Laura Gasparrini: Jewelry Artist, Teacher and Crimping Plier Inventor

Interviewed and Compiled by Anne Marie Hunter, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

OmTara Pliers

OmTara™ Pliers

Story of OmTara Pliers

A renowned jewelry artist, teacher and author, Laura Gasparrini is also the inventor of a line of state-of-the-art crimping pliers, carried by Fire Mountain Gems and Beads. Bringing new ease to crimping, these tools have been called ''the crimpers for people who hate to crimp.''

Laura began designing jewelry when she was just 13 and, at 15, designed her first line of jewelry using antique buttons. When she finished this first collection, Laura made an appointment with a jewelry buyer at Bloomingdale's in New York. ''Though she didn't buy my jewelry, this woman was so kind and treated me with such respect. I was treated like an artist.''

This pivotal moment in Laura's life shaped and established the foundation for her teaching philosophy over the past three decades. Currently, Laura teaches in Santa Barbara, as well as at trade shows across the country, and has taught students from pre-school through college.

''I believe in the gentle approach with children and adults. We are all little people inside, especially when it comes to our creativity.'' Laura teaches beginning stringing and crimping, wirework, mixed media, and much more. Laura's favorite medium is leather. ''I love working in leather. It has an earthy elegance.''

About ten years ago, with her students as inspiration, Laura began a new journey designing tools--specifically crimping pliers. ''Many people hate to crimp,'' she says. ''They say they are bad at it. As a teacher, I didn't want any of my students to feel ''bad'' at something and it falls on the teacher to help students.''

''For many jewelry artists, beginning and advanced alike, crimping is a stressful and frustrating process but, it is an essential skill well worth mastering. Over the years, I have watched many students become discouraged with the necessity of crimping. The traditional two-step crimping process is exacting and each step must be done precisely, or the crimp fails to secure beads onto the wire.'' Laura believes crimping is an essential foundation skill for jewelry design and, once mastered, greatly expands jewelry artists' potential for creative expression.

In noticing her students' struggle with crimping, Laura realized tools were limited for crimping. So, she made it her passion to learn about them. Serendipitously, as Laura was pondering a way to help students with crimping skills, her engineer-fisherman father was in the process of inventing a tool to crimp big crimps on fishing line.

When Laura saw this crimper, and the potential for jewelry-making, she asked her father's help in designing her own crimping tool. With specifications for beading crimp sizes, he helped her draw and design a line of crimping pliers.

The name for her jewelry business since its inception, Laura also named her line of pliers OmTara™. ''OmTara'' are the first words of a mantra to Tara, the female Buddhist deity representing success in work and achievement who is always ready to jump in and help those in need. Laura felt OmTara™ would be a fitting name for her innovative, beneficial tool line. Laura's OmTara™ crimping pliers are now manufactured by EuroTool® and available to jewelry designers around the world.

When asked what these crimping tools mean to Laura and her students, she responded, ''People tell me they are the best tools they have ever used. When someone tries them and can crimp in one step, they buy them. It takes away all the negative emotion with crimping and gets them to the creative part, doing what they're best at.''

With her lifetime of accomplishments, Laura says, ''These tools are the most important work I've ever done. They give a designer confidence about the process and the final product. My tools are a support for others to discover their creativity.''

Empress Talisman
Meet the Designer-Artist

Where do you live?
Beautiful Santa Barbara, California.

Describe your artistic style.
Inspired Adornment: Rustically elegant Artisan Jewelry.

What inspires you as a designer-artist?
I love earthy materials: pearls, gemstones, metal, leather, silk and linen. I've sewn and crafted since I was a child, designed clothing for my own line and that of other designers, so I love to incorporate traditional fiber arts techniques--sewing, stitching, braiding, knotting, macramé--into my designs.

What materials do you most enjoy working with?
Leather, pearls, gemstones, silk cord, linen cord, metal beads. I love incorporating found objects into my work for something unexpected.

What is the name of the piece you submitted with your success story?
Empress Talisman

What inspired this design?
I have always loved mythology, and have studied the tarot and divine feminine archetypes since my early teens. The Empress represents the archetype of the Great Mother, and she is a continuous source of inspiration to me in my art, my business, OmTara and in my life.

The Empress Talisman is one of my earliest pieces, and it continues to be one of my favorites. It was purchased by a beautiful woman inside and out, who is the embodiment of the Great Mother--a loving, generous and deeply caring person.

How did it come together?
I experimented with the concept of the Empress, picturing what she would look like, imagining the colors that she would wear. Then I went to my bead stash and pulled out what ever called to me. I enjoyed beaded appliqué, so I started in that technique for the pendant. Once the pendant was done how I would create the necklace became more clear. I really enjoy the feeling of discovering a piece when I work; I love the creative process as it unfolds.

Share Your Background

When and how did you begin making jewelry/beading?
I started making jewelry when I was about 13. My mother owned 3 boutiques in NY and CT near where I grew up, and I made jewelry to sell in her boutique. My mom and I happened upon a fantastic button collection someone was selling, and I created a line of button jewelry when I was 15. I made an appointment to show it to the jewelry buyer at Bloomingdale's. My mom drove me there, and I met with the buyer. She didn't take the collection--I only have one piece left of that collection in my childhood memorabilia, and it definitely isn't the greatest!--but she treated me with the utmost respect and encouraged me to keep designing. I am certain she contributed greatly to the confidence and enthusiasm with which I approach my work every day. I don't remember her name, but at the start of every session of Introductory Beading I teach, I tell that story and send a thank you out to her wherever she is!

Who introduced you to beading?
I am not sure who introduced me, but I imagine it was my mother. I grew up in a very crafty family--my mother, aunt and both my grandmothers were avid sewers, quilters, painters, ceramic or fiber artists ... and we didn't have a television. As children we read, crafted, cooked--it was part of the fabric of our family.

Do you have an artistic background?
I am not formally trained in art, though I did study oil painting from age 5 - 7. As I mentioned, creativity was all around me while I was growing up. In addition to the maternal side of my family, my father was an engineer and inventor, and he would bring his inventions home and ask us to tell him what they were for. We thought he was a train engineer for a long time, so the answers were often quite funny. My paternal grandfather was a retired tile setter and fisherman. I remember watching him hand tie and repair fishing nets, and learned many knots and splicing techniques from him that I use today.

I did have a bad experience in elementary art class that turned me off from painting 'til much later in life, and though I have taught set design, had a faux finishing business; I still have not picked up a paintbrush to paint in oils. I think that classroom experience pointed my creative expression toward the world of craft where I felt comfortable. Even now I remember the experience, and as a teacher, I am careful not to impose a limiting view on the work of my students. I see creative expression as a process, and feel it is important to encourage exploration.

How did you discover Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®?
I happened upon Fire Mountain when I started purchasing materials for my classes. I teach 4 beading classes a week at our local college--about 200 people every week, so I need a wide range of high quality materials that are affordably priced.

What other hobbies do you have?
I love to cook, garden, craft most anything!, collage, walk, kick box, beach comb and travel.

Do you belong to any beading societies or beading groups?
Not yet. I have been asked to form a local beading guild, and have looked into the possibility. I would love to find a group of colleagues that would be willing to work together to make that happen in Santa Barbara.

Beading Success

What role does jewelry-making play in your life?
Beading is my full-time work. I design, create and teach beading at our local college and privately through my business, OmTara. I invented a new crimping tool--the Easy Crimp™ Crimping Pliers--that I am currently marketing in the US. I create kits, tutorials and videos, and am currently working on developing a DVD series on Beginning Beading as well as a book on a specific technique.

I offer bead tours to the Tucson shows, and several years ago lead bead tours to Thailand and Bhutan. I am hoping to offer another Asia tour in the next year or so.

If you used jewelry-making as a way to bring in income, how are you selling yourself and your jewelry?
I have an active blog based website: Inspired Adornment, a Facebook page for my business: OmTara, and a YouTube channel: OmTaraBead. I also have Etsy and Artfire sites that I don't work as much as I could.

I attend trade shows throughout the West Coast to market my crimper and teach at those shows as well. I have merchandised a clothing designer friend's booth at a trade show in NY and brought in accounts that way. Several years ago I co-owned a gallery with a group of other artists in our town, and when I launched my business, I produced quarterly fairs as a way for myself and other artists to market their wares.

I send out a weekly newsletter to my email list keeping them abreast of upcoming classes, bead sales, giveaways and the like. I recently participated in a Giveaway of my crimper in Bead Trends magazine and on my Facebook page as well. In the new year I am planning on offering quarterly Crimper giveaways and Design of the Month giveaways of a specific tutorial and materials kit.

I connect with other creative people by following their blogs and taking online classes. There is so much creativity and good will out there in the world--it feels good to be a part of it.

Do you participate in any charity fundraisers?
I donate group and individual classes, including materials, to many schools in our area. Last year I donated classes valued at over $500 to over 6 local schools. I have donated beads and other materials to local groups working with children and developmentally disabled adults.

Any advice for aspiring jewelry-artists?
Give yourself some me time to create. If possible, make sure you have a space to work that doesn't need to be cleaned up every day, even if it is only a tray or a rolling cart that you can put in a closet or behind a chair.

Experiment: Most often I don't think too hard about the specific materials and color combos I'm going to use in a piece. I usually decide the technique, then "graze" on my bead stash, gathering what catches my eye. Sometimes these materials can seem at odds with each other, but I proceed anyway. I place all the materials on my work place--it can be as simple as a bead mat, even a paper plate--then I begin. I give myself permission to start wherever I feel the impulse, and to change my mind midstream. My sense is there is usually a piece that wants to emerge, and if you can get your mind out of the way for a while, there's a good chance you'll surprise yourself.

One rule I have for myself is I make myself finish a piece even if I think it's "ugly." Most activities look messy when they are in process--think of cooking a meal or cleaning a room. Usually when I let myself finish a piece I've started, it turns out well. Beading is a very forgiving hobby--if you don't like it, you can take it apart when you're done.