Six Ways to Learn from Coffee Table Beading Books

When I first started beading, I was looking for beading books with explicit instructions, simple projects that applied the basic stitches to something interesting, and information about different kinds of beads and how to use them.

I still look for books like that to learn something new; for me right now I could profit from such a book on bead crochet or right-angle weave.

But the beading books I love the most, the books I keep coming back to, are the books of amazing bead art. These are sometimes the catalogs of competitions, like the delica bead contests, or the Best of Contemporary Beadwork/Bead International books. Sometimes they are collections of wonderful beaded stuff that has been juried by one or more bead artists, like 500 Beaded Objects from Lark Books which was juried by Carol Wilcox Wells.

The first time through these books is just to generally admire the body of work (I try not to drool on the book), then I go back again and further admire individual pieces. Those that draw my eye get extra attention as I look closely at the details of how the piece was put together, or what kinds of beads were used, or how the colors blend or contrast. After that, the book usually goes on the shelf. But it doesn't stay there.

I use my collection of such coffee table beading books as a virtual museum, where I can sneak in after closing and put my nose right up close to the beadwork and really look at the work. I go back to the books either in search of inspiration or to get answers to specific questions. Here are the kind of questions I ask myself to learn more as I go through these books:

1. Photography. How did the artists photograph their work? Who used plain black or white backgrounds? Who used graduated backgrounds? Who used fabric or stone or something else as a background? How well did the chosen background go with that particular piece? What angle did they shoot from? Did they include the whole piece in the photo, or crop some out? How did they "pose" necklaces or other jewelry?

2. Use of color. What pieces pop out at me because of their color? How do the artists' color choices support or distract from the subject of their work? How does the artist blend colors? (Get out your magnifying glass if necessary and study the seemingly flat surfaces in the works of Laura Willits. ) How much power does an artist get from a really limited palette of colors? How do the color choices reflect traditional color-wheel schemes?

3. Different treatment of similar subjects. If you have ever wondered who first decided to try eating crayfish or oysters, you might also get curious about how someone thought of using beads in various geometries, or even of trying to depict something like moving water with beads. If you have a general subject in mind, like flowers, or forests, or people, or pets, look through your coffee table beading books and look at how others have handled that subject matter, and notice what ideas you would like to use, and how their interpretation isn't quite what you had in mind.

4. Presenting your work. Not all of the pictures show you how the artist has solved the problem of mounting and displaying the work, but study those that do so. Did they build a stand, put it in a frame, drape it over something, or what?

5. Using different stitches for different effects. Make your own assessment, based on the photos in the books, of how small you can depict a certain subject and still have it look good. In loom-woven seed bead panels, for example, look not just at the main subject, but also at the smallerstuff in the background.

6. Play games with yourself (or others). Cover up the description and try to guess the size of the object in the picture. Guess what size or type of beads they used. Guess which bead purveyor sells the largest percentage of those beads. Okay, if you can get this one right you are spending way too much time at the bead stores or catalogs or web sites or even looking at the beading books and not enough time beading. Get back to work.

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