4 Tips for Designing Jewelry on Demand

Feb 16, 2011

Jean Campbell is the senior editor of Beadwork and a

contributing editor to Beading Daily

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I was flabbergasted a couple years ago when Editor Melinda Barta asked me to be one of the first Designer of the Year (DOY) artists in Beadwork magazine. In fact, I had to take pause before I answered. On one hand, it was an incredible honor to be asked. But on the other hand, how was I going to come up with six brand-new designs in such a short period of time? And six projects that wouldn't pale in comparison to my fellow DOYs Marcia DeCoster, Jamie Hogsett, and Lisa Kan, who are all amazing beaders? Of course, I put my ego (and my sanity) aside and said yes. But the process helped me learn a lot about beading on a deadline and clarified some tricks for designing in a smart way. Let me share some of my observations:

1) Don't Psych Yourself Out

When I sat down to create my first DOY piece, I was very nervous about living up to what I thought would be my fellow designers' expectations. I felt I needed to make my projects better, cooler, and more creative than they'd ever been. The competition I'd created in my head was ruthless! And it certainly didn't bring about creativity or ideas. After the umpteenth day of creative block, I stepped back and saw this opportunity for what it was: an invitation that was based on my design skills, no one else's. It was then that I realized that this wasn't a competition at all, but a chance to show what I do, what my style is. With that simple shift of confidence, I could relax into an easy-going design process and enjoy myself as I put together projects that I knew readers would like.

My example is kind of extreme (international magazine, superstar beaders, etc.), but I think this happens in everyday beading, too. For example, have you ever made pieces of jewelry for a wedding? Did you feel the pressure, considering what everyone else might think of your skills as the bride went down the aisle? The reality is you were asked to do it because you're valued, and the only thing that's important is whether you like the outcome and the bride is comfortable with it, too. Once you let go of that internal pressure and let the quietness of creativity come, you'll end up with something more wonderful every time.

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2) Start with a Focus

When you're designing on demand, it's smart to start with something you're really excited about. A beautiful cabochon. An interesting lampworked bead. An intricate filigree. A unique strand of stones. I can guarantee that one focus will get your creative juices flowing. And if you're not that excited about that focal piece or the excitement fades, simply switch it up; you're the boss of the beads, and it's their job to keep you interested!


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3) Consider the Accompaniments

Once you're set on what the focus of your piece will be, pull in ancillary items such as chain, seed beads, and crystals to round out your thoughts. Play with color by laying out complementary materials next to your focal item. Ask yourself what makes sense colorwise. What doesn't? How does changing the colors alter the overall mood of the piece? Will the shape and size of these extra materials support your focus? This stage is actually the most important one of all, so spend lots of time doing it. Be fervent about making careful choices because it's these wallflower/sideline materials that will actually hold a piece together visually. 


4) Think About Shape

You've got your focus and accompaniments, so now it's time to think about shape. Does the focal piece scream necklace? Then you'll need to think about where that item will lie. Would it look great at the neck or on the chest? At the end of a lariat or in a traditional circle? Keep all of your options open and make sketches beforehand to decide what might work best.


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5) Match the Technique to the Design

Finally, think about what kind of techniques you'll use to honor your focal and background materials. Would a complicated and ornate beadwoven touch pull it all together, or would a simple wire and crimp job do? What about going outside your box and using bead crochet, polymer clay, or knotting? The key here is to envision your design first, then use techniques to get you there.

Have you had a designing-on-demand experience? Are these some of the steps you went through? Do you have other ideas that might help the rest of us? Please share them on the website. 


In the meantime, check out the newest eBook, Best of Beadwork: 10 Designer of the Year Projects. It's here that you can download favorite DOY projects made by Jamie Hogsett, Laura McCabe, Carol Ohl, Melanie Potter, and yours truly. All beautiful projects that will stretch you creatively, just as I'm sure each of the DOYs were stretched as they designed them!


Happy beading-

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CyndiLavin wrote
on Feb 16, 2011 12:33 PM

Jean, I would add "set the mood" to your list of tips!  So often when you are designing on demand, the piece is for a season very different from the one you're in.  For example, I took a cold shower and sat in front of the air conditioner on a steaming hot July day to design some pieces for the winter holiday issue of a magazine.  I think that setting the mood would work when designing for different occasions too: formal party vs casual, baby shower vs golden anniversary, etc.

ozbianca wrote
on Feb 16, 2011 2:39 PM

Jean, this was a great post; in addition to desiging on demand tips, you hinted on a few side dishes that I believe are important whether you are  DOY or not. The internal critic comparing yourself and your work to others and the sense of competition. The first time I got asked to teach a piece or two at a show in Australia, I totally psyched myself out. Not good enough, I need to come up with something close to the second coming, it was mayhem. Realising that it was my style, creativity and the way I apply those to my work was very important. And realising what we see from designers and artists is their best work, not the box with rejects. You need to work it don't you.

One thing I have learnt from Marcia is to leapfrog from one lily leaf to another - use components from one piece as a starting point for another. That way you work with a foundation you know and are comfortable with - for the person that creates one of your projects this has advantages as it is well engineered and it keeps the work as recognisable yours.

I think you are spot on - I have experienced that people want a bit of "your magic". See what you see, and learn a little bit about the process you go through to let the creativity in. I do a lot of componentry work; by that I mean create small components from different stitches that can be used as foundations for bigger ones. The box is opened when I need to design on demand for a class or an article. That way the pressure is off, even though some pressure can be quite a spark, and you can let the quietness in, not the ruckus of stress.

I also try to do something different, out of the box. A few years ago I was asked for an seed bead project for a magazine and decided to leave the thread and micro mosaic a belt buckle - applying the KISS principle. It was a great success as it grabbed those people who may be intimidated by stitching and it was fun and messy. I still receive emails from beaders about it. Let the passion for what you do and love shine through in the work.

Great entry, Jean.

DebWAZ wrote
on Feb 16, 2011 4:22 PM

Thank you for this one, Jean. The timing is perfect!

I have a couple of "design on demand" projects that are in the works. One is a possible contest entry, if I can get everything to cooperate. I've changed it around a few times and I'm still not sure that it's where I (or the beads) want it to be. I know what I want the piece to say, but we're still not completely communicating.

The other is a custom/makeover piece for a good customer. She brought in a bracelet and wants it turned into a necklace! EEK! (Silly me has made the mistake of pulling off some pretty good makeovers in the past and now, it's about to bite me on the behind!)

Getting the right components to compliment the existing bracelet is a big challenge. It's not easy - even when you own a bead store and have the whole place to choose from. <grin> Then putting everything together so that it doesn't LOOK like a makeover is an even bigger challenge. Though I have the customer's blessing to "do whatever it takes, I trust you", those instructions are sometimes more difficult to work with than if I had been given specific parameters.

I printed out your blog so that I can read your tips the next time I sit down to work on these projects. Maybe it will help me get past the designer's block.

Thanks again!


on Feb 16, 2011 4:51 PM

Great guidelines, Jean!  

When I was asked to make a pin as an anniversary gift, I was told that I could just do anything I wanted (I know how trusting that sounds).  But I wanted to make sure the piece had some personal relevance, so I asked if there was anything they shared between them that was special.  

Turns out they collect kissing couples, so I used that idea as a launching pad.  I was aware that they had a ton of milagros and Mexican folk art decorations in their home, so I added a couple of touches in that style as well.  Made a piece that gets compliments and attention every time it's worn.  

All I need is a little background information!  But the trust they showed in me was crucial.