Sunday, January 18, 2015

Using Small Art Beads

As a seed beader, I am usually drawn to buy larger art focal beads and components.  It's often easier to work with larger art beads, I think mostly because there is less of a chance that your work will overwhelm the piece.  But lately, I've really come to appreciate using smaller art beads in my work as accents, or supporting cast members, if you will.  Today I thought I would give you some insights on how I work smaller art beads, in the hopes that you will take a second look through your stash and possibly consider using little lovelies that you might have passed over before.

Bead Collection - I call this type of necklace a bead collection necklace, because it is so much fun to collect all kinds of special beads together into one fabulous piece.  I wish I knew the artist of this lampwork goddess!  She was one of my first purchases at the first bead store I worked at.  She's paired with a seed bead soup, Czech pressed glass in a myriad of shapes, and smaller lampwork beads by 3 other artists.  I feel that including a bit more lampwork when working with a larger lampwork bead helps to integrate the focal into the entire piece.

Full-on Freeform - These two self-closure necklaces are a couple of my favorites to wear...mostly because I love the beads so much!  Each one features a large borosilicate glass pendant as the main focal...but they needed some friends!  The necklace on the left has a small boro disk (by my friend Shawn Bungo of Bungo Glass who also made the focal) and a cascade of small boro spacers by Unicorne Beads.  The necklace on the right (pendant by a Eugene OR artist, sorry I don't remember the name) has two supporting lampwork beads made by my buddy Wilbur (also from Eugene, no online presence).  I feel like without these supporting lampwork beads, the pendants in each of these necklaces wouldn't fit in quite as well as they do.

Polymer Focal and Art Beads -   If your piece is already epic in scope or size (Man in the Machine fits both of those descriptors), you probably don't want to add too much more interest.  I made the face and gear cabs from polymer clay, capturing and connecting them in freeform beadwork.  Talk about busy!  But I couldn't resist including this nice bumpy lentil from Catalina Glass.  It just seemed to mimic the colors and textures that I had going on in the beadwork.

Another example of art beads with one of my polymer clay faces is this challenge necklace (read more about it here).  I didn't want any one component to really stand out from the others with this about a difficult thing for me to find in my own stash!  But I think it worked out ok, with a small bumpy bead (again Catalina Glass), and a larger oval lentil by Valerie O'Neill.  I love all the movement in this piece!

Stone Focal and Art Beads - sometimes I struggle using stone beads and focals.  My innate style and color choices don't really lend themselves to more rustic elements, like stone and other natural materials.  But I made an exception for this fantastic opalized ammonite fossil.  To add some interest and similar shine, I used Czech lampwork beads that are purple and aqua with a silver foil lining...I even used one for the eye of the ammonite.  The larger lampwork lentil is another bead by Valerie O'Neill.  It seemed to mimic the look of an underwater creature...perhaps the next meal for the ammonite?

Ceramic Focal and Art Beads - in creating an environment for this halibut raku button (read more about it here), I knew I wanted to go with organic shapes and textures.  After finishing all of the seed beadwork, and starting to string the strap, these two bumpy lampwork beads (larger by Jan Onipenco, smaller by Catalina Glass) were a perfect addition.  I love how they pick up all the colors in the piece, including many that aren't very prominent.

Collage Art Beads - I think of this piece as a collage - so many types of beadwork, seed beads, and art beads, all pasted together to make a single piece of art.  You can read more about the creation of this piece here, but I would like talk about the use of art beads in a necklace like this.  The vast majority of this necklace is seed beaded, imitating the painting that inspired it.  So when it came to including a few art beads, I felt like they needed to be integrated into the entire picture of the piece so they wouldn't distract from the overall flow.  I went with two ceramic skulls by Dana Swisher (no online presence, contact Kaleidoscope Studio to purchase), and a set of three lampwork beads by Jan Onipenco.  To date, I feel like this is my most successful piece of work using smaller art beads...they both stand out and enhance the piece as a hole.

A few things to think about when using small art beads:

Is your art bead adding to the finished piece?  If it's distracting from the piece as a whole, perhaps you should make a different choice.  It's ok if it completely blends in, as long as that's what you were going for...after all, what makes art jewelry different is those small details you can only see close up!

What part of your design is the plainest?  Can you enhance it with the addition of an art bead or several?  You don't have to use art beads in the only in the center or in the strap!  I have an idea in my head for a necklace with a ton of fringe...and small lampwork disks suspended on the fringe.  Not only would they look amazing, but the sound that lampwork makes when the beads gently clack together is my favorite.  I love when you can hear fringe!

How can you combine different types of art beads to make a cohesive piece of art jewelry?  You might have noticed that most of my smaller art beads are lampwork.  I'm not sure why this is, other than I love collecting lampwork, but epic focals are not always in my budget.  Perhaps I need to investigate using ceramic, polymer clay, and metal art beads in the near future!!!

How do you use smaller art beads in your art jewelry?  We would love to know!



  1. Oh, Linday, what a great post. Wonderful questions!

    I have made a few "statement necklaces" with three strands of mostly small beads: European glass, vintage glass, semi-precious and mineral beads, and small pearls. These necklaces often have a few larger glass or mineral beads or freshwater pearls as accents. I made one in pinks and mirrored gray crystal beads with labradorites; one in peridot (four sizes) and labradorite (many shapes and sizes); one in amethyst, violet rice pearls, a few garnets, labradorite and silver beads. I love to incorporate vintage beads into these necklaces here and there.

    I find that 8-9 mm solid lamp work beads make great accents on an earring made with polymer clay. I am especially fond of the "etched" ones.

  2. Great post Lindsay, with lots to take into consideration when designing!


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