Friday, April 8, 2016

Interview with Cathy Mendola - seed beads, Buddha and goddesses

This post I wanted to introduce you to a bead artist friend of mine - and my inspiration. I met Cathy Mendola via Instagram and what started as a business relationship quickly evolved into an online friendship. I look forward to meeting her in person some day! 
Pendant from Cathy's current seashell series and detail of one of the 12 Buddha tapestry pieces from 2014. 
I met Cathy while she was working an a beaded monthly goddess project - the same project that I have undertaken for myself this year. She has inspired me to bead larger pieces, wall hangings and the like and encouraged me to play and explore the bead embroidery realm. So without further ado - Cathy in her own words and images: 

Introduce yourself. Do you have a descriptive term that encapsulates your style?
Hi, my name is Cathy Spivey Mendola. I think my style is eclectic. Sometimes my designs take on a life of their own. It tends to vary with each piece I work on relative to the materials I’m working with. 
Work in progress shots from Cathy's Buddha and Goddess projects. 
For anyone new to you and your work-how did you get started in beading/jewelry making? Are you formally trained? Is this your full time job? What is your day job? Previous career?
I am mostly a self-taught artist. In my past life I was a nurse and worked for over 12 years before becoming a stay-at-home mom. My life has revolved around arts/crafts and lots of fabric for most of my life so it was only natural that I played with my art supplies and fabrics while my daughter napped. I made my first beaded bracelet around 1996. It didn’t take long to become hooked so I continued to make bracelets, necklaces and earrings. But I still didn’t consider myself a jewelry artist, I considered myself a fiber artist due to my love of fabrics and creating art quilts. I thought of jewelry making as something to while away the hours until I created some magnificent piece of fiber art and became famous-haha!

Well, after almost 20 years of making jewelry I have finally realized that I AM a jewelry artist. Making jewelry comes much more naturally to me than creating art quilts. I have sold many more pieces of jewelry than fiber art. I still love making art quilts and incorporating beads but my passion IS beading. I don’t know why I was so reluctant to call myself a jewelry artist or why it took so long for me to see that beading is what I was meant to do.
Pendants: incorporating antler, shell and a stunning MAKU raku cab! 
What are you favorite mediums/materials to work with? Do you have a favorite or unusual tool? 
I love nature, especially the ocean/beach. So seashells and driftwood find their way into my beaded designs. I also like to incorporate deer antlers and fossils. And of course I love a beautiful stone cabochon to be the centerpiece or one of Jenny’s clay goddesses!  I think my favorite tool if you can actually call it a tool is KO thread. I have tried numerous beading threads and this one wins my vote as the best. 

I am currently doing a series of beach themed necklaces using my extensive seashell collection. I am also fortunate enough to have an article featuring three of my beach themed necklaces in Belle Armoire Jewelry’s summer edition coming out in June.
I do a personal beading challenge every year and this year I have chosen to do the Five Elements. Doing just ‘five’ pieces is much easier than a monthly project for me right now since I will be moving out of state in the spring. I am still in the design stage of my element project so I haven’t started yet but it’s on my work-table. (Since Cathy was interviewed she has begun... see below) 
Cathy's theme this year: pieces inspired by the 5 elements.

What is currently sparking your new ideas? Do you ever suffer from creative droughts and if so how do you deal with it to stay inspired?
I don’t have any problems coming up with ideas. My problem lies in not having enough hours in a day. (And not having a personal assistant!)  There is such an abundance of inspiration. So many of my ideas are sparked by nature. Sometimes all it takes is a walk outside to refresh my creativity.

What short piece of advice would you give someone trying to find their creative voice and push forward?
My advice for anyone who needs some direction would be to create as much as possible. For me, creating a year-long art journal really opened up my eyes to what I like to do vs. what I love to do. Also, when you look back on a year’s worth of projects you can see progression in your work and you start to develop your own style. I also learned that you will not love everything you make but it’s all part of the process. The more you create the greater probability you have of creating pieces you love.
Four detailed shots of Cathy's Buddha pieces from her monthly project in 2014. 
What has been your greatest creative achievement to date?
My greatest all-around achievement has to be my daughter! She is graduating from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in May and I couldn’t be prouder. My beading doesn’t compare to the time & work I put into raising her & being a stay-at-home mom. But it is certainly paying off.

What artist (living or dead) would you most like to meet and have dinner with?
If I could meet & have dinner with any artist I would love it to be Frida Kahlo. She was certainly a free spirit. I think she’d be a lively dinner companion.

I met Jenny online while I was working on my Goddess series last year.  I was in my 3rd year of doing a year-long project. Here is how it started:
In January of 2013 I embarked on a year of creating an art journal. I did this with a friend of mine in order to keep myself accountable. We thought it would be a great way to figure out some things about our art-try new techniques, new mediums and see things in a different way. I was at a point where I wasn’t sure about what I really wanted to be when I grow up! Again, I was making a lot of jewelry but thought I was supposed to be making art quilts. I was confused about my creative direction. The year of the art journal set me straight. We had a theme for each month. We could do whatever we wanted with the theme. The sky was the limit. It was that first month that set me on this beading path. I taught myself peyote stitching and that was the beginning of my love affair with bead embroidery. I continued to play with other mediums throughout the year but when I wasn’t working on my art journal pieces I was doing bead embroidery.

In January 2014, the same friend and myself invited a small number of our fiber art friends to join us in creating a little bead group. We only had a color theme & a size limit of 8”x8”.  You could do as much or as little beading as you wish as long as it was in the color of the month and stayed within the 8x8 size.  At the same time, I wanted to join Robin Atkins’ Bead Journal Project so I created the ‘12 Months of Buddha’ challenge for myself along with the other project our bead group was doing. I kept the Buddha challenge the same color scheme as the 8x8 challenge. At the end of the 12 Months of Buddha I stitched them all together to create a quilted wall hanging. 
I wanted to continue with the Bead Journal Project in 2015 so I decided to do another 12 month challenge-that was the year of my Goddess Project. I have completed the beading of the goddesses but I have yet to mount them onto 8x10 canvases for displaying. It’s on my list of to-do’s. 
Four pieces from the Goddess series. Cathy used my polymer goddesses in a few of these pieces! (my cabs are pictured here top right, bottom left)
You can see examples from my art journal and the Buddha & Goddess series on my Facebook page as well as my blog.
Blog is (which doesn’t get updated as frequently as FB.
I’m on Instagram as cathdola and on flickr -

Favorite Word:  Just do it (sorry I don’t have just one word-this is my favorite phrase)
Least Favorite Word: Can’t
What turns me on creatively, spiritually, emotionally? Being with a group of like-minded, creative people. I am in 4 different fiber/bead/art groups. It’s always energizing to be with these people.  Being at the ocean is also a huge turn on for me on all levels. It relaxes me and brings me a sense of peace.  I usually come home from the beach with a whole new set of ideas plus tons of seashells, stones and driftwood.
What turns me off? Negativity and hearing someone say they can’t do something
What profession other than my own would I like to attempt?  Hmmmm. I really love what I do, but once upon a time I wanted to be a veterinarian. Having my daughter become one makes it even sweeter.  I do think it would have been fun to be a musician in a rock band. Of course you need to be able to sing or play an instrument, so I guess I’ll stick with beading.
What profession would I NOT like to do?  Work for the IRS or be President of the US
If Heaven exists what would I like to hear God say when I walk through the Pearly Gates?    ‘I’m so glad you’re here. I have a huge beading project for you to do!’

Thank you Cathy! It is a pleasure to get to know you better and all the best on your upcoming move! I have thoroughly enjoyed any reason to pore over pictures of your bead work. I am continually inspired by your bead shape selections and your palettes! Im going to go start my April goddess now... 


  1. What a lovely surprise to wake up to this morning! I am so honored that you asked me to do this. Many, many thanks to you Jenny; both for your lovely goddesses & your friendship. I do hope to meet in person one day.

    1. Cathy - sorry to chime in here so late! Thank you! And I agree - an in person beading date, or bead hopping would be awesome!

  2. This is a great interview, one of friendships, determination and creative inspiration. Thank you for sharing your story and your beautiful work.

  3. I used to be a daily AJE reader but when I went back to school I no longer had the time. I am very glad I came back today. Thank you for introducing me to another kindred spirit.


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