Monday, December 23, 2013

An Example of the Design Process

There is no single correct way to embark on a design.

Most of the time, I start with a bead, cabochon, or other component that is the kicker in my design process. Another favorite of mine is a “challenge”… this can be wanting to use a particular technique or stitch, or include a type of bead or other non-typical component in bead embroidery. These approaches are fun to play in the “what if” and “let’s try” area of my imagination. I supplement the imagination process with pencil and paper and/or moving beads around my bead mat and it’s a generally good time! The particular design I am going to talk about today is a combination of these approaches.

The start of this design was actually a bead embroidered cuff bracelet I saw that was done on leather. There was a center cluster design and much of the leather was left open, a style I refer to as “relief beading”. This term is borrowed from printing crafts where protruding surface faces of the printing plate or block are inked while the recessed areas are ink free. Or, as it relates to bead embroidery, there are places where beads are applied, but also areas that are left bead free. As a general rule, I am not a huge fan of this primarily because I am suspicious of the sustainability of that open surface to remain clean and look good over a long period of time. However, it is an interesting technique with a unique look. The bracelet I saw was left open (unbeaded) to the edge and as a result, threads from stitching on the edge row were on display. Let’s just say I am NOT a fan of seeing threads when they are not a part of the design but simply a part of the construction process.

The threads bothered me. But I also know seeing things in person can be a totally different experience than seeing a picture of the same thing. I needed to do one myself and see this thread issue in person to really decide. While I was checking in with looking for sales on ultrasuede and I saw some “Faux Leather Look synthetic fabric” (like a vinyl) in burgundy that was interesting and a good price. I ordered. The good and bad thing about this vinyl was it was thin…. So it was easy to get a needle through it but was floppy so it would be difficult to manage tension while beading. Since I was going to do a metal cuff insert, I decided to leave it raw and bead it. Here is the bracelet:

This experiment was really about how I felt looking at this edge with the threads; to judge it in person so to speak. I decided I actually don’t like seeing the threads but, on the other hand, if the thread color is a good match it isn’t terribly offensive either, so it’s a judgment call. I think the obvious solution is to do a row of backstitch on the edge which will hide the threads. Technically, this would best be done before adding the backing and edge row but could also be done after… if you worked very carefully so the backside didn’t have lots of thread showing.

My goodness that piece I bought is big…. What to do with it?

I’ve had a design rumbling around in my head that might be a fun way to use this material. The design is a paneled collar. One of the things I tried to convey in Bead Embroidery Jewelry Projects (BEJP) is a vocabulary and thought process for categories or types of designs. I find it useful to run through types of designs (pendant, totem, collar, bib, pieced collar, panel collar, etc.) in my search for what design to do. It isn’t unusual for me to first select the type of design and refine it from there. I love the concept of a paneled collar (pg 52); distinct design areas, comfortable to wear and doesn’t retain heat like a full collar. I want to take this concept and explore different shapes for the panels. In fact my head is seeing shapes so different from the project on pg 52, that, even though that's the design concept I want to use, I didn’t use it to develop my panels. Instead I drew a collar like on pg 80 and I reviewed the lesson for cut-outs on pg 91 and I’m ready. My plan is to attach the panels like the project on pg 52 so I don’t adhere strictly to the cut-out instructions.

Here is my design:

In terms of construction, the faux leather base material is very thin and, in my judgment, too thin to support my beading plan. So I first attach thin-weight ultra-suede to the back. I used SoFro fabric glue to attach it because it is a very thin runny glue which I knew I could spread very thin and it would stick. It worked great. Getting a needle through it was easier than some leathers I’ve worked with. You can see from the finished necklace that I did a row of backstitch around the edge to hide the threads from the edge beading and also hide the threads where the panels were attached to each other. I selected the sunshine edge stitch (aka brick stitch edge) for the edge for two reasons. First of all, that edge technique results in a stiffer final beadwork piece and I wanted that stiffness. Second, while I planned to combine only at the top, I wanted to have the option to stitch combination sections all the way down the panels and I didn’t want to decide till the end. I could have used the clean edge, but that is not as stiff and it doesn’t provide for a good base for combination. A raw sunshine edge is not optimal but, since this is a necklace it is acceptable and it has other advantages as previously mentioned.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Fried Brain Beading

What do you do when your brain is fried? Beading can be therapeutic as I’ve written before but a fried brain presents unique problems. First, let me explain what I mean by a “fried brain”. This is typically a result of extreme stress, the kind that happens when very important things in your life are not going well like disasters, health issues for loved ones, beloved pets are sick, etc. You feel like your adrenaline is on high alert, your stomach keeps doing summersaults, and you are generally on edge. Beading can provide a refuge and a way to calm your mood and mind. But, if you are like me, you “bead your own thing”. Even if you are following a pattern, there are many changes, the least of which is color. But when your brain is fried it is difficult if not impossible to make good design decisions (at least for me). I know from the past that I have a strong tendency to make bad decisions when I am in this condition. So…. What to do?
I know that doing beadwork will help my stress level and be a calming influence so I Really Want to bead! Here was my solution.

First, I go through my stash and pick something I like and will enjoy working with. I have numerous strands of chevron amethyst in many shapes of puffed, flat beads. I selected an assortment of these in various sizes and shapes. For the surrounding beadwork, I am going to stay monochromatic in purple and include a gold metallic accent. (easy, safe decisions here…)

Next, as far as what I want to create, I know it needs to be something on the large side; a bib or collar type of large. Why? Because I want it to be a big project. I want it to take time. This needs to occupy me for a while because I know this brain-fry won’t be leaving soon….

So, with these parameters, I am going to rely on the tip in the asymmetrical bib project (pg 93) in Bead Embroidery Jewelry Projects. This tip says that you can start with a bib shape and fit the focals (which requires planning)…. OR… start with a collection of focals and see what shape that presents (no planning). No-planning sounds just right for me now so that is where I start, my selection of chevron amethyst focals. I have roughly 15 of them selected and most of them are on the large side (30 to 40mm). I will bead each of these as separate components and worry about how this will all work later. This helps with two things. First, I can easily create each component so there is a satisfying comfort level there. I can just enjoy the process. Second I get a steady sense of accomplishment as I complete each component. I can spend my time in a comfort level and delay any design decisions until I think I am ready for them.

You may think I need to plan this out but I don’t. Once I have all my components done I’ll work on how it is all going to be assembled. If my design requires a few more, I can make more. If I have leftover components, they can easily be worked into other items (as mentioned in the discussion of pieced totems vs consolidated backing totems, pg 37 the last point). As such, I have a sense of freedom and relief from making a bad decision! How great… I don’t have to “work smart”!

This was great therapy, with my beading providing a refuge from chaos and stress. Finally I had the components beaded. I grabbed my neck form page (pg 12) and played with layouts. Originally I wanted to do something asymmetrical, but I think my objective in providing some order into my life over-rode that. So here is my creation. I am pleased with it.

Just in case you were doing the math, I did have 2 pieces left over….. which were two 30mm round pieces. So here is what I did with them ( you may recognize they are variations of projects on pgs 34 and 45).

If you do bead embroidery, you can duplicate this process. If you don’t do bead embroidery, you can still bead with a fried brain… simply pick one of your favorite beaded bead or other component style beading projects and do a bunch of the parts. Assemble them later when your brain can handle it and your journey will often help to get your brain un-fried faster than if you weren’t beading.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Change your design approach

Changing how you approach your design process can help you in your creative process. It is very typical in bead embroidery to start with an amazing focal and create a design to use it. Whether that focal is a cabochon, a large bead, shell or other wonderful object, it is the source of focus and inspiration. In fact, the ability of bead embroidery techniques to create a fabulous jewelry piece using this approach is what gets many people learning bead embroidery. This type of beading celebrates the unique and provides a vehicle to showcase that amazing thing you have.

While this is the standard starting point, it is certainly not the only one. So, for a design exercise, try a different approach and start by selecting a strand of beads. You know what I mean, that strand you saw, loved and had to buy (sometimes even though it was too expensive!). That strand. The one that you have, but haven’t used yet. Yes, start with that. The project on pg 23 in Bead Embroidery Jewelry Projects does just that.

So, for this necklace, the start was a beautiful strand of flat oval millefiori beads. These beads dictated the color palette and completely influenced the design from choosing a simple pendant type of necklace (they said I’m the STAR, let ME shine, don’t compete with me), to the selection of the flower bezel technique (millefiori=thousand flowers), to finally the subtle Side Petal Edge. The result is a necklace that is easily wearable, soft and feminine.

For my second example, I start with a strand of 8mm round beads made of magnesite chips in resin. Hot, bold….the red was screaming at me! Again, since there was so much pattern in the beads, I selected a solid color cabochon (mountain jade dyed a deep red) and 8mm buri nut round beads. I selected a Twisted Bezel to introduce texture around the bold red cabochon and used some white seed beads in the surrounding rows to mimic the chips in my inspiration bead strand. I finished with a Side Petal edge and attached with a Herringbone Loop, side variation. My bold design will look absolutely fabulous on a white top and is even bold enough to handle a top with a pattern in the fabric.

In my next example I selected an Amazonite Fan bead strand. I want to focus the fan in the center, emphasize the fan shape (not use it on a bead embroidered surface). So, I chose a design variation of the project on pg 97. That project is asymmetrical, but I chose to do it as a symmetrical piece. I filled in with other Amazonite beads and Tiger Eye. Here is my design and the project I based it on.

In the next example I started with a strand of small sea urchin shells. There are many colors in these shells, but I selected the rust tones, copper, and plum. I ignore the white in the shell. This is often an effective approach (ignoring) when there are many colors. Again, this design is based on the approach in the previous mentioned project on pg 97. And, oh my, I had some left over... so of course a new design.

Oh how I love coral sticks! Often they are top drilled, but I got a strand of center drilled…. Yes, excitement that means I NEED to use ‘em! What could be better that accenting with turquoise and blending with orange calcite? I strung the necklace strand first and then worked and decided on the rest of the design. This looks so good on my chocolate brown sweater I could eat it!

Genuine stone chips are easy to find, buy and they are economical. Personally, I love the organic look they give… every chip is a little different…. freedom. However, since some are fat, others skinny, it can be challenging to use them in designs. The solution is to create designs with some freedom with the form. This piece started with a strand of New Jade chips adding in black for accent and wardrobe wear ability. It is an interpretation of the Midnight Waterfall necklace in Dimensional Bead Embroidery pg 123.

Ok, here is my point. Sometimes to kick our creative juices into a flow it is helpful to change up your approach. So stop staring at that cabochon and wondering what you are going to do with it. Instead, take a break, grab a strand of beads that you love and start the juices flowing! Get in touch with your inner stringer and honor the strand. Work it into a design and let this change in approach open your creative eye.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Design versus Style

Often these words are used interchangeably but that is not really correct, they are actually very different.

Design is:
“The elements and principles of design are the building blocks used to create a work of art. The elements of design can be thought of as the things that make up a painting, drawing, design etc. Good or bad - all paintings will contain most of if not all, the seven elements of design. The Principles of design can be thought of as what we do to the elements of design. How we apply the Principles of design determines how successful we are in creating a work of art.” As quoted from

The important point here is that this is more like a science with rules and concepts. You can learn about design by searching the internet, taking college or other courses in school. And, specifically for jewelry and beading, Margie Deeb has great books Beaders Guide to Color and The Beaders Color Palette that go in depth about one of the principles of design: color. So, just to tease you, I understand from Margie that she has a new book coming out next year about the other concepts in design specifically as they relate to jewelry! (me, I can hardly wait….)

Style is completely different. Style is more about emotion and personality. Examples work best here…. Masters of Style in bead embroidery include Sherry Serafini and Heidi Kummli and I doubt any would disagree. When you see a piece done by either of these two masters, you instantly recognize their creations. Their respective books (Sherry Serafini’s Sensational Bead Embroidery and Heidi Kummli's The Spirit of Bead Embroidery) and their joint endeavor (The Art of Bead Embroidery) show you how to duplicate their styles. But what I find more elevating is how they encourage you to use that as a starting point and grow on your own, develop your own style.

There are many styles – Victorian, grunge, western, contemporary, conservative, many different ethnics, ad infinitum…. Pure versions of any of these are usually easily recognizable. And of course there are blends. What is your style? How would you describe your wardrobe? Crafting a style that is all you and recognizable instantly is an art and often more difficult than you think. Human nature leads us to duplicate what we see, especially when learning. This is easiest to see in the master painters or potters and their students. The students work looks like the master until as time goes by, they develop their own unique twists and attributes. That is the goal, to become a master on their own.

So, I claim I don’t have a recognizable style. Friends have argued with me about this and claim they always can recognize my work. So here are some pieces out in the web world.

My contention is if you think the same person did those, then that person has multiple-personality-syndrome or is schizophrenic. Then they claim that there is a perfection of execution that is recognizable. Ok, flatter me and I’ll relent! But I still say there isn’t one “style”, I’m all over the place and this is on purpose. I’ve tried to spread the joy of the craft of bead embroidery and I want to talk to everyone, no matter their personal taste, and so I’ll channel someone else and do a design from their point of view. I’m trying to make it easier for students to find their own voice by muting mine.

So… why is this on my mind? You may know I have a new book Bead Embroidery Jewelry Projects – Design and Construction, Ideas and Inspiration that has just been released. Each project/project variation was selected to teach/instruct about a principle of design or methodology in construction. Honestly, I don’t meet many bead embroidery people who want to exactly duplicate a project by someone else; rather they want to put their own spin, colors, focal selection, etc. in the design. So, the projects are made also as easy springboards for you to do just that. If you want to duplicate a project to concentrate on your technique then the instructions are there for you to do just that.

And, key to this is what I say in Exercise 2 on page 11… “Spend time looking at designs you don’t like….. What exactly is wrong…. … What changes would you make that could turn the necklace into one that you liked?” This will help you enormously to develop your own style. Maybe the point here is to pick the project you like least! That may help you grow the most.

I’ve seen negative reviews on this book, Sherry’s book and Heidi’s book and it is almost funny. They say they don’t like the projects. If you want to duplicate projects, then you should look at a book first to see if there are projects you want to duplicate. Isn’t that just common sense and true of any bead book? That isn’t the fault of the book, it’s your fault. Now, if the instructions and advice had errors, then that is the books fault but none of that is alleged in the reviews.

But if you want, instead, to learn processes, design concepts, and meanings from generous artists to help you grow as an artist and craftsperson, then just get these books and Absorb the wonderful information.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Unconscious Desiging Part 3

The Edge of Design

In the prior blogs in this series, I discussed unconscious designing from the point of view of the Whole piece and the surface design choices. Now it’s time to discuss the edge.

First, let’s discuss one design choice I’ve seen which is No edge beadwork, simply gluing the outer backing on and cutting it. Or, maybe even doing a whipstitch stitching the backing to the outerbacking. I’ve seen this justified by the mention that the surface beading goes all the way to the edge. This is an unacceptable justification since all surface beading should be all the way to the edge. The backing and outerbacking edges are NOT attractive. Edge beading covers it. If you want a good design, you must do edge beadwork, it is as simple as that. Look at how people examine a piece of jewelry – they look at the back, they look at the side and of course the front. To pretend that the front of the piece is the ONLY part that matters is, well, wrong. Unless you don’t care about the quality of your design (which in that case you can just stop reading).

The excellent designs that I have seen consider the piece as a whole with attention to each part of the piece, including technique choices within the surface, AND are designed for the entire piece, including the edge. The problem I see with many bead embroidery jewelry designs is that they just stopped at a raw edge (aka sunshine edge, or brick stitch edge). There are so many techniques for adding beads on to a raw edge. This completion of the design can provide for color balancing, and a frame that blends and completes the entire piece instead of just Stopping (which is what a raw edge does).

So, when does a raw edge work? If the design is linear, strong, clean, contemporary and bold and if the thread color completely matches the beads on the edge, then a raw edge can be the best design choice. However, even with these criteria, you should review the other edge techniques that are applied to a raw edge to see if the design could be elevated with use of another technique.

Another criteria is that the piece MUST be a necklace. Yes, the only type of jewelry that a raw edge is an acceptable design criteria is a necklace.

In other words, NEVER use the raw edge as a final edge on earrings or a bracelet. Yes you see it A LOT, and yes there are famous excellent teachers who do this. I’m saying: That doesn’t make it right. So, let me explain. When this edge is used on a necklace, it sits firmly on the body. The view of the edge showing the bead holes and thread is very limited. That limitation is important because the view of the holes and thread is simply NOT attractive. And if you think it is, then you are just accepting it and not making a conscious, critical evaluation, which is understandable since it is so prevalent and taught as the main edge by almost everyone. Take a minute and look at this edge trying to see it anew, really, it’s not very pretty…. So since you can’t see much of that view on a necklace, it is acceptable to use it.

That is not the case with a bracelet or earrings. The edge is Very visible.

There is a secondary reason to NOT use this edge on bracelets and earrings. When thread is exposed, it is vulnerable for breaking from wear and tear. This is a main tenant of ALL types of beadwork, to hide the thread, not only from an attractiveness point of view but a safety of construction perspective. And, let’s be honest - earrings are worn near the face, and faces often have makeup on them. Any rubbing of the earring on the face (dandle earrings, normal movement) can soil the thread. Ick.

So what is a conscious designer supposed to do?
1. Use the Clean Edge stitch instead of the raw edge. This provides the same lines and smooth design but the beads are turned so the hole doesn’t show. It provides for the same design line, but is attractive.
2. Add an edge technique on the raw edge. If you have a piece already made that you want to fix AND you still want a smooth clean line for the edge, use the Turn Bead Edge (pg 25 in Beading with Cabochons) with size 15 beads. This edge is performed like doing a backstitch on the edge. Use 15’s so you don’t change the size of the piece very much.
3. When you are making your design choices at the very start of the design process, include a consideration for the edge.

Creating good designs is not just about the colors you use, or the beads and components. It involves every aspect of your creation. First I wanted to create awareness which is what this series of blogs was intended to do.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Unconscious Designing Part 2

In the last post on “Unconscious Designing” I talked about design issues caused by the failure to look at the piece as a whole. This discussion centers in on the bead embroidered portion. I have a premise here which is “techniques are tools designers use to create”. My essential point is that designs are not just about the beads and focals, nor just about the color palette. Yes, those elements are critical aspects but it is also about how these are all assembled. The stitches and techniques selected and used are an integral and important part of the design.

When I see a design failure, it is most often pieces that constructed entirely of a peyote bezel and backstitch. While those techniques are enormously useful in creating bead embroidery, if those are the ONLY and ALWAYS used techniques in Every creation, then there is cause to investigate and consider “unconscious designing”. Yes, those can work in a design, my point is they don’t work in Every design, yet some beaders do just that. It almost seems that some designs are made with more thought about “How I do this stitch in this instance” than giving any thought to “Should I use this stitch in this instance”. Conscious designing always includes the “should I” question.

One of my sensitivities is the Always use of a peyote bezel. In reality, MANY designs start with an amazing focal (bead, cabochon, donut, button, etc). This focal was often purchased at a dear price, and is clearly the focus not only of the jewelry piece, but the focus of the inspiration of the beader. When a peyote bezel is used… and it covers more of the focal than other techniques and its design is not smooth so it “fights” with the focal for attention. Probably the worst is when it invades into the picture area of some focal (eg covers the hair of a cameo, pokes the eye on a face, or covers the ears of an animal). I see other focals that are amazing, beautiful stones that I know cost a pretty penny, yet, a peyote bezel was used and covers much of the surface. I am actually mystified by the choice of using this particular technique for these focals and the only way I can make sense of it is to attribute it to unconscious designing. There was no “choice” to use this technique because no thought at all was given to alternatives, this technique is just always used.

So, back to my premise “techniques are tools designers use to create”. This is also like “knowledge is power”. When you expand your tool chest to include a variety of techniques, this will improve your designs because you can make conscious choices and choose a technique that enhances the appearance. You can look at each focal and each square inch of the surface and identify what you want to accomplish. Think about the best way to bezel to make the focal the star. Think about how you want the eye to travel over the surface of the beadwork design. Create interest not only by the surface lines but also the surface highs and lows (topography).

It’s your design, make it your choice….. not a default.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Unconcious Designing Part 1

Are you an Unconscious Designer?

First let me say, this blog may sound like criticism, but it is meant to be helpful.  So, now that I’ve explained my motivation, put any hurt feelings aside and let’s talk. And while this discussion relates primarily to bead embroidery designs, it can have application to other bead techniques. 

The most common design error I see with bead embroidered designs is a lack of proportion.  Good design concepts include PROPORTION AND BALANCE.

“Proportion is the relationship of two or more elements in a design and how they compare with one another. Proportion is said to be harmonious when a correct or desirable relationship exists between the elements with respect to size, color, quantity, degree, or setting. Good proportion adds harmony, symmetry, or balance among the parts of a design.”  From

 Sure, you can bend the rules to achieve a shock with a design, but the pieces I see that violate this design concept aren’t trying to do that. 

There are two commonly seen errors:  One is a bead embroidered pendant type design that is hanging from a tiny strand of beads.  The other is when joining bead embroidered sections and using a tiny design for the connection point(s).  I totally understand that the construction may be sufficient such that the piece will not fall apart (strong thread, numerous stitches)  BUT…..

 it LOOKS like it will fall apart!

The only explanation I have for these designs is that the designer was so focused on the bead embroidered portion that the design as a whole wasn’t even looked at.  This is easy to do.  The fun part of the design is the bead embroidery and this is where the main focus is.  However, your design is not complete until the entire necklace/bracelet/earring is finished.  Other people will look at the design in its totality, not just a section of it.  If the proportion is off for these other parts of the design, then the whole design fails.  Sorry, it is just a fact.

So, if you think it doesn’t matter, take a picture of the design with that tiny strand of beads.  Now redo it and use AT LEAST a 6mm round (if not 8mm..) and take a picture. Don’t ask a beader (they can make the same error as you and look only at the bead embroidered section) instead ask your husband or some other non-beader friend which picture they like better.  They will always choose the redone version because the proportion of the piece is corrected.  And really, you can’t just show the piece to hubby and ask if he likes it; that’s like asking if you look fat in those jeans.  Unless they a person that never learns, he knows how he needs to answer. So, you need to make it safe for the person you are asking an opinion of… they can pick from two different pictures so no insult is implied. 

Getting compliments on your necklace or “likes” on facebook is not a good tool to evaluate your design.  People will give you compliments because they like you and you made it.  People want to encourage you.  Likes on facebook don’t explain whether the person likes the whole, or just part of it.

Good design is a fuzzy thing…. People have different tastes.  There can always be an aspect of something that speaks to someone’s unique experience creating a unique bond.  In other words, as my sister and I have observed “There is nothing so ugly that it won’t sell”.  But, there truly are rules for GOOD design and one of them is proportion.  Criticize your own work and try to be honest.  When you are finished, ask yourself if you have violated this fundamental principle.