…A Guide For The Aspiring Bead Artist
by Warren S. Feld

Excerpts From This Ever-Evolving Tale.....

I don’t mean to drag a poor Elephant by its tail, kicking and screaming, into our bead world against its wishes. Nor do I perceive the elephant to be a threat, like you might see an Elephant in the boudoir, or the fine china store. And I don’t want you to shut your eyes and pretend not to notice that this Elephant is here, standing shoulder to shoulder with every beader and jewelry maker around.

The Elephant is not a joke. And the fact that it is “Rogue” makes it more important than ever to figure out why it’s here, among size #10 English beading needles, and Czech size 11/0 seed beads, and Austrian crystal beads. It seems so worldly, yet other-worldly, our Elephant. It’s not our muse. It’s not our Cassandra. It has no secret plan or strategy. It does not depend on its size to make its point. It does not hesitate to stomp and chomp and clomp because the beads before it are raku or glass or gemstone or crystal or metal or plastic. But a Rogue Elephant in the middle of our craft room forces upon us a completely different logic, so that we can make sense of it all.|




I have been working for years and years trying to get beaders and jewelry makers to find and bead their Rogue Elephants. Lots of exhortations. Lots of demonstrations. Lots of pleading, cajoling. Complaining. Whining. Stating and Re-Stating what I think is the obvious.

But often to no avail.

For me, the Design Perspective for making jewelry has been such a “high.” It’s made me think through how to make better choices. Better challenge myself and my assumptions. It’s made me find better avenues for expressing my creativity. It’s helped me better understand the process of jewelry construction.

But whereas most people express a surface interest in Design, they too often are trapped in the Craft or Art perspectives, and are missing out on all the fun and excitement.

All right, “trapped” is my word. People are actually content in their Craft or Art worlds. And not particularly motivated to go beyond them.

But why not?

I struggle with finding the right buttons to motivate them to search for something more. To see their bead and jewelry-making worlds from different angles. In different lights. With more resilience and resonance and pizzazz.

To make works of wonder, not friendship bracelets. Or blue bracelets to go with blue dresses. Or red bracelets to go with red dresses.

I am Jewish, and Jews do not practice Proselytizing. Maybe because it is too difficult to get people to change their minds. Alter their opinions. Break out of their molds. And I don’t think I’m trying to force anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. But I get very frustrated trying to get people to open their minds a little more to see other possibilities.

Most people seem very content to bead within the world of Craft, where all the choices have been made for you. They follow pattern after pattern, and kit after kit. I rarely see originality, even among our students who have been beading and making jewelry for 10 or 15 years. The biggest choices involve what color palette to use. And no thought given to choices about which material to use, which shape bead, which size bead, which type of stringing material, which strategy of construction, which alternative stitches, which clasp assembly.

To me, the question is: Is she still doing kits?

To her, the question is: Isn’t this a wonderful kit?

To me, a second question is: What can she learn from the kit?

To her, the second question is: What will I wear this with?

Kits and instructions. How many customer after customer in my shop, or student after student taking classes, will not choose a different color or different type of bead or clasp, than what the instructions list, if they can’t find them. Projects sit on shelves waiting for the correct pieces, as listed, to be found. One bead-embellished shawl instructions listed “8mm beads” when it should have read “size 8/0 beads”, which are a lot smaller and not so heavy, but have larger holes for the yarn. But student after student using these instructions would buy 8mm beads, against our advice, find they would not work, and give up on the instructions. Crafters seem inured from seeing the possibilities.

So when Debby tells me a particular beaded jewelry component I made is “ugly”, but then recants when she sees it as part of the larger composition, I strain to wonder how she couldn’t – really, wouldn’t -- visualize the possibilities from seeing only the component. She thinks step-by-step. If one step doesn’t meet to her liking, she puts up a wall. In her mind, there is no process of creation. No process of construction. No the whole as greater than the sum of its parts.

Or when Irina recants, let’s not do that project because I don’t like pink. Or I don’t like flowers. Or it’s too girly. I wonder if she ever thinks whether she could learn something by doing this project. Or does every decision come down to whether I can and want to wear this project. Or not.

And Samantha, Ruth and Judy, so anxious to begin the project at hand, ask why they have to get into the selection of materials and strategies of assembly. The instructions are bug-free. The project is beautiful. We don’t want to change anything. There is no need to think anything more about it. Let’s get it done.

How often I hear jewelry makers, schooled and embedded within the Craft approach, call themselves “Designers”. But then I see them mix materials which should not go together in the same project. Or use inappropriate clasps. Or finish off their clasp assemblies in peculiar or ridiculous ways. And string their projects on materials which do not make sense. Two hundred dollars of beads on elastic string. Metallized plastic beads in heirloom bracelets. Necklaces which don’t drape right, or turn around the neck when worn.

These people are not Designers. They are Crafters.

All they want to know: “Is there a pattern for that?”

But pure Artists frustrate me, as well.

To Artists, it’s all about beauty and nothing else. They visualize their jewelry sitting in the display windows at Tiffany’s or Bergdorf-Goodman. Something to be admired through glass. Sitting on an easel or some other display. Admired as a painting or sculpture.

But the Designer must consider other issues, such as wearibility, movement, durability, context. These are meaningless concepts to the Artist, and they ignore them.

I had asked one of our teachers to explain to one of our student groups a color-blending strategy she had devised. She outlined the technical steps in determining which color, and which proportion of color, went where when. And stopped. Why, I asked her, didn’t she give her students more insight into what choices the teacher had made in coming up with this technique, and rejecting others? Why didn’t she give the students the design insights necessary for them to think through their own strategies for color-blending?

But the teacher didn’t follow what I was asking. The students left the class knowing one particular way to blend colors. A step-by-step approach based on art theories about color proportions. Not why it worked. Not why it might be better, or worse, than other approaches. Not any special considerations, given that we were working with beads and jewelry.

Much about jewelry design, when it comes to the Art approach, focuses on the use of color. But color is always presented in a painterly fashion, as if you could paint with beads and jewelry findings. People locked into this Art tradition judge success as if that piece of jewelry was a painting or sculpture – not something that is worn. And color is always oversimplified for the beader, to the detriment of all – at least, that’s how I feel.

Beads don’t come in every color. Their shapes and curves and crevices and color effects largely present themselves as multi-colors, not single colors, and as colors with shading, refraction and reflection you don’t get with paint on flat surfaces. Short of crushing the beads to blend them, you can’t blend easily. And when you lay out beads one-by-one, you are asking the eye and brain literally to take a leap of faith, to move from one bead to the next, over what is a significant gap between the experience of color on the first bead, from that experience of color on the next. How do you motivate the viewer’s eye/brain to jump that cliff?

Instructors in Art & Beads try to simplify and minimize all the choices involved in selecting colors. They teach how to select paint colors and paint palettes. They create books of examples. They reduce more interesting contradictions between bright and dull, and light and dark, to simple choices based on light and dark only. For example, they gloss over the bright/dull distinction. In a bright/dull contest, red would be brighter than pink or maroon, but in a light-dark contest, pink would be lighter and maroon would be darker. A different contrast. A different sense of light and its impact on reality. The latter – the light/dark -- is the only concern taught here. Students miss out on learning to discern another key color concept.

Artists see solutions through color-wheeled glasses. And often they are right. A tweak of color or shading or tint or intensity or value here and there often makes a good piece better, and a bad piece not-so-bad. Playing with colors that recede and project forward, or that warm or cool, can imbue a piece with more dimensionality, more play, more edge.

Yet these are not the only building blocks in the jewelry designer’s arsenal. You would think so, however, if you corralled yourself within this Art paradigm.

Artists always seem to find fault with color, pattern or texture: “That’s ugly,” they like to point out.

And the worst thing of all is that I want everyone to be a Designer – and most people don’t want to be. They are secure and happy and fulfilled as craftsperson or artist. They don’t aspire to more or different because “more” or “different” is not important to them. And there is no reason it should be.

So I feel ever more pressure to convert them, and convert them quickly.

I want them to see, feel, know, taste and smell why it is so exciting to bead a Rogue Elephant.



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