Margaret Zinser: Muse Personality

Tonya Davidson presents Muse Personality: Margaret Zinser

Date started working in glass:

I started beadmaking at the end of 2001, and have been working with glass full time since 2005.

I received my training from:

I have taken workshops with Bandhu Dunham, Shane Fero, Bronwen Heilman, Laura Donefer, Karen Willenbrink, and Roger Parramore. I have many more ‘teachers’ than this short list includes, as I’ve learned so much by collaborating with fellow glass artists, particularly Calvin Mickle and Andrew Brown.

Accomplished at what media in addition to glass:

I was certified with PMC (by Tonya!) in 2003, and I have ‘dabbled’ in lots of other media: fine silver fusing, leather, silk dying, and shrinkydinks.

In college and graduate school, I did a bit of work in biological illustration of insects, and that has been a stepping point for my current body of work.

My latest non-glass project has me designing a line of laser-engraved Alder wood jewelry, and it’s great fun: a perfect merging of art and technology!

Website url, Short bio and your passion statement:

Bio Passion Statement

Margaret Zinser lives in Tucson, Arizona and has worked with glass since 2001. In 2004, she completed work for her Master’s degree in Entomology (another fascination with things small and colorful), and her background is certainly apparent in her insect-themed Beetle, Bee, and Butterfly beads. The technique and chemistry of working with glass feed Margaret’s scientific side while the freedom allowed by working with a molten medium nourishes her creative soul. As a strong supporter of arts in the community, Margaret currently serves on the Board of Directors of both Sonoran Glass Art Academy and Beads of Courage.

Margaret Zinser’s glass beads and jewelry have been featured in exhibitions and galleries throughout the US, Canada, and Japan, and in several magazines, including Glass Art Magazine,The Flow, Bead and Button, and Bead Unique. To learn more, please visit her website,

Before beadmaking became my full-time job, I had grand plans to get a doctorate, and work in entomology. But things change, as they do, and should. During grad school, glass brought me more joy, autonomy, and strangely, intellectual stimulation than my graduate work, so I made the decision to finish with a Master’s Degree, and then pursue beadmaking full-time.

While that decision process was underway, as a sideline to my undergrad and graduate work, I practiced biological illustration, focusing primarily on insects. The variation, color, detail, and pattern among insects continues to be one of my largest sources of inspiration. While I loved doing representational work, I craved more creative freedom then representation permitted me. Learning vitreous enamel painting allowed me to translate the aesthetic in some of my illustrations without feeling bogged down by directly representing accurate biological details, and giving myself the creative freedom to include details from my imagination. All of the insect- themed pieces I make are stylized, and while there may be a ‘nod’ in color, shape, or detail to a specific insect species, I deliberately avoid direct representation. My process stays much more joyful as a result.

To craft these pieces, I first create ‘blanks’ at the torch, often only using black glass as a base. Once the ‘blanks’ are annealed and cooled, I hand paint layers of vitreous enamels to add color and detail. To achieve stark contrast, bright color, and tiny details, I apply anywhere from two to six layers of enamel. Once painted, pieces are slowly heated in the kiln, and each re-introduced to the flame to ‘fire’ the enamels on to the surface of the piece.

What is your inspiration now?

The short answer is insects and the interconnectedness of nature. I am a vegetable gardening neophyte, and the daily watering/ garden maintenance chores provide accidental inspiration: in just a few minutes, I can find dozens of species of insects! Quite often, I get distracted watching a caterpillar, robberfly, honeybee, or other bug doing their thing in the garden. Regular hikes/ adventures into the desert help to fill the well of bug-inspiration, too!

Do you have a muse?

I suppose so. The work of Maria Sybilla Merian really speaks to me. She was a biological illustrator (who had no formal training in biology) whose drawings and etchings in the late 1600’s/ early 1700’s helped to shape our modern understanding of metamorphosis. Today (April 2) would have been her 366th birthday. It was some of her early etchings that motivated me to start learning biological illustration back in college. While on a teaching trip to the Netherlands in 2011, and again in 2012, I was blessed with the opportunity to see and handle an original printing of the very book that drew me to her in the first place. By comparison, the contemporary printing that I marveled over for years looked like a bad photocopy! What speaks to me about Merian’s work is the detail- delicate hairs on a caterpillar done with single-hair brushes; fine white pencil highlights to catch the light on pink feathers on a flamingo; the crinkly, withered edge of an opened tulip petal. Its apparent from her work that Merian spent hours and hours examining, scrutinizing, and relishing the details of the species she chose to represent. What speaks to me almost as much as her work is Merian’s history of trailblazing: in the late 1600’s, she divorced her husband (then unheard of!) and traveled to Surinam to continue her research of insects. Her singular focus is certainly inspiring.

What is currently on your bench/workspace?

Right now, a mess, to be honest. I’m writing from Las Vegas, where I’m gearing up to teach at Glass Craft & Bead Expo. When I leave Tucson to teach, my studio gets put on hold, and because I’m admittedly a procrastinator, open projects get shoved aside while I pack up my tools, torch, and glass. What remains on my bench right now are the remnants of recent tinkering over the last few weeks. I’m trying to learn a few new techniques, and really focusing on process, so my intention is that these remnants will never leave the shop while I my skills build. I guess they’re veritable three-dimensional research notes.

What project/direction are you working on now?

I’m playing with scale, particulary increasing it. While I LOVE beads, and LOVE making them, I really want to expand what I make- larger marbles, sculptures. Truthfully, I’ve been making beads full time for just over 8 years, and I think I’m having the equivalent of the “7 year itch” with my glass work. Let me be clear- I love glass and have no plans to stop working with it. That said, I’m in the process of figuring out what comes next, what that will look like, and prioritizing creating (physical and temporal) space to facilitate that learning. The process is thrilling and scary and fun and challenging and humbling, all at the same time.

How much time do you average at the bench per week?

That varies dramatically based on my show and teaching schedule. On the regular grind, I’m in the shop 6 to 8 hours a day, 4 days a week. (The remaining three days are used as follows: one day for admin/ house work, one day for out-of-shop work: meetings, errands, etc., and one day off.) Before a show, it’s not uncommon to double that time. Right after a show, it’s not uncommon that time is cut in half, while I spend time catching up on administrative tasks, housework, and resting up.

What's the average time you spend on a piece?

My time investment on enameled pendants or marbles can range anywhere from 2 to 10 hours.

Do you sell your work? and where?

I sell at trade shows, art fairs, the occasional music festival (working vacation!). Between shows and fairs, I take orders from designers and collectors, and work with a few galleries around the country.

Tonya Davidson presents Muse Personality: Margaret Zinser

Where do you get your new ideas?

Ideas aren’t the challenge! Time to execute them all to completion is the challenge! In all seriousness, ideas come often- in the shop, in the garden, at a museum, talking with fellow artists, you name it. Ideas aren’t my challenge- finding the focus to prioritize where my energy goes is.

Do you keep a sketchbook and how do you organize it?

I have several. One for drawing, one for journaling, one that I take to classes/ conferences. They aren’t really organized other than I move through them front to back, and date entries.

Are there places or things you avoid that zap your creativity?

My biggest struggle with summoning creativity comes right after trade show or teaching trips. It’s often hard to get back in the shop after I take a day off. My pitfall is that I get the crazy notion that my administrative/ home ‘ducks’ need to be in a row before I go back in the shop, and I end up occupying myself with BUSY-ness. It’s productive time, but time that doesn’t benefit my greater good as much as just getting back in the shop does. It took a while to identify this particular pattern, and I have to actively work to kick myself back in the studio after trips. In reality, the tasks that keep me in ‘BUSY-ness’ mode aren’t that important, and don’t all need to get done before I go create again. They can wait. Making and creating is more important. It’s not a glamorous reality, but it’s the truth. (shrug)

Do you have a ritual before you begin to create?

I’d say its less ritual and more of a habit. I clear my bench from the day before (sometimes), cue up my media (music or TV series that I can listen to while on the torch) for the day, kiln on, and get the shop ready to go. That’s usually first thing in the morning, and then I feed the animals (2 dogs and a cat), water the garden, spend a few minutes outside, and return inside to a READY shop.

What do you collect?

Glass by fellow artists! After years of trading, and picking up a piece at each show, I have built up quite the collection of small, flameworked objects (mostly beads with a smattering of marbles, paperweights, perfume bottles, and vessels). I also collect puzzles, mostly wood 3D puzzles.

How do you rejuvenate your creativity?

Clean my studio. Go for a walk. Stretch. Sit in the garden. Cook. Open my journals/ sketchbooks. Sometimes, if I cannot find my focus, leaving the shop for the afternoon helps to take the pressure off, so that I’m rejuvenated the next day.

As strange as it sounds, production work sometimes helps me to break out of a slump. I put myself through a cycle of not making enough, then giving myself grief about it, and then continuing not to make enough because I’m mad at myself. It’s silly, but it happens. So, once I catch on that’s what I’m doing, backing off, taking it easier on myself, and doing “easy” production work can help to push a ‘reset’ button. Seeing sellable inventory build up in the kiln is always nice, and it helps to engender motivation and energy to get to the good, challenging work.

What would your perfect creative day be like?

In truth, I’m so very grateful to have the job I do. It allows me so much autonomy, which is a good thing for me. So my ‘perfect’ creative day isn’t much different from good ‘ol work days. In the perfect creative day, the execution matches design and intention, when my hands make exactly what my brain imagines, on the first try. It’ll happen at some point. Any day now… (wink)

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