Raven’s Journey offers a lot of amazing Czech glass beads that are among some of the finest in the world. We love all of the different shapes and colors they offer. Lenka Bindzar, the founder of Raven’s Journey, works closely with artisans in the Czech Republic to continue the age-old tradition of producing these fabulous glass beads. Lenka is from the Czech Republic herself and today she and her team are committed to bringing unique and beautiful products to the market.
You may have seen Lenka on a couple of Artbeads Cafe episodes previously. She has chatted with Cynthia about the art of making beautiful Czech glass beads and she returned for another episode all about Czech glass buttons and Raven’s Journey’s lovely selection of handmade porcelain items. We were able to ask Lenka more questions about herself and, of course, about Czech glass! Read on to learn more about this passionate bead and jewelry designer.
How did you get started creating/designing Czech glass beads?
I am a creative, crafty, and hands-on kind of girl, so it was only a matter of time for me to notice beads. When I discovered Czech glass beads at a local bead shop, I was in my early 20s. After a friendly chat with the store owner, a light bulb went on over my head – I need to bring more of these beautiful beads to my new home in the Pacific Northwest.
After a few years of buying what was offered, I was able to purchase enough to start ordering new beads to my specifications. This allowed me the creative freedom to make the beads I’d always dreamed of having. After 20 years, I am lucky enough to have some amazing relationships with the artisans, so I can influence every step of the production. From finding the glass at the glass factory to designing a new contemporary mold, we get to create these beads together and that has been very fun and rewarding.
I love glass so much and Czech glass beads come in such variety of shapes, colors, and finishes, I never get bored. The process can be challenging but fun! I still enjoy it after all these years. Designing beads is like being on vacation in my dream world. My customers are always looking for new beads, they keep pushing me to innovate, year after year.
What’s the process for making Czech beads? How long does it take? (You don’t have to give us any bead making secrets!)
The glass bead making process in Czech is very old. The Italians taught the craft to the artisans of Bohemia several hundred years ago. Since the mechanization of the process, things have changed but there is still artisanship at every stage of production.
The beads start as a colored glass cane made in factories using the same secret formulas for generations. The glass cane is melted using several different methods and pressed into a two-sided mold while a needle pierces the hot glass to leave behind the hole.
After pressing, the beads are tumbled to remove excess glass from the finished mold shape. Next up the beads are finished using heat and sometimes pressure. If there is any faceting or top finish, that will happen next with a second round of heat polishing to remove any blemishes from the facets and to heat seal the finish to the glass.
All of our beads are then strung into hanks to ensure that the hole is of sufficient size to be usable by the artist.
You can see that the process is labor intensive. For a bead we make, regularly it usually takes about 3-6 months. Conversely it can take up to a year to design a new custom mold shape, have it tested, and then produced.
What are some of your favorite beads you’ve designed or some of your favorite bead colors?
I love our Horned Owl bead the best. It was our first mold design from an idea on paper to a finished bead. It has so much tiny detail work for a glass bead. I was excited to collaborate with Brad, my partner in life and business, on the design. It marked a new era for Raven’s Journey: being able to make any idea we can dream up come to life as a bead. Owls are very interesting birds and I think people will always be intrigued by them. They make very cute earrings – I wear mine all the time!
Second are the new Lotus coins. This is another custom mold design and its new, so I may be a bit biased. I love all flowers, but water lilies and lotus blossoms are special to me. The lotus symbolizes purity, beauty, rebirth, sun, prosperity, eternity, spirituality. No wonder it is a symbol popular with the yoga culture and yoga is my favorite exercise right after hiking in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest.
What are some of your other hobbies?
Hiking with friends, camping, traveling, organic gardening and healthy food-making, homemaking, glass mosaics, stained glass, and reading. I also love dogs and cats, knitting/sewing, and of course beading!
What inspires your creations?
It’s always nature. I know it may sound cliché but it’s true! There is so much to discover in nature, wild or tamed in the garden. Every day I surround myself with nature I can see something brand new, something I never noticed before.
I have been gardening my whole life and I just learned this year about so many kinds of new berries for our new garden and I am stunned by their beauty and taste. The combinations of color and texture in nature provide endless inspiration.
What keeps your creativity flowing?
I have a lot of practical tasks at work. We are a small business, so sometimes I have to get my hands dirty. My favorite part of the job is the creative side – when I have all of my “chores” done and it’s time to create, I’m very excited for the task.
My customers are also very inspiring with their amazing creations. I am lucky that many consider me a friend and share desires and ideas that I can then incorporate into our new lines of beads. I could not do it without their support and feedback. Even though I know what I love, I want to create beads for more than one style of beading and their perspective is welcome and valued.
What does the name Raven’s Journey mean?
Ravens are curious, smart birds that like shiny objects. I was drawn to a common Native American myth from tribes that surrounded the Salish Sea in the Pacific Northwest. In the legends, the raven brought to the people the sun from the creator. I always imagined a raven carrying a shiny sun in its beak to the people that needed it. Then I imagined myself traveling thousands of miles across the ocean to Europe and back to bring all these beautiful shiny glass beads to share with my people and make them happy.
Some people think I’m the raven. I’m not sure about that but my life has been an interesting journey for sure!
Do you make jewelry, too? What’s your favorite type of jewelry to make?
Yes! Every time its someone’s birthday, I rush to my office/studio and make something with my friend in mind.
I also get very inspired and motivated to bead when we receive new shipments of new beads and when my younger sister visits. She is such a talented jewelry maker. We can bead for hours together and have great quality time. Also bead parties are fun with friends, even if I only end up making very simple things because we have so much fun just being together as a group.
I would like to add more of that to my life and currently, we are building a new warehouse with a large office/designing studio and I plan to have friends, neighbors, and their kids over to bead together.
I mostly love simple jewelry that I can make in a few hours, not days. My work keeps me very busy and unfinished projects stress me out a little. I pretty much play with shapes and colors, not too many special techniques, and create simple jewelry that I can wear every day. Working, gardening, hiking, even doing dishes. Life is too short to leave my jewelry behind!
Where is your favorite place to design beads or create jewelry?
In my new home studio. It’s very peaceful, spacious and I have big windows to look out at nature and the changing seasons. I do get lots of new ideas while working with our beads. It’s hard not to. I am surrounded by beads at work. Walls and walls of them. It’s my shiny woman/bead-cave. Sometimes even looking at a customer’s order will inspire me towards some new bead designs.
I like to bead on the road while Brad drives. Many miles to ride, nothing else to distract me, and I can limit myself with just the beads in front of me. That is good for me, otherwise I keep going back to my warehouse for more options until I’m overloaded and never finish my design.
I love beading with my sister anywhere, just need a large table and two chairs, preferably outside on sunny day. With tea!
Any advice for beginning jewelry makers?
Start with simple projects that you can finish in one day or one sitting. Wear them out and see what people say. You will see, you will be at your next project in no time. Friends love homemade jewelry gifts and they are so easy to make and bring so much love. From making them and then giving them. I enjoy seeing friends wear the gifts I have given them.
I like to have a new necklace for every outfit I wear, and beads are the best for that. Glass beads mix so well with stones and any kind of metal and ceramics. It’s fun and easy to create one of a kind pieces. With simple bead work there is no fear. If you dislike what you made after few years or a few minutes you can cut it loose and re-create with a few new beads to mix it up.
We loved learning about Lenka and her passion is contagious! Raven’s Journey beads are so beautiful, you can’t help but add them in to every project, especially when you know the rich history behind them. Let us know your favorite Raven’s Journey beads in the comments below. You can also share pictures of the creations you’ve made with Czech glass on our Facebook page.