Spotlight: Sherry Serafini, Bead Embroidery Artist
Sherry Serafini is a bead embroidery artist without fear. If an object inspires her, even if it’s an unconventional choice for jewelry, she will create an elaborate design around it. She wants her students to be fearless, too, and find their own creative paths.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? How did you find beading? Or did beading find you?
My mother said when I was in kindergarten she received a phone call from my teacher. The teacher said to keep an eye on me as I was really interested in art. Instead of running on the playground during free moments I would run to the easels and paint. I feel that Art was not my choice, but my destiny.
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Beading found me in the 90’s. I’d always been fascinated by Native American beadwork and the way Egyptians created jewelry. But never thought about doing it myself. I was an illustrator when beading found me.
My mother had been in a car accident in 1997. We were bound to the hospital for months as she lay in a coma. I was juggling hours at the hospital trying to revive my mother and take care of two young daughters. I was losing my sanity fast. Then the glowing light of a bead shop down the road from the hospital showed itself to me. Walking in the shop I knew I had to buy something as it was intoxicating with all the components and beads!
I purchased my seed beads and Sadie Starr’s book. I was hooked. It was therapy that got me thru a very difficult time. I started to see past the book and the creative possibilities behind this new medium. I was still painting but now painting with beads. And I’ve never looked back; it’s still an adventure to me every time I sit down to create.
How do your design degree and interest in art history influence your work?
My interest in art history consistently influences me. Painting, sculpture, music, literature are something I get emotional about. And that “feeling” goes into my beadwork if that is where I’m at mentally. Art preserves what fact-based historical records cannot: how it felt to exist in a particular place at a particular time. My design degree was graphic design, and I minored in cartooning. Depending on where I am in life, I call upon all of these things. Sometimes combining all of the above.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser? Do you visualize your finished work before you start it?
I never “see” the final piece. It evolves from one or more focal points that interested me.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I’m told my color is something that draws people in closer to the work. I believe also that the “no fear” attitude of beading around anything and everything in a piece of jewelry. I love wooden armatures and use them often to give the work three dimensions. I’ve used rusted washers, bolts, a feather duster, etc. Currently I’m making some of my own components out of wood and paper. Nothing is out of reach! That is what has kept me so fascinated by bead embroidery.
What was the most challenging found object you have included in bead embroidery? Ever thought, “Nah, that’s too much”?
There isn’t a found object that I’ve turned down yet. I can honestly say the only time I’ve felt that way is when I created or rather tried to create an elaborate neckpiece with a “plan”. It was all drawn out on my foundation and all the stones in place. THAT was challenging. Too much planning is when I say “Nah, that’s too much”. For me it is stifling and somewhat a bore to follow a plan. It was never finished.
Some famous people wear your work. How about some name dropping? How did those connections come about? Any unusual requests? Right place at the right time? Lots of prayers?
A no fear attitude when it comes to being rejected if indeed they didn’t like my work? All of the above I’m sure. Meeting Steven was a crazy story. His photographer/roadie Noah saw me wearing a beaded neckpiece in the front rows at a concert. He approached me and said Steven would love it and invited me to meet him. (REALLY?! By this time I’m freaking out inside.) So backstage I went and met everyone associated with the band. Took orders for cuffs that night and a beaded belt for Steven. It was insane and somewhat surreal.
I kept in touch with the photographer so every time they came back to Pittsburgh we would connect. Steven Tyler started wearing my patches and bracelets on a regular basis. Steven was once photographed in Milan wearing my beadwork and it was mentioned in an article! Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas was doing a show where I had work in a gallery in Nemacolin. She bought a piece that was exhibited in the gallery. For Melissa Etheridge I had a piece sent backstage thru the promoter. Prayed she’d like it, never knowing as they get so many gifts and free items. But then I received a phone call from her and her partner requesting a website. I didn’t have one! So you can bet the next day I started working on that!
Steven still wears beaded patches. He has one on a bandana/headpiece that he wore in Vegas 2019, pre Covid. Melissa has cuffs, Fergie has two neckpieces. Lenny Kravitz has a bracelet.
The most unusual request from Aerosmith was to do their backstage pass designs using skulls and to do it in ten days. That was my deadline. Skull beads were NOT a big thing in Pittsburgh at that time so I drove 7 hours to get skulls in Philadelphia at the Beadfest which happened to be going on. THEN drove back and finished beaded art for their passes in record time. Zero sleep I must say. But this has been a fun ride. And now a total addiction to the use of skulls in art. I love them.
When did you realize that your art could sustain you financially as well as creatively?
When I had no choice but to rely upon it for income. A very ugly marriage forced me to go out on my own with two daughters to support. I was already teaching at a few local venues, but had no clue if beading could support me. I was so behind in my graphic design skills as a lot had changed since I graduated, so I decided to give myself the chance to completely depend upon my art.
Wing and a prayer? Yes, But life is short and unpredictable and you never know unless you give it a go. I just took a leap of faith and I’m still here. And very grateful every day that my God has allowed me to live my life doing what I love. This is also why I get such joy from sharing it with others.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I have a room that I bead in. Complete with a TV for my old movies that ramble as I work. At first view it is a train wreck. Like a tornado whipped across my table. I’m a Virgo and organized by nature. But when it comes to being creative everything spills out all over the place. It’s strange but it’s the only way I can “see” what I want to use in my art.
Organized chaos is the way I describe my work space. The coolest thing about my space is that I have surrounded myself with my others’ art. I collect and trade with fellow artisans. It makes me so happy to have pieces of my friends’ art with me daily.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Ask any of my students what I would say! E-6000! It fixes everything and is my go-to adhesive! From gluing down focals to making that one pearl stand still. And I insist on a good pointed sharp pair of scissors. When you’re cutting foundation or fabrics it is so important to have extremely sharp scissors for cutting deep corners and edges.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I love putting in old movies. I’m a huge Alfred Hitchcock and Bette Davis fan. I also love the Twilight Zone series. If I put in music it’s . . . yeah . . . everyone guesses it. Aerosmith. Love classic rock as well as classic movies. Music moves me to create.
When you travel, do you create while on planes and in waiting areas? What is in your creative travel kit?
I don’t have one. They would throw me out of the airport. I’m a horribly messy artist. I gather at airports. Gather inspiration from odd things in shops or maybe an image from a magazine. So in essence my mind is my travel kit.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
99% of the time a cabochon will tell me “do something with this”. It could be the color, the shape or the image involved.
I love utilizing others’ artwork with mine. Maku Studio, Lisa Peters Russ and Jean Christen are some of my favorite inspirations.
From that the colors pour out. I choose colors from that focal and from there just go. I like to start with a basic shape on my beading foundation. So I’ll create a pattern that works with the cabochon. I always draw the pattern on a piece of paper and then transfer it to the foundation. This however rarely stays the shape I’ve planned.
I like to say that I carve away pieces of foundation as I stitch molding around the elements that I am adding so it takes on a sculptural feel. Sometimes inspiration comes from an interesting pattern on fabric. I adore batik and use it as a backdrop on the foundation.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your latest title, Inspired Bead Embroidery?
While technique is essential, the most important part to me is to find your inner voice. Be happy with what you create because it comes from “you”. It’s so exciting to teach master classes and have students find themselves in their beaded art. While projects are in the book, it’s my hope that one learns from the project even one small thing that will enhance their own work. My book has a few odd components in it. If one doesn’t have that component… think… what could I use in its place that I like? What inspires me?
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I lecture and teach. I’ve done talks on color for various universities and art schools. I teach workshops at least six times a year. I can be reached thru my email [email protected]. That is the best way to reach me. I have my schedule on my website www.serafinibeadedjewelry.com, I’m always happy to answer questions anyone has regarding the art of beading.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
My website is pretty much for inspiration. I don’t sell anything there as everything is listed on Etsy. Right now Etsy has kits, but I’m hoping in the future to do a spin off site and have finished jewelry. It’s something I do on commission right now, but would love to have pieces available for those interested.
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?
Wow. There are so many! I’m intrigued and inspired by so many artists of various mediums. The first that came to mind was Leonardo DaVinci. He was mainly a painter. But liked to think of himself as an engineer and architect, which he also did with great passion. He was flamboyant and he was curious…yes, I would love to sit with him and talk.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I believe for the most part it comes naturally, but you can “learn” to hear your inner voice and be creative. I think it’s easier for people who are born with a crayon in their hands. Just my thoughts after teaching for so many years. I have people who just take off and others who are equally as creative but struggle to get it out. Did that make sense?
How can people overcome the challenges they feel to their creative ability?
Just quit questioning yourself! And don’t be afraid! If it isn’t working in your opinion, cut it up and make something else out of it! There are no rules in art and there is no right or wrong. There’s just art.
Interview posted September 2020
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