A tonbo-dama (literally “dragonfly ball”) is an ornate glass bead with a hole in the centre. Until today, their colourful variety, their style and shape is used for kanzashi, beautiful hairpins and also decorative kimono sash pins to compliment the kimono’s colours. However, as Japanese people sadly don’t wear traditional clothes so often these days, it is such a pity that these unique glass ornaments don’t have a chance to be shown. That is why today PingMag talks to Tomoko Nangu, who designs glass accessories under the name nangoo, giving this rich tradition an intimate, modern touch with fruit shapes, rainbow colours or polka dots.
Written by Ryoko
Translated by Kevin Mcgue
First, how did you get started making glass accessories?
I majored in glassmaking back when I was in art school. At that time, I thought I would like to do accessory design in the future, but I wasn’t really planning to make glass accessories. Actually, after I graduated, I became a designer at an accessory maker, but mostly accessories came out differently than I designed them. I had the feeling that it is very difficult to realise a design when working among so many other people. At that time I became serious about making glass accessories as a hobby.
A colourful ring…
… and one where its background colour shows through the transparent glass.
So that was a major decision for you?
At that time, I began thinking simply what I could achieve, and what kind of stance I could take toward what I wanted to do. When I thought about that, it seemed that what I could do is limited and simple. Maybe it is part of my personality that makes me unable to do things I can’t imagine myself doing. (Laughs)
Inside this glass ball floats a glass pink ribbon!
A beautiful necklace made from a grape motif.
And with what did you start making your accessories?
The first thing I made was a kanzashi, a decorative hairpin, with a tonbo-dama. I like kanzashi personally, and I wanted to try to make something that I myself would like to have. I thought I would make something that would suit both traditional Japanese clothes and western clothes, and I was really excited making it. Recently, I am happy when I make kanzashi and am able to easily express things in the design, which I wasn’t able to do at the beginning.
Rainbow colours all over…
Casual or dressy, these cute hair accessories could bring it together!
We are so happy to see that many of your designs use traditional tonbo-dama. However, your use of colours and shapes is different, making it easy to use your designs for everyday apparel…
When I first became interested in tonbo-dama, I made a lot of them, and I felt dissatisfied with the limitations of the design. Since the beginning, a tonbo-dama has been defined as “round with a hole in the centre.” If that is so, than the design possibilities become really limited. That makes it not as interesting, so I started to wonder if it is really necessary to stick with that concept. Is it really necessary to have a hole in the centre? I wanted to expand the possibilities of designing with glass, so I started to make designs shaped like pears or droplets of water, and use vibrant colours or polka dot designs. Of course, I also incorporate traditional techniques into what I am doing.
Using tonbo-dama as a starting point, this necklace is designed with a sweet pear-shaped motif.
Polka dots make such a nice impact .
This spiral design is created when the glass is still in a molten state. Wonderful!
Calming blue lines compliment the elegant white.
How do you get ideas for new designs?
In the process of creation, I often feel that I have done one thing long enough, or think that I would like to try something new. Of course, I also have ideas at other times, but it is rare for me to have a clear concept of exactly how I want a design to turn out when I begin.
Besides your studio, you also teach people how to make tonbo-dama. Please show us!
Yes, of course. It’s really simple. (Laughs) To make tonbo-dama, the basic things you need are a trowel, a gas burner, a thin iron rod, and coloured glass rods.
First you make some glass soft over the gas burner, and wrap that soften glass around an iron rod. Then you use the trowel to begin shaping the glass on the rod, shaping it a basic rounded shape. The important thing at this point is to not keep the glass over the heat for too long, or the finished product won’t be glossy. To prevent the glass from getting a muddy look, you have to work quickly. Also, in order to avoid stains getting into the glass, or glass that breaks easily, it is important to heat all of the glass evenly when working.
After the glass has been formed into a basic rounded shape, then it is time to add patterns. This time, let’s add some lines and polka dots. For that, we will soften up the colour rods over the gas burner. Then we gently stick this into the rounded glass, rotating it to create a thin line. Next, we gently poke the shape to add polka dots. The dots will protrude from the surface a bit, so we use a butter knife to smooth the surface.
Then the glass is soaked in a solution for about 40 minutes to set it, and it’s finished. Making the tonbo-dama in this hot weather was tough, but seeing the finished product is very refreshing. (Laughs.) I think that is one of the attractive things about glass.
Finally, what would be next for you in terms of glass design?
I really love looking at glass that has been melted with heat to form soft, beautiful shapes. I want to make works that express that softness to the people who see them!
Tomoko Nangu, thanks for talking with us today! We are delighted of your wonderful glass beads.