Friday, October 17, 2014

Genuine Stones and the Games they Play

I love gemstones.  I have my favorites that seem to have an ability to charm and enchant me such that I can just stare at them in a hypnotic trance.  I have been using genuine stones for decades and still am excited about them.  It seems there are always new discoveries, new stones, new looks.   Gemstones/genuine stones have a learning curve like most things in life.  You learn to recognize them by name and the learning grows and continues.  But here are some things I’ve observed that you might find useful if you are new to using genuine stones in your beading or you just love them.

Most stones are enhanced.  Typically, they are dyed to bring out the color or smooth it by coloring areas that are lighter.  Some stones take dye very well and this is not an issue related to the future appearance, the dye permeates the stone and it will look the same today as 50 years in the future.  Others don’t take dye as well and if exposed to sunlight (like in a window display in a store) may change the color by either fading or changing the hue.  Unfortunately dyed stones are almost impossible to avoid since there is no requirement to label the stones as dyed.  And sometimes it doesn’t matter since the dye is so permanent.  I have observed that dyes that are pinks, reds, and purples tend to be the most sensitive to sunlight exposure.  And… one of my general rules is:  If the stone is pink (especially hot pink), bright red, or purple AND if it isn’t super expensive, then the color is a result of a dye.  This is because nature rarely produces these colors so while they do exist, they are really expensive.  (lol, my general rule is if I can afford it, it probably is not natural!).  

Only gemstone grade garnets are natural.  ALL other garnets are dyed.  Always wash any garnet beads in soapy water before using them in your designs.  If you don’t, you will find any neck sweat will quickly turn your neck red…

Labels Labels Labels.  As I said before there is no requirement about labeling stones as dyed or enhanced in any way.  You can purchase your stones from a trusted source, but I have found issues there too… They can only report what they know and sometimes they simply are not told the truth.  So, it is not a bad idea to wash every stone strand you purchase in soapy water….  Or, do as I do: wash all garnets, wash all pinks and purples, and wash anything else that I have even a suspicion of.  It won’t hurt the stones and could be a help.  If you see the water tinting to a color, you know you were right!

Names of stones:
This is a pet peeve of mine, but I also recognize it is a complicated area.  So, first let me explain the complication.  A stone is scientifically identified by its molecular components. It has a MOH (hardness) rating and a structure for the stone.  Quartz for example has a crystalline structure. You can take the same recipe of stuff that is in quartz and lab-create something… the problem is that it won’t have the crystalline structure which typically can only be tested by crushing the piece.  This became an issue with Strawberry Quartz which is a natural stone BUT is very expensive and was re-created in glass and labeled as “Strawberry Quartz” in quotes.  But the quotes typically didn’t make it on the label.  Many stores/suppliers began to call these created pieces Strawberry Quartz Glass but not all did.  This is one type of complication.

Another type is the “assembled” type of complication.  The best example of this is amber.  Amber is very soft.  When you carve or otherwise shape a piece of amber into a round bead or other form, then there are leftover shavings/scraps.  You can take these scraps and press them together is form a new piece of amber.  This is “reconstituted” amber.   Natural amber and reconstituted amber are both expensive (it’s amber after all…. ) and you have no way of proving that reconstituted amber is not natural, there is no test that differentiates the two. So trust in your supplier is the key here.  While both are expensive, natural amber is even more expensive. 

This same issue is involved with turquoise versus chalk turquoise.  Turquoise is an extremely soft stone, therefore it is always permeated with a resin.  If it wasn’t, it would simply crumble.  So, natural turquoise bead or cabs are made of turquoise and resin.  Chalk turquoise is the remnants, of carving/shaping turquoise and is infused with resin and reconstituted.  Typically, dye is also added.  If you do a chemical test on each you get the same answer: turquoise with resin.  And there is no requirement to label chalk turquoise as chalk turquoise versus just saying turquoise.  If this matters to you, then check with your supplier but keep in mind, they may have been misled too. 

Another complicated factor is that some stones scientifically are one stone but can have many appearances.  Probably the best example of this is Serpentine.  So, from a practical point of view for beaders, it isn’t helpful or useful to call it all Serpentine when one piece looks so different from another.  Therefore, Serpentine has nick-names depending on its appearance.   Yellow Turquoise, New Jade, and Olive Jade are all examples of Serpentine.  This is NOT Turquoise that is yellow any more than it is Jade.  Again, these names are in “quotes” but the quotes get left off, they are all Serpentine.   Rhyolite is another stone with many appearances and has nicknames for the various looks such as Rain Forest Jasper and Noondrite.

So, this brings me to a pet peeve of mine.  You will quickly notice that nicknames and new names for stones (you find it, you name it) are intentionally misleading.  Key words people use are jade and opal because there is a familiarity and general belief in the value of these stones.  So, call Serpentine “New Jade” or brown-green chalcedony “Green Opal”.  This elevates people’s opinion of the stone but it is not real.   I at least understand a certain need here to more adequately describe the appearance of a stone, but in the case of “Blue Labradorite” there is no such need.  This is actually Larvikite and is mined in only one area…. it has only ONE appearance and this nick-name is solely (IMHO) to mislead.

So now I will get off my soapbox (which is carved chalk turquoise with inlaid mother of pearl – gorgeous!)  and hope you have learned a few things.  Remember, you can always do some web-searching to explore or learn… just do it with a lapidary or scientific site that doesn’t sell anything so they have no other motivations.

Friday, October 10, 2014

We Learn by Doing

Yes, Captain Kirk said to Spock, “We learn by doing” and it really is true.  Beaders know this from countless experiences learning new stitches and doing projects.  Sure, you can read instructions and understand what is going on, but to Truly “get it”, and see all the nuances, there is nothing like actually doing it.

So what if you are challenged by color?  This is an issue many beaders would like to improve on and enhance their skills.  Maybe you are stuck always seeming to use one particular color or set of colors.  Maybe you use many colors, but just aren’t comfortable doing it.  First let me say that I’m not a big fan of experimenting  when you are creating big projects.  There are so many things you need to pay attention to with a big project.  And, it typically takes a chunk of time. By definition, an experiment might fail, so do your learning and experimenting with something that doesn't take a big chunk of time.  In order to experiment with color, we need a large surface area to play with, one or two patterns to do so there isn’t a lot of time or concentration spent with the execution.  We need a fast project.  And we want the end result to be something easily used or saved. 

So, how do you apply the “learn by doing” easily to learn color?

Answer: Give yourself a class using a beaded snowflake for your project!  Your class is not really about doing the snowflake, but about doing a bunch of snowflakes and how you design the colors used to create them.  It’s very cost effective, quickly executed and you have large area for flexibility in testing color palettes.  Give ‘em away as a d├ęcor on Christmas presents, or hang from your studio ceiling.  You can also slip them into a plastic sleeve in a 3-ring binder if you want to keep them. 

The supplies you’ll need are seed beads, thread and a needle.  If you have a snowflake pattern, use it.  If you need to get one, I have an inexpensive book on Amazon “Little Book of Beaded Snowflakes” you can get (and it is available in Kindle too).  It will also be very helpful to have a book that teaches color.  My recommendation is “Beaders Guide to Color” and/or “Beaders Color Palette” both by Margie Deeb.  If you have a favorite color book, use it. If you don’t have one or want one, you can still give yourself a class, however you may not learn as fast or understand what you learn as deeply. 

The key is to do it.  Select colors of beads, get those tubes.  Decide the proportions of each color. 

For instance, this snowflake uses turquoise and peach with the turquoise the dominant color and the peach a secondary.   

This ornament uses red for the dominant color and the gold is an accent.

This ornament uses one color (purple) but shades of it from light to dark.

 Or maybe you want to experiment with a 5-color rainbow.

The key is, you can use the patterns over and over yet each snowflake will be very different as you experiment with using different colors and changing the proportions of the colors.  Use one, two, three or more colors.  Change the dominance.  Select colors you want to get comfortable using.  Play with adding other colors to it, changing the proportions and see how it works, and how you like the result.  You can concentrate on the COLOR while you quickly (15 to 20 minutes) create the snowflake.


Treat yourself to a class (it’s almost Halloween right? Time for a treat!).  And winter is coming so think Snow!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Beading that Explores

I have often heard/read discussions about selling beadwork.  Since many of these conversations are from beaders who do bead embroidery, invariably the discussion leads to comments that the large complicated collar style pieces are slow to sell and smaller pieces are needed in a booth.  Those large pieces bring in the “eyes” but the smaller pieces (typically pendants) are the ones with much more sales velocity.  This isn’t surprising, the cost is less and the style is more familiar to everyone.

Then this leads to several people complaining that they don’t like doing these smaller pieces, they are bored, not challenged, or it is not legitimate artist expression.  

Recently I came into a situation where I needed to make approximately 30 pendants, on a chain.  My reaction?  Thrilled!   I have found that one of the best ways to test (and best) your skills as a designer is to challenge yourself.  Working on a limited scale is a fabulous test. I’m not spending hours and hours on one design.  I get to explore color schemes.  I get to work with different materials.  Get an idea while working on one piece?  Great! Let it flow to the next. Keep it interesting by exploring lots of different techniques.

One thing I’ve observed is that all beaders have tendencies to do the same thing in their designs.  That is human nature, to do what you are comfortable with. However, this does limit you as a designer (always a peyote bezel, always a sunshine-raw-brickstitch edge).  Instead, I like to have many different techniques to choose from so that I’m challenged in my execution and I get the best design suited for that particular focal.  For example, so many people who do bead embroidery ALWAYS do a peyote bezel.  I find this boring.  And, it actually annoys me when I see that bezel used when it is clearly a bad choice (used on a cameo and covers the hair or other parts of the design).  Or, when the focal is soooo gorgeous (and expensive) and it is half covered.  The edge is another area of interest for me.  The edge treatment can be just there, or you can use it as an integral part of the design. 

So, here are some I’ve done.  It includes lots of different edge treatments, and different bezels.  I do have a tendency to choose the plain/standard bezel technique.  But I don’t use it by rote, it is after reviewing all of my possibilities.  However, when I have a focal that I love and don’t want to cover but want to simply and beautifully frame, then that is my choice.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Beading Books and Beyond....

What are you looking for when you buy a beading book?   I know that some people are just interested in projects, while others are looking for a deeper understanding of a stitch or technique.   But, beyond all that, how do you relate to a beading book?   For me, I love beading.  And I love beaders.  Bead books give me so many things and I’ll try to explain it…..

I saw a post a while ago where the person was asking beaders whether they preferred classes that were complicated projects (a project class) or one that concentrated more on teaching about a technique.  The comments showed the diversity you would expect in a group of people… some wanted a project, some a technique,  and others combined the two such that it was technique oriented but the Project was a direct application so they wanted both.   But there was one comment where the person simply said (and proudly proclaimed) they have never taken a class or bought a book.     wow….   This stopped me.

I’ve thought a lot about this response and my reaction is that I feel very sorry for this person.  It may stroke the ego to easily claim that you got where you are solely on your own.  But I think of the cost of this.  I love my craft, and there is no possible way on earth that any one person can have all the ideas out there.  The adoration of isolation in this comment is stunning to me (ok, this was online so let me also add it is delusional in the sense they are seeing pictures of what other people have done and let’s not pretend we are not influenced by our environment).   Anyway, back to my point.  

I love spending time with other beaders!   My gosh, what a wonderful group of people!  (ok, so there are some haters but those are minimal).  Spending time with beautiful, creative people who love to share and have an obsession that I can relate to (collecting beads…) is soooo fun.  When I get a beading book by someone I’ve never met, it is like I have a new friend.  Nice to meet you.  And thank you for sharing your passion, abilities and creativity!  You get an insight into someone you will probably never meet in the flesh but they are available to spend time with you, inspire you, inform you and entertain you anytime you want.  Bad Day?  Pick up a beading book, dive in and live in That world for a while with the friend-you-never-met who wrote the book.  

I recently got a new book.  In terms of techniques, there was nothing new for me.  And it was annoying that it instructed to do things in ways that I totally disagree with and in fact have instructed to NOT DO THAT in my books and classes.  I’ve never done a project, but I read projects.  I am educated by them in terms of “how” that person approached and constructed, what was done first, next, etc.  It is irrelevant that I won’t do That project, the teaching within the project is what I am looking for.   But beyond all that….. I have a new friend!  So what if I don’t agree with everything my new friend has said, that’s ok, happens all the time in life.   And it challenges me.  I don’t agree?  Makes me think about it and challenges me to not only have a position about something, but be able to support the “why” I have that position, helps me to clarify things for myself.  

In all honesty, I have many rationalizations to buy bead books.  I love them (and I’m worth it!).  I love to be informed (knowledge is power!).  I love to see what other beaders are reading (as an author myself, I need to see what my readers may see). 

And I love having a new friend!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Oh yes YOU ARE a designer!

If you are a beader, then you are a designer. You may say “Oh no, I only do projects that others have designed”. But many beaders in this category change the colors or something and this is a design decision. Or you may say “I only buy kits, so there are no design decisions”, but it was you who decided to do THAT kit versus all the other kits available… and that is a design decision.

Then there are people who are not beaders (really? what are you thinking! lol ) and so clearly “they” are not designers. Oh contraire! My guess is that sometime during the day you got dressed and chose That necklace or That bracelet with That outfit and that is a design decision. (insert: ok, you don’t have to BE a beader, but if you never even wear jewelry, then I can’t relate to you at all so you may stop reading…)

Clearly in this world there are many style preferences but regardless of the style you prefer, the design process and concepts apply and understanding the concepts of good design will improve your decisions. And, YEAH!!! there is help for ALL. The recently released book by Margie Deeb will inform and educate you, give you a vocabulary for your thoughts and improve your design decisions.

In the book description: “Here, finally, is a must-have guidebook to the fundamental principles of visual design. Focusing on jewelry, it helps beaders explore concepts such as unity, scale, proportion, balance, rhythm, volume, shape, pattern, texture, movement, drape, and color in their work.”

And from the review by Jean Yates (Amazon Top Reviewer): “If you want to learn more about the world, more about jewelry, more about yourself, and more about the beauty that is all around us and that we can understand and enhance our own creations with, get this book. There is absolutely no way you can resist this book if you love learning and you love jewelry!”

This is not a book with projects. It’s better. It is about every project you have ever done and will ever do in the future.