Spotlight: Laura Lee Ullrich, Bead Artist
Who knew that a self-taught bead artist could create such intricate work? With no beading classes nearby, Laura Lee Ullrich picked a project she loved from a magazine and has never looked back. But now, she creates her own original designs realized in bead embroidered wearable art.
How long have you been creating bead embroidered art?
I began beading after I sold my store in 2013. I could not find anyone to teach me to bead, which is something I had always wanted to try, so I ended up dumb-heading my way through and taught myself.
How did you get started?
I bought a beading magazine and picked the hardest piece out of it and began trying to follow directions. It was like a foreign language to me. I did finish the piece, but still really had no idea what I was doing. So I read everything I could and began trying things. Then I saw a native American woman at a basketball game and admired her earrings. I asked if she had made them, and, if so, what did she use as a foundation to sew the beads on to. She said stiff Pellon. Eureka! I was off to the races!
What inspires you?
I am a 4th generation Montana ranch woman with a passion for all things beautiful and historical. As a bead artist, I pay little attention to current trends but concentrate on creating timeless pieces of wearable art. Each creation is an original. I use natural stones from the earth as focal points and then begin to build a story around it with beads and special elements. I always embed a small antique in the beaded story to give it a connection to the past, (a solid foundation to its timeless quality). Colorful beads are sewn on one bead at a time and stitched into the tapestries that become necklaces, collars, and bracelets.
All of the jewelry that I make is true to my rich Montana heritage and my desire to make “Tomorrow’s Heirlooms”. I am a self- taught bead embroidery artist. Therefore, my work may not seem traditional. The result is original, unpredictable, and always true to my vision. I am inspired by our beautiful Montana landscape and the antiquities that surround me on our ranch. My dream is that my bead art will be worn by many and passed down to their heirs who will treasure it for generations to come.
Are there recurring themes in your work? How does that affect your approach?
Yes, I have lots of western inspired pieces as I live on a Montana ranch and am surrounded with it’s beauty and authenticity. I probably couldn’t make anything funky if I tried. Adding a small antique to every piece gives the piece an old soul, so to speak. It may be an abandoned old clip earring, or a forgotten medal or even a bridle rosette or coin.
Do you think that creativity is part of human nature or is it something that must be nurtured and learned?
I do think creativity is inside your soul from the time you were born. All of the women in my family were strong, creative, talented women, so I think there is a genetic component. I was raised by a woman who taught me that I could do absolutely anything I wanted to do if I was willing to work hard and had patience. That meant everything from climbing mountains to sewing without a pattern to remodeling a home or producing a musical.
I think it is important to nurture creativity as well. Every day I need to create something. It is what makes my heart sing!
What do you learn about who you are through your creative endeavors?
I have learned so much about myself. First, I have discovered my inner peace. I have found that I can change the world by the stories in my beaded creations. I have learned that I am much better at selling someone else’s work than I am at selling my own! The quote from my father resonates, “Don’t toot your own horn!”
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be and what would you hope to learn?
I would love to just talk to my Mom again. She was a wealth of knowledge and I took it for granted until after she passed. So many times I wish I could call her for advice on how to do something. I know she would be proud of the work that I have created.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced as an artist?
I think, for me, the biggest challenge has been my location. Because I am miles away from most shows, it requires 2 days driving just to get there. Finding the right shows is also a challenge. My work is expensive, so I need the right demographics to sell. I am learning more each and every show about marketing.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
The best piece of advice that I received came from my mentor Michael Blessing in the Montana Artrepreneurs program I enrolled in. He taught me how to figure pricing and to always stay true to that formula. He also got me into the habit of logging studio time and expenses.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating?
Yes, I have a large room in our basement as a studio that has a large L-shaped table desk where I bead. Next to it is a huge closet that holds a lot of my supplies. The table also has stacked drawers for beads and findings. Then I have mannequins and jewelry busts around to try on the finished pieces and a small portable photography area. I have TV, computer and Bose radio so I can have music or noise if I prefer.
What does it look like?
Really, it looks like an organized chaotic experiment!
Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio, and how do they improve your work?
Yes the tools I use that I could not be without are: good jewelry pliers and crimpers of all kinds, Gingher embroidery scissors, E6000 glue, Ultrasuede, John James beading needles, a light table, and excellent LED lighting. They are all essential to completing a quality product.
What is your favorite storage tip for your creative supplies?
I use lots of stacking plastic drawers and trays that fit into a case so I can remove only the tray I want. I sort beads by color so I can find what I need. In addition, I have a rolling case that holds 10 velvet trays to carry my jewelry to shows.
How do you make time for creating? Do you try to create daily?
I do all of my housework, gardening, laundry and bookwork in the morning. We eat our “big” meal at noon and as soon as the dishes are done, I am in the studio at least 5 days a week (never on Sunday).
How many projects do you have going at once, or do you prefer to work on one creative project at a time?
I usually work on one project at a time; however, I may design several at one time. If I feel particularly inspired I may design 6-8 pieces at a time and begin choosing stones and a color palette for each one. I keep them in plastic sandwich boxes until I need them.
When you begin to create, do you have a finished product in mind, or does the work evolve?
Both. Sometimes I can picture the finished project, but sometimes it takes a different road as I go along. So I remain flexible to changes and new approaches.
How do you seek out opportunities?
I use a company called Zapplications to find quality shows and try to match what I need with what they have to offer. I also ask other artists for ideas and suggestions about their favorite shows.
Where can people see your work?
My schedule this summer into fall is: July 18 Cheyenne Frontier Days Museum Western Art Show, Cheyenne Wy; July 26-28 Ruidoso Art Festival, Ruidoso, NM; September Billings Art Walk, Billings, MT; October 11-13 Sedona Art Show, Sedona, AZ, I also have a Facebook page, Coppermoon Bead Artistry and my website is coppermoonbeadartistry.com .
Do you lecture or teach workshops?
I do teach workshops in the area. I am interested in growing this part of my business.
How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
You can reach me at Copper Moon Bead Artistry, PO Box 152, Broadus, MT 59317 or by email, firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on facebook.
What’s next on your creative horizon?
I have so many ideas I cannot wait to try. I would like to try some beaded clothing and accessories such as purses and hats. My top goal is to be in the Smithsonian Craft show one day.
Browse through more beading projects and inspiration on Create Whimsy.