Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Preparing for Competition: The Marathon and the Madness

For the last couple years, I have been entering the Bead Dreams Competition.  The selected finalists get to show off their designs at The Bead and Button Show, and maybe take home a ribbon.  

I have been honored to have two pieces accepted, and take ribbons for the last two years.  

Each year I try to enter pieces relevant to what is new in my work that season.  I am always changing things up a bit and like to represent it with these over the top competition pieces.

This year did NOT come easy to me.  I knew I wanted to do something with carving, and something with my Gold Rush Crackle technique.  But the designs, they just weren't coming.  

I went over this in my head, over and over again.  Sketching ideas, and playing with beads I had on hand.  Finally, I decided to just get to work making beads.  I thought inspiration may come that way.

At first I thought I would make an over the top necklace, using all different donuts that had my crackle on them.  So I made all these extra beads.  I could NOT figure out how to work the colors.  I knew deep inside this was NOT the right composition.  There would be no POW.  No big focal.  Nothing amazing!  They would blend together.  Different colors would distract, similar colors would blend.  Too much of a good thing is still too much.

So before I started painting, I took some beads I already had in similar colors and shapes and put them together.  It confirmed this was NOT the direction to go.

As you may know- the entries in Bead Dreams are "go big or go home" sort of over the top dramatic designs!  They are all art and this little thing, was not going to cut it!

I was really feeling the stress.   The deadline this year was bumped up.  I had other deadlines on the table to meet as well.  I had to finish these in a month!  A month!  Over a week in, and I still had no idea what to do.

So I turned my attention to the carved design.  I love my Zen Stones, and wanted to do some sort of chunky necklace using all carved zen stones.  I wanted it to have some hint of it once being a Cairn, yet be in a traditional necklace form.  Here was my sketch.

I liked it and was really excited about this one.  So I got to work.  I formed, cured and carved till my hearts content.  

I had more than enough pieces to work with and began to put together some necklaces.

These were the first prototype.  While I liked it, it didn't have that WOW factor you need in a competition.  
Plus, this is my one chance to go SUPER artsy each year.  And this was just NOT screaming yes to me.

So I did another sketch and thought, "what if I make it more like an actual Cairn?"  
I personally LOVE stacked stones.  I am a total sucker for them.  They personify peace and serenity to me.  
So I sketched this

Now that was more like it.  But before I started on making more beads, I HAD to work out what I was going to do with the other necklace.  The gold crackle necklace needed ONE simple focal point, one divine special bead to stand alone.  

I sketched this, and planned to do one donut, with a heart shape hanging from one of my wild wire chokers.

Now it was feeling good.  I know these were both finally going in the right direction.  I spent so many days, so many hours, go over in my head about design, size, shape, composition......I spent time playing with beads I had and putting them next to each other, taking them apart.

I got to work on the Zen Cairn necklace first, since the carving takes FOREVER.  And to make a piece like this, you have to make 3x as many beads as you need to ensure you get just the right composition.

So I made a lot more beads, and put together this necklace, and then that one, and then that one......

The first one was too heavy, too similar in size and shape

This one was better, but still not quite there

then I made some more beads...................
and kept playing

That was more like it!!!!!

I still had more figuring to do -  because I had to work out the necklace portion.  I decided to just do large tribal glass seed beads in the same colors.  It needed to be subtle, yet, be able to support this massive necklace visually.  So I chose to do a double layer.  
The final result almost made me cry.  It was like giving birth, after all that work, and all those choices and changes.

This was IT.  My final design, ready for submission: Zen Cairn.
That bust display is 18" high....if that helps to give an idea of how huge this piece is.

Ok, then it was right back to the second necklace.  I honestly wasn't sure I'd get  second one done in time.

So, I had made some HUGE gold crackle donuts to choose from.  

Then I agonized over which color to paint them.  That was a tough one.  That took a whole evening!

Once I had enough beads done to play around with and create a few design options, I got to playing.

It was so hard to decide which layout I liked.  AND, once it got wired together, even if I had liked it before, I didn't like it any longer.

At one point, I even got so frustrated that I ditched my design and threw this guy together.

and then promptly ripped it back apart.

I had a wire graveyard to prove it too!

I finally wired up one of the layouts................

I thought this one was IT.  But after I wired it up, the whole thing changed.  The wire created too much space, and left it very undramatic.  And while it had a sort of barren tree, twig like feel I liked, it was NOT IT.  

Apart it came. 

 I tried attaching the second bead directly to the bottom of the donut, and then it looked too crowded.  It was just not working.

So I tried turning to this other gigantic donut I had made.  It was definitely the right size, and it went well with the wire choker, but I could NOT attach it in an manner that made it feel like ONE necklace instead of looking more like two parts.

It had NO FLOW.

So, I tore that apart too.  Then, I had a panic moment.  The moment when I realized that these pieces need to be 85% polymer clay!  I was going to use ribbon on the back.  A pendant was NOT enough polymer to submit.  

So I got back to the drawing board, and decided to make the wire choker go through the donut.  It was just what I needed to make the necklace more cohesive.  Finally, I was getting close.

I still had to work out that "more" polymer thing though.

So I got to making pieces of polymer for each of my sample necklaces.  I made "horns" to use on the ends of the wire, as the back of the piece.

It was like 2 days till deadline and I was up at midnight making MORE BEADS for these necklaces.  
Here are all the horns drying.  It looked like a scene from a scary forest or something!

So I finally got to it and began to assemble necklaces.  

Finally!  Now all I had to do was choose between these three necklaces!

That was also torture!

I really liked this one, but it was the first off the table.

So it was down to this one (which was NOT even originally on the map for the competition, but pulled in strong at the end!)

Here is a picture to show sizing of this necklace

And this one...................

It was extremely hard to pick.  However I went with the last one and named it Sunset Gold Rush.

Here were the final pics for it.

What a process! 

I love competition though.  Just like a marathon, it pushes us.  It stretches what we can already do, and we work really hard to finish strong!

I am happy to finally be able to share this post.  I was waiting to here if my pieces got accepted this year, and sure enough, they did!

I am so thankful all that hard work paid off.  I am sure I would have shed a tear after all that work, had they not been selected!

There is a reason I shared this long long post and process.

I hope that anyone who thinks that good designs just come naturally to some artists, can see here, that they certainly do not!  Know that all of us agonize over decisions.  We all have times when we just know something is off in a piece but can't quite figure it out.  I think at the end of the day, good designers are the ones who do tear it apart and do it again, until it feels right.  So, start a wire graveyard in your studio space!  Tear some things apart, and add components, or subtract some.  Sometimes you end up with a piece completely different then you started with, and that is OK as long as it feels right to you!

I also need to give a HUGE shout out to Jenny Davis-Reazor, Diana Ptaszynski and Marsha Neal for being my behind the scenes gals to run each of these decisions through!  They were the honest feedback I needed, as well as a fun sounding board as I lost my mind making these!  You guys rock and I love you !

Wish me luck again this year!  And, if you are going to Bead and Button, please snap a picture of them in the case for me!  Thanks!


  1. So loved this post, Staci, and thanks for sharing your process! It's refreshing to hear you have those types of moments too :). Best of luck with your entries - they are absolutely stunning!

  2. Thanks for your sharing! Your finished pieces are amazing. I'm glad i could see the long process for you

  3. Thank you for sharing the process you went through. They are amazing. Wishing you success in this competition.

  4. Thank you for sharing your throes of creation. It does feel like the art greats just push these out in one easy effort. Being able to go with you on your design and thought process was invaluable. Thank you Thank you! And I'll be waiting to hear about your wins!

  5. Thank you for sharing your throes of creation. It does feel like the art greats just push these out in one easy effort. Being able to go with you on your design and thought process was invaluable. Thank you Thank you! And I'll be waiting to hear about your wins!

  6. What beautiful work!! Thank you for sharing. It's nice to know others go through these struggles also. Do you have any tutorials? I really love the beads with the leafing on them. Good luck!

  7. What an awesome blog! Thank you for sharing your process! I struggle so with putting stuff together and then feel so incompetent when it doesn't work. Great to see it happens to the best! Inspiring!

  8. What an awesome blog! Thank you for sharing your process! I struggle so with putting stuff together and then feel so incompetent when it doesn't work. Great to see it happens to the best! Inspiring!