A Year in the Life of A Designer of the Year

I have to say that I will always look back on 2018 as the year that exceeded my expectations for a career I never really knew I wanted. 

When I first started making jewelry over a decade ago, it was a much needed creative outlet. I was working as a caseworker and I was miserable. When I decided to quit my job in 2006 and go work in a warehouse for a bead company I'd never even heard of, the course of my life changed forever. Not only did I get to be a jewelry designer for Auntie's Beads for several years, but I had my first pieces published in Beadwork and Step by Step Beads magazines. I dreamed of one day jumping out from those glossy pages and onto the cover. I had dreams of my work being in stores and my name being well-known in the beading community. After taking a break or two (once even swearing I would never bead again), 2018 is the year that things really started to happen for me.

Around the time my Tucson Vista project was featured on the August/September 2017 cover of Beadwork, I received an email from the editor of the magazine. I was a candidate for Designer of the Year. She asked if I could commit to publishing one project per issue for the entirety of 2018 and if could submit a few new pieces for them to consider. My response? Um... yes, please and done! I turned 40 around that time. What better gift to receive than to find out that a) my work was finally on the cover and b) I was going to be a DESIGNER OF THE YEAR!

Here's a look back at the six pieces I submitted for that prestigious honor - with a few stories about the inspiration (and the struggles) behind each piece.

February/March 2018

This is the issue where the Designers of the Year were announced and my piece was on the cover! To be honest, my Moroccan Moonlight necklace was sort of a happy accident. I had a donut pendant sitting on my work table with a rivoli sitting in the center. I had long been contemplating how to make that rivoli stay there. At the same time, I had bought crescent beads because I had seen a cool pattern where someone made a floral bracelet using them and I wanted to put my own spin on it. Somehow, I got the idea to use those beads to create netting around the rivolis and embellish the gemstone pendant. This project was a struggle. I must have worked on this pattern for at least a day to get everything to lay just right. A unique necklace, to be sure, but I wasn't sure how it was going to be received. I'm happy to report various versions of it have sold well for me at craft shows and festivals - and the editors loved it enough to put it on the cover, so there's that.

April/May 2018

Oh, the Mirror Image bracelet... I think I can honestly say this is a bracelet I loved more in theory than in practice. When I got the honeycomb beads in these rich jewel tones, I couldn't decide how I wanted the colors to fade and which color I wanted to dominate the center of the bracelet. So I made a simple version and told the editors I planned on making it reversible so the colors created a mirror image of one another on each side of the bracelet. That was more challenging than it seemed. I had to stitch each row horizontally and then stitch those rows together. It took FOREVER. I have the original version of this bracelet in a shadowbox in my office because I know I will never make it the way it was featured in the magazine again. Now, I create a piece that isn't reversible. I stitch it in a netting pattern down the center and up the sides. It's been a fan favorite at shows and festivals in my area and my new process is a lot easier than the original. I plan on adding my version in PDF and kit form to my website soon.

June/July 2018

I don't like to play favorites with my jewelry, but the Sedona Sunset bracelet is a piece that really wows me. Originally, I had a bib-style necklace in mind; I wanted to create something that had the Tucson Vista showstopper factor but with a different, more earthy vibe. Try as I might, I couldn't get the "conchos" to lay in the decreased V-shape I saw in my mind's eye. So a bracelet was born instead. Because I had once grown tired of more traditional seed beads and more traditional beadweaving practices, I drew on my love of two-needle circular peyote with a little bit of embellishment and a dash of unconventional materials to create this cuff-like piece. It remains one of my favorites and I actually used it to apply to a prestigious art festival (I got in, but more on that later). I feel like this piece - more than any of my other Designer of the Year projects - really embodies my style and aesthetic. And although it is not quite on the same "showstopper" level as the Tucson Vista piece, it is a conversation starter wherever it goes.

August/September 2018

My Desert Mirage bracelet took shape in my mind long before it ever played out on the bead mat. I had been making my Fan Girl Earrings for years. They sell really well for me, so I usually do an assembly line style production process for replenishing stock when I'm running low. I kept seeing them on my bead mat and thinking how cool it would be to create an ebb and flow style bracelet using that fan shape. The problem came when I refused to think differently about how I was constructing the bracelet. I kept making fans and trying to stitch them together. (If you haven't noticed by now, I am one of those crazy beadweavers who likes to stitch everything in smaller components and then stitch all of the components together later. It's often the only way I can see the shape of things and ensure that I'm getting the look I want.) I literally had to walk away from this project for a day or two - and ask for a deadline extension - because I couldn't get the pieces to come together without weird gaps and it just looked, well, wonky. I woke up one morning and realized the flaw hadn't been in the idea of the design, but in the implementation. Once I realized I had to stitch this bracelet in a more continuous method, it was really quick and easy. I actually look forward to making more of these in different color combos and selling them at art shows this year.

October/November 2018

The Candied Lace bracelet project was an interesting one for me. It was my first time ever working with Czech glass candy beads and I wanted to do something structured yet with depth and dimension. This project, much like the Moroccan Moonlight necklace, was one where getting the netting technique just right was a little bit of a challenge, but I felt like the project came out the way I envisioned. As I was working on it, I started to see different projects emerging. I think the wider portions of the bracelet would make excellent statement rings and possibly even earrings, for example. This is definitely a pattern I plan to play around with a bit more to see how certain sections of it can be used to create something else entirely.

December 2018/January 2019

My final Designer of the Year project is actually one I submitted in 2017 and it was rejected by the editorial staff. Well, let me correct myself: I submitted a very boring version of it. When I asked the editors if I could expound on my original idea and resubmit something more fabulous, they gave me a shot. I am really proud of this project, called the Ombre Tailfeathers bracelet. One of the first things I did when I started playing with SuperDuos was create a bracelet using my favorite stitch, the right angle weave. I made a grid-like base and embellished it with 11/0 seed beads. Boring. Because I love metallics, I then added some round metal beads between the spaces in the grid. That's the version I originally submitted. It was matte gold with gunmetal beads. Again, boring. So I thought, why not play with color in a really fun way? When I first created the Tucson Vista necklace, I actually wanted the colors to be a bit cooler and more reminiscent of a peacock's feathers. Since I went in another direction with that color palette, I decided to give it a go in this project. I literally ordered every Swarovski bicone I could find in shades of blue and green. Then, I busted out some 3x3 right angle weave graph paper and some markers and filled in the color details so they would fade from the darkest blue out to the lightest green. I have to say, this bracelet is one that you have to see in person. The sparkle and shine and attention to color details is pretty impressive, if I do say so myself. Much MUCH better than the boring original (which I still have, by the way).

So that's it. That's what my beading adventures brought me in 2018. It was a whirlwind of deadlines and art shows and it went by sooooo fast. I'm really proud of the work that I did for Beadwork magazine and I hope I made them proud as well. This experience opened a lot of doors for me and gave me a lot of confidence to move forward in my career. I have one more project in the February/March 2019 issue of Beadwork and then I am putting magazine work on hold for a bit because I have some really big stuff going on in 2019. What kind of stuff? Well, I'll tell you!

For one, I was selected to be a part of the 2019 TrendSetters team at Starman beads. This means I will be doing design work for one of the leading innovators, manufacturers, and distributors in the Czech glass bead industry. I will get to see prototypes of beads and create original designs with them; my designs may be featured online, in bead stores, and possibly even in international ad campaigns.

I also applied - and was accepted - to Fort Worth Main Street Arts Festival to be held in April of 2019. This festival is one of the top 5 juried fine arts events in the Untied States. It is highly competitive (only 220 out of over 1200 artists were accepted this year) and it has long been a dream of mine to bring my beadwork to this particular event, since it is local and I have been an attendee for about 20 years now. I am VERY excited about this opportunity and will be preparing for it like crazy, coming up with new designs and displaying some of my all-time favorites.

In the meantime, I will be teaching classes and working on my website and enjoying this career that often doesn't even feel like work. I have enjoyed a two-week hiatus while my son is out of school, but the beads are calling my name...

Happy New Year to everyone - and cheers to a wonderful 2019!