Friday, June 26, 2015

Connecting the Dots

"Some will give their love for fashion, others trade their gold for passion
I don't have the goods to start with, never had the reins to part with
Still I hope you take me seriously."

I've been making a lot of dot beads lately.

I've been selling a few but not nearly as many as I wish I was. Yet I keep making them.

I'd like to say this is because I've decided to be true to myself as an artist and make what I want to make, Facebook and the bead-buying public be damned.

That may even be part of the reason. But the bigger part, as long as I'm being honest here, is that right now I'm lacking inspiration about what else to make.

That fickle muse again - off doing her own thing, whatever that may be.

At least I'm selling some of the dotties - as one of my customers dubbed them.

I suppose I have a repertoire of beads that I make. My pleated encased silver glass beads, what I call my signature bead, have always been my best sellers - especially at shows because they are so sparkly in person. But online they don't sell reliably. I'd say they sell sporadically.

Still, I keep up my inventory, usually by making a few each week, sometimes one or two in a torch session, sometimes none.

I also make a plunged floral a few times a week, most weeks.

I make beads with shards. I like shards. You never know exactly what you are going to get. And if you aren't sure about what you get, a few fine silver trails can work wonders.

Striped and raked beads are another of my standbys. They are good for using up short pieces of stringer, and I can always add a little goldstone or dichro bling to make them more special.

Warring States Dynasty style beads with traditional dot patterns - yes, dots again - are fun to make, and a challenge as well. You need really good heat control to make sure the dots are secure while not melting them in too much. Classic as they are, they don't sell well at all. I've even tried calling them Dragonfly Eye beads, in case the Warring States moniker was off-putting.

I also make barrel beads with silver glass and scroll work. And dots, did I mention dots?

Periodically I try new designs, the most recent of which have been my feather and dot beads. Yeah dots, you heard me.

It all seems to keep coming back to dots. That must mean something. I have no clue what.

I also make sets of frit beads - I like to describe them as color-splashed - and sometimes I like to make sets of beads using solid colors of interesting glass, such as veiled cane or streaky colors. No dots!

From time to time I make cats and fish, although they have never been particularly popular. I used to make owls and hearts but I don't make those any more - which isn't to say I never will again. It's been a pattern for me to overdose on a style for a while, then not make that style again for a year (or years) and then I get a wild hare (or perhaps a wild hair) to explore it again. Or not.

Goddess beads were a phase, but I doubt I'll go there again. I can't give the extras as gifts or donate them to Beads of Courage.

Beaded keys are one of the things I like to make, and for a while they were quite popular. I still usually sell a few at shows and once in a while online. People who like beaded keys will often buy one and ask if I have more. Sometimes a sale of one leads to a sale of several. But more of the time they languish. I keep trying though.

I do wonder about other artists. One of my customers commented on how many diverse styles of beads I make. I think many bead makers find a niche and stick with it.

(Just for the record, I own all of the beads pictured below.)

Ali Vandegrift makes really large beads with intricate stringer work, in a limited variety of shapes. Julie Burgard makes perfect disk beads and a related series of rustic rounds.

Kim Snider makes butterfly wings. She makes them in many colors and varies the design, but that is what she makes. Mindy McGregor makes beads with enamels and poppies and one other style with lines and dots.

Shani Barrett makes incredible silver glass dot beads. Her husband Beau makes many diverse styles of boro beads - but I had to mention him here anyway, because he is one of my favorite bead makers.

I say go girls. Go token male. More power to them. Especially as they sell most of the beads they make, usually very quickly.

If I found a style that sold consistently I'd probably find a way to embrace making variations on that theme ad infinitum.

I was complaining to Neil about my lack of inspiration and his suggestion was to take a class. Find one, fly somewhere and take a class. He even offered to go with me.

I'm doubtful that's the answer for me at this point. I would still take a class if it was convenient and I was interested, but I'd take it for the fun of spending time with other bead artists, the chatter, the camaraderie, the fun of it.

I'm not sure there is anything I can learn from a class. My technical skills are what they are and only practice will make them better. I haven't had any technical break-throughs in classes. And all the classes I've taken follow the same structure. The teacher teaches you how to make the beads they are known for making. I don't want to make someone else's beads, especially not ones that someone is so well known for that they are sought after to teach classes.

I want to make the beads that will have people seeking me out to teach.

I honestly don't see that happening. I could teach a beginner class or a basic silver glass class. I could probably teach an intermediate skills class. I can demonstrate how to make a complex twistie, or a hollow bead, or encased goldstone stringer or vine cane. I could share how I apply foil and leaf and wire, how I create faux bro, how I make raised flowers.

But what I don't have, what I am missing, what is frustrating me more than anything, is what I must call artistic vision.

Some of my beads are pretty, some are even accidentally very pretty, but I lack intuitive design sense. And I haven't been able to learn to be a better designer, despite taking classes on 2D and 3D design and even a class on color.

I know I'm not alone. I see how artists are influenced by other artists. I notice how many of the European bead makers have certain commonalities. I see lots of bright colors (and dots) and I see a lot of whimsy. I also see how they differentiate themselves and how some take it to a new and unique level. It's a process, a journey. It just seems to happen so much more quickly for some artists and that is what I see as true artistry.

Meanwhile I blunder along. No one works harder at it than I do. I can honestly say I've never worked so industriously to master anything in my life as I have worked to master bead making. I work at it day after day. Some days are good, some are better and some are not. Regardless, I'm back the next day, trying again.

What is that old saw about the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results?

How does that dovetail with practice leading to perfection? How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

If I'm boring you, don't feel guilty, I'm boring myself.

Maybe I'm trying too hard. Last week, I looked forward to the weekend, because we were going to see my daughter and grandchild and because it was going to be a break for me. Aren't breaks supposed to refresh you and re-energize you?

So what was the weekend like? Five hours in the car each way, which could be seen as quality time with Neil, except we wind up getting into discussions that stress me. Neil the scientist likes to assign probabilities to things - how many children each child will have, how likely each child is to marry their current partner. I don't like to overthink things that I have no control over.

Once at my daughter's home, I invariably am stricken by sleeping sickness. I consume copious amounts of coffee and I can't shake the lassitude I suffer there. I don't know if it's purely psychosomatic or if there could be a biochemical reason (allergies? to dogs?). Either way, I somehow wind up falling asleep on the sofa in the middle of the day. I drag the whole time I'm there. I sleep 9 or 10 hours at night and I can't stay awake on the drive home.

And all I keep thinking is, I'll be OK when I get home and back to my routines.

In another 10 days or so, we're off on another junket. We're going to North Carolina to scope out retirement living possibilities. We checked out Charlotte a year ago, but that trip was also about going hiking in Smoky Mountain National Park. This time we're going to see Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill and our plans are pretty amorphous. Neil wants to check out new construction in communities in each of those areas and also get a feeling for the area by visiting university campuses and seeing whatever sights are to be seen.

I'm completely sympathetic to Neil's desire to one day see Texas in our rear view mirror. We'd both like to live somewhere else, probably somewhere on the east coast one day. I'd like to have a heated and air conditioned studio, although I wonder if I will still be as passionate about making beads by the time Neil retires and is ready to make a move. I have some anxiety about starting over in a new area, but it's so speculative at this point that the anxiety is hypothetical.

What I'd like this trip to accomplish is that break that sparks my creativity, give my muse a kick in the pants and jump starts the seemingly dead battery of my imagination.

In the meantime, I think I'll just keep making dot beads.

I wonder if Yoko Ono
Ever thought of staying solo
If she thought of other men
And if she doubted John Lennon
Worrying that he'd distract her art

Sitting in the apple sessions
Giving John her music lessons
Challenging the warring nations
With her paper installations
Did she guard her Yoko human heart

Well, they could talk about me
Yeah, they could talk about me
Throw me to the velvet dogs of pop star history
But I won't be your Yoko Ono
If you're not good enough for me

Some will give their love for fashion
Others trade their gold for passion
I don't have the goods to start with
Never had the reins to part with
Still I hope you take me seriously

'Cause I think I could go
Deep as the sea of Yoko
You don't know a person like me
I could sell your songs to Nike
And for all you know that I could save your soul
As only true love can change your mind
Make you leave your screaming fans behind

When John called the wind an opera
Making love with every chakra
When he said her voice would carry
And when he whispered, old Chuck Berry
Only then would Yoko set him free

Fame will come and vanish later
Transcendental love is greater
I think if we had this somehow
We'd be feeling famous right now
We'd be saying, love is all you need

And they could rag about me
Yeah, they could rag about me
Throw me to the velvet dogs of pop star history
But I won't be your Yoko Ono
If you're not good enough for me."

(Dar Williams)