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JEWELRY MAKING MATERIALS: Knowing What To Know

Posted by learntobead on December 31, 2019

 

JEWELRY MAKING MATERIALS

Knowing What To Know

by Warren Feld

Abstract:

There are no perfect jewelry making materials for every project.   Selecting materials is about making smart, strategic choices.    This means relating your materials choices to your design and marketing goals.   It also frequently means having to make tradeoffs and judgment calls between aesthetics and functionality.   Materials differ in quality and value.   They differ in their sensorial effects on people.   They differ in how people perceive them.  They differ in the associational and emotional connections which they evoke.   They differ in their functional efficiency and effectiveness to lend pieces an ability to retain a shape, while at the same time, an ability to move, drape and flow.    They differ in cost and durability.  Last, materials may have different relationships with the designer, wearer or viewer depending on how they are intended to be used, and the situational or cultural contexts.

JEWELRY MAKING MATERIALS:
Knowing What To Know

The materials I use are alive

The world of jewelry design and the materials used can be complex, especially for jewelry designers just starting out in their careers. The novice, but also the more experienced designer, as well, often run up against some terms and properties of materials they have not dealt with before. Materials affect the appeal of the piece.    They affect its structural
integrity.   They affect the cost.   They affect how people view, sense, desire and understand the piece.

You Would Be Very Aware Of…

If you want to gain an understanding of materials, you would be very aware of where they come from, how they are described, sold and marketed.   You would be very aware of the beads and jewelry findings and stringing materials and tools, their qualities, when they are useful and when they are not, and what happens to them when they age.   You would be very aware of what country the material is made or found in, how the material is manufactured, synthesized or gotten at, if it is modified or changed in any way, and how it comes to market.   You would be very aware if the product is sold at different levels of quality, even if this is not differentiated on the product’s label.   It is also important to be very aware how any of these aspects of the material have changed over time, or might change over time in the future.

You would be very aware that there is no such thing as the perfect material.   There are only better materials, given your situation and goals.   There is no perfect bead for every situation.   No perfect clasp.  No perfect stringing material. Every choice you make as a jewelry designer will require some tradeoffs and judgment calls.   The more you understand the quality of the materials in the pieces you are working with are made of, and the clearer you are about your design goals, and if you are selling things, your marketing goals, as well, the more prepared you will be to make these kinds of choices.

You would be very aware that materials have different values and life spans, and this must relate to your project goals.   You would not want to use metalized plastic beads, for example, in a piece you call an heirloom bracelet.   Metalized plastic beads are a metal shell around a milky white plastic bead.   The shell will chip easily.   On the other hand, when doing fashion jewelry, these very inexpensive beads, and which have a short life-span, would be perfect.    Not only are they cheap, but because they are cheap, there are lots and lots of designs and shapes and textures.   

If your goal is to create more investment quality pieces, then you would not want to buy lampwork beads which have not been appropriately annealed (that is, if not cooled down correctly, they will fracture and break easily).    You would buy appropriately annealed ones, but which are considerably more expensive.    This may affect the look of your pieces.     For an inexpensive, fashion oriented piece, your necklace made up entirely of lampwork beads which have not been appropriately annealed might be very affordable.    It would have that great handmade, artisan look.  It might sell for only $60.00.    With more investment quality lampwork beads, however, you might just use one, or perhaps three lampwork beads, and
have a lot of cord showing, or a lot of filler beads, to keep the piece
affordable.    This would be a very different design look and style.    If the
necklace was made up of all quality lampwork beads, — to have the same look and style as its inexpensive cousin — it might have to retail for $600-800.00.

Again, for an investment quality piece, you would want to use crystal beads manufactured in Austria or the Czech Republic, and not ones manufactured elsewhere.    And you would not let yourself be fooled when the front of the package says “Austrian Crystal” when the back says “Made In China”.    Crystal beads made in China are not as bright, there are more production issues and flaws in the beads, and the holes are often drilled off-center when compared to their “Made In Austria” counterparts.   But crystal beads more appropriate for that investment quality piece might be overkill for a fashion piece where you want to add a pop of brightness without a lot of additional cost.

You would want to be very aware of the treatments of beads and metals.     Some things are radiated, heated, reconstituted, partly synthesized, lacquered or dyed.    Sometimes this is a good thing and these treatments enhance the quality of materials in appearance and durability.   Othertimes this is a bad thing, negatively affecting the quality of materials.  

You would be very aware that many of the materials you use are described in ways that do not provide you with sufficient information to make a choice.    Take the material gold-filled. The definition of gold-filled is that the material is a measurable layer of real gold fused to brass, sometimes copper.   But the legal definition does not tell you how thick the gold has to be over the brass for the material to be called gold-filled.    So in the market, some gold-filled has very little gold and will lose its gold very quickly, and other gold-filled has a thicker layer and will keep its gold, its shine and its shape for decades.    

Or sterling silver.  Sterling silver is supposed to be 92.5% silver (marked .925).    The alloy, that is the remaining 7.5%, is supposed to contain, by law, a lot of copper. However, many manufacturers substitute some nickel for the copper to keep the cost down.   This makes the sterling silver less expensive, yes, but it also makes it more brittle.   It is the difference between being able to open and close the loop on an ear wire, off of which to hang the dangle, many, many times or only two or three times before the wire loop breaks. 

Lots of sterling silver items get marked .925.   And in jewelry making, many of the pieces we use are so small, there is no .925 stamp on them.     Besides a change of what is in the alloy affecting the usefulness and value, many other things happen in the marketplace, as well.    Many sterling silver items have been cast.   What frequently happens is that some of the silver is lost in the casting process, so it is no longer at 92.5%.   Manufacturers are supposed to make note of this, but many just stamp .925 on these items.   Some shops label items as sterling silver, but in reality, are selling you pieces that are nickel.    And some places will sell you something silver plated, and put sterling silver .925 tag which is marked .925 on it off the clasp.    The tag is sterling; the jewelry is not.   I’ve seen some major craft stores and some major jewelry stores sell metalized plastic jewelry and jewelry components and label it .925.

Flexible, nylon coated cable wires are one of the primary types of stringing materials.    The measure of cable wire strength is called tensile strength.   This has to do with what the wires are made of, what the nylon sheathing is made of, and how thick that nylon sheathing is.   What makes the wire strong is the nylon sheathing’s ability to maintain the twist in the wire.   As soon as the integrity of the nylon sheathing is violated, the wire untwists and immediately breaks.  You will not see tensile strength referenced on the labels of these products. The information that is referenced (number of strands, wire thickness) gives you some information needed to make a choice, but insufficient to make an actual choice.   Even when they list the number of strands, this doesn’t give you enough factual information to depend on.   One brand’s high-end, 7-strand is stronger and more supple than that same brand’s 49-strand middle range product.    This same brand’s middle range 49-strand product is stronger and more supple than another brand’s high end 49-strand product.

You would also be very aware that you cannot assume that there is consistency and uniformity for any given product.   There are many production issues that arise in the manufacture of glass beads, for example.   Some beads are perfect.   Some have flaws.  These flaws might include some flat surfaces when everything should be rounded.   The color not going all the way through.   Holes drilled off-centered.    Bead sizes and hole sizes inconsistent from bead to bead. Some bead holes that are especially sharp.    Some beads which have coated coloration which is poorly applied and chips off quickly.    In clothing, these beads with flaws would be labeled irregulars, but they are not so labeled in beads.    Some companies specialize in selling you perfect manufactured glass beads; other companies specialize in selling you the irregulars.    They don’t advertise that fact.    Either quality looks the same when you buy it; they just don’t hold up the same in close examination or from wear.

You would be aware that fabricated and stamped metal pieces are more durable than cast metal pieces, but a lot more expensive, and with a smaller palette of designs for the artist.    You would be aware that the measure of pound strength on any label is the weakest piece of information to grab onto.   The law only defines how pound strength should be measured.    Since most products are manufactured abroad, little care is taken to guarantee the validity of this information.   

You would be aware that there are a lot of things to know about the materials used in jewelry design.

It Is All About Choices

Materials play a significant role in jewelry design.   You need to relate and justify the choices you make about selecting and using materials to your design goals (and your marketing goals, as well).    Sometimes your choices are preformulated and planned; othertimes, these choices are spontaneous and emerge within your process of design.   But these are all choices to be made, with inevitable impacts and consequences.

It is through the characteristics and qualities of the materials that the designer comes to keenly and fully appreciate values, intents, desires, and understandings associated with any design.

It is also through the most effective presentation specific to the materials that the designer experiences the piece to its best advantage and potential.     The effectiveness results from the designer’s ability to maximize the strengths of each material, while minimizing its weaknesses.    This is called leveraging.

It is a useful exercise, as well, to attempt to simplify the materials and reflect upon whether the piece feels more satisfying and successful, or less so.    One key goal of any designer is to reach a point of parsimony where enough is enough.

Appreciation of materials, their selection, use and arrangement lead the designer to see, feel, think and listen to the visual poetry laid out before them.    Jewelry is more than functional adornment.    It resonates.   Materials contribute to this.   This appreciation allows the artist to share inspiration and intent with other audiences, the wearer and viewer included.   The materials influence the artist in discovery, expression, invention, re-invention, and originality.   They become part of the human experience in jewelry design.


For example, you might be in a situation having decide whether to purchase an $80.00 strand of 6mm round garnet beads, or a $28.00 strand of these same beads. 

In that $80.00 strand, all the beads actually measure 6mm.    They are all perfectly round.   The holes are drilled well, and drilled through the center.    There are no chips at the hole.   There is good coloration, and the coloration from bead to bead is very consistent.

In that $28.00 strand, none of the beads measure 6mm.    They are a bit smaller, perhaps 5.5mm.    The beads from bead to bead on the strand are not consistent.   Sizes are approximate, not exact.   Several beads on the strand are not perfectly round.   Some have flat surfaces on them.   There are many chips at the hole, suggesting that they are not drilled well.    Some are drilled off-center. The coloration is good from afar, but a close exam reveals that some beads are less desirable than others.

This situation doesn’t present an easy choice, however.    If you are making fashion jewelry, the less expensive strand might be the best choice.    Fashion jewelry is not worn for a long time.   It is not an investment.   It is a look.    These beads are less expensive.   In this context, the flaws, in this case, may not be so much as a flaw, as more a variation.    The variations might enhance the fashion piece, adding a sense of fun, surprise and funkiness.    The poorly drilled holes might mean that these beads will crack and break from wear, but given that fashion jewelry is not worn for a long time, this is a non-issue.

If you are making a more investment quality piece, the more expensive garnet beads might be the better choice.   They have more value, resulting from the higher quality.    The consistency in quality results in a more classic, timeless look.    These beads will last a long time.    Here, the inconsistencies in the less expensive strand of beads definitely would be viewed as flaws, not variations.

Types of Materials

One of the most fundamental and practical aspects of jewelry design is the importance of the materials.    The choices jewelry designers make when selecting materials influence the form, content and movement of their pieces.     Every material brings something special to the creative process and the finished jewelry pieces.    The material influences, not only the designer, but the wearer and viewer themselves, how they perceive it, the values they place on it, and the extent they desire it.

The types of materials jewelry designers might choose are only limited by the imagination of the designer, and that designer’s budget.     I have compiled a short listing of the more prevalent materials used in jewelry design.    I distinguish those materials called

Stringing Materials

which are used to form the canvas of our jewelry,

from those materials called

Aesthetic Materials

which form the primary visual vocabulary and expressiveness of the piece, but also may contribute some functionality,

from those materials called

Functional Materials

which solely or primarily have practical value, but only sometimes, most likely inadvertently, add to the aesthetic expression of the piece.

STRINGING MATERIALS
(The Canvas)

The canvas is the part of the piece of jewelry onto which things are placed.     The canvas is usually some kind of stringing material, and the things placed on it typically are beads and charms.    The canvas supports the piece, its shaping and its silhouette.  It may or may not be visible in the piece.    But the canvas can be anything, including fabric and ribbon, wire mesh, chains, and the like.   It can be like a string, or it can be like a flat sheet.

The designer selects the canvas or stringing material based on a vision of the structure of the piece, including both its supportive requirements as well as its appearance-related qualities.     The particular selection will also impact the durability of the structure.    Sometimes the selection of canvas takes on a symbolic meaning, such as using hemp in friendship bracelets or antiwar jewelry, or using leather in biker jewelry.

(  (1)Beading thread:    Typically shaped like a typewriter ribbon, made from bonded nylon.   It is something we wax before using it. Materials are strung onto thread using a beading needle.    The thread is attached to the clasp assembly by tying knots.   Glue should never be applied to these knots.   If the beading thread is twisted, rather than bonded, it will break very easily.

Structure:   Piece is very supple and moves, drapes and flows very easily.   Provides little resistance to the weight of materials placed on it

Durability:   Very durable when waxed, unless the holes of beads are very sharp

 


(2) Cable thread:    This is a material where threads are braided together and encased in a nylon sheathing.    Used similarly as beading thread.   You use a needle.   Waxing is optional, but strongly suggested. You tie knots to the clasp assembly.  Glue should never be applied to these knots.   Cable thread sold in bead stores is non-biodegradable.    That sold in fishing stores or fishing departments is biodegradable.

Structure:  Piece is very supple and moves, drapes and flows easily, but
not as easily as with beading thread.

Durability: Very durable, but the nylon sheathing can be compromised easily from body oils, perfume oils, and cosmetics.    Waxing will protect the nylon sheathing.

 


(3) Bead cord, hemp, knotting cord:   This is a material where threads or
fibers are braided or twisted together so that they look pretty.     This cord
is used when you want the stringing material to show, such as putting knots
between beads, or where you have a cluster of beads, then the cord showing, another cluster of beads, the cord showing, and so forth.   You use this material to macramé, knot, braid, knit, and crochet.    You do not wax this material.   That would make it look ugly.    The primary purpose is to make your piece look attractive when the stringing material is to show.    Bead cord may be nylon or silk.    You use silk with real pearls, but, I suggest using the nylon with other materials.    You will need a needle, usually a collapsible eye or big eye needle.   You tie knots to secure the cord to a clasp assembly. You minimize the use of glue applied to knots, but you usually need to apply glue to the final knot.

Structure:  Piece is a little stiffer than with bead thread or cable
thread, but still feels supple.    Will drape well, but respond imperfectly to
the movement of the body.

Durability:  Silk naturally deteriorates in 3-5 years; nylon does not.   Bead cord made from other natural materials will also deteriorate over a relatively short period of time.

 


(4) Cable Wires:  This flexible stringing material consists of wires braided together and encased in nylon.    The strength comes from the ability of the nylon sheathing to keep the twist in the wires.   If the nylon sheathing is compromised in any way, the wires will immediately untwist and the cable will break at that point.     The wire is stiff enough to be its own needle.   You use crimp beads to secure the cable wire to a clasp assembly because it is more difficult to tie a secure knot with the cable wire. A crushed crimp adds a more pleasing appearance than tying a knot, but it adds risk.   A crushed crimp is like razor blade, always trying to saw right through the cable when the jewelry is worn.

Structure: Piece will be stiff, and never take the shape of the body.  Piece will typically rotate in the opposite direction from the movement of the body or arm it rests on.

Durability:  Very durable.   The nylon sheathing can be compromised easily from body oils, perfume oils, and cosmetics.  Usually crimp beads are used to secure the clasp, and these increase the risk the cable will break at the crimp, when compared to the durability of tying a knot.

 

(5) Stretchy Cords, like elastic string,
gossamer floss, elastic cord:
  These materials are not particularly durable and lose their elasticity over time.    People like these because they hate clasps, and you don’t use clasps with these.    You secure these by tying knots, and putting glue (any glue except superglue) on the knots.  Be sure
to coat the bottom of the knot, as well as the top of the knot.  Elastic
cord is fabric covered around an elastic thong or floss.

Structure:  Piece will stretch and return back to its original shape and size.

Durability:   Material deteriorates and loses both its integrity as well as its memory over time, especially if left exposed to the air, or worn frequently.   The round elastic string is the most durable among the stretchy cords.   The floss is the least durable.

 


(6) Thicker cords like leather, waxed
cotton, ultra suede lace, rubber thong, and rat tail (satin cord):
  These cords are stiff enough to be their own needle.   You usually need special jewelry findings, such as crimp ends, end caps, or cones with larger interior openings, to prepare the ends of the thicker cord, so that you can attach a clasp assembly.   Some are glued on; some crimped.

Structure: Similar to bead cord, but little stiffer.

Durability:  Some cords, like leather, dry out over time and crack.    Other cords, like waxed cotton and ultra suede, last a very long time.    The rat tail tends to shred.

 


(7) Hard Wire:  Hard wire is not a stringing wire, per se.   You can use it to make a chain or bead-chain.   You can use it to make shapes, like clasps and ear wires.   You can bundle it so that it might be stiff enough to retain the shape of a bracelet or cuff.    You can weave it or knit it to create patterns and textures.   You create loops and rings to attach hard wire to a clasp assembly.

Structure: Wire stiffness comes as dead soft, half hard and hard.   You determine, given how much manipulation of the wire you plan on doing, how stiff you want the wire to be when you begin your project, so that it will hold and retain its shape.    Each time you manipulate the wire, it becomes stiffer and stiffer and stiffer, until it becomes brittle and breaks.

Durability: Very durable.   Wire 18 gauge or thicker has little risk of losing its shape, distorting, breaking, opening up or pulling apart.    As you get thinner, the risk increases dramatically.    Dead soft wire requires a lot more  manipulation until it can hold its shape, than half hard or hard hard wire.

     (8) Chain:Wire is bent into links of various shapes and sizes, and
these are interlinked together into a chain.   Sometimes the links are soldered closed.   Usually they are not.   You can string things onto the chain.   You can use the chain as part of the clasp assembly, often to make the size adjustable.    You can use the chain as a design element throughout your piece.

Structure: Thinner chains will be less able to keep their shape.

Durability: Chains can be very durable, particularly ones that have soldered links, wider links, and/or links created from thicker gauge wires.

(9) Ribbon, fabric:These wider cords are sometimes used as a stringing
material.    They are secured at each end with ribbon or bar clamps, which then form either side of your clasp assembly.

Structure:   Usually, these don’t by themselves support a shape.

Durability:  More aesthetic than functional

 

(10) Lacy’s Stiff Stuff, Stiff Felt, Ultra suede sheet, Paper, Card Board, Poster Board, Rolled Out Polymer or Metal Clay, Brass Cuff Blank:The canvas or stringing material does not have to be a narrow cord.   It can be a wide, flat surface, off of which to bead, glue, stitch, embroider, carve, or sculpt.   This  type of canvas needs to have some amount of stiffness to hold a shape, but not too much that the jewelry made with it feels uncomfortable, or does not move naturally with the person.

Structure:   If you were creating a pendant, you might want your
canvas o be a little stiffer than if you were creating a bracelet.

Durability:   Average durability

(11) Fused Glass:Sometimes the flat canvas is a piece of
glass.    Other pieces of glass are fused onto this, using a kiln, in order to create a pattern or image.  

 Structure:   Rigid shape.

Durability:  Same as any other piece of glass.

 

(12) Metal Sheet and Wire:Sometimes we fabricate a piece of
jewelry, either using soldering, stamping, molding, casting, 3-D printing, or cold connections.    Part of the sheet and/or wire becomes our canvas or stringing material.

Structure:  These are very reliable materials for creating and maintaining
shapes.

Durability:   Soldered and stamped pieces are much more durable than molded or cast ones.    3-D printed materials would be used with casting.    Cold connections could be used with any technique.

 

 

 

AESTHETIC MATERIALS

The canvas either passes through various aesthetic materials, or these are applied to the canvas or attached off the canvas in some way.    These aesthetic materials are used for the yoke, the clasp assembly, the frame, the focal point, the center piece, the strap, and the bail.    

Aesthetic Materials are expressive.   They are part of the visual vocabulary and grammar of the jewelry.    While some play functional roles, as well, they are usually selected for their expressive powers.     Some materials evoke sensory  or symbolic responses, as well.    A touch, a feel, a color sense, sometimes a smell, which extends beyond its factual elements.

Any type of material can be selected to use as an aesthetic material.    It can be something very specific, or a found object, or some kind of combobulation of things.  

Aesthetic Materials we see often include,

·
    Glass, Fused glass, lampwork glass, blown glass

        Metals and Plated Metals

·      Fibers

       Natural (gemstones, wood, bone, horn)

       Synthetic (plastic)

      Polymer and Precious Metal Clay

     Ceramic, Porcelain, Clay, Raku

      Paper, lacquered paper

      Oxidizers, Patinas, Paints, Fabric Dyes and Paints, Stains, Metal Paints and  Rouges

      Platings, Coatings

     Enameling

 

These aesthetic materials can be selected for their qualities of

(a) Appeal

(b) Functionality

(c) Sensations or symbolism extending beyond the physical and decorative bases underlying these materials

Aesthetic Materials: Appeal

The idea of appeal is a broad concept.    It is sometimes universal.   But often subjective. 

There are many variables underlying the ideas of appeal and beauty.    These include things like,


Clarity, translucence, opacity

      –Hardness, brittleness, softness, suppleness

      –Malleability

      –Luminescence, brightness, reflectiveness, refraction

      –Color, color combinations, intensity, value

      –Weight, lightness, heaviness, volume, density

      –Perceived value, worth, rarity

      –Cut, faceting, smoothness, carving, sculpting

      –Shapes

      –Direction, pointer, focal points, markings, striations, inclusions

 

Aesthetic Materials: Functionality

Some materials function better than others in certain situations.    For example, sterling silver is very malleable, nickel is more brittle.    Bending, shaping, coiling, weaving sterling silver requires much less effort, and with this, can lead to more artistic and design success, than using nickel or other wire material that is stiffer and harder than sterling.

Another example:   Using needle and thread as your stringing material is very time consuming.   It is awkward using needle and thread.   You have to wax it.   You want to pass through each bead a minimum of three times.    Using a cable wire, instead, lets you go much faster.    The cable wire is a self needle.   You don’t wax it.   You only have to go through each bead once.    If you are selling your pieces, it is virtually impossible to get your labor out of a needle and thread project.    You almost have to use a cable wire, if you don’t want to commit yourself to a life of slave labor.

 

Aesthetic Materials:  Sensations and Symbolism

Materials have sensory and symbolic powers which extend beyond the materials themselves.   Obviously, this can be very subjective.    It might have psychological roots, sociological roots and/or cultural roots.   

Things may feel warm, cold, soft, rough, oily, weighty.    Things may represent romance, power, membership, religiosity, status.

Vanderbilt University’s colors are gold and black, so using those colors in the Nashville, TN area might evoke a different emotional response than when used elsewhere.    And here’s that very-difficult-to-design-with University of Tennessee orange, again, in the Nashville area will evoke a very different response than elsewhere.

Materials like amber and bone and crystal are things people like to touch, not just look at.    The sensation extends beyond the visual grammar.

 

 

 

FUNCTIONAL MATERIALS

These materials are used in practical terms.   They help things hold together.   They help pieces stay in place.   They help make pieces adjustable in size.   They help polish, finish things off, assist materials through stages in their processing and development. They may be used to prevent or retard a change in color, such as a lacquer finish or rhodium plating over sterling to prevent tarnishing.  They help capture a form or shape.     They are not a part of the visual and expressive vocabulary and grammar of the piece.   Nor are they any kind of canvas.   

Functional Materials which are more prominent include,

·
Adhesives

      ·Solders

      ·Pickling, Flux

      ·Molding compounds

      ·Bead release

      ·Fixatives (like Krylon, lacquering, special platings, waxes, other things which create a protective barrier over something else).

 

It is especially important to know a lot about adhesives.   Many people reach for a tube of Superglue for everything.   Superglue has few uses in jewelry design.     This glue dries like glass, so the bond is like a piece of glass.    When the jewelry moves, the bond shatters like glass, and the bond looks like a broken piece of glass.   All jewelry moves when worn, so not a good choice.

Another glue many people reach for is hot glue.    This glue melts at body temperature, so not a wise choice for necklaces, bracelets and pendants.  

The best glue to use is jeweler’s glue.    Two brands are E6000 and Beacon 527.   Basically the same glue, but the former is thick and the latter is runny.    These glues take 10 minutes to set, so you can move things around for 10 minutes.   At about 20 minutes, the consistency is like rubber cement and you can use your finger or a tweezers to take off any excess glue.   Both glues take 24 hours to dry hard.    They dry clear and remain clear over time.    The bond does not expand.

If using fabric, particularly silk  (ribbon, bead cord, thread), you want to use a cement, rather than a glue.     Glues work by forming a collar around an object, then tighten up as the water or other solvent evaporates.    Cements work by adhering to each individual fiber.    Glue on fabric, as opposed to cement, will lose its grip, so to speak.   With silk, I suggest either G-S Hypo Fabric Cement, or any fabric glue.

Before using a glue, you want to know the characteristics of the bond, once dried.    These include things like,

– hardness

– whether dries clear, or yellows

– whether yellows with age

– whether it expands or not when it dries

– what materials it is most useful for

– whether you have to prepare the material’s surface before using

– how long it takes to fully set

– how easy it is to wipe away and remove any excess glue

– whether where-ever you purchase the particular brand of glue, such as at a craft store or discount store or bead store, that this brand of glue is the same quality product

– how long the glue will last in its container before hardening or drying out

Besides the importance of knowing the types of materials, it is also important to know the properties of materials.     These include (a) mechanical properties, (b) physical properties, and (c) chemical properties.

 

Mechanical Properties

Mechanical properties describe how a material reacts to an applied force.   These include,

·
Strength:   It’s ability not to break under stress or strain

·
Hardness:  How easily it can be scratched, faceted, carved, sculpted, cut, sand blasted

·
Elasticity:   The ability to regain its shape after a stress has been applied to it

·
Plasticity and Malleability:   How much force it takes to make a material permanently deform without breaking

·
Stiffness and Brittleness:  At some point, these materials will be so brittle, they will not bend, and will just break in response to force.    Wire materials, for example, get stiffer and more brittle, the more they are worked, such as from twisting, pulling, hammering, coiling and the like.    Crystal is much more brittle than glass, so it more likely to break from movement or other force.

·
Fatigue:   When the material fails, after repeated wear and use

·
Impact Strength:   how much a material can withstand an impact

·
Abrasion Resistance:   When two materials rub against each other, what is the resistance before one or both break

·
Creep: the slow movement of a material over time

 

Physical Properties

Physical properties
describe the inherent nature of the material.    Some more important ones
related to materials used in jewelry include:

·
Density:   mass and volume

·
Porosity: the quality of being full of tiny holes;
these might hold in something, like a perfume oil, or that something might
easily leach out through washing or sweating, like a dye or lead

·
Water
absorption, permeability and solubility

·
Softening and
Compression:
   how
material holds up under different conditions

·
Resistance to
Heat and Fire

·
Resistance to
Cold

·
Resistance to
a number of cycles of sharp temperature variations without failing

·
Changing form
from solid to liquid to gas

 

Chemical Properties

Chemical properties refer to how well the material holds up when exposed to chemicals.   These chemicals may be in the air.    They may be present in cosmetics, perfumes or hair sprays.   They may be present in a person’s sweat.    These include,


Corrosion

·    Melting, Dissolving, Removing

·
Etching

·
Colorizing, Oxidizing, Patinas

·
Platings

·
Bonding, Adherring

·
Biodegrading

 

We have looked at types of materials and their properties.   Now we need to understand how materials help establish the viability, finish and success of jewelry.   Here, our materials selection process begins to incorporate some value judgments.

 

 

Materials Help Establish
the Viability, Finish and Success of The Jewelry

Jewelry has character and personality.    People intuitively or consciously recognize when it is finished, that is, when the addition or subtraction of any one design element would make the piece seem less satisfying or desirable. Jewelry is judged as successful, to the extent it can maintain its shape while concurrently feeling comfortable, and moving, draping and flowing with the person, as the person wears the jewelry and moves with it on.

Every piece of jewelry has its artistic and individual character due to the many facets from which it is constructed.    Stringing, Aesthetic and Functional Materials are three of these facets.   Mechanical, Physical and Chemical Properties add some additional facets.    These among other additional material choices determine both what can be made, as well as the character of what is made.

Material selection in jewelry design is not only about choosing the most attractive, or most obvious, or most affordable, or most durable materials available.    Designers also choose materials for their sensual sensations, like warmth, their formal appearance, like classical, their functional practicality, like a clamp, or their geo-locality, like using materials found locally.   

The material selection process is complex.    It is influenced by many preconditions, choices made, and considerations to accommodate.    Too often, however, designers focus mainly on the visual aspects of the materials, and not enough on other factors.    In order to make well-considered and smart choices about materials, jewelry designers need a lot more information.    They need information about the entirety of the material, as created or constructed, as visually impactful, as functionally helpful, as perceptually and cognitively understood and as symbolically relevant for designer, wearer and viewer.

 

Selecting
Materials Is A Complicated Process

MATERIAL

(type and
property)


stringing

– aesthetic

– functional


mechanical

– physical

– chemical

JEWELRY
MAKING

 


production process

– assembly, fabrication, construction

– finishing

– accommodating temporal issues

– cost

EXPERIENCE

 


sensorial

– perception

– association and symbolism

– emotion and resonance

CONTEXT

 


of use

– physical

– historical and geographic

– socio-cultural and psychological

PERSPECTIVE

– artist

– wearer

– viewer

– seller, buyer, exhibiter, collector, student, teacher

Stringing,  Aesthetic, and sometimes, Functional Materials, coupled with their various Mechanical, Physical and Chemical properties, help to:

      (1)Establish a relationship between visual quality and structural stability (physical properties, shape, silhouette)

      (2)Establish a relationship between visual quality and support or jointedness (movement, drape and flow)

      (3)Influence the selection of the appropriate technique

      (4)Provide character and visual appeal

      (5)Reflect the time, era, and socio-cultural context and historical value of the piece

      (6)Mix aesthetic elements with functional ones

      (7)Highlight a theme or concept expressed in the design

      (8)Link the piece to a particular geography or location

      (9)Link the piece to its appropriate placement on the body

      (10) Determine the budget for the piece

      (11) Establish the relationship between quantity and quality, that is, how many similar pieces can be made

      (12) Best combine the materialistic qualities with the non-materialistic qualities of the project

 

 

 

(1) Establish a relationship between visual quality and structural stability (physical properties, shape, silhouette)

Jewelry making materials signify structural significance.    This may relate to the physical properties of the materials, such as hardness, brittleness, softness, pliability, porousness, and this list can go on and on.   This may relate to the shapes of the materials, and the placement and interaction of the shapes within the piece, or the final silhouette.    The same may be said for size, weight and volume.    This may relate to the stability of the material or its color or finish over time.

The choices and arrangement of materials within a piece of jewelry determines its structure.     Structure means shape and material integrity.     Shape in jewelry may refer to the silhouette of the piece as a whole, or to individual shapes which occupy one or more sections of our finished piece of jewelry.    It may refer to the positioning of positive and negatives areas within the piece.   When we refer to structure and shape and material, we imply structural integrity, and the degree we are able to maintain any shape, color or finish while the jewelry is worn over some period of time.

Example 1:   We may create a bracelet using Austrian crystal beads strung on a beading thread.   We achieve a high visual quality, at least initially.    But these beads will cut through the threads when the bracelet is worn, thus ending with a very low structural stability.

Example 2:  Sometimes a clam-shell bead tip is used to finish off each end of bead cord, when that is the stringing material.   The bead cord, at its end, is tied into a knot, which sits inside the clam-shell, the cord coming out a hole in the bottom of the clam shell.    We do not want the knot to work itself loose and slip through the hole.   So we glue it.   If we use a jeweler’s glue, like E6000 or Beacon 527, these glues dry like rubber.    With these glues, the knot can actually contort and work itself through the hole.    If we use a glue like Superglue or G-S Hypo Cement,
the knot will remain stiff and not be able to slip through the hole.   However, the stiff knot reduces what is called
support.   It reduces the piece’s jointedness, or ability to respond to stress and strain, thus an ability to best move, drape and flow.     An alternative to glue is to thread an 11/0 seed bead, passing through the bead twice, before bringing the cord through the hole.   This is secure.  No glue is used as all.    Full support is preserved.

Example 3:  How long a metal plated finish lasts depends partly on the metal underneath it, and if it bonds to that metal.    Metal plating bonds well to brass, so it lasts a long time before it fades away.   Metal plating does not bond at all to aluminum, so it quickly chips off.

 

(2)Establish a relationship between visual quality and support or jointedness (movement, drape and flow)

Jewelry making materials enhance or impede support or jointedness.    The selection and placement of materials, their density, weight, shape, and the like may enable the jewelry to take the shape of the body and move with the body, or not.  

Things strung on beading thread will always take the shape of the body and move with the body; things strung on cable wire will not.     But the designer has at their disposal several jewelry design tricks in construction which will make the cable wire function closer to needle and thread.

Example 1: A bracelet made up of very large beads, that when encircling the wrist, create a very stiff circle, with much strain and stress on each bead, on the stringing material and on the clasp assembly.    If the designer reworks the piece, to include small round spacer beads between each very large bead, the designer, in effect, has added what is called a rotator support system. Each very large bead can freely respond to stresses and strain which result from adjusting to the body and its movement by rotating and pivoting around the spacer bead.

Example 2:  People usually pick a clasp after they have designed their piece.   They look for something that will make do, perhaps easier to get on and off, and hopefully have some match to the piece.   A clasp, however, should be understood as more than a clasp.   It should be understood as a clasp assembly, which is a type of support system.
S-clasps are very attractive and a S-clasp design can always be found that feels an organic extension of the jewelry.   An S-clasp needs a soldered ring off of each arm, and, if stringing on cable wire, a loop in the wire where it connects to the soldered ring.      The crimp is never pushed all the way up to the clasp or ring.    Each ring or loop is a support system, so our S-clasp needs 4 support systems in this case, to function correctly.   With 4 supports on the S-clasp in a necklace, the clasp will always remain on the back of the neck, no matter how the person moves.   Without 4 supports, it will not, and the necklace will keep turning around. 

 

(3)Influence the selection of the appropriate technique

The designer must coordinate the selection of Stringing, Aesthetic and Functional Materials, and their inherent Mechanical, Physical and Chemical properties, so that they work in harmony with a particular technique used to assemble, weave, or otherwise secure them together in a finished piece of jewelry.

Conversely, the technique might dictate which materials will work best, and which will not.    Bead weaving works with thread or cable thread, but not as easily with elastic string or cable wire.

There was a time when the materials used in any one piece were restricted to a few.   Today any material can be used, as well as any combination of materials, without losing any appeal or value or desire.

Examples:  A Czech glass bead with a hole size of .8mm would not slip a leather cord with a diameter of 1.5mm.    It would be very difficult to create a loomed piece with beads of widely varying sizes.     If mixing metals (say, silver, gold and brass) in a fabricated and soldered bracelet, care must be taken in the soldering strategy because each metal melts at a different temperature.   You could not begin a wire weaving project using hard hard-wire.    We may select cable wire for our canvas. This would not be a suitable stringing material if the technique we wanted to apply was bead weaving.

 

(4)Provide character and visual appeal

The surface of a material has many characteristics which the jewelry designer leverages within the finished piece.    Light might reflect off this surface, such as with opaque glass or shiny metal.   Light might be brought into and below the surface before reflected back, such as with many gemstones and opalescent glass.  Light might refract through the piece at different angles, even creating a prism effect.

The surface might be a solid color.   It might be a mix of colors.    It might be matte.   It may have inclusions or markings.    It may have fired on coloration effects.   There may be tonal differences.    There may be pattern or textural differences.    It may have movement.   It may have depth.

Example:   It is often difficult to mix gemstone beads with glass beads.   However, if you use glass beads which have a translucent quality to them, this glass mimics the relationship of light reflecting
back to the eye with that of the gemstones.    The finished piece will feel
harmonious.

 

(5)Reflect the time, era, and socio-cultural context and historical value of the piece

Jewelry and its design and materials used can be iconic.   

Jewelry can relate the symbolic value of the piece to certain historical themes and ideas, or to specific functions.

Jewelry can be used to preserve, conserve or restore certain cultural or historical values.    The material(s) selected may glorify these.    Their availability may be closely tied to the time and place.   Their use within a piece may be socially subscribed.

Our understanding of how jewelry relates to these contexts can be used to document how jewelry and its design has evolved and spread.

Name an historical period, and you can visualize many of the materials used and design sense.    Roman. Victorian.    Prehistoric.   Modern.    

Name a socio-cultural context.     Religious.   Wedding.   Military.    American Southwest.   Any rite of passage.

Example 1:   Pearl knotted jewelry is very strongly associated with silk bead cord, pearl clasps, and bead tips.   It is also very associated with Victorian jewelry.   It would be difficult to substitute other materials and pieces, such as a different kind of clasp, or not knotting between beads, without the piece losing its appeal.

Example 2:  A rosary is made as a bead chain, with a certain number of beads, often a certain size and material of bead, with a Y-shaped connector at its center.   The rosary assists the wearer
in prayer and religiosity.   It’s specific design and use of materials
differentiates Catholicism from other religions.

 

(6)Mix aesthetic elements with functional ones

Jewelry is art only as it is worn.    Its aesthetic elements must tightly coordinate with its functional ones, if the piece is to maintain its shape and silhouette, and move with the person, without distorting, feeling uncomfortable or breaking.    Thus, its quality and durability are dependent upon how the designer successfully maneuvers the tradeoffs required between function and appeal.    A good part of this success stems from how materials are selected, combined and arranged.

Jewelry and its design preserve the aesthetic qualities, without disrupting and losing focus of the practical ones.

Example:   The clasp assembly on a piece of jewelry can be very organic, feeling an integral part of the piece.    Or it can be very disruptive and annoying, as if it were a last choice and consideration, and the designer found a clasp that would make do.   For an S-clasp to function appropriately, it needs at least one soldered ring off of the arm on each side
of the clasp.    This will force the clasp assembly to take up more space and
volume in the piece.   This too might end up detracting from the overall appeal of the piece.

 

(7)Highlight a theme or concept expressed in the design

Materials may be selected, combined and arranged into forms and themes so that they represent larger meanings and concepts.    Often this comes down to color, shape, placement, and arrangement.   The materials bring out the theme or concept in the design.

Example:    You create a piece of jewelry with a blue color scheme, using 4 shades of blue.    If the piece is to be worn, say, going clubbing in the evening, you might select 4 shades of blue (metallic blue iris, montana blue, blue quartz, cornflower) which vary in intensity. That means, varying how bright or dull they are by selecting tones with more or less underlying black, gray or white.    If the piece is to be worn, say, at work during the day, you might select 4 shades of blue (cobalt, sapphire, light sapphire, ultralight sapphire) which vary in value.    That means, varying how light or dark they are by selecting tones that are basically the same, but some
are lighter or darker than others.

 

(8)Link the piece to a particular geography or location

Materials may be strongly associated with a particular geography or location.    Lapis is strongly associated with Afghanistan.     Paint Rock with Tennessee.   

Example:  A necklace by a Tennessee designer made entirely with lampwork beads made by Tennessee artisans.

 

(9)Link the piece to its appropriate placement on the body

Jewelry can only be judged successful at the boundary between jewelry and the body.   It must be able to conform to the body’s shape.   It must be able to comfortably move, drape and flow as the person moves and shifts positions.

Materials selection might begin with what materials would be most appropriate for a given type of jewelry.    Or it might begin with what materials would be most appropriate for a certain body shape or size or placement.

Example:   Very heavy beads used in earrings can make them uncomfortable.    Creating a 4” earring dangle on a 4” head pin is not quite as a good a strategy as making a 4” earring dangle chain using eye pins.    Think about what happens to the former vs. the latter when the wearer bends her head, then returns to the upright position.

 

(10) Determine the budget for the piece

The total expenditure incurred while designing a piece of jewelry might be, to a large extent, determined by the materials used.     A designer often selects the material type based on a budget for the project.     [Techniques can also have a big impact on the cost, particularly when accounting for the time it takes to design and construct a piece of jewelry.]

Example:  A necklace made entirely of lapis lazuli beads might retail for $150.00.    A similar necklace made entirely of lapis color glass beads might retail for $25.00.    Both would look similar and take the same time to make.    

 

(11) Establish the relationship between quantity and quality, that is, how many similar pieces can be made

The choice of materials affects the quality of the elements.     Within a given project budget, and within a particular design goal, the quality of the materials may limit the number of similar pieces to be made, or the complexity or elaborateness of the design of any one piece.

Example:   A stretchy bracelet made with lava beads might retail for $15.00.    The materials – elastic string, lava beads, glue – are readily available and inexpensive.    The designer could easily make 50 of these to sell, and stay within a reasonable budget.    Change the materials to cable wire, crimp bead, horseshoe wire protector, crimp cover, black onyx beads, toggle clasp, and the investment in parts is considerably more.   We have more materials and more expensive materials.   This bracelet might have to retail for  $45.00.    Staying within the same budget framework, the designer would only be able to make 16 of these.

 

(12)Best combine the materialistic qualities with the non-materialistic qualities of the project

Every material has two over-arching qualities.   The obvious is its physical properties and physicality.    Let’s call this materialistic.   It is something that is measurable.   In the realm of the mystic, it is ordinary or profane.

But the material also has qualities that extend beyond this.   They can be sensory.   They can be symbolic.    They can be psychological.   They can be contextual.     Let’s call this non-materialistic.   It is something that is non-measurable.  In the realm of the mystic, it is extraordinary and sacred.

Both properties must be considered when designing a piece of jewelry.    They have equal importance, when selecting, placing and arranging materials and design elements within a piece.

Example:    Take a Chakra bracelet strung on cable wire with a clasp.      The beads used are gemstones.   Each gemstone has spiritual and healing properties.   Each gemstone has a coloration, and each different coloration, too, is associated with certain spiritual and healing properties.    Moreover, every individual has their own unique needs
for which set of gemstones and which assortment of colorations are best and most  appropriate.   This can get even more complicated in that each situation and context may have its own requirements.     The person may end up needing several Chakra bracelets for different occasions.     The designer could have used glass or acrylic beads, instead, which have less non-materialistic value, and might be less durable over time.    The designer could have strung the beads on elastic string without using a clasp, again, less non-materialistic value and durability.

 

 

 

LESSONS LEARNED

Selecting materials involves a complicated set of choices, some tangible, some intangible, some personal, some in anticipation of the perceptions of others.

Some lessons learned…

      1.You can use any material you want when designing jewelry

      2.Material selection is a complicated decision making process

      3.No material is perfect for every project

      4.Don’t assume you know what you know

      5.Be skeptical

      6.Always ask questions

      7.Select materials on both their aesthetic as well as functional properties

      8.Don’t sacrifice functionality for aesthetics

      9.Anticipate what might happen to your materials over time as the jewelry is worn

      10.Anticipate how your various audiences will respond to your selections of materials

      11.Work within a budget

      12.Match the quality of material to your design (and marketing) goals

 

 

 

 

Warren Feld,
Jewelry Designer

 

For Warren Feld, Jewelry Designer, (www.warrenfeldjewelry.com), beading and jewelry making have been wonderful adventures. These adventures have taken Warren from the basics of bead stringing and bead weaving, to pearl knotting, micro-macrame, wire
working, wire weaving and silversmithing, and onward to more complex jewelry designs which build on the strengths of a full range of technical skills and experiences.

In 2000, Warren founded The Center for Beadwork & Jewelry Arts (CBJA) as the educational program
for Be Dazzled Beads-Land of Odds.     The program approaches education from a Design Perspective.

There is a strong focus on skills development.   There is a major emphasis on
teaching how to make better choices when selecting beads, other parts and
stringing materials, and how to bring these altogether into a beautiful, yet
functional, piece of jewelry.   There are requirements for sequencing classes –
that is, taking classes in a developmental order.  

Theory is tightly wedded to applications throughout the program, from beginner to
advanced classes.    Since jewelry, unlike painting and sculpture, must
interrelate aesthetics, function and context, much attention is paid to how
such relationships should influence the designer.    Jewelry Design is seen as
an authentic performance task.    As such, the student explores ideas about
artistic intent, shared understandings among all audiences, and developing
evidence in design sufficient for determining whether a piece is finished and
successful.     The design educational program is envisioned as preparing the
student towards gaining a disciplinary literacy in design — one that begins
with how to decode the expressive attributes associated with Design Elements to
a fluency in the management of Principles of Composition, Construction and
Manipulation, as well as the systems management of the design process itself. 

Warrenleads a group of instructors at Be Dazzled Beads (www.bedazzledbeads.com).  He teaches many of the bead-weaving, bead-stringing, wire weaving, jewelry design and business-oriented courses. He
works with people just getting started with beading and jewelry making, as well
as those with more experience. 

His pieces have appeared in beading and jewelry magazines and books, including
Perlen Posie (“Gwynian Ropes Bracelet”,
No. 21, 2014), Showcase 500 Beaded
Jewelry (“Little Tapestries: Ghindia”, Lark Publications, 2012). One piece
(“Canyon Sunrise”), which won 4th place in Swarovski’s Naturally
Inspired Competition
(2008), is in the Swarovski museum in Innsbruck,
Austria.   His work has been written up in The Beader’s Guide to Jewelry
Design
(Margie Deeb, Lark Publications, 2014). He has been a faculty member
at CraftArtEdu.com, developing video tutorials.   

He has been selected as an instructor for the Bead & Button Show, June, 2019,
teaching 3 pieces – Japanese Garden Bracelet, Etruscan Square Stitch Bracelet,
and ColorBlock Bracelet.    In March 2020, Warren will be leading a
travel-enrichment program on Celebrity Cruise Lines, centered on jewelry
making, beginning with a cruise from Miami to Cozumel and Key West.

Personal style: multi-method, intricate color play, adaptive of traditions to
contemporary design, experimental.

Warren is currently working on a book tentatively titled:  SO YOU WANT TO BE A JEWELRY
DESIGNER… Merging Your Voice With Form.

Owner, Be Dazzled Beads in Nashville, and Land of Odds (www.landofodds.com). 

He is probably best known for creating the international The Ugly Necklace Contest,
where good jewelry designers attempt to overcome our pre-wired brains’ fear
response for resisting anything Ugly.    He has also sponsored All Dolled Up: Beaded
Art Doll Competition and The Illustrative Beader: Beaded Tapestry Competition.

Instructor, Bead & Button Show, Milwaukee, WI, 2019

Workshop Leader, Your World Of Jewelry Making Cruises, Celebrity Cruise Line,
2019-2020

 

 

_______________________________

FOOTNOTES

     (1) WASTIELS, Lisa and WOUTERS, Ine.  Material Considerations in Architectural Design: A Study of the Aspects Identified by Architects for Selecting Materials.   July, 2008.

As referenced in:

http://shura.shu.ac.uk/511/1/fulltext.pdf

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THE JEWELRY DESIGNER’S APPROACH TO COLOR

Posted by learntobead on February 16, 2019

THE JEWELRY DESIGNER’S APPROACH TO COLOR

by Warren Feld, Jewelry Designer


Abstract
Color is the single most important Design Element, whether used alone, or in combination with other Design Elements.    Yet jewelry creates a series of dilemmas for the colorist not always anticipated by what jewelry designers are taught in a typical art class.    This article reviews the basic concepts in color theory and suggests how to adapt each of these to the special requirements of beads and jewelry.   Special attention is paid to differentiating those aspects of color use we can consider as objective and universal from those which are more subjective.    The fluent designer is one who can maneuver between universal understandings and subjective beliefs when selecting and implementing colors, color combinations and color blends.  This involves managing the sensation of color light value (balance), the sensation of color contrasts (proportion), and the sensation of simultaneous color contrasts (context) among designer, wearer and viewer.

RETHINKING THE TEACHING OF “COLOR” IN JEWELRY DESIGN
You cannot paint with beads and other jewelry components.
I am going to repeat this:   You cannot paint with beads and other jewelry components.
When you take color class after color class rooted in art, they are teaching you how to paint.    You can’t do this with jewelry and beads.

As frustrating as this can be, you cannot ignore the fact that Color is the single most important Design Element.   Colors, their selection, use and arrangement, are believed to have universal powers to get people to see things as harmonious and appealing.   Color attracts attention.   A great use of color within and object, not only makes that object more coherent, it can be contagious, as well.    Using colors that do not work well together, or using too many colors or not enough colors, or using colors which look good on paper but distort in reality can put people off.

Designers can learn the artistic basics of Color concepts and theories.   They can reference this visual language of color to influence how they go about making choices, including those about picking and using colors.    However, jewelry artists who are fluent in design will be very aware of the limitations this artistic, painterly language imposes on them.    They will have to learn how to decode, adjust and leverage their thinking to anticipate how the bead and other related and integrated materials assert their needs for color, and how to strategically compose, construct and manipulate them.

Jewelry, unlike painting or sculpture, has certain characteristics and requirements which rely on the management and control of color, its sensation and its variability with a slightly different emphasis than learned in a traditional art class.  Jewelry is a 3-dimensional object, composed of a range of materials.  Jewelry situates, moves and adjusts in relation to the human body and what that body is doing at the moment.   To get the attention their jewelry deserves, jewelry artists must become fluent with color selection and application from their own disciplinary perspective.    We must understand color in jewelry as the jewelry is worn, and worn in a particular context or situation.

Beads  [here I use ‘beads’ as a stand-in for all the component parts and stringing materials used in a piece of jewelry]  are curved or faceted or otherwise shaped, and the shape and texture and material and dimensionality affect the color, its variation and its placement and movement on the beads surface.  They affect how light reflects and refracts, so depending on the angle at which you are standing, and how you are looking at the bead, you get some unexpected, unanticipated, sometimes unwanted colors in your piece of jewelry.

Additionally, you need to anticipate how the bead, when worn, can alter its color, depending on the source of light, the type and pace of movement of the wearer, and how the eye interacts with the bead at any point of time or positioning.   There are many gaps of light between each pair of beads, and you can’t paint these in.  The colors don’t blend, don’t merge, don’t spill over, don’t integrate.    You can’t create the millions of subtle color variations that you can with paint.

I’m not suggesting that beaders and jewelry makers be afraid of colors.    Rather, they should embrace them.  They should learn insights into understanding colors.  They should be inspired by colors.   They should express their artistic and creative selves through color.    They should use color palettes to their fullest.    They should recognize how their various audiences see and claim and interact with color.

It is most important that jewelry designers understand color, its use and application from their own disciplinary standpoint.   In some sense, however, the approaches of most bead artists and jewelry designers too often remain somewhat painterly – too routed in the Art Model.    The Art Model ignores things about functionality and context.    It diminishes how the individuality of the designer, and the subjective responses of the wearer and viewer affect each other.  In many respects, these are synergetic, mutually dependent and reciprocal.  The Art model understands the success of jewelry as if sitting on an easel, not as it is worn.

As a result, color theories get oversimplified for the jewelry artist.   “Value” is barely differentiated from “Intensity”.   Color selection focuses too much on harmony, and too little on resonance and edginess.  Color training too often steers jewelry designers towards a step-by-step, paint-by-number sort of approach to color selection and application.   The co-dependent relationship between Color and other Design Elements is downplayed and glossed over.    This is a major disservice.

So, I’ve tried to re-think how we could and should think about and teach “color” to jewelry artists.     Not easy.   Art and Design Theory suggests that, in order to teach designers to make good choices, we need to break down color concepts and theories into teachable and digestible groups of skills.    And then show how the next set of skills builds upon the first.

We need to show jewelry artists what kinds of color choices they will be making as they create pieces of jewelry, and then put them in situations where they are forced to make these kinds of choices.     We need to think of colors as “building blocks”, and the process of using colors, as one of creative construction.   Creative construction requires focusing on how color (and multiple colors) is (are) sensed, and sensed by various audiences which include the artist him- or herself, and the wearer and the viewer, and the exhibitor, collector, and the seller, if need be.

So, that’s where I’ll begin with color:   Delineating the types of choices that the jewelry artist needs to make, starting with choices about picking colors.

Picking Colors
As a design element, color is used to attract attention.   It aids in grouping some objects and setting boundaries between others.   It can emphasize and focus.   It conveys meaning and value.   Usually color enhances the aesthetics and appeal.    Color can be used as an organizing tool and create segments, components, rhythms, movement, dimension and hierarchical arrangements within your jewelry composition.   Color can affect the figure/ground relationship of the composition.

There are many different kinds of choices involved, when using Color:

Choices about colors based on our understanding of…
– Personal strategies for picking colors or finding inspirations for colors
– Color theories and concepts
– How the bead (and related jewelry materials) asserts its (their) needs for color
– How color affects the viewers of color
– The process for designing jewelry with color
– The situation or context within which the jewelry is to be worn

Part of picking colors is very personal and subjective.   And part of this is very strategic and must be managed.    That is, part of picking colors is about anticipating more universal understandings about how various audiences will sense and pick colors.     How do you actually go about picking your colors, and then deciding on your final colors for your piece?   What kinds of things influence you in choosing colors?   What inspires you?   Where do you look for inspiration?    Do you have favorite colors and color combinations?    Or colors and color combinations that you detest?    How do you anticipate how others will view and evaluate the colors you pick?

Choosing Colors is an involved exercise.     Most people avoid this kind of exercise, and settle for a set of colors that match.    But, in design terms, Colors are used by the designer to clarify and intensify the effects she or he wants to achieve.

What does it mean to “clarify and intensify” the effects you might want to achieve?   For example, the artist may use color to clarify and/or intensify any of these kinds of things…
– delineation of segments, forms, themes, areas
– expressions of naturalism or abstraction
– enhancing the sense of structure or physicality (forward/recede; emphasize mass or lines or surfaces or points)
– playing with light (surprise, distort, challenge, contradict, provoke)
– altering the natural relationship between the jewelry and the situation it is worn in (context, clothing, setting)

Color is the primary Design Element designers choose to express their intent, establish unity, create rhythm, set movement and dimensionality in place, enhance shape, make points, lines and planes come alive, and the like.    Alas, too few people apply this kind of thinking and make this kind of effort when choosing colors.

For myself, I know that as I start to play with my design arrangements, I also begin to identify potential color issues.    Designs are imperfect.   Beads are imperfect.  Colors are imperfect.   With each issue, I try to figure out solutions – other things I can do with colors to make everything work.   My choices begin with scientifically proven color theories – shared universals that virtually everyone has about picking colors.

In literacy terminology, this is called decoding. Then I begin to personalize my choices so that my results show more of my individuality as an artist.   Some of these latter choices do not necessarily reflect shared universal understandings about color, its sensation and its use.   In literacy terminology, my ability to move back and forth between the objective and subjective is called fluency.

Bead Choices
The bead – its very being – creates as series of dilemmas for the colorist.    And each dilemma is only overcome through strategically making and managing choices about color and design.
Such dilemmas include things like… 

  • Beads are not the same as using paints
  • Can’t blend beads
  • Boundary issues
  • Issues associated with shapes, faceting, edges, crevices
  • Jewelry reflects and refracts light, and this may change as the wearer moves, or lighting changes, or perspective and angle of vision changes, or materials or material mixes change
  • Limits in the range of colors (and color tones) you can pick from
  • Issues associated with the fact that jewelry as worn, takes many shapes/positions, as the person moves, and the color appearance may change or vary
  • Beads are parts in whole compositions, and juxtaposition of 2 or more beads may change or vary the colors’ appearance
  • Jumping from bead to bead within the composition, means the viewer’s mind has to fill in where there are gaps of color to give the illusion there is a continuance of color throughout the composition

Yet most people do not recognize or anticipate these kinds of dilemmas.

Emotions, Moods and Choices
The emotional and psychological effects of color are undeniable.  These effects are usually felt through processes of color comparisons and contrasts.   The better designer anticipates the goals of the wearer, and what emotions and moods the wearer wants to evoke in all that see the jewelry as worn.    This might be appeal, beauty, trust, power, wealth, intelligence, and the list goes on.


Designing With Color – Many Choices
The jewelry designer must be strategic with color, which comes down to..

  1. Selection
  2. Placement
  3. Distribution
  4. Transition
  5. Proportion

Designers must be intentional, not only with the selection of colors, but in the placement of color within the piece, as well.     The designer achieves balance and harmony, partly through the placement of colors.    The designer determines how colors are distributed within the piece, and how colors transition from one color to the next.   And the designer determines what proportions of each color are used, where in the piece, and how.   These kinds of choices affect movement and rhythm, dimensionality, and resonance.

Subjective or Objective Choices?
SOME TOOLS FROM ART THEORY

Many people are often skeptical that you can choose colors with any basis of rationality.     Choosing colors is intuitive, subjective, personal.    You can’t teach people to be better users of colors, because you’re either born with a sense of color, or you are not.

People seem to have cultural or social expectations about the meanings of some colors.   When Vanderbilt students see black and gold, they associate it with school colors.   When others see black and gold, they associate it with something else.    The same goes for University of Tennessee Orange, and so forth school to school.

If we are to be able to teach jewelry makers and beaders to be more scientific in their choices of colors, and be able to anticipate how their various audiences respond to colors, then we would need to have some objective rules, rules that refer universally to just about everyone.  Rules that inform people what colors are best.   What colors go together, which ones do not.   Rules that show how to manipulate color and its expression in perfect and predictable ways.

But everything seems so subjective.

When people see colors on the vertical, they may respond very differently than when they see these same colors on the horizontal.

Look at flags of countries around the world.   Many flag colors are red, white and blue.

If you look at France’s flag, you have red/white/blue on the vertical.

Russia’s flag has red/white/blue on the horizontal.

You frequently find that people might like a color arrangement in a vertical organization, but feel very uncomfortable, or have much disdain for those same colors, when found in the horizontal.

COLOR TOOLS AND THEIR THEORETICAL BASIS
Sensation Management

Color research over the past 100 years or so suggests that there are many universals in how people perceive, understand and respond to colors.   These universals provide the basis for several “sensation-management-tools” jewelry designers might use to help them manipulate various design elements and their arrangements within a jewelry composition.    Some of the most useful color tools are those which designers use to control how to make one color relate to another.     These have to do with creating and managing…

A. Sensations of Color Balance (Light Values)
B. Sensations of Color Proportions (Color Contrast)
C. Sensations of Simultaneous Color (Simultaneous Color Contrasts)

As jewelry designers, we need to know…

  • What these color TOOLS are, and with which we can play
  • What the special demands beads (and all other materials) place on our use of these TOOLS
  • How we can push the limits of these TOOLS to achieve harmony, variety and emotional responses
  • How Far We Can Push the limits of these TOOLS to achieve parsimony and resonance

Toward this end, we need to know a little bit about the research and theories these tools are based upon.We need to understand some things about perception and cognition.That is, we need to understand, as people interact with our jewelry, how the brain comes to see color, recognize color, and interpret color in context.

Theory / Research Underlying These Color-Sensation Management Tools
My favorite book on the research into the theoretical bases of these kinds of color management tools is by Johannes Itten [2] called The Elements of Color.    The most important theories about color universals for jewelry designers, as detailed in his book, include,

  1. After Images
  2. Use of the Color Wheel
  3. Color Schemes
  4. Color Proportions
  5. Simultaneity Effects

As a design element in and of itself, Color (and its attributes) are universally understood as if they were objective facts which comprise a visual grammar.  It is important to understand how to employ universal understandings about color.

Universality, in and of itself, however, is necessary but not sufficient for understanding why some color use draws your attention, and others do not.  Here aspects of subjective interpretations and reactions, given the context, have great influence.The fluent, successful jewelry designer should understand both those universal and subjective aspects of color.

The initial discussion below, however, primarily concerns itself about color as a design element – that is, as something universal and objective.

(1) After Images
The first research had to do with After Images.    If you stare at a particular color long enough, and close your eyes, you’ll begin to see the color on the opposite side of the color wheel.   So, if you stare at red, close your eyes, and you’ll see green.

I know you want to do this, so stare away:


So our first color-sensation tools are based on LIGHT VALUE.    Each color has its own energy signature.  This seems to be universally perceived, and perceived in the same way.

Some colors have a positive energy signature; other colors have a negative energy signature.   The brain wants to balance these out and harmonize them into some kind of zero-sum outcome.    Everyone seems to see after images and see the same after images.    It seems that the eye/brain wants somehow to neutralize the energy in color to achieve some balance or 0.0 point.      The brain always seeks a balanced energy in light and color.   The human eye is only “satisfied” when the complementary color is established.

[This is the basis underlying the various color schemes below. ]

If red had an energy of +10  (I’m making up this scale), and the eye/brain then convinced your psyche to see green, then I would suppose that green would have an energy of -10.   Hence, we reach a 0.0 point (+10 – 10 = 0).

Again, the brain wants balance, harmony, beauty, non-threatening situations.   The brain does not want edginess, tension, anxiety, fear, or ugliness.   So, when you perceive red, your brain, in knee-jerk fashion, and in the absence of other information which might lead to a different interpretation of the situation, tries to compensate for the imbalance by also seeing green.

And we can continue to speculate that your eye/brain does Not want you the designer to overly clarify and intensify, should this result in a more resonant, perhaps edgy, composition.   This takes you too far away from 0.0 energy, and starts to become threatening.   It might excite you.   It might revolt you.   In either case you would react, feel, sense the power of color, but maybe not in a more balanced way the eye/brain would prefer.

But all jewelry designers need to know, and this is important, that their guiding star is “Resonance”, and this can take you a little beyond the harmony the brain seeks.     Creating a little “edginess” in your jewelry can’t hurt, and might better help in achieving finish and success.   But creating too much “edginess” might strike too forcefully at the heart of our pre-wired anxiety response, and our brain will not let us go there.   Your eye/brain does Not want you to push yourself and your jewelry too far to the edge with color.  This countervailing force might create tensions with your artistic and design intentions.

The eye/brain wants balance, harmony, monotony.     Red and green can seem so much fun at Christmas time.    But if you put your red and green necklace on a copy machine, and took a photocopy of it, it would all look like one color of black.    Red and green will always copy as the same color and shade of black.

And that is how we perceive them.    And cognate them.   We see red and green as the same.   As the same color black.    And if we assign red a +10 score, and green a -10 score, the eye/brain is happy to end up with a 0.0 score.  This combination can be boring and monotonous.   Combinations of red and green can feel unified and appear varied, yet somehow fail as choices in our jewelry designs.

And it is important to recognized that if, your composition only uses red, that in reality, when something doesn’t balance off the color red, in this case, the brain will create its own after image – some sensation of green —  to force that balance.   The brain wants to feel safe and in harmony and balance.    Everyone’s brain seems to operate similarly so that this aspect of perceiving color is universally employed.

How far the jewelry designer should fight this universal tendency is up for debate.    However, when initially picking colors to combine in a piece, we might try to achieve this 0.0 balance score (thus, a point of harmony and balance), and then, by clarifying and intensifying, deviate from it a little bit, but always with an eye on that 0.0 – what anyone’s eye/brain is driving it to do.    We want the eye/brain to feel satisfied and “safe”, but as a designer, we also want to give the jewelry a punch, a wow, an edge.    There are many color tricks and techniques that the designer can apply here.


(2) The Color Wheel: A Spectrum of Light Values
Science and Art Theory have provided us with tools to help us pick and combine colors.    One tool is the Color Wheel.    With almost every book about color, there is a Color Wheel.   Some are more detailed than others.   Some are easier to turn and manipulate.    They all have different colors at the North, South, East and West points, but it is the same series of colors, ordered in the same way, color to color.

It is important to understand how to use the Color Wheel.  This curtain of color provides the insights for selecting and arranging colors that might go together well.   The color wheel helps us delineate what color choices we can make, and which combinations of colors might work the best together, to achieve a perceived harmony and balance.

The Color Wheel is a tool and a guide.   It’s not an absolute.   Beads don’t always conform to the colors on the wheel; nor do they reflect light and color in ways consistent with how these colors appear on the wheel.

Look at this color wheel:

Get some color pencils, and color in all the colors around the wheel.

On the Color Wheel, there are 12 colors arranged into three families of color.

The Primary Color [3] family includes three colors:   yellow, blue and red.     These colors present the world as Absolutes.  They are definitive, certain, and steady.   They convey intelligence, security, and clarity.

The Secondary Color family includes those colors you can make by mixing any two primary colors.   These three colors are:  green, orange and violet.    These colors present the world as Contingencies.  They are situational, dependent on something, and questioning.   They convey questioning, inquiry, risks assessed against benefits.

The Tertiary Color family includes six colors.    Each of these colors is a mix of one of the primary colors and one of the secondary colors.  These include:  red-violet, yellow-orange, blue-green, blue-violet, yellow-green, red-orange.   These colors show Transitions.   These colors are useful for transitioning from one primary or secondary color to the next.    They bridge, integrate, tie things together, stretch things out.   They give a sense of before and after, lower then higher, inside and outside, betwixt and between.    They convey ambiguity or a teetering on the fulcrum of a scale.

As you begin to pick colors, you will also want to manipulate them – make them lighter or darker, brighter or duller, more forward projecting or more receding, and the like.   Expressions of color are referred to as attributes.  Expressive attributes are the ways you use color as building blocks in design.   So, here are some important building block/color terms/attributes and vocabulary.


(3) Color Schemes – Rules for Balancing Light Values
Color schemes are different, universally recognized and proven ways to use and combine colors, in order to achieve a pleasing or satisfying result.

Good color combinations based on color schemes have balanced, harmonious tonal values – their light energy levels balance out at the zero-zero (0.0) point.    Better designers like to tweak these combinations a bit, in order to evoke an emotional and resonant response to their work.

Color Schemes, then, as represented in a Color Wheel, are based on harmonizing (e.g., zero-sum) combinations of colors.   Color schemes – like the split complementary scheme of violet, yellow-green and yellow-orange – are different combinations of colors the Light Values of which add up to zero, and achieve harmony.

You can place geometric shapes inside the Color Wheel, and rotate them, and where the points hit the wheel, you have a good color combination.    For example, if you place an equilateral triangle (all sides are equal length) within the circle, as in the diagram below, the points touch Yellow, Red and Blue.   If you rotate it two colors to the right, it touches Orange, Violet and Green.

Different color schemes are associated with different geometric shapes that you can overlay within the wheel, and rotate, thus helping you select colors that work well together.


With color schemes, you always need to think about things like:

  1. Whether one color should predominate, or all colors should be more or less equal
  2. Whether there should always be a “splash of color”, as interior designers like to say — a “drama” color to achieve exciting, focal, look at me first effects
  3. If symmetry works with or against your color choices
  4. If you need to adjust intensity (brightness) or value (lightness) in each color, to get a better sense of satisfaction
  5. If you need to adjust the proportions or distributional patterns or arrangements of each color used; that is, experiment with same colors, different placement or different sizes or different quantities or different shapes or mixes of shapes

Let’s look at the three most popular, often-used Color Schemes – Analogous, Complementary, and Split Complementary.

Analogous
The analogous color scheme is where you pick any 3 hues which are adjacent to one another on the color wheel.   For example, you might pick yellow-green, yellow, and yellow-orange.   This scheme is a little trickier than it seems.    It works best when no color predominates.    Where the intensity of each color is similar.   And the design is symmetrical.   I also think this scheme works best when you have blocks of each color, rather than alternating each color.   That is, BETTER:  color 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3 rather than WORSE: color 1, 2, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 2, 1.

Complementary  (also known as “true complementary” or “dyadic”)
The complementary color scheme is where you pick any 2 colors which are the direct opposite on the color wheel.   For example, you might pick yellow and violet.   To use this color scheme effectively, you would balance the contrast of the colors by value (lightness/darkness) and/or intensity (brightness/dullness).   In this color scheme, one color has to predominate.

Split Complementary
This is the most popular color scheme.  Here you choose three colors:  a hue and the hues on either side of its complement.   For example, you might choose yellow and blue-violet and red-violet  (thus, the two colors on either side of Violet – the complement).   In this scheme, one color needs to predominate.   This scheme works well with both symmetrical and asymmetrical designs.  You can use an isosceles triangle (has two sides with equal length) within the Color Wheel to pick colors.

One thing I like to do with this scheme is arrange all my beads, then replace one color with one of the others, and vice versa.    Let’s say you had 20 blue-green (aqua), 10 orange, and 5 red beads, which you had laid out in a satisfactory arrangement.    You could change it to 20 orange, 10 blue-green, and 5 red beads, and it would look just as good.

A lot of people have difficulty using the color orange in jewelry designs, but find it easy to use blue-green.   Here’s a nifty way to trick them into using orange, and liking it.   Do the composition with blue-green dominant, then switch out all the blue-green for orange, and any orange you used for blue-green.

There are many other color schemes.   Some examples:

Analogous Complementary
.(3 analogous colors, and one complement of one of these 3).             Example:  blue-violet, violet, red-violet with yellow-green.

Triadic
:  (3 tertiary hues equidistant on the color wheel.)             Example:  red-violet, yellow-orange, and blue-green.  You can use an equilateral triangle within the color wheel to help you pick choices.

Tetradic:
   (Using 4 colors, a double complementary scheme).   Example:   Yellow-green, orange, red-violet, and blue.   You can use a square or rectangle within the color wheel to help you pick choices.

Hexadic:   (Using 5 colors).   Can use a pentagon within the color wheel to select your colors.

Monochromatic:   (A single hue, though with different intensities, tints and shades)

Achromatic:  (black and white and gray  (without color))

Neutrals:   (mixes of hues to get browns (or grays))

Clash:  (combines a color hue with a color on either side of its complement).

Example:   blue w/red-orange or orange-yellow

There are many books, as well as free on-line color scheme designer apps to check out and play with.

(4) Color Proportions and the Sensation of Color Contrasts
Just because the colors picked conformed to a Color Wheel, doesn’t mean that they will be successful within your jewelry composition.   It turns out that making color choices based on Light Values alone are less than perfect.   Colors do not occur in a vacuum.    They appear next to other colors.   They appear within a situation or context.   They reflect and refract light and shadow differently, depending on setting, lighting, and context.

That means, perceiving and recognizing one or more colors is important information to have, but not enough information for the brain to determine if the object is satisfying or not, or safe or not.    People do not yet have enough information to make an absolute choice whether to wear or buy a piece of jewelry, at this point.

This bring us to the sensation of Color Contrasts.   Colors appear together in different proportions.   This also affects the brain’s processes of trying to harmonize them – that is, achieve a light value of zero.

Another series of color research focused on the effects of color proportions.   These scientifically derived proportions show the joint effect of 2 or more colors, if the brain is to score their sum as a value of 0.0.   (Again, I’ve made up this scoring, but you get the point about reaching equilibrium).     The brain would like to know, not only what color it is, but what proportion relative to other colors, we have before us.

As designers, to achieve a sense of harmony and balance, we are going to mimic what the brain does when seeing more than one color – we are going to vary the proportions so that, in combination, the sense of that perceptual and cognitive zero-sum game is still maintained.

And again, I’ll make the point that not all compositions have to be perfectly harmonious.

Itten has a picture of the ideal and relative proportions of colors in harmony and balance.

Yellow to purple, 1:4   (This is read as “1 in 4”, and means that given 4 parts, 1 should be yellow and the remaining 3 should be purple.  )

Orange to blue, 1:3
Red to green, 1:2
Yellow to orange: 1:1.3

Choreographing Color Blending and Transitioning:
Playing With Proportions

ColorBlock Bracelet, Warren Feld, 2017   (playing with progressive proportions)

Every so often, you might want to create a rainbow, or some sequencing of colors, say from light to dark, where all the colors seem to emerge from the last, and bleed into the next.    This is much more difficult with beads than with paints for all the usual reasons discussed above.

A “Random” selection or placement of colors doesn’t usually work as well as selecting and placing based on some more mathematical formula.  “Alternating” or “graduating” colors doesn’t always work as well, either.    You must create a more complex, involved patterning.   You must choreograph the layout of colors, so that, from a short distance, they look like they are blending, and gradually changing across the length of your piece.

Monet’s Garden Bracelet, Kathleen Lynam, 2013  (using math formula)

One of the easier mathematical formulas to come up with as a way to choreograph things, is to play with color proportions.   Go bead by bead or row by row, and begin with the ideal proportionate relationship between two colors.    Gradually manipulate this down the piece by anticipating the next ideal proportionate relationship between the next two colors that need to follow.

In fact, any kind of statistical or mathematical formula underlying an arrangement will work better than something random or intuitive, when managing color blending and transitions.

(5) Simultaneity Effects and the Sensation of Simultaneous Color Contrasts
It turns out there is even more to how the brain recognizes and tries to harmonize colors.  Knowing (1) the color (light value) and (2) the relative proportions (contrasts) of color within the piece of jewelry is necessary, but still not enough for the brain to decide whether the piece of jewelry will be satisfying, finished and successful, or somewhat ugly, not buy-able or unwearable.

Some colors, when sitting on or near a particular color, are experienced differently, than when sitting on or near a different color.    The line of research we are focusing on here deals with what are called Simultaneity Effects.   Colors can be affected by other colors around them (simultaneous color contrasts).    Colors in the presence of other colors get perceived differently, depending on the color combination.

Simultaneity Effects are a boon to the jewelry designer.   They are great tools for such things as… 

  • Filling in the gaps of light between beads
  • Assisting in the blending of colors or the sense of movement of colors along a line or plane
  • Assisting in establishing dimensionality in a piece that otherwise would appear flat
  • Harmonizing 2 or more colors which, on as a set, don’t quite match up on the color wheel
  • Establishing frames, boundaries or silhouettes
  • Re-directing the eye to another place, or creating sense of movement

For example, a White Square on a Black background looks bigger than a Black Square on a white background.  White reaches out and overflows the boundary; black contracts.


Gray always picks up some of the color characteristics of other colors around it.


Existence of these simultaneity effects is a great piece of information for the designer.  There will be gaps of color and light between beads.   Many bead colors are imperfect, particularly in combination.    Playing with what I call “grays” [thus, simultaneity effects] gives the designer tools to overcome some of the color limitations associated with the bead.

Simultaneity effects trick the brain into filling in those gaps of light between beads.  Simultaneity effects trick the brain into believing colors are more connected and blended and mutually-supportive than they would, if separately evaluated.    Simultaneity effects trick the brain into seeing satisfying arrangements, rhythms, and dimensionality, where, without them, things would be unsatisfying instead.

A final example of simultaneity effects has to do with how people sense whether colors are warm or cool.   In one composition, depending on the color mix, a particular color might be felt as “warm”.   In a second composition, with a different color mix, that same color might be felt as “cool”.

Here the yellow square surrounded by white feels lighter, brighter and a different temperature than its counterpart.    The red square surrounded by the black feels darker, duller, and a different temperature than its counterpart.

Again, simultaneity effects give tools to the jewelry designer for intensifying and clarifying the design, without disturbing the eye/brain pre-wired fear and anxiety responses.    These allow you to “blend” and build “bridges” and create “transitions.”   You have a lot of tricks to use here which enable you to push the envelop with your designs.   And still have your piece be judged as beautiful and appealing.

Simultaneity Effects are some of the easiest things the jewelry artist can control and manipulate, to fool the brain just a little bit.    They let you bring in unexpected colors, and fool the brain into seeing color coordination and color blending.   They let you convince the brain that the color proportions are correct when, in reality, they are not.  They let you convince the brain to jump the cliff, which the gap between beads presents.

For the brain, gaps between beads – that is, areas with undefined colors, creates work for the brain, and is fraught with danger.  The brain has to actually construct a color and meaning to fill in this gap.  Without any clues or rules or assistance, it is more risky for the brain to jump the cliff, so to speak, and fill in the gaps with color, than it is for the brain to follow an easier pathway and simply define the jewelry as ugly or boring and reject it and move on.   Similarly, simultaneity effects convince the brain to look around corners, go into crevices, explore and move around the whole piece from end to end.

It is at this point in the design process where the jewelry artist must be most fluent, creative and strategic in using color.     It is primarily and most often through establishing, and then managing, the sensation of simultaneous color contrasts where the artist begins to build that connection between audience and self, wearer and resonance, the wearing-of and the context, coherency and contagion.

With Simultaneity Effects, colors begin to take on meanings and emotions.    These can be as simple as sensations of warm and color, close and far, approaching and fleeing, soft and harsh.   Or they can be much more complex, even thematic and symbolic.


The Use of “GRAYS” (simultaneity effects) to tie things together – Blending and Bridging

With beads, the eye often needs to merge or coordinate colors, as it scans any piece.  And then there are the gaps of light between beads.  The eye needs help in spanning those gaps.   The Artist needs to build color “bridges” and “transitions”, so that the eye doesn’t fall off a cliff or have to make a leap of death from one bead, across the gap, all the way to the next.

One easy technique to use is to play with simultaneity effects.  One such effect is where gray takes on the characteristics of the color(s) around it.

In beads, there are many colors that function as “grays” – gray, black diamond, alexandrite, Montana blue, prairie green, fuchsia, Colorado topaz – colors that have a lot of black or gray tones to them.    Most color lined beads result in a gray effect (where the class encasing distorts the inside color).  Metallic finishes can result in a gray effect.

Aqua/peach lined Antique rose Teal iris

In one piece I made, for example, I used 11/0 peach lined aqua beads as a “gray” to tie in larger teal and antique rose beads together.    While aqua is different than teal and the peach is different than the antique rose, in combination, the aqua/peach-lined beads acted like a gray.  When close to the teal iris beads, the aqua took on the teal color; when close to the antique rose beads, the peach took on the antique rose color.   Gray colors pull from one bead, and transition to the next in a very subtle way, that tricks the brain, but does not disturb it.


Expressive Attributes of Color and Color Contrasts:
Important Color Terms and Vocabulary

Each color on the wheel is called a HUE.     Hues are pure colors – any color except black or white.    And if you look again, there is no black or white on the Color Wheel.

BLACK
is the absence of color.   We consider black to be opaque.   Usually, when people see black, they tend to see shadows.   With black, designs tend to feel older, more antique’y, richer, more traditional and solid, and seem to have a patina around them.

WHITE is all the colors merged together.    When all colors in “light” merge, you get White.  When all the colors in paints or pigments are merged, you get a neutral gray-black or beige.   With White, designs tend to feel sharper, brighter, more contemporary.

INTENSITY and VALUE.  Better jewelry designers are those who master how to play with INTENSITIES and play with VALUES.   This means they know and are comfortable with manipulating bright and dull (intensity), and light and dark (value).    They know the subtle differences among red, pink and maroon, and how viewers react to these.    They know how to punctuate – BAM! – with Yellow, and EASE – with purple, and CALM – with blue.

The contrasts between Bright and Dull or Light and Dark are not quite the same.    Bright and Dull (intensity) has to do with how much white, gray or black underlay the Hue or pure color.    Low intensity is duller; high intensity is brighter.    Think of a Stop Sign.   It could have just as easily been Red, Pink or Maroon.    Red is the most intense – the brightest of the 3 – and hence the sign is Red.   You can see red from the farthest distance away.    Red is “Bright (intensity)”, but not necessarily “Lighter (values)” than Pink or Maroon.

The contrasts between Light and Dark are called VALUES.  A lower value is darker, though not necessarily duller (intensity).   Pink has a higher value than maroon, because it is lighter.   Yellow is the lightest color; violet is the darkest.    Yellow has a higher value than violet.

Unfortunately, in many texts and guides written by Bead Artists and Jewelry Designers, they combine the concepts of intensity and value into a single concept they refer to as “Values”.   Bead Artists and Colorists often write that the “secret” to using colors is to vary “values”.     When they refer to “values”, they are actually combining these two color theory concepts – “values” and “intensities”.    Both are really different, so this combined meaning is a disservice to the bead artist and jewelry designer trying to learn to control color choices and color expression.

INTENSITY AND VALUES EXERCISE
Intensity Exercise:

Use your Blue Pencil, as well as your White, Gray and Black Pencils, to color in the 2nd column.   Start by coloring in all the squares with a medium shade of blue.

Using your white, gray and black pencils, now vary the darkness of the blue to approximate the darkness of the grays in the 1st column. 

Values Exercise:

Using your Blue Pencil only, color in each cell in the table below, making the top cell the lightest (highest value), subsequent cells darker than the previous ones, and the last bottom cell, the darkest (lowest value).   [Press lightly on the pencil when coloring in the first cell, and then harder and harder as you go down the column.]

So, as you work with people to create jewelry for them, you make choices about, and then manipulate:

– colors
– balance and harmony (distribution, placement, and proportions)
– intensities
– values
– simultaneity effects

Let’s say you wanted to design a necklace with blue tones.   If you were designing this necklace for someone to wear at work, it would probably be made up of several blue colors which vary in values, but Not in intensities.   To give it some interest, it might be a mix of light blue, blue, dark blue and very dark blue.    Thus, the piece is pretty, but does not force any power or sexuality issues on the situation.

If you were making this same necklace for someone to go out on the town one evening, you might use several blue colors which vary in intensity.    You might mix periwinkles and Montana blues and cobalt blues and blue quartzes.     You want to make a power or sensual statement here, and the typical necklace someone would wear to work just won’t do.

Let’s continue with some more important color building blocks or concepts.

TINT, SHADE and TONE are similar to values and intensities.    They are another way of saying similar things about manipulating color Hues.    TINTS are colors with white added to them.  Pink is a tint of Red.    SHADES are colors with black or gray added to them.   Maroon is a shade of Red.    And TONES define the relative darkness of a color.    Violet is a dark tone and yellow is a light tone.    Red and green have the same tonal value.   “Tones” are what copy machines pick up, and the depth of the black on a photocopy relates to the tonal value of the colors on the original paper you are copying.   Red and green photocopy the same black color.   They have the same tonal value.

TEMPERATURE.  Colors also have Temperature.   Some colors are WARM.   The addition of black tends to warm colors up.   Warm colors are usually based in Red.   Red-Orange is considered the warmest color.   Warm colors tend to project forward.

COOL
colors are usually based in Blue.   Green-blue is the coldest color.   Addition of white often cools colors.   Cool colors tend to recede.

Given the other colors which surround them, however, usually warm colors may appear cold, and vice versa.

Juxtaposing colors creates MOVEMENT and RHYTHM.   By creating patterns, you guide the brain/eye in its circuitous route around the piece, as it tries to make sense of it.   Juxtaposing Warm with Cool colors increases the speed or sense of movement.


Some colors tend to PROJECT FORWARD and others tend to RECEDE.   Yellow is an advancing color.  Black recedes.     You can play with this effect to trick the viewer into seeing a more MULTI-DIMENSIONAL piece of jewelry before her.   By mixing different colors and different finishes, you can create a marvelous sense of dimensionality.

 

  • Faceted, Glossy beads will tend to look closer and capture the foreground
  • Smooth, Glossy beads will tend to capture the middle ground
  • Matte, Dull, Frosted, or Muted beads will tend to fall into the background



To Reiterate Some of The Key Ideas and Understandings
The color research begins to open up ideas about how the brain processes color, and which of these processes might be seen as universal, and which more subjective.

The brain first perceives, then tries to understand the color as a color.    It senses Light Values.

The brain perceives, then tries to understand the color relative to other colors around it.    It senses Color Contrasts.

At the same time, the brain perceives and tries to understand the color within some context or situation, to gauge more meaning or emotional content.   It interprets Simultaneous Color Contrasts within the boundaries of a context, situation, personal or group culture.

The END RESULT is simple:
Should we consider the jewelry to be finished and successful?
Should we like the jewelry or not like it?
Should it get and hold our attention, or not?
Should we approach it, or avoid it?
Should we get excited about it, or not?
Should we comment about it to others?
Should we buy it?
Should we wear it?

All this perceptual and cognitive and interpretive activity happens very quickly, but somewhat messy.  Some of it follows universal precepts.   Some of it is very subjective.   Our brain is trying everything it can to make sense of the situation.   It tries to zero-sum the light values.   It has to take in information about a color’s energy signature.  It has to take in information about how much of one color there is in relation to other colors.   It has to take in information about emotional and other meaningful content the juxtaposition of any group of colors within any context or situation represents.

With any piece of jewelry, the artist and designer is at the core of this all.    It is the designer, in anticipation of how others perceive, recognize and interpret colors in their lives, who establishes how color is used, and manages its expression within the piece.    The jewelry designer is the manager.    The designer is the controller.   The designer is the influencer.   The designer establishes and conveys intent and meaning.

DECODING COLOR AS A DESIGN ELEMENT


A composition in orange and blue.

Art and design theory informs us how to objectively use color.    That means, there are universally accepted shared understandings and expectations about what makes a piece of jewelry more satisfying (or dissatisfying) in terms of choices about color.

So, when we refer to our lessons above about color use, and examine the orange and blue necklace above, we can recognize some problematic choices about color.

The first is about color proportions.      The most satisfying proportionate relationship between orange and blue is 1:3.    That means, for every 3 parts, one should be orange and two should be blue.    In our illustrated composition, the relationship is more 1:2 or half orange and half blue.   To make this piece more attractive and satisfying, we would need to reduce the amount of orange and increase the amount of blue.

The second is about color schemes.    Here we have a 2-color, complimentary color scheme.   To make this piece more attractive and satisfying as a complimentary color scheme, we have learned that one of the two colors should predominate.   Either we have to add more orange, or have to add more blue.

So, we have decoded our Color Design Element and we see that the proportions are less than optimal, and the color scheme chosen is less than optimal.    To make the necklace more appealing, and in conformance with universally agreed upon understandings about good color use, we will need to increase the amount of blue and decrease the amount of orange, so that we get a 1:3 (orange to blue) proportionate outcome, and we allow one color to predominate.

Let’s look at another example:


Composition in green, white and red.

First, white is not considered a color.   We can ignore it.

Second, proportionately, there should be equal amounts of green to that of red.   The relationship is 1:2, meaning for every 2 parts, 1 should be green and 1 should be red.    Proportionately, in this piece, we are close to this proportionate relationship.

Third, we have, in effect, since we ignore white, a 2-color complimentary color scheme.    We have learned that in this scheme, one color should predominate.

That means, in this composition, the current use of color will not and cannot work.  It results in an unacceptable and unsatisfying use of color.    Proportionately, both colors need to be equal.   Color Scheme wise, one color needs to clearly predominate.    We can’t conform to both universally-accepted shared understandings about the use of green and red in a 2-color scheme.


DESIGNING JEWELRY WITH COLOR
Always remember that your choice of color(s) should be secondary to the choices you make about concept, theme, arrangement and organization.    Color should be used to enhance your design thinking.    Color should not, however, be the design.

When we study color from a design standpoint, we think of color as part of the jewelry’s structure.  That means, color is not merely a decorative effect or object.    It is more like an integral building component which has been organized or arranged within a larger composition.   As a component, it is a “Design Element”.    Color is the most important Design Element.      It can both stand alone, as well as easily be combined with other Design Elements.  There are some universal aspects when color is objectively understood as an element of design.   As part of an arrangement, we begin to treat color in terms of Principles of Composition, Construction and Manipulation.   Color takes on some subjectivity.    Its effects become much more dependent on the artist’s intent and the situation in which the jewelry is worn.

Color is used to express meaning and enhance meaningful expressions.   We use color to express elements of the materials used, like glass or gemstone.   We use color to express or emphasize elements of the forms we are creating.   We use color to enhance a sense of movement or dimension.   We use color to express moods and emotions.   We use color to influence others in sharing the artist’s inspirations and aspirations.

As designers, we…
– Anticipate how the parts we use to make a piece of jewelry assert their needs for color
– Anticipate shared universal understandings among self, viewer, wearer, exhibitor and seller about color and its use
– Think through how colors relate to our inspirations and how they might impact our aspirations
– Pick colors
– Place and arrange colors
– Distribute the proportions of colors
– Play with and experiment with color values and color intensities
– Leverage the synergistic effects and what happens when two (or more) colors are placed next to one another
– Create focus, rhythm, balance, dimension and movement with color
– Create satisfying blending and transitioning strategies using color
– Anticipate how color and the play of color within our piece might be affected by contextual or situational variables
– Reflect on how our choices about color affect how the piece of jewelry is judged as finished and successful by our various client audiences
– Use color to promote the coherency of our pieces, and the speed and extent to which attention by others continues to spread

Fluent designers can decode color and its use intuitively and quickly, and apply color in more expressive ways to convey inspiration, show the artist’s strategy and intent, and trigger an especially resonant, energetic response by wearers and viewers alike.

Don’t get into a Color Rut
And a last piece of advice.

Don’t get into a color rut.    Experiment with different colors.   Force yourself to use colors you usually do not use or avoid.     If it’s too psychologically painful, make a game of it.

————————————————————————————


WARREN FELD, Jewelry Designer
warren@warrenfeldjewelry.com
615-292-0610

For Warren Feld, Jewelry Designer, (www.warrenfeldjewelry.com), beading and jewelry making have been wonderful adventures. These adventures have taken Warren from the basics of bead stringing and bead weaving, to wire working, wire weaving and silversmithing, and onward to more complex jewelry designs which build on the strengths of a full range of technical skills and experiences.

Warren leads a group of instructors at Be Dazzled Beads (www.bedazzledbeads.com).  He teaches many of the bead-weaving, bead-stringing, wire weaving, jewelry design and business-oriented courses. He works with people just getting started with beading and jewelry making, as well as those with more experience.    Many of his classes and projects have been turned into kits, available for purchase from www.warrenfeldjewelry.com  or www.landofodds.com.     He conducts workshops at many sites around the US, and the world.

Join Warren for an enrichment-travel adventure on Your World Of Jewelry Making Cruises.

His pieces have appeared in beading and jewelry magazines and books. One piece is in the Swarovski museum in Innsbruck, Austria.

He is probably best known for creating the international The Ugly Necklace Contest, where good jewelry designers attempt to overcome our pre-wired brains’ fear response for resisting anything Ugly.

He is currently writing a book – Fluency In Design:   Do You Speak Jewelry?

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FOOTNOTES
[1] Pantone website   https://www.pantone.com
[2]  Itten, Johannes.  The Elements of Color: A Treatise on the Color System of Johannes Itten, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 2001

[3] In reality, the selection of primary colors is arbitrary.    The primary colors depend on the light source, the color of the background, and the biology of the color-sensing components of the eye.    We choose red-yellow-blue when referencing painting or coloring on white background, like paper.   We choose red-green-blue when referencing color placed on a black background, such as a TV or computer screen.   We choose cyan-maroon-yellow-black when using overlapping inks to create color on a white background, and better reproduce true colors.    We understand that the eye sees red-greenish yellow-blue-violet most clearly.


Color References Worth Checking Out
Rockport Publishers, Color Harmony Workbook, Gloucester, MA: Rockport Publishers,
1999.
Deeb, Margie.  The Beader’s Guide to Jewelry Design, NY: Lark Jewelry & Beading,
2014.

 

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