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Battle of the Beadsmith 2015


In the three years that I’ve taken part in Battle of the Beadsmith, I’ve established two personal traditions: a battle blog written just after my piece has been revealed and an exit in round 1. So, this blog upholds the first of these two traditions and I expect to continue the second when voting takes place later on this week!

Battle of the Beadsmith and Controversy

If any of you reading this have followed my Battle exploits in previous years, I think it’s fair to say that I usually manage to create a piece that turns into a talking point or elicits strong opinions from people. When I was beading my entry this year, I really thought I had created something less controversial (I think I even said as much in the blog I wrote whilst I was beading), but I seem to have created more controversy than ever…a little to my surprise I have to confess! The controversy arose because I have created a piece that is comprised of five components that can be assembled into a lot of different pieces of jewellery. Any of you who remember last year’s entry, ‘In Flanders Field‘, may be thinking this sounds a little familiar. You may also remember the controversy surrounding last year’s piece focused on the number of skulls I had chosen to use. I said at the time that this had caused me to reflect and I wasn’t entirely happy with the design choices I had made. I guess this has been niggling at me and this year’s Battle of the Beadsmith gave me another opportunity to play with and maybe improve upon the idea.

So this year I have avoided skulls (!) and aimed to create a piece of beaded jewellery that is Battle of the Beadsmithflexible, well-designed, wearable and pleasing to the eye. I named my piece ‘Chameleon’ because of its flexibility. It comprises five separate elements, all of which can be connected together using beaded clasps. The elements are in a black and orange colour scheme which I designed so that they could be combined into a piece of black and orange jewellery, or various pieces of black or orange. The controversy has arisen because I elected to show the separate elements of the jewellery in my round one photo, rather than the single piece. A fellow battler suggested that I had broken the rules (create a single piece of wearable beadwork) and that ‘Chameleon’ should not have been entered into the battle. In my description, I also made mention that the idea of Parure jewellery had inspired this piece. This same lady also took exception to that notion. For me, the main point of entering Battle of the Beadsmith is to challenge my artistic boundaries and enjoy doing so. The least pleasurable part of the process is having those efforts then submitted to the scrutiny of others. I am incredibly grateful to all the people over the years who have supported my work, encouraged my ideas and paid compliments to my designs. More so than ever this year, I would like to thank all those who have defended my piece publicly. I am sure it is going to be voted out by those who think I have infringed the rules and that’s fine: my opponent’s necklace is beautiful. I also accept that I made an error of judgment in deciding to save the photo which shows all five elements in a single piece of jewellery for a later round. In the first round I wanted to include a mix of photos to show both the jewellery and the details of the elements. I will be revealing all the photos as soon as ‘Chameleon’ has been knocked out and you will be able to find them here.

Battle of the Beadsmith 2015 Design

For now, the four first round photos here show ‘Chameleon’ as it can be worn as a rope necklace and belt, or in three different length necklaces, plus details of the focal section and the two back

battle of the beadsmith
‘Chameleon’ focal section

ropes. The piece is made from five different sections that can be combined in different ways to create over sixty different combinations for different outfits. You can literally change your jewellery around as you are wearing it, just as a chameleon changes its colour to blend in with its surroundings. You can choose from three colour combinations: all black, all orange or black and orange mix. You can wear the entire ensemble as a rope length necklace with belt. Or mix and match different elements to create a range of necklaces: opera length, choker or princess. Each section has a beaded clasp on either end, allowing it be linked with other sections or, in some cases, worn alone. The five sections comprise: 1) focal section that is made from seven decorative elements, all of which will flip over to display in either orange or black, so these can be changed around whilst the jewellery is being worn. 2 & 3) Two short ropes sit across the back of the design: one in orange and one in black. These can be used to create the choker length necklace in combination with the focal section. 4 & 5) These are two three-strand sections – one in orange and one in black – that can be worn on their own as a princess necklace or combined with the back rope to create an opera length necklace or the belt. The full length rope combines a back rope section with the side focal and a three-strand section to create the drapes. I would describe this as the ultimate in Parure jewellery (aka, a lot of fun to design and make, but an absolute nightmare to photograph!).

For those of you who don’t know, traditional Parure jewellery comprises a single piece that can be worn as one, or split into a bracelet, necklace and earrings – typically. There are some amazingly beautiful pieces of this style of jewellery that have been created by top jewellery designers. I love the idea of a single entity being split into multiple parts that will work just as well alone as they do when combined. This is the idea that I took and to which I have given a modern twist. You will also see ‘Chameleon’ can be split into the traditional three parts in a single ensemble, but in this case, those three parts are a necklace, belt and anklet – another photo option that I had elected to reveal in a later round.

In terms of the process, this year was all about relaxation for me. It offered the chance to bead for enjoyment rather than working to a magazine deadline. So I chose to use it as an opportunity to work with some stitches that I really love (tubular twisted herringbone for the draped ropes, my trademark Peyote clasps and layered netting for the back ropes). It also let me experiment with some newer beads, including Dome beads, Tipp beads, O beads and Superduos. So I absolutely loved the process of making ‘Chameleon’ and I was genuinely sorry to finish it – I could have gone on and on with this!

Battle of the Beadsmith Reflections

Every competition is difficult, not because of the standard of beading that is required so much as

Battle of the Beadsmith
‘Chameleon’ back rope sections

the courage required to enter it. Anyone who enters any beading competition is going to be putting their best work into their efforts and pouring themselves into the process. It takes a lot of courage to then put that work in front of someone else to have it judged. It takes a lot of mental strength to accept that judgment and move on. If the judgment is favourable and you reach the finals or win a competition, you have set yourself a standard to maintain in future competitions and that can be hard to do. The euphoria of winning can quickly pass as the next competition or challenge looms and the pressure is on to match your last efforts. If your entry is not judged worthy of progressing beyond the submission stage, it’s hard picking yourself up and not feeling a complete failure. In most beading competitions you will never know how many other people entered or what the standard of work was like and you will never hear what the judges said about your entry. So if your efforts are rejected you can always console yourself with the idea that millions of people entered and there can only be a handful of chosen pieces.

Battle of the Beadsmith is at the end of the day just supposed to be a piece of fun. There is no prize at stake and the emphasis should be on creating a piece of work that challenges you and showcasing that to the world. However, there is no way from getting away from the ‘battle’ – the element of competition. The downside is that you are also seeing every single other entry and every single comment made on your own piece and on the other entries. Your own inner critic is likely to jump into action as you view everyone else’s entries as superior to yours. Or maybe your inner champion thinks your piece was a lot better than your opponent’s and feels it is grossly unfair when your piece is voted out. Either way, I think the biggest Battle of the Beadsmith is not creating a piece of beadwork, nor progressing through the rounds to victory, but maintaining your sanity throughout the process. If you have poured so many hours, so much passion into a single piece of beadwork, trying to then divorce yourself from that work whilst others judge it is nigh on impossible – whatever you might publicly say. You will most probably receive emotional wounds during the battle, but that’s fine. They will pass and heal and you will find that your artistic vision grows with the process and you do live to fight another battle! It is a privilege to be amongst this community of incredible talent, but it can also be brutal.

All that aside, ‘Chameleon’ is definitely a piece of jewellery that I will be wearing a lot. I have the option of wearing the entire piece in one of its many potential forms, but will most likely reserve that option for a bead fair! I have already worn one of the single necklace variations and I know I will wear more as they offer the versatility to really dress up or keep it more casual. So I may not have learned my lesson about creating a piece that can be photographed and shown to its full potential in the four shots that are required for round 1, but I have managed to make a piece that I will certainly be wearing and enjoying.

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