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


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 Wescott 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 Wescott 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…

art, color, drawing

In the middle of the night…

I suppose that once you photograph a pencil drawing, it does show you where you could have stood to use a harder lead…note that the version of the drawing I’ve posted here is a PNG. It’s going to look bizarre if you download it, as I edited out the background in order to make the background match the background of this blog. (It even looks bizarre on my machine, if I try to look at it as a standalone file.)

It could be worth it to me, to enhance the original file and then retry the process I underwent to select and then paste the image information…

Last night I realized I couldn’t sleep, even though I had gone to bed early enough. I had been thinking about the last painting I did and how it reminded me of a cave with water. That, in turn, reminded me of cenotes, which are water-filled sinkholes — limestone caves with caved-in skylights — which occur in the rainforests of Mexico.

Drawing from within a cenote, or underground lake, within a limestone cave. Green vines drop from the skylight, and stalactites hang from the darkness on the right.
This really wants color.

From what I know, these have been known to be gates to the underworld. It’s not the same thing as a Hell, as the other world isn’t necessarily a site of suffering. Because of their association with the underworld, though (and likely also because their mythos of reference is not Christian), they are rumored to have been places of human sacrifice. They also seem to have served as sources of clean (fresh?) water.

The eerie thing about cenotes — aside from the otherworldly blue color they often have — is that they tend to be very, very clear and beautiful. From the surface, they’re basically holes in the ground into which one can disappear into if one isn’t careful. The underground lakes are connected through underground waterways which people are known to have perished in while exploring.

Basically, since the caves are limestone, they have been dissolved away by the rain. The edges of the skylights can harbor hanging gardens; even sometimes, waterfalls.

If I were to re-learn Spanish, researching the cenotes and their Mesoamerican connections would be among my strongest reasons.

I came up with this design while thinking of what I saw in the painting I did the other night. I made a simple sketch in my sleep journal, then got up and sketched the whole thing out in a Wet Media sketchbook with Hi-Uni soft graphite pencils. (Mostly, the very soft ones.) It’s not the same as it is in my mind, without color.

The water should be a Cobalt Turquoise Light, with greenery hanging down from the top, the sunlight filtering through the closer vines; then the cave itself is white with a glowing bluish cast from the lit portion of the water, and whitish reflections on its roof (lifted paint?) from the surface of the water, and shadows setting off whitish/yellow stalactites and stalagmites.

I’m not certain of next steps as regards watercolor — planning the layers may take some work — but having this quick sketch should help. (I had intended just to sketch various thumbnails, but I got a full-size drawing out of this!)

Right now, I’m trying to break out of realism and back into imagination…I’m unsure to what extent I will or won’t use visual references. Reflected light off of water, I clearly need to research; but types of plants? Photos from within cenotes (even though my composition seems fine right now)? What got me to this point last night was really being inspired by a watercolor book I seem to have last used, several years ago (if the bookmark is any indication)…

creativity, design, fiber arts, jewelry design, self care

Difficulties in creative process (expected and not)

Last night, I had the opportunity to think out loud about what’s stopping me from moving forward with creating. I was aware that I am very good at divergent thinking — that is, developing and imagining many options that I could do, and preparing to do them. When it comes to narrowing down those many options to focus on an end product, I’m not as great.

This is probably the biggest main challenge I have to deal with where it comes to making, and it has to do with process. It’s easy for me to envision an initial end point (or multiple possible end points); where it comes to favoring one and then also being willing to relinquish it by actually starting and moving through the different stages of construction (which rarely ever reach that same end point), I have some issues.

I know that if I start, that is, I’ll have to give up the “perfect” idea that I had at the beginning, in favor of something I haven’t yet imagined. I find it likely not different from a young bird launching itself into flight; on a branch, there’s something to grasp, or hold onto — this being the dream, or the original idea. When you’re in the air, you have to keep beating your wings to keep flying, you’re not anchored, and you’re constantly having to respond to new challenges arising. You may reach the place you originally intended to go, or you may decide that there’s a better place to stop, on the way.

Part of trying to deal with anxiety around this is lowering the stakes, such as by opting first to try mounting a stone with fiber instead of with precious metal. Today I started trying to work a macrame mounting for my Amazonite cabochon (I will try and get some images in before long). There are a number of things that I learned while doing that.

First off, I’ll want to use my heavier weight C-Lon (0.5 mm diameter) in order to avoid tons of tiny and barely visible knots with the C-Lon Micro. Also, again, I find that I need to work on my tension. The people working the knots in the videos I saw were actually keeping their tension much looser than I was. They were also spacing the knots out, more…and, I find, I’m not putting the cross-bar of the lark’s head hitch into the same spot all the time. That means that some knots are way looser than others, and also that the knots are misaligned.

That may be helped by trying to soften the C-Lon up a bit before trying to knot with it. I’m thinking of running it along the side of an awl to try and break up the stiffness. I’m not sure it will work; I just don’t want to do it with the back of a scissors because I’m concerned about curling or damaging the fibers rather than just breaking up any bonding between the fibers. I know this stuff can get softer, because it’s really soft after I’ve picked a knot out of it. So it can be soft. If I can get it there, maybe it will flow better.

I also found that I’ll need to make the bezel wider than previously expected, though that may not be an issue. Too loose, and the stone may slip out (maybe), but too narrow and it’s an unusable ribbon. As well, as the knotting progresses, it’s extremely easy to unintentionally narrow the bezel, by using tension that’s just too tight. Once that’s done, it’s easy to unintentionally continue to use tension that’s just too tight.

To an extent, minor unevenness in tension (like among a couple of strands) may work itself out when tying on and tightening the bezel at the endpoint…but I haven’t gotten that far, yet. I can also tweak the tension and recover my width by pulling on my anchor cords, but that snugs all the knots together (which is not what I want, as it hides the stone).

The other major thing that I have to deal with which puts me back from starting, is my tendency to perfectionism (which you can see in the fact that I actually noticed the detail of the cross-bar of my lark’s head hitches not all being in line). I know that perfectionism can stop someone from beginning. I heard yesterday that the quickest path to perfection is not to aim for perfection. Because working is the only way of getting better: if you never begin to work, you never get better. Your skill level never increases, which is intangible; but matters as a benefit, in this case. It’s growth and production, versus stagnation and lack of production.

My issue, I think, is that perfection is not possible, so aiming for perfection is to aim for the impossible, and instead of attempting to attain the impossible and be met with inevitable failure, sometimes we just tend not to try. The latter is what I’m combating, though maybe I just need to lower my standards to something attainable.

There’s also the fact that I could just be unsure as to whether my flight feathers have grown in yet.

Perhaps, I could recognize that these will be my first two macrame bezels ever, so it’s unlikely that they’ll come out as though machined. On that point, it’s not even desirable to aim to have a final product that seems machined, so I’m questioning right now what exactly it is that I’m desiring.

On that point, I’m not even sure of the exact design of what is going to flow out of the pendant — and I won’t be able to tell until I can figure out what connection options I have. I can’t tell those, until I’ve constructed a preliminary bezel. Which is why I started trying to do so, tonight.

What’s happening right now, is research. I probably should be gentle with myself and not expect perfection. But at the same time, I should push myself to at least try to do something.

color, creativity, painting

So…I did start painting, again.

It’s nothing much, and I don’t have photos to share at this time (nor am I rushing to photograph things this late at night); but I wanted to note that I actually have started watercolor painting, again. Yesterday, I broke back in with a number of semi-random color gradients and one of the Neptune round brushes I bought months and months ago, and didn’t prioritize time to try out.

The upshot is that the Neptune brushes are actually pretty sweet. Today I went and bought a number of specialty brushes from this line (bulk discount of over 50%) — by that I mean, not flats or rounds. It’s interesting to see how they perform. In particular, I’m interested in a 3/4″ wash brush which makes painting in watercolor almost feel like painting in acrylic, and a “dagger” brush which is cut at an angle, making it capable of tiny fine lines and broad swaths in the same stroke, while carrying and slowly releasing a heavy paint load.

My largest watercolor brush before having gotten the 3/4″ Neptune flat today, has been an ox-hair 1″ flat (I believe this was a Utrecht brush, from before the time at which Utrecht was acquired by Blick). The ox-hair holds a lot of water, so it’s great for wetting down sheets of paper; but it also holds way too much paint to be able to easily use for anything other than washes. It also…to the best of my memory, doesn’t have as much snap as any of my other brushes. It’s more like the soft, natural-hair rounds I used as a kid, that had no real point to their tips, and little recovery. (I believe these are called “camel-hair” brushes…but realistically, I have no idea what type of filament those were, other than natural hair: I could feel the one-directional nap of the hair’s scales.)

Of course, then, the most I was doing were little watercolors of fish with Prangs, and those little paint-by-number things that activate with water. :)

I actually had a conversation with M about her frustration that I haven’t gone as quickly back to painting as she would have hoped. It has been seven months since the work for my Master’s degree concluded. I find it not out of the realm of possibility that I’ve been slow to get back to this, in part, because I’m having to accelerate from zero.

I did not do any drawing or painting while I was working on my degree…and it’s tough to restart a creative practice, from nothing. It’s especially not reasonable to expect someone to return to the level they were at before they were forced away from their work, immediately upon concluding the thing that took up all their time (and which they are used to taking up all their time).

Anyhow…what I’ve been doing is largely trying to figure out how my brushes work, again, and how my paints work, again — and, you know, which paints I used where in my palette, as I stupidly did not make a palette sheet that was exactly correct and notated, during all the times at which I was painting out samples. So, for example, I had to color-match new swatches with Holbein Isoindolinone Yellow Deep, to know that it wasn’t Winsor Yellow Deep; or Winsor & Newton, “Indian Yellow;” or Daniel Smith Permanent Yellow Deep.

(I’ve gone to efforts to procure warm tones that are less toxic than cadmium pigments, so that’s why you’ll see me refer to various yellows and oranges, in particular, such as the Pyrrole colors and Hansa Yellows. I have not yet made my way into the duller colors such as the Perinones…I’m thinking it’s easy enough to dull down a color, though I’ve seen beautiful mixes made with colors like Perinone Violet and Transparent Red Oxide.)

I am also realizing the inefficacy of Sap Green as used unmixed, and the beautiful mix I was able to make with Prussian Blue (a muted greenish blue) plus Green Gold plus a bit of Viridian. It’s as close as I’ve been able to come to a deep, jewel-tone green…and I love it. It’s so weird, because Green Gold is a very distasteful color (to me) on its own, but it renders gorgeous greens when added on top of either another green, or blue; maybe with a yellow added in at the end (granted there are different yellows). This outcome is the reason why I’m willing to try (in the future) the Perinones, and other colors I wouldn’t use on their own.

It’s also kind of funny how Cobalt Turquoise Light (the color of a tropical lagoon) makes a violet, together with Magenta. I’ve looked at other people’s mixing charts, but I don’t think I’ll be making one, as each mix really…is variable, depending on the ratios of two pigments to each other, and it only gets more complicated when you start mixing three or more colors. I can’t seriously suggest (even to myself) that one color is the final outcome of a mixture of any two paints.

Of course, though, unless I had practiced just straight color mixing (in a watercolor class, at the time), I wouldn’t have known that Phthalo Green with Permanent Rose made such a stunning array of colors!

And yes, I do feel silly for having so many different pigments when I could do with just three primaries; but I’m seriously really into color, and I find it one of the most interesting aspects of image-making. M kind of doesn’t understand this…I have a habit of collecting different colors in pretty much every art and craft medium I’ve used, with the exception of ceramics. I know it’s annoying.

It’s late for me here; I should really get some rest. I didn’t intend to sit here writing, all night…I just got into the color topic. :) I can kind of go on and on about color…so I’ll stop myself here.

I just want to add, as possible fodder for a future post, the way that painting can grow organically out of drawing…I know what I mean by that, and have some clue as to how it happened, for me. It’s tough to start back into painting, having been out of practice at even (!) drawing, for months or years…