beading, beadweaving, beadwork, craft, glass beads, jewelry

Art Jewelry vs. Craft Jewelry

OR, is Art really superior to Craft? About a decade ago, I recall reading something in one of my beading or jewelry magazines, about the differences between Art, Craft, Fine, and Fashion Jewelry. At this point, I would add in Body Jewelry to the mix — it was likely still fringe, at the time.

Exactly which magazine title it was, and which issue, is something that will take manual lookup — though I may have xeroxed the relevant pages out of a Library copy. I should really go through my archives. (Well — “archives” — they aren’t really incredibly organized or cataloged, just notes, records, and other things that I’ve considered worth saving over the years, as regards beadwork.)

I’ve started looking through my backlog, but I know it was in a magazine, and I have over ten pounds’ worth of magazines here (actually, about 13 lbs., if my scale is correct). I’m not entirely up to looking for it, right now.

What I do with beads, beadweaving, wire, and micro-macramé with seed beads, would be considered “craft jewelry”. Although it can range into “art jewelry”, which is generally more about one-of-a-kind pieces, stones (often including individual unique stones), and metalwork (for example: Designing From the Stone by Lisa Barth), I haven’t reached the point in my development where I can yet bezel a cabochon using a beaded method, and have the cabochon still show through to my satisfaction.

I do have some (as yet unimplemented) help in making beaded bezels, though. Jamie Cloud Eakin has a really nice book out called Dimensional Bead Embroidery, which clearly shows a number of methods of making beaded bezels. She also has another book out (Bead Embroidery Techniques: Bezels) which goes a little more deeply into bezels in specific, though it isn’t the only one of hers to mention the topic. Because of the nature of her type of work, which uses unique stones and unique designs, I’d say it does range into art jewelry.

I don’t know where I got this idea, but somehow there is this thought in my mind about art being “better than” craft. This was challenged, however, by a recent episode of A Craftsman’s Legacy, where the host (Eric Gorges) was interviewing an armorer (James Arlen) who said that armor made as “art” was generally less functional than armor made as “craft”. It’s not often that I hear someone defend craft in its own right (usually it is assumed that “art” is superior — I don’t fully know why, though I suspect it has to do with historically gendered practices and gender politics), so I do remember it. I also know that “Art Jewelry” is sometimes considered as “wearable art,” though not all of it is something one would want to wear.

As I’m writing this, I recall hearing about the Arts & Crafts Movement in my Art classes. I don’t remember all the information, but I know that those in this movement aspired to high-quality workmanship. This was in contrast, and likely in protest to, the advent of mass production after the Industrial Revolution. I wouldn’t be surprised if art jewelry is a continuation of this idea, though at present it is difficult to avoid working with mass-produced sheet and wire, unless you’re on the level of a traditionally-trained goldsmith and cast your own ingots.

I’m not entirely sure where the idea of, “art being better than craft,” came from…though I wouldn’t be surprised if it had to do with certain large craft stores stocking predominantly inexpensive (“cheap”) products. Charles Lewton-Brain has an article up on Ganoksin about the difference between art and craft. Lewton-Brain is a well-regarded authority where it comes to jeweling, and Ganoksin is a standard jeweling resource.

In any case, making jewelry out of pre-made components — like beads, and thread or cord — generally qualifies as craft (although, right now, I am coming to the realization that most if not all jewelry-making is craft, even if qualified by also being art). When I was in my silversmithing class, the work I was doing in this vein (a Dutch Spiral chain) wasn’t taken seriously by my instructor, even though it ended up being an integral part of my final design.

She didn’t say why — whether it was because she had no reference for it, whether it was because she couldn’t grade it, whether it was a safety hazard (broken beads on a concrete floor are crushed glass), or whether it was straight-out elitism. (I did, however, get people asking how I made it, and I could respond that it was a well-known technique, not a proprietary one.)

After all, it’s not like beaded jewelry, isn’t jewelry (regardless of the fact that the term, “jewelry,” used in the Jewelry field, typically refers to the products of metalwork). It performs the same function: to decorate someone’s body. I’m not sure the method of that decoration’s construction (in beadwork, at least) is really negatively judged by the people I would sell to.

It’s also a bit hypocritical to state that beaders or handcrafters rely on pre-made components (and that they thus are not as creative as jewelers), when I doubt that most jewelers find and hand-cut their own stones, or refine and process their own metals (normally into sheet, wire, or casting grain). I can’t pretend that there isn’t a lot of work put into finishing and polishing a metal piece, or that there isn’t more creative freedom in metalwork. However: it’s false to state that beaders are uncreative relative to jewelers, because of the materials or processes they work with.

There are also major differences in aesthetic relative to the different branches.

For instance, a lot of Fine Jewelry uses glittery cut gemstones that are not likely to show up in Art Jewelry to such a degree. The value of Fine Jewelry also in part rests in the perceived value of its materials (often gold or silver and gems, which allow a higher profit margin). As a Craft Jeweler, I can’t say the same to the latter; though I know at the same time that I am not a Fashion Jeweler. Fashion Jewelry is mostly inexpensive, mass-produced, on-trend jewelry which — like a lot of on-trend fashion clothing marketed to women — is not made to last. This is likely why so many cabochons (“cabs”) are glued into their settings, instead of actually set by rolling and smoothing the edge of the bezel over the cab. When something is just held in by glue, it tends to fall out.

In my own work, I’ve needed to look for more durable materials — given that threads are the most vulnerable part of any beadwoven work. For years, I used Nymo, which used to be industry-standard — until I saw one of my pieces fuzz out after two years of heavy wear — wear which I never expected and could not have predicted. Right now I’m using K.O./Miyuki thread for beadwoven items, and C-Lon for micro-macramé. We’ll see if they last.

A key reason I am as interested in beadwork as I am, are the colors and shapes available in beads, particularly glass seed beads. This is not something that I can easily attain in metalwork unless I 1) use reactive metals, 2) heavily use colored stones, or 3) use enamels. The use of colored stones is fairly self-evident, so I’ll move on to the other two.

Reactive metals are metals like titanium and niobium, which change color when subjected to certain processes like anodization. Although other metals can also change color when exposed to certain processes (like what results in a “fire patina” on copper), it’s fairly certain that color is not a central component of metalsmithing. Enameling is something I’ve considered, but there are two hazards I know of: 1) radiation from the kiln, and 2) harmful vapors from molten colored glass.

One of my friends works near a stained-glass supply, and has noted that people working with stained glass tend to get sick. I’m thinking that this has to do not only with glass dust, but also with glass colorants. Vapor of colored glass is likely another level of potential harm — and I say that having seen some of the potential of enamel. It can really be gorgeous. However, enameling requires the use of either a torch or a kiln…and as you may recognize from my past posts, I’m not too eager to use fire.

There is also the danger of burning out one’s retinas from staring into a hot kiln (this is the “radiation” problem)…if I’m correct and that is a risk with enamel, as well as with lampwork. There are protective goggles one can get; but that still won’t protect one’s lungs (I would suspect a danger of silicosis); and kilns are expensive, so I should be sure I want to enamel, before I invest in one.

Though I do like working with glass beads, we do still have a long way to go, where it comes to glass colorants. There are some colors, that is, that are just difficult (or prohibitively expensive) to create. Colorants can extend all the way through the glass, be added on to the outside of a bead as a coating (these have various levels of quality and durability, and range from what looks like paint, to metallics, to some gorgeous specialty coatings), be applied as a dye, or be applied to the inside of a bead hole, allowing color to show through to the outside (these are called “color-lined” beads).

Unfortunately, for example, it’s difficult to create a base color of violet for glass, so many violet beads are actually dyed or color-lined. (Both of these methods have problems with longevity.) However, with the new coatings that are being developed for use with glass, it’s possible to have a bead with a base color of blue or brown, and have an iridescent sheen on the surface which causes the bead to appear as violet, even a reddish violet. (I’m not entirely sure of the optical explanation for this; I just know it happens.)

There are also glass colors which are apparently really easy to make, and very common and beautiful. Teal is one of these colors, as is (yellow) topaz. Cobalt Blue is another representative color, which is close to an uncoated blue-violet. Reds and pinks contain gold as part of their formulation and so are relatively expensive, but are an interesting example in how glass colors are made. Though I can speculate, I don’t know the chemistry of glass formulations yet. Maybe if I got into lampwork, I could; though I don’t use many lampwork beads.

The fact also remains that those who are making jewelry out of beads, are depending on the prior work of crafters and manufacturers, and it would be arrogant to ignore that. The problem, I see, is that “craft” connotes low quality, whereas “art” implies something valuable and refined. There is also the issue of interdependence with others, and creation as a collective task, as versus the American myth of total and complete individualism.

At this point, having written, seen, and read all this (and in addition what I reference below), I do feel better about calling what I do, “craft work,” especially considering that I’ve realized that on a level — at least in handmade jewelry, as a decorative art — all art work is also craft work.

There is also the fact that, in Japanese society (I’ve been studying this and have Japanese influence in my cultural background), there is value and pride placed in being (and excelling as) a craftsperson; and as I read at Britannica.com, the distinction between fine art, and, “decorative art,” is a recent one. See the second paragraph of, “High and low art,” which may shed some initial light on the history (if, that is, it is accurate). This is the first time I’ve actually seen someone speak to the source of this, as occurring in the 18th century.

It would be interesting to research the history of this categorization of fine art as versus craft, and compare it with the timing of the Industrial Revolution and the Arts and Crafts Movement, which according to Wikipedia (accessed July 31st, 2019), flourished in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The question for me at this point, though possibly a misled and irrelevant one, is what differentiates craft which is also art, from craft which is simply craft: a deeper message? an emotional response? liberated (or ineffectual) design? For that matter: I never really considered myself a decorative artist. I don’t think it would help, though maybe if I subtracted my feelings on the mildly pejorative “decorative” (as though jewelry is only for aesthetic pleasure; not identity, or message, or the enhancement of beauty; and then what is the aesthetic, why does it have value, and are beauty, identity, communications, and aesthetics frivolous; and if so, on what grounds) from the title and kept the definition, it might.

At this point, it seems that the distinction between high art and decorative art is academic and irrelevant — to a crafter. It’s more relevant if I’m trying to distinguish myself from being a crafter, though the major gains from that would be monetary.

The fact remains that in my own work, I’ve chosen to deal with creating things, regardless of whether that leads me to work with fiber, or beads, or paint, or pens and graphite, or digital media, or the written word.

Of course, there are still some media I prefer over others, for reasons I’m not entirely aware of (other than my knowledge that I value precision). I’m just going to have to let these reasons show themselves, as I continue working…

jewelry, metalsmithing, self care

18g earrings back in. Reconsidering metalsmithing. Procrastination or overwork (I’m not sure which).

Not much of note has happened in my life, recently. I did, last night, put in my 18 gauge earrings, which are basically circles of surgical steel wire. Because they’re so thin, they tend to deform rather than accept the (tiny) bead that is supposed to help them close. I realized last night that I didn’t actually need the bead for something this small, and just threaded them in and pinched them so that they wouldn’t fall out. I should have about six weeks before I know for a fact that I can increase the gauge. So I can go up to 16g on the 25th of August, or later; assuming I don’t take the 18g rings out, until then.

A long time ago, I did think it was OK to “gauge up” early (given that I’ve gone up and down in gauge ever since I was first pierced), but at this point I’m more reserved about it. For some reason, the piercings aren’t at the same level of looseness or tightness all the time…sometimes a scar will tighten for no foreseeable reason. When that happens, the piercing is fragile and vulnerable to microtears, which can lead to oozing or bleeding. That can further damage the piercing, if shards of dried fluid are pulled through when the ring is loosened. The last time that happened to me, I realized I had to take the larger wire out and put in a thinner one, so I wouldn’t inadvertently heal in a deformation. Then I had to wait for the piercing to heal sufficiently.

I’ve read to treat an expanded piercing just like a new one, but I think (at this point) that these two states aren’t exactly the same. If I had, for example, soaked the piercing in salt water twice a day before attempting to loosen the ring (as is recommended for fresh piercings, though that’s not medical advice), I wouldn’t have dragged dried blood through a tender site (which caused the pain that caused me to realize I had a microtear. I’m still not sure, however, whether it tore before and I didn’t notice it, or whether it tore when I felt the pain). Having had the piercings the first time was not really similar to letting them shrink down, and then re-opening them later. Had I not started at 14g (and then never gone above that), gauging up really might have been more similar to having a new piercing.

Also, the piercings I’m talking about are just basic earlobe piercings, not cartilage or body-type things. Because it’s easy for employers here to discriminate in hiring based on the number of piercings they can see on a person…there are reasons not to have too many.

Yesterday, I had the chance to wear earrings with standard posts, again: they were basically studs shaped like flowers. I had the misfortune of almost losing one…which meant that I had to pick up an earnut off the floor, then wash my hands, then wash my ear, then wash the earring…though the positive thing is, I realized I wasn’t too attached to it.

In contrast…my biggest hesitation about expanding my piercings has had to do with commitment. As for why it is that I keep taking my larger-gauge jewelry out, I think it has been because I wanted to wear the jewelry I had made before, which mostly has earwires between 22g and 18g. I also haven’t wanted my piercings to migrate because of using too fine a gauge in too large a piercing (though I’m not sure that would even happen). There’s nothing else I can think of which would be a reason.

It would probably be an easier decision for me if I were not a beadworker. To make jewelry for large-gauge piercings, I would basically need to move into metalsmithing. It’s not like it would be difficult, at least to make something like a ring, or a tunnel or plug (if I could find safe silicone o-rings). However…if I were to make anything more major, I’d be dealing with forging, and I’m not sure I have a torch strong enough to work with thick, solid metal.

I also only have the ability right now to work in silver, brass, or copper; most of the large-gauge jewelry I have, in contrast, is surgical steel. Moving into that means moving into blacksmithing. The addition of iron makes the process of forging…different. And I don’t know how to do it.

However, there are at least two or three local places that I know of (Silvera Jewelry School, the Richmond Art Center, and The Crucible), in which I could use more powerful torches than I have access to, here. I would basically have to drop into a lab, though.

Or, I could just resign myself (for now), to buying earrings, and using beadwork skills for necklaces and bracelets or anklets.

Not that I’ve made much jewelry at all, recently; I’ve been focused on lace. It is trying to devote time to this, however, where I have other things to be doing (for now), which are more important: like preparing for job interviews or searching for openings or building my LinkedIn account. However…the difficulty I’m having in taking time out for myself, somewhat indicates to me that I need to do it. I opted to write here tonight, instead of working on the lace…because for some reason (having been an English major) it seems less of a waste of time to write a blog post than it is to knot lace.

I know I could be working on my course, but the internet has been in and out all day. Besides…I’m getting tired of these courses, especially since I realize now that Cataloging is difficult for me. I know I probably should be working on my current course (or checking work in my past courses), but the thing is, “should” is a word that I’ve been trying to work out of my system, since I realized how much it was damaging me as a youth. (I was a severe overachiever, although that may be why I’m in the position I am [in regard to career prospects, and my relative lack of development in non-academic areas], now.)

Yeah, maybe I do need to stop working as hard as I can, as much as I can, just because I have a commitment or because I always expect more of myself. It’s interesting to take a vacation and then get back to work, and realize how much you appreciated not having to do it…

I also want to get back to my JavaScript course. How badly I want to get back to it? I’m not sure at this point. But I also want to get back to just basic coding. I just need to find something to build a site around…and, for now, to find the time to keep educating myself via the one serious book I’ve recently purchased. The reason I haven’t gotten back to it…is largely because I’m anxious about installing new programs on my machine. It’s always a risk, and usually a risk I don’t like to take. I do have ways of checking things; the entire process is just stressful.

jewelry, personal, psychology

Recap, and envisioning my future self.

Okay, so…that bit of time when I was up until after midnight this last Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning, and had to wake early Wednesday? I’m still feeling the aftereffects. (Of course, it is only Thursday. The days seem to be going slower for me, recently.)

I fell asleep by accident at 8 PM last night (Wednesday), then woke up at 3:30 AM (today, Thursday) from the local fox screaming in the backyard. (It’s probably a girl; we read that vixens scream to attract mates.) At that time, I realized I had missed my 9 PM medication…by 6.5 hours…and got up to take it. I also had to eat a little bit to avoid becoming sick from the meds — plantain chips. (It must have worked, as I didn’t get nauseous, and I wasn’t nauseous when I woke up.)

Then I brushed my teeth and got back in bed, to wake up at 9 AM for the live meeting of my current course. That was relatively difficult to get through; I went back to bed at 9:50 after it ended, skipping produce shopping for today.

So…I think that will have to wait until tomorrow, to avoid being on the road during rush hour. We did go out, though I basically had to eat two meals to stay up. The only way I am staying up right now is that I drank a caffeinated soda. I’m also eating some chocolate, which is likely not a coincidence.

I still haven’t written about last weekend, though…I wonder if I wrote anything by hand? I know I did, some. Any names mentioned here would have to be altered or omitted for confidentiality reasons…but basically, my dad’s cousin had a family gathering, and I got to meet family whom I had met maybe once before. There’s a lot of history that precedes me here; some that precedes my father; it’s not proper for the blog, but whose family history is…?

In any case, it was nice to meet people, though I kind of wish I had been more up to the task of being social. Because I’m a shy person by nature, I did do a little tatting at brunch to withdraw a bit. I am amazed at how many people know what tatting is! It’s sweet when they find you and recognize what you’re doing. <3

I’m also starting to really love tatting, or at least the fact that it’s extremely portable, and calming. I find that I can listen and be aware of my environment at the same time as I’m paying attention to what my hands are doing. Having my attention nominally on my handwork, though…it means that I’m not expected to talk.

I guess it’s kind of like the smartphone in the hands of the kid sitting next to me; it gives the impression that one is occupied, though I find that tatting doesn’t take up as much cognitive attention (as versus fine motor attention) as the phone does. I gave him some visual cues to signal that I could talk, but he was absorbed in his phone. I assumed that he didn’t want to talk as much or moreso than myself, so I left him alone.

So…after that, we headed off to Monterey. I still have most of a bag of candies from there (okay, about 60% now)…it’s kind of hard to visit Monterey and not come home with salt water taffy. The time we spent down there, we were with one of my aunts. It was nice to talk with her one-on-one, though I wish I had said more than I did. I just happen to be a listening kind of person, I guess.

Also, we visited the aquarium, which was interesting and cute. There were two high points for me: one were the birds (including the aviary [where I saw someone unsuccessfully try to entice a Snowy Plover into his hand: the plover just looked at him, about eight inches out of reach] and the Pigeon Guillemots in a separate exhibit); the other was the diving beetle exhibit!

Okay, so the two Pigeon Guillemots whom we saw in an exhibit were playing with the people looking at them by acting cute (trying to swim up to us, even though the glass obviously blocked them). I’m thinking they had learned that if they interacted with people (even people behind glass), they could get us to do things. :) They went away when I looked up to try and figure out what they were. I think they thought I was signaling disinterest (they couldn’t see the sign I was looking at), though I was really just a little embarrassed by how cute they were (and that I couldn’t give them any fish).

The diving beetles, though…that was just amazing. It was crazy seeing all the little beetles swimming around underwater! They have two paddle-like legs, and a bubble of air under their shells, and they just…swim. It’s amazing. I’ve never seen diving beetles before! (They were at the end of the Viva Baja exhibit.)

So…the places we stayed were also really nice, although I think there was some covert racial bias we encountered outside of the hotels. It’s hard to tell if it was that, or just a couple of instances of poor service.

So I don’t forget myself, I should mention that I visited a gallery/boutique on Cannery Row where I was able to purchase a black ceramic ring with a metallic polish. It reminds me very much of a hematite ring I had (and loved) in high school, and kept until it finally got a stress fracture. I found out later that hematite isn’t the greatest material for rings, as rings have to be hard-wearing, and hematite is vulnerable to stress fractures from rapid temperature changes, and also to fractures from shock (say, by putting one’s hand down on a table).

It doesn’t take a lot to crack hematite. It reminds me of another stone, fluorite, though fluorite is orders of magnitude more fragile than hematite (I’ve chipped it just by trying to bend a wire I’ve strung it onto). Opal is another one of those stones that is extremely easy to damage…it has acquired a reputation for bad luck because it’s so difficult to set.

Anyhow, the ring itself is really nice. The ceramic itself is a very hard, strong, and durable ceramic called a, “gem ceramic,” made from zircon. The last time I wore it to work, I found a shiny black chip trapped under the ring, and realized upon examining the ring for damage that the chip had to have come off of the paint from the shelving cart I had been handling.

I was just really amazed at the fact that my purchase decision was so easy — in lieu of getting a graduation ring, I got this. It has, however, also made me want to expand my earlobe piercings again. I stopped and let my piercings shrink down because I wasn’t sure I would want to go to large-gauge jewelry. However, at this point…this ring really matches the aesthetic I was going for. I’ve also worn plenty of my own jewelry, and I think it’s really okay that I wear jewelry which is different from the jewelry that I make. It’s a style decision.

Right now, I’m thinking that I’m okay with going up to 10 gauge, and with purchasing earrings at that size (as versus making them). Of course, at the moment, I’m closer to 20 gauge — standard earwire girth. It will take months to safely expand my piercings again, but I’m up to it. When I originally got pierced, it was at 14 gauge, I was young, and I told myself that I wouldn’t go up in gauge until I was very sure I wanted to.

Hey, it’s been about 15 years, and I’m pretty sure I’m good with it, now! Also, if I’m going to be a Librarian or Information Professional, I pretty much don’t have to worry about bias instigated by my jewelry. A lot of younger people wear this style, though it started (here, at least) with Generation X. I’m from the generation that followed.

So recently…I’ve been able to get more of a handle on dealing with my own style. For instance…I’ve decided to keep my hair long, and to wear it with its natural curl. I’ve found that if I clip my hair back, it puts less strain on my scalp than it does when I wear my hair pulled back. We have also been visiting some beauty supply stores, and I’ve found a type of shampoo and conditioner (by “Shea Moisture”) that is gentle enough to use frequently. It does seem to be a very good thing for me to use sulfate-free shampoo.

I do need to trim my ends, but I also found a styling aid that makes it much easier to comb. I’m considering — once I get my sleep stuff under control — taking a shower in the morning and washing my hair every day or two, so that I can wear it long and curly, without having slept on it first. I also finally have a decent hair dryer which I can use to target my roots, so I don’t get too cold, and so that I can avoid mildew growth. Hair care is the major reason for me to cut my hair short: I have a type of hair that is very high-maintenance (thick, wavy, and curly), and in the past, I didn’t want to be burdened with it. However, now I know that having it long is a choice, not a requirement.

I also now have enough makeup to practice, as well; though I need to wash my powder brush. There’s that, and the fact that I have to keep my body hair trimmed, if I want to wear sleeveless shirts and dresses. Then there’s the exercise which I want to get back to so that I can tighten my body up again and regain some leanness and hypertrophy (and energy). I really don’t have anything against being larger; it’s just the belly and the health drawbacks (and the specter of the weight gain from my medications not ceasing) that are causing me to work on myself.

I almost can’t believe how much identifying (and finding a community) as gender-nonbinary has freed up so much of my energy, and ceased so much of my angst about conforming or not conforming to standards as either a man or a woman. It’s enabled me to just release it, instead of being trapped in a two-gender dialogue between compulsory femininity and rebellion against compulsory femininity.

I used to hear trans* men say similar things (a great sense of freed-up energy and sense of well-being) about their lives after transition to male, though (which made me want to transition, before I realized I wasn’t them; thus, their solution wouldn’t work for me), so I want to emphasize that the happiness, liberation, and sense of calm comes with finding your authentic self, whoever you are, and finding your own way to engage with the world, over all the noise that tells you that you shouldn’t be you. It has nothing to do with the specific identity of the point you find to be happy at.

For me, getting to this point has had to do with finding what makes me happy, and negotiating out a way to do that, with the world — regardless of others’ opinions of whether or not what I’m doing is, “correct,” (against what standard?) or whether I’m being, “trans enough” — because, cis and trans are relative and culturally contextual terms. In my case, I know I’m going to stand out (firstly, because of my race), no matter what I do, and regardless of whether I want to. My thought is that I might as well aim to become a person I am proud to be: my authentic self; and then let things play out as they will. No regrets.

career, craft, creativity, fiber arts, jewelry, self care, work

Despite it: what do I *want* to do?

Hmm. You know, the question of what I really want to do has come up over the last few days. Not what would be profitable to do — but how I want to spend my time.

I think my life is becoming more clearly divided between work, professional development, and leisure…where I didn’t really have anything to compare “leisure” to, before. I wonder what it would have been like if I worked for years before going into University.

Most likely, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have made it through (unless I went through Community College first to maintain my study skills), but aside from that, it would have helped me to have had some work experience. That way, I could actually tell what kind of work I was interested in (and where I could be hired), in Undergrad, and aim my major and studies accordingly.

Still — I would not have likely ended up with as much education as I have now, because I would have had practical experience of life outside academia. I also might have been able to take a more direct route to a career. But that’s me looking back at my 18-year-old self from about two decades into the future. I suppose it’s easy to have regrets (or “regrets”), and to see where things could have gone differently.

So many of those early decisions powerfully affect what comes later, at least if one allows them to. For instance, I shunted myself out of a career in the Hard Sciences early, by opting not to take University-level Math. This placed me squarely in the Social Sciences and Humanities, which happened to be where my then-current interests lay. However, those interests were influenced by never before having had the opportunity to learn these things, and also by an early experience of unexplained dysfunctional social dynamics.

In any case, not everything I do (at least, now) has to be marketable, or something I plan to or can make money on: writing is an example. Yes, I had an undergraduate major in Creative Writing, but that decision affected two years in my early twenties. Ironically, I didn’t know much about myself, then. It shouldn’t define the rest of my life.

I think that up until now, most — if not all — of my time was primarily focused on academic pursuits and work. Right now, I’m not in college anymore (for the first time in years), and I have the hope of a higher-paying career, which won’t require me to have a second (or possibly third) job.

Earlier, I was reading and realized how much easier it was to take in information than to put out information. If I do this Librarianship thing for real, reading is much more important than writing. Like, way more. Writing does help, but unless I work in an Academic Library, publishing probably isn’t a huge pressure. If I did work in an Academic Library, it’s unlikely that I’d be asked to write fiction.

Out of this, I realize that it…likely is okay for me to do what I want to, with my free time (apart from work, reading, and Professional Development). That includes crafts, and it doesn’t have to include Illustration, regardless of whether or not I got a degree in Art.

All of this has been wonderfully enriching, but it doesn’t mean I have to hold to the same pattern for the rest of my life. I know that I appreciate the arts; I also know that I appreciate well-crafted writing. I found community in Art; from both of these pursuits I’ve learned how important it is to me to have creative output. It’s basically really hard for me to live without making things. Without records, the days run together, and I lose track of what has happened — which is a major underlying reason for my own blogging.

The thing is, my career path as it stands now is not exactly a creative one. I don’t, however, have to make all my waking hours about my job and my career — right now I still have space for free time. Assuming success with my job and career, there isn’t any need for what I do during that free time, to be profitable.

So, I finally was able to begin practicing tatting, the other night. For those who haven’t been following this blog, tatting is a form of lacemaking. And…I do think I’ve earned enough time to be able to do something that’s just about me, and not about money.

The beadwork I had been doing, had been migrating from being a pleasurable pastime, to being a microbusiness…and I’m not thinking that my designs come quickly enough for that work to be decently profitable. Of course, I can still teach the designs to others…

For that matter, I might become capable of teaching other creative pastimes, without the need for those pastimes to be commercially profitable.

As for writing, and the whole graphic novel thing…I shouldn’t force it. It’s been a very long time since I’ve written any fiction (actually, I believe Christmas was the last attempt); right now, I’m angled more towards nonfiction. Essays. Blogging. I also haven’t been drawing. While it’s attractive to restart the latter, drawing an entire graphic novel is very different than just doing one-off sketches. A graphic novel requires drawing much more — including things one doesn’t want to draw, or possibly see — than making images in general.

Right now…there are still a lot of things I want to work on. The two things I have wanted to work on today — other than logging this — have been practicing the tatting, and working on the blouse project I left off of. There is also the embroidery issue, which I’ve been dealing with for years…I’ve just been wondering what I could make for myself that includes such. (That I would wear, I mean…)

It is true I do have a lot of beads. I also have a number of designs to try out…but I shouldn’t push myself to work on them, too hard. They’ll be here. And right now, I’ve invested more than I would get back from sales. Maybe I’m making it too hard for myself to get back to working on my beadwork, by giving myself too many options, going through too much to set myself up in hopes of success. I’m not just forging ahead without a thought to the future, which, ironically, is likely a much more productive stance in the short-term.

I’m also planning on seeing through these last two courses. Maybe after those are over, I can deal with producing jewelry to sell (though I highly doubt that, if I got a full-time job, or even a part-time job in a higher position that required training and study, I would have enough time or energy to deal with it, either). I suspect that…given time and a lack of pressure, I will likely go back to it.

Right now, though…I want to try and deal with the fiber work, and the sewing. I don’t know why. But I suspect that cross-medium capability in micromacramé, lacework, embroidery, and beadweaving together, could lead to something really nice. I’ve seen examples of the beautiful things that can be made with beaded lace…which is obviously very distant from me, right now. But it’s enough to help spur me on. The thing is, I’m not sure how much time I would have to explore these things, if I were producing work for money.

I think that’s the real issue. Time, and allowing myself the latitude to explore.

beading, craft, design, jewelry

Am I doing too much?

While I had thought I would not go the the recent bead show, my folks insisted. This is largely because after having visited General Bead, I started looking again at the Garden of Beadin’s website, to see what I was missing. Unfortunately, that website was not entirely functional for me (which is the reason I’m not linking it), so we went to the bead show to pick up a paper catalog, in person.

That…was a good thing. The paper catalog is much easier to navigate than the website, and it’s possible to buy things without submitting any sensitive information. I also happened to find a table run by the daughter of the person who runs the store, Beads On Main — the latter of which, I recognized from the old Oakland bead shows.

So…because I hadn’t been through the entire show yet, I didn’t realize that she was one of the only vendors there who focused on multiple-hole beads. If I had a clearer idea of the entire convention, like if I had been there for more than a couple of hours, I probably would have bought more from her. As it was, I was trying to conserve my funds (in case there was something which I really wanted, and couldn’t otherwise obtain).

For better or worse, I did end up purchasing three little cabochons…for which, I will need to either make metal or bead settings. I spent some time going through these undrilled things that I’ve collected over the years…what stands out to me is the fact that the cabochons I’ve bought which were from beading suppliers are less regular in their shoulders (and backs) than the ones I’ve bought from jewelry (that is, metalsmithing) suppliers.

The “shoulder” of a cabochon is the transition zone between the edge of the cabochon and top of the cabochon. In an ideal piece, the shoulder would be present, and the same height all the way around, making it easy to roll a bezel wire over the edge. I didn’t know this when I picked up a couple of fused dichroic glass cabs (probably more than a decade ago); and obviously, neither did those who made the cabs I’m talking about.

In some areas, the shoulders in these pieces are much higher than in others, meaning that these cabs require special (looped) settings. I wouldn’t have been able to tell this, however, without using a caliper to go all the way around the edges. With a caliper, the difference between professional-grade stone cutting, and everything else, is obvious.

I do know now, however, which cabs to prioritize for bead settings: the ones with low or no shoulder, and the ones with irregular shoulders. These can be used in bead-embroidered settings. The thing that’s stopping me from using them right now is the fact that bead embroidery implies the use of adhesive to hold the cab in place while it’s being sewn in.

I do have adhesive that I believe will work; the thing is, I hate to glue anything if I don’t have to. (This is largely because I was cautioned away from it in Metalsmithing classes; it requires more work than glue to set a stone securely.) Also, my two strongest adhesives (E-6000, and G-S Hypo Cement) are both toxic before they cure, which is a deterrent to my using them.

I also know that there are some cabs (like jaspers and agates) which would probably look nicer in metal, to preserve as much of the front display area as possible. The only drawback to working with metal is the fact that I have to use fire with it (innately hazardous), unless I go for cold connections and wire wrapping or wire weaving, which I’m not planning on doing. It’s way too easy to chip a stone, or break a wire.

It’s not the end of the world to break a wire, it’s just frustrating. Keeping the wire supple and un-kinked throughout the weaving process requires a dowel (or pen) and awl, at least. I’ve just done enough of it to know how it ends up looking, and how tough it can be. Using fire might actually be easier.

I’m also a relative newcomer to designing metal components. I’ve done it before, it’s just that it’s an entirely different workflow than working with beads, so I’m not used to it. There is a lot more room for innovative design when you’re cutting all the pieces out of metal sheet and wire, rather than fitting together small pre-made components.

I’m thinking that my major challenge will be figuring out how to integrate beadwork and metalsmithing. I know it can work, I’ve done it before. I haven’t, however, seen too many other people doing it, likely because the skills are things you actually need classes or apprenticeships to learn. I do know of places where people can learn, and I’ve seen beadworkers using torches…but handheld butane torches are pretty much not comparable to acetylene (which is what I used in class). I haven’t yet tried propane.

Anyhow…since that time, a class I’m taking has kicked in, and I’ve been dealing with work stuff. A lot of the time since the weekend, I’ve just been studying about situations I’d need to deal with if I were a Librarian. This is compounded by the fact that I did take a Civil Service test for the latter position, and didn’t score too poorly on it…I really need to keep applying, though.

Right now…I have also gotten a book on basic beadweaving stitches, which includes St. Petersburg and Chenille stitches. I am not practiced on either of the latter, so I’ve been wanting to get into it. Why I haven’t, I’m not sure, except for the fact that I’m fatigued…I guess from work, the job search, the research for the job, and this class.

When I put it like that, it looks reasonable…

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

Notes

My attempt to be concise has failed: the intro, here, is what’s going on locally. The rest is about beadwork and jewelry-making as a micro business.

Today was bearable, partially because I’m learning it’s okay not to overwork myself; what to do when I am in danger of overworking myself; and that I don’t have to keep my personal and work lives fully separate. I just have to avoid oversharing.

I guess it’s kind of like my Web presence.

Tomorrow…I need to re-pot my dwarf Umbrella Plant before it falls over. :) Meaning that I should water it, tonight. I also want to work on some coding, and start some kind of beading project — whether that’s bead embroidery, or working on the SuperDuo bracelet (cream, blue and amber), or working on the bronze and green project (which I’ve decided is okay if I do just use the two-hole beads as spacers for a double-stranded necklace — I really want to make a double-stranded necklace!).

I’ve spent the majority of my free time today either reading beadwork books, or browsing beadwork books. I don’t know what this place is going to look like, if I keep collecting these things.

I’m still torn on whether or not to put the project I photographed in my last post for sale…for one thing because I’m not wholly satisfied with it even now, and for another thing, because it has special significance to me. The pearls I used in it, I purchased on my last trip to visit family in Hawai’i.

I could make another version of it with far less personal significance, and likely sell it for less than this one. I’m attached enough to the one I have now, that I’ve decided that I’m not letting it go for less than $85. I predict I should be asking more, but like most beginning crafters, may undervalue my product (the upper limit above which it just gets ridiculous, is $145; $120 is middling but compensates me well for my skill and labor, and pays off everything I bought to make this).

The same place I bought the large pearl from, has told me that they will ship to the mainland; I have half a mind to ask for a 12-mm Tahitian black pearl, to make another version of this necklace. I don’t entirely know how much that would cost, however (I’m guessing between $12-$24 at retail), and the black pearls I saw there last time weren’t really iridescent. (I have a thing for rainbow sheen on pearls, but I don’t know if that sheen is artificial [like an Aurora Borealis (AB) coating on glass] or not…)

I had wanted to work on the collar project with the pink netting, but I know I still have more design work to do on it (I’ve realized how to make it curve), and that it will likely work out best if I do not attempt to incorporate the cabochon, at this point. The distortion caused by attaching a netted collar to a mounted oval cabochon…I’d have to conceal, and I’m not entirely certain how, yet (especially as that join is at the focal point of the necklace).

However…I can do a netted collar without the cabochon…or incorporate the cabochon as part of the clasp, and wear the clasp in the front. That…would make sense! Hmm. I’ll have to think, on that.

I can work on the body of the netting as-is, and see if I even have enough beads to encircle a neck comfortably…

So before Tuesday night, I want to have some stuff finished (a friend has asked me to show some of my work that night…which could get interesting). Particularly, the pink bracelet and a violet version, would be the easiest entry points into that. Working with cabochons is almost starting from zero, for me (I’ve only mounted two undrilled cabochon-like stones ever, and one of those was in a metal bezel, not a beaded one).

And…yes, basically everyone is saying I need to be selling on Etsy! I’m pretty sure I’ll need to take them up on that…

The pearl drop necklace (on chain) is in hiatus until I figure out if my chain is much too delicate to be hanging anything off of…it’s 1.3mm wide. It’s tiny. And stretchy.

28g wire will fit through a link, but with 17 of those drops…will the chain break??? The problem is that the links are so small that I have to wire the drops directly to the chain. That means that if the chain deforms or breaks, to avoid undoing my work, I’ll have to cut the chain rather than cut the drops. One or the other has to happen, and I’m not looking forward to either, because this is utilizing gold-fill and gold-plate, not pure brass.

Though, I would have a good set of tarnish-resistant chains for tassels or earrings, later…

Yeah. I need to be selling this stuff…the major issue right now is making stuff so nice that I want to hold onto it…but I hardly wear any jewelry, normally! Really!

beading, beadwork, craft, jewelry, jewelry design

I’ll be using this blog more in the future.

Recently, my priorities have shifted in regard to my online presence. Mostly, this is due to growing older and resolving to act with more wisdom, now and in the future. I have decided to keep this part of my presence active, as the content here is noncontroversial, and more than that, points back to part of myself which is durable.

The major reason I’ve spent so long invested in gaining an education — causing my time to be diverted for the last two years — has been so that I would be able to work on creative activities. One of my oldest creative outlets (for the last 25 years) has been beadwork, and that’s part of the focus of this blog. I’ve realized, after going through an Art program and a Writing program, the differences of some of these modes of creative expression. What I’m dealing with, though…is something slightly different. It’s design.

Pearl necklace in green and violet.
freshwater pearl and Czech glass necklace with silver detail

Unfortunately, possibly, beadwork is one of those things for which it’s hard to find classes or design programs. These days, there are the Web, books and magazines, and there are bead stores. There are also local in-person bead societies, if you happen to be lucky enough to live within range of one or more, and bead conventions.

I was fortunate to live in the vicinity of a bead shop when I was very young, so I didn’t have to stick with fabric and craft store materials, for long. Fabric stores and craft stores often have beads, but in my experience, the beads tend to be generally of lower quality and more limited selection than can be found elsewhere.

Art supply stores and some jeweler’s supply stores (for silversmithing and goldsmithing) also carry beads, and though they tend to be of higher quality (even moreso, sometimes, than bead stores), they are rarely a central part of the collection. I’ve also in the past found beads from a leather-craft retailer, but on a quick lookup, I don’t find much worth mentioning.

I also was fortunate to have a mother who nurtured me in my creative and artistic pursuits. I still remember getting one of my first beading books. The back of one of those books had a list of resources, one of which was a good, basic online bead store which I still use, though at this point I know not to expect to find everything there.

I actually started out on seed bead loomwork as a child. I moved on to learning even-count peyote stitch once I took a project off the loom, and realized that I had no idea how to finish it. (Loomwork leaves one with a bunch of separate warp threads [and at least two weft] which have to be woven in at the end of the project; peyote stitch, in its simplest form, leaves two.)

Since then, I’ve found — I guess I actually have researched, and found — a lot of information on a lot of different ways of combining beads, thread or cord, and wire. I’ve reached the point of, with assistance, being able to design my own work from a pile of parts. I’ve also taken two silversmithing classes, and am glad I didn’t become a bench jeweler.

Silversmithing is generally more about form than color, whereas color is much more forward in beadwork — at least, in the beadwork that I do. I’ve realized that when I’m designing, I have a tendency to start with color, rather than starting with form; though I have a bit of a mind to get a sample of all the different sizes and shapes of beads I can, experiment in fitting them together, and then worry about the color scheme after I’ve mapped out the form.

The biggest problem I’ve found is the task of learning how to learn, and separating modern Western intellectual property norms (like copyright and patent), from the fact that beadwork seems to have been essentially a traditional learned craft for as long as it has existed.

What I can say is that there should be no shame attached to learning how to bead through following instructions, just as we don’t ask someone to drape a dress form before we ever ask them to follow a pattern. This is especially as one may have no other route to obtain the skills needed, other than through tutorials and books.

Of course, though, for me at least, it gets more satisfying when I can design things myself. The necklace in the image above, is my latest work. I pretty much spent all of Friday working on the design of the pendant. I’m still undecided as to whether I’ll sell it to recoup my losses, or keep it as an example of what I can do, and as a portfolio piece.

I still need to take a photo of it on a display. I have photos of myself wearing it, but I kind of don’t want my own form detracting from the jewelry itself. Not to mention that getting a straight-on photo is harder than it looks!

I also may need to drape that display with muslin, or something…