An Interview with Lisa Kan

Mar 5, 2008

Is there anything that Lisa Kan cannot do? I'm sure there must be something, but I couldn't think of anything! A jewelry designer, lampwork artist, and metalworker, Lisa's beads and finished jewelry can be found in Beadwork, Stringing, and other beading magazines. She regularly sells her beads at shows across the U.S. Plus, she recently published her first book (Bead Romantique) and can now add "author" to her list of accomplishments. Lisa is delightfully passionate about everything she does and generous about sharing her knowledge and spirit. The bead world is lucky to have her!--Michelle Mach, Beading Daily

Michelle: Your website describes your transition from an electrical engineer to a bead and lampwork artist. I think many readers can relate to the struggle between wanting to be practical and wanting a creative life at the same time. How did you make that transition?

Lisa: I was a senior quality assurance engineer for a consumer electronics company specializing in LCD and Plasma monitor technologies back when I started lampworking. At the time, I traveled quite extensively to Europe (Norway and Austria) and all over Asia (Thailand, Malaysia, China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan) for my work, so lampworking became my outlet of creative expression which began in late April 2001. Traveling so often meant I didn't have much time to torch nor take additional lampworking classes. Because of this isolation, I was able to create and develop my own unique style, perhaps even developing unconventional methods of working glass. I think creating a unique voice is very important in any art medium. I believe taking too many workshops, at the early stages of development, will and can influence one to mimic their instructor's work. I have seen that in other lampworkers. At around the same time, I picked up metalsmithing since I enjoyed playing with fire so much.

In 2003, a local bead store, the San Gabriel Bead Company (SGBC) organized a glass bead trunk show. While exhibiting at SGBC, many people asked me how I would use my own beads in jewelry designs. Always up for a challenge, I quickly learned beadweaving, absorbing much information from books, magazine articles, as well as attending key workshops. Then in 2004, I joined the Los Angeles Bead Society and have exhibited at their bi-annual bazaar ever since. This was my first "big" show. Next, the SGBC started carrying a selection of my extra glass beads.

Two beads in the Haiku series

On November 17, 2004 I made my first big decision as a glass artist. It was then that I signed on to exhibit in Tucson at the Manning House To Bead True Blue Show. Remember, I was still working as an engineer, but I wanted so much to see if my work was good enough to be in Tucson. Always up for a challenge, I had saved up my vacation days to take two weeks off for Tucson 2005: one week to make as many beads as possible and the other to exhibit.

For the Tucson show, I created several bead series, Serenity, Haiku, and Mesa. I also developed my signature black and red show display, which emanates the Japanese aesthetics prominent in my work. Red is a predominant color in my Chinese culture as well, symbolizing good fortune, luck, and prosperity

When I returned from Tucson, I could not stop bothering my husband, Nick, on when I could quit my engineering job. He told me I could pursue my dream in 2007 or 2008 with some preparation to our family finances. The decision was made for me on April 20, 2005. My company decided to eliminate the ENTIRE quality department, so I was laid off on the second round of layoffs. It was the HAPPIEST day of my life and I truly believe this was meant to be!

Michelle: One thing that makes you unique as a designer--at least to me--is that you work in many mediums. You began in lampwork, but also explored metalwork and beadweaving. What's your current favorite technique and why?

Lisa: My main focus will always be lampwork because I am constantly mesmerized by what beauty one can create from simple glass rods. The glass continues to teach me and excite me to create. At times, working glass can be frustrating as it has a mind of its own. I am a bewildered child full of wonderment every turn I take with my glass explorations.

Fusion bead series

Metalsmithing and beadweaving are equal loves. I simply enjoy every aspect of the creative process. It is so rewarding to see the birth of an idea and the transformation of that idea into reality. I don't know how many lifetimes I must live in order to create what's in my mind.

Bead Romantique
by Lisa Kan

Michelle: The designs in Bead Romantique were inspired by art history. In the book, you specifically mention enjoying museum books and auction catalogs. Did anything surprise you during the research process? Do you have any specific resources you recommend?

Lisa: Surprised me? Not really. I am always gathering information, researching and learning, even if I don't have specific projects in mind. When I was working on Bead Romantique, I already had all the research in my library as well as designs floating in my mind. I study and absorb a lot of visual stimuli from my books, catalogs, and magazines. This constant "homework" allowed me to have endless resources and inspirations for my various mediums. My dreams fill in the rest.

I especially focus on jewelry by Rene Lalique as well as Victorian/Nouveau/Japonisme jewelry in general. Nothing much is safe from me. Often times, what I study has NOTHING to do with jewelry because I can stare at the twists of a tree branch and in my mind, I see seed beads, a glass bead design, or even a metalsmith project! I have a very vivid imagination.

In regards to resources I recommend, last year I wrote three articles that cover some of my inspirations and resources:

What I encourage beaders to do is to look through a different lens when viewing any subject. Soon you will begin to see everything covered with beads. Visit your library and used bookstores often for inspiration. Look at books with plenty of pictures that tease your color and visual acuity. Even the catalogs you get in the mail can be used for your inspirations. The skies are the limit!

Michelle: Many of your designs in Bead Romantique use size 15 beads. Why do you like working with that size? What can you do with them that you can't do with other sizes?

Lisa: The three main reasons I enjoy using size 15 beads:

  • You can create subtle color transitions in beadwork. It's like a miniature canvas!
  • You just need a few here and there to give your work a punch. They are much more affordable than other materials, like semi-precious stones, crystals, or precious metal findings.
  • It is challenging to build a larger piece of work. It's like completing a bigger puzzle. I like to challenge myself when I design and also challenge my fellow beaders who attempt one of my patterns.

Petit Fiore Earrings
by Lisa Kan

Also, because my designs are mostly inspired by art history, by utilizing size 15s I can create more intricate designs. The larger size seed beads would look too bulky otherwise. I use all sizes, shapes, and colors of seed beads. Like books, no bead is safe from me, either! I prefer Japanese seed beads (Miyuki or Toho) for their uniform shape because I like precision (the engineer in me!). I prefer Czech charlottes (size 13) for subtle highlights and a little "flash". I don't use regular Czech seeds at this time in my work, but they are excellent candidates for embellishing.

Sandstorm bead series

 

Michelle: Your show schedule is intense! What have you learned by doing so many shows?

Lisa: This year my show schedule is VERY intense. In previous years, I had more local shows. This year I am so jazzed about sharing my first book, Bead Romantique, with as many beaders as possible, I have scheduled a key show every month of the year in a different state. I am a multi-tasker and what is sleep anyways? I can't sit still for the life of me and always have to be busy!

I enjoy speaking to beaders at shows because the feedback is invaluable. What I teach in Bead Romantique is by no means the only way to create. Please keep that in mind when you attempt the projects. There are many ways to achieve similar looks and my way is only one of many options. This is what makes creating and beading so rewarding. What I am thrilled about the most is that by giving away my techniques in this book and in my articles, I am able to not only share my passion for designing and beading, but that I am able to reach more beaders than I would in a classroom setting. I do not teach in any other platform currently and I so enjoy writing!

Michelle: What's next for you?

Lisa: Bead Expo Portland will be immediately next. I have a lot of collaboration projects lined up, with especially my great friend and fellow designer, Jean Yates. I'm also working with other collaborations, as building a community of artisans, is so very important to me. But, whatever else my new endeavors lead me, be assured that I will always give everyone my best because I can't imagine doing any less. I have lots of surprises ahead.

While being active in the bead community is great, I think what my most challenging mission this year will be my Susan G. Komen Walk for a Cure. After all my shows are over, I will be walking 60 miles in three days in San Diego. I would love to share the details:

Serenity Blossoms
by Lisa Kan

Sara Hardin (of "Ask Sara" from Softflex Company), her cousin Virginia Barrera, and Lisa Kan make up Team Beadalicious! The three have taken on the mission and challenge of walking three days and 60 miles from November 21-23, 2008 in San Diego. This endeavor supports the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and National Philanthropic Trust, which funds important breast cancer research, education, screening, and treatment. With your help, the team hopes to show the world what beady folks can do to help a worthy cause. The team hopes to raise $10,000 or more by the time they walk, to not only help those afflicted with breast cancer now, but those that will be diagnosed this year, and those that will unfortunately be afflicted in the future. All donations are tax deductible. Lisa has also offered to send the top five donors by the time she walks, a one-of-a-kind glass bead, just in time for Christmas. You must donate under her name to qualify, so she can track this. Thank you for your support. 


Thanks, Lisa! To learn more about Lisa and her work, visit her website, www.LisaKan.com and her blog, LisaKan.blogspot.com.


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