I’m a self taught craft artist; I do off loom bead weaving. I like to experiment with organic shapes and forms, and I enjoy making sculptural and free-form creations. I have to tell my customers that each bead goes on one at a time- sometimes people wonder if I have a little machine that does it for me. I really enjoy free-form techniques and I have a background in horticulture- I worked on a lot of organic truck farms and orchards and horticultural research projects back when I was younger.
I first appreciated beadwork when I lived in Africa. I was a peace corp volunteer in a little mountainous kingdom call Lesotho entirely landlocked by South Africa. When I traveled into other African countries I saw examples of beadwork like the little Swazi love letters- they’re little rectangular or square creations that each have a meaning, and they’re given to loved ones in Swaziland. The Zulu make these beautiful beaded aprons, and I saw some of those in Johannesburg. It was kind of sad sometimes: when the family became very impoverished the woman might go into the city and try to sell her cherished family heirlooms. They were entirely beadwork with an amazing amount of handwork involved.
While I first appreciated beadwork in Africa, I didn’t know how to do it. I enjoyed collecting African beads. I don’t know much about the history of those beads but I really appreciated the handiwork in them, and I first started beading by trying to assemble these beautiful beads into simple necklaces. I just started off stringing and as it became a hobby I taught myself from there. I’ve never really taken any beadwork classes. That helps because I’m not really influenced by any one person or any one style- sometimes I’m able to just make up techniques and forms.
I like to play with different bead sizes and shapes. You can make your work more sculptural if you play around with either the number of beads within a stitch or the different sizes of beads within a stitch. If you vary that from row to row you can start creating a buckle or a fold. I enjoy implementing that sort of technique.
What is a typical day like for you?
I have all these stacks of bead trays- different families of colors and different color lines that I’m working on, and then I have the bins that have all the beads that I use for that color line. I’ll bring in a tray and the beads that go with it and I’ll have in mind the kind of design I want to make. I do a lot of production work to make a living and so I’ll have a lot of simpler pieces that are my bread and butter. They tend to complement my high end, over the top pieces, and they make a nice presentation in the case when I’m setting up and doing shows. A lot of my work is doing the bread and butter pieces, so I’ll spend a few weeks making sure I have a good amount of that particular line and then I’ll try doing a few over the top things.
I sit in front of the TV a lot to bead; I watch a lot of Rachel Maddow and the Colbert Report, and I catch up on current events, and my son and I like to watch The History Channel. I seem to absorb information a lot better when I’m doing handwork. I think when kids are at school they should be given a chance to sit and knit while the teacher’s giving a lecture. There’s some kind of connection there that opens the mind up to absorbing information.
I’ll spend anywhere from 3 to 10 hours a day doing beadwork. My neck and shoulders get very tense and so in the middle of the day I’ll go work out. You wouldn’t think it was a physically draining art form, but if I don’t go work out in the middle of the day it just wrecks my body.
I would definitely recommend any of the beadwork books by Carol Wilcox Wells, and artfairsourcebook.com
How do you market your work?
Personally, I stay away from galleries. There are three galleries that have talked me into selling to them, but I really like just selling to customers. I try to do anywhere from six to twelve shows a year, and the way my life is structured I can’t just stop and try to have somebody figure out what colors they want. Working with galleries is just too many details. I’d rather just pack everything up, go to a show and try to sell my work there. I can sell my work pretty much as a I make it, so I’m just not that interested in wholesale. And sometimes when you’re doing a show and you tell people you’re in a gallery, then you lose that sale and you still may never hear from them.
How do you feel that the need to make a living influences your work?
That’s a really good question, because it completely influences my work. It accounts for all the production pieces- they’re still very nice and I consider them high end fine craft, but they’re what’s affordable for most people and it’s my bread and butter. If I did only what I wanted- all my favorite over the top pieces and fun stuff, my booth would look very different and I don’t know that I could make a living off of it, at least in this economy. But I might be wrong.
I got into this because I became a single parent and I had two kids at home that depended on me, and my background in organic horticulture wasn’t that usable. It’s really made me focus like a laser on the things people are interested in buying and how I can make a living off of it, in addition to keeping my own voice as an artist. When I first started getting into doing shows, a friend of mine who’s an art professor in the area had me come to one of his classes and talk about my work. He really liked my work, but he asked me to tell the class how I got started and why I was doing this, and I said “well, I need to make money”. I think he was really disappointed. I didn’t mean for that to detract from the more romantic image of being an artist, but that’s why I sit here and do this as much as I do it- I have to make a living to some degree. If I was independently wealthy I would do different things with my work. I would still be doing it, but I’d be going in a different direction.
Why did you choose to self educate?
First of all, my finances. I didn’t have the resources to go back to school. I had two kids at home, and one child that needed to be homeschooled a lot, so it was the only thing that really offered flexibility, and it was gratifying.
Advice for self educated artists:
It’s kind of corny, but if someone is discouraging you, don’t listen to them. I’ve had some people tell me, “you can’t make a living doing beadwork”. If I thought about it, me sitting there with my little tray of beads with a needle and thread, I would ask myself “why do I think this is going to work?” I remember wondering and feeling scared at times. Don’t let people discourage you. If you’re self taught it allows you to find your own way better than you would be able to in a class, and you don’t get locked in to images and techniques that you’ve learned from someone else- you’re able to develop your own way.