How To Bead A Rogue Elephant
HOW TO BEAD A ROGUE ELEPHANT
…A Guide For The Aspiring Bead Artist
I don’t mean to drag a poor Elephant by its tail, kicking and screaming, into our bead world against its wishes. Nor do I perceive the elephant to be a threat, like you might see an Elephant in the boudoir, or the fine china store. And I don’t want you to shut your eyes and pretend not to notice that this Elephant is here, standing shoulder to shoulder with every beader and jewelry maker around.
The Elephant is not a joke. And the fact that it is “Rogue” makes it more important than ever to figure out why it’s here, among size #10 English beading needles, and Czech size 11/0 seed beads, and Austrian crystal beads. It seems so worldly, yet other-worldly, our Elephant. It’s not our muse. It’s not our Cassandra. It has no secret plan or strategy. It does not depend on its size to make its point. It does not hesitate to stomp and chomp and clomp because the beads before it are raku or glass or gemstone or crystal or metal or plastic. But a Rogue Elephant in the middle of our craft room forces upon us a completely different logic, so that we can make sense of it all.
Only the beader or jewelry artist who is willing to submerge her- or him-self completely in this wonderfully off-centered picture — Rogue Elephant, beads, stringing materials, clasps and all — will really get the fullness of this humor, this wisdom, and the splendor of beading and jewelry making as a form of art that is worn.
And that’s what happened with me. Though not all at once. Struggling excitedly, creative frustration, wondrous illusion — that’s how I would describe my over 30 years stringing beads, weaving beads, combining wire with beads, soldering silver with beads, entangling fibers with beads.
Somewhere along the way I felt that Rogue Elephant staring at me from a distance. I moved closer to him. And all the applications and all the techniques and all the materials and all the making-selling-making-selling-making-selling began to cohere into something very real. Very meaningful. Integrally resonant. I discovered my Rogue Elephant and beaded him.
How do you stop an elephant from passing through the eye of a needle?
Tie a knot in its tail.
The issues and inspirations that drive the artist
This is a fable for all jewelry artists who aspire to become one with Design. How to Bead a Rogue Elephant becomes an evolving tale and collection of personal perspectives and experiences on the issues and inspirations that drive me, and that drive other bead and jewelry-making artist in their designs.
“Design” is the operative word here. A Rogue Elephant does not present an obstacle, nor create any opportunities, for the artist, unless that artist understands, follows through and is committed to Jewelry as an Art Form, and realizes that jewelry is art only as it is worn.
Jewelry as art isn’t a happenstance. It is made up of a lot of different kinds of parts. These must be strategically and thoughtfully brought together. They are brought together as a kind of construction project. The results of this project must be beautiful and appealing. They must be functional and wearable. And this all comes about through design. Jewelry must be designed. And designed it is.
Rogue Elephants are big, and jewelry design is a big task. Rogue Elephants move in unpredictable, yet forceful ways. And jewelry must be designed with movement in mind. Rogue Elephants come with a surface scape, texture and environment, against which the jewelry must look good. And again, good jewelry emerges primarily from the design perspective and the control of the bead, and all the other incumbent parts by the jewelry artist.
Most beaders and jewelry makers don’t get to the point where they can fully answer Why some pieces of their jewelry get good attention, and others do not? They have fun making things. They match outfits. They give gifts. They sell a few pieces. They use pretty beads and other components. And sometimes they get compliments. Other times they do not.
Thus, they don’t necessarily know what to do with the pieces they are playing with. They don’t control these pieces, or the process of combining them. They follow patterns and instructions. And do these again. And again and again. Their artistic goals are to complete the steps and end up with something. They might stick to one or a few techniques they feel comfortable with. There is an unfamiliarity with the “bead” –What is it? Where did it come from? What makes it special as a medium of art and light and shadow? How does it relate to other beads or clasps or stringing materials or jewelry findings? What happens to the bead over time? When they look at the bead, what do they see?
But luckily, beading for many artists is an evolving obsession. This obsession leads them to contemplate the bead and its use. The bead and its use in art. The bead and its use in jewelry. The bead and its relationship to the artist’s studio. Beads are addictive. Their addictiveness leads the beader or jewelry maker to seek out that Rogue Elephant that haunts them along the distant horizon. They know they want to bead it. They’re not sure how. But they steer themselves along the pathway to find out. This pathway isn’t particularly straight, level or passable. But it’s a pathway nonetheless. And the ensuing possibilities for learning and growing as an artist and designer along the way reap many worthwhile and satisfying rewards. I call this CONTEMPLATION.
The first step in this pathway is to figure out how to get started with beads and jewelry making. You need supplies. You need work spaces and storage strategies and understanding how to get everything organized. You need to anticipate bead spills and many unfinished projects. You need to learn to plan your pieces. You need to get a handle on the beads (and all the other pieces), and how to use them. I call this PLAY.
Whatever the reason, most beaders and jewelry makers don’t get past PLAY. They are content following patterns and making lots of pieces, according to the step-by-step instructions in these patterns. They might fear testing themselves against broader rules of artistic expression. They might not want to expend the mental and physical energy it takes to get into design. They just want to have fun. And if they never notice that Rogue Elephant hugging the horizon, that’s fine with them.
At some point, some beaders and jewelry makers will want to start educating themselves to get a little below the surface. Rather than mechanically following a set of steps, or randomly assembling things bead by bead, you want to know more about what is really going on. How do I hold my piece to work it? How do I manage my thread tension? How do I select colors? What clasp might work best? If you find yourself at this point, PLAY is not enough. You need to start DABBLING.
But for those beaders and jewelry makers for whom the Rogue Elephant is very disturbing, no matter how far away he may be, there are these wonderfully exciting, sensually terrific, incredibly fulfilling things that you find as you try to bead your Rogue Elephant, ear, trunk, feet, bodice and all. You learn to play with and dabble with and control the interplay of light and shadow, texture and pattern, dimensionality and perspective, strategy and technique, form and function, structure and purpose. You begin sharing your designs with friends and strangers, perhaps even teaching classes about how to make your favorite project, or do your preferred technique. You might also create a small business for yourself and sell your pieces. Your sense of artistry, your business acumen, your developing design perspective — you need all this, if you are to have any chance of catching up with your Rogue Elephant, let alone beading him. As you begin to evolve beyond the simple craft perspective to one of artistry and then design, you enter the stage I call CREATE.
As your jewelry pieces become more the result of your design intuition and acuity, you begin to wonder how other artists capture, be-jewel, and release their own Rogue Elephants. How did they get started? What was their inspiration? What motivated them to delve into beading, stick with it, and take it to the next level? Do they make their pieces for show or for sale? You begin to recognize how some pieces of beadwork and jewelry are merely “craft”, and others are “art”. You get frustrated with beautiful pieces that are unwearable and fashionable pieces that lack durability and pieces that sell that are poorly constructed. You see many good ideas, some well-executed, but many not. I call this SAFARI.
Part of this SAFARI is historical. And the more recent socio-cultural-artistic history of beading in America is a fantastic tale of curiosity, grit, creative expression, ambition and technological advances in materials. Beading exploded across America in the late 1980s and 1990s and owes much to its many fore-mothers and a few fore-fathers that began their beadwork careers at this time, as well as those who founded the many beadwork magazines so prominent today. The other part of the SAFARI is learning life’s lessons, and incorporating these into beadwork and jewelry making approaches and designs.
As you begin to articulate what works and does not work in various pieces in terms of form, structure, art theory, relationships to the body, relationships to psychological and cultural and sociological constructs, you complete your evolution as a jewelry designer. You add a body of design theory and practice to your already honed skills in art, color, bead-stringing, bead-weaving and wire working. You find and bead your Rogue Elephant. I call this GALLERY HOPPING.
As you compare yourself as Designer to other jewelry designers all over the world, this is partly a personal adventure as you self-experience your intellectual growth as an artist. And it is partly an adventure of evaluating how well other artists have succeeded in this same quest, as well. One very revealing pathway is following how artists contemporize traditional designs. Still another follows the artist who revives vintage styles. Or the pathway that finds the artist elevating fringe, edging, strap, bail and surface embellishment to the same level of “art” as the centerpiece. And yet another pathway which looks at multimedia beadwork, and how artists seek to maintain the integrity of each medium within the same piece. You might explore that pathway which involves collaboration. I call this stage DESIGN MANAGEMENT.
Your adventure along this pathway towards design — your success at beading your Rogue Elephant — is very fulfilling. Whether you walk, run, skip or crawl or some mix of the above, it’s a pathway worth following. You’ve learned to transcend the physicality and limitations of your workplace, tools and supplies. You’ve learned to multi-task and organize and construct your project as if you were architecting or engineering a bridge. You have discovered how to dress and present yourself for success, including strategies for self-promotion. You’re a Designer. You have learned to present yourself and promote yourself as a Jewelry Artist. You’ve evolved as a Beader and Jewelry-Designer and are feeling a true SATISFACTION.
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