How to Design with Beads
A congested freeway is exasperating and frustrating, especially when you’re destination bound and the point of arrival is someplace AMAZING and FUN! A friend of mine was begin hosted at a gallery in Los Angeles and I headed out into traffic that resembled a parking lot of cars that barely moved. When I travel in the car I like to mentally design jewelry and try to think up new ideas. This makes for lots of brainstorm time when you have to travel in California. When do you do your creative brainstorming?
My cup runneth over!
When I arrived at the gallery it was standing room only. I was blessed to get a seat next to her so I could gawp at her gorgeous work and also eavesdrop on her conversations with buyers and lookey-loos. Right away I heard a broken record. Nearly every person immediately asked her various questions all meaning the same thing: Where do you get your ideas? How did you figure out your technique? Who taught you how to do this? In other words… how do you design?
A burst of inspiration
Nearly every answer my friend gave differed slightly from the last. For each piece she had tackled the challenge in a different way. Each one was a separate journey that resulted in a brilliant piece of beading. It got me thinking as the evening wore on, that there really is no one way to learn to bead. The ever-growing avalanche of ideas can be pursued in a variety of ways. And each beader tackles it differently to prevent the idea well from drying up.
How do you create your bead work?
My approach to a bead project usually starts with an idea in my head, and I continue to work out the kinks in my head until it seems as though it will work. I’m not usually one to sit down and experiment with techniques or piles of beads and then take stuff apart, but I know many beaders who do it that way. So lets explore some options for keeping the creative juices flowing!
Begin with a pile of beads
Gather some strands and loose beads out of your stash. Add a focal bead or a pendant into the mix, and begin mixing and matching strands together. Explore colors and shapes and sizes of beads and see what pops out at you. Try not to fall into the same pattern of design you’ve done in the past. Try putting contrasting things together and mix up the sizes. Some beads may be dominant and other may only be accent beads. Put things together that you wouldn’t necessarily think would go...you may be surprised!
Begin at the end
Indulge in a luscious clasp! Let it be the center for the direction for your design. It doesn’t matter where your clasp ends up (the front, back, side, bottom, etc.) but it can be your inspiration for where your necklace ends up. And who says you can’t have more than one clasp in your design?? I mean, if a hook has great design appeal, why not let it be part of the components and not the intended clasp for the piece? You know when we say there are no rules in beading? This applies especially here!
And speaking of clasps…
Build off of them! Is it filigree? Wire wrap stuff on it. Is it flat? Glue flat-back crystals on it. Is it fabric? Sew seed beads onto it. Don’t settle for a clasp as it is. Hang some wire loopy stuff of it. Want it to be a component and not a clasp at all? Glue it permanently closed! Maybe you could use something that isn’t really meant to be a clasp as a closure. Like… a rubber seal or a copper washer. Or you can fabricate your own hook from wire. Making your own clasp from wire or seed beads makes your piece truly a one of a kind.
Center around a color
Go monotone. You can use a variety of shades, tints and hues to make your work more 3 dimensional, or you can stick with the same color and change it up by mixing sizes and shapes of beads. I have to say, I’ve seen some really beautiful designs that are a single bead separated by knots or wire loops with a simple pendant. Sometimes a repetitive bead can be a huge statement. How about challenging yourself to use a color that you normally wouldn’t? That can be tough, but it’s a key tool to help you continue to evolve and change in your design process.
The center of attention
Begin with a fantastic focal bead such as a great piece of lampwork or maybe a pendant. How about a cab with a seed bead bezel or a vintage locket? When you begin in the center and work your way out the flow is steady and sure. By the way, your focal bead doesn’t have to be front and center. It can be on the side, in a cluster or one of many focal beads in your piece.
Get a visual
Sometimes you can’t rely on your mental ideas to pull through for you. So get visual! Begin a book of ideas that you can sketch out, or try cut and pasting colors, textures or photos that you can refer to when the dry spell creeps up on you. This can be really productive since at any given moment you may feel something new resonate in you that could be different from the day before. Fresh ideas each day!
Hark! Open up your ears
Music can inspire design ideas. If you’re working on a piece of beadwork, indulge in a little tune to help keep the fires of creativity burning. Music can alter your mood, calm you down and ease your soul. Useful for when those Fireline knots go berserk or the wire just won’t do what you want it to!
Make it multi-media
Start combining components and materials into something you haven’t done before. Mix metal colors, seed bead sizes and then add do-dads to make it a one of a kind. You can’t go wrong with multi-media. Look around the room you’re in now...I’m sure there are a few things you could grab at arms length that would work!
If you’re a wire worker, get out your hammer and bench block and begin texturing some stuff! Twisted wire, hammered washers and stamped pieces are all metal, but you’ve changed up the piece by adding different techniques. Or, if you’re a bead stringer, try using beaded beads in your strand, and then make some fringe off the main strand with seed beads. You’re still using your choice of materials, but combining some different techniques in one piece will give it texture, balance and make it more interesting.
Ask another beader to work on a piece with you where you can both give equal input. Or, take turns working on it with the other person having no say in what you’re doing! Designing this way makes you think outside your comfort box and may open up the influence of another person’s work in your own. I love doing Round Robins for this very reason. You must compliment another persons ideas and add to it, but yet make it unique to you. What a challenge!
Design for someone else
Creating beadwork that someone else desires forces you to work in another’s color palette and style. This can be so liberating! Just make sure you really listen to what they want so you know you’re doing what they wish. Don’t try to force your own ideas on them. Be brave enough to follow their directions! You’ll grow in the process.
Try something new
If all else fails, try taking a class, cracking open a beading book or breaking free of your old habits. You could make your own beads or clasp or centerpiece to get the juices flowing. Or you can give yourself a much needed break to see what life experiences come your way to influence you. Just remember to be on a quest for fresh ideas in your pursuit of design!
“I have a tendency to snooze over boring beadwork. Literally. I’ve caught myself dozing off with my Softflex wire held aloft! My cure? Get up and dance! I wake up and shake up and then I’m ready to attack my beadwork in a positive way.” ~ Therese LeSohr