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

Posted by learntobead on February 23, 2023

I don’t mean to drag a poor Elephant by its tail, kicking and screaming, into our bead and jewelry world against its wishes. Nor do I perceive the elephant to be a threat, like you might see if you found an Elephant in the boudoir, or the fine China store. And I don’t want you to shut your eyes and pretend not to notice that this Elephant is here, standing shoulder to shoulder with every beader and jewelry maker around.

The Elephant is not a joke. And the fact that it is Rogue makes it more important than ever to figure out why it’s here, why it keeps glaring at me, whether on the far horizon or close enough to feel its breath. Why it teases me. Why it commands and monopolizes my attention. Why I have to catch it. Corral it. Adorn it as it charges across the countryside with jewelry which flows this way and that way and up and down and sideways and towards you and away from you and always looks perfect — a Rogue Elephant perfection.

So absurd. A Rogue Elephant among size #10 English beading needles, and Czech size 11/0 seed beads, and Austrian crystal beads. It seems so worldly, yet other-worldly, my Elephant. It’s not my muse. It’s not my Cassandra. It has no secret plan or strategy. It does not depend on its size to make its point. It does not hesitate to stomp and chomp and clomp because the beads before it are raku or glass or gemstone or crystal or metal or plastic. But a Rogue Elephant in the middle of my craft room forces upon me a completely different logic, so that I can make sense of it all.

And that’s what happened with me. Though not all at once. Struggling excitedly, often clueless, creative frustration, wonderous illusion — that’s how I would describe my over 35 plus years stringing beads, weaving beads, combining wire with beads, soldering silver with beads, entangling fibers with beads. Somewhere along the way I felt that Rogue Elephant staring at me from a distance. I moved closer to him. And all the applications and all the techniques and all the materials and all the making-selling-making-selling-making-selling began to cohere into something very real. Very meaningful. Integrally resonant. Purposeful. I discovered my Rogue Elephant and beaded him.

You Cannot Separate The Parts From The Design

You stare at a bead, and ask what it is. You put some thread on a needle, then the bead on the needle, and ask what to do. You stitch a few beads together, and wonder what will become of this. You create a necklace, and ask how it will be worn. And you stare at each bead again, and think where do all these feelings welling up within you come from — beauty, peace and calm, satisfaction, magic, appeal, a sensuousness and sexuality. Your brain and eye enter into this fantastic dance, a fugue of focusing, refocusing, gauging and re-gauging light, color, shadow, a shadow’s shadow, harmony, and discord.

You don’t just string beads on string and voila a necklace. There’s a lot involved here.

You have to buy beads, organize them, buy some extra parts, think about them, create with them, live with some failed creations, and go from there. If there wasn’t something special about how beads translate light into color, shade and shadow, then beading would simply be work. But it’s not. You have to put one next to another…..and then another. And when you put two beads next to each other, or one on top of the other, you’re doing God’s work. There’s nothing as spectacular as painting and sculpting with light.

This bead before me — why is it so enticing? Why do I beg it to let me be addicted? An object with a hole. How ridiculous its power. Some curving, some faceting, some coloration, some crevicing or texturing, some shadow, some bending of light. That’s all it is. Yet I am drawn to it in a slap-silly sort of way.

When I arrange many beads, the excitement explodes geometrically in my being. Two beads together are so much more than one. Four beads so much more than two. A hundred beads so much more than twenty-five times four. The pleasure is uncontainable. I feel so powerful. Creative. I can make more of what I have than with what I started.

And the assembling — another gift. String through the hole, pull, tug, align, and string through the hole, pull, tug, align, and string through the hole, pull, tug, align, and string through the hole, pull, tug, align. So meditative. Calming. How could beads be so stress-relieving, other-worldly-visiting, and creative-exciting at the same time?

Contemplation. To contemplate the bead is to enter the deep reaches of your mind where emotion is one with geometry, and geometry is one with art, and art is one with physics, and beads are one with self.

So these days, I confront my innermost feelings about beads. What I enjoy, and what I do not. What I have learned, and what I have not. What I want to achieve, and what I fear I cannot.

It’s not that, originally, I wanted to bead much of anything. I imagined what I wanted to create, and quickly found I couldn’t create it. This is when I sensed my Rogue Elephant somewhere out there. An abundance of creativity coupled with frustration and doubt sent out some kind of aroma attracting him. Unintentional. Unplanned. Probably not wanted at that time. An Elephant and a pheromonal response, nonetheless.

I had very specific ideas of what my beadwork should look like, how it should be put together, and how it should function. I did not want to be considered a painter who uses beads, or a sculptor who uses beads. I visualized myself more than an artist. I wanted to be considered a jewelry designer. A jewelry designer who legitimately uses beads, and not paints, and not clays or stone. A designer who makes things for people to wear, not merely admire as something hung on a wall, or resting on an easel, or sitting on a pedestal. This was my dilemma.

Alas, this was the basis of all my fears. Could jewelry designers intentionally design with light in a fundamentally different way than painters use paint, or sculptors use clay or stone? If I beaded a mannequin, I’d be painting or sculpting. But what if I beaded a Rogue Elephant? Something that moved. Something that reacted differently in different situations. Something that appeared in different contexts. Something that would have to look good and make my Rogue Elephant look good, no matter what. Would my beadwork stand up to some test of grammar, poetry, art, vision and even love?

I was tentative, at first, about beading, but that Rogue Elephant kept getting in my way. To tame it, to get rid of it, to make sense of it, I had to bead it.

But how? Should I? Could I? Would I? It’s huge! It’s fast! It’s ornery!

Should I make my Elephant some kind of necklace or anklet to wear? How about a little hat? I can tubular peyote around its trunk OK, but what about its ears? What do I do there? That mid-section is awfully rotund. Fringe would be pretty, hanging around some kind of blanket. But, alas, wouldn’t it just drag along the ground?

The main problem is, though, that this beast keeps moving. How am I ever going to get anything to look good, and stay looking good, on this Elephant if it keeps moving? After all, Rogue Elephants don’t Pose. They’re not “Vogue” Elephants. They’re “Rogue” Elephants. They’re too busy tossing their heads at everything else in sight.

If I use large beads, I can accomplish this feat faster, but not necessarily as elegantly. Should my Elephant be elegant? Sophisticated? Earthy? Adventurous? Bohemian? Fashion-aware or fashion-I-don’t-care?

I cannot get this Rogue Elephant out of my mind. The thoughts of beading it seem insurmountable, unconquerable. My eyes strain, my hands ache, my back stiffens at these thoughts. It will never get done. I won’t finish it. I won’t do it. I most certainly don’t have the time. I’ll try something easier, like a toy rabbit or a stick. A small stick. A very small, very straight, perfectly round stick. Surely not an Elephant, a Rogue one at that.

Calm down, I say to myself. Stop hyperventilating. Wipe those clammy palms. Don’t let the task before you scare you before you even start.

I grit my teeth. I stand up straight. I squeeze my hands into a fist. I hold my fisted-hands stiffly and tightly against my right and left sides. I lift my chin up ever-so-slightly until my eyes meet his. I stare that Rogue Elephant right into the face for those few seconds it stands in my field of vision. I will bead you. I will bead you. I will bead you. I set my mantra going. I try to focus on my inner self. I reach way back to grab my inner being, setting its life force and motivation on track to complete this awesome task.

I will bead you. I can bead. I will bead you. I can bead. I will bead you. I can bead. I will bead you. I can bead.

Glue. Thank God someone invented glue. I could corner that Elephant, pour buckets of glue on him, and use a leaf blower to blow a pile of beads right onto that beast. They’ll stick. I’ll be done. Whatever happens, happens. That’s what I’ll do.

But I wouldn’t be happy. And that Elephant would probably want to scratch and itch. Beads would pop off. The glue would yellow. That Elephant wouldn’t be able to walk with any sense of style or grace. It might trip. It would probably fall down, actually. And not be able to get up. Pitiful. It would lose its Rogue-ness. It’s essence of being. I would tame it, yet more than humble it. Where’s the excitement? Glue just won’t do.

I will bead you. I can bead. I will bead you. I can bead. I will bead you. I can bead. I will bead you. I can bead.

How about Mardi Gras beads? These beads, already ironed into place onto a string, could be wrapped around and around and around. Purple Iris’s. Topaz AB’s. Olivine Lusters. They’d be colorful. They’d shine. They’d sparkle. It would be like lassoing a steer — over and over again. I don’t know if my Elephant would stand still for that. Perhaps I could corral him. I could tape one end of the bead string to the tail. Then go around and around and around his body until I reached the other end of the trunk. I’d parade the Elephant in front of all the other Elephants out there, and they’d all want to look as dapper. Everyone the Elephant meets, in fact, will want to be wrapped in bead-ropes. How easy, how simple, how divine.

Once I let my Elephant out of the corral, however, I fear the bead-ropes will reposition themselves and slip off and look sloppy. My Elephant would have to lose its Rogue-ness to pull off this look. My Elephant would have to stand still and pose. I don’t think my Elephant would stand for that. In fact, I know he wouldn’t. The jungle is not a circus, and the banks of the jungle watering hole do not provide a level pedestal for such an event. My elephant would be perplexed. And the result would not be satisfactory beadwork. He’d be off in an instant. This would be a mess — a big Mardi Gras mess. Only sanitation workers in New Orleans getting paid much overtime would have any determined appreciation.

I will bead you. I can bead. I will bead you. I can bead. I will bead you. I can bead. I will bead you. I can bead.

Just what is the recipe then? Take needle and thread, add beads, mix lightly, separate whites and darks, bake, turn once, and voila? Do I have to have a recipe? A determined strategy? A plan of action? Can’t I just bead it? Do I have to think about how to get the beadwork to stay in place? Look good? Look great? Must the Elephant still be able to run with the beadwork on? If the Elephant runs, must the beadwork stay on? And still look good? Oh, dear, my head is beginning to hurt. I don’t know if I can do all this. And be satisfied.

And the poor Elephant. It looks at me one more time. It’s green eyes dart on me. Challenging me. Daring me. Perhaps fearing me and my determination. Perhaps pondering the why’s and wherefores of my insistence that he be beaded — in totality, Rogue-ness and all. The Elephant turns its head, touching his long torso from shoulder to belly with his trunk. His tusks shift uncomfortably. I’m sure the Elephant is wondering How! — How would the beads go on? How would they be arranged? How could he continue to walk and drink and eat and talk? How would the other Elephants react? How could anyone ever begin to bead a Rogue Elephant?

My Elephant looks at me one more time — staring directly into my eyes. It’s more than a glance. He stares, as if to say, it can’t be done. My Elephant lifts its trunk, extends its ears, snorts, shakes its tail, turns and darts away toward the horizon.

I have only one regret from that time. I assumed my Elephant had no desires. Only my desires which was to adorn him. But, Elephants are smart. They have feelings. They think about things. They do have desires. And these should influence what I do.

But that chant in my head, an ear worm, I can’t let it go.

I will bead you. I can bead. I will bead you. I can bead. I will bead you. I can bead. I will bead you. I can bead.

I follow him.

It Has Been A Journey

I wanted to be great all at once. It didn’t work out that way. The first three years, I was only into it for the money. Selling jewelry is always a high. Began doing a lot of repairs and getting interested in things from a more academic perspective — why things broke and why things didn’t. Besides bead stringing, I began to learn wire wrapping, then silver smithing, and it was at that point, when I was creating sterling silver pieces through fabrication and soldering that I began to hear and smell and feel that Rogue Elephant, still forever in the distance.

I created a shopping lady brooch. A mix of sterling and brass. Her legs moved. In one hand, I made a shopping bag, which moved. Some layering, some riveting.

Then, my Maori mask brooch. I wanted to experiment using hard, medium and easy solder in the same piece. I created 3 layers. I cut out different parts of each sheet of silver to create an overlay of positive and negatives spaces. I wanted to duplicate the face tattoo, and give it a lot of dimensionality. I hammered the piece to create a concave curve. Then soldered the pin back to it. I created what felt like a true piece of art.

I came late to bead weaving. I only learned the various bead weaving stitches because I was creating a school where that would be one of the foci. Such small beads. Vowed never to use size 15/0 seed beads — so tiny. [Of course, I couldn’t keep that vow.] I had difficulty finding instructors willing to teach from what I call the Design Perspective. Required too much thinking. Too much work. As I was told often, they could make just as much money teaching a step-by-step approach than the way I wanted them to teach. So, I took on the responsibility for teaching these classes myself. Found out I loved bead weaving.

Now when I was in about year 11 of my journey, I found design. I felt compelled to find and bead and bejewel my Rogue Elephant. I wanted to find / bead / bejewel my bead strung pieces, my wire wrapped pieces, my metal fabricated pieces, and my bead woven pieces. Everything.

My journey unfolded in stages.


This is my story. A fable for all jewelry artists who aspire to become one with Design. How to Bead a Rogue Elephant is a collection of personal perspectives and experiences on the issues and inspirations that drove me, and that drive other bead and jewelry-making artists in their designs.

Design is the operative word here. A Rogue Elephant does not present an obstacle, nor create any opportunities, for the jewelry designer, unless that designer understands, follows through and is committed to Jewelry as an Art Form, and realizes that jewelry is art only as it is worn.

Jewelry as art isn’t a happenstance. It is made up of a lot of different kinds of parts. These must be strategically and thoughtfully brought together. They are brought together as a kind of construction project. The results of this project must be beautiful and appealing. They must be functional and wearable. The result should be more appealing and more satisfying and more better in every way than its parts. And this all comes about through design. Jewelry must be designed. And designed it is.

Rogue Elephants are big, and jewelry design is a big task. Rogue Elephants move in unpredictable, yet forceful ways. And jewelry must be designed with movement in mind. Rogue Elephants come with a surface scape, texture and environment, against which the jewelry must look good. And again, good jewelry emerges primarily from the design perspective and the control of the bead, and all the other incumbent parts by the jewelry artist.
And as I mentioned before, I learned this over time, Rogue Elephants are not stupid. They want something from you in return for letting you bead them. They have desires. They seek value, and wander off when they think there is none. The jewelry designer cannot ignore all this. Or substitute their own values for his.

Most beaders and jewelry makers don’t pursue their Rogue Elephants. They don’t even think about getting into the hunt. They never get to the point where they can fully answer the question: Why some pieces of their jewelry get good attention, and others do not? And they don’t think about this question. They have fun making things. They match outfits. They give gifts. They sell a few pieces. They use pretty beads and other components. And sometimes they get compliments. Other times they do not.

Also, they don’t necessarily know what to do with the pieces they are playing with. What are they made of? What happens to them over time? Should they be included within the same piece of jewelry? What should they be strung on? Will anyone appreciate the materials? Are the materials appropriate for the technique? What happens when the shade and positioning of the light source changes? If necessary, what can be substituted for some pieces preferred, but not found?

These jewelry makers don’t control these pieces, or the process of combining them. They follow patterns and instructions. And do these again. And again and again. Their artistic goals are to complete the steps and end up with something. They might stick to one or a few techniques they feel comfortable with. There is an unfamiliarity with the bead –What is it? Where did it come from? What makes it special as a medium of art and light and shadow? How does it relate to other beads or clasps or stringing materials or jewelry findings? When they look at the bead, what do they see? Will the wearer and viewer experience the same sense and sensibility? In order to bead their Rogue Elephant, they will have to know how to leverage the strengths of the materials they are using and the strengths of the techniques they want to employ, and minimize any weaknesses.

Luckily, beading and jewelry making for many jewelry designers is an evolving obsession. It’s not something learned all at once. This obsession leads them to contemplate the bead and its use. The bead and its use in art. The bead and its use in jewelry. The bead and its use in design. The bead and its relationship to the designer’s studio. Beads are addictive. Their addictiveness, hopefully, eventually leads the beader or jewelry maker to seek out that Rogue Elephant that haunts them along the distant horizon. They know they want to bead it. They’re not sure how. But they steer themselves along the pathway to find out. This pathway isn’t particularly straight, level or passable. But it’s a pathway nonetheless. And the ensuing possibilities for learning and growing as an artist and designer along the way reap many worthwhile and satisfying rewards.

They may not have their Rogue Elephant on their radar screen. Yet. Yet, is the operative word here.


The first step in this journey is to figure out how to get started with beads and jewelry making. You need supplies. You need workspaces and storage strategies and understanding how to get everything organized. You need to anticipate bead spills and many unfinished projects. You need to learn to plan your pieces. You need to get a handle on the beads (and all the other pieces), and how to use them.


Whatever the reason, most beaders and jewelry makers don’t get past PLAY. They are content following patterns and making lots of pieces, according to the step-by-step instructions in these patterns. They might fear testing themselves against broader rules of artistic expression. They might not want to expend the mental and physical energy it takes to get into design. They just want to have fun. And if they never notice that Rogue Elephant hugging the horizon, that’s fine with them.

At some point, however, some beaders and jewelry makers will want to start educating themselves to get a little below the surface. That is always my hope. Rather than mechanically following a set of steps, or randomly assembling things bead by bead, you want to know more about what is really going on. How do I hold my piece to work it? How do I manage my thread tension? How do I select colors? What clasp might work best? If you find yourself at this point, PLAY is not enough. You need to start tapping more into your inner, creative self and capabilities.


For those beaders and jewelry makers for whom the Rogue Elephant is very disturbing, no matter how far away he may be, there are these wonderfully exciting, sensually terrific, incredibly fulfilling things that you find as you try to bead your Rogue Elephant, ear, trunk, feet, bodice and all.

You learn to play with and dabble with and create arrangements and control the interplay of light and shadow, texture and pattern, dimensionality and perspective, strategy and technique, form and function, structure and purpose. You begin sharing your designs with friends and strangers, perhaps even teaching classes about how to make your favorite project, or do your preferred technique. You might also create a small business for yourself and sell your pieces. Your sense of artistry, your business acumen, your developing design perspective — you need all this, if you are to have any chance of catching up with your Rogue Elephant, let alone beading him.

You question things about the jewelry you make. What is jewelry? What do I want it to express? What do I want it to do? How is the design of jewelry related to perceptions, cognitions, assumptions, values, and desires? Why do people admire it? Wear it? Collect it? Pay for it?

As you begin to evolve beyond the simple craft perspective to one of artistry and then design, you begin developing your creative soft and hard skills.


As your jewelry pieces become more the result of your design intuition and acuity, you begin to wonder how other artists capture, be-jewel, and release their own Rogue Elephants. How did they get started? What was their inspiration? What motivated them to delve into beading, stick with it, and take it to the next level? Do they make their pieces for show or for sale?

You begin to find your passion. This passion sustains you over however long it takes you make any piece of jewelry. You begin to recognize how some pieces of beadwork and jewelry are merely craft, and others are art. You get frustrated with beautiful pieces that are unwearable and fashionable pieces that lack durability and pieces that sell that are poorly constructed. You see many good ideas, some well-executed, but many not.

As you compare yourself as Designer to other jewelry designers all over the world, this is partly a personal adventure as you self-experience your intellectual growth as a designer. And it is partly an adventure of evaluating how well other designers have succeeded in this same quest, as well. You find there are many quests and many pathways. Nothing is perfect. Nothing is preset. There are no social norms or cultural rules you have to conform to, if you don’t want to. For the most part, you are on your own.

One very revealing pathway is following how designers contemporize traditional designs. Still another follows the designer who revives vintage styles. Or the pathway that finds the artist elevating fringe, edging, strap, bail and surface embellishment to the same level of art as the centerpiece. And yet another pathway which looks at multimedia beadwork, and how designers seek to maintain the integrity of each medium within the same piece. You might explore that pathway which involves collaboration.


As you begin to articulate what works and does not work in various pieces in terms of form, structure, art theory, relationships to the body, relationships to psychological and cultural and sociological constructs, you complete your evolution as a jewelry designer. You add a body of design theory and practice to your already honed skills in art, color, bead-stringing, bead-weaving, fabrication and wire working. You create for yourself a Designer’s Tool Box — a set of hard and soft skills and strategies for conquering the unknown, the problematic, and the unfamiliar. You become fluent in design. Flexible in your approach. Original in that you are able to distinguish your works from those of others. You set yourself clearly on the path to find and bead your Rogue Elephant.


Your adventure along this pathway towards design — your success at beading your Rogue Elephant — is very fulfilling. Whether you walk, run, skip or crawl or some mix of the above, it’s a pathway worth following. You’ve learned to transcend the physicality and limitations of your workplace, tools and supplies. You’ve learned to multi-task and organize and construct your project as if you were architecting or engineering a bridge. You have discovered how to dress and present yourself for success, including strategies for self-promotion. You have learned to anticipate how your various audiences — wearer, viewer, buyer, exhibitor, collector, student, teacher, colleague — will critically determine whether your piece feels finished and successful. You get experience incorporating all this knowledge into how you organize and manage your design process, its plan, its rhythm, its operation.

You’re a Designer. You have learned to present yourself and promote yourself as a Jewelry Designer. You’ve evolved as a Beader and Jewelry-Designer and are feeling a true satisfaction.


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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