…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 emancipated myself from my upwardly mobile position, after 18 years of progressively more responsible positions, having attained an annual salary the income taxes from which supported one whole government worker.

And what did that do for me? Emancipation. Over the next 20 plus years of starting all over again. At the bottom. Learning another trade. Having no accumulated reputation or power or wherewithal to get ahead. I had freed myself to make my own choices. I had painted myself into a picture of my own dreams. To be an artist. To make jewelry. To play with beads. And to make a living at it.

But what did I achieve, except for the very freedom itself to be free to make my own choices? I couldn't eat beads. I couldn't build a house with them. I couldn't get the respect and consideration -- things that I had given up -- with them. Freedom, in essence, became a very negative quality very quickly.

"Untie me," I said. And that straightjacket which had been so secure, yet so uncomfortable, was suddenly untied. No struggle to get it off. Yet wondering if I needed someone to put it back on.

Little money coming in. Savings dwindling. Racing the clock to learn enough about jewelry making and enough about business to keep things moving along. There went my retirement plan. And my disability insurance. And my large apartment in the better part of town. No longer replacing my Nordstrom's bought wardrobe and my handmade Portuguese shoes. No new winter coat that year. A delay in attending to my car or going to the dentist. Dropping that health insurance for awhile. Losing contact with my network of professional friends -- people who, for the most part, had been my only friends. Was this really freedom?

My freedom. No matter how painful and confusing and disorienting this transition was, nor how insecure I felt, I was one with my artistic self. I was pursuing goals wanted -- MY goals wanted -- not someone else's. My choices. My directions. Living by my wits and my talents. I relished it. I kept pushing myself forward, believing in future success.

And yet, there were the questions and the constant questioning debates pounding in my head. What was the good jewelry artist? What defined his success? How did he get there? Was this for me? Did I see myself as a good jewelry artist? Did I define my success as a jewelry artist should? How would I become that good jewelry artist? Again, was freedom enough?

I realized it wasn't.

There was more at stake. The good jewelry artist doesn't work in a vaccuum. He doesn't work for free. It is difficult to isolate yourself and work alone. I could make all the free choices I wanted, but it wasn't enough. And I realized that I needed to belong to something. I needed that social interaction. I needed some external signs of approval, sanction, advice. I needed some mentoring. I needed clients and customers.

Belonging. I started a retail business so I could define myself as belonging to a jewelry making industry made up of suppliers and customers. I joined a Bead Society so I could define myself as belonging with other jewelry artists. I took classes so I could define myself as belonging to a history of knowledge about jewelry making. I shared my work with others so that I could define myself as belonging with a set of objects approved by others.

After a few years, I discovered that, like freedom, belonging was important but not enough. People had different ideas about what jewelry was good and what was bad. They had different strategies about what was acceptable construction and what was not. They had different notions about what to buy and what not to buy. They had different feelings about how to teach and how not to teach. I began to see that besides freedom and besides belonging, I needed power. Power to assert my ideas about what is good and what is not good, when it comes to jewelry design and construction. Without this power, and the reputation that grew from it, I was nothing.

I began saying and justifying and defending my views about materials and their manipulations, about constructing support systems with the structural underpinnings of my jewelry, about the necessity to successfully marry function with aesthetics with my object's design. I marketed myself and paid more attention to branding myself. I broadcast my endeavors up and down the internet. In magazines. In contests and competitions. I took the time to explain myself to students and other teachers and other artists. I maneuvered to get more power and influence to assert my ideas as a jewelry artist.

This caused conflict. I had to fire many instructors in our school who could not or would not buy into my philosophy. I alienated many customers who did not want to fit into my model about materials and their combination. I put pressure on students to step out of their comfort zones and think differently. I backed several prestigious national level instructors into corners, not of their own choosing. I rarely offered faint praise where none was due.

Over the years, there was less and less resistance. Our model school came to be seen as a norm, not an exception. The major bead magazines paid more lip service to notions about design, and issues about wearability. Some of my work won national and international competitions. Began having many followers routinely read my blog, and follow my work. Major players in beading and jewelry making began asking for my opinions and advice. More and more of my pieces sold at prices commensurate with my own sense of self-worth.

Looking back, I realize that becoming a jewelry designer was a process, not a moment of liberation. Although, when I started, I designed and sold jewelry, I was not yet, truth be told, a jewelry designer. This is somethign that took years of learning, observing, questioning, developing ideas and asserting them.

In effect, I positioned myself to define my emancipation on my own terms. I closed the gap between my freedom to make chocies and my capacity to. This took many years. And while I could have trodden down many wrong paths, I was fortunate to discover my Rogue Elephant early on.

And I beaded him.


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