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HOW TO BEAD A ROGUE ELEPHANT The Musings Of A Jewelry Designer: The Professional

Posted by learntobead on February 17, 2023

I thought I heard some swish sound of something moving in the air. Something from the back of the room. Headed toward the front of the room. And a sudden click, perhaps a bounce, then another click, click, perhaps another bounce, another click, a rolling sound, and yes, something hit the guy speaking in the front of the room. That guy was my father. That noise I heard was the sound of a plastic pharmacy bottle and its plastic safety cap making a bee-line towards that guy in the front of the room. And bull’s-eye!

My father, you see, at the time, was President of the New Jersey Pharmaceutical Association. He had higher ambitions to get appointed as a Commissioner of Pharmacy on the New Jersey Pharmacy Board. The Board, knowing that, politely volunteered him to introduce the new safety-capped prescription bottles to the pharmacy association’s members. So here he was.

And it just wasn’t one bottle that came flying. I was so peeved. I had taken the time to go up and down the aisles of this auditorium, handing sample bottles to each and every pharmacist there. Now these bottles, one after one after one after one, were getting thrown to the front of the room. My father dodged most, but not all. Yet, at no time, did my father deviate from his presentation. He kept talking from his notes from start to finish.

The original safety capped bottles were difficult to open, to say the least. The standard was that it should take an adult 3 minutes or less to open, and a child 5 minutes or less. Forget about it if you were elderly. Opening these wasn’t going to happen. And most elderly, once they got the caps off, left them off. When my father quoted this standard, that’s when most of the bottles flew up into the air, along a curved trajectory, and ever-so-slightly towards the dais. Plastic hitting tile or concrete or whatever.

And my father’s final line: Within 3 months’ time, the state will require all pharmacies to use only these new safety capped prescription bottles. You’d have thought the room was filled with cows with slight speech defects. Boooooo…..! Boooooo…..! Boooooo…..!

I internalized all this. My father modeled what it meant to be a professional. I model for my jewelry making and beading students what it means to be a professional. My father stuck to maintaining high expectations and standards. To the chagrin of many of my students, I hold them up to high expectations and standards. Although I don’t get plastic bottles thrown at me, I have had to confront a lot of resistance when trying to have my students, my clients, my customers, my colleagues live up to that label I call professional.

There is a widespread belief that crafters and makers are not professionals. There is no law about this. Or regulation. Or rule. It is more of an assumption. Laziness. Low expectations. Low self-esteem. A lack of understanding of the role of a jewelry designer. I refuse, however, to succumb to anything less.

The very nature of jewelry itself necessitates the designer’s role as professional. Jewelry is made to a quality standard. Since jewelry is to be worn and bought and sold, the needs and desires of both designer and wearer must be taken into account. In fact, each piece of jewelry, introduced publicly in whatever way and in whatever circumstance, by definition, triggers conversation. Defines relationships. Exposes desire. Sets possibilities as well as boundaries on participation.

The designer has key responsibilities here, given all the choices which need to be made, when translating inspiration into aspiration into an actual piece of jewelry. The designer can be nothing but a professional. Whether she or he believes it or not. Or acts like it or not. Designers cannot barricade their doors to their Rogue Elephants. My point: They have to bead them.

The whole prescription bottle thing was a mess. One of the things professionals learn to get good at is in anticipating their client’s needs, then shaping what they say and what they do accordingly. It’s about establishing relationships which help clarify what each other knows, assumes, wants, desires, can or cannot do. As a professional, the preference should not be on relying on the law to force these pharmacists to comply. The preference should be to reach an understanding so that the pharmacists, no matter how skeptical or reluctant, will comply on their own. My father presented his message, but it wasn’t received well. As a professional during this time, my father needed a little more development.

The Audacity

In 1998, I created a school to teach jewelry making and beading using a professional model of education. I was literally ANGRY, and very frustrated, that so many of our shop customers had taken so many classes around town, but still could not really do much on their own. I wanted them to be more informed. To do more than making the same project over and over again. To challenge themselves. To experiment. To play. I knew Rogue Elephants loved to play.

My professional training had been in planning and design. While it was health planning and urban design, and although I hadn’t worked in this particular professional capacity for 20 years, everything I learned seemed very appropriate for jewelry design and beading.

But what I saw around me in Bead World — the types of classes taught and the types of books available and the types of articles in beading and jewelry magazines — none of these things seemed quite on the mark. None of them taught about design. None of them challenged the beader or jewelry maker to step out of some very constricted boundaries and rules. None of them seemed to result in teaching beaders and jewelry makers a set of transferable skills. None of them guided beaders and jewelry makers to develop their Designer Tool Boxes — those sets of hard and soft skills which would allow them to resolve unfamiliar or difficult problems in design.

In the jewelry making world, everything seemed oriented around sets of steps. Buy books with sets of steps. Take classes to learn sets of steps. Take more and more sets of steps. The more steps you complete, the more supposedly you learn. How many steps do you have to climb before you reach the top?

But, no matter how many steps you complete, you really don’t learn how to recognize the kinds of implications and to make the kinds of choices you need to make, in order to decide what to include, and what not to include, how to proceed, and how not to proceed, in your pieces of beadwork and jewelry. You do not learn how to make the necessary tradeoffs between beauty and function, appeal and wearability, shape and movement. You do not learn how to create jewelry with a recognition of how that jewelry sets a tone. Triggers a conversation. Defines a relationship. Fulfills needs and desires.

I kept thinking of an idea of a Jewelry Making and Bead School that provided classes and other learning opportunities more in line with my own professional training in health care and urban design. Not to teach sets of steps. But to teach skills. Not to learn things randomly and at will. But to learn things in an integrated ordering. However, I didn’t have the depth of beading and jewelry making experience to pull this off. It was a BIG project, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take something like this on.

And there was that headline — Little beading experience, wants to form School. I found that people thought I was very presumptuous. That I was treading into areas I had not earned the right to be in. That whatever I did, was too complex — either why bother, or why struggle? That there were enough classes at the other beading shops in Nashville, and there would not be any measurable demand for something different, more involved, more demanding.

Who did I think I was? This situation I found myself in reminded me of Picasso’s drive to create cubism. It took him 10 years to define it well enough, create enough attractive and desirable examples, and get it accepted as a force in art. I had visited the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, Spain several years ago. Picasso spent his boyhood years in Barcelona. The museum showcased his early-early work through his “blue” period, and up to before the cubism painting style everyone knows him by so well. It showed the development of Picasso’s inner drive to create something great and to be famous.

What the Museum’s story told was that Picasso was basically a shit in search of a reason. Pushy, arrogant, intense. He’d work a color or motif to death. He was intent on fame, or perhaps validation. As a young man, he moved to Paris for awhile, and associated with all the new exciting artists that Paris attracted in the late 1800s, early 1900s. He learned from them, socialized with them, fraternized with them, shared political and artistic views with them, imitated some of their works, and intently developed rules for a new personal artistic style.

At one point, he was determined to create and define a new style of painting. He collaborated with George Braque over 10 years to refine ideas about cubism. At that point, he was discovered, and became the primary focus of cubism as an artistic style.

I don’t mean, in telling the story about our beadwork and jewelry making school, to compare myself to Picasso. The audacity. I don’t think I was a shit. Though I imagine some of the people I worked with thought so. I never thought it would take so long to feel that our program ideas had “clicked.” It took 7–8 years. Or that I would stay the course, despite set-backs and estrangements. Perhaps that’s for posterity to decide, or another writer, like myself, writing about me.

All About Choices and Responsibility

In my father’s drug store, I stood by the register counter one day. My father was in the pharmacy section on the phone. I eavesdropped.

He was trying to get through to a physician. He wasn’t having much luck getting beyond the first line of defense — the nurse receptionist. He was explaining, trying to, sometimes calm, sometimes with anger, often with concern, that the doctor wrote an adult dosage for a baby, and that this dosage would surely kill the baby. He wanted to ask the doctor to change the dosage. The doctor refused. And refused again.

The law in New Jersey at that time forbid pharmacists from questioning any doctor’s orders. Even my father’s phone call to the physician could be a chargeable offense. By law he was required to fill the prescription.

So my father had a difficult choice: follow the law and let the baby die, or break the law.

Although the jewelry designer is not in this kind of precarious situation, there are still choices to be made and responsibilities to be taken for their choices. Jewelry is to be worn. It may be bought. It may be exhibited and collected. In short, the designer serves someone else. The designer makes that person’s life somehow better. More satisfying. More self-affirming. More culturally-affirming. While a miscalculation in design and construction choices will not lead to death, it can still have many negative consequences. As a professional, the designer will want to anticipate, mitigate or alleviate any possibilities for negative consequences.

And what happened to the baby?

My father resorted to a little bit of civil disobedience. He called every pharmacy in a 5-county area. He got every pharmacist to agree not to fill any and all prescriptions written by this doctor. The doctor’s patients were not happy about this. But, the doctor got the message. The medical society in New Jersey got the message. The Medical Board got the message. The state legislature changed the law to give pharmacists more professional responsibility in this kind of situation.

I always wanted — probably may never succeed — in changing how jewelry makers and beaders learn their craft. It’s about high expectations, professionalism, choices, responsibilities — and developing a literacy and fluency in design and building up that Designer’s Tool Box. This makes so much sense to me … why not to everyone else, I ask myself.

I don’t know if I’m copying my father, paying homage to him, genetically predisposed to who he was. But I bring all this insight — some say, baggage — to the design of jewelry. How it is made. How it is sold. How it is taught.

It Takes A Lot Of Push and Determination

I was talking with a nationally prominent jewelry instructor about my ideas for educating jewelry makers and beaders. She thought it was a waste of time. Most students only want to follow a set of steps and end up with something. Given what they want, that’s all the effort she wanted to make into teaching them. If a student wanted to go further, she would gladly answer their questions. But it was not her job or responsibility to instill professional values, expectations, or higher level skills in her students.

I found the same attitude among local teachers. I had an extensive curriculum and needed teachers to teach the courses. I required written instructions for all classes. Teachers refused. I required that teachers provide samples of the projects in each class. Teachers refused. I required that core tasks be taught with one or more variations. Teachers refused. What really gored me was that the few teachers that agreed to create classes according to my requirements, in reality, did not. They told me one thing, and did something else. After several months, I began to notice that students were not learning what was spelled out in the curriculum. As one teacher I fired told me, she could do less work and get paid the same. I said, Goodbye, Good Luck, Good Riddance.

I began to teach many of the classes myself. Had to learn a lot quickly. Over time, I regained the upper hand. I worked individually with each new teacher. I required that they create 4 interrelated, progressive courses. They had to specify how the goals for the next, related to the preceding course. This strategy worked.

At first, it was also difficult to attract students. They could take classes elsewhere that didn’t have prerequisites and requirements. Pay the same amount. End up with a finished project they could take home. Have fun, that was that. Again, over time, I regained the upper hand. I created a local demand for something more. I did not have to lower any curriculum expectations.

For me, it is such a high to learn things. Develop myself. Conquer new challenges in design, manipulation and construction. Leverage the strengths of materials and techniques, and minimize their weaknesses. I will never get it: Why others don’t share this excitement. Yet I am driven. Whether this relates somehow to my father, or not. I am driven.

In the late 1960s, my father was driven, as well. He wanted New Jersey to allow pharmacists to give injectables in the pharmacy. This could be flu shots, vaccinations, things like that. The law prohibited this. Through a lot of political manipulations, and with the support of both the New Jersey Pharmacists Association and the New Jersey Nurses Association, he convinced the Medical Board to allow a pilot test. He pushed the project forward.

A date was set. A number of pharmacies in the county agreed to participate. Pharmacists were trained. Announcements went out.

Three days before, however: another in a long line of road blocks. The Medical Board reneged on their agreement. Pharmacists would not be allowed to administer injectables. My father knew they could not, however, stop nurse practitioners from doing so. A nurse practitioner was lined up for each drug store.

The Medical Board put up another roadblock 2 days before the event. Now, injectables could only be administered in a separate area devoted to the activity, with a detail of space requirements — roughly 6’x 6’. In our store, we took down a display gondola. We took a wooden door and sat it atop two file cabinets to create a desk. A chair on either side. We put into effect all the other little required details.

The event occurred with great success. The legislature changed the professional standards to now allow pharmacists to administer injectables. Every time I walk into a Walgreens pharmacy to get my flu or COVID or whatever shot, this all started with my father, his ambition, his professionalism and his concern for good health care delivery.

The Professional

As I see it, and as I only allow myself to see it, jewelry design is not merely an activity which occupies your time. It is not something that anyone can do. It requires training, development, experience, more experience. It requires learning specialized skills.

Part of the jewelry designer’s development as a professional involves an ability to anticipate and understand how various audiences express desire and how various audiences judge a piece of jewelry to be finished and successful. Jewelry is here to amaze and intrigue. It is here to entice someone to wear it, purchase it, show it around. It is here to share the inspiration and prowess of the designer with those who see, feel, touch and inhabit it.

The more professional designer takes the time to explore how an audience is engaged with the piece. The designer learns insights in how any piece of jewelry evokes emotions and resonates with others. The designer is very sensitive to the experience people have at the point of purchase or gifting. Finish and presentation are very important. Acquiring jewelry is special and unique a process. Jewelry is not something we must have to meet some innate need; rather, it is something we desire because it stirs something within us.

At the heart of my questioning is whether we are paid and rewarded either solely for the number of jewelry pieces which we make, or rather for the skill, knowledge and intent underlying our jewelry designs.

If the former, we do not need to call ourselves professionals. We do not need much training. Entry into the activity of jewelry design would be very open, with a low bar. Our responsibility would be to turn out pieces of jewelry. We would not encumber ourselves too much with art theory or design theory. We would not concern ourselves, in any great depth, and certainly not struggle with jewelry’s psycho-socio-cultural impacts.

If the latter, we would see ourselves as professionals. We would need a lot of specialized training and experience. Entry into the activity of jewelry design would be more controlled, most likely staged from novice to master. Our responsibility would be to translate our inspirations into aspirations into designs. It would also be to influence others viewing our work to be inspired to think about and reflect and emote those things which have excited the designer, as represented by the jewelry itself. And it would also be to enable others to find personal, and even social and cultural, success and satisfaction when wearing or purchasing this piece of jewelry.

To become a professional jewelry designer is to learn, apply and experience a way of thinking like a designerFluent in terms about materials, techniques and technologies. Flexible in the applications of techniques and the organizing of design elements into compositions which excite people. Able to develop workable design strategies in unfamiliar or difficult situations. Communicative about intent, desire, purpose, no matter the context or situation within which the designer and their various audiences find themselves. Original in how concepts are introduced, organized and manipulated, and in how the designer differentiates themselves from other designers.

When I think about beading a Rogue Elephant, I think about taking ownership of my own design process. I think about finding personal meaning, and how through jewelry, this affects others. I think of myself as a professional. I think of my Rogue Elephant as something reachable. Attainable. A creative challenge. My muse.


Thank you. I hope you found this article useful.

Also, check out my website (www.warrenfeldjewelry.com).

Enroll in my jewelry design and business of craft Video Tutorials online. Begin with my ORIENTATION TO BEADS & JEWELRY FINDINGS COURSE.

Follow my articles on Medium.com.

Subscribe to my Learn To Bead blog (https://blog.landofodds.com).

Visit Land of Odds online (https://www.landofodds.com)for all your jewelry making supplies.

Check out my Jewelry Making and Beadwork Kits.

Add your name to my email list.


Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:

What You Need To Know When Preparing A Portfolio

Smart Advice When Preparing Your Artist Statement

Design Debt: How Much Do You Have?

An Advertising Primer For Jewelry Designers

Selling Your Jewelry In Galleries: Some Strategic Pointers

Building Your Brand: What Every Jewelry Designer Needs To Know

Social Media Marketing For The Jewelry Designer

Often Unexpected, Always Exciting: Your First Jewelry Sale

Coming Out As A Jewelry Artist

Is Your Jewelry Fashion, Style, Taste, Art or Design?

Saying Goodbye To Your Jewelry: A Rite Of Passage

So You Want To Do Craft Shows: Lesson 7: Setting Up For Success

The Jewelry Designer’s Orientation To Metals, Metal Beads, Oxidizing

The Jewelry Designer’s Approach To Color

The Jewelry Designer’s Orientation To Stringing Materials

Shared Understandings: The Conversation Embedded Within Design

How Does Being Passionate Make You A Better Designer?

Doubt / Self-Doubt: 8 Major Pitfalls For Jewelry Designers

Essential Questions For Jewelry Designers: 1 — Is What I Do Craft, Art or Design?

The Bridesmaids’ Bracelets

The Jewelry Designer’s Orientation To Choosing And Using Clasps

Beads and Race

Contemporary Jewelry Is Not A ‘Look’ — It’s A Way Of Thinking

Point, Line, Plane, Shape, Form and Theme

Jewelry, Sex and Sexuality

5 Tell-Tale Signs Your Pearls Need Re-Stringing

MiniLesson: How To Crimp

MiniLesson: Making Stretchy Bracelets

Architectural Basics Of Jewelry Design

Cleaning Sterling Silver Jewelry: What Works

What Glue Should I Use When Making Jewelry?


CONQUERING THE CREATIVE MARKETPLACE: Between the Fickleness of Business and the Pursuit of Design

How dreams are made
between the fickleness of business
and the pursuit of jewelry design

This guidebook is a must-have for anyone serious about making money selling jewelry. I focus on straightforward, workable strategies for integrating business practices with the creative design process. These strategies make balancing your creative self with your productive self easier and more fluid.

Based both on the creation and development of my own jewelry design business, as well as teaching countless students over the past 35+ years about business and craft, I address what should be some of your key concerns and uncertainties. I help you plan your road map.

Whether you are a hobbyist or a self-supporting business, success as a jewelry designer involves many things to think about, know and do. I share with you the kinds of things it takes to start your own jewelry business, run it, anticipate risks and rewards, and lead it to a level of success you feel is right for you, including

· Getting Started: Naming business, identifying resources, protecting intellectual property

· Financial Management: basic accounting, break even analysis, understanding risk-reward-return on investment, inventory management

· Product Development: identifying target market, specifying product attributes, developing jewelry line, production, distribution, pricing, launching

· Marketing, Promoting, Branding: competitor analysis, developing message, establishing emotional connections to your products, social media marketing

· Selling: linking product to buyer among many venues, such as store, department store, online, trunk show, home show, trade show, sales reps and showrooms, catalogs, TV shopping, galleries, advertising, cold calling, making the pitch

· Resiliency: building business, professional and psychological resiliency

· Professional Responsibilities: preparing artist statement, portfolio, look book, resume, biographical sketch, profile, FAQ, self-care



Merging Your Voice With Form

So You Want To Be A Jewelry Designer reinterprets how to apply techniques and modify art theories from the Jewelry Designer’s perspective. To go beyond craft, the jewelry designer needs to become literate in this discipline called Jewelry Design. Literacy means understanding how to answer the question: Why do some pieces of jewelry draw your attention, and others do not? How to develop the authentic, creative self, someone who is fluent, flexible and original. How to gain the necessary design skills and be able to apply them, whether the situation is familiar or not.

588pp, many images and diagrams Ebook , Kindle or Print formats

The Jewelry Journey Podcast
“Building Jewelry That Works: Why Jewelry Design Is Like Architecture”
Podcast, Part 1
Podcast, Part 2

Easy. Simple. No tools. Anyone Can Do!

I developed a nontraditional technique which does not use tools because I found tools get in the way of tying good and well-positioned knots. I decided to bring two cords through the bead to minimize any negative effects resulting from the pearl rotating around the cord. I only have you glue one knot in the piece. I use a simple overhand knot which is easily centered. I developed a rule for choosing the thickness of your bead cord. I lay out different steps for starting and ending a piece, based on how you want to attach the piece to your clasp assembly.

184pp, many images and diagrams EbookKindle or Print

SO YOU WANT TO DO CRAFT SHOWS:16 Lessons I Learned Doing Craft Shows

In this book, I discuss 16 lessons I learned, Including How To (1) Find, Evaluate and Select Craft Shows Right for You, (2) Determine a Set of Realistic Goals, (3) Compute a Simple Break-Even Analysis, (4) Develop Your Applications and Apply in the Smartest Ways, (5) Understand How Much Inventory to Bring, (6) Set Up and Present Both Yourself and Your Wares, (7) Best Promote and Operate Your Craft Show Business before, during and after the show.

198pp, many images and diagrams, EbookKindle or Print



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