In the Studio with Stained Glass Artist Debbie Bean
It's only about a 30-minute drive from Los Angeles, but Tujunga — the quiet, quaint area where stained glass artist Debbie Bean lives and works — feels totally and pleasantly disconnected from much of the chaos that comes with city life. And that's a major reason that she and her husband opted to relocate there a few years ago. Bean's best-selling panels, hangings, and other products handmade using the traditional lead/copper foiling method, albeit with a decidedly modern, geometric aesthetic, are actually a surprisingly new endeavor for the creative, who previously worked as a photographer and has a background in business.
Though Debbie admits it was tough to part with her favorite city life amenities like close proximity to her yoga studio (The Raven) and her favorite Indian takeout spot (Agra Cafe), the move to her current cozy spot in the foothills of Angeles National Forest has proven to be a blessing. While she works on orders for stockists like Individual Medley, As of Now, and Yucca Valley's The End, the artist gets to be close to her three cats and dog, is totally submerged in nature, and doesn't have to sit through daily traffic. We headed to Bean's inspiring work space to learn a bit more about which wellness habits keep her sane, what she listens to in the studio, and how her love affair with stained glass was first sparked.
You've only been in this business for a few years. What did you do before and how did it help what you're doing now?
I’ve worn many hats before doing this full time. I was a photographer for years and worked with film for most of that time. There are so many parallels between the two art forms. I guess I love toiling away in a dark room or studio for hours on end experimenting and seeing what new creations I can come up with! I also grew up in my Dad’s accounting firm, so I come to the table with a strong business background which I think has helped me immensely in growing my business. I have a real love for the art of business and I think it’s a radically different time to be a woman running her own business. The majority of people I work with are women and sometimes I take a step back and think about how different the landscape would be only a decade ago.
Do you have a nostalgic connection to stained glass?
I grew up with stained glass in my house. I designed my first panel when I was 10 for a window in a bathroom door in my childhood home that we needed to replace and I took my first class my last year in high Sschool. Stained glass has always held a special place in my life, so it made sense a few years ago when I came back to it.
In what ways do you think about modernizing this rather traditional art form?
I don’t think I consciously approach it with the intent to modernize it. I think I work in a way that resonates with what I love design wise and in the process of doing so it re-contextualizes it in a way so that people look at stained glass with a new perspective. I love seeing how excited people get when they look at my work and think about the stained glass they grew up with and connect to my designs in a whole new way.
How important is wellness in your routine?
I couldn’t work as much as I do if I didn’t take care of myself. It’s always a balancing act for me and it’s easy to work too long or not get enough sleep, but I try my best and remind myself often that not everyday will be perfect and I can always hit the restart button the next day. I think treating yourself with kindness is probably the most important part of anyone’s wellness routine. I use that philosophy in my everyday life and remember that most everyone I am dealing with is just as stressed out and overworked as me and not to take things personally. Wellness, for me, is a combination of the mind and body so meditation is just as important as my morning cup of turmeric-ginger tea. If I’m not treating my mind and only focusing on my body I’m missing half of the equation.
What are you must-haves in studio?
Podcasts are a must! I love the Radiotopia family and if I’m working in the studio by myself, my music choices run the gamut from Black Sabbath to Lil’ Kim to my recent favorite, The Gundecha Brothers (thanks to my yoga instructor, Tony G!). The time of day and weather really dictates what I listen to so it’s always changing in the studio. Aside from that, lots of water a pile of glass, lots of lead and solder and a good glass cutter are always in my studio.
Being your own boss, what's your advice for anyone else that creates their own schedule in terms of getting motivated?
On the days you don’t want to work, remind yourself how fortunate you are to be doing something you love and keep going forward. Everyone has different motivational things they do or how they structure their day. For me, I build in a slight routine for each day, but I allow myself to be flexible. That’s what works for me. I know certain nights I have to stop to go to yoga. I take advantage of working on weekends by going to a Friday morning class. It’s all about time management. I think people mistake not going to a job as having free time. My time is all allocated for. I know what has to be done and when and even with some part-time help in the studio, at the end of the day the responsibility falls on me to make sure orders go out, supplies are ordered, emails sent and replied to and so on. I handle every facet of my business, so if I’m not mindful of how much time something is taking me it effects everything else. Best advice? Delete your games off your phone and stay away from social media while you’re working —otherwise you’ll waste hours in the day that you could have spent building your business instead.