Skill Level Guidelines
The Bead Release
Quarterly Publication of the International Society of Glass Beadmakers
Volume XIII, Issue One
Pages 40 and 41
By Ann Scherm Baldwin
A beadmaker’s skill level is usually a combination of a number of factors, the most important of which is actual time spent at the torch. Artistic ability, fine motor skills, and eye-hand coordination play important roles, but you can’t beat experience for pushing your beadmaking skills to new levels.
Your skill level is dynamic, ever changing, not static. When I talk about skill level, it is not a judgment of a beadmaker’s ability, only on their skill level right now, at this point in time. Also, skill level is not about how many different techniques you have mastered. Simply understanding how to make a hollow bead of murrinne cane does not guarantee that you will be doing them well, or with ease and precision. Skill is nothing more than a progression of your understanding of and experience with hot glass, and the longer you’re at it, the greater your skill will be.
That said, beadmaking classes offered for certain skill levels can be confusing, There is no recognised standard for a set of skills, that an advanced-beginner, intermediate or advanced beadmaker should have. What “intermediate” means to you might not be what it means to an instructor offering a class. I think that our community needs to start a dialogue on what constitutes beginner, advanced-beginner, intermediate, and advanced beadmaking skills, to help students choose appropriate classes. So, I have created a set of guidelines for what I consider the various levels of beadmaking skill. It’s only one instructor’s opinion, but I hope it’s a jumping off point to start a discussion and help us develop a common understanding.
These guidelines are based on the progression of skills that I have observed in teaching for several years, but not everyone will fit one skill level exactly. That’s okay! I offer these skill level definitions to challenge both students and instructors to simply start to think in terms of skill levels.
Basic Knowledge and Experience:
- Beginner Level: Your information comes from books, the Internet and videos, and you have little or no hands-on experience with beadmaking. You may have taken a short course in beadmaking, or may never have made beads before.
- Advanced-Beginner Level: You have a basic understanding of safety issues, annealing, and glass characteristics such as COE, strain point, stress, viscosity, and thermal conductivity. You may have taken a beginning beadmaking class, or may be self taught, but you usually have at least 6 months to 1 year of experience making beads on a regular basis.
- Intermediate Level: Your knowledge of safety issues and basic glass characteristics is internalized. You are developing a good understanding of heat base, and may be learning more about glass chemistry and interactions. Usually you have 1 to 4 years of experience making beads on a regular basis.
- Advanced Level: Long-term experience with glass has developed your knowledge of hot glass. Taking classes with other beadmakers has probably expanded your knowledge of beadmaking. You have begun to develop a distinct personal style in your beadmaking. You have probably been making beads for more than 3 to 4 years on a regular basis.
Specific Skills You Have Mastered:
- Beginning Level:Your skills are probably few or none. You are still developing basic skills of winding glass on a mandrel and getting a balanced bead.
- Advanced-Beginner Level: You are able to wind glass evenly around the mandrel for a balanced bead and can maintain good “puckers” or evenly flat ends near the bead hole. You can pull stringers of a useable thickness, place dots and designs with control, and are able to encase a bead in clear glass.
- Intermediate Level: You are also able to make balanced bicones, lentils, and 3-D shapes using only gravity and a marver (not presses). You can control the heat level in the bead to allow for shaping and decoration, and make detailed and precise raised patterns and designs with stringer. You can encase with few or no unwanted bubbles, you can repeat a complex design more than once with accuracy.
- Advanced Level: Working with hot glass has become more intuitive, refined, and precise at the advanced level. Laying down glass to achieve specific shapes happens more quickly and smoothly now. You are developing an instinctual knowledge of what to do to achieve the effect you want with hot glass. You have developed specific types and styles of beads that you make consistently.
- Beginning Level: You are working on laying glass evenly on the mandrel, pulling stringers, getting balanced beads with nice ends, and placing dots where you want them.
- Advanced-Beginner Level: You are struggling with making balanced and consistent shapes, such as bicones or hearts. You are still developing an understanding of how hot your bead should be when you are working. You are working on not boiling the glass, pulling consistent twisties and latticcino cane, encasing without bubbles, and using stringer consistently.
- Intermediate Level: Your skills are not quite second nature yet. You still have to think hard about how to achieve shape, balance, and design you want. Beadmakers will have gaps in different skill areas at this level, and there may be skills listed at lower levels you are still struggling with.
- Advanced Level: At the advanced level, you will be very aware of your own areas of weakness, and these will differ greatly among beadmakers, based on their different histories, abilities, and personal challenges.
Skills You Are Probably Still Working On:
Anyone taking classes should make an ongoing assessment of what their skills are, and what they need to work on, just as instructors needs to specify their expectations for student skill levels when offering classes beyond the beginner level.
I have written out these guidelines to help students choose the most appropriate classes for the skills they have already mastered, and think about the skills that they still want and need to work on. Sometimes you take a class just because you hear the teacher is really amazing or entertaining, but for the most part, classes should be chosen with your own specific needs and goals in mind.
About Taking A Class You Are Not Quite Ready For…
Hopefully these guidelines will give you some tools for assessing where you fall in the spectrum of beadmaking skill levels, now and in the future. However, it’s been my experience that some beadmakers are so anxious to learn all that they can, as fast as they can, that they may overlook commonsense concerns when considering taking a class they aren’t really ready for. Even if a newer beadmaker doesn’t have the necessary experience to get the most benefit from a more advanced class, sometimes she feels that she could still learn techniques and information in an advanced class and put them to good use when her skills catch up.
While that may be true in some cases –– although in my experience, it usually isn’t –- unfortunately it isn’t safe, and it isn’t fair to the instructor or the other students. Students who have not mastered the appropriate skills are a potential hazard in an intermediate or advanced class. It isn’t safe because the instructor will not be prepared to give a less experienced student the attention and supervision they may need, and that puts everyone in the class at a greater risk of getting hurt. It isn’t fair because someone without the basic skills or experience can slow everyone down, taking the instructor’s time and attention away from teaching the curriculum that more advanced students are ready for.
If you have questions about your skill level in regards to a specific class you want to take, it’s always a good idea to contact the instructor to discuss it before signing up for the class. It’s my hope that instructors will get in the habit of including skill level expectations when they write course descriptions, so that every class is a safe and rewarding experience for instructors and students alike.