Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Growth Chart for Beaders

Earlier this year I signed up to participate in the Art Bead Scene Carnival of Bloggers. I thought it would prompt me to write more interesting posts. I've had ideas for all sorts of posts, but when it comes to sitting down and writing I admit that I get lazy. Anyway... the topic for this assignment is Growth, and as I gave that one some thought I decided to look at beading in terms of a growth chart. You know, those charts you hang in a doorway to chart the progress of your child's growth? I don't have kids, but I can remember my Mom marking my height on the door frame and being so excited to see the marks progress up the frame as I grew.

Do you chart your growth as a beader or bead artist? How do you keep track of the progress you make? As I started thinking about this blog post, I did a little searching and found numerous references to the stages of life. Here's a link to a site that I thought described the stages (eight, in this case) succinctly: The Eight Stages of Life.

I haven't used eight stages, but I started thinking of the stages in terms of a bead artisan's life:

Infancy: You're brand new to the world of beads. Oh, you've seen beads before, but your eyes have just opened to the possibilities that you might be able to create something of your own, starting with a selection of beads, clay, paper, metal, polymer clay... What do you do? How do you learn? Does someone teach you how to stitch, string, embroider, mold, or otherwise manipulate those beady bits of goodness?

I thought back to my own first venture into beads. It was when I was in junior high school, and I learned how to make paper beads. Remember those? I made thousands of them, using the colored pages from catalogs and bottles of Elmers Glue to hold them together. The strips of paper had to be cut into long skinny triangles, and my Grandfather decided to help me with making my beads uniform in size by making a wooden template I could use to mark the pages.

My Mom took my paper bead necklaces to work and sold them to her coworkers, who were happy to have brightly colored looping necklaces that only cost them $1.50. (I think I might have been underpricing my work.) I still have one of those original necklaces, now more than 40 (gasp!) years old. I found it in my grandmother's jewelry collection, and it made me smile to think about making all those beads. Back then, my little bead venture was aided by everyone in my family: my Grandfather's template for cutting the beads, my Grandmother helping me to cut the paper into strips, my Mom doing the marketing.

A couple of years ago I made paper beads using scrapbook paper. I did all the cutting and rolling, and I sold a few of them in my Etsy shop. With every paper bead I made, I thought of my family and how they nurtured my creativity by helping me with those first beads.

Adolescence: While I created those paper beads back in junior high school, it wasn't until I was in my 40s that I rediscovered beads and began to explore the possibilities, entering the adolescent stage of my beading.

I admit that I would often wander down a jewelry aisle at the local craft stores, but I rarely did anything but look. One day, though, I picked up a package of seed beads in all different colors (I'm like a magpie, apparently, attracted to bright shiny things -- at least that's how one of my friends describes me). I had no idea what I was going to do with all those beads, but I knew I could do something!

I knew how to crochet, having been taught the basics by my Grandmother, and I was so excited when I found books on bead crochet! Who knew I could combine something I already knew how to do with my newfound package of beady goodness? I've always been visual, so learning new techniques from books is a "natural" for me. Some of my first beady books were about bead crochet by some masters in the technique, Bethany Barry, Ann Benson, and Judith Bertoglio-Giffin. Being a self-confessed bibliophile, I probably spent more money on books than I did on beads during those bead-adolescent years.

My first attempts at bead crochet were a little frustrating. Trying to control those little beads and get them all going in the right direction, making sure to put the tip of the crochet hook into the right place in the rope... through some trial and error, I finally became comfortable with the technique, though, and now it's one of my favorite things to take with me on road trips. I can string the beads ahead of time and crochet away while sitting in the passenger seat, never worrying about sprinkling beads all over the vehicle.

Young Adulthood: Having "mastered" bead crochet, or at least having done so many bead crochet lariats, necklaces, and bracelets that I was tired of doing them, I temporarily put aside my beads and spent a year or two doing one of my other favorite pastimes, drawing. I still had beads, but I just didn't feel like picking up that crochet hook again, and I really didn't know any other techniques at that point. I was also a little bored with the bead selection at the local craft stores.

And then I went to a Bead and Button Show in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Wow. All those beads. Beads of every size, shape, and color imaginable. Beads made of glass, wire, wood, ceramic, porcelain, metal, polymer clay. And once again I was drawn in by all those "bright, shiny things" and walked away with POUNDS of beads. And not a real good idea of what to do with them. I just knew I could do something fun with them. I just had to find more books...

And find them I did. Books and magazines galore, all about beading and beading techniques. The first technique I learned was peyote, and while I've learned other techniques since then, peyote continues to be a favorite. The first beads I bought were Czech glass. They came in so many different colors and finishes, and I walked away from that show with thousands (millions?) of them.

My first peyote cuffs were created with no patterns. At least no patterns that were mapped out ahead of time or recorded in any way. I just made them up as I beaded, sometimes tearing out sections I didn't like and redoing them. It was great fun to hold the tubes of beads next to each other to see what I could combine for my next creation. I still have some of those original peyote bracelets and cuffs. They don't meet my standards any more for beadweaving, but I don't have the heart to take them apart and reuse the beads for something else. They're a part of my beady growth, so I think I'll just hang onto them for awhile.

Adulthood: I think this might be my current stage of growth. And I have continued to grow. I've added more books and magazines to my collection (more than 100 books and countless magazines, including Bead and Button, Step-by-Step Beads, Beadwork, Bead Style, Bead Trends, Art Jewelry...). I learned more techniques and stitches from the instructional pages in the backs of those magazines (tubular peyote, tubular herringbone / ndebele, right angle weave, spirals, beading around cabochons), and I'm constantly inspired by the works of art I see depicted in the beading books.

Two of my favorite books are 500 Beaded Objects, a Lark book with pictures of some of the most glorious bead creations you've ever seen; and Mastering Beadwork, a great technique reference book by Carol Huber Cypher. I refer to those two books again and again for both instruction and inspiration.

As I entered beady adulthood, I began creating more and more pieces and selling them in my Etsy shop, time2cre8. I had initially opened an Etsy shop to sell my artwork, but now it's devoted to my beadweaving and jewelry making. One of my first "Etsy idols," someone who demonstrated the possibilities that could be achieved with beadweaving, is Carol Dean Sharpe. She was, and continues to be, one of the most talented beadweavers I know; and now she's a dear friend (and cosmic sister).

With peyote still one of my favorite techniques, I purchased a graphing software so I could design my own patterns; and just this year I made it a personal goal to create a new peyote design every week. So far I'm on track, with 17 designs completed (and that means that I finished the designs and beaded the cuff, and in some cases even published the patterns for other beadweavers to purchase!).

I also began incorporating art beads and cabochons into my work, and I've now amassed a collection of polymer clay, lampwork, ceramic, and porcelain goodies by such artists as Lisa Peters, Dee Wilder, Marianne Kasparian, Moon Stumpp, and Kristie Roeder (to name but a few). Not only have I begun to collect their beautiful work, but I'm privileged now to be able to call all of these talented bead artisans my friends.

I visit their shops regularly, and sometimes I go through my collection of their works and choose a piece to use for one of my new creations. The piece shown at the left is a gorgeous cabochon made by Lisa Peters, and it was my first attempt at using right angle weave (aka RAW) to create a beaded bezel.

I have to say that I'm quite happy with my progress and most of all with the friends I've met along the way.

Middle Age: While I might be there chronologically, I'm not sure if I've reached this stage in my beadweaving. Maybe. I have learned more and more techniques, but when I look at the work by some of my friends I know I'm not on the same level as they are.

I'm continuing to learn new techniques and to refine my skills. And I continue to buy beads of all kinds, even though I could probably start beading now and bead continuously for years with no danger of running out. I thought about taking a picture of all the containers of beads I have, but the thought of gathering them into a single location (some are still packed, since we recently moved; and others are stacked on shelves in a cabinet) made me cringe.

Some of my pieces are a little more "mature" than others, and I'm always trying to expand my knowledge (more books) and range.

As I try to grow toward beady middle age, I'm incorporating more design elements into my pieces, working toward creating pieces that are unique and artsy and unexpected. The piece to the right, which features a focal by Kristie Roeder, incorporates some driftwood I collected on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Maturity: What will come with this next stage? Will I ever reach the level of some of my favorite bead artisans: Marcia DeCoster, Diane Fitzgerald, Rachel Nelson-Smith, Carol Huber Cypher, Carol Wilcox Wells?

I'm not sure.

But I'm always growing, and I still LOVE playing with beads. I'm thankful for the nurturing I received from my incredible family, for the friends I've made along the way, and for the journey itself.

And with that, I think it's time for me to get out the beads and play for awhile.


Carol Dean said...

What an absolutely wonderful post, MaryLou! *hugs* I don't know that I'll ever get past "adulthood," but I can live with that ;o

Deb DiSalvo said...

great post and very interesting. You are my favorite bead artist! :)

Krafty Max Originals said...

This is a very insightful and accurate post....I love it. I am going to share it will all my fans and friends....I think some days I am still in the infancy stage, but other days (projects) I feel like I am middle aged! I am with you, I can't ever imagine that I will be mature! Oh thank you for this!!! ~KM

BeadsForever said...

Wonderful post! It's nice to know that even though I'm in my 60's I'm still a young adult! I've always admired your work and always will.

Mary T Designs said...

Wow, what an interesting perspective. I feel like an infant in this new creative world to me. It is great to see that there will be a future progression possible if I stick with it. Thanks!!!

Enchanted Beads said...

Great post, Mary-Lou!

TesoriTrovati said...

Interesting concept. I never thought about my evolution in terms of growth stages. I will give that some more thought. Not sure where I am on this scale but I am thinking more toward the adolescent stage! (As long as that doesn't mean more acne!)
Enjoy the day!

maryharding said...

Your post about growth is incredible and so is your bead work. The piece with the smoke fired donut by Kristie Roeder is masterful. I think you are truly grown up and lucky for us you are still growing. Fabulous post.

Kate said...

What an inspiring post! I love how you guaged your progress on the growth chart, very unique as your designs evolve to be! I love that driftwood necklace

Linda Landig Contemporary Artisan Jewelry said...

An insightful post. It makes me reflect on my bead journey and wonder what stage I am at and which stages I might yet grow into. Thanks.