Friday, September 20, 2013

Composition: It's In The Details ~ Neva

com·po·si·tion  (kmp-zshn)
a. The combining of distinct parts or elements to form a whole.
b. The manner in which such parts are combined or related.

So many times I've been asked about composition, whether in bead embroidery or bead weaving. I guess it really comes down to the materials you choose..... the main focal/s, the seed beads and their sizes, the size of the piece you want to create and also the intended wearer and the occasion.

The composition of a necklace firstly starts with the length and size of the piece. 
Here are some perfect/ideal lengths for jewellery.

(12-13 in./30-33 cm) This style fits snugly around the base of the neck and is normally made up of several close-fitting strands. The necklace may be enhanced with jeweled spacers or a large centerpiece. The look is very formal and is perfect for evening wear.

(14-16 in./36-41 cmThe choker has slightly more drape than collar length and usually falls above the neckline. The look can be made more casual by mixing accent beads — such as crystals and semi-precious stones — to bring a more eclectic style to the classic pearl design.

(17-19 in./43-48 cm) A popular style for graduated pearls. This versatile length looks great with high or low necklines. 

(20-24 in./51-61 cm) Slightly longer than the princess. Measure carefully when fitting this style as it should fall just above the bust line. This length works best when paired with a high neckline.

(28-36 in./71-90 cm) Think formal for this style. Elegant and refined, this piece can be worn single or wrapped as a double strand depending on the outfit it is paired with.

(36 in./90 cm and longer) Long and lovely ropes of pearls may be looped around the neck to create any length. Leave it long or wrap it several times around the neck. This necklace makes the wearer shine in the spotlight.

When delving into the world of beading, jewellery is made with various components and different layers, but they will still conform to the guidelines above. Composition in beading, when looking at the 'layout' of a piece can be symmetrical, asymmetrical or freeform. In this article, we'll be looking at these in more detail. Plus a few other things.

Symmetrical: An object that has two (2) identical sides, that are divided by a line of symmetry. This symmetry can then be divided again and again to create the desired pattern.

This type of design, whether single or multi-level, is relatively easy to construct because it is about balance. You can create an image on paper first to see what your overall piece will look like, or you can start by making the components and moving them around on your beading mat to see what works for you. Either is fine. Everyone works differently, so don't bog yourself down with how other people do this, you do what works for you.

Once you've settled on a layout, you can see what extra bits will be needed. Then you have to work out how to put the components together. This step is crucial in giving the overall piece, uniformity. It's in the detail of joining components together, that will show the wearer/buyer that every detail was taken into account.

The stitches/techniques used will determine how a piece will be finished most of the time. So once you've settled on a design, you then have to work out a 'rope'. As you all know, there are a myriad or ropes to choose from, but not all ropes will work on every design need to remember that. Your rope will make your piece outstanding or simply 'just ok'.

If you look at the example on the right, there are curves (ovals) and triangles in the overall design, and the rope I decided on, needed to be an extension of this. So I chose a flat spiral weave because it had the roundness with the pearls and the pointiness of the triangles by the use of bicones at the middle of the spiral sections. This therefore became an extension of the focal front section. 

Your rope also has to have a soft drape on the wearer, that way it not only supports the whole piece, but is also comfortable to wear.

For a bead embroidered piece, the principle is still the same except you're sewing your beads onto a base or foundation. 

Firstly you decide the shape of the collar and whether it will be whole or have negative spaces. Feel free to use the template above, or alter it to your design style - print it out, and enlarge it to suit your neck size.

Secondly you'll need to select the focal crystals, cabochons or whatever you're intending to use, and then the seed beads that will work up the piece. 

Once you've made your selections, you'll need to draw a rough placement of the focals on your foundation material. Then the direction or movement of the seed beads and their groups. When you're happy with the layout, then its time to start. At this time, other beaders have said to me that they have a multitude of concerns that make them not start. Their concerns are 'what if it doesn't look good?' What if it doesn't work?' 'What if I make a mistake?' And this is before even glueing anything on.... ! 

My reply is usually, 'Start'... if you don't like it, it doesn't work, or you've made mistakes, you can unpick or start again. You really wont know till you start, so go ahead.... glue your focals in place, and start beading. It's that simple. Once you've drawn your design on your foundation, you start sewing. There are plenty of books on Bead Embroidery in the marketplace, plenty of inspiration, and technique. But in reality, if you can sew, then you can create a collar. 

Asymmetrical: Is the absence of symmetry. Its more about creating a complete picture as you would find in nature.

When creating a piece that isn't symmetrical, most people freeze. I know a lot of beaders tell themselves, they cant do it.  My suggestion would be to let the beads talk to you. What do you see them doing? Asymmetry is about creating a picture.... not about having a mirror image for half of it.

I'll tell you what I've told them.....walk out into the garden, or go for walks along the beach or wherever you find peace. Look around... what do you see? what inspires you? what materials are around you? Rocks.... twigs, leaves, sand, shells.... whatever has nature placed them?... When you find something that attracts you, how can you then translate it to beads. 

'Icelandic Swirl' to the right, is representative of a Rock Pool like the photo above. It is a combination of bead embroidery and bead weaving. The large focal represents the pool itself with the swirling water that enters it as it cascades over the rocks. The smaller pearls and shells are things that may be found in and around the rock pool. The glass domes represent pockets of still water.

The piece you create doesn't have to be whole, you can have negative spaces which add interest and also add to the asymmetry.

Also, if your piece requires a rope to finish it, the rope doesn't have to be the same on both sides. That's the beauty of asymmetry, you can do something different on both sides. In this example, I have used twisted Ndebele on one side and Russian spiral on the other. I chose these to represent the different ways that water swirls and travels towards the rock pool.

Free-form: Is mainly done in Peyote stitch. Although in my freeform creations I bead a piece a couple of ways.... #1 create a base on which I embellish in free and random ways. This is usually good for bracelets as it gives the whole piece, sturdiness. or  #2 start beading and swap and change beads and bead sizes as I go - this is mainly how I do it. Bead, in all and erratic directions. There are generally no rules other than make sure the piece is sturdy, and has enough passes of thread so it doesn't come apart.

Personally, I find the beauty of free-form, is you can do whatever you like, in whatever stitch you want and in whatever direction, and it will be fine. the one thing I would advise though, is to have a basic size and shape in mind. You can bead 'blindly' or you can, believe it or not, draw out a basic shape and direction of your design, and follow it. Either way is fine.

Another crucial element in freeform is the colour palette. Although it may be tempting to use up that bead soup that seems to be ever growing, it is always better to minimize the colours used, to a palette that is complementary.... maybe 4 or five colours in the same tones. Have a few feature beads or elements that create interest. When you use larger beads as features, don't forget you can also bead over them, you're not confined to beading around them.

Make your piece looks full of life and movement, have areas that are high and areas that are low, and don't forget that negative space also add to the intrigue, which will lead the viewer's eye around the piece. My first freeform piece, was haphazard in its commencement, as i really didn't know what to do.... so I decided to incorporate every stitch I knew at the time, and see what would come out of it. It worked out beautifully, and was bought immediately the first time I displayed it at a show.

So if you are still hesitant about trying freeform beading, I say give it a go.... but you need to be relaxed, and not try to control your piece.

Colour: Colour is a major part of the overall composition of a piece. If you don't have a complementary palette, your piece will, although look fine in design, will have something 'not quite right'.

Fortunately I have been teaching the 'Principles of Colour' and its foundation for over 25 years, and have devised formulae to help people see more colours than they are conditioned to see. Unfortunately, not everyone has done my classes, so here I will tell you, that if you are not comfortable selecting colours, or putting colours together, then it would be helpful to you, to use colour wheels, both secondary and tertiary wheels. Make sure the wheels have a complementary or contrasting section to each colour. This will not only help you see what colours work with what, but it will also start to condition you so it will become second nature.

I think the best place to find excellent colour schemes is in nature. The hard work is done for you. When you go for walks, or picnics, or out and about.... always have your camera with you. With today's technology, a camera is a s close as your mobile phone. Take lots of photos of things you see.... build a library of images that are bountiful in colour.... they will come in handy... not only for colour schemes, but also as subject matter for your next creations.

Feature Items: Collect collect collect.....
If you don't have a collection, you need to start one....LOL. You need to have lots of feature pieces available in your stash, to give you inspiration. Not saying you cant buy anything new for a piece, Gosh! that's what beaders live for! but its really good to have items available at your fingertips.

And don't limit yourself to what is most used.... step outside the box and collect things that will make your work unique to you. If I cant find a particular feature item, then I will make it from polymer clay, or PMC.

There is a multitude of other things we can look at.... but I think I shall close this article with clasps....LOL... pardon the pun :)

Whether you choose on of the many prefabricated clasps that are in the marketplace, or make your own, the thing to remember with clasps, is that they need to be secure enough so they don't come undone, and in saying that, they need to be easy enough for the wearer to do up and undo, on their own.

For necklaces I like to either use magnetic clasps, as they are easier for the wearer, or I make my own to suit the piece I have just created. It is really lovely to create a clasp that is an extension to the front of the piece and makes a statement on its own. Clasps also don't have to be at the back of a piece, they can also become a feature at the front.

Take your time in selecting the perfect clasp, it will definitely make your piece worth seeing from the front as well as the back. Above you will see 2 types of clasps that can be used at the front.

So when you create your next piece, do take into account the composition of your piece, and the intended wearer. The colour palette you're going to use. The subject matter. And most of all, just go for it... don't be afraid to try something new. It isn't set in concrete. Its OK to make mistakes and change your design as you go. Or to simply change your design half way through if you think there is a new direction you'd like to take or there is a better way of doing something.

But mostly, enjoy playing with composition, whether it be in bead weaving, bead embroidery, or freeform beading, and enjoy the process. If you don't push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will miss out on so many possibilities.

Happy Beading!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Guest blogger: Cath Thomas

One of the things I wanted to do with the Bead Mavens this time around was invite designers to contribute as I feel we all want to get to know them better, see how their design process works, what inspires them, etc.  So here is the first of our guest bloggers...the amazing.... 

Cath Thomas

I am very happy to be a Bead Mavens guest blogger. I wondered what to write, in particular what would be of interest to you, dear reader, and then a friend from Canada visited me, and she said to me: "Cath, you really have no idea how much I wish that I could open your little head and look inside your head, watch how your creations are born and developed." Mikki had already suggested me to write something about my creative process and even a third person said on Facebook that my creative mind is a complete mystery. Let's take a tour of my 'mechanism' - you might be surprised that it is not that mysterious and maybe some of my crazy 'rules' will bring you further on your own creative journey.

Note: you can click on the images to see a bigger photo. If you wish to learn more about the story behind a piece, or about a subject, you can click on the links, which will open a new window to read more in my galery or blog - however, you will not leave this page - have a look at your thumbnails.

Honestly, I had to sit for a while to look at my 'way of functioning', because I don't really think in a specific order. Ideas and inspiration flow through my head and heart in every direction, and I simply give in... I didn't think of it as a process, but after this closer look, I must admit that it can be described as such.

I can play with beads in various manners (yes, play, that is the most important), but I do mostly beadweaving.

Sauron's Eye
For me, a beaded something has to be a challenge. Challenges are fun. It starts with "Ooo, I want to make that with beads" and that that can be anything, something invented or existing already (something that is made with metal, paper, or made by nature, or a design made by another beader, you name it). Sauron's Eye and the Kaleidocycle (video) are perfect examples of this: the inspiration is an existing object and after a short brainstorm figuring out which stitch/es I'll use, I start immediately with the big thing - no test samples, and generally it works great. It either feels good, or not good.
Sauron's Eye in progress

When things go well from the start, I know that it will be ok. If it doesn't feel good, I simply stop it. Generally half-way the work, unpleasant things happen (fraying of the thread, needle falling on the ground and even beads spilled all over the place, etc.), but it feels like some kind of spirit warns me, because if I watch carefully, it always appears to be the moment to stop and look back because I made a mistake. When the mistake is corrected, everything goes really well again. I happen to shout at the spirit, though... Hubby is used to it.

When the shape I plan to bead is not a challenge on its own, 3 requirements rule my designs:

1) The jewelry or object has to represent something (water, fire, greenery, witchcraft, history, queens, godesses, ecology - anything that resonates inside of me). My beadwork is either a tribute to something or someone I love, or simply an ode to the beauty which surrounds me. So I am not really a creator but more a transformer, a storyteller. Mother Nature is the best muse, followed by geometrics, history, love, books or films; not necessarily in that order.

Kanagawa Wave Bangle,
inspired by
Geometrics, Nature, Art
2) It has to have small to medium proportions, and preferably be intricate in shape. There are mainly two reasons for this. The one reason is that I am a tall girl and big necklaces only make me look bigger - so for me, less is more. The other reason is that with fibromyalgia I need to be gentle with my tendons (Rippled Water resulted in a frozen shoulder and that is really very very long to heal).

3) The colors must 'work' together. Ah, color! This is very difficult to explain and I can only say that it is very personal. Picasso said "Why do two colors, put one next to the other, sing? Can one really explain this? no. Just as one can never learn how to paint." In other words: what feels good for you is good!

But that doesn't help much to pick a range of colors for a new project, doesn't it? So let's talk about it a bit more.

The incredible Mandarin Fish
Image courtesy Technical Prowess
Mother nature fortunately is very generous. Take time to look at her perfection, she's always right. If you don't have time or a lot of nature to admire, color generators are very handy to pick colors which 'sing'. It also is helpful when making something for another person who loves the colors which you don't like...
I generally use only 2 or 3 complimentary or complementary colors. Sometimes only one color, but with matte and shiny finish. However, I love rainbows too and tend to use more contrasting colors now, because it brings depth and rythm. Like music.

I'd like to add that the choice can become pretty complicated with the many existing finishes of beads. Not all finishes work well together. I prefer blending matte with shiny beads, opaque beads with lined opal, matte silver-lined or metallic beads; mainly beads which are least affected by the color of thread. I nearly never use transparent or ceylon seed beads; and I also avoid dyed beads (because they are not durable). I also like the warmth and shine of gold-plated beads, but I use them in limited quantities, because their shine can give me eye migraine.

Did you know that a particular finish can determine the 'main' aspect of a piece? I used a lot of colors in the necklace 'Connectedness' (based on an original idea by Nan C Meinhardt, Izzy and Lucy Bracelet) and they work even better together because all the cristals have the same 'Champagne' finish and I chose 15/0 with a gold luster finish, very close to the champagne effect. 

So this is the base of my 'creative process'. There must be a story to tell or a song to sing, and the challenge is to do it with not too many beads, in a harmonious color way.

Now the next level of my creation process might seem a bit strange: restrictions. To make the challenge more interesting, I challenge myself to

A - Sometimes try to make jewelry without clasp

Isn't that an interesting challenge? It made me play with ribbon, Memory Wire, lariats, loops and twists, etc. Below you can see 3 examples. Left: a Yukka Flower wedding collar made with 2 memory wires; Middle: Rippled Water twisting around itself; Right: Ishtar Collar with slips for ribbon or chain.

Claspless Creations

I love the look of open necklaces, it gives a feeling of freedom. And ribbons and chain are so sexy...

B - Try using the same number of beads, or multiples of that number

Most of my past pieces have an 'invisible' signature: multiples of 11. In the Netherlands (I am Dutch) and in Germany they call it the fool's number. It might seem odd, but it was incredible how things turned out well.

Examples of beadwork made with this idea in mind: there are 11 beads on the side of the pepper, the fork and the yukka flower. The cabachons in 'Splash' (picture left - a design based on Shelley Nybakke's Ruffles) were bezelled with 44 seed beads, same bead count for the ruffled rings.
Venus of Willendorf
The number of seed beads and firepolished beads in the spiral rope of 'Venus of Willendorf' are a multiple of 11 (11 pink, 11 fuchsia, 11 ruby, etc.). Connectedness was made with loops of 11, 22, or 33 beads per addition, and 11 crystals per 'bridge'.The Blues bangle is made with 11 'ups and downs'. Sections of the Herringbone ropes in Mokuren are 11-beads based.

I could mention half my portfolio, this crazy number pops up everywhere in my work.


I stopped using it on purpose, but it tends to come back naturally, like in my petals, pods and soliflore - my floral designs for which I wrote a few patterns. 'Souls' - my BOTB'13 piece is based on sections of 22 seed beads. I now have a new magic number and hope to make many more nice things. Ishtar's Collar is based on it.

The Blues
C - Structure everything like an architect

Shapes, repetitions, repetitions of shapes. It brings rythm, balance and flow. I like shapes, twists, texture, bumps and valleys, wings and horns. It makes beading more interesting, funnier. People are intrigued when they see my work and some pieces, like The Blues, have been seen as "fractals".  

Last but not least: except if designed for very special occasions, the jewelry should be wearable in many occasions, and have a little touch of elegance. Not that I don't like the funky, groovy, Bohemian, punky, rock, carnaval, steampunk, metal, gothic styles. Not at all: I like nearly everything plus that little touch of elegance.

Little Rainbow
Warrior's Ruff
I have to admit that I am a bit a control freak. My rainbows, for example, seem to be framed in black or white - white for the Little Rainbow Warrior Ruff set and gunmetal for Souls... It looks so much better with a neutral background, the colors pop up, so maybe I'm a control freak, but I guess it is good for something...

When I get tired from geometric beadwork, I like to make organic beadwork. Read: freeform peyote. Which I still tend to try to control, but generally, the beads are the boss.

Thank you for reading me. I hope that you will find this useful to build your own signature work. You don't necessarily need to invent new techniques or designs. You can take existing things further to make them special, give it your own touch.

I hope that you enjoyed (re-)discovering my work and that you will visit my galery and/or my blog and eventually my Etsy Shop.

Btw: The Blues is a free pattern! Visit my Facebook page to download it!

Happy Beading!