HOW TO BEAD A ROGUE ELEPHANT
warrenfeld
…A Guide For The Aspiring Bead Artist
by Warren S. Feld
blog.landofodds.com

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.|

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Introduction


DAY-DREAMING

I was driving down the interstate, not really going anywhere, but enjoying the ride. As the billboards passed, and the cows passed, and the gas-stations passed, and as I passed car after car and truck after truck, I began to begin to suppose – suppose I used some particular beads, with these other beads, in this configuration, with this design. Just suppose.

My mind wandered a bit for a moment, distracted by something along the side of the road I caught in the corner of my eye, and then I returned to thinking about my piece and its design. I needed a sense of the clasp and how it fit with my visualization of the beads. I wanted to evoke a feeling. An emotion. A sensibility. A restrained elegance. Something different than for my sweaty body, somewhat tired and disheveled, somewhat stiff, driving an older car along a long stretch of road. Flat. The same grass, bush, tree, grass, bush, tree, grass, bush, tree over and over again.

I wanted to create five segments, each with a subtle color and pattern variation. The clasp had to fit in with that pattern. Should I string it on cable wire, thread or FireLine (a cable thread)? This one would be FireLine. I’d go through three times to steady the beads from wobbling on the line. Black FireLine. Black was important this time.

I wanted to try to bead-weave off the bead-strung piece. I’d need to subtly build in some delicas into the patterning, and some way to drop them down from the line of the string, so I could weave off them. I wanted to use some shapes I hadn’t made much use of before – 15mm angel wings, 12x6mm bell flowers, and fireballs or crystals. Police lights in the distance. A purple-y blue. Blinking rapidly. In succession. I slowed down. And slowed down some more. I lost my train of thought and wondered for a few seconds to remember what I had been thinking about.

My lady wearing my necklace would be in a long, slimming gown, with a low cut neckline, and hair pulled back. She was busty, but not too busty. She would be walking rapidly down ramps and stairs, through rooms and parties, turning frequently to talk to one person, then another. My necklace had to move with her, like a natural extension of her persona. That meant colors would have to flash and sparkle from every angle of every bead, and from every segment of beads.

But too much sparkle would be overwhelming, so I’d need some subtle color shadings and blendings that would catch the eye, but not hurt it. That would intrigue, and not disappoint. That would flatter, and not make clownish. And that necklace would have to stay in one place. That means thread or FireLine, and a well-jointed and supported clasp assembly, starting with a simple hook and eye.

It was an accident.

Oh, no, not my fantastic fantasy of a necklace. The cars, police lights, police cars, fire engine, and the police, and a few by-standers. My necklace would be no accident. It would be a star upon a star upon a star. Whoops, I’m veering a little bit off the roadway here. I’m still within eye-sight of those police troopers, so I don’t want to do that. Got to pay more attention to the road. Stop designing jewelry in my head. At least, for now.

I’ll soon be at the next big town on the map, to check out all the bead stores there.


DESIGN – MORE THAN A BUMP IN THE ROAD

Design is more than a road trip. It’s more than a day-dream interrupted by a bump in the road. It’s not triggered by flashing lights, nor disrupted by them. Design doesn’t suddenly drape itself around you because you’ve visited every bead store between here and there. It doesn’t become a part of you because you’ve attended X-number of bead shows and taken Y-number of jewelry making workshops. Design is something more.

Design means having some intention in life. It means screaming Here I Am without having to scream. It means interpreting the inner you for the outer them. To Design with Beads makes this process wondrous. It means capturing light and shifting shadows within colors and shapes and sizes and materials, front, left, center, curve and crevice, inside-out and outside-in. Design doesn’t get any better than designing with beads.

But there is a self-awareness factor. As an artist. A creator. Someone who esteems themselves. With courage. And direction. And meaning. With curiosity. Attention. And detail.

It’s something more than calling yourself a Jewelry Designer. And it’s something more than other people, upon seeing your work, calling you a Jewelry Designer -- only because that is what you call yourself. Designers are artists who find their Rogue Elephants and bead them – resplendently, appropriately, exuding desire, fantasy and a certain edginess in appeal. Their designs may speak loudly or softly, but in each case, they resonate.

Most people who call themselves Designers, avoid design. They might follow trends or fads. They might shy away from choosing colors or patterns. They might rely on simple rhythms, unthreatening, un-announcing, un-tantalizing, un-sexy. They might resort to simple lines, instead of shapes and forms. They compensate for a lack of understanding of contemporary jewelry design principles by over-embellishing, or using overly-expensive materials, or placing their jewelry in overwhelming packages with tissues and informational cards and business cards and perfumed essences of something.

How many times, I cannot tell you, have I walked through craft shows and jewelry shows, or paged through jewelry and bead magazines, or examined the pictures of the winners and runners-up of numerous and prominent jewelry design competitions, and been disappointed. Dull. Unwearable. Inappropriate materials, clasps and components. Unimaginative. Seemingly copied. Weak color choice. Boring rhythms. Balance for the sake of balance, symmetry for the sake of symmetry. Predictable. Safe. Unreflective of the artist’s unique human hand. Overly embellished. Ignorant of the art in craft, or the craft in art.

The good designer sees jewelry as art as it is worn. No matter where the person is. No matter what the person looks like. No matter what the person is doing. Jewelry must hold up as art as it is worn. It can only do so if the artist has attended to design principles.

Design Principles help us understand why people find some jewelry attractive, and other jewelry not. The first set of these design principles we call Rules of Composition. Using these rules is more a conviction, than an established, conscious fact.

But way, way before you get to these rules, you go through a trial and error, almost happenstance, process of discovery. It’s in the little things, some clever strategy, some fortuitous decision, some working down an unknown pathway to see what happens. This is how you begin to discover the designer in you. This is how a few jewelry designers discovered art and design for themselves.

For Arynthia, today a prominent jewelry designer and instructor, she felt she crossed that initial threshold with her bead woven garden urn. She created a vessel with little beads that kept its shape. No easy feat, especially at the time.

Her vessel took hundreds of hours in figuring out how to create it. And she created and re-created it many, many times. Three dimensional bead woven pieces tend to collapse on themselves from the weight of the beads, and the lack of structural supports to keep their shapes. Most bead woven vessels and 3-dimensional objects are woven over another object – a jar, a vase, a ball, a piece of wood or Styrofoam – to keep the shape.

With Arynthia’s urn, she gave it four shoulders. Arynthia had always sewn. She was adept at making jackets that kept their shape at the sleeves and shoulders. She applied these insights to her bead weaving strategy in making her garden urn. She created a shoulder at the North, East, South and West points at the top of her circular urn. It worked. She had solved the core design problem before her.

The first time she made her successfully structured garden urn, she said it looked like a strawberry. So there were more design decisions to come, before she claimed final success – an urn that held its shape and looked like a garden urn. She had told me that the garden urn evolved through 25 or so versions, until she was satisfied with the design. And she, as a designer, evolved with her piece, as well.

Lanie, (another noted jewelry instructor), took a different path in her design evolution. When she initially got into beading, she would deconstruct existing pieces, and analyze the stitches. When she began her career, there were few contemporary bead weaving artists. There were many Native Americans and Africans creating bead weavings, and they provided most of her examples. How did they hold the piece together? How did they function? What about the stitchery allowed the piece to flow, curve, and move without breaking? What were the specific steps involving in stitching? Were there any commonalities and universals among pieces from different bead weaving artists?

Lanie translated what she saw into contemporary designs. Her observations about structure became explanations about structuring bead woven pieces. Things clicked. She became a designer.

And finally, we have Geoff. Geoff had no particular goals or aspirations when he started making jewelry. It was something that kept him busy. Kept his mind from wandering and his attention focused and grounded. Allowed him to be creative. He tried every technique – bead stringing, netting, peyote, brick, right angle weave. He went back and forth. Beading is somewhat addictive, and he found himself addicted. But nothing at the moment felt like self-expression.

Geoff began to teach the peyote stitch. He was rigorous. He drove his students to try more and more things. And then more things. He was never satisfied. He wanted to achieve something he could not articulate. His students suffered for it. He was disappointed in them. And he distanced himself from them.

While playing with another stitch – the right angle weave – he found he could build upon the stitch, and layer it. Not only could he layer it, but he could give it dimension and shape. He constructed mattresses filled with coils of beads which formed multidimensional objects – a certain realism and sculpture-like precision. With this same stitch, it was easy to create layers of beads over these mattresses, resulting in beautiful forms and objects. He broke out of his box with these discoveries in techniques.

With this more dimensional and sculptural right angle weave as his base, he found his calling. His new insights created more new insights as he applied his ideas in different situations, with different goals and with different materials. He began blossoming as a designer.

As the Jewelry Artist comes to know jewelry and discovers their personal take on style or technique, the Jewelry Artist comes face to face with Design. Every artist’s pathway is different. But for every artist, there is that Rogue Elephant at the end of this pathway who is waiting to be beaded.

Jewelry Design is the application of basic principles of artistic expression. These principles involve:

1. COMPOSITION
2. MOVEMENT, Flow, Drapery, and Torque
3. FORMS in Relationship to the Body and the Mind,
including Functionality and Support
4. TECHNIQUES and MATERIALS


These principles are merely rules for making choices about how to proceed, or not to proceed. About what to include in your pieces, and what not to include. How to anticipate wearer and viewer issues, and how not to screw up here. What techniques will work best, and which will not.

The jewelry designer delineates the Design Process, something that works for her or him, and something that allows her/him to apply the rules.

The jewelry designer articulates for her- or himself an Inspiration, sometimes very specifically, but othertimes vaguely.

The jewelry designer Plans out his or her designs, with the rules in mind.

S/he sets Goals for the piece – its attributes and their justification for why they must be included, and other attributes excluded, in the piece, and again, with the rules in mind.

S/he defines Standards about quality, wearability, context-sensitivity, timeliness and the like, with the rules in mind.

The jewelry designer then sets up a Schedule and a Routine, things that work for her or him, and begins to work.

Let’s continue to explore what this all means.



 

 


COPYRIGHT, 2009, FELD
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