Observation first, before I forget.
I really like working with seed beads and fiber. And I really like writing about seed beads and fiber. I originally started the metalworking classes because I could see some things being done with seed beads which could be more cleanly and simply done with metal (like cabochon and faceted stone setting). And I could see the use that those skills would open to me in doing something like making my own clasps. But I don’t think at heart that I’m a silversmith (for the love of silver, at least).
Also, unless I went into enameling, and/or heavy use of colored stones, I probably wouldn’t want to really get into metalsmithing that deeply. Enameling can be hazardous, which is a reason I’ve avoided it in the past. In one of my classes, I observed someone blow powdered enamel (a.k.a. colored glass dust — “colored” meaning probably toxic to ingest; “glass” meaning tiny shrapnel which may shred your lungs and never get back out) off of her bench and into a cloud. I held my breath as I walked past. She still had a cough the next semester.
How do you really guard against stuff like that other than wearing a respirator the entire time you’re in class? What if I hadn’t happened to see what was going on? What if I didn’t know to look away every time the enameling kiln was open? (An enameling kiln radiates infrared light when the door is open and it’s hot, and that can damage eyesight unless protection is worn when looking towards it.)
I still remember when I had to spend 10-15 minutes cursing over the pickle pot because someone dumped out my tiny copper rings into the pickling solution and it was so dim — and the pickle so saturated with copper (it turns deep blue-green instead of clear when it’s old) — that I couldn’t see them. And I remember coughing for two weeks afterwards from the fumes, as well.
But let’s get back onto a positive note, shall we?
I have enough experience from my time in smithing classes (two semesters — more than that, and I didn’t want to put myself back into the situation) that I feel reasonably confident that I can construct and solder a toggle clasp on my own, or fabricate a clasp from sheet and wire. It probably wouldn’t be the greatest-looking thing or the most creative thing (creativity is very much helped by fluency of skill), but it’s possible, and I know it’s possible. I can also make custom closed jump rings from wire and solder — easy, with the right setup and materials. Or, so I say now that I know how to cut the jump rings away en masse and cleanly. If I’d used silver for my class project, I would have wasted about $60 worth of silver while I learned how to avoid twisting the saw.
Plus there is the bezel setting I learned at the end of first semester, which showed me that even though it looks simple to set a stone in a metal bezel, in reality there is a lot of work which goes into it, and it requires some finesse to avoid, say, melting your bezel into a puddle instead of closing it. It also requires some finesse to achieve a secure seat for your stone, and to avoid inadvertently damaging the stone in the process of setting it. This is not even getting into whether what you’re setting it on looks good or not — more often than not, this is a flat piece of sheet metal, sometimes with stamps, soldered buttresses or designs of wire, or, in some cases which I especially admire, bits of granulation. I can’t do granulation yet, so of course, I’m impressed. ;)
Form is explored in metalwork, but often at the expense of color. Color dynamics are a big attractor and driving force for me. My seed bead, colored pencil, and marker collections attest to it. I have wanted to get into painting, but so far the only experience I have there is in one Color Dynamics class which used gouache, plus Continuing Drawing — there was an introduction to pastel painting at the very end of that session.
I know there are liver of sulfur and shakudo and shibuichi and the golds and coppers and brasses. I even know that there are the reactive metals to work with, titanium and niobium, and these. But do I really love metal? At this point, my enjoyment of metalwork is not high enough for me to go out of my way to expose myself to the hazards of metalwork. Hot metalwork, at least. Cold connections are much less intimidating.
In addition, there seemed, in my metalsmithing class, to be some prejudice against beaders. I inadvertently ran up against this when I started constructing a beadwoven chain for my metal pendant in class.
At this point, having done some work in design myself — I mean, beyond changing the colors of a pattern, and I mean — really taking a concept through multiple models to achieve a workable formula (that collar with the daggers may have to be altered so it curves more), I can see the point that people who work in metal may think that beaders are unoriginal because they/we stereotypically don’t take a project from concept to conclusion, but rather have to learn via patterns and mimicry before we can stand on our own two feet.
But where are you going to find a way to learn to bead unless a) you know someone who does it who is willing to teach you, b) you take classes at a bead store — if there is one near you, or c) you learn through finding pre-made patterns (in print and online) and following them? I mean, seriously!
It wasn’t until I confronted the idea of going into business with my own jewelry start-up that I found I didn’t have the complete set of skills I’d need to do business in the way I’d want to do it. I’m gaining that skill now, and I’m slowly de-shocking myself from the scare of potentially treading on someone else’s intellectual property rights. In two to five years, maybe I could have a viable business. But there are a lot of things to get in order, first. Particularly, identity and my target market, plus maybe figuring out what lies behind the drive to bead.
There are a lot of things that I didn’t know about myself that I’m learning about myself, which could gain me a signature style, which could in turn become a brand that I’d be able to sell within the U.S. for U.S. level living-wage money. Probably not urban living-wage money, unless I’m in a place I don’t want to be, but nonetheless.
I think, though, that one of the reasons there are so many beading pattern books on the market is that really, handwoven beaded jewelry is…it’s expensive in terms of time and design, but not in terms of materials. It’s also relatively fragile. So maybe it seems more profitable to sell copies of the patterns and let people make the jewelry themselves, than it is to have a firm which produces and distributes finished beaded jewelry. Otherwise, most of what I’ve seen comes from outside of this country, and really, how do you compete with a $10 daisy-chain bracelet?
Unless you have a distinct identity, that is — and you know what you’re selling, beyond your product. Though, of course, that can easily go icky, if you jump to conclusions. But the reality behind it maybe doesn’t have to be really that bad. If you’re selling things because you want to celebrate femininity, hey, good on you, you know? But know that’s what you’re doing, and know the cultural context it takes place in; and the possible problems resulting from the flawed system that your statement only makes sense within. And know it’s very possible that others will see different meanings in your art than those which you intend.
I think that if I’m really creative — if I really take an unusual tack to what I want to be doing, and I do something which no one else in my part of the world is doing, or which maybe no one is doing anywhere — I think it’s possible to run a handmade jewelry business. It would be tight, financially, and it would take a lot of time. Plus, a lot of my attention would be expended on business as versus creation, at least unless I found a partner to manage that side for me. This is at least a two-person venture, if it’s serious, and more likely eventually at least a 5-person venture. But hey. The culture? The work? It could turn out nice.
Anyhow, I’ve put this to the side for now as an auxiliary option. I’m not married and don’t have plans to be, so I’ll have to support myself. Right now I’m looking at writing and beadwork as things I love, can do relatively easily, and can do immediately.
I promised you a link to a review of Matubo seed beads. That link is here. I ran across this by accident; the author displays photos of these beads next to a couple of other brands which I had not seen in action prior, but which I’m considering trying out, now. Presently, Matubos are only available in 7/0 size (in Czech sizing) — the size is quoted in the article; the difference between the Czech and Japanese sizing relations is something I’ve just inferred from past experience.
Anyhow, happy crafting (or whatever you do out there!) Treat yourself nice. :)