewelry box. It was a beautiful loom-woven piece made by a Canadian First Nations craftsperson. I vividly remember the way those little seed beads felt, slipping through my fingers... like flowing water, so soft and tactile. That was the beginning. My parents supplied a bead loom when I was old enough to work with it, and there was no looking back after that. Everyone I knew got bracelets that year for presents, with little turtle and cat and heart designs with their names woven into them. Here’s one that’s still surviving, 26 years later. I hang it on my Christmas tree every year:Julie Wong Sontag, loomwork bracelet
I bought my first bead book in 1989. It was called “BEADS! Make your own unique jewellery” by Stefany Tomalin. I would have been 12 years old then. The photographs of beautiful things from all over the world totally captivated me. The options at the local bead store were so limited compared to what I saw in this book - Mala beads... Tibetan amulets... amber... Venetian glass... Zulu beadwork... pearls... stones... I was so drawn to them - these precious, tiny objects that you could wear.

Inevitably, I developed an interest in making my own beads. I started with the kind that you make by rolling little strips of magazine pages in glue, and then in high school, I started to research formulas for Egyptian Faience beads (in the days before the internet, that was a feat in itself!). Like a mad scientist, I got up to mixing chemicals and powders and compounds to make a colorful paste that you could form beads with. When you fire them in a ceramic kiln, the silica content creates a glassy surface on the beads. At least, it was supposed to. More experimentation was needed, clearly, but it was a lot of fun.

Julie Wong Sontag, egyptian paste

After high school, with no access to a kiln, the idea of making my own beads got put on hold for a while. Fast forward to 2001, and a one week glass beadmaking class. From the first moment I stuck a rod of glass into the flame, I was absolutely hooked. I started my business very shortly after that class, and continued to make beads full time until I ‘retired’ to pursue other interests in 2005.

Julie Wong Sontag, Uglibeads, Lampwork glass beads

Q: Do you work full time as an artist?

I do! Lampworking is my only source of income. Sometimes it’s much more than full time. I try not to let my work creep into every hour of the day, but when you work at home and you’re very passionate about what you do, that can be a challenge. I’m hoping to be smarter and more proactive this year about work-life balance. I try to remember to stop what I’m doing an hour or so before bed, have a cup of tea, and just chill. It’s good to chill.

Q:  Why did you choose glass as a medium to work with? Is there a particular sort of glass you like to work with? Are you planning to explore other materials as well in the future, like polymer clay, ceramic, metal?

I have always loved things that are made out of glass. We had a bucket of marbles when I was a kid, and I loved to play with them - just holding them up to the light and turning them around in my hand to see all the details and little bubbles trapped inside. My dad had a faceted crystal hanging in the window, and I loved watching the rainbows dance around the walls as it moved. So the transparency of glass and the way it interacts with light in such a beautiful way was a big factor in my initial interest.

Julie Wong Sontag, Uglibeads, Lampwork glass beads

The permanence of glass also appeals to me - the idea of digging up glass that was made and used and worn in the Roman Empire before the 1st century AD just blows my mind. There is no reason why the lampwork beads being made today shouldn’t last equally as long - as long as they’re annealed, of course! A lampwork bead is a moment, a thought, an idea, an expression of the artist - preserved forever in a form that we can hold and wear and pass on to the next generation. I love that.

Uglibeads, Julie Wong Sontag, hollow lampwork glass beads

The type of glass I work with is called ‘soda-lime glass’, or ‘soft glass’ (as opposed to Borosilicate glass). I mostly work with glass from Italy (Effetre), China (CiM), the US (Double Helix and Uroboros), and Germany (Reichenbach and Lauscha). I love the colors of soda-lime glass - totally endless. And the glassmakers are always cooking up new ones for us to spend our money on! Here is a never-before-seen peek into my glass storage unit. I probably have enough to last a lifetime but that won’t stop me from buying more...

Julie Wong Sontag, Uglibeads

As for other materials, metal is definitely on the to-do list. I recently bought a number of books about enameling, so I’m excited to give that a try. Electroforming, definitely... precious metal clay, maybe..... I’m curious about polymer clay... I think we can safely say that I will never be bored, with all the cool new things to try!

Q: Are you self-taught?

I’m not self-taught, and I hope to be as NON-self-taught as I can possibly be! I love to learn, and learning from the masters in your field can be game-changing if you can afford to take that opportunity. On an artist’s salary, it’s not always easy to set aside the money required to take a class, but it is an investment that can pay off in many ways. The last class I took led to adapting the way I use my marver - a tool I reach for about a hundred times a day. So you can appreciate the impact one small change like that might have over the course of many future beadmaking years. So far I’ve managed to take three classes, all with Canadian artists. I’d love to travel to take part in classes with other international artists, so I am saving my pennies and making a VERY long wish-list.  I really should say though, that 99.9% of the learning process in glass beadmaking is totally self-directed. Experimentation, practice and dedication to improving your craft keeps you moving forward day by day, year by year.

Julie Wong Sontag, Uglibeads, Lampwork glass bead

Bead made in a 2004 class with Lezlie Winemaker - complete with self-made star murrine and my signature cane ‘JW’ at the bottom

Julie Wong Sontag, Uglibeads, Lampwork bead

Bead made in a 2014 class with Amy Waldman-Smith, using raking and masking techniques

Q: What inspires you in your work?

Essentially, it is everything and anything. You can probably identify with that! All the gorgeous sights and sounds and places and people of the world... words, ideas, dreams, curiosities...

My source of inspiration has changed quite a lot over the course of my beadmaking journey. In the beginning, I was most inspired by lampwork beads made by other artists. I spent hours and hours and hours poring over their beautiful creations, trying to figure out how they could do these amazing things that I admired so much. I think that is totally natural, and for me, it was necessary. When your learning curve for the ‘technical’ part of beadmaking is very steep, you are looking for technical inspiration from others who work with the same material. Now, I am at the point where I very seldom look to other glass beads for inspiration. I look at a lot of art in other media - ceramics is a current favorite. I’m obsessed with the imperfect shapes, the gorgeous colors and textures of the glazes... the fact that you can touch it while you make it (which with glass, of course, you can’t!). Many times, the source of inspiration is the material itself. An unexpected color reaction or combination captivates me and I run with it. That happens a lot.

Julie Wong Sontag, Uglibeads, Lampwork glass head pins

Headpins from the ‘solstice series‘ - a combination of glass and silver foil, producing beautiful (totally unexpected) organic reactions.

Julie Wong Sontag, Uglibeads, Lampwork glass headpins

‘River rock‘ headpins with colors created by silver and raku frit interacting with ivory glass.

Q: Your business name is Uglibeads. I believe a very silly name as your beads are far from ugly. Could you tell us a bit more why you choose that name?

Ha! Well, it is a little silly. I have thought about changing it many, many times over the years. But, even though it completely lacks that ‘serious artist’ kind of feel, it does have meaning behind it. The name ‘Uglibeads’ reminds me of the importance of learning and growing, and giving myself permission to try - and fail - at new things. When you first start making stuff, whether it’s jewelry, art beads, poetry, music, whatever - your first attempts aren’t always pretty. Why should they be? You’re a beginner, right?

I kept all the beads I made when I was starting out. Some of them are really, truly horrifying. But I cherish them, because they led to what I’m doing now. So, don’t throw out your first attempts. And don’t ever worry when you have one of those days when everything you make looks like it was made by a blind hippopotamus. It may be ‘ugli’, but it’s one step closer to where you want to be.

Here are some of the very first Uglibeads, from 2001:

Julie Wong Sontag, Uglibeads

Q: What does a typical day in the life of Julie looks like?

It’s a little bit different all the time, depending on what is going on. Usually I get up between 7 and 8 AM to catch up with all the online happenings while I enjoy my coffee. I love to see what my designer friends are up to, and if they have posted something they’ve made with my beads, I share that to my Facebook page and on Pinterest. In the early part of the day, I try to take a photo of something I’ve been working on, which I then post to Instagram or on my Facebook business page (or both).

Then - more coffee, and as long as there’s nothing else that needs immediate attention, it’s torch time. My average beadmaking session varies from 1.5 hours to 4 hours, depending. I try to make sure that the fun part of the job stays fun. When making beads starts to feel like work, I get up, stretch, take a walk, do some yoga... and if that doesn’t work, then it’s time to shut down for the day. When I look at something I’ve made, I can tell whether it was ‘forced’, or whether I was in the zone, happily experiencing that flow of ideas when time disappears. The beads have a totally different energy when they happen effortlessly. I try to stay in the zone as much as possible, though it’s not always realistic when art is your full-time job. So I do have certain things I can work on (spacer beads, for example), when the going gets rough.

Julie Wong Sontag, Uglibeads, Lampwork spacer beads

Later in the day I will work on administrative stuff, perhaps a new blog post or another creative project - drawing, painting, fiber art, etc. Once in a blue moon, I sit down at the torch again, and I never fail to come up with something that I’m really excited about during those rare late-night torching sessions.

Here is a peek at my (messy!) studio after an unusually productive day at the torch, right before a big online bead sale. This was about 7 hours of work, spent making my very tiny ‘weenie’ spacer beads.

Julie Wong Sontag, Uglibeads

When I have a big Facebook sale or Etsy update coming up, my schedule totally changes. I spend all my time cleaning the beads, taking photographs, editing photos, and writing descriptions for the listings. After the sale is over, it will be sending messages, invoices, and managing payments. Finally, packaging and shipping all the beads. Those things are the most time-consuming and least rewarding part of the job, apart from a few little details I do enjoy, like hand-typing my favorite quotes on my Vintage typewriter, to include in the packages. Of course I enjoy communicating with everyone. I try to make it all fun, as much as possible (good music always helps, and chocolate never hurt anyone) but I do secretly wish for an assistant to take over the more boring things. Just think of how many more beads I could make!

Here I am with my beloved orange Vintage Dutch typewriter from the 1980’s (a Vendex900), typing the stickers for my bead packaging. And that’s Mr. Uglibeads with his own Vintage typewriter (an Olivetti Dora). Everyone needs their own typewriter!

Julie Wong Sontag, Uglibeads

Q: Can you tell a bit about the work involved in making lampwork beads.

Describing it in the most simple way possible, the steps are as follows:

1)    beadmaking - melting glass in the flame of an oxygen-propane torch, and winding it on a stainless steel rod (mandrel). The glass is heated, shaped, manipulated with tools, and many colors and layers and other materials can be added (silver, enamels, etc.) to achieve the desired effect. The length of time required to make a bead can vary from a few minutes, to several hours, not including the time it takes to prepare for that bead (pulling thinner stringers of glass, making murrine cane, etc.) or cleaning, coldworking, etc. I’m not a very high-producing beadmaker myself, but this varies a lot from one beadmaker to another. We all have different ways of working. When I’m making a bead, nothing gets added or shaped or altered until I know for sure what I want to do next. I do a lot of work that is one of a kind, and though I may have chosen the colors already, I don’t pre-plan the design. Because of that, I sometimes sit in front of the torch, just rolling the bead back and forth, keeping it warm in the flame, thinking about what to do next..... An Uglibead will not be hurried.
2)    annealing - beads go directly from the flame into (preferably) a digitally controlled kiln, which is held at a precise temperature (over 900 F), until you are done for the day. Then, the ‘annealing cycle’ begins, and the computer lowers the temperature according to a specific schedule to relieve the internal stress between the molecules of glass. Beads that are not annealed usually crack, either right away because of thermal shock, or over time because of internal instability.
3)    cleaning - remove the beads from the mandrels and clean the bead release from the holes with an abrasive tool.
4)    coldworking - such as etching with acid solution to achieve a matte finish, tumbling, sandblasting, or adding metal cores or caps.

Julie Wong Sontag, Uglibeads

My trusty kiln - this is a Glass Hive kiln - at room temperature and ready to take the beads out - the most exciting part of the whole process!!!!!!

Q: Your beads sell the minute you list them through your Facebook group or on Etsy and they are used by many well known jewelry artists. You have achieved a lot in the bead world. Is there a next goal you want to accomplish?

Oh! That is really sweet of you to say, Janine! I feel like I’m just getting started, really! In some ways, I have achieved a lot in the last year or so, after being away from the bead world for a long time. I think it is important to celebrate and appreciate all the milestones and things you are grateful for along the way. There have been so many highlights and special moments - I’m really blessed. I think mainly my goal right now is to keep following the path I’m on, just making things that I love to make, giving myself a chance to explore all the ideas I’m always bursting with, and always hoping that people will love the things I make as much as I love making them. Creating with the hope that people might find special connections and meaning in my work is the ultimate goal, and probably always will be.

Julie Wong Sontag, Uglibeads, lampwork glass beads

Q: Is there a particular bead and/or jewelry artist you admire or who you consider a role model?

Wow, there are many. I’m fortunate to be surrounded in my online bead and jewelry community by a group of extremely talented, supportive women. They inspire me each and every day, and seeing the way they all use their creative gifts motivates me to honor mine as well. My #1 Uglifan deserves a special mention. My dear friend Tracy Waugh Antoine, who I’ve known for almost 20 years, is there for me every single day without fail. Sometimes many times a day. I would not be able to do what I do without her. Our mutual love for beads and jewelry has led to a strong, supportive bond, and we laugh a LOT.

Julie Wong Sontag, Uglibeads, lampwork glass beads

Q: If you were not a bead artist, what would you be doing?

Before I came back to making beads in 2014, I was in medical school, so chances are good I would have been a doctor. My husband and I met while we were in medical school together, and he is still doing that. I think one doctor per household is enough, so I’m ok with the fact that my stethoscope lives in a display case now.

Q: Do you have a life motto and if so, would you like to share this with us?

In 2002 or so, I created a mission statement for Uglibeads that has also become a personal mantra: ‘Finding perfection in the imperfect and joy in the unexpected.’ I strive to do that every day.

Uglibeads, Julie Wong Sontag, lampwork glass beads, artisan beads

Q: Do you have tips, tricks or advise you’d like to share with us?

When you do creative work, it’s easy to make excuses as to why you’re not working on your dream as much as you would like to be. Excuses are the enemy of creativity. Whether you’re making art beads or jewelry, working to get your online shop or website going, writing articles, tutorials, or blog posts... it’s always the same. There is huge potential for making excuses and putting off until tomorrow what you could do right now. When I first started making beads again, I struggled with this so much it was painful. Every day, I’d find a reason to put off getting to the torch until tomorrow. And then the next day the same thing. The longer this went on, the worse I felt about myself and my abilities and potential as an artist.

I reached a point where I was SO frustrated, I had to do something to change. I took out a piece of paper, and for a week, I actually wrote down whatever excuse I had for not working on my beads that day. These were literally the things standing between me and my dreams. It was always something like, ‘I’m too tired’ or ‘I really need to clean up the house first’ or the ever-popular ‘I don’t feel like it.’ Seeing those excuses in black and white gave me something I could work with. I dedicated myself to a ’30 day challenge’ - at least one hour at the torch, 5 days a week, for a month. Some of those days were easy, some were torture, some were a complete and utter failure, but they were ALL the foundation of the art-making practice I have now. The 30 day challenge helped me to build that ‘commitment’ muscle I needed in order to grow creatively. It took the element of choice out of the equation. Without the ‘maybe I will and maybe I won’t’ option, the emotional distress I had been feeling completely disappeared. I don’t even remember what kinds of things I made during those 30 days. They got made - and that’s what matters. Don’t give up when you go through a rough patch, or you lose your mojo. Get those hands busy and they will show you the way.

Julie Wong Sontag, Uglibeads, lampwork glass beads

Thank you so much Julie for this wonderful interview! I love your life motto. And I think your first beads are wonderful as well. Not ugly at all. But I can relate to what you say. Jewelry I made which are not suitable for sale (as they are not perfect) are my precious treasures. I cannot part with them.

You can find Julie’s beautiful beads and jewelry in her etsy shop.

She also has a Facebook page were you can find the latest news as well as a Facebook group in which she sells her beads.

More information can be found on her website:

And of course this interview would not be complete without a give-away.

First Give-away
It is Julie's birthday today and she is contributing this gift voucher. I guess you can tell what age she has become

Gift vouchter Julie Wong Sontag, Uglibeads

Give-away 2

I'm the proud owner of a collection of genuine Uglibeads. I must say, it is very hard to part with them. But I had to. At least with 3 of them. 

For the give-away I made 3 bracelets, using one of my precious Uglibeads in each one of them.
The winner can pick his/her favorite.

Bracelet 1

Esfera jewelry, Janine Lucas, artisan bracelet

Esfera Jewelry, Janine Lucas, handmade jewelry, bracelet

Bracelet 2

Esfera Jewelry, janine Lucas, bracelet

Esfera Jewelry, Janine Lucas, bracelet, handmade jewelry

Bracelet 3

Esfera jewelry, Janine Lucas, artisan jewelry, handmade bracelet

Esfera Jewelry, Janine Lucas, lampwork glass bead

How can you enter this give-away?

If you are a regular reader of my interviews you know the drill by now.

If you are here for the first time: entering is very simple, all you have to do is comment on this post, to get a change to win one of these give-aways.

There are lots of ways you can increase your chances of winning too...

Do any of the following and leave an additional comment each time and you will get an extra entry for each one:

·    Share this give-away on your own blog
·    Share this give-away on your Facebook pages, Google+, Twitter etc.
·    Subscribe to my newsletter (see top of page, to the right hand side)
.    Subscribe to the blog of Uglibeads
·    Subscribe to my email-list (to receive special promotions)
·    Become a follower of my facebook page
·    Become a follower of the facebook page of Uglibeads
.    Become a member of the facebook group of Uglibeads
·    Follow me on Pinterest
.    Follow me on google+
·    Like my Etsy shop
.    Like the Etsy shop of Uglibeads
·    Anything else you can think of to spread the word.

Don't forget to leave a separate comment for each method to maximize your chances though!
Don't worry if you don't see your comments appear immediately. I need to approve them first, otherwise spamrobots will be able to enter the give-away as well.

The draw will close at 10am GMT on Sunday April 12, 2015 and I will randomly select and announce the winners later that day.

The next artist in this series of interviews with Bead Artists is......Claire Lockwood from Something to do Beads and Jewelry.

Thank you for visiting my blog and I hope to see you next time.

I subscribed to your email list.

I subscribed to your email-list!

I subscribed to Uglibeads blog

I subscribed to the blog of Uglibeads!

Live your beads and your

Live your beads and your spirit Julie. Thanks gore introducing me to Esfea Jewelry and her works of beautiful jewelry.

Fabulous Interview

A very well done interview. I love Julie's beads, and enjoy learning more about her art and journey.


Julie is awesome. I buy her beads for my wife Sarah :)

new Facebook like

You're doing beautiful things with Julie's beads! I especially like the butterfly bracelet.

I've favourited the uglibeads

I've favourited the uglibeads etsy shop. :)

Love Julie's beads!

What a great interview. The more I get to know Julie the more I know I've found a kindred spirit. Something I didn't know: that our birthdays are 2 days apart!

I love that she's kept her first ulgi beads... I have some that I've kept from a couple lampworking classes I took. So glad she has some as bad as mine. lol!

I'm a member of the Uglibeads

I'm a member of the Uglibeads group.

I'm a follower of Uglibeads

I'm a follower of Uglibeads on facebook!

I am a follower of the

I am a follower of the Uglibeads blog! :)

What a great read, thank you

What a great read, thank you so much for sharing!


Have asked to join Uglibeads FB group.


Liked Uglibeads on FB.


Already like your Etsy shop.


Already follow you on Pinterest.


Already follow you on FB.


Already subscribe to your email list.

Uglibeads interview

Already subscribe to your newsletter.


Great interview.


Like the Etsy shop of Uglibeads

Aready "liked" a long time ago... wouldn't dare to miss anything new! :)


Become a member of the facebook group of Uglibeads

How could I not be? And not getting any auctions...? Noooo!


· Become a follower of the facebook page of Uglibeads

Already am :)


I shared the giveaway on fb :)

Love your beads!

I am a followers of Janine's fb page :)

Love your beads!

I have already favorite Esfera on etsy.

Love your beads!

And I have already liked Julie's fb page :)

Love your beads!

I have shared the post for the interview on my fb page!

Love your beads!

Great interview and so fascinating to see into the artist's mind! I have added Ugli Beads to my favorites on etsy.

Uglibeads FB page

I just got accepted to Julie's Uglibeads Facebook page. I can't dilly dally around here, I have to go see what is up!

shared on FB

I shared this post on my Facebook page

Great interview...and beads!

This was another really interesting interview. I loved learning more about Julie's journey and seeing more picture of her beads. And the sweet bracelet she made as a kid!! And your beautiful bracelets for the giveaway. Thanks!

I posted and liked and shared

I posted and liked and shared on every option offered. Thank you for your generous giveaway.


Great article. Thank you Julie for being so open. As always. You're MAGNIFICENT!!!!!!!

Thank you Mary!

And I feel the same way about you, my dear Mary!! xoxo


I like uglibeads on etsy


I liked your etsy shop

google plus

I followed you on google plus.

I am a member of the

I am a member of the uglibeads Facebook group.

I like the uglibeads Facebook

I like the uglibeads Facebook page.

I am a follower of your

I am a follower of your Facebook page


Followed esfera on pinterest


I subscribed to the Uglibeads blog :)

What a great interview! Love

What a great interview!
Love your excellent selections of beads

Uglibeads Interview

Well done! Always great to learn more about the artists we love!

uglibeads giveaway

Great interview and inspiring.


What a great interview! I am fortunate to own quite a few Ugli beads! I love Julie's work and spirit! Thank you for sharing her with us! I love the first bracelet!

I followed all of the

I followed all of the instructions! I had already liked both Etsy shops previous to today and then I did everything else but did know where to put my here it is! I would so love to win a piece of your beautiful work!

Interview with Julie Wong Sontag by Esfera

I have to admit that I'm weak towards great job - it's so heartening and inspiring. In this case it's a union of great job by Janine - ongoing interviews with artists having a real interest about them, and great job by Julie - art encased in beads.
Discussions about what's art and what's not occur frequently, and I had to establish this for myself, so I came up with such definition (just for my own usage): true art has flight in it, there's space and air, and good wind for wings.
Julie's beads have it, they are alive and can surprise each day with a new tinge, streak, mood. And - they carry Julie's balanced and kindhearted character. Her beads are excellent team players, although, in fact, they all are first fiddles by nature.
Thank you both whole-heartedly!

Awesome article!

Janine and Julie,
What a GREAT article! I totally loved it- and you are both wonderful artists! Such a great look into the life of the artist behind the amazing Uglibeads!


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