One fabulously funny, kind and talented mama I profiled for Creative Beading magazine.
Natalie Monkivitch’s first melting moment involved stealing her husband’s BBQ gas bottle and giving him strict instructions to stand close behind her with the fire extinguisher. Then, once she conquered the basics, she took over his garage, indoctrinated their children and set about perfecting the ‘glassy’ art of Murrini.
“I’m lucky that my husband Leo has been very supportive of my glass exploits right from the beginning”, smiles Natalie. “He has graciously given up space in the “mancave” (garage) for a studio and lets me add to my glass hoard without an argument”. Natalie is quick to add however, Leo’s payoff is that she is no longer allowed to comment on his weekend garage sale exploits, so really, it is a fair deal.
Natalie is also not allowed any input into her eldest daughter’s (Grace) beading creations, much to her dismay, but that’s more to do with age – unlike her 10-year-old twins, Emma and Rose, who recently announced they are going to be glass bead artists just like their mum when they grow up.
You can hardly blame them for wanting to follow in their mother’s footsteps. Since discovering beading in 2007, Natalie has become an awarding winning bead maker with a flourishing business that sees other lampworkers, from around the globe, buying her intricate work. “There are many beadmakers who make their own simple Murrini”, explained Natalie, “but much fewer like making complex ones like I do as it takes a hell of a lot of patience and planning”.
Natalie describes Murrini as small pictures in glass. Each picture is built up carefully from one side, like a sushi roll, and then the hot glass is stretched out into a long thin rod. The rods are then cut into little slices and either placed on a bead, a cab or a paperweight and put straight into the kiln to cool. This process can take half a day for highly detailed work and clearly a passionate will to endure it.
“When I first got into glass beads I researched online like all beginners do. That was where I first saw the fabulous detailed work people were making using Murrini. That was it, as soon as I had some of the glass basics down pat, I moved onto Murrini making. Some of the first pieces were dodgy to say the least!”
From the beginning, Natalie has chosen experimentation over tutorial but has always been first in line for masterclass. “I’ve trained under Peter Minson and did a few lessons with other visiting bead artists including the amazingly talented Loren Stump. I’ve also had the privilege to work a number of times as a technical assistant for him. Loren is considered a “genius” within the glass community. He is also recognised as one of the best teachers in the world so in addition to the exposure of all his technical knowhow, I’ve been lucky enough to get teaching tips which has been useful for when I am instructing others”.
“I never purchased a tutorial however. I like making my own way and enjoy the process of learning through successes and mistakes. Every bead that does not work out teaches just as much, if not more, than the successful ones.”
The glass beading community has also been a great source of inspiration and skill building.
“I belong to beadingforum.com, Lampworketc, JanC and a few other glass related forums. I am a current member of the International Society of Glass Beadmakers and the Australian and NewZealand Self Representing Glass Artist Registry. Last year I was also a committee member of Sydney Flame On which brought together the largest group of lampworkers in Australian to date. I am finding Facebook is increasingly a way to connect with other glassy and beading people too”.
Natalie also participates in online challenges like the ‘Bead Soup Blog Party’ where internationally participants are paired off, swap a set of beads and finding and then make something out of them to post up on a given date. “On the release date everyone jumps from blog to blog to see what beads were sent and what was made. It’s great fun and takes you outside your comfort zone”.
Natalie strongly believes beading is a personal journey, so even though she is active in the community she doesn’t compare herself with other artists. She does of course find inspiration in all sorts of places, just like anyone else.
“Like many people, I get my inspiration everywhere from talented polymer clay artists to magazines, and sites like Pinterest which can be for great colour and shape combinations. My best ideas, however, usually come from my dreams or just as the hot water hits my head in the shower. It’s happened so often now that I bought a waterproof notebook and pencil to save ideas going down the drain!”
One great idea, which has been a keeper, was to donate her work to others as they mark their personal journey through illness. “I make beads for the Bravery Bead Program run through Westmead Children’s Hospital. It helps sick kids mark their progress and track their treatment. I have made x-ray beads, teddy bear beads and even chicken beads. Sometimes it’s the receiver of the bead that really inspires me. I absolutely love it when people send me ideas for something outside of the box, it makes it all the more fun, personal and interesting”.
Her burlesque beads, however are Natalie’s all time favourites and were a favourite too with judges at the Sydney Royal Easter show in 2010? “These were inspired by a family friend who is a professional dancer. The beads are shaped like little torsos with pinstripe corsets and laces. The detail on the corset was a real technical challenge but I had a bit of fun making tiny feathers to hang down the back. I made them made out of gorgeous bright Italian glass called soft glass, rather than the hard, borosilicate glass that I make my functional items like honey dippers or chain necklaces from. I was very proud of them and thrilled to win second place”.
The online marketplace is Natalie’s preferred shop window for all her fabulous and functional pieces. “Buying and selling online works best for me as it doesn’t significantly impact my time. I am also accessible to people with interest in my work who are not necessarily geographically close to me. “Etsy and Facebook have particularly been fabulous and I think if I work a little harder with these, and blog, I might be even more successful with sales”.
“I sell a lot of bead stock to the US and Europe and have a few customers who get first dibbs on my work. There seems to be an increase in the number of customers wanting finished jewellery rather than just the beads so my focal beads are popular and I get quite a few orders for beads with requests to install it in a bail as a pendant. Strangely enough my most popular melting moment is my glass honey dippers! People love them like bees to a hive!”