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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

To Make a Masterpiece

     When Steven Weiss of Beadsmith contacted me about participating in a invitational beading tournament, I was proud to be included and agreed.  Being a guy, (I think this is adorable!) he set it up just like the College Basketball Championships.  It's a single elimination event, where originally 64 beaders from around the world (and now 80) meet in random pairings.  The two works of each pair are then judged against each other, by the 78 other participating beaders, as well as a select, invited judging panel, which includes two Minnesota beading legends, Diane Fitzgerald and Jean Campbell.  Winning entries in each pairing advance to a new random pairing, until a champion is finally left standing alone.  But along the way, much quality beadwork is viewed, appreciated, admired, discussed, and serves as inspiration to all.  There will also be a public vote oppotunity, so I hope you'll all help us with that!
I am trying to consider it a festival, more than a championship, because if I thought too much about the competition, I expect I would be left a quivering mass of nerves, unable to hold a needle.  Many of my own personal beady heros are among the invitees.  I invite you to join our merry band and watch the fun on Facebook here.  A full list of competors by country, and the rules are available here.  AND, you can see the first round matchups here.  My own first round pairing is with the amazing Eva Dobos of Hungary. You can check out her wonderful work in her Etsy Shop, or on her blog. She does lushly textural work and uses color beautifully.  She also effectively combines many sizes and shapes of beads in her work. 

I have very limited beading time.  I work full time making costumes for competitive ballroom dancers by day, an activity that combines dressmaking and beading, but done with glue instead of thread.

     And this is my busiest of seasons, given the largest competition in Minneapolis is always the first weekend after the 4th of July.  Battle of the Beadsmith entries are due on July 10th.  YIKES.  So although I am a very serious follower of rules, and waited until last night to begin the actual beading, I gave a great deal of thought to what I might do and why, and ordered parts I thought I would need in preparation for threading my needle and making a start.

     Early on, Steven mentioned the word "masterpiece" in conjunction with his expectations of our work.  I quietly thought, "impossible."  I think of a masterpiece as something that is widely regarded as the high point of a career, and I don't think you can create such a thing on demand.  So I called on Merriam Webster to help me understand how to proceed.  Here's what they said:

1: a work done with extraordinary skill; especially: a supreme intellectual or artistic achievement
2: a piece of work presented to a medieval guild as evidence of qualification for the rank of master
     I felt a little better.  I do have some skills, although extraordinary is a BIG word I didn't linger on.  Apparently, this would not be a good time to try new stitches, or something I don't have a good handle on, skill-wise.  Supreme achievement.  I don't know about that, but managing to stay on schedule and finish this work (and all my day job work) on time will be a definite Supreme Achievement.  So, check.
     I love the second definition.  Something that has always bothered my a bit in the beady world is, there are no teaching qualifications.  Everything else I have taught requires a specific education and a test to prove you know what you are doing, before you tell someone else how to do it.  So maybe, assuming my piece works out to be something I am proud of, it's like evidence of qualification.  I've been contemplating writing tutorials, and have begun to receive requests along those lines.  So... maybe this will be a push in that direction, although I don't expect it to transform me into any version of a beading "master."
     But, WHAT TO MAKE???   A rather big deal has been made of many countries represented in this festival.  There are more beaders from the USA than anywhere else, but I think I am the only one from Minnesota.  So, my plan is to represent my state with my work.  I had to think a bit about what my own strengths are, and what form my work usually takes.  I concluded my strength is primarily landscape and botanical art.  So, Minnesota is a gloriously beautiful place, and the beauty of my surroundings should be an appropriate theme for me.
     Plus, I thought the piece should be seasonally appropriate.  And here in Minneapolis, when this Beadsmith Battle gets underway on the 10th of July, we have our own festival, called Aquatennial.  It's a celebration of  summer in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and I love this year's skipper pin.  Looks like a color scheme to me!
     So I have ordered some supplies that look like water, and the braid on an Admiral's uniform.

     I am surrounded by inspiration, and I have begun my process of representing the beauty of my home, in all it's summery glory. 
Best of luck to all participants!  I cannot wait to see what everyone creates!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Kelp Forest

I needed a distraction, and the Etsy Beadweavers May Challenge provided an excellent one. The theme was "Nautical Inspired."  I didn't plan or draw.  I wanted to fill my mind, and use up all the time alloted. Since the description of the challenge mentioned "lush ocean life" I started by searching Google Images for ocean plants, and the first images were of a kelp forest and I was HOOKED!

Rocks with Barnacles

I searched through my stash for things that looked like they might be part of a kelp forest and found several things to love.  Deep blues and greens found their way into my possibilities pile, and two things really spoke to me.  I had some blue green Swarovski jewels that asked to be the rocks that provide the kelp with an anchor on the ocean floor, and some iridescent beetle wings that looked like kelp leaves to me.  I began bezeling the jewels, and realized I needed one more than I had, but (curses!) my supplier was out of town until the 30th of April.  I imagine this is how drug addicts feel when then need a fix, and their dealers are in Aruba!  So I posted an image of what I needed on Facebook, hoping one of my beady buddies might sell me one of these beauties.

And Cindy Hlavka (awesome ex-president of the Upper Midwest Bead Society, who recognizes bead need when she sees it!) came riding to my rescue!  We met in a parking lot and she opened the trunk of her "MN Twins Mobile" to display her Swarovski jewel stash, in a black velvet lined box no less.  I really felt like I was buying drugs!  THANK YOU CINDY!!! 

After the jewels were bezeled, I decided they needed lots of sparkly ocean floor texture, so created a barnacle embellished look with freshwater pearls and bicones.  And I made a center back closure that would allow me to add kelp fringe and made a net connection, which seemed wildly appropriate to the ocean-going theme.
You can see a couple of the beetle wings in the corner of this photo.  I had begun playing with how they might become kelp, but holy mackerel (pardon the expression) that was a challenge!  They are wings, so they are SUPER LIGHT WEIGHT.  Sadly, lightweight things do not lend themselves to fringe, which requires weight to drape beautifully.  I tried MANY configurations and the best one abandoned all thread and used chain and jump rings, which provided the necessary weight for effective drape.  I loved those wings, but I just didn't love what I was able to make from them.

The Quest for Kelp

Thus began the hunt for a way to communicate the beautiful movement and shapes of the kelp itself.  I made a few samples.   One extraordinary thing about the kelp plant that really appealed to me was its flotation device.  Kelp needs sunlight for photosynthesis.  If it lies on the ocean floor, there is not much sunllight to be had.  So it makes its own little pontoons.  Each leaf has a gas bladder, connecting it to the main stalk of the plant and the plant fills the bladders and thus, keeps itself afloat to wave in the currents.  LOVED that.  And I found some awesome freshwater pearls that seemed perfect.  BUT, I struggled with how literal to be, how sparkly the leaves should be, and how to keep the two portions of the necklace harmonious.  This was lacking cohesiveness for me, but I thought it was close.
So I tried a bluer, less glittery version, without the big pearl bladder.
But then, the little bladder pearls were shocking and the leaves were stripey.
so I tried a simpler fringe, thinking it would still have the persuasiave movement.  Fail.

Then I tried putting the big bladder pearl at the bottom, more negative space a the top of kelp and softer stitching to achieve a more tassle-like result, and finally a tassle that I ripped apart later in my process for parts!  Still nothing right.
Plus I found working on this necklace was like sewing on black at night.  It's dark enough that I can't tell what I have done until the next day's dawn.  Finally, I waited for a dawn and did an assessment.  I like the sparkle, but not too much of it.  The bladder pearls were screaming and I needed them to be more integrated, so I found a different, quieter bead for the task.  And the color really needed to blend with the rocks, since the texture and shape were different. AND, I used the big bladder pearl at the top of the fringe strand.  It had a sprouted seed quality in that position that I really liked.   Finally, I could just make the kelp!!!

Final Results: "Poseidon's Garden"

Poseidon, mythological God of the Ocean was also responsible for horses.  Hence the clasp detail! 

This very glamorous evening-wear necklace is for sale in my Etsy shop and also an entry in the May 2012 Etsy Beadweavers Challenge, "Nautical Imspired."  Please visit our team blog to see all the wonderful entries and vote for your personal favorite between May 9th and 15th at:

And happy beading to you!