…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.|




Many people who begin to bead want to rush to the finish line. They want to learn everything at once. They buy beads and parts indiscriminately. They purchase every book they can find. They take classes on anything that interests them or catches their eye, no matter what the skill levels involved. Many people are not unlike a customer of ours – Lulu Betty – who contracted to make almost 50 pieces of complex jewelry, before ever having made even one piece before. She came into the store, and wanted someone to teach her everything – crimping, stringing, needle and thread work, wire working, silversmithing – in 2 hours.

Beading and jewelry making are not things to rush into. These are not things to learn haphazardly. Not everything is something you can easily pick up without having someone else show you.

This is a hobby and avocation that requires you to know a lot of things. You need to know a lot about materials. You need to know a lot about quality issues underlying these materials, and what happens to these materials over time. You need to be mechanical and comfortable using tools to construct things. You need to learn many basic techniques. You need to understand physical mechanics and what happens to all these materials and pieces, when jewelry is worn. You need to be familiar with art theories and their applications. You need to understand people, their psychology, the dynamics of the groups they find themselves in, and their cultural rules which get them through the day.

There is so much to learn, that you can’t learn it all at once. And there is so much to bring to bear, when making a piece of jewelry, that it is difficult to access all this information, if you haven’t learned how everything is interrelated and interdependent.

It’s important to learn in an organized, developmental way. Learn a core set of skills. Then learn another set of skills, and how these link back to the core. Then learn yet another set of skills, how they link back to the first set, and then link back to the core. And so forth. Only in this way will you begin to know if you are learning the right way, and learning the right things.

There Are Many Ways To Learn

There are many ways to learn.

Most people learn by Rote Memory. They follow a set of steps, and they end up with something. They memorize all the steps. In this approach, all the choices have been made for them. So they never get a chance to learn the implications of their choices. Why one bead over another? Why one stringing material over another? How would you use the same technique in a different situation? You pick up a lot of techniques, but not necessarily many skills.

Other people learn Analogously. They have experiences with other crafts, such as sewing or knitting or other craft, and they draw analogies. Such and Such is similar to Whatnot, so I do Whatnot the same way I do Such and Such. This can work to a point. However, beading and jewelry making can often be much more involved, requiring making many more types of choices, than in other crafts. And there are still the issues of understanding the quality of the pieces you use, and what happens to them, both when jewelry is worn, as well as when jewelry is worn over time.

Yet another way people learn is through Contradictions. They see cheap jewelry and expensive jewelry, and analyze the differences. They see jewelry people are happy with, and jewelry people are not happy with, and analyze the differences. They see fashion jewelry looked down upon by artists, and art jewelry looked down upon by fashionistas, and they analyze the differences.

Assimilation is a learning approach that combines Analogous Learning and Learning Through Contradictions. People pursue more than one craft, keeping one foot in one arena, and another foot in the other. They teach themselves by analogy and contradiction. This assumes that multiple media mix, and mix easily. Often, however, this is not true. Usually one medium has to predominate for any one project to be successful. So assimilative learning can lead to confusion and poor products, trying to meet the special concerns and structures of each craft simultaneously. It is challenging to mix media.

The last approach to learning a craft is called Constructing Meanings. In this approach, you learn groups of things, and how to apply an active or thematic label to that grouping. For example, you might learn about beading threads, such as Nymo, C-Lon and FireLine, and, at the same time, learn to evaluate each one's strengths and weaknesses in terms of Managing Thread Tension. You might learn about crystal beads, Czech glass beads, and lampwork beads, and then, again concurrently and in comparison, learn the pros and cons of each, in terms of achieving good color blending strategies. You might learn peyote stitch and ndebele stitch, and how to combine them within the same project.

In reality, you learn a little in each of these ways. The Constructing Meanings approach, what is often referred to as the Art & Design Tradition, usually is associated with more successful and satisfying learning. This approach provides you with the tools for making sense of a whole lot of information – all the information you need to bring to bear to make a successful piece of jewelry, one that is both aesthetically pleasing and optimally functioning.


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