The Art and Craft of Beads

Aug 7, 2013

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There used to be a time when the term “bead crafts” brought to mind bracelets loomed at summer camp, or brick stitch earrings with long fringe that you might buy in the parking lot of a Grateful Dead concert. Lately, though, I’ve noticed a new respect for bead crafts, and this goes to include not just beaded jewelry, but beaded sculpture, beaded objects, beaded wall hangings, and beaded accessories.

Bead crafts have exploded to include things made with wire, resin, and even mixed media art techniques. Just when I think I've seen it all, I attend a bead show or a class and I see something exciting and innovative that has me convinced that the world will never run out of things to do with beads.

The word “craft” always contains the word “skill” in its definition: when craft is used as a noun, it means an activity using skill to make things by hand; when used as a verb, it means to use skill in creating something by hand. Sound familiar? Yes, the art and craft of beads takes time to master, and some of us would be perfectly happy spending an entire lifetime perfecting our skills at bead crafts.

Fine Art vs. Fine Craft with Beads

When I decided to take the plunge into the world of high-end craft shows, I was dismayed to see how many artists of other mediums looked down on my chosen medium -- bead crafts. I was even denied entry into one show because the jurors categorized my bead-weaving as "simple assembly of pre-existing materials". On the other hand, I have attended many craft shows, both as a seller and as a buyer, where the majority of the "crafts" being sold are cheap, imported items, or items that have had a minimal amount of embellishment applied to them. (We're talking hot-glue-ribbons-to-a-watering-can kind of "crafts", here, and not at all what I would expect to have seen for the booth fees and entrance fees that I paid.)

After one such disappointing craft show, I got all fired up about the craft of beads, and decided to make it part of my mission to educate people about the rich history of beadwork and the technical skills needed to create sturdy, beautiful beaded jewelry. I did my own research, talked to other bead artists, and started volunteering to teach bead art at some of the local schools. The more I referred to the art of bead crafts, the more the students understood that this was just like any other medium and required its own set of special skills.

Hone Your Bead Craft Skills

My favorite part of being a bead artist? Expanding my set of jewelry-making and beading skills, of course. Whether it's through a great book or beading magazine, a class at a local bead shop or a big bead show, or a great video streaming on my computer, all of us should be exploring, seeking new ways to make the best beadwork we can.

If learning by video appeals to you, check out the videos available on Craft Daily. Especially for those of us who enjoy mixing beads with other crafts like knitting, crochet, and mixed media, there are over a hundred great crafting videos available for instant viewing on your favorite laptop or desktop computer. For the price of just one online class somewhere else, when you subscribe to Craft Daily, you get access to all the crafting videos available! Check out some of your favorite videos for bead crafts from Beads, Baubles, and Jewels available right now on Craft Daily!

The next time someone asks you about your beadwork, what will you tell them? Will you tell them that you're a bead artist? Or maybe that you create fine crafts with beads? What do you think about the evolution of beadwork as an art form in recent years? Leave a comment here on the Beading Daily blog and share your thoughts about the art and craft of beads with us.

Bead Happy,

Jennifer


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Comments

Aly Wendland wrote
on Aug 7, 2013 4:30 AM

Beading is both a craft and an art. The beader is both crafter and artist as beading requires both skill and imagination.

on Aug 7, 2013 6:02 AM

Reminds me of this quote I love:

He who works with his Hands is a Laborer.  

He who works with his Hands and his Head is a Craftsman.  

He who works with his Hands and his Head and his Heart is an Artist.  

― St. Francis of Assisi

Abigail333 wrote
on Aug 7, 2013 7:22 AM

I feel beadwork is an art form, crafted from your hands, heart and soul.

jewjunct10 wrote
on Aug 7, 2013 7:51 AM

I think beadwork is art crafted with beads.  You must have good skills to make wearable art with beads.  You must learn all the different stitches to bead weave, you must consider the color wheel in blending your colors.  This is a never ending learning process.  I do bead embroidery and I find that most people don't know what seed beads are.   This miracle bead can become anything you have the imagination to create.  We make fine art.

nevinss wrote
on Aug 7, 2013 8:10 AM

Thank you Jenifer! A few people I know refer to my bead work as "useless hobby", Ouch. I started with Native American bead work---now I try different types of jewelry. Enjoy all the information, article's ,Learning so much. Again many many thanks.  

nevinss wrote
on Aug 7, 2013 8:10 AM

Thank you Jenifer! A few people I know refer to my bead work as "useless hobby", Ouch. I started with Native American bead work---now I try different types of jewelry. Enjoy all the information, article's ,Learning so much. Again many many thanks.  

nevinss wrote
on Aug 7, 2013 8:10 AM

Thank you Jenifer! A few people I know refer to my bead work as "useless hobby", Ouch. I started with Native American bead work---now I try different types of jewelry. Enjoy all the information, article's ,Learning so much. Again many many thanks.  

nevinss wrote
on Aug 7, 2013 8:10 AM

Thank you Jenifer! A few people I know refer to my bead work as "useless hobby", Ouch. I started with Native American bead work---now I try different types of jewelry. Enjoy all the information, article's ,Learning so much. Again many many thanks.  

nevinss wrote
on Aug 7, 2013 8:10 AM

Thank you Jenifer! A few people I know refer to my bead work as "useless hobby", Ouch. I started with Native American bead work---now I try different types of jewelry. Enjoy all the information, article's ,Learning so much. Again many many thanks.  

Ssmith94015 wrote
on Aug 7, 2013 8:27 AM

I am an artist whose primary medium has been oils, pen and ink and pencil (side note, pencil is looked down upon by many "artists"!).  However, I was perusing a beading magazine in a bead store and was intrigued by the amazing ARTISTRY of items presented.  I started looking at all the products in the store and then went online and discovered the world of beads!  The color, variety and creative possibilities are endless.  I am having a dreadful time mastering the peyote stitch for a project, but as an artist, beads are now another medium by which I will express myself.  As for the "assembly PDF pre-existing materials" -what the heck is that "art" made from garbage????  Even oil paint is a "pre-existing" material!

callyrose wrote
on Aug 7, 2013 8:49 AM

Thank you for summing up my frustrations with 'craft sales'!! when i put 2,3,4+ hours into a project then sit next to a seller with items that were constructed in minutes with cheap materials I can't compete for customers.

Not all crafters sell items like this, there are some beautiful items too- before someone gets offended here!

I am now more particular about craft fairs, and prefer Art & Craft Fairs, and have done some home-party shows too.

terriannfoxden, i love the quote- thanks for sharing!!

MarilynS@46 wrote
on Aug 7, 2013 8:58 AM

I've never blogged before - I hope I don't get sucked in to this because it would take me away from my first love - crafting and creative art with beads.  As I I exhibit in a co-op and serve to staff a local gallery, as well as exhibit in local ART shows, some thoughts and language I use when describing what I do:

     -  I refer to beading as a language- each stitch is a word, and my goal is mastery.  How many things can we master in this life? Previously, I never met a shaft I didn't like or want to try. I am now trying to rid myself of all the craft paraphernalia I have accumulated over the years.

      - While appreciate the desire to embrace other ways to create fine jewelry, I  am trying to force myself to focus on my core skills development and expression.  aid ai don't deem something to be on my 'critical' path, I take a pass.

      -  If bead stitches are a vocabulary, the beads are the vowels and consonants .    My  goal is to create poetry.

       To me, free form stitching is probably the most evident form of  artistic expression.  The beads are my colors, like precious watercolors in a box.  I wish there way a way to create custom colors the way painters do. the best ai can achieve color wise is to endlessly search for the perfect colors in local bead shops and on-line, and by juxtapositioning colors.

Enough afor now I could go on for days.  Back to my beading!

AnnLynda wrote
on Aug 7, 2013 8:59 AM

Couldn’t agree with you more, Jenifer.  Beading involves all the desgin principles used by all artists… color, texture, movement, proportion, and balance, on the technical side and then the creativity/essence of the person.  Most of our buyers out there don’t know what is involved in developing a piece of jewelry.  It has improved over the years but we need to do whatever we can to raise awareness.  Although a craft show is not the best venue for educating the public, once you can engage someone, maybe with a piece you are working on at the show (which you just happen to have in your hand), it allows them to see a work in “process.”  Someday, maybe we will all hear less of “Oh, I could do that!”

sarah451 wrote
on Aug 7, 2013 9:08 AM

An interesting question!

I've seen some really "craft" level pieces and some decidedly "art" level items that were undoubtedly of museum quality. I suspect we all have, and I'm certain that most of us started out making craft-level pieces. No one begins any new medium at the level of art.

I think I have to laugh, though, at the folks who refused your entries for a show based on them being  "simple assembly of pre-existing materials." I've seen quilts that are definitely considered art, and I'm doggoned if I know what a quilt is except the assembly of preexisting bits of fabric. Or what about a mosaic done with tiny glass tiles? Even for an artist who works on canvas, the days of them grinding and mixing their own oils are long gone. The fashion designers don't weave their own fabric, but their creative vision of the lines and style of the garments are what make them great or only average. I would say that what makes a piece art, or craft, is the degree of originality in the design and skill in the assembly of whatever materials are used.

Personally, I know that I don't really have that vision. I can reproduce almost anything I've seen, and even modify it slightly. But I will always be a journeyman at any of the crafts I dabble in, because I can only copy, not truly create. That, however, does not mean that I don't recognize art when I see it, and I've seen a good bit of it in the beading world.

diamondgirl7 wrote
on Aug 7, 2013 9:09 AM

Awesome article, Jennifer! I, too, have been disappointed at the lack of respect the art of beading often receives. I am fairly new to beadweaving, having been a silversmith for 7 years prior to that, and I can tell you that beadweaving is every bit, if as skillful, beautiful and sometimes as costly as making sterling jewelry - sometimes much more so!  Also, it is often way more time consuming than silver work and time is just as valuable as materials. Thanks for being a champion for beadwork!

Choctawkeith wrote
on Aug 7, 2013 9:27 AM

I consider myself a bead artist.  I design my pieces which requires a creativity that a "crafter" does not have.  I also try to expand my beadwork to "outside the box".  I like to try new things that I have not seen others do.  If I can think it, I can do it.  

I agree with the quote from St. Francis.  Art includes the artist's soul.  Our passion for the creation shows in the work.

magpiet wrote
on Aug 7, 2013 10:07 AM

When I first started entering beaded creations in local art shows, the oil/watercolor/acrylic artists who were judges were less than appreciative and let me know they believed what I do is "mere craft" and questioned my right to enter pieces.  My entries would be put into a case on the lower shelves, tucked away where they were not easy to see, another indication of discounting the artistic merit.  Like you, I wanted people to appreciate the time, skill, and creative juice that goes into unique pieces, and I kept entering shows.  10 years later, at the most prestigious of the local shows, a necklace I entered won an honorable mention from basically the same group of judges.   That award is a product of education of the community as much as it reflects the improvement in my skills.  It's this education and broadening of mind in one's own community that each of us can undertake and to which we can contribute.  Teach classes, wear your own pieces, describe what you do with pride, encourage others using this medium to find their own artistic voice.

 And to those who believe they only recreate, once the skill is there, at some point you'll step across whatever that threshold is into the creation of something that uses all your knowledge and experience to produce something that came only from your own mind.  Even when you say you only copy someone else's design, I'll bet you use different colors, contemplate additions of different kinds of beads, use parts of an idea combined with some other idea--this is the artist in you.  Embrace it.  

on Aug 7, 2013 10:13 AM

When I was just a girl. I asked my mother (an expert crafter)  "Do people have to go to art school to become an artist?" She told me " The difference between an artist and a crafter is that artists think they're better than they really are." I guess that was her way of keeping me grounded, and to never stop learning. I consider myself-- a Beader.(capital B)

Debbie@304 wrote
on Aug 7, 2013 10:51 AM

Amen, Amen, Amen.  Bead work is as much an art form as painting and playing the violin - both if which use skill to create something handmade - are crafts.  (Instrumental music, while it cannot be seen or touched, is definitely made by the skilful use of one's hands, thus handmade.)  

My biggest problem is that many buyers feel the beadwork should be valued only according to the cost of the materials.  One can, in very little time, put together a few large, costly beads to make a pair of earrings while those I create from "humble" sead beads take many hours and a great deal of skill, creativity, and precision.  Yet both sellers and buyers feel justified in assigning much higher prices to the former.

One of my latest bracelets took approximately 30 hours to make which did not include the time it took to design it.  The total value, to me, of the design and work is about $500 but I'm not sure if I'll even try to sell it as I'm sure many would feel it overvalued at $50.

I'd really like, and I'm sure many others would, too, some suggestions on how to find the right market for my work.

AbbyI@2 wrote
on Aug 7, 2013 11:30 AM

I think one of the problems with having beading accepted as an art form is that there is no forum for high quality beaded items.  Magazines such as Beadwork are filled with lovely how-to projects and some reader's work, but there is not much attention devoted to the remarkable work produced by some people on Etsy or even on Pinterest.  If beaders want to be taken seriously as artists, or even as high quality crafts people, they need to advocate for their art form and promote those who excel.  Perhaps Beadwork would consider a regular feature on outstanding bead artists.  I know it is preaching to the choir, but it is a place to start.  There are people doing beautiful and amazing things out there.

on Aug 7, 2013 12:24 PM

Shout out to TerriAnneFoxden, woman of beads and wisdom.  Love your quote, lady!

Bead artists.  After a certain point of learning the ropes and becoming familiar with the basics -- we soar! Bead artists!

on Aug 7, 2013 1:30 PM

Great article!  I think beadwork is an artform that requires you to understand the craft (skill) behind it.

Once you understand the craft, then you can take the next steps to really explore the art of beadwork and develop your own style.

Valbeads wrote
on Aug 7, 2013 2:04 PM

What an excellent, thought, provoking article, Jennifer.  I believe it's a combination of both.  With an emphasis on art, because just like any other field, you want pieces that flow; that make sense; that are inspired by someone or something; that are colorful or soft.....the list goes on and on.  As for those snobs who said your work wasn't even in the same league as theirs, and not good enough to be considered?  Fie on them!  They were the ones not worthy of your creations.  People can be so ignorant.  It requires a lot of thought, skill, patience, and most of all precision to design and execute the pieces we come up with.  I'm not sure which designer said it, but jewelry is "wearable art."  I think that answers the question in a nutshell.

By the way, my business card states that I am a Jewelry Artisan.

on Aug 7, 2013 3:13 PM

I've been doing my own "Art Craftings" for many, many years.  I don't consider myself an 'expert' on any one thing, but I am an  ARTIST!  I am more a "Jack-of-all-trades, master of none" person.

I love doing different things, so when I see something I like, or think I'd like to try, I take time and learn something about it, and then do my own thing and create something with my mind, hands, and heart.  Some of the adventures I've had turned out very well, and I even made money, enough to cover my expenses for the goods I bought to create whatever I was into at that time.

I taught myself to knit, then made easy things like mittens, hats, and scarves until I felt confident to try bigger, more involved items. I'd follow a pattern for the basic shapes, but design my own twists to the patterns, of say, cable stitches, or something else incorporated into it to make it MY OWN creation.  I often wrote my pattern down as I went along to be able to create another one if only in different colors, or if someone liked mine and wanted one made.  I also crocheted and made up my own designs, or mixed designs to make an article of something, or other.

I taught myself how to oil paint by watching a painting show on TV. That cost a great deal, buying good brushes and the oil paints themselves are not cheap!  So I used to paint a lot, and gave them away as gifts to family, and sold some, throughout the years I painted.  I still have the brushes, but I suppose the paints in my case are dried too much to use any longer. (During this time I taught my very, very young grand daughter drawing and colors, I made her think of things to draw and 'paint' with her crayons, etc..  Now she is an artist in her own right, as she designs and draws anything she thinks of.  She draws how she wants her hair cut and gives the detailed drawing to the hairdresser to follow, and she always looks great!)

I went to an Art Fest many years ago, and fell in love with the many different beaded works of art I saw.  I decided then and there I would like to make some beaded items myself.  I bought some seed beads and other supplies needed, a book or two showing how to bead-stitch, and string with beads. I went home and started reading and trying many different things. Later, I got an Indian Bead Loom, and made bracelets, etc., I designed with my different seed beads.

Later still, I bought more, larger different beads, pearls, clasps and earring necessities, etc., and started making more detailed jewelry.  All designed and created myself. No two pieces alike. My friends would see them, and ask me where I bought such lovely jewelry. When told I made them myself, I'd get request to make them something. I'd tell them it would not be exactly like mine, but could be similar, they were OK with that. It made them feel 'special' to have something that no one else would have an identical piece of.  I now have cases and cases of beads and all the necessities to make jewelry, and I have sold mostly to family, friends, or friends of friends.  Even strangers, if they like what I am wearing and ask about it. I keep my prices very reasonable, even though I buy good quality beads and fastenings for the jewelry.  I find I sell more, and since I bead for the joy and relaxation it brings me, I found I can pay for the supplies, and still have a few dollars for myself.  I set up in one craft fair, years ago, and didn't do very well at all, so I never tried it again.  I found I didn't need those fairs to sell my jewelry. I now have co-workers and friends ask what new items I have made, and they usually buy something, even if only a pair of earrings, they probably will buy more next time.

So I believe anything a person undertakes to make, design themselves, or even follow a pattern of someone else, they have become an artist!  To make something, to be proud of what you made, and either wear it, sell it, or give as a gift, you put something of yourself into it.  You "OWN IT", all that it encompasses, and therefore an artist is inside of you, whether or not you recognize it.  Also, whether or not anyone else recognizes you as an artist, it should not matter.

To me, what matters is the fact that you enjoy doing what you do, take pride in it, and display it in whatever means you have.  If you sell a lot of your items, knowledge, or whatever, all the better for you!

floozette wrote
on Aug 7, 2013 10:15 PM

After many years of working with textiles, making crazy quilts, wall hangings, dolls and other 3-D pieces, eg, vessels, using all types of materials including beads, I became very sensitive about having my work referred to as 'craft'.  Sure it was 'crafted' with skill, but it was my imagination, my mind that provided the inspiration and the design of the piece.  To me, craft is when someone makes something from a kit or a pattern that someone else put together, while art is something that originates in the mind of the maker and is carried through to a finished object.  If you think about it, a painting is an assemblage of 'pre-existing materials' too - paint onto canvas with a brush. But nobody ever said Rembrandt was a craftsman not an artist.

on Aug 7, 2013 11:57 PM

The argument that beadwork is either art or craft is not a new one and has been debated for years.  I do feel beadwork is getting greater acceptance as an artful medium do to the forerunners in this field who have been working in this medium for a long time.  Just look through the book, the new beadwork, and thank those artists for helping topave the way.

Harper@3 wrote
on Aug 8, 2013 8:46 AM

I feel like the others that beadwork is a craft but also a fine art work.

on Aug 8, 2013 9:30 AM

Beadwork is Art, especially if you are the artist/designer!

If someone is just copying someone elses artwork or design (as with those old "paint by number" paint kits), they are either crafting if they are following the artists rules, or are art thieves if they are not. Beadwork (weaving specifically ,and not just stringing up some beads) is copyright protected. That confirms that it is indeed art!

If you are using someone elses design to create, you are crafting someone elses artwork. If you are using the "bead pattern" or "instructions" within the artist's rulse of permission, then you are legally crafting or "re" creating another persons "art". If you are calling it your own, selling it without written permission, or copy someone elses work, then that is copyright infringement, which is "art" theft!

That aside and though some people may be mad at what I have just said, especially newer "beaders" who are not familiar with copyright law as is applied to beaded artwork, I have been beading since 1992: I design my own work. I've had my work stolen and as an artist have been hurt because of it.

By the way "technique" is not copyrightable. An example of "technique" would be using the "Brick Stitch", "Peyote Stitch", Herringbone (Ndbele) Weave, standard netting techineques,  etc., in order to create a simple piece of jewelry that is in no way "unique".  When you create something different, unique and that is your one of a kind design, then beadwork is copyrightable. By the way - unlike some people in "the old days" stated: Changing someone elses artwork or design by 10% is NOT ok. If you want to know more, "google" art copyright laws and if you are sure you are reading the law as written (not someones interpretation); check it out.

When designing yur own bead woven or complecated, uncommon related forms of beadwork, it is Art! When you use someone elses instructions to fullfill your "need to bead", please make sure you state whose pattern you used (whether free or paid for) and when complimented on what you are wearing (that you beaded yourself), be sure to say "Thank you. I made it myself, but the design is by ----bead artists name".

I am now stepping down from my "artists" soap box, but will never give my rights away as an Artist and designer of my OOAK original beadwork. It is "art"and I am an "artist'!

ottercat wrote
on Aug 10, 2013 3:55 AM

terriannfoxden:  Thanks for the quote from St. Francis of Assisi.

As for the topic:  Even the simplest beadwork piece requires imagination, skill, and the patience to see it through.  Each of us learns in our own way and that is the journey.  Beading is another medium for artists to explore.  Thank you, Jennifer & all for sharing your thoughts.

auroradezines:  A technique that is in the public domain can not be copyrighted or patented, but a technique that is new (unknown) can be copyrighted; still researching patents -- so far a beading stitch isn't considered a process, but the search is not done.  Ladder stitch is not copyrightable, but 90DO-L stitch is copyrightable (& under copyright; my 'technique' & preferred beading stitch).

on Aug 13, 2013 9:16 AM

Ottercat: Thank you for making the point about "new techniques"! I don't know as much about patents but would love to know what you find out in regards to pattenting new techniques. It's so hard to find a "new" technique that is not just a variation of an exhisting technique or has not been done in Africa, Mexco,  or Histery,etc., somewhere :)...but I am aware of some.  I can't wait to see it. How exciting!