A third-generation bead artist, Beth Stone thrives on challenges – on visualizing a new piece, then engineering how to make beads of various shapes and sizes work together to build her vision in three dimensions. But she remains open to the “what-ifs”, embracing the opportunity to improvise along the way. Beth makes – and teaches how to make – beaded jewelry that is wearable every day.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I have always known I am a creative. I’m always thinking. I’m always creating and imagining in my head.
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And I’m a fixer, a tinkerer, and a brainstormer. I can find problems to solutions (yes, I said that right). When I create, I engineer things. I can see things in my head that others may not be able to see. And, not to brag, but I can put together a Halloween costume with only 15 minutes notice, while walking out the door. But I digress.
As a third generation beader, I was born with seed beads in my hand. It was only natural that I play with my mom’s and Nana’s beads. My first memory of stitching with beads was when I was about 7 or 8 years old. It was a daisy chain. My hands are always creating something, even if it’s just folding a piece of paper or bending and unbending a paper clip. I wasn’t supposed to be JUST an artist.
I planned to be a pharmacist, but a required reading book in pharmacy school turned me 180 degrees away the industry, and while I am not saving the world medically, I inspire other artists, which I like to think adds more beauty to this world. I like and take pride in the choice I made. My work, my bead preferences, and my focus are ALWAYS evolving and changing. The funny thing about my evolving beadwork is that I have learned that as much as I would love to re-create some of my older work, I’ve found that I can’t always go backwards.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
I don’t remember the exact moment I realized I was a creative person, because I’ve always been creative in some way. Perhaps it was when I played with a bead loom when I was little, or taught my friends how to make daisy chains at camp when I was nine (and had to make my own needles), or when I twisted colorful electrical wire (that my dad gave me) into rings.
I’ve had a lot of creative moments throughout my life. I’ve come to realize that I do my best work (and thinking) when I’m under a deadline. People come to me often to help people with their creative needs. Always the decorations chairperson for organizations I volunteered for, I made video montages for parties, and for a while I played around with graphic design.
Much of my work is intuitive. Beading, thread paths, beaded structures and the like make sense and come naturally to me. I try not to think too much about what I’m going to make. I let my hands and heart lead the way.
Why did you choose beading to express your creativity?
I didn’t choose beads, beads chose me.
As a third generation beader (my mom and Nana made beaded French flowers before I was born) there were always boxes filled with beads, wire, flower tape, etc. on their work tables. The beads just called out to me and I answered.
My sister, however, had no interest, so it meant more beads for me! There is something about tubes, and bags, and hanks of beads that make me so happy! I can’t explain why, but if you like beads, too, you probably understand.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I love to play with traditional techniques to figure out interesting variations and I’m proud to say that along the way, I have created/discovered some new techniques. I think my signature is in my color choices, my use of textures and bead combinations, but because I don’t see my work as others may see it, I asked three bead friends what they see as my signature, and this is what they said:
From Judy:“I can recognize your work by the unique color combinations and the texture that you create. I love the different beads that you use in your designs. I also love that you can wear your designs in every day life.”
From Nancy: “You are known for looking for things in a different way, for always thinking, ‘what if?’ You blend different weaves and try weaves in sizes or shapes no one has explored. All of that adds up to [you being an] explorer….”
And from Alice:“I can spot your work and color choices anywhere. You tend to lean towards matte or special coated beads. You make even simple patterns…look classy just because of your patterns and color choices. And you have an eye for what makes your piece ‘work.’ Your work is a reflection of you, and…I can feel you expressed in your work. You are a down to earth classy lady without being pretentious and so is your work.”
Their kindness touched me. I love to create, and I love to teach.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, including Bead Play Every Day?
PLAY! Just play. Don’t be afraid to work a stitch a little differently. The worst thing that could happen is that you take it all apart (or throw it in a box like I do).
Although I have made hundreds of finished pieces, and written dozens of instructions, I prefer to teach techniques. Here’s the thing….if I teach a project, you will make that project, and that’s great, but if I teach you five techniques, you will be able to use them in so many different ways and combinations to create your own work of art.
I want to teach beaders how to find their own beading voice. I encourage beaders to use colors and color combinations that they like, which is part of the reason I don’t usually list specific colors that I use. When asked why, I usually say, “When I sit down to play, my intention is not to write instructions, but if at some point I do decide to write instructions, the beads I used are no longer right next to me.”
Some beaders specialize in a particular stitch and its variations. You use a number of different stitches in your work. What prompts you to choose one stitch over another?
Honestly, boredom. Although I do make pieces using a single stitch, I have a need to “play” by changing the beads as I go along. No pre-planning, just a spontaneous bead or color change.
My third book, Bead Play Every Day, actually started as a self-published book called Bead, Play, and Love. It was born from a piece I created that incorporated several stitches in one rope. I began with one stitch and when I needed a change after a few rows, I switched to a different bead and a different stitch.
If I do make a single-technique piece, I like to add some type of textural embellishment, to give it a little oomph. But not every piece works out for me. I have boxes of a lot of trials and errors to prove it. I choose a stitch based on what I want to make. So I went though phases of flat work, and then rope work. A lot of my current work showcases ropes of several different techniques. I also do some stringing, which was another phase I went through in order to use some of my extensive vintage glass collection. Oh, and I can’t forget my freshwater pearls phase. That collection is pretty extensive, too. I had better move on or I will start listing every bead I’ve ever played with!
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
Colors and textures are a big inspiration for me. I am a Pinterest junkie. I go down that rabbit hole looking for ideas for plant-based recipes, and while I am there, all sorts of things that might inspire some type of beadwork will pop up.
In addition to colors and textures, I like to click on (and save) microscopic images, fabrics, abstract paintings, and metal work. Sometimes door pictures can look like bracelet designs, so I save a lot of those images, too. I don’t look at much seed bead work, but there are a few artists whose work intrigues me. I think it’s fun to try to recreate in seed beads something I see that is not beadwork. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
Easy. I’m an improviser! I get an idea, sit at my desk and just start playing with something that is right next to me or within reach. When bored, I change beads, and/or colors, and/or sizes. Or I add a texture.
I do a lot of (and teach a lot of) “what will happen if?” I have a notebook just in case I get an idea I want to come back to, but I don’t know where it is. My ideas are pretty spontaneous. If I get an idea, I want to try it right away. If I get an idea that causes me to start searching for something, I’ll get several more ideas during said search, and may never get back to my original idea. Squirrel! (I’m easily distracted.)
Are you a “finisher”? How many UFOs do you think you have?
It depends. I have a short attention span, so I try to stitch things that I can finish in a short time. If it takes too long, I may get bored and abandon it, although I’ve gotten a little better at coming back to finish what I start. I don’t have any UFO’s right now, but I do have boxes of experiments. Oh, actually, I might have a box someplace with a necklace I never finished. So, one UFO.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I do have a designated space for beading. Right now there are several tubes of beads, several spools of thread, my most recent experiment, loose beads in a dish, and stacked boxes. Organization feels good, but I don’t make time for it very often.
Note: while helping me edit these questions, my daughter said, “tell them about your dream space”. So if I may add, my dream space would be an entire room with a long gathering table to bead with friends (or teach), with walls filled with beads, shelves filled with finished work, and drawers filled with more beads, findings, and supplies. And perhaps a little corner for my painting supplies. Sounds like a bead store, right?
What is your favorite storage tip for your beading supplies?
It depends what I’m storing. When I was little, I used anything that would contain the beads – jars, plastic card boxes, little bottles, tackle boxes – whatever I could find. (I have a small bead collection I inherited from my late aunt. I love the old vintage medicine bottles and containers).
As I got older, my storage needs changed as my bead collection expanded. I use different containers for vintage glass beads than I do for seed beads. I have stacking drawer containers (big and small), as well as a lot of clear plastic boxes with dividers. And much of what I have is stored in plastic little bags. If I had a bigger space, I would create ways to be able to see most everything I have, but part of the fun is digging into boxes to find things I thought I couldn’t live without but then forgot about.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
When I find a tool or materials I like, I tend to stick to them. I stitch with black wildfire (.008 or .006), and John James #12 beading needles. A scissor shaped tweezer flattens the end of the Wildfire thread so that it slides easily into the needle. I was recently gifted with a large tool collection of flat nose, round nose, cutters, crimpers, bead reamers, tweezers, etc. I use them all.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I have a sketchbook somewhere, but I think I have one thing written in it. I’m pretty spontaneous about my work. If I get an idea, I like to sit down and try it. If I see something that inspires me, I might take a picture, but as far as pre-planning or drawing my ideas, that’s not something I do.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I wrote all three of my books, as well as other instructions/tutorials listening to 70’s folk music. It’s the only music that doesn’t distract me while I’m writing. Sometimes I bead in silence, and sometimes I bead with the TV on, but that’s at night and usually ends with my husband snoring, which is not very conducive to beading.
How many projects do you have going at once? Or do you focus on one creative project at a time?
So much of my work is experimentation. I get an idea and create a sample that I may or may not come back to. It’s not an actual project. Sometimes I will stitch something mindless while watching tv or talking on the phone to keep my hands busy, and I may keep that piece going for a few days. If an idea makes it out of the experimental phase, and it requires a lot of focus, then it’s usually the only project I’m working on.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think creativity definitely comes naturally to people, but creativity isn’t the same for everyone. For instance, I can paint abstract pieces. I cannot paint people or landscapes, even if I watch a thousand videos or take a hundred classes. My portraits would still look like stick figures, and my landscapes would still look like they did when I was five. I don’t have that artistic ability.
But I can easily stitch with beads. I can “see” what others may not. If you want to be creative, find what gives you joy and explore that. Try new things, sure, but lose yourself in what you love.
How do you get unstuck creatively?
I meditate, I visualize, I manifest, I talk to the universe, I walk away from my beads for a while and hope they call me back.
I want my work to flow naturally from my heart and my hands. My head gets me through technical/structural frustrations, but if I force my work, it looks forced. I took an almost yearlong break recently. My beads didn’t even look inviting. I didn’t have that nervous/excited feeling about beadwork, and I thought that I might be done. And then one day, I felt like making something. I’m not sure what inspired that moment, but through baby steps, I found my beading enthusiasm again! I think all artists go through these phases. As a diversion, I started playing in the kitchen creating and experimenting with plant-based recipes. It filled my time and I could be creative in a very different way.
Where can people see your work?
I’ve written three books about stitching with seed beads. My first book, Seed Bead Stitching, and my third book, Bead Play Every Day, are available in print or in digital format. My second book, More Seed Bead Stitching, is available in digital format. You can see more of my work on:-Etsy, where I sell my tutorials, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and Facebook group. I plan to start selling my finished work again in my Etsy shop. Stay tuned.
You didn’t ask, but here’s a fun fact: I LOVE to build IKEA furniture!
Interview posted January 2021
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