…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.|


An Evolving Obsession

Someone once told me, while she was embarking on her first shopping trip in a bead store, “I’m going to get into this slowly.” She couldn’t, so she said, understand how her two daughters could spend so much time in a bead store.

Now here she was. She moved up and down the aisles and back and forth into the alcoves. She kept her distance from the beads, even though they were calling her. She arched her body away from the beads, even though they were pulling her down like a magnet. She closed her eyes to the rainbows of colors, even though her ears and mouth and nose were trying very hard to over-compensate and take control from her shuttered eyes. She said things like, “I love these beads, but I need to go home first and see if I have any projects that I might use them in.”

Silly woman. She left that bead shop Contorted. Her arms, her legs, her hands, her face, her very skull were contorted by trying to impose her will over the beads. Silly woman. Still, she ventured back to that bead shop the very next day, and spent one sixtieth of her retirement fund on beads, beads, and more beads.

Gradually easing yourself into beads -- It can’t be done. If you take too long allowing yourself to be immersed within the splendor of bead-dom, you just might get yourself run over by a Rogue Elephant.

Which brings us to my own pathway into this ever-evolving obsession, an obsession which played out over and over again, day in and day out, and finally forced me to tumble onto the by-ways and high-ways where the Elephants roam. And I tumbled and I stumbled and I tumbled/stumbled some more, until that notion got stuck in my head and I couldn’t pull it out – this passion, this ill-ness, and this obsession to bead a Rogue Elephant.

Believe it or not, my bead obsession began with a garage sale, a friend needing a job, and my desire to jump off the career track. I knew nothing about beads, [although my sister has a photo of me at 9 years old, holding up a strand of beads], had no particular desire to find out about them, nor any desire to make jewelry. Beads had no spiritual reference for me. No substance. No purpose. No artistry. I didn’t wear jewelry. [Still don’t.]. My career was in health care and epidemiology and hospital administration and planning. We didn’t use beads.

I had met my future partner James in a local bar. We had hit it off, and eventually James decided to move from Alabama to Nashville, Tennessee. The economy was bad at the time, and he had trouble finding work. At one point, I asked him, “What can you do?” He said, “I can make jewelry.” I immediately thought that we could design a business around his jewelry-making, and also sell the parts at the same time. I saw dollar signs. I saw career-escape (for myself). I saw work-salvation (for James).

I was clueless, however, about how to get started launching a jewelry-making or jewelry-parts business. What kind of jewelry did he make? How did he make it? Would anyone really buy it? What types of parts did he need? What are the parts called? How many parts are there? I bombarded James with questions, questions, questions. I overwhelmed him. What was I getting him into? Would people buy the parts alone, besides the finished jewelry? Would people know what the parts are for? Or, how to put them together? Where do people usually go to get the parts they need? Are there places we can go to get parts cheap enough so that we can resell them? Can people find all the parts they need in the places where these people live? What kinds of things do people do with all these parts, once they have them? Are there other things they can do with these parts. Parts, parts, parts. Jewelry, jewelry, jewelry. Money, money, money. Freedom, freedom, freedom. Pipe dream, pipe dream, pipe dream????

We visited a local craft store called Michaels, and did some hefty spying. We wrote down the names of suppliers on all the labels of all the items we wanted to carry. We wrote down the names of companies supplying the ear wires, the rhinestones, the wood forms, the glitters and paints, the doll forms and the clock parts, and, of course, the beads. The wood beads. The acrylic beads. The glass beads. The metal and metalized beads. If they only had gemstone beads, we would have written down the names of those suppliers too.

We used business directories and the nascent internet to track down the addresses of these suppliers. We got their catalogs. We drooled. We barely contained our excitement. And then we looked at the prices. Kind of high, if we intended to resell them. Michaels, it seemed, bought from companies which were in the business of repackaging other companies’ parts. We wanted to repackage other companies’ parts – not necessarily buy from other repackagers. Where did they get their parts? We continued our spying.

We traveled down to Atlanta to the Apparel Mart and the Merchandise Market. We dressed incognito – Hawaiian shirts, jeans and sneakers. We shared our paperwork at the door, and were let inside. Here we did find many suppliers of parts and at prices we felt would fit our goals. We bought a lot of stuff – both finished beaded pieces as well as the beads themselves. I was introduced to jade and lapis and Austrian crystal. I heard about black onyx and sterling silver and pewter and base metal and pot metal. I had words buzz-diving into my ears – dyed, set, finished, faux, bails, pin backs, surgical steel, nickel, acrylic, stones, findings, stampings, French wires, tiger tail and some things called lobster claws – I didn’t know what any of these meant. I didn’t know how they were used. I didn’t know if they were for bracelets or necklaces. I didn’t know if I should buy them or thumb my nose at them. We just bought a lot of stuff we thought we could either resell, or make into pieces of jewelry.

Naturally, we wrote down the names of any company whose labels were affixed to any merchandise we came across. We were great spies. We pulled some crumpled papers out of their garbage cans. We spotted some labeled packing paper and mailing labels on discarded boxes. We wrote down EVERYTHING. And when we got back to Nashville, we looked all this company information up. The garbage was golden!

Land of Odds was about to be born, or actually re-born. I had been restoring antique lamps for several years, using the Land of Odds name for my business. I was a hobbyist. I had done a lot of painting on canvas prior to this, but soon found myself enjoying taking old floor lamps apart, and restoring each of their components. I repainted and finished the metal parts by giving them a new faux-old patina without the down-in-the-dumps look. I restored the acrylic pieces, and colored the resins like well-baked marble cakes. I re-wired the pieces. I found new glass parts to finish the lamps off.

“Land of Odds” was a great business name, and I thought a great name for a business that would sell unusual jewelry and unusual parts. There were no Rogue Elephants running about here. We had jewelry parts. We had beads. We put them in trays. We sold them out the door. We didn’t give a thought to accessorizing Elephants. We’d leave that up to our customers – bead hunters every one of them.

Even with a great name, even with an exciting concept, even with our strong desires to find inherently satisfying work – we didn’t jump into the business all at once. We took an incremental approach. We gradually put our toes in the water, then waded up to our ankles, then our shins, our knees, our thighs, our hips, and finally into water a bit over our heads.

The first step: The Hot Glue Gun. James introduced me to the miracle of modern miracles – The Hot Glue Gun. He told me some people were so attached to their guns, that they slept with them under their pillows. I had never heard of it. But boy did I suddenly find a 100 uses for it. There’s something exciting, even sinful, about cocking the trigger of a hot glue gun, letting the glue ooze out, and affixing something to something else. Magic.

The early pieces of James Jones were intricate Victorian collages hot-glued to filigree and other backings of his design. These became pendants. They became brooches. They became earrings. They sold very well.

We soon discovered, however, that hot glue had one major drawback. It softened at body temperature. These intricately detailed, overly embellished, bejeweled jewels on top of bejeweled jewels, would embarrassingly lose some of their pieces, when the pieces were worn. We had hot-glued so many, many pieces. And the earrings…. But I’m getting a little ahead of the story.

And by the way, the shopper I referred to earlier, she came back the next day and shopped her heart out. Beads, can’t live without them.



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