…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.|



Dabbling means stepping out of the realm of Craft and into the dominion of art. It’s where you want to convey your creative spark to someone else in a meaningful way. You may want to convey your sense of beauty and splendor. You may want to give this away. You may want someone to buy into it. You may want someone to learn what you did, so they can duplicate it.

That means you have to be able to articulate what you’ve done in words or symbols or displays or presentations or sets of instructions that someone else will understand and on which they will want to follow through. How Step 2 follows logically from Step 1. How bluish-red relates to gold purplish luster. Why one thread is better than another. Why one necklace sells for $100.00 where a similar one for $40.00. Why an antique effect achieved with opalescent fire polish glass might work better than a similar effect with champagne fumed crystal.

Dabbling is not babbling. It’s not doing just to do. It’s not stringing just to string. Nor is it weaving just to weave. Dabbling has an intent and purpose that is just a little bit more. It is a big leap, believe me – even if you are lucky enough to be riding an elephant at the time.

I wasn’t. But I worked in a bead store. I owned the bead store, and had to make it work.

You cannot work in a bead store without becoming something of a beader yourself! And try as I might to bury myself in my computer, and busy myself with marketing and accounting, and fill my time with shopping trips to Atlanta and Chicago and Las Vegas and Dallas, I could tell I was still catching the bug.

I made simple things at first. There were leather cords attached with coil ends and lobster claws, with dangling crystal points of every sort. There were simple seed bead and Austrian crystal bracelets. There were braided hemp friendship necklaces with the addition of a few beads. And lots of earrings. Some were made by gluing stones to flat posts. Others were made by creating dangles and dangling these from ball drop posts or French wires with balls and coils.

And as I made more earrings, they got more elaborate. I bead-wove some Indian style earrings. Then I used the same techniques to make long, shoulder-dusters, in art deco and art nouveau styles. In my travels, I saw some intricately worked pieces of jewelry which incorporated many techniques and very unusual beads and drops. I tried to imitate these. I learned that if I “frame” my beads or clusters of beads, they looked better. They looked more formal, more designed, richer. I could “frame” by using a small spacer bead or rondelle. I could also create a very small bead-wire-wrapped-connector, and separate the main focal section from the earwire with this tiny created connector, and have a much more professional look.

I made brooches by punching holes in larger brass stampings – deco ladies, angels, hearts – and creating drops from beads, crystals and charms. I could brush on reflective acrylic paints to create iridescent effects and wipe on metal leaf rouges and antiquing solutions to create wonderfully patina’d objects of desire.

I noticed more and more how I could add “dimension” to my pieces, so they would not be so flat or linear. It was very freeing. I could make flowers seem like they were blooming, and vines seem like they were flowing. I could adjust the shadow and interplay of light to enhance art deco designs. I could create other optical effects.

As my budding beading career started to mature, I discovered silver-smithing. I stopped beading, and jerked myself in a completely new direction.

No more beads. For a few years, no more beads. My focus was on metals and wires. While I often incorporated beads into my metal work, they were incidentals. Not important. No power. No sense that they contributed much to the resulting jewelry designs.

I learned about soldering and silver fabrication with wires and sheets of metal. I learned to set flat-back cabochons and faceted precious stones. I combed magazines and the internet looking for project ideas, which I imitated and copied. Yes, at first, I copied. There were many failures, but many successes as well. But I tried to get experience with as many different styles and techniques as I could find.

My pieces sold. That’s always motivating. And my sterling silver fabricated pieces sold for a lot of money. Also very motivating. Silver smithing. The power of the tools. The power of the flame. The weight and feel of the metal. The pricey-ness of the pieces, and the fact that they sold for those prices. This temporarily diverted my attention from beads.

I made sterling silver deco pins. I made a Maori mask pin by layering cut-outs, so that the tattoos would have depth, shadow, and intrigue. I made a whimsical bag-lady, with movable shopping bags. I made many music-inspired pieces – after all, I’m in Nashville, Tennessee. I focused on silver smithing and some wire-working and wire-wrapping for several years. Rings, bracelets, brooches, earrings, necklaces, and anklets.

At some point, James – the truer jewelry artist between us – began to learn lampworking. He made very intricate glass beads, including the aquarium beads that each take about 3-4 hours to make. He experimented with foils and dichroics, and created a strong and unique style all his own.

This brought my attention back to beads.

I saw design possibilities – many of them – with beads. Beads had stared me in the face for years now, but I didn’t get it. I didn’t fully see the design possibilities until I watched James create objects from molten glass and the flame. For some reason, this made me look at beads in a different way.

Not long afterward, our business downtown on 2nd Avenue collapsed, as the city let 6,000 parking spaces disappear, almost overnight. We set up a small shop called Be Dazzled Beads for James in the Berry Hill section of town. I negotiated the closure of our two shops downtown. I had been developing Land of Odds on-line, and it seemed promising. I started doing some computer consulting to generate an income. No beading or jewelry making for awhile.

Bead Boy James kept the beading flame alive. He stoked it a bit. He offered free classes to anyone who wanted to learn anything. He taught himself tubular and flat and every other kind of Peyote stitch. He even developed his own personal version of the Peyote stitch. And he taught others to create amulet purses, and bracelets, and necklaces, and earrings, and hand-bags, and wall-hangings and tapestries. He learned brick stitch and loomwork, and then taught others. He learned right angle weave, and taught that as well. Spiral ropes, square stitch, fringes, netting. So people would come to Be Dazzled, spend all day learning and beading, with James.

I had had this idea of creating a more formal and more professional educational program for beading and jewelry making. It was always in the back of my mind. Other places taught a lot of project based classes. Those are the kind our customers took. I was often frustrated by many of our customers, who, for the most part, seemed so clueless about so many things critical to good jewelry design.

They had no idea about the quality of the materials they were using, and what would happen to this stuff over time. They routinely mixed metalized plastic with sterling, and Indian lampwork glass with the much higher quality American lampwork glass. They put hundreds of dollars worth of beads on tiger tail wire, which breaks easily. They kept making the same pieces over and over again, because all they learned in each class that they would take was to make a particular piece. They didn’t learn how to apply the technique to any other type of project. So, whether they liked the project or not, they kept making it over and over again.

I was more interested in teaching more skills-based classes. I wanted a more educated customer. I wanted a customer that got excited about designing jewelry, not just assembling it. They would be more fun to wait on, and present more pertinent design questions to answer and situations to solve.

I could never figure out exactly how to move forward on this bead-school idea. So it remained in the back of my mind for a couple of years.



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