Lesley McIver is a glass artist who lives in New Zealand. She creates some of the most beautiful glass jewelry and sells her work in several galleries, at art markets and through her Glitz Art Glass web site. Lesley and I have been friends for a number of years, so you might read a bit of that. In addition, she is not a blogger (although she does read here), so this is new for one of my Conversations.
Lesley working in the early days.
Lesley, you have always been a creative person and have explored a lot of art forms. Would you give us a brief background on your creative life? In other words, tell us a little about yourself.
It’s funny, but as a child I never considered myself to be creative. Creativity was part of survival – you cooked, gardened, made clothes and maintained house and home, but I never considered this to be creative. Creativity was rather frivolous and for those people born with “talent”!
So, I began with an absolute obsession with fibre when I was about 10 years old. My maternal grandmother, a woman who had a huge influence on my early years, taught me how to crochet, and knitting was done by everyone in my family – even my father knitted his own jerseys. The fact that one could manipulate the fibre to make patterns in colour, texture and shape was a revelation, and I was soon making items of clothing – always useful :o) – for anybody who asked.
The “love bead” craze happened in
When my son was a baby I learnt to embroider, and this led to a whole new obsession. Suddenly I could really express myself on fabric, and from beginning with tiny formal stitching like cross stitch and hardanger, my work got bigger and bigger – my creative genie was trying to escape! In the end I was using ribbons and wools and dyed cloth, and incorporating hard materials into the work. I now think that this was an effort to make my work more three dimensional.
In the end I developed sever over-use syndrome in my right hand, and can now only pull a needle for a very short time.
By then my creative genie had escaped and I was desperate to learn how to express myself. I began to use pastels, paints and pen and ink.
I discovered an on-line Interior Design course run from
While I decided that interior design was not the direction I wanted to take, it did clarify my thoughts. I recognized that I have a need to be creative, and that I am allowed to create beautiful things – the all pervasive need to be practical has been erased!
Quite by chance my partner and I enrolled in an introductory 3 day glass beadmaking course run by an American glass artist, Dave Klien, and the rest, as they say, is history…I had discovered the medium that let me use all the knowledge I had accumulated, and would stretch my imagination for many years – probably the rest of my life.
A different way of using the same materials.
This is so interesting, Les. Like you, my early creativity was completely practical and going down the fibers/textile road was the perfect expression then. And I still enjoy it! I also found embroidery (which I still adore) which also pushed my hands into some issues with carpel tunnel syndrome (I am guessing it is the same thing). So a world apart and the two of us followed similar paths at similar times.
The parallels in our lives are fascinating! I just love that you live on the other side of the world, yet at a very deep level we are so similar! It never fails to delight me.
I’ve read an interesting book lately called “Thrift to Fantasy” by Rosemary McLeod, which details how women in early New Zealand (but I guess this applies throughout the world) put their fabulous creativity into utilitarian everday items, such as aprons, peg bags, doilies, tablecloths etc etc.
Though this wasn’t really happening in my lifetime, it was definitely part of my mother’s life, and can clearly remember so many beautiful things that we took for granted.
I think these lovely items were even scorned when I was a younger woman, and seen as being part of the bonds that held women in servitude, rather than their sole creative expression and items of great skill and beauty.
Yes, again, very parallel experiences. It seems to always help us progress when we understand from where we come.
The Magic Studio in Pohara, New Zealand built by Lesley’s husband.
You are married to a creative man and have a son who is also quite creative. That must be exciting to have all of that energy around you. Would you say they have an influence on your designs?
Murray and I have been together for most of our lives.
We both come from practical backgrounds, and our families were the typical pioneering
We both love the process of making things – looking at materials and envisioning them as a completed piece.
He has been a terrific driving force with the set up of my studio/s, and without his technical know-how I would have been sunk! I needed to learn about propane and oxygen tanks and lines, regulators and kilns before I could really learn about the glass, and having the help of his knowledge was hugely significant.
He built all of our stall setup, which is much admired, and really sets off the work – looking good really matters in the market and show environment.
These days, when he is not teaching, we live a wonderfully companionable existence – he working in his workshop (at the moment he’s enjoying using the burner he’s just built for blacksmithing work) and me in mine.
One of the things on the wish list for my next studio is the space for a second torch so we can work glass together from time to time.
Our son, Iain, has inherited this love of making, and is in his last year of a mechanical engineering degree at university. He is also really creative, and we love to see him working on a project when he comes home for the holidays. He paints, casts, draws, sculpts – and finds his rest and relaxation in creativity.
Consequently our house is filled with hand made stuff – and tools and books and mess! As I write I have the dining table filled with beads and boxes and tools!
It is a joy to be able to share this creativity – we all get involved in each other’s projects and will bounce ideas around the meal table. As I write this I realize how truly blessed we are!
This has got me thinking about how these skills are inherited, and I’ve been tracing this creative line through my family. My great-great grandfather was a lighthouse keeper and made almost everything the family used, and I often wonder if his hands are guiding mine.
Les, this is a beautiful story about your family (all of them). Your studio in
Ah, yes! I still dream of that little magic cottage! I wonder if I will return? I stood in the place where my work bench used to be just a couple of weeks ago and just soaked up my beautiful view!
You will return…we will focus on that happening for you.
A typical view from the Magic Studio.
How did you get started working with glass?
Until we did that course with Dave, I’d never even considered glass as a material that I could use, and it was only through sheer serendipity that I discovered it – and that Murray (my technical genius) was with me at the time.
I now wonder if my life will be long enough for all there is to learn about glass – I am completely and utterly in love!
Green, blue, purple, violet lotus flowers on transparent set.
Well, you know how I feel about that material! I can completely understand how you are in love with it! I think you have a long life to learn about glass, yet!
Kim, it would be wonderful if you could share some of the photos of your glass work here, too! How about it? I especially love the piece you made for Steve…and you also have some fabulous and inspirational pieces of other artists work!
Well, I never thought of that because I try to keep the focus on the artist, but if that is something you would like, I would be happy to do that.
This is the stained glass piece I made for Steve (25 + years ago) which Lesley speaks about.
WWhat would you say have been your greatest creative challenges?
In the first place just the technical challenges felt insurmountable!
I had never worked a kiln before and just learning the language of that equipment seemed huge at the time – especially with the requirements of glass, which is so finicky. However, I’m now onto my second kiln, and considering my third!
I’m almost completely self-taught apart from that three day course, and I read everything I can get my hands on. Sometimes I think that this was a handicap – it certainly felt like that at first, but at other times I think that my work is really uninfluenced by anyone else, and is completely my own.
There is a huge on-line lampworking community and a small group in
You know I feel the same way about being self-taught…you truly do find what is right for you. And the methods which work the best way you work. With so many online communities, you can always get help with issues from others. Being an introvert, the joy in working alone is exceptionally appealing, too.
Another parallel! And yes, the online communities are wonderful – especially for people like us who are a little solitary!
Awaroa Christmastime. Lesley says, “we have trees here called Pohutukawa and Rata which have a red Haze of flowers right on Christmas time. Not far from Pohara, they flower over golden sand beaches - so this is my take on them.”
I just love beautiful old china and fabrics! I have a house full to bursting with beautiful bits and pieces that I have collected, and I love to look at them and, say, take a colour combination from them to work with.
Whenever I run dry I pick up a book, or go for a walk or just sit and look through the glass rods and dream.
Oh, now that you mention that, I can see it so clearly! And I also hear you about the love of old china, crockery and textiles…old linens…how I love them!
Aha…I knew you would! That book I mentioned is another source of inspiration.
I love inspirational resources and have often thought organizing mine in some way, but you just never know when something is going to pop up.
Silver Sampler Set inspired by embroidery.
What are some of your favorite glass books, web sites and other references?
Glass lampworking books have been hard to come by, but I notice that there are more and more around lately.
There are a few lampworking networking websites, but my favourite is www.lampworketc.com – that’s a great site for inspiration, too! It’s good to find out what’s new in the glass world – new glass colours, tools etc.
These are great…I am sure you have people running for the book shop, now!
Fair Day as daylight breaks.
What is your time management secret? You get so much done and have been able to make great connections with galleries and markets.
Oh, this is the eternal knotty question, isn’t it?!
I am very driven to do what I do, and I need to make a living from it. So I need to treat what I do very seriously and actually produce the work.
I force myself to live by routines most of the time, though these can become pretty loose when I’m not pushed.
I find the routine part one of the greatest challenges. This clearly works very well for you, though, Les!
The routine part is mostly a chore and a bore, but I grit my teeth and do it – it’s worth it in the end when I get real time on the torch – the payoff!
So many artists feel this way and really do believe it is the best way of working. For me, I close down. I don’t know why, but it is one of the things I have realized about myself over the last year…believe me, it creates a whole set of problems, too.
Busy little caravan (RV) workshop in Tapawera, New Zealand – Jewelers’ bench, cat’s beads, etc. This is Lesley’s mobile studio.
What other artist inspire you?
I love the glasswork of Sharon Peters – her humour is infectious, Corina Tettinger – she’s a technical wizz and I love her sense of colour , Loren Stump – his work is so incredible that I don’t understand how he does it, Kristina Logan – fantasticly simple looking work belying its unbelievable skill, and Larry Scott whose sense of colour style really appeals to me. Oh, and Michael Barley…and …and…
So many lovely choices! It seems most artists have the same problem!
Beads in the Raw
I love the colors you use in your designs. Do you have a special way you make the decisions about colors and designs?
I just love colour! Bright, bold, happy, brave, delicious, juicy, calm, reflective, restorative, inspirational…there are so many wonderful words to describe what it does to us!
Colour is one of my major passions, and the Italian glass that I use fulfills this. However, glass has some added little secrets of colour that other materials don’t. You can mix some colours together and get a magical reaction between the minerals that make them – so suddenly plain colours are spotted or veined or outlined! You can layer it to change the colours, use transparency and opacity to create depth and tone….
Colour also heals us, and I use the colours of the chakras a lot in my work – and I believe that we are drawn to the colours that will heal us if given a choice.
You have a lot of color tricks up your glass sleeve! That is really cool and it is so great to understand all of the various tricks different materials can handle. Color is such a fantastic element of art. And the chakra bracelet you sent me gets to many fantastic comments and it makes me feel so good to o.
I also agree with you about being attracted to personally healing colors. I have seen that in different times in my life I am attracted to different colors…and also when I have lived in different places. So you have taken healing colors and created healing “bling”! Now how great is that?
I think there’s something in the feminine side of us that’s always looking for layers of meaning in whatever we do, don’t you? It lends us personal authenticity, which is so crucial for creativity.
I think you are absolutely correct in this observation of always looking for layers being a part of our femininity. That also addresses some of the issues women artists have had historically breaking into this world. We understand the world around us in a different way and we understand ourselves in a different way. When we honor what we know for ourselves, then our creative selves comes to the surface. It seems to me, when that happens everyone wins. Excellent point!
Green, Purple, Aqua on Black set. These are intended to work from the heart to the throat to the third eye to the crown chakras.
What would you say is the greatest artistic risk you have taken?
I’m not sure that there are a lot of artistic risks in glass…though if this can mean the simplicity and naiveté of some of my work then, yes, I think they are a risk. They look quite child-like, but are actually reasonably precise to make. They also allow me to use the colours that I so love in a child-like way.
And you did stick your neck out when you began with the glass. Being self-taught might also be seen as being risky to many…of course, as you pointed out, it doesn’t quite feel that way to you!
No! That part didn’t feel risky at all, isn’t that strange? I feel that this is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life!
Oh Fantastic! What a strong person you are to follow your dream, know it was right and march forward with it! Now that speaks loudly of your success!
Oh, another great book is “When the Heart Waits” by Sue Monk Kidd – it’s about periods of waiting in your life…
She is a wonderful writer. I am going to buy that one soon! I think we need to understand these cycles in our lives and what each one brings to the table of our lives. Thank you for the recommendation.
Inside the Magic Studio
What is your greatest creative accomplishment to this point?
I think the fact that I am able to spend my days doing something I love so much is a huge personal accomplishment, though I hesitate to take all of the credit for this. When I go into my work “zone”, I let go, and the work just comes to my hand. So the creative accomplishments come from that source, rather than from my brain.
I think through some of the technical issues, like the landscape beads and the cubic zirconia beads and prepare for these, but as long as the materials are to hand, the glass just flows with a will of its own.
I have to say that I think spending your days doing what you love is absolutely one of the greatest
So very grateful – I give thanks daily for this “gift”!
Creative Mess! Caravan Studio in Tapawera.
Would you share your working technique (days) with us?
Because the work keeps my body so still, I need to exercise every day, so that’s what I do first. Then I meditate – another hugely important part of my day.
From then on I work, usually doing the office and website work over breakfast, then cleaning beads and making up crystal work, ordering supplies etc in the morning. I like to be on the flame by 1 ish in the afternoon, and in the evenings I usually have a tray on my lap, making up pieces.
I spend one day a week in town doing business and Saturday is a huge day at the market.
So your days are down right packed! I suppose it is lucky I was able to get to you in the middle of your winter, so we could work on this interview.
The craziness is all based on getting creative time, though, and I know you get this too!
Yes, it is as though my creative time is the glue of my life.
Chakra Meditation Beads
Can you share with us any interesting experiences with galleries, commissions or the art markets?
The gallery connections are the hardest thing to set up. I worried and worried about this in the early days, but as time has passed I’ve mellowed a lot. I realize now that when the time is right then the right outlets will come my way – you cant sit back and totally ignore the need to make new contacts, but I no longer buy into the “They don’t want my work – it’s not worthy – I’m not worthy” stuff that plagued me at the beginning.
There are just places where my work fits and places where it doesn’t!
Through doing my regular Saturday markets in Nelson – this is a wonderful art market, and has a great reputation – I meet a lot of people, and word slowly gets out that way. We also travel a lot to art fairs and shows through
Doing these shows is hard work but hugely rewarding! I get to meet the people who are buying my work rather than dealing remotely through galleries, which I find can be a bit sterile.
I have a few galleries that work well for me, and am looking for a few more, but I don’t want to get too involved with that style of work. Keeping up with what stock they have, what they need next, billing etc is a lot of work, and I will only put my work in galleries where it is well displayed and actually sells well these days.
Marketing our work is a huge deal, and the side we find most challenging. However, like most of our creative process, if we just let go and let it happen, then it usually does just that!
This is great advice for anyone looking for and working with a gallery. And you know, I think that everyone can sure identify with the personal things you faced early on, too. And you are right you do have the right to pull your things from a gallery which does not work for you. That is important to remember!
Marketing…you are right, this is a huge deal. Remembering to Let Go and Let It Happen! I like that…think I will put it in my quote section!
Oh yes! Always remember that you are the creator of your work, and you must be happy with where it sits in any gallery or selling position!
It is a lesson I need to learn better.
Art Fair booth by 10 am - Full of lookers and hopefully buyers!
Do you enjoy writing about your art?
Yes, in some ways I enjoy it, but I’d rather be doing it! I’m never happier than when I’m working, and I tend to get rather impatient with anything that keeps me from it.
I love to be inspired by words, but could never have the patience to write about what I do technically – unless it was just in the form of advice to someone who wanted to know how a certain process was done.
I understand being impatient with things that keep you from creating!
You know, I think you are really great writing about your work. You have always been wonderful explaining things to me and sharing so much of your work with me in emails, etc. Even before you were doing glass, you were the greatest with all of that. At least I always look forward to your emails and hearing about the details of your creativity.
Ah, but I love to chat with you, Kim! You make it so easy!
Sometimes when I explain our friendship to other people I find it hard to get across how close you can become to another person just through the written word. It’s a personal treasure!
It is very much a personal treasure. There are so many people who don’t understand the closest relationships I have in my life, so I understand what you mean about finding it difficult to explain. I am just here thinking how long it has been we have been doing this and building this relationship. I can’t remember exactly, but I think we are looking at about 10 years or so now.
Amber Glow Necklace and Bracelet
What other art forms interest you? In what way?
I’m always fascinated by all forms of creativity, and love nothing more than an afternoon at an art gallery, just soaking up the display of work. I just love to see what other people produce from their inner space.
I’ve always loved fibre, and still love to see fabulous embroidery, though I don’t think that I will become involved in any work of that type any more.
I love to play with pastels and paints, and will pick up a piece of wire and pliers to do a little wirework at times.
Apart from that, I’ve become so involved with glass that it’s rather taken over my life. It has become my grand passion!
And the passion shows a lot, too! I can say I have always loved all of your art, but the glass has really driven you and that is very cool!
Rainbow Chakra Crystal Set
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
The beads bring me close to lots of people in a very intimate way, and I have been very privileged to have been involved with weddings, love stories, funny stories, sad stories, funerals and family stories.
Beads are a part of nearly every society, and they are inextricably woven into our social structure. I’m always aware that every bead that I make will go to be used by someone and become an intimate part of their life story.
Because of the durability of the glass, each bead will probably last for thousands of years, so I hope that they will be passed on through families and create their own legends and stories.
I recently restored a crystal necklace for a woman who had been given the necklace by her mother’s bridesmaid after her mother had passed away – the necklace had been a gift from the bride to her bridesmaid. This is just one of hundreds of stories…
Oh Les, this is a beautiful story and it is so cool how you make these connections, too. Now there would be a great collection of stories collected by you through your work! And it is true about beads and about jewelry…how important have they been throughout history. It reminds me of Native American wampum (beads used as money)…I am sure there are lots of societies who used beads in this way.
Rock Candy Set, full crystal AB
Thanks so much for sharing so much of yourself and your art with us here. I know there are glass artist who read this blog and will be very happy reading all about your experiences. It has been a real honor for me!
Beads are used in almost every single culture throughout history – they were used as money, and human lives were even traded with them.
Yes, Native Americans called the beads they used for trade “wampum”.
Ivory and Gold Heart
You’ve got me thinking now about journaling the many stories…even if it’s just for my own pleasure.
You should…blog them and share. I have a feeling you would have a lot of readers
Thank you for the interview, Kim! It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to share my passion with you.
And Les, it has been an honor to be able to talk with you more about your glass work and to be able to bring your beautiful story to others. Thank you so much!
Gold on Dark Red Heart
I hope you have enjoyed this Conversation With Lesley McIver. As you can see, she is a phenomenal artist. Please remember Lesley is about 17 to 20 hours ahead of US times, so some comments will be delayed. She is also occupied late in the week, but I will be here to comment too. I hope you will take the time to explore her web site from time to time as she is always developing new work.
I will catch you the end of the week.