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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Buddha's Temple Necklace

The assignment for the Etsy Beadweavers 2013 February Challenge, from Kris Empting-Obenland, is as follows:
"Japan has a most exciting culture. There is a distinct division between past and future: ancient traditional values with their strong rituals, art forms and language on one side, versus the crazy dazzling fashion modernity, neon colors, and plastic kitsch on the other side.

Pick ONE of these two styles to create a piece of jewelry that shows the important criteria needed to convey either the traditional or the modern Japan. OR: combine both styles into one piece accentuating the contrasts!"
So, the above necklace is my answer to the challenge.  Let me ask you, before I explain myself,

1)  Can you see any Japanese influence in this piece?
2)  Do you see traditional Japan, or kitschy contemporary, like Hello Kitty and Anime?
3)  What aspect of Japanese culture do you think my research and inspiration was taken from?

I would just love it if any of the ideas in those questions were discernable in the finished work, but they may not be.  If your first impression of the piece, without knowing the title, had a sense of "Asian," without really knowing why, I'd feel wildly successful.  Because, according to what I have read, Japanese architecture derives from Chinese and other Asian construction styles.  So, here's my intention, laid out in words.  Let's see if you got any of what I tried to do.

Image from WikiMedia
I looked at several images of various things Japanese, and found myself drawn to traditional Japanese architecture, specifically the sweeping, gently curved roof lines of temples.

Some of the temple roofs actually had spiked details at the roof corners, which REALLY appealed to me.
Image from WikiMedia
So I decided that these traditionally Japanese /Asian and very appealing shapes would inspire my work for this challenge.

I chose some "Purple Turquoise" pillow beads and a gorgeous 14 carat piece of Sleeping Beauty Turquoise, whose softly curved edges reminded me of the shapes I liked in the roofs.  I captured them in 24k dark gold delicas, to emphasize the bronze infusion in the Purple Turquoise.  Then I used Bohemian hand-make spike beads to emulate the spiked details at the roof corners.

The detail is easier to see in the more nearly rectangular beads.

I was pleased with how I was able to make the spikes seem to spring out of the bezels, without fully bezeling them, thus maintaining the same effect as the "spikes" on the temple rook corners.  Then, I connected my spiked components, trying again to use the delicately curved roof lines.

I chose an antique bronze filigree toggle and ring as a clasp, and finished the piece with a delicate drop from the Sleeping Beauty Turquoise center component.  If this piece should be yours, please visit the listing for it in my Etsy shop here!

I struggled for a little while this fall with what to make.  I decided the best thing to put in my Etsy shop are things I myself would want to wear.  I'm kinda lusting after this piece, so, the idea produces things I like, but it's a little hard to part with them. :)  But list I will, and here's a link if this piece should be yours!  I'll take pleasure in knowing I have made something I'm proud of, and would be proud to sell, or wear myself.

To quote the Buddha himself:
"The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows." 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Emotional Roller Coaster

Please check out the Etsy Beadweavers Team blog.  I chose the theme for this month's entries in our monthly challenge promotion, and there are some gems!  The blog poll closes on December 15th, tomorrow, so don't delay!

The theme is "Emotional Roller Coaster" and the challenge is a variation on something I did in college as an assignment in a graduate Sceneograhy seminar.  Set Designers, Lighting Designers, Costume and Makeup Designers and even a Sound Designer had to interpret five emotions, Love, Anger, Sadness, Happiness and Peace, each week, using a different design element.  So one week, we would convey each of the five emotions with a line, and the next week, a texture, color, shape and form, light, or space .  It was a great way to learn to use the basic elements of design and understand how to manipulate each one, and the class discussions of our work were always stimulating and illuminating.

In my version of the assignment for the challenge, members were to choose an emotion, and interpret it in beads, using any design elements they chose.  Some of them were very successful and you can guess easily the emotion they were representing in their weaving.

I chose the title for the theme, thinking that if everyone did a good job of interpreting their chosen emotion, looking at the mosaic would be like riding an Emotional Roller Coaster, moving rapidly from one feeling to another, as you viewed the images.  I hope you'll enjoy the ride!

I really struggled with my own entry.  At first I thought I'd do serenity.  But it turns our, serenity is just not very dynamic or visually exciting.  Plus, I challenged myself to make a bracelet, which I rarely do, and to use some Czech tile beads I had purchased.  My lack of experience always means making MANY tries before I succeed.  So, knowing that, here was my first finished version of "Serenity."

It was certainly serene, but I wanted a better solution to the challenge as a bracelet.  There is really nothing WRONG with this.  I just don't love it.  Plus, I didn't like how it moved, and that was another kettle of fish altogether.

So I tried a few other ideas.

Actually the first one on the left was my very first try, and similar to the neckstrap for my Amur Maple necklace.  I didn't think Serenity should be shiny, so the first try was out. Then I made the one from above, but fell asleep looking at it.   I liked the doubled up version second from the left, but I didn't think Serenity could possibly have bumpy edges.  Visually, that is just not very... well, Serene! But it was certainly more interesting.   So I decided if I was going to make a bracelet I thought was interesting, I'd best change emotions.  I thought maybe Euphoria was a good idea.  It might have an interesting edge and texture.  The third bracelet was the first try at that emotion, and I felt pretty good about it, but didn't quite like my color choices for my chosen emotion.  Then when I picked up my bottle of Calvin Klein "Euphoria" the next morning, eureka, I realized I had the the perfect color palette in my hand.

But the bracelet still seemed  not quite emotionally correct to me.  It was too repetitive and rigid, almost Victorian in feeling.  I thought Euphoria should be more unpredictable and varied, so I brought in an additional smaller component, to add dynamic interest to the shape.   I also learned that the suppleness I was after in the wearing of the bracelet was inhibited by any thread that ran the length of the bracelet, so I came up with a way to weave the thing that is the essence of RAW.  There are no straight lines through the bracelet, but rather multiple continuous loops, and for each component, the thread path reversed from clockwise to counter clockwise, again like RAW.  Pretty cool, huh.  I think thread path is everything in bead weaving, and here's another bit of proof.

I decided I wanted a touch of Euphoria near the face as well, since I apply perfume to both neck and wrists, so I made a pair of earrings to match, and there you have it.

Please go and take a look at the work of our talented members who found time in the busiest month of the year to participate, and cast your vote for the one whose emotional content seems the clearest to you.  I have three personal favorites and none of them is my own.  I'd love to know which one spoke to you!  And,  THANKS FOR SUPPORTING OUR TEAM!

Monday, December 10, 2012


My sister-in-law is someone special. She is the director of a large animal humane society and works tirelessly to control pet population through her support of,  and participation in spay and neuter clinics.  She has also recently been involved in a heart-rending Malamute breeder abuse case with the Humane Society of the United States.  This spring, when my mom was dying, she provided wonderful support to my brother and my sister.  I wanted to thank her for her loving kindness to my mother and my family, and decided to bead a piece in her honor as a gift.

Gina has Native American ancestry.  Her father was a member of the Blackfoot tribe, whose territory is in northern Montana and Canada, around the Glacier Park area.  I know she admired some of the things she had seen when looking at the Battle of the Beadsmith entires, particularly Sue Horine's piece, so although bead embroidery is not my usual technique, I decided to try to represent Gina's heritage in my work.

I imagined buying a beautiful animal cabochon from Laura Mears, but I wanted to get the right creature, so I asked Gina if she had a special "spirit animal" or if there was something she specifically wanted me to include in the piece.  She responded "feathers, and pictogram horses."  I was a lttle stymied.  A pictogram horse?  I googled "pictogram horse" and found images the reminded me of Lascaux Cave drawings, primitive and stylized.  I found a couple cabochons, both agate, as agate is native to Montana, and started a sketch with several pictogram ponies running around the edge of the cab.  But I just could not leave the ponies alone.  I kept tweaking them.

Gina's mother was an art dealer, and had a huge gallery full of Native American art.  Much of the imagery was romantic in my eyes, and after I worked my sketch for a few hours, the pictorgram horses were gone (REALLY, they WERE there to begin with!!!) replaced by a romantically stylized horse, like what I remembered from Gina's mom's gallery, with a few feathers.

 I was absolutely confident that this was NOT what Gina had in mind.  I was also reasonably sure that I was not a person who was going to be able to bead a pictogram horse, given where my sketch had gone.  Plus I wanted the overall shape of the piece to be significant, as well as the components, in the same ways that Sue Horine's work (which I admire) often does, like for example, her Cleopatra (4th row, fourth from the left) piece.

 I also wanted the piece to be biographical, or at least, a sort of character sketch.  But not photoreal or literal.  Symbolic and gestural, like the pictogram ponies.  SO, new plan.

I hunted for horse fetish beads, and found some I thought had a pictogram quality, as well as looking like Pintos, which seemed right to me.  I just didn't think I had drawing pictogram horses in my soul, and wanted to provide the requested animal in a way that hopefully could be meaningful to both me and Gina.  I chose a cabochon to represent Gina's heart and spirit, aiming for warm, complex, and rich, a "keeping-the-home-fires-burning" image, with a stable, grounded shape.  Then I arranged stacked components like a totem, hoping to create shapes that might represent a dancer's fringed skirt and rising sun,

...a warm red parka with horses on its sleeves, and a thick maybe fur-covered hood.
I wanted the woman's arms to be flung open wide, embracing the sky,

and I also liked that the overall shape had a thunderbird quality.

I found beads to use in my fringe that looked like bone and feathers, so hopefully had included all requested components.

I thought maybe the arms should be fringed, and asked Gina how she felt about that.  The piece is already large and the additional fringe would have made it very big and certainly "ceremonial." I imagined that the piece without more fringe MIGHT get more wear, and explained that.  But I liked the fringe idea too, made a couple samples, and turned the final decision over to Gina.  She decided against the fringe.

About this time noticed a facebook post from my niece about her cousin Jackie Larson Bread, a traditional Blackfoot Bead Artist. who had just had one of her beaded pieces purchased by the Smithsonian Institution.  So THAT was what Gina meant with her reference to pictogram horses.  Yikes.  She has a relative who actually does museum quality Native American beadwork.  I'm glad I didn't know this to begin with, as I would likely never have attempted what I did, but it's done, and I hope Gina will enjoy it!

I learned just how challenging symmetry, perfect shapes, and finishing techniques are in the process of embroidering this piece and I salute all Bead Embroiderers for their precision and beauty, and my beady buddy friends who answered endless questions about this work as I finished it.

Thank you Gina.  I love you.  It will be on it's way tomorrow!