L.A. is a city of artists, or as Debbie Bean saw it, a city of people wanting to be artists or even claiming to be, while also working service jobs and not quite making it full-time. She was a creative kid. But, raised by parents with practical careers, she had trouble defining herself as an artist. It wouldn’t be until years later—after graduation, a series of rejected career paths, and exploration of art in its many forms—that Debbie would finally feel she had found her calling and made peace with the label.
Of the other successful artists in her life, she says, “They don’t think twice about it, and they just have this amazing, straight trajectory. And for me, that was not the case.”
I didn’t want to be one of those people who just ruins their life thinking they’re gonna be one thing.
In 2003, as Debbie moved from L.A. to New York to pursue creative work, she fought with the practical side of her brain. “I didn’t want to be one of those people who just ruins their life thinking they’re gonna be one thing,” she says. Still, she found work as a photographer. She paid the bills taking admin-type jobs for other creatives—drawing on skills she learned from growing up in her father’s accounting business—and even worked as an assistant to Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland.
She was fortunate, she says, to be getting the commercial work shooting for musicians, and enjoyed the creativity of her fine art side projects, but photography didn’t fulfill her in the way that she’d hoped. “I didn’t feel that fire in my belly,” she says.
In 2006, she moved back to California and happened to meet a Tibetan Lama. She was invited to spend time in the Tehachapi Mountains learning the art and spiritual practices of the Tibetan monks. “For them, it’s not like, ‘Oh, we’re artists,’” she says. “It’s just a natural part of who they are in their life.” The experience inspired her to dip into her creative side again—now without the pressure of defining it—and she started experimenting with stained glass. “I didn’t have any expectations. I was just doing it to reconnect with a childhood love of mine.”
It felt right. The medium compelled her to seriously consider art as a career for the first time. Debbie’s husband encouraged her to take a chance. It would mean that the couple would have to survive on a single income for a while, they knew. “We didn’t go anywhere,” she says of the early days of starting her business. “We didn’t do anything. I cooked at home. We didn’t go shopping.” She was determined, though, to not be yet another failed L.A. artist.She launched her first website in August 2014 and by that December, she was preparing for the Echo Park Craft Show. Signing up for an in-person event forced her to really think about it as a business, developing marketing assets and building inventory. Word of mouth after the show led to some solid holiday sales. She’d sometimes pop the trunk of her car in the parking lot after a yoga class because someone at the studio wanted to buy from her. “That December proved to me [that] I can make money doing this,” she says.
What I discovered for myself is that I am best served by being the creative director.
Several years have passed and you can still find Debbie, The Artist, working full-time in her studio, making a living through her eponymous glass business. She has since hired help and sells her modern stained glass mosaics to over 50 retailers and, through her online store, to customers around the globe.
Learning to delegate tasks like copper foiling (the process of applying copper foil to the leading in stained glass work) was one of her biggest challenges as an artist, she says. “What I discovered for myself is that I am best served by being the creative director.” She also has the space to explore projects outside of her glass work, like her recent collaboration with Dime Nails. “It doesn't take away from it being a Debbie Bean product,” she says. “It doesn’t take away from it being handmade.”
Two years ago, Debbie and her husband bought a house in Shadow Hills, dotted with native plants like agave and varieties of cacti. The flora has inspired color palettes in some of her new work. She says she’s opening her eyes more, allowing her work to evolve as she connects with things in her surroundings. In this way, she stays excited about her work. “That’s the job of an artist,” Debbie says. “We’re supposed to be experimenting. We’re supposed to be playful.”
Photography by Gemma Warren