art, beading, beadwork, craft, design, jewelry design

Speculation

Craft, art, and design

And yes, I do see that all three of those words can look negative. :) In the sense of, “artifice,” I mean; or, “craftiness,” or, “making designs,” on something or someone. It seems the English language doesn’t trust creativity too much. ;) The below may be overanalysis of my own work; I can’t really tell. People just say I try to analyze things too much…

For reasons that would likely be understandable if I were to relate them, I’ve been away from this blog for about two weeks. A lot of this has to do with breaking out of my habit of writing about life instead of actually living it. In particular…I’ve been doing more beadwork than is normal for me. I wouldn’t call it, “a lot of beadwork,” though it probably would be so by the measure of most people.

There are a number of skills which go into beadwork: there’s an element which reminds me of my engineering projects from when I was a kid (what fits together?); there’s the color element; the attention to detail; hazard awareness (fire, chemicals, flying metal, pointy things); and problem-solving. I’m getting more of an understanding of the process of design, where you have basically an infinite number of paths, a smaller number of paths which will work, and an even smaller amount which accomplish your goals at the same time as they work. Right now I’m looking at jewelry as wearable art…it just makes more sense to me.

There are a number of things being at the bench (or table) recently, has taught me…prime among them that the work requires just the basic task of showing up and putting in hours. That’s something I was told in the Art Program…that the greater part of success is tenacity, not talent. Talent really doesn’t mean much if it isn’t applied. That advice isn’t specific to one art; it’s just kind of a truism. It applies to every art I’ve dealt with. Every art, regardless of medium.

I also think I’m beginning to understand the difference between art and craft, and art and design…though it’s slow going. “Art” denotes many more decision-points than craft, while craft can be generated from a design with no loss of its craft status, and design is generated out of a set of basic restrictions that can’t be violated.

I’m still figuring it out, as I have been for years (I’m in no way an authority on this); but it’s interesting to meditate on while making something I’ve never made before, and which I know I’ve never seen before, which no one taught me how to make. That mode is basically art and design, or design + engineering. The “art” part comes in when I’m trying to cognize what my next step could be; while “design” comes in when I’m trying to figure out what will work in this context. If I were doing it from the perspective of following someone else’s directions toward a predetermined endpoint, that’s craft — until I start going into unknown territory, where art and design factor in.

As I see it currently, it’s like this: generativity (art) + constraints (design) + technique (craft) = production (of…?). I hope I’ve got that somewhere in the ballpark of reality — no one taught me this. I’ve seen people make sculptures with beads, so we aren’t limited to jewelry in what we can make, in terms of beaded objects. (I deleted a term, “possibilities”, above, as regards art, and just wanted to mention it here, in case it turns out to matter.)

Anyhow: beadwork contains all three of these things. I obviously started off as a crafter (everyone has to learn the basics of needle, thread, beads, and wire; and most people learn from books, tutorials, and maybe other people), but if I keep going in this direction, I could be more thoroughly an artist and designer in the same field. That is, there’s nothing about beadwork that makes it inherently a, “craft,” and not an, “art,” as I’m looking at it, now.

However: If I wrote a book to tell others exactly how I did what I did, so they can do exactly what I do, without holding my reasons for doing so as organizing elements in the background of their thoughts; then I would be a designer, and the reader would be a crafter — if they followed the directions to the letter. Working my design would give them an insight into how I do things, but it won’t teach them how they do things. (Trust me, they can be different, and likely should be, if one is following their own aesthetic drive, personality, and experience.) It may only lead them closer to an understanding of how and why they were attracted to the work, and what they would change: and that can slingshot them off onto a trajectory of becoming an artist.

If they played with the design I gave them, and changed some things, that might be considered derivative work: but I should note that playing with designs in this way is often expected, and sometimes encouraged. Especially if a beadwork design is super-simple (like a specific, unremarkable version of an extremely common stitch which is demonstrated for the purposes of teaching), it’s unrealistic for a designer to claim ownership of it. After you’ve been doing this for a while, you can see when someone is just demonstrating because they want to broaden your approach to the work; not saying that they’ll sue you if you copy any of their versions. Unless I overestimate the benevolence of the author/teacher, that was never the point.

That’s…still, not legal advice. None of this can be; I’m not qualified to give it. But there are many authors who write books for the purposes of teaching. Not the purposes of litigation.

Now if this new beader, with the knowledge of the mechanics of the stitches they’ve learned, takes what they know about the function of each motion and anchor in beadwork to create something totally new that can’t necessarily and clearly be documented or slotted as, “right-angle weave,” or, “two-drop peyote,” or, “herringbone,” or, “brick stitch,” for example, then that looks clearly like artist territory to me. If they document their work and teach others how to make the exact same thing they made, given that it’s not the exact same (or close to the exact same, or derived from the exact same) pattern someone else taught them, then they would seem to be designers.

I should note, though, that it can take quite a while to reach that stage. I’m just starting to draw out simple legible patterns now, and I’ve been at this for over 25 years.

In other words: there’s way more that can be done in beaded jewelry than what published patterns demonstrate. One’s ability to see these possibilities depends one one’s horizons and familiarity with other crafts (techniques) which can and should intermesh, if one can find a way to do so and still create a strong product. We aren’t stuck with just stringing and beadweaving, that is: there are also wirework, knitting (including colorwork) and crochet, knotting (including micromacramé), lacemaking, embroidery, ceramics, leatherwork; and even silversmithing can theoretically be integrated, though I haven’t yet tried it. I also wonder about enameling…but I’ve not practiced that; I’ve only seen it in action. Then, there’s lapidary…for those special few who can actually work (and want to work) that field.


Swarovski Professional

I have wanted to mention something about Swarovski ending its sales of beads to the craft community with the anticipated shutdown of Swarovski Professional. Sam of Westcott Jewelry published something on this about 10 days ago: the comments in that thread, substantiate the rumors. I won’t repeat that thread here; hop on over to Westcott Jewelry for more information.

Since that time, I’ve been taking an in-depth look at Swarovski offerings and prices. What I can say is that I found another warning on this from 2016, and a third from 2013, which makes me wonder if we’re being subject to market manipulation, more than an actual threat. I’ve also been doing some digging around possible alternatives.

I haven’t used cut crystal beads so much in the past, because 1) they’re expensive; 2) they’re sharp, and can cut thread a bit more easily than I’d like. However: finding out that Swarovski is reportedly planning to discontinue distribution of their beads, led me to get some while I could. There are a lot of woven “recipes” (designs) which rely on tiny bicones, for example.

What I can say is that attempting to “stock up” doesn’t seem like an altogether cost-effective measure. Especially if one generally doesn’t use them, anyway. “Stocking up,” in this sense, is more like, “getting a sampler set,” because one won’t be able to truly stock up on this stuff if they’re moving a lot of inventory and don’t already know the colors they’ll use. (Or, as in my case, are unwilling to drop thousands of dollars on buying up existing stock for some as-yet-unknown purpose.) It’s possible to use up over 100 3mm beads on one St. Petersburg chain bracelet alone (though that’s a casual estimation; which you all should know I’m not great at, by now). With Swarovski as expensive as it is already, that means the cost of said bracelet is going to be, well, high. That, in turn, probably doesn’t matter too much, unless you intend to sell it.

In my case, I have heavily used Czech fire-polished glass beads, which I’ve experimented with minorly over the past couple of days (particularly looking at Right-Angle Weave), and they look different, but not inferior. It’s kind of like using a CzechMates Tile instead of a Miyuki Tila: the hard lines aren’t there, and maybe you don’t want them to be there.

The major difference between glass and crystal, however, is fire. Austrian crystal just reflects a lot of light, and can make glass look dull, next to it.

The big thing I can see coming up is a lack of replacement for Swarovski’s rose montées, which have perpendicular drill spaces that allow special design options. However: there are also Czech glass versions of these…and to be honest, getting a “silver-plated” rose montée doesn’t really reek of quality to me, when the only base (i.e. non-precious) metal in the piece is on the Austrian crystal component. Which may tarnish, I don’t know yet. But I’d rather the back be Sterling-filled or Sterling (or Fine) silver, so that the customers wouldn’t have to worry about rubbing the silver off when polishing it. Which I predict will need to happen. Because it’s just silver-plate.

I mean, if we’re going to make the stuff, shouldn’t we make it well?

From my own comparisons: Swarovski is reliably more expensive than Preciosa, for example (I’m going to avoid a ballpark comparison; it’s viewable online), which offers comparable crystal components. I have some Preciosa crystals, and they don’t disappoint me in terms of color or cut, though I have yet to try weaving with them.

Where Preciosa doesn’t touch Swarovski at this moment is in the wider range of colors, cuts, and special finishes that the latter currently offers. However: the consumer very much pays for this variety. In terms of cost for comparable merchandise, Swarovski cannot compete with Preciosa.

Then there is Chinese cut crystal, which I don’t have much experience with, other than some components I’ve purchased at craft stores — which are beautiful; it’s just that they’re a bit large and gaudy for my taste (they have a tendency to out-sparkle everything else). I am thinking, however, that both Preciosa and the Chinese crystal producers are going to rush into the void left by Swarovski. Plus, Swarovski is likely to put some manufacturers out of work…who will know how to make the stuff, even if they don’t have the capital to buy the machines to make the stuff.

For now, I don’t know what to say about this, so far as any recommendations go; I wouldn’t have even known it was happening, except for contacts online. I did, however, want to say something…

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