Friday, August 28, 2009

About that Bandwagon, aka Caution - Discomfort Zone Ahead, aka Am I Repeating Myself?

There are three themes for today's post.

Part One: About That Bandwagon...

In my bead making I try not to jump on every bandwagon that passes by. I am surely not up on all the new glass colors, and I don't know that I've ever made a bead for a Pandora bracelet. OK, well maybe one or two. I try to do something unique that will help my work stand apart from the rest. That said, look what I just made! Disc beads!
Yeah, yeah, discs are nothing new and lots of beadmakers have been making them for some time. Not me, so much (that bandwagon thing I mentioned before). People like Kerry Bogert are using them in fun projects like cocktail rings, and Sara LaGrand is using the concept to make some of the most artful jewelry I've ever seen.

I had played around with the disc style for a tiny bit but just lacked the skill and motivation to really make them work for me, until...

Part Two: Caution - Discomfort Zone Ahead

A visitor to my booth at a local art show recently contacted me to inquire if I could make some custom disc beads for her in several specific color combinations. I squirmed as I read the email. She had called them "flat beads", but I knew what she wanted even before opening the attached photos. It struck fear in my heart.

For some reason (lack of recent orders in my Etsy shop, maybe?) I decided to plunge ahead and immerse myself in something I wasn't quite comfortable with. Many other artists have found that this is one way to bring out your creativity, but it's also a way to confront your fears.

What if they're all wonky (<- that's the voice inside my head)? What if she doesn't like them (Brain: "offer her prototypes first before committing either party to a big order")? What if, what if... Once my discomfort (ha! That was too easy) was sitting in the back seat where it belonged, I was free to explore this new technique. The last thing that many (actually most) artists want to do is execute someone else's vision for their work, but sometimes those ideas can be just the thing to propel you forward in a new direction.

The bottom line for this part is that I think the experience of being open to a new idea, to at least consider something outside of what you know you do best, is healthy, and I'm very glad I did it.

Part Three: Am I Repeating Myself?

If you read the beadmaking forums at all, you already know that ppp (practice, practice, practice) is what it takes to become a better beadmaker. Of course, who doesn't realize that? But have you really thought about how you're practicing? What I mean is, what kinds of lessons are you learning in your ppp sessions? How many attempts at a particular style do you make before you feel accomplished at it?

What I've found recently is that a concentrated experience with one and only one type of beads is very helpful to my learning process. I used to think that after making something a handful of times I could generally feel proficient in it, but I was wrong. It's only after making forty, fifty, or sixty of one type of bead (e.g. Meanies, Tortugas) that I now feel I can really master the specific techniques used in the bead.


Playa Tortuga.

The things I'm learning are perhaps the tiniest of details, but several of those add up to something worth knowing. What I'll do is limit my choice of colors (to focus on other parts of the technique), and make several beads that have little "twists" on the general approach. I'll try making a smaller footprint with the glass in a pressed bead, I'll put dots on upside down so that gravity will help center them as I burn off the rod, or I'll try a different raking technique. After the 10th or 20th bead I'll discover that the slightest change in the mandrel's orientation or amount of heat I apply will make the bead look entirely differently. And when I look at my the progression in a style over time, the learning is apparent.

What do I mean by a concentrated experience? Well, I'll sit and make virtually nothing but that type of bead for one, two, or several multi-hour sessions. Yeah, you may get sick of it and just have to take a break with another style, but I've been amazed at how deeply I get to know the style of bead I'm working on.

So, to make a long story even longer, since I've made the prototype disc beads for my custom order, I've really gotten to love this style, and can't stop making them! I'm not aiming to make it my signature style or anything, but they sure are fun.

What makes you uncomfortable, and what have you done to stare that discomfort in the face?


mairedodd said...

gaining proficiency can be such a challenge, sticking with something that makes you uncomfortable... fear is one of my stalkers and i need to meet it face-to-face which i am often not wanting to do ... i really admire those artists working from the ground up - glass makers, ceramicists, metal smiths... i was learning how to throw pots and the woman told me that she went to israel to learn... the head of the studio set her to the task of creating 100 identical bowls... my head reeled for her... on a tiny level of what you are doing, i am beginning to work with metals, like metal stamping, and it is requiring practice because it cannot be undone - double strikes, too light an impression, etc... eleanor roosevelt said, 'you should do one thing that scares you every day.' YOU have done a beautiful job with the discs... and i thank you for sharing this, because while i know you are a human being, my head just assumes that anyone that can make those meanies and tortugas can do anything! and you can - you just need to believe it...

Mermaid Glass said...

I feel used to feel the same way about disc beads and sometimes I still do. They're hard to make and you're somewhat limited in design options.(Unless a brilliant jewelry designer gets a hand on them, of course!)

I make them for one reason. It helps me slow down. I'm the Evelyn Wood of beadmaking and discs force me to be patient and concentrate on technique. They also challenge me to take a limited idea - a narrow, flat palette that could break loose from the mandrel on a whim - and try to make something unique or interesting with it.

Keep having fun with your discs!

Patty said...

Maire, thanks for the confidence boost! I *will* tame those discs!

Patty said...

Laurie, Evelyn Wood, really? That mental image cracked me up. But when I think about it, you're right - you really can't rush the disc.

I was also thinking that so much of beadmaking requires *mindfulness* - you have to be in the moment taking in all of the information the glass is giving you. If you're present, it will tell you when it's been out of the heat too long, and the instant that it's gone lopsided.

I think that some kind of "mindfulness training" (that's meditation, right?) would likely improve anyone's beadmaking.

WillowWalker said...

I just had to comment on part three about repeating techniques to really learn something and get it down pat.
I had just noticed that very thing today as I was wire wrapping my twentieth odd pair of "lil" cab earrings. I now have a method that saves anywhere from 2-4 inches of wire per pair and and I've finally got the bending down pat for this particular style so it does what I want it to every single time! So I'm really glad I decided to make up a pair of every color in gold and silver.

Patty said...

Willow - you made a good point that ppp is also great for making your processes more efficient.

lomaprietapottery said...

Probably won't surprise you, but seeing improvement after making something repetitively as well as being able to make it more efficiently applies to pottery as well.

I often find that by taking a longish break between repetitive sessions, the second (or third or fourth ) session is an order of magnitude easier.

rosebud101 said...

Patty, I love your discs. You may not think you've mastered them, but I would disagree. I think you have!


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