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What Is Jewelry, Really?

Posted by learntobead on December 30, 2018



by Warren Feld, Jewelry Designer

“Tibetan Dreams”, Feld, 2010


    We create and wear jewelry because we do not want to feel alone.  But “not wanting to feel alone” can mean different things to different people.   The jewelry artist must have insight here.    The artist needs to understand what jewelry really is in order to make the kinds of successful choices about forms, materials, design elements, inspirations, techniques, arrangements, public presentations and exhibitions and the like.  There are different frameworks from which the artist might draw such understanding, including the sensation of jewelry as OBJECT, CONTENT, INTENT or DIALECTIC.  All these lenses share one thing in common – communication.    Although jewelry can be described in the absence of communicative interaction, the artist can never begin to truly understand what jewelry really is without some knowledge about its creation and without somehow referencing the artist, the wearer, the viewer and the context.    


Simply put, we create and wear jewelry because we do not want to feel alone.

But “not wanting to feel alone” can mean different things to different people.   The jewelry designer, in order to make the best choices and the most strategic choices throughout the process of designing a piece of jewelry, requires some detail and clarity here.    What does it mean to say that we create and wear jewelry so we do not want to feel alone?

We might want to reaffirm that we are similar (or different) than someone else or some other group or culture.   We might want to signal some connection (or disconnection or mal-connection) with a higher power or mystical source or sense of well-being or with some idea, concept or meaning.  We might want to express an intent or feeling or emotion.

We might want to differentiate what it means to be yourself relative to something else, whether animate or inanimate, functional or artistic, part of a dialectic conversation with self or other.   We might want to signal or differentiate status, intelligence, awareness, and resolution.   We might want to separate ourselves from that which is sacred and that which is profane.

Whatever the situation, jewelry becomes something more than simple decoration or adornment.   It becomes more than an object which is worn merely because this is something that we do.   It becomes more than a functional object used to hold things together.    It is communicative.   It is connective.   It is intentional.      And concurrently, it must be functional and appealing and be seen as the result of an artist’s application of technique and technology.

The word jewelry derives from the Latin “jocale” meaning plaything.    It is traditionally defined as a personal adornment or decoration.     It is usually assumed to be constructed from durable items, though exceptions are often made for the use of real flowers.    It is usually made up of materials that have some perceived value.    It can be used to adorn nearly every part of the body.

Prehistoric Necklaces 40000 B.C

One of the earliest evidences of jewelry was that of a Neanderthal man some 115,000 years ago.     What was it – and we really need to think about this and think this through – which made him craft the piece of jewelry and want to wear it?    Mere decoration?   Did it represent some kind of status?   Or religious belief?   Or position or role?   Or sexuality and sensuality?    Or was it symbolic of something else?   Was this a simplified form or representation of something else?

Did this Neanderthal have concerns about craft and technique?   Did the making of it require some special or innovative technology?   Did the cost of materials come into play?    Was this an expression of art?  Self?  Power?  A show of intelligence and prowess?   A confirmation of shared beliefs, experiences and values?    Was it something he made himself, or was it something given to him as a gift or token of recognition?

Picture yourself there at this very moment.    What happened at the point this Neanderthal man put this piece of jewelry on?   Did this reduce or increase social and cultural barriers between himself and others?    Did this define a new way of expression or a new way of defining the self?    Did this impact or change any kind of outcome?    Did this represent a divergence between craft and art?    Was this piece of jewelry something that had to be worn all the time?     Were the purposes and experiences of this Neanderthal man similar to why and how we design and adorn ourselves with jewelry today?

We know that jewelry continued in importance.    Jewelry mattered.   It was an object we touched.   And it was an object we allowed to touch our bodies.    The object had form.   The form encapsulated meaning.    We allowed others to view the jewelry as we wore it, and when we did not.

Making and wearing jewelry became very widespread about 5,000 years ago, especially in India and Mesopotamia, but worldwide as well.    While some cultures banned jewelry or limited its forms and uses (see medieval Japan or ancient Rome, for example), they could not maintain these restrictions over time.     People want to support the making of jewelry, the wearing of it, the exhibiting of it in public, and the accumulating of it.   People want to touch it.  Display it.   Comment about it.  Talk about it with others.    Collect it, trade it, buy it, sell it.

As jewelry designers, we need to understand the why’s … Why make jewelry at all?     Why develop different techniques and use different materials and come up with different arrangements?

We observe that jewelry is everywhere, worn by all types of people, on various parts of the body, in many different kinds of situations.   Jewelry must possess a kind of inherent value for the artist, the wearer, the viewer and the society as a whole.

So we have to continue to wonder, Why is jewelry so coveted universally?   Why is it important?   How is understanding what jewelry is really necessary for making the kinds of successful choices about forms, materials, design elements, inspirations, techniques, arrangements, public presentations and exhibitions and the like?

Let us review the range of definitions and justifications for jewelry before fine-tuning any ideas and conclusions.      Each understanding leads us in different directions when filling in the blanks of this constructive phrasing:

Jewelry means to me …..… therefore,

These are the types of choices I need to make as a designer

to know my pieces are finished and successful,

including things like ………

These different definitional frameworks about jewelry are things characterized by the:


  1. ROUTINE: Something that we do with little or no reflection
  2. MATERIAL: Objects that we use as materials characterized or sorted by design elements, such as color, pattern, texture
  3. ARRANGEMENT AND FORMS: Materials are sorted by various Principles of Composition into arrangements and forms, expressing things like rhythm, focus, and juxtaposition of lines and planes
  4. TECHNIQUE: Techniques we use to assemble and construct
  5. FUNCTIONALITY: Things which have a useful purpose and functionality


  1. MEANING: Things to which we assign meaning(s) and such meaning(s) transcends materials, functions and techniques
  2. VALUE: Things to which we assign monetary and economic value, particularly materials


  1. ORDER OUT OF CHAOS:  A sense-making attempt to control and order the world
  2. SELF-IDENTITY: An agent of personality


  1. INTERACTION AND SHARED UNDERSTANDINGS: A way to create, confirm and retain connections through interaction and shared understandings

Yet, no matter what the framework we use to try to makes sense about what jewelry really is, all these lenses share one thing in common – jewelry is more than ornament and decoration; it is communication, as well.Although we can describe jewelry in the absence of knowledge about its creation, we cannot begin to understand what jewelry really is without somehow referencing the artist, the wearer, the viewer and the context.


Too often, ideas about communication and meaning and intent get too messy and complicated.     We seek a simpler framework within which to understand what jewelry is all about.    We try to fit the idea of jewelry into the confines of a box we call “object”.    It is decoration.     Jewelry succeeds as “object” to the extent that everyone everywhere universally agrees to what it is, how it is made, what it is made from, why it was made, and in what ways it is used.

Jewelry As Something That We Do.    Wearing jewelry might simply be something that we do.   We put on earrings.   We slip a ring onto a finger.    We clasp a necklace around our neck or a bracelet around our wrist.    It is habit.  Routine.   Not something to stop and ask why.      A necklace is a necklace.  An earring is an earring.    We mechanically interact with decorative objects we call jewelry.

Jewelry As A Material.   Sometimes we want to get a little more specific and describe what this object or ‘box’ is made of.    It is some kind of material.    Jewelry encompasses all types of stones and metals, in various shades and colors, which the artist has taken tools to them to shape and sharpen.     Sometimes we want to further delineate the character of materials within and around this box.    We refer to this as selecting various design elements such as color, pattern, texture.

Jewelry As Arrangements and Forms.    Sometimes we want to even further elaborate on our placement in terms of Principles of Composition which refers to arrangements and organized forms to create movement, rhythm, focal point, balance, distribution.       We apply this framework in a static way.    Jewelry is reduced to an object, somehow apart from its creator and disconnected from any wearer or viewer.

Jewelry As The Application of Technique(s).  We can also understand jewelry as object in a more dynamic sense.     It is something which is created by the application of one or more techniques.    The techniques are applications of ideas often corralled into routines.    The object is seen to evolve from a starting point to a finishing point.    As object, it is reduced to a series of organized steps.    These steps are disconnected from insight, inspiration, aspiration or desire.     There is no human governance or interference.

Jewelry As Function.   In a similar dynamic way, the object may be seen to have function.   It may hold up something, or keep something closed.     It may, in a decorative sense, embellish a piece of clothing.    It may assist in the movement of something else.    It is not understood to have any meaning beyond its function.   As it coordinates the requirements of form to the requirements of function, it plays a supportive, practical role, not a substantive role.  As such, it is unimportant.  It might allow the wearer to change position of the necklace on the neck.    It might better enable the piece to move with the body.    But it should not demand much insight or reflection by creator, wearer, or viewer.


However, as we get closer to defining the object as one that is sensed and experienced and which evokes an emotional response, it becomes more difficult to maintain that the object does not reflect meaning, does not result from some kind of thought process and intent, and does not communicate quite a lot about the designer, the wearer, the viewer and the situation.     Jewelry when worn and which succeeds becomes a sort of identifier or locator, that can inform the wearer and the viewer about particular qualities or content, such as where you belong, or what you are about, or what your needs are.

Jewelry without content, after all, can skew to the superficial, boring,  monotonous and unsatisfying.   Without meaning and value, jewelry has little to offer.

Jewelry As Meaning.   Jewelry when worn signals, signifies or symbolizes something else.    It is a type of recognizable short-hand.   It is a powerful language of definition and expression.    By representing meaning, it takes responsibility for instigating shared understandings, such as membership in a group or delineating the good from the bad.     It might summarize difficult to express concepts or emotions, such as God, love, loyalty, fidelity.   It might be a stand-in marker for status, power, wealth, connection and commitment.    It might visually represent the completion or fulfillment of a rite of passage – puberty, adulthood, marriage, birthing, and death.

Sometimes, the sensation of jewelry as meaning derives from energy and powers we believe can transfer from the meaning of the materials the jewelry is made of to ourselves.  These might be good luck, or good fortune, or good health, or good love, or good faith or protection from harm.   Various gemstones, metals and other materials are seen to have mystical, magical and supernatural qualities that, when touching the body, allows us to incorporate these powers with our own.

Jewelry As Value.   When we refer to meaning as having power, sacredness, respect, significance, we are beginning to assign a value to it.    A sensation of value may emerge from how rare the item is – its material rarity or the rarity of how it was constructed or where it came from or who made it or who was allowed to wear it.    It may emerge from how bright it is or the noteworthy arrangement of its elements.     Its value may emerge from how pliable or workable the material is.   Its value might be set from how tradable it is for other materials, objects, access or activities.

By assigning value, we determine things like importance, uniqueness, appeal, status, need, want, and demand.     We establish control over how and how often a piece of jewelry will change hands.    We establish some regulation over how individuals in a group, culture or society interact and transact with one another.


Someone has to infuse the object with all this content, and this proactive act leads us to the idea of intent.    Often this imposition of meaning begins with the jewelry artist.   Jewelry becomes a means of self-expression.    The artist, in effect, tells the world who the artist is, and what the artist wants to happen next.    The artist might be subdued or bold, colorful or monochromatic, simple or complex, extravagant or economical.     The artist might be direct or indirect in how meanings get communicated.     It is important, in order to understand the meaning of an object, to begin by delineating the artist’s inspiration, aspiration and intent.

The jewelry artist begins with nothing and creates something.    The unknown, the unknowable, the nothingness is made more accessible.

The artist fills in a negative space with points, lines, planes, shapes, forms and themes.     Color, pattern and texture are added.     Things get organized and arranged.

Though often unstated, it becomes obvious that of all the possible choices the artist could have made in design, that some choices were ignored and excluded, while others were not.

The question becomes, what influences that artist’s selections?   Successful jewelry reveals the artist’s hand.

Jewelry As Creating Order Out Of Chaos.    Partly, what the artist does is attempt to order the world.   The artist looks for clues within him- or herself (inspiration and intent).    The artist formulates concepts and a plan for translating inspiration and intent into a design.  The artist determines whether to take into account the expectations of others (shared understandings) about what would be judged as finished and successful.

Jewelry is an object created out of chaos and which has an order to it.    The order has content, meaning and value.    It has coherency based on color and texture and arrangement.

Jewelry as an organized, ordered, coherent object reflects the hypotheses the artist comes up with about how to translate inspiration into aspiration, and do this in such a way that the derived jewelry is judged positively.    The artist anticipates how others might experience and sense the object on an emotional level.

It reflects the shared understandings among artist, wearer and viewer about emotions, desires, inherent tensions and yearnings and how these play out in everyday life.

The artist makes the ordered chaos more coherent, and this coherence becomes contagious through the artist’s choices about creative production and design.     The artist lets this contagion spread.    To the extent that others share the artist’s ideas about coherence, the more likely the work will be judged finished and successful.   And no one – not the artist, not the wearer, not the viewer – will feel alone.

The process of bringing order to chaos continues with the wearer.    The wearer introduces the piece of jewelry into a larger context.    We have more contagion.    The jewelry as worn causes more, ever-expanding tension and efforts at balance and resolution.    There is an effort to figure out the original artist intent and ideas about coherence as reflected in design.

Unsuccessful efforts at design, where the artist’s intent becomes obscured,  reverse the process, and the object – our piece of jewelry – then brings about decoherence.    Decoherence may come in the forms of bad feedback, inappropriate feedback, less than satisfying feedback, or no feedback at all.

Decoherence means the wearer may not get that sense of self s/he seeks.    S/he may feel less motivated to wear the piece.    S/he may store the piece or give the piece away.    As this decoherence filters down to the level of the artist, any necessary support in design may be lost.    There will be fewer clients, fewer opportunities to display the works publicly, and fewer sales.    The artist’s motivation may diminish.

Jewelry As An Agent of Personality.  People wear jewelry because they like it.   It becomes an extension of themselves.    It is self-confirming, self-identifying and self-reconfirming.    Liking a piece of jewelry gets equated with liking oneself, or as a strategy for getting others to express their like for you.    Jewelry makes us feel more like ourselves.    We might use jewelry to help us feel emotionally independent, or we might come to rely on jewelry for emotional support and feedback, leading us down the path to emotional dependency.

Jewelry may have personal significance, linking one to their past, or one to their family, or one to their group.     It may be a way to integrate history with the present.   It is a tool to help us satisfy our need to affiliate.

Jewelry may help us differentiate ourselves from others.   It may assist us in standing out from the crowds.    Conversely, we may use it to blend into those multitudes, as well.

Jewelry fulfills our needs.   If we look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, after meeting our basic physiological needs such as for food and water, and our safety needs, such as for shelter, we can turn to jewelry to meet our additional social needs for love and belonging and self-esteem.   Designing and creating jewelry can form an additional basis for our needs for self-actualization.

We may derive our personality and sense of soul and spirit from the qualities we assign the jewelry we wear.    If ruby jewelry symbolizes passion, we may feel passion when wearing it.   We may use jewelry as an expressive display of who we feel we are and want to be seen as in order to attract mates and sexual partners.     We use jewelry in a narcissistic way to influence the alignment of the interests and desires among artist, weaver, viewer, collector, exhibiter, and seller.

In similar ways, we may derive our sense of belief, devotion and faith to a higher power or spiritual being or God from wearing jewelry.   It may help us feel more connected to that religious, spiritual something within ourselves.    It may remind us to stay on our religious path.

As an agent of our psychological selves, jewelry is used to resolve those core conflicts – Who are we?     Why do we exist?    How should we relate to other people around us?      Jewelry orients us in coming to grips with our self-perceived place within critical contradictions around us.     Trust and mistrust.  Living and dying.   Good and evil.  Pleasure and pain.   Permission and denial.   Love and hate.  Experience and expectation.   Traditional and contemporary.   Rational and reasonable.


Jewelry As Interaction and Shared Understandings

Jewelry is a two-way street.  It is a way to create, confirm and retain connections.    At its very core, it is communicative.   It is more an action than an object.   Jewelry can start a conversation.  Jewelry encapsulates a very public, ongoing matrix of choices and interactions among artist, wearer and viewer, with the purpose of getting responses.   It is a dialectic.

The optimum position to view jewelry is on a person’s body, where and when its dialectical power is greatest.   Again, it is very public, yet concurrently, very intimate.   We exhibit jewelry.    It forces reaction, response and reciprocity.    Jewelry helps us negotiate, in relatively non-threatening ways, those critical tensions and contradictions in life, not merely define them.

It very publicly forces us to reveal our values, delineate tensions and contradictions which might result, and resolve all those betwixt and between qualities which occur as the artist, wearer, viewer, marketer, seller, exhibitor and collector try to make sense of it all.    Conversely, jewelry, as worn, may signal that any negotiation would be futile, but this is a dialectic, communicative act, as well.

Jewelry expresses or implies things, the relevance of which emerges through interactions.    There is an exchange of meaning.    There is some reciprocity between the artist expressing an inspiration with the desire for a reaction, and the wearer evaluating the success of the piece and impacting the artist, in return.

Jewelry is persuasive.   It allows for the negotiation of influence and power in subtle, often soft-pedalled ways.    It helps smooth the way for support or control.    Compliance or challenge.    Wealth and success or poverty and failure.   High or low status.   Social recognition.   An expression of who you know, and who might know you.     Jewelry is a tool for managing the dynamics between any two people.

Jewelry is emotional and feeling, with attempts by the artist to direct these, and with opportunities for others to experience these.  It is not that we react emotionally to the beauty of an object.  It is not mechanical or fleeting.   It is more of a dialectic.    The jewelry is an expression of an artist’s inspiration and intent.    We react emotionally to what we sense as that expression as it resonates from the object itself.    This resonance ebbs and flows, waxes and wanes, over time as the object is worn in many different situations.

Jewelry draws attention.   It becomes a virtual contract between artist and wearer.     The artist agrees to design something that will call attention to the wearer and that wearer’s preferred sense of self.   The wearer agrees to wear something that reaffirms the artist’s insights for all to witness and experience and draw support.

Jewelry may cue the rules for sexual and sensual interactions.   Nurturing and desire.   Necklaces draw attention to the breasts.   Earrings to the ear and neck.     Rings to the hands.    Jewelry, such as a wedding band, may confirm a relationship, and signal permission for various forms of touching that otherwise would not be appropriate.    The silhouettes and placements of jewelry on the body indicate where it may be appropriate for the viewer to place his gaze, and where it would not.

Knowing What Jewelry Really Is

Translates Into Artistic and Design Choices

Knowing what jewelry really is better connects the artist to the various audiences the artist seeks to reach.    It results in better outcomes.   More exhibits.  More sales.  More collections.   Better self-esteem.   Better representation of self in various contexts and situations.

Jewelry asks the artist, the wearer and the viewer to participate in its existence.     In a somewhat subtle way, by allowing communication, dialog, evaluation, and emotion, jewelry allows each one not to feel alone.   It allows each one to express intent, establish a sense of self, and introduce these intents and self-expressions into a larger social context.

Jewelry judged as finished and successful results from these shared understandings among artist, viewer and wearer, and how these influence their subsequent choices.     These choices extend to materials and arrangements.   They extend to how the artist determines what is to be achieved, and how the work is talked about and presented to others.    These anticipate the reactions of others, beliefs about saleability, assumptions about possible inclusions in exhibitions, knowing what is appealing or collectible.

The artist is always omnipresent in the jewelry s/he creates.    The artist, through the jewelry, and how it is worn on the body, to some extent, arbitrates how other sets of relationships interact, transfer feelings, ideas and emotions, reduce ambiguity, influence one another, and make sense of the world around them.

These sets of relationships, through which jewelry serves as a conduit, include:

artist and wearer

wearer and viewer

artist and seller

seller and client

artist and exhibiter

artist and collector

exhibiter and collector

In the abstract, jewelry is a simple object.   We make it.   We wear it.   We sell it.  We exhibit it.  We collect it.    But in reality, jewelry channels all the artist’s and wearer’s and viewer’s energy – the creative sparks, the tensions, the worries, the aspirations, the representations, the assessments of risks and rewards, the anticipations of influence and affect.  Jewelry becomes the touchstone for all these relationships.   It is transformational.   It is a manifestation of their internal worlds.     An essence resonant in context.

The better jewelry designer is one who anticipates these shared understandings about what makes a piece of jewelry finished and successful, and can incorporate these understandings within the jewelry design process s/he undertakes.


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 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?




Grosz, Stephen, The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves, NY: W.W.Norton & Company, 2014.

COPYRIGHT, 2019, FELD, All Rights Reserved


Posted in Art or Craft?, art theory, bead weaving, beadwork, design management, design theory, jewelry collecting, jewelry design, jewelry making, Stitch 'n Bitch | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

I Will Be Teaching At Bead & Button This Year

Posted by learntobead on November 26, 2018



What’s New…What’s Happening




June 2-9, 2019

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Since its humble origins during the 20th century’s final year, this annual event has swiftly transformed from small trade show to “the largest consumer bead show event in the world.” Hosted by Bead & Button Magazine, which is the crown jewel of Waukesha-based Kalmbach Publishing Company.

Hope you will be able to join us in Milwaukee to kick off your summer for great jewelry-making classes and shopping. Beads, metal, enamel, wire, polymer, gems, stones, fiber and more!

Classes are offered in a huge variety of techniques, skill levels and price points. The Expo had all the supplies and materials you need to make your own jewelry, plus so much unique finished jewelry directly from the artists.



Join jewelry designer Warren Feld,
who will be teaching these three classes:



Saturday, 6/8, 9am-Noon



Friday, 6/7,6-9pm



Saturday, 6/8, 1-4pm

Show Catalog (download .pdf file)

Online Browsing opens on December 11th, 2018

Registration opens at NOON CST on January 8th, 2019


to get announcements about our Wednesday afternoons
and once-a-month Saturday beading/jewelry making get-togethers.
No fees.



join our group on facebook at:


Land of Odds – Be Dazzled Beads

718 Thompson Lane, Ste 123

Nashville, TN 37204

PHONE: 615-292-0610

FAX: 615-460-7001

EMAIL: warren@bedazzledbeads.com

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Posted in Art or Craft?, bead weaving, beads, beadwork, design theory, jewelry design, jewelry making, Learn To Bead, Stitch 'n Bitch, Travel Opportunities, Workshops, Classes, Exhibits | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Architectural Basics of Jewelry Design

Posted by learntobead on August 18, 2018



Land of Odds-Be Dazzled Beads

Article of Interest For You


Building In The Necessary Support and Structure

by Warren Feld, Jewelry Designer


Whenever you create a piece of jewelry, it is important to try to anticipate how your choice of materials, techniques and technologies might positively or negatively affect how the piece moves and feels (called Support) when worn and how its components maintain shape and integrity (called Structure).  Towards this end, it is important to redefine your techniques and materials in architectural terms.    Every jewelry making technique is an applied process with the end goal of trying to reach some type of equilibrium.  That is, balancing off all the external and internal forces impacting the piece.    Achieving this balance means that the piece of jewelry is at its point of least vulnerability.    This is where all the materials, techniques and technologies have been leveraged to maximize the four S’s:  Strength, Suppleness, Stability and Synergy.  I find that most jewelry designers do not learn their techniques with architectural principles in mind.    They arrange a set of materials into a composition, and assume its success is solely based on the visual grammar they applied.    But if the piece of jewelry doesn’t wear well, feels uncomfortable, gets in a weird position making the wearer look clownish, or breaks or comes apart too easily, the jewelry designer has failed in their mission. 


Building In The Necessary Support and Structure

Everything boils down to support and structure.

Support is anything about the materials or techniques used which allow the finished piece to best move, drape and flow while the piece is worn.

Structure is anything about the materials or techniques used which allow the finished piece to maintain its shape and integrity while the piece is worn.

Constructing a bracelet or a necklace is really not much different than engineering and building a bridge.    Bridges have purpose and functions.   Jewelry has purpose and functions.   These are very much the same.  The jewelry designer needs to anticipate how the piece will purpose and function within a context or situation or environment, as worn.

Designers have to worry about the bracelet maintaining its shape and not falling apart, in the face of many stresses which come from movement, adjustments, obstructions, twisting, body geography and contour, aging of materials, and so forth.  They need to anticipate how the piece will comfortably move, drape and flow while worn.   They have to construct something that is appealing and friendly to the user.     Designers have to be fluent in, and be able to apply, not just a visual grammar, but a functional grammar, as well.

This means that the jewelry artist needs to know a little bit about physical mechanics.    A little bit about how to create, control and maintain shape.   A little bit about how to build in support and jointedness.    A lot about materials, how they go together and how they age together over time.   A lot about how various jewelry making techniques enhance or impede support and structure over time.   Some comfort about making tradeoffs and judgement calls between aesthetics and functionality.    And their finished jewelry needs to reflect all this jewelry artist knowledge, so it maintains its appeal, but doesn’t fall apart when worn.

We have all heard and seen the complaints.

  • Clasp slips around neck to the front
  • Necklace bezel settings turn around
  • Earring dangle gets locked in a 90 degree angle
  • Jump rings open up and bracelet pulls apart
  • Necklace doesn’t lay flat
  • Earring dangles don’t face the right way
  • Stone pops out of its setting
  • Stringing material breaks or pulls apart
  • Finishes on beads and components flake off
  • Necklace or bracelet breaks at the crimp
  • Solder or glue doesn’t hold
  • Beads crack and string breaks in overly tight pieces

These things that happen are not natural to jewelry.   They are examples of bad jewelry design.    They can be corrected by building in an architectural awareness of how materials and techniques function.     They may need more support, such as loops, rings, and hinges, for example.   They may need better structure, such as smarter selection of materials, or more strategic implementation of technique, or extra reinforcement at points of potential weakness.

This wire work bracelet pulls apart when worn.   The jump rings open up.   Upon closer inspection, we learn that the designer used dead soft wire to make the jump rings, and did nothing to harden the wire, either before or after shaping.   Harding the wire, such as twisting it before shaping it, or starting with half hard wire may have solved this problem.


This necklace clasp has slipped to the front.    This is not natural to jewelry; it is a design flaw.    The clasp assembly has insufficient support or jointedness.    This problem can more easily be prevented by building in more support.  In this case, adding additional rings – at least one where the clasp is attached to the chain, and at least one to the ring on the other end of the chain – would probably suffice.    Added support would absorb the stress movement places on the piece.   Without it, the necklace will always turn around in the opposite direction to the force applied.


This earring dangle is stuck at a 90 degree angle.    The problem is simple.    There is insufficient support.   This means that either the size of the loop where the dangle connects to the ear wire, is too small, or that the thickness of the wire making this loop is too thick for the opening on the ear wire.    


Support systems are components or design elements we build into our pieces, which allow good movement, flow, and drape.     This is known as support or jointedness.    Sufficient support allows for the absorption or channeling of stress so that negative impacts on a piece of jewelry when worn are minimized.

These may be things like

  • Rings
  • Loops
  • Links
  • Hinges
  • Rivets
  • Knots  (unglued)

They may involve different kinds of chaining or connecting.

I include knots as support systems.   Unglued knots provide a lot of support and jointedness.   Glued knots do not.  Glued knots are stiff, and increase the risk of breakage or support failure.   Some knots are looser, like lark’s head knots or weaver’s knots or overhand knots.    Looser knots provide a lot of support and jointedness.   Other knots are tighter, like square knots and surgeon’s knots, and provide less support and jointedness.

Without these kinds of support systems, pieces of jewelry become stiff.    When jewelry is worn, movement puts a tremendous amount of force on all our parts.   There is a lot of stress and strain on our beads, our stringing materials and other adornments.   There is a lot of stress on the clasp assembly.   There is a lot of stress on our larger components and forms.   If everything is too stiff, movement would force these components to crumble, chip, crack or break.

The designer’s choices about clasps, materials, string, technique, and design all affect the success or failure of the support systems integral to their pieces of jewelry.

Often, when people string beads on cable wire, and crimp the ends of the wire to secure the clasp, they ignore concerns about support or jointedness.   If the artist pushed the crimp all the way up to the clasp, the connection between crimped wire and clasp would be too stiff.   It would not allow movement.   It could not absorb any forces placed on the piece, such as from moving, pulling, tugging, getting caught on something, and the like.

When the connection between wire and clasp is too stiff, the metal pieces will bend back and forth, eventually breaking.   In this case, the crimp bead is metal, the cable wire is metal and the clasp is metal.    When someone wears a necklace or bracelet where no joint or support is created at the clasp, a couple of things might happen.    The necklace or bracelet will start to pull on itself, and as the person moves, and necklace or bracelet moves, and the clasp slides up to the front.   The turning around of the necklace or bracelet is that piece’s response for alleviating the forces of stress.      If, for some reason, the necklace or bracelet cannot turn around, then all these metal parts will bend back and forth and break.

The better designer, one more familiar with architectural considerations, will avoid these kinds of design flaws which result from leaving an inadequate amount of support or jointedness within the piece.     Leaving an adequately sized loop on the cable, as it attaches to the clasp, thus never pushing the crimp all the way up to the clasp, allows for movement and support.

When there is sufficient support, in our necklace example, the clasp will always rest securely on the back of the neck, no matter if the wearer is sitting, dancing, or bending forward to pick something up.   It will not turn around.   It will not break.

You will find that most clasps, and most jewelry findings, will need an extra intervening ring – either a jump ring, split ring or soldered ring, in order to have sufficient support and jointedness.

There are 4 key types of support systems:

Type of support Type of movement allowed Example
Loop Allows multi-directional movement Ring, Loop, Chain links, Netting
Pin Allows uni-directional movement Hinge, rivet
Roller Allows rotational movement Knot, Stringing material which can twist, Small spacer beads between larger beads
Rigid Movement occurs through bending or absorbing additional stress and strain Soldered joint, glued section, coil, spring


As designers, we always want to think about our piece of jewelry, its construction and execution in terms of what might happen when:

  • Pulling left and right, up or down  (horizontal movement)
  • Bearing weight (vertical movement)
  • Balancing from side to side or section to section or twisting (rotational  movement)

These structures are described in reference to how external forces operate on them.    The labels of horizontal, vertical and rotational do not refer to the placement or positioning of these structures, per se.

The structures we build into our jewelry help us manage shapes and their integrity as the piece of jewelry is worn.     They help us achieve that sweet-spot among the four S’s: strength, suppleness, stability and synergy.


Funicular Structure


Horizontal structures assist us in managing the effects of horizontal movement, such as pulling, tugging, stretching.   Horizontal structures are the most common ones we build into jewelry.   These include arches and trusses, funicular structures, and nets or webs.   Horizontal structures can more easily deflect and deform their shapes in response to adverse forces.

They may require adjustments in lengths as requirements for stability might require inward sloping, thus shorter lines, as things get connected closer to the neck, and elongated outer boundaries.    Well-designed Trusses and other horizontal structures will distribute the weight and channel the stresses placed on the piece in an equitable way.     They will alleviate dead space, drooping, and unsatisfying drape and flow.     Horizontal structures designed for strength will allow for more dimensionality, and allow the piece to include arches and puffed out components (vaults).

The success of horizontal systems is very dependent on the length of their span.   Their ability to adapt to the adverse effects of mechanical forces decreases or increases with their increasing length.    As the length shortens, it becomes more important how well these structures can bend.   As the length increases, it becomes more important how well these structures can deflect these forces.

Wall (which in jewelry can be vertical or horizontal)




Vertical structures assist us in managing the effects of vertical movement, such as bearing weight or resisting bending.    These include things like walls, cantilevers and frames.   They may be foundational bases for compositions.    They may be a set of wires bounded together to secure them and leverage their properties in the finished piece.   They may be bails or connectors for drops or charms.   They may be columns.   Most vertical structures are characterized by a certain amount of inflexibility, but will vary somewhat in flexibility by type or dimension (width, length, height).    With vertical structures, we sometimes worry about shift or drift or bending out of shape.

Vertical structures, like Walls, are things which allow jewelry or jewelry components to find a satisfying point of stability between the effects of gravity and the effects of their own weight (loads).

Roma, a cubic right-angle weave necklace by Sabine Lippert, is composed of square-shaped vertical units of cubic right-angle weave

This point of stability must hold when the jewelry is static (thus not worn) as well as when it is dynamic (thus, worn).

A Cantilever looks and functions like a tree with branches.    This vertical structure allows for a lot of bending.      You might visualize a necklace with a lot of charms or pendant drops cantilevered off a strap.

The Moment Frame is an additional type of vertical structure which allows for some temporary give and take.   The Moment Frame might involve the addition of several support systems, like loops, rings or rivets, and may allow some bending and compression without deformity of the piece.

A Braced Frame involves the placement of some kind of diagonal element across a section of the piece, thus bracing two sides at that section.    This functions similar to Trusses, and allows for bending and compression without deformity of the piece.

Rotational structures assist us in managing the effects of rotational movement, such as twisting, rotating, slipping over or under, or curling.    They enable these structures to deform without breaking.   Rotational structures can be either horizontal or vertical.    What is key is how they are attached.    The points of connection are allowed to rotate, temporarily adjusting or bending in shape in response to outside forces, but then rotating back in place.



Jewelry designers apply many different approaches to the creation of jewelry.   They may string.   They may bead weave.   They may wire work.  They may silversmith.   They may work with fibers or glass or other unusual materials to create components and appealing arrangements for people to wear as jewelry.

Every technique has, at its heart and the ways it should be best implemented, things which allow it to give jewelry support, and things which allow it to give jewelry structure.   Some techniques have a good balance between steps or strategies which support movement, drape and flow, with steps or strategies which structure shape and the maintenance of its integrity.    Other techniques are sometimes stronger in one side of the equation, say support, and weaker on the other side, which would be structure, or vice versa.

Every technique or design system is an applied process with the end goal of trying to reach some type of equilibrium.   Each piece of jewelry is the designer’s effort at figuring out, given the materials, techniques and technologies at hand, how to balance off all the external and internal forces impacting the piece.    Achieving this balance means that the finished and successful piece of jewelry is at its point of least vulnerability.    This is where the materials, techniques and technologies have been leveraged to best concurrently optimize all of our four S’s:  Strength, Suppleness, Stability and Synergy.

Achieving this balance or equilibrium is partly a function of the materials chosen, but mostly a function of how the designer selects techniques, makes choices about their implementation, and manages support and structure.    Every technique will have some steps which require stronger, heavier, firmer, tighter efforts, and some steps which require looser, lighter, weaker efforts.    Where the particular steps of the technique are supposed to lend more support, usually the designer will lighten up, and where the particular steps are supposed to lead to greater structural integrity, the designer will tighten up.

I find that most jewelry designers do not learn their techniques with architectural principles in mind.    They arrange a set of materials into a composition, and assume its success is solely based on the visual grammar they applied.    But if the piece of jewelry doesn’t wear well, feels uncomfortable, gets in a weird position making the wearer look clownish, or breaks or comes apart too easily, the jewelry designer has failed in their mission.

I also find most jewelry designers apply their techniques with the same amount of strength, tightness and tension, rather than learn to vary, manage and control these.    This suggests they are unaware of how the techniques they apply result in more or less support, and more or less structural integrity.

Let’s explore some bead weaving examples.   Bead weaving encapsulates and easily shows how all these support and structural issues come into play.

The Tuxedo Park Bangle Bracelet

Tuxedo Park Bangle Bracelet, Warren Feld 2014

The Tuxedo Park Bangle Bracelet is bead woven using a technique called brick stitch.    The brick stitch is a very robust bead weaving stitch, in that it allows for a lot of support while at the same time allows for good structure.   To phrase this another way, the brick stitch allows the piece to keep its shape and integrity, yet respond to all the forces and stress of movement.    The thread pathway of this stitch allows each individual bead to self-adjust in response to stress, while concurrently influencing all the beads around it in how they individually adjust to this same stress.

There are two major support systems in this bracelet.

The first support system is the thread path design system of the brick stitch itself.    The brick stitch attaches the new bead to the previous row by snagging a thread loop between two beads.   This looping not only ties all the beads together within our composition, but also, allows each bead and each row to bend in response to the forces of movement and then bend back into its original position.    And, importantly, it allows this flexing all the while maintaining the solidity and shape of our component.

The thread-looping pattern of the stitch also allows us to manipulate the flat beadwork into a curve.    It allows us to slide and stretch the bangle over our hand and also return to its original shape as it sits on the wrist.

It is important, while weaving the brick stitch, to maintain the integrity of the support systems, that is, of each thread-looping-over-thread intersection as best as can be.    Anything done which disrupts this looping, will begin to stiffen the joints, so to speak.   So, if our needle pierces an existing thread as we create the next loop-connection, this will begin to impede the support, or in a sense, those “swinging” properties of the looping.    If we tie off the thread into a knot, such as when we end an old thread and begin a new one, this too will impede support.   If we glue any knot, this will end all the support properties at that point in the piece.

The second major support system is in the design of the Tuxedo Park Bangle Bracelet itself.   We are creating a chain of links.   These links or “rings” provide support.   That is, they allow the bangle to easily curve around the wrist and to freely move when worn.

In our long link, we have cinched and sewn down the middle of the link.   This begins to disrupt that support in our chain-link.  So, we have to be comfortable with the size, thus support, of our now bi-furcated two new ring openings on either side of this cinched long link.    If these new openings are too small, one ring would lock into place with the preceding one, making the piece stiff, and thus, uncomfortable to wear, and perhaps putting too much pressure on the parts.

Russian Right Angle Weave Necklace

Russian Right Necklace, Warren Feld, 2008

It is important to understand each technique you use, whether a bead stringing technique, or wire working technique, or bead weaving stitch, or silversmithing technique, in terms of how it might enhance or impede support or structure.    How might it allow movement.  How might it absorb and direct the forces this movement places on our beads, stringing materials and other components within our piece.    How it allows the piece to encompass a shape and maintain that shape as worn.

The Russian Right Angle Weave Necklace is an example of another bead weaving stitch which has great properties allowing for both support and structure.

The basic right angle weave stitch begins with a circle of 4 beads.   It then moves on to create a second circle of four beads.    These two circles are linked with one shared bead, common to both circles, and which acts like a hinge.

Architecturally, we want each circle of 4 beads – what we call a right angle weave unit, to move in tandem, that is, all at the same time.    We want, as well, for each right angle weave unit to be able to influence the movement of all other right angle weave units within the piece, but to also move somewhat independently of all other right angle weave units within our piece.   Each unit should move as one.   Each unit should be allowed to somewhat self-adjust to stress independently, but at the same time, affect the interdependency of all units within the piece.

The right angle woven piece should move like a coil spring mattress.   Picture someone lying down on this mattress.   Each coil adjusts somewhat independently to the pressure of the body part immediately above it.   Yet each coil with the mattress also adjusts relative to the movement of the other coils as well.   Nothing gets out of line.   No matter what the person laying on the mattress does, or how they move around, all the coils adjust to the changes in weight very smoothly and coherently.

This is how right angle weave works, and maintains itself as a support system.  To achieve the optimal performance with right angle weave, the designer would want their four beads within a unit to be as tightly connected as possible, so that they always move and respond to forces as a whole unit.   The designer would want a looser tension at the place each right angle unit connects to another at the point of their shared bead.


Areas of Potential Instability and Weakness

Whenever a project is begun, it is important to carefully anticipate and identify potential areas of instability and weakness.    Where might your piece be vulnerable?   Where might the forces of movement, when the piece is worn, cause the stringing material or threads or beads or clasps to loosen up, and perhaps break.  Or the wire or metal to bend, distort or deform?

Most often, places of vulnerability occur where the structures or supports in place take on the shapes of either H, L, T, or U.    Think of these shapes as hazards.  These shapes tend to split when confronted with external or internal forces.   They tend to split because each leg is often confronted with different levels or directions of force.   These hazardous shapes cry out for additional reinforcements or support systems.

Vulnerability and instability will also occur where the structures or supports are very thin or very soft or very brittle.    They will occur at points where there is a slant or a wedge or an unusual angle.

Pieces are vulnerable because the jewelry designer has made poor choices in selecting materials, techniques, or technologies, and in managing design from inspiration to execution.    REMEMBER: A piece of jewelry results from a Design System.   This system is a back and forth process of anticipating how others will judge the piece to be finished and successful, how choices are made and implemented regarding materials, techniques, arrangements and technologies in light of these shared understandings coupled with the artist’s intent.

If the piece is vulnerable, then the designer has failed to reflect upon what things will make the piece endure.    What will be expected of the piece when the person wearing it moves?   As the piece moves from a static place, say from in a jewelry box, and then must transition to the body as a person begins to put it on, what are those transitional issues the piece must accommodate?    What parts of the piece must always maintain their shape or position?    What happens when the piece has to either shrink, elongate or expand?    Does the piece need to bend or rotate for any reason?   What happens to all the materials and pieces over time?

Reinforcements at points of potential instability and vulnerability can take many forms, such as:

  • Anchoring
  • Bracing
  • Framing
  • Attaching/Securing
  • Connecting
  • Blocking
  • Adding in slack or elasticity
  • Isolating the area

THE 4 S’s:

Strength, Suppleness, Stability and Synergy

Jewelry must be designed, from an architectural standpoint, to find a special point of equilibrium.   This equilibrium point is a sweet efficient and effective spot among Strength, Suppleness, Stability and Synergy.     As our choices force us to deviate from this optimized sweet-spot, our pieces of jewelry become more vulnerable when worn.   They are more likely to distort and deform, pull apart, lose tension, and break.

To find this sweet-spot for any particular piece of jewelry, we first assess what shared understandings our various audiences will apply when determining if the piece is finished and successful.    A big part of this is figuring out how a piece will be worn, how often a piece will be worn, and how long a duration this piece is expected to hold up.   The designer assesses all this, then begins to incorporate personal artistic intent into the design process.

Strength involves choices we make about materials and techniques which prevent breaking.      For example, a well-done soldering joint or correctly crimping to secure a clasp to cable wire, would increase the strength.

Suppleness involves choices we make about materials and techniques which maximize elasticity and flexibility.   For example, the addition of intervening rings to various jewelry findings would increase suppleness.

Stability involves choices we make about materials and techniques which prevent deterioration, malformation or collapse.    For example, we might reject coated beads for a project, or might use a multi-strand rather than a single-strand clasp for a multi-strand piece of jewelry.  We might add extra reinforcement to the ends and the corners of pieces.

Synergy involves choices we make about materials, techniques, and technologies which not only reinforce our design, but also increase, enhance or extend the design’s appeal and functionality.    For example, a tight clustering of beads into an attractive pendant drop might be many times stronger, more supple, more stable and/or more appealing than any one bead alone.

Anatomy of a Necklace

The Vivian, Warren Feld, 2012

A necklace, or any type of jewelry, has a structure and an anatomy.    Each part has its own set of purposes, functions and aesthetics.   Understanding each type of structure or physical part is important to the designer.

If we looked at these sections of a necklace from solely an art standpoint, we might primarily focus on the centerpiece of the jewelry and consider The Strap (and most other parts) as supplemental to the piece, in a similar relationship as the frame to a painting or the pedestal to a sculpture.

However, jewelry is a 3-dimensional object serving both aesthetic as well as functional purposes.    As such, we need to be more sensitive to the entire jewelry-anatomy and both its art and architectural reason for being.

Typical structural parts of a necklace might include,

The Strap: The entire linear component of the piece, comprising Yoke, Clasp Assembly, and Frame

The Yoke:  The part of The Strap behind the neck, typically 6-7” including clasp assembly

The Clasp Assembly: Part of The Yoke, and includes all the pieces it takes to attach your Strap to the Clasp, including clasp, rings, loops at ends of stringing material

The Frame: The visually accessible part of The Strap, connecting to The Yoke at The Break point.   On a 16” necklace, The Frame might be 9-10”

The Break:  The point where The Yoke connects to The Frame, often at the collar bone on either side of the neck.  Very often, this point is one of a critical change in vector – that means, the angle The Frame lays radically changes from the angle of The Yoke.  Think of this as an inflection point.

The Bail:  A separate part which drops the centerpiece of pendant drop below the line of the Frame

The Focal Point, Centerpiece, or Pendant Drop:   A part which emphasizes or focuses the eye, usually dropped below the line of The Frame

The Canvas:  Typically the stringing material or foundation of the piece

The Embellishment:   Things added to the surface or edge of The Canvas, The Strap, or the Centerpiece which serve as decorative, rather than structural or supportive roles

Each part of the body of a necklace poses its own special design challenges for the jewelry artist.   These involve strategies for resolving such issues as:

  • Making connections
  • Determining angularity, curvature, and roundedness
  • Transitioning color, pattern and texture
  • Placing objects
  • Extending lengths
  • Adding extensions
  • Creating balance and coherency
  • Anticipating issues about compression, stretching, bending, load-bearing, and distortion
  • Anticipating issues related to physical mechanics, both when the piece is static (sitting) and dynamic (as worn)
  • Keeping things organic, so nothing looks like an afterthought, or an outlier, or out of place, or something designed by a committee
  • Determining which parts are critical to understanding the piece of jewelry as art and as it is worn, and which parts are merely supplemental to the piece

The Strap

The Strap is that continuous line that extends from one end of the clasp to the other.   The Strap may or may not consist of the exposed Canvas.   The Strap typically delineates a silhouette or boundary.    This usually sends the message to the viewer about where they may comfortably and appropriately place their gaze on the wearer’s body.

The Strap is a type of funicular structure.   A funicular structure is one where something like a string or chain or cable is held up at two points, and one or more loads are placed on it.   Loads increase tension.   Loads lead to compression.

The placement can be centered or off-centered.   If more than one object is placed on The Strap, each object can vary in mass, volume and weight.     We do not want The Strap to break because of the weight or placement of any load or loads.   We do want to control the resulting shape of the silhouette or curvature of The Strap which results from the weight or placement of any load or loads.

The Yoke

The Yoke is one section of the Strap which is the part around the back of the neck, including The Clasp Assembly.    The length of The Yoke, and whether the beginning and end parts of The Yoke should be exposed  on the front of the body is something to be determined by the designer.    The designer must also determine the proportional size of The Yoke relative to the remaining part of The Strap.    The designer must determine what role the elements, such as beads, which comprise The Yoke, will play, and whether they should be an active part of the visual composition, and/or a critical part in the functional success of the piece, or merely supplemental.   The Yoke balances the load requirements of the remaining Strap, Bail and Pendant.

The Break

At the point The Yoke connects to the remaining Strap (called The Break leading to The Frame) on either side of the neck, this is a point of vulnerability, often assisted and reduced with the addition of support elements.   Because it is at this point – The Break – where The Strap may alter its vector position in a dramatic way – that is, the angular positioning of the Strap at the point of The Break may vary a lot as The Strap continues around the front of the body – this is a major point of vulnerability.

There are always transitional issues at The Break.   The designer needs to have strategies for managing these transitions.   This might involve using visual cues and doing something with color or pattern/texture or rhythm or sizes.    The designer must decide the degree The Frame should be visually distinct from The Yoke.

The Clasp Assembly

The Clasp Assembly is part of The Yoke.   The Clasp Assembly includes, not just the clasp itself, but also all the other parts necessary to attach it to the Strap.    There might be some additional soldered rings.   There might be loops left at the ends of the stringing material.    There might be crimp beads or knots or glue or solder.

Whenever choosing a clasp, it is more important to think in terms of choosing a clasp assembly.   You might want to use a very attractive clasp, but it may take so many parts and turns to attach it to your beadwork, that you end up with a visually ugly clasp assembly.

The Frame

The Frame is that part of The Strap which connects to either side of The Yoke at The Break.

Too often, when the designer does not recognize the Yoke as distinct from The Frame – even if the transition is to be very subtle – less-than-satisfying things happen.   Proportions may be off.   The piece may not lay or sit as envisioned.   The Strap may have too much embellishment going too high up The Strap.   Sometimes the balance between Yoke and Frame is off – too much Yoke and not enough Frame.     The change in vector angles between The Yoke and The Frame may pose many architectural issues for the designer.

Bi-Furcated Frame:  A Frame visually split in half, usually at the center and in two equal parts, with a centerpiece focal bead or pendant drop in the middle.

The Focal Point, Centerpiece or Pendant Drop

While not every necklace has a focal point, centerpiece or pendant drop, most do.  The Focal Point gives the viewer’s eye a place to rest or focus.    Sometimes this is done with a centerpiece pendant.  Othertimes, the centerpiece is more integrated with The Strap.  This can be created by graduating the sizes or beads or playing with color or playing with rhythm or playing with fringe.

A Centerpiece would be a part that extends beyond the line of The Frame, usually below it, around it, or in front of it.   This forces transitional concerns between it and The Frame.

There should be a natural transition from The Strap to The Focal Point, Centerpiece or Pendant Drop.

The Bail

The Bail is a part that drops the Centerpiece below the Frame, forcing additional transitional concerns among Centerpiece, Bail and Frame.    We are concerned about its impact on emphasis, harmony, balance, distribution of size and proportion, point, line, plane and shape.    We are concerned about its ability to maintain stability, given the effects of gravity, the weight of the drop, and its relationship with and fit to The Frame of The Strap.  Most Bails would be considered vertical structures

The Canvas

The Canvas typically refers to the stringing materials.   However, in a layered piece, may refer to any created “background or foundation” off of which or around which the main composition is built.

It is important to know what The Canvas is made of, and how its function and appeal might improve or weaken as its Span is lengthened or shortened, widened or narrowed.     The steepness of its slope or positioning might also affect its integrity.

Sometimes more than one Canvas are interconnected.   You can picture a necklace with additional strands crossing the chest from one side of The Strap to the other.   You might also have a necklace where strands radiate out at angles from the neck and across the chest.


A Truss

Necklace with Trusses

Architecturally, additional Canvases which span from one side to the other of a piece of jewelry operate like Trusses, Arches or Support Beams.   These types of structures are referred to as Horizontal Structures.

The Embellishment

The Embellishment includes things like fringe, edging and surface decoration.    Embellishments are decorative elements added for purposes of improving the visual appeal of a piece.   Embellishments typically do not play any support or structural roles.


Statics and Dynamics

Mechanics represents the behaviors of the jewelry when subjected to the forces which arise when wearing a piece.    These forces include movement.   They include pulling, tugging, bending, stretching, realigning, readjusting, bearing weight, carrying weight, securing weight, brushing against, rubbing against, curving and taking the shape of the body, loose- to just-right- to tight-fit, positioning, repositioning, and the like.

Statics are descriptions of jewelry behaviors when that piece of jewelry is on the body, but at rest.

Dynamics are descriptions of jewelry behaviors when that piece of jewelry is on the body, and the body is in motion.

Forces are external to the piece of jewelry.

Stresses are internal to the piece of jewelry.

Strains result from the deformation of the jewelry, as it responds to either external forces or internal stresses.

As jewelry designers, we want to understand jewelry mechanical behaviors in terms of our 4 S’s.   We do not need to go into any of the math here.    We primarily need to be aware of the kinds of things we need to think about, manage and control.   Some of these things will be forces external to the materials and construction of our piece of jewelry.   Other things will be internal stresses within our piece of jewelry.   Our jewelry will strain to respond to either forces or stresses or both, until it can strain no more and it loses its shape, breaks or otherwise becomes unwearable.

We want to anticipate jewelry mechanical behaviors at the points of (a) maintaining shape (strength), (b) maintaining comfort (suppleness), (c) maintaining position or placement (stability), and (d) right at that point where all the materials, techniques, and technologies are leveraged to their full effect (synergy).

Tension Elongates Strain on parts
Compression Shortens Weight and Pressure
Shear Sliding Force Resistance to sliding of adjacent parts
Bending Elongates one side, shortens the other Unevenly applied weight and pressure
Torsion Twists A turning force applied at some angle

Think about what the flow of forces through the piece of jewelry would be as worn in different situations.     The wearer could be sitting, perhaps writing at a desk.   The wearer might be walking, running, dancing, skipping, crouching, bending over, bending backwards.    With mechanics, again, we want to think about our piece of jewelry, its construction and execution in terms of what might happen when:

  • Pulling left and right, up or down  (horizontal movement)
  • Bearing weight (vertical movement)
  • Balancing from side to side or section to section, or twisting (rotation)

What about our choices of materials, techniques or technology leads us to design jewelry which mechanically achieves these points of equilibrium of forces?    What about the structures we use and the support systems we build in allows us (or prevents us) from achieving this point of force equilibrium?



The fluent jewelry designer can think about art and about architecture and context.    He or she can be able to anticipate the types of issues that arise, and the types of solutions that might be available.    And he or she can evaluate and reflect upon the choices and successes or failures.

Jewelry takes quite a beating when worn.   We want it to hold up.   We don’t want it to break.  We don’t want it to stretch out or distort or deform.   We don’t want the materials we use to fail, such as the finishes fading or rubbing off, the material cracking, or the material becoming too brittle or too soft relative to how it should function in the piece.    We do not want the individual components to shift positions, or inadvertently glom on top of each other.   We want the jewelry to make the person wearing look good, feel good, and get that sense of connectedness they seek when wearing a piece of jewelry.

The architecturally-sensitive designer will design for strength, suppleness, stability and synergy.    The forces affecting these can be very complex.    They might depend upon or vary based on physical dimensions (width, length, height and depth).    They might depend upon or vary based on environmental considerations, such as cosmetics, perfumes, body oils, pollution in the air, or certain chemicals in someone’s sweat.   And of course they are dependent and may vary based on anything that causes movement or prevents movement, such as the movement of the wearer, the wind, getting something caught on something, brushing against something, twisting, bending, shaking, and the like.

Jewelry is both art and architecture, and must be thought about and implemented as such.

It is always important to remember to think about any technique applied as a design system.

This design system will include the characteristics of the materials used, the strategy for implementing the technique, the technology incorporated into the process, support and structure, and finding equilibrium among the 4 S’s.

The design system is a process that is to be managed and controlled by the jewelry designer, in line with assessments about shared understandings and artist intent.

It is always important to visually and functionally specify how the design incorporates support.

It is always important to visually and functionally specify how the design incorporates structure.

And it is always important to remember we want to achieve a point of equilibrium among the four S’s:  Strength, Suppleness, Stability and Synergy.

…if one is to be fluent in design!


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 wire working and silver smithing, 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, 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. 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.



G.G.Schierle, Architectural Structures, 1990-2006, as referenced at,


Copyright, FELD, LearnToBead.net, 2018



Posted in architecture, Art or Craft?, art theory, bead weaving, beadwork, design management, design theory, jewelry design, jewelry making, Stitch 'n Bitch, wire and metal | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

POINTS, LINES, PLANES, SHAPES, FORMS, THEMES: Creating Something Out Of Nothing

Posted by learntobead on July 20, 2018


Creating Something Out Of Nothing
by Warren Feld, Jewelry Designer


The artist creates something out of nothing.   And the jewelry artist does the same, but also imposes this act on the person who wears the result, who in turn, decides whether to display or demonstrate its desirability and wearability, and all within a particular context or situation. So, we start with nothing into something.   That something takes up space.   That space might be filled with objects we call points, lines, planes, shapes, forms and themes.    With whatever that space is filled, and however these objects are organized, the space and its composition convey meaning and value, communicated not merely to the artist, but as importantly, to the wearer and viewer, as well.     As Design Elements, it is important to differentiate among the power of each of these objects to focus, anchor, direct, balance, move, expand, synergize, coordinate, conform, bound, connect, and violate.
Creating Something Out Of Nothing

The artist creates something out of nothing.

And the jewelry artist does the same, but also imposes this act on the person who wears the result, who in turn, decides whether to display or demonstrate its desirability and wearability, and all within a particular context or situation.
So, we start with nothing into something.
That something takes up space.
Space separates and connects us with things.     It is these arrangements and contrasts which allows us to find meaning, feel connected, recognize implications.   
That space might be filled with points, lines, planes, shapes, forms and themes.    We might add color, texture and pattern.
With whatever that space is filled and organized, the space and its composition convey meaning and value, not merely for the jewelry artist, but as importantly, for the wearer and viewer, as well.    Filling space with objects will always create a level of tension because any viewer will feel compelled to make sense of it all.   This is work.   This is risky – what if the person evaluates poorly or makes a mistake or shows bad judgement or is compelled to pretend to understand?    It’s always easier (and perhaps safer) for the person to turn and look away.   To reject the jewelry.   Not wear it.  Not buy it.
Jewelry designers do not want people to avoid their creations.   So, it is important to also anticipate what happens when more objects are added to the composition.    Further adding to and organizing and arranging these points, lines, planes, shapes, forms and themes into a design will exacerbate things even more, increasing the risk, but also the reward, for the viewer to maintain their stance, keep looking at it, and keep trying to figure out what it all means, and what it all means for him or her.
Meaning and value emerge from some type of this dialectic-type interaction, first between artist and self, and then between artist and client, often reflected in the selection of materials and choices about arrangements.   The meta-qualities and inspirations and aspirations underlying these decisions then transition into forms and themes.
This emergence is contextually bound by shared understandings about whether the piece should be judged as finished and successful.
The choices are infinite.  

Let’s begin to decode points, lines, planes, shapes, forms and themes.    The jewelry designer’s ability to learn about, manage and control space is perhaps the most critical skills to develop.
[1]Points, lines, planes, and shapes are independent design elements, and forms and themes are their dependent cousins.   Independent design elements function a little like vowels in the alphabet, and can stand alone and be expressive.  Dependent design elements function more like consonants, and typically require some combination with independent elements to have fully formed expressions.
Whatever their independence or dependence, these design elements are progressively interrelated.     As we move from point along the list to theme, we increase our power to express meaning, establish value, create tensions, and resonate.     As we use more than one of these elements – either more of the same element or combinations of different ones — within the same composition, we also are increasing our artistic and design control, power, and ability to show intent, establish meaning, and achieve a successful result.
These design elements discussed here are considered objects to the extent that they are things to be positioned and manipulated.    They are considered parts of structures to the extent that they are part of some organization or arrangement.   Both objects and structures express meaning and value, but structures moreso.
Themes are explanatory meanings resulting from the interpretation of forms.   They may be literal or abstract.   They may be symbolic and layered.   They may be culturally- or situationally-specific.
Forms are especially coherent combinations and arrangements of points, lines, planes and shapes.   They may be distinct or overlapping.    They may be fully formed or partially formed.   They reflect broader, deeper meanings and reflections – something considerably beyond the meanings of the component parts.
Shapes are bounded lines and planes, delimiting spatial units which convey much more meaning than their individual component lines and planes could ever suggest on their own.    Shapes function in 2- or 3-dimensions.  Shapes are interpretable, whether they are immediately or easily recognized, or not.
Planes are defined by the intersection of 2 lines, or the presence of 3 noncollinear (not on the same line) points, or 2 parallel lines, or a line and a point not on that line.   Planes suggest the ideas of existence, thought, and development.   Planes imply the possibilities for movement and dimension. 
Lines are defined as a series of points.  Lines imply the possibilities for boundaries, directions and movement.    They can be used to measure things.    They can demarcate that which is OK and sacred from that which is unacceptable or dangerous or profane.
Points change the nothingness of space into something-ness.   They can focus the attention.    Points are the simplest geometric elements which imply the possibilities for imposing individual intent, meaning and value on the universe.   The presence of two or more points can suggest relativity.
The jewelry designer cannot ignore any of this.   As design elements, points, lines, planes, shapes, forms and themes are an integral part of the jewelry artist’s tool box.    As elements within compositions, they are to be constructed or manipulated into principled arrangements we call jewelry.   They allow the artist to show his or her hand.   They are some of the major building blocks the artist uses to convey meaning and connectedness, show intent and inspire others.
As Design Elements, it is important to differentiate among the power of each of these elements to…

(1) Focus the eye
(2) Anchor or establish some kind of predominance or hierarchy within a composition
(3) Direct the eye
(4) Establish balance, order, and a satisfying distribution of proportions and sizes, or their opposite
(5) Give a sense of movement and flow
(6) Give a sense of dimension
(7) Synergize or marry the relationship between positive and negative space
(8) Establish a sense of coherence, coordination, sameness, unity, difference, and/or variety, or some grouping rules for elements
(9) Conform to the shape of the body
(10) Establish a silhouette or personal identity
(11) Connect to a time frame, context, or situation
(12) Conform to or violate shared expectations about good design
As used with Principles of Composition, Construction and Manipulation, it is important to understand how each of these elements can enhance or impede the artist’s ability to arrange objects to achieve a finished and successful piece of jewelry.    Each can support or detract from a compelling arrangement.   
The designer does not have to use all of these elements.    But the designer does need to know what each can and cannot be used to do.    The designer must develop that intuitive and fluent knowledge how each of these elements function.    The goal of jewelry design is to communicate.   Communicate the artist’s inspirations and aspirations.  Communicate the choices made to turn aspirations into concrete products.    Communicate the self-identifying relevance of jewelry pieces to the wearers.    Communicate the socio-cultural relevance of jewelry pieces both wearers and viewers.
Finally, each element should be used parsimoniously (that is, that Goldilocks point of just right), to attain a level of resonance.    Our jewelry, at the minimum, should evoke an emotion, and more importantly, go a little beyond this and resonate.


In math, the point exists but has no mass.     However, for this and our other design elements discussed in this article, we use a looser definition in art and design.    The point is the simplest geometrically based design element the artist can use to create something out of nothing and draw someone’s attention to a piece.    The point can be very small, or medium or large.   It can be a simple circle, or a blob, or a square, or anything that might get interpreted as a point.




The point is the building block for everything else.     Every mark we can make will be a combination of one or more points.   Every line, plane, shape or form is essentially a point, regardless of its size.
Most importantly, the point calls one’s attention to a place where no attention was called for or placed before.   They create a reference point.    With 2 or more points, that reference point builds up much more meaning.   It shows relativity in a relationship.   It suggests distance and direction.    It can suggest layering or dimension – think two over-lapping points.  



Relationships between and among points pose two especially important meanings.    One, the relationship that emerges about proportions of the point(s) to the space around it.    Two, the relationship that emerges about the position of the point(s) within the space around it.     Proportions and positioning.   
Jewelry Applications/Decoding Points


A continuous series of points

Points directing your attention

Points which convey distance and relativity

A Point which steers your eye to the upper right, partly due to proportion and placement

The jewelry designer usually starts with a collection of different kinds of points with some determination and a lot of experimentation to arrange them in some pleasing way.    Some points might be various round beads.   They might be beads of different shapes.    They might be a clustering of beads into some shape or form.    They might be a fully formed component.
The artist thinks about the distribution and balance of points.   Sizes,  relative sizes, shapes and variety of shapes are pondered over.   Then points are placed, usually, with jewelry, in some kind of circle or silhouette.  Their placement may establish a sense of balance, such as symmetry.    Their placement might create a rhythm, either fast or slow. 
The artist determines where any emphasis should go.    Often the artist uses a pendant drop, some variation in proportion, or some color placement effect to call a viewer’s attention to a certain part of the jewelry.   These function as points.
The artist determines how emphasis, size, proportionate relationships and placement affect how the piece will be interpreted and decoded by others.   In what way(s) does the point influence the space around it?  Should attention be focused or directed?   What kind of rhythm should be established?  Should a feeling of closeness, apartness, integration or skew be created?   Have the dots contributed to a sense of symmetry or asymmetry?   Do the points lose their “point-ness” and suddenly get perceived as a lines or shapes, when they move closer together?
The artist decides the number of points to be used, and decides their parsimonious selection and placement.    That is, the artist decides when enough points are enough.      Using more than one point adds a level of tension to the piece.   There is a competition for space and how position and proportion will affect interpretation of the artist’s intent, whether the piece feels finished, and whether the piece is seen as successful.
Overlapping points create a figure/ground perspective.    They change the nature of the space and the person’s interaction with it.   They add depth.    Overlapping points might get re-translated into a new point, or into a new shape.

Lines are defined by the connections between 2 or more points.     Lines have length and width.     They connect, they divide, they direct.     The points along the line can attract or repel each other.    They can emote strength, weakness, or harmony.    They can excite, muddle or confuse.    They can be actual or implied.    
Where points are about emphasis, lines are mostly about direction and movement.    A line is not attracting you to a point in space, but rather, it is directing you.    Lines prevent the viewer from getting stuck staring at one point in your jewelry composition.    They encourage the viewer to move around and take into account the whole piece.  

Lines both separate and join things.    They establish a silhouette.    They demarcate boundaries.    They signal a beginning and an end, or travel in one or both directions all the way out to infinity, and perhaps beyond.   Lines can violate boundaries, or establish walls around something.  

They can curve and curve around things.   A line which curves around and connects its beginning to its end becomes a circle.    If the line delineating the circle becomes too thick and fills all the negative space, it becomes a point.    If the curving line does not meet itself, beginning to end, it becomes a spiral.    A curved line usually conveys a different sense of beauty and romance than a straight line.

As lines become thicker, they begin to take on the characteristics of planes.   To maintain their identity and integrity as lines, they must always be longer than they are wide.     Changing the ratio of the length to the width has the greatest impact on how any line will be perceived and understood.

As lines become thinner, they more and more emphasize the quality of direction.   As both endpoints of lines seem to extend towards infinity, they emphasize movement.   If one endpoint is fixed, while the other endpoint is allowed to extend towards infinity, more tension is perceived as the space around the line is interpreted by the viewer.
Two or more lines together create a measure of things.   People try to make sense of each line, sometimes in combination, but often as individual segments.     The interval space between the lines becomes critical in this endeavor.

Eloquence, by Warren Feld, 2018, jasper, jade, Japanese seed beads
Here we have a 7-strand necklace.   Look at the use of points, lines, planes and shapes.   Look at the interval
spaces between each strand.

When two lines converge, they create an angle between them.    This joint or connecting point becomes the nexus for things moving in two different or altering directions.   The angle and juxtapositions of multiple angles can establish a rhythm.    Angles smaller than 90 degrees generate perceptions of more rapid movement than angles larger than 90 degrees.
When two lines are separated, they often are perceived separately, each with its own identify.    Think of the single vs. the multiple strand necklace or bracelet.    The interval between the lines becomes a critical part of the story ascribed to each line separately.    It is important how that interval’s negative space is filled up or left empty.  It is important how wide that interval is between each pair of lines.   Pieces with narrower interval spaces have more tension resulting from how the lines are perceived and thought about.
The width of interval spaces between lines creates rhythm.    The use of color can further enhance (or impede) this perception of rhythm within a piece of jewelry.    Varying the intensity and values of the lines can create dimensionality, where some lines appear to advance and others appear to recede.     
Thicker lines placed close together can change the gestalt, where the viewer’s attention shifts from the original lines to the negative interval spaces, now seen as the lines.
Jewelry Applications/Decoding Lines


Parallel lines

Curved lines

Directional lines

Circular lines

Lines are design elements used to compose, construct and manipulate beads and other pieces into jewelry.    They assist the artist in translating inspiration into aspiration, establishing intent, and securing shared understandings about whether the piece is finished and how successful that piece should be judged.
We’ve learned that the control over line includes choices about thinness or thickness, finite or infinite, continuous or sporadic, integrated or disjointed, connected or not, and spacing between intervals.     The presence of more than one line, and the chosen attributes of each line, adds more meaning, more complexity, and more opportunity for the jewelry artist to play with materials, techniques and designs.
The tensions underlying points get assessed and managed differently by the jewelry artist than those underlying lines.   While the point is more about attracting your eye, the line is more about directing it.    Points emphasize and focus and anchor.   Lines add movement and flow.    Points lead us to ideas about balance and predominance.   Lines lead us to ideas about alignment, coordination, closeness, grouping.     Lines add additional measures of meaning, such as those associated with violation, conformance, span of control, silhouette, dimensionality, boundaries and framing and walls.

Planes are used to encompass a space.    Planes suggest unity.    Planes provide reference and boundaries and direction.    They suggest dimension and movement.   As such, the use of planes often makes it easier for the viewer to find and interpret meaning of all the other design elements found within or outside that plane.   
Because of this, establishing planar relationships among design elements can also lead to a measured sense of history and time and timeliness.    They can lead to more concrete understandings of context and situation within which the other design elements present themselves, and seek to affect.
Planes are created in different ways.   These include,
(a) Two intersecting lines
(b) A line and a point not on that line
(c) Three points, one of which is not on the same linear path as the other two
(d) Two parallel lines
Planes are not restricted to a single point of view.      They allow widespread placement and fragmentation.    
Planes may overlap.  They may be parallel.   They may intersect.    They may be flat or curved.     Their boundaries may be linear or nonlinear.    They may have clearly defined or diffuse boundaries.    They may be warped and pulled in different directions.
Just as lines can be thought of as an accumulation of points, planes can be thought of as an accumulation of lines.
As a plane becomes larger, it sometimes takes on the characteristics of a point.    If it takes on the characteristics of a point, then its contour takes on more critical importance, diminishing the point-like characteristics, and increasing those of shape-like attributes.

For jewelry designers, planes can be seen to have surfaces.   Textures and patterns may be added to these surfaces.     Textures involve the placement of 2 or more design elements within the same space and which are seen to somehow relate to one another.   Textures have visual impacts.   When this structural relationship among textural objects seems to have some order or regularity to it, we refer to the texture as a pattern.
Textures and patterns may be 2- or 3-dimensional.      They may be regular, predictable and statistical.   Or they may seem random and non-statistical.    They may be repeated or singular.    They may be both visual and tactile.    We may see textures and patterns which are layered or not, or smooth or rough.
Jewelry Applications/Decoding Planes


Simple planes

Multiple planes

Intersecting planes

Overlapping planes

For the jewelry artist, planes can become both a help and a hinderance.    They can aid the designer in establishing a coherent point of view.   But they can get away from the designer, and allow incoherence and irrelevance to slip into the composition.  


When we come to focus on the outer contours of a plane, we begin to recognize this design element as something we call a shape.
Shapes are areas in 2- or 3-dimensions which have defined or implied boundaries.    They are somehow separated from the space surrounding them.     Shapes may be delineated by lines.  They may be filled or emptied. They may be formed by differences in color values and intensities.   They may be formed by patterns and textures.   They suggest both mass and volume.
Shapes may be organic or mechanical.   They may relate to the background, foreground or middle ground.    They may be geometrical (regular, predictable contours) or organic, distorted or overlapping, blended or distinct or abstract.
Shapes may be interrelated by angle, sometimes forcing a sense of movement and rotation.
More than one shape in a particular space may make one shape appear more active or more important or more prominent.   This may change the perception of what that shape is about, particularly when shapes overlap.     Secondary shapes may seem more point-like or line-like in relation to the primary shape.   
When we recognize something as a shape, we begin to try to impose meaning on it.   Shapes provide orientation.    They are very powerful connectors between viewer and object.   They may take on attribute qualities, such as masculine or feminine.
Shapes have meaning in and of themselves, and are not dependent on the human body for their expressive qualities and powers.     When dependent on the human body, they become forms, rather than shapes.
Jewelry Applications/Decoding Shapes

Repeated butterfly shapes with clear boundaries

Implied butterfly shapes and no boundaries

Jewelry artists need to be able to relate the shape to the message they hope the shape will convey.   The shape should reconfirm, rather than obscure, that message.
Part of successfully working with shapes is controlling whether the boundaries are distinct, blurred or implied.     Another important part is controlling how the interior space is depicted – such as, left empty and negative, shaded, colored, textured, either partially or fully, densely or not.      A last important part is whether the shape represents a 2-dimensional or a 3-dimensional space.

Form is any positive element in a composition.    It may be related to points, lines, planes and shapes.   
A form cannot be decoded and understood without referencing the space around it.    A viewer must be able to understand and impose some meaning on the relationship between the form and the space it occupies.   A viewer must be able to differentiate the form or figure from the space or ground.    The artist cannot change the form without concurrently changing the space, thus how things get interpreted and related to.   The tension established between form and space determines the extent, time, and motivation of the viewer to interact with that form, and find it satisfying or not.
With jewelry, forms are primarily actualized as they relate to and are worn on the body.   They convey and solidify the expressive relationships among design elements, person and context.     Jewelry forms are not merely structures with wearability.   They are expressive design elements which resonate their expressive purpose and power as they are juxtaposed and positioned against the curvilinearity the human body.   
Form tends to be similar to shapes, but more 3D in reality or implied by illusion.    Form can be delineated by light and shadow on it’s surface, whether actual or illusory.
Jewelry Applications/Decoding Forms

Forms supercede their constituent point, line and shape elements

For the jewelry artist, she or he must determine where the point, line, shape and plane end, and where the form begins.    This means developing the decoding and fluency skills which can delineate and anticipate what happens to the expressive powers of the jewelry when the piece is worn.
The choice of form becomes a primary consideration in communicating the artist’s message and intent.
The artist must manage the tensions between form and space, foreground (advancing) and background (receding), object (design element) and structure (arrangement).
Forms can have magnetic powers, stickiness, and synergy.    Forms can pull your eye in certain directions, or multiply, add, subtract or divide meaning and value, based on positioning, mass and volume.     Forms can provide additional control over balance and movement felt within a piece.  

Themes are ideas which are conveyed by the visual, tactile and contextual experience with the piece of jewelry.   Most often themes are implied, rather than explicit.   They relate the jewelry to the mind, and cannot be understood apart from the individual or group culture in which the jewelry is worn.
Themes are forms which reference, or can be interpreted to have reference, or inflect in some way some reference to individual, group, cultural, societal or universal norms, values and expectations.  
Themes infuse or imply power, position, protection, or identification.    They may be clear or abstract.    They may be repeated or not.   They may result from interpretations of individual forms, or whole compositions.     They may be obvious or they may be symbolic.
Jewelry Applications/Decoding Themes

Thematic use of forms

Well developed themes enhance excitement, interest and investigation.    They increase the chances the artist’s design will achieve a level of resonance.   
In Summary
Points, Lines, Planes, Shapes, Forms, and Themes are objects used to turn nothingness into something.
That something holds meaning, asserts meaning and expresses meaning.   
Points anchor.
Lines direct.
Planes encompass.
Shapes orient.
Forms provide referents.
Themes connect ideas.
Meaning is dialectic, in that how it is ultimately received and interpreted results partly from the fluency of the jewelry designer to use these objects (and other design elements, as well) to translate inspiration into aspiration and aspiration into a finished result, and partly from the various audiences of the designer and their shared understandings about what it means to be finished and what it means to be successful.
Arranging these objects into some organized composition provides a structure for them.    Both the objects themselves, and the structures they are arranged and embedded in, convey expressive meanings.    As these meanings get expressed within shapes, forms and these, their complexity, tensions and implications become deeper and more resonant.
At some point in the design process, points, lines, planes and shapes take on the characteristics of forms and themes.    That is, the jewelry is no longer decoded as a set of individual parts.    Decoding jewelry becomes more contingent on how the jewelry relates to the body (forms) and how the jewelry relates to the individual or group culture within which it is worn (themes).   The whole of the composition takes on meaning and value beyond that of the sum of its parts.
So, take a moment.   Grab a pen and blank piece of paper.      Draw a dot.
You are now an artist.
Draw a series of dots, lines, planes and shapes in the form of a necklace.
You are now an artist with an interest in jewelry.
Jot down some ideas how you would build upon your initial sketch and develop forms and themes.    You might re-interpret what you drew as a series of components.   You might select other design elements – particularly Color – to better define the forms and establish a them.
You are now a jewelry artist.
Think about how your developing piece of jewelry reflects your personal inspirations and intent.    Anticipate how others will view your piece of jewelry and judge it as finished and successful.    Think about clues you can look for to reconfirm to yourself that your jewelry has degree of resonance  — that others will not just appreciate it, but want to wear it.
You are now a jewelry designer.



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 wire working and silver smithing, 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, 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. 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.

[1]Bradley, Steven, Points, Dots, And Lines: The Elements of Design Part II, Web Design, 7/12/2010.    This article incorporates many ideas from this article.
as seen on https://vanseodesign.com/web-design/points-dots-lines/

Copyright © 2018 FELD, LearnToBead.net

Posted in Art or Craft?, art theory, design management, design theory, jewelry design, jewelry making, Learn To Bead, Stitch 'n Bitch | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by learntobead on May 31, 2018


An Article For You from Land of Odds-Be Dazzled Beads by Warren Feld, 2018



by Warren Feld, Jewelry Designer



Color is the single most important Design Element, whether used alone, or in combination with other Design Elements.    Yet, the bead, and its use in jewelry,  – its very being – creates a series of dilemmas for the colorist.    And each dilemma is only overcome through strategically making choices about color and design.  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.   This paper seeks to answer how the bead (and its use in jewelry) asserts its need for color.   Special attention is paid to differentiating those aspects of color use we can consider as objective and universal from those which are not.    The fluent designer is one who can maneuver between universality and individuality when selecting and implementing colors, color combinations and color blends.



Color is the single most important Design Element.   Color concepts and theories form a language about how to best make choices about picking and using colors for universally attracting and involving both the wearer and the viewer.   The artist who is fluent in design will be very aware of how the bead and other materials assert their needs for color, and how to strategically compose, construct and manipulate them.
I’m always thrilled when someone tells me “I never thought of using those colors before, …But they work!”    I like to push the envelop with color, and incorporate some subtle tricks such as the use of “grays”, the selection of tertiary or “just-off” colors, the strategic use of color proportions, and the combinations of finishes and effects which often don’t get combined, but, from a color-theorist’s perspective, can be made to work, and made to work quite well.    As my friend Vera always tells me, “You have a way of using a lot of “pukey” colors, and making something spectacularly beautiful with them.”
But I also have this tendency, that I keep having to fight, to want to “paint” with the beads.   Painting with beads doesn’t work.  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.    Plus the beads are curved or faceted or otherwise shaped, and the shape and texture and dimensionality affects 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.   There are many gaps of light between each pair of beads, and you can’t paint these in.
So, when I plan a piece or visualize it in my mind, I have to fight this tendency to see things as a painter, or approach design from a painterly way.    It doesn’t work well.   You need to bring an understanding of both color and beads, not just color, to the project.   You need to understand how the bead asserts its need for color.   Contemplate.    You need to approach the subject of color as a jewelry designer who uses beads, not a painter who uses paints.   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.
Beaders should not be afraid of colors, but 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.
In some sense, however, the approaches of most bead artists and jewelry designers are still somewhat painterly – too routed in the Art Model.    The Art Model ignores things about functionality and context.    It diminishes the individuality of the designer, and the subjective responses of the wearer and viewer.   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 edginess.  It 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 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 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.  
We need to add a sense of realism and practicality to what we teach.   I doubt most beaders and jewelry makers start with the Color Wheel or Color Schemes when they pick their colors.    They start with colors they like, and then keep tweaking them until they feel the mix of colors are right.    So we should add some behavioral reality to how we teach about color and how we teach how/when/why to use the Color Wheel and Color Schemes.
So, that’s where we’ll begin with color:   Delineating the types of choices that the jewelry artist needs to make, starting with choices about picking colors.
Picking Colors

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 asserts its needs for color
– How color affects the viewers of color
– Designing jewelry with color
– The situation or context within which the jewelry is to be worn
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?
Most people pick colors a little like they pick lottery tickets – they rely on a random numbers generator, OR, choose the same numbers like birth dates over and over again, OR use some kind of mystical “system”, the logical basis of which is never quite fully known and seems too good to be true.
Picking colors is about making strategic choices.   And picking Bead Colors is about understanding how the bead (and other materials) asserts its needs for color.

[If you are in your bead or jewelry making room, you might pause a few minutes, and go pick out three colors of beads that you feel go together well.    Try to be very conscious of why you picked them.    

Then pick a fourth color that you think goes with the first three.   

Take away one of the four colors, and see if you like a combination of 3 better than that of 4, or better than any other combination of 3.   Re-arrange the order of the cords.   Make a difference in how you like them?   

Try to think about why you prefer one combination or arrangement over another.]


Recently, I asked three of my students to pick 3 colors, and then a fourth.  One student picked pink and light purple colors.    She explained that these colors were bright and matched everything she wore.    Her mom had made her wear dark navy clothes, and only dark navy clothes, when she was a girl, so as an adult, she picked colors as different from navy as she could get.   
Another student had been up all the previous night making Easter-themed gifts for the customers of a store she worked at.    At class, she picked pastel pink, pastel purple and pastel green, as her first 3 colors.    At first, she said these were colors she liked, and they were very spring-like.   But after thinking how she had lived with these colors for the past 24 hours, she remarked that these were the colors on her brain, and that’s probably why she picked them.   
The third student picked colors with high contrast, and, searched for a fourth color that would tone them down or balance them off.   One color was Capri silver lined, and a 2nd was a metallic hot coral pink.   Her additional colors were gold and brown.    She did a lot of ballroom dancing and made her own costumes.   Her choice of colors anticipated what she felt she needed for these costumes.    She discussed at length how the costumes moved as she danced, and what her goals for color and bead embellishment were, given the movement.
I know I like to pick one or two colors to begin with, and then tweak them.    Based on my knowledge of the Color Wheel and Color Schemes, I might pull another 5 or 6 colors.    Then I narrow my choices.  I play with different shades and tones of these colors.  I rearrange the order of them.   I reposition their orientation – horizontal, vertical, diagonal.   I test whether an AB-effect (or other effects or finishes) works with or against my developing ideas.    As I settle in with a more limited number of colors, I try to play with proportions.    At this point, I start to lay out the beads into some kind of design and arrangement.

About Yellow

The great colorist debates about yellow in the latter part of the 19th century were whether urine could be a component, and if so, who’s.    People do have a lot of time on their hands.  
Tales from Pakistan and India told of secret animal urine added to the spice turmeric to create the basis of yellow pigment.   This was difficult to duplicate.   Camel or Cow or, Please-Don’t-Say-Human?   One scientist happened upon a farm in India that made this “puree of India”.   Here the cows were fed mangos, and their urine was very yellow.    But there were not enough cows to account for all the yellow pigment available in India at the time.    Whatever the recipe, production ceased around 1908, in favor of other methods.
Yellow is an attention getter.    It is often used to signal “caution”, as in a yield sign, or as in the “yellow” in yellow fever.    People lose their tempers more often in yellow rooms, and babies cry more.
I know I’m yellow-phobic, and, am not alone.    I can only use it in small doses. 

Color Choices

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.
One designer I know – Jenna – spends an agonizingly amount of time trying to match colors within her pieces, but never tries to clarify and intensify her jewelry.    Her necklaces and bracelets are strings of matched colors.    Anyone could have strung them.  Anyone can wear them.   No one wearing them should expect to attract the kinds of compliments, interest and attention a well-designed piece should command.    These are pieces of jewelry best viewed through cataract’d eyes.    Acceptable, yet not appealing.    Wearable, but not exciting.   Matching, yet not wowing.   
We refer to her jewelry, with some sarcastic bite, as “Old Lady” jewelry – jewelry for older ladies who were used to having someone else make the decisions about color and design for them.    Older ladies who settled for blander necklaces which were not threatening, and jewelry which did not enhance or detract from their identities and places in the social scheme of things.   Adornment without emotion.     Art without intent.   
Jenna could have done lots of things with color, though she didn’t.   She could have delineated segments within the piece and establish a rhythm.   She could have selected colors which emphasize a naturalism, or conversely an abstraction.   Colors recede, project forward, have warmth, are cold, have tensions between mass, line and point, surprise, distort, challenge, contradict, provoke.   Colors intentionally designed can even alter the natural relationship between jewelry and the situation it’s worn in.  
Jenna did none of this.  
Annisette was a slave to fashion colors.     On her web-blog, she bookmarked every reference she could find to the current fashion colors for Spring, then for Summer, then for Autumn, then for Winter, and once again for Spring.    She was determined to make and sell jewelry that was up-to-date and current.    Never mind that different fashion magazines and other fashion sources often disagreed on what were the “IT” colors of the moment.   Annisette would usually pick one, just because.    
In reality, while some people follow color trends, most do not.   Most people wear similar colors from year to year.   They don’t change much.    And while fashion excitement might originate in New York and Los Angeles, it doesn’t necessarily trickle down to anywhere else.
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 and its use.   In literacy terminology, my ability to move back and forth between the objective and subjective is called fluency.

About Red

Red is emotionally intense, full of itself, causing the heart to beat faster and the lungs to breathe faster, as well.   Red can be an extreme color.  
The ancient Egyptians wrote their curse-words in red ink.   I guess now we know that ancient Egyptians had curse-words.  
Red can evoke love, and anger.    Red can indicate a person (or people) is in control, and challenge others to question that control.  
Red can be destructive, as well as signify re-birth.    Red stimulates appetite.   Red does a lot – a lot of extreme things.
I like working with red to a point.    But I’m uncomfortable sitting in an entirely red room.

Bead Choices

The bead – its very being – creates as series of dilemmas for the colorist.    And each dilemma is only overcome through strategically making 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
  • 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.    They ignore the bead, instead of contemplating it.   The bead is a spiritual void, without much impact or consequence.    They look at color wheels, read color guides, and rely on a Pantone’d world – “from Pantone [1], the world-renowned authority on colour and provider of colour systems and leading technology for the selection and accurate communication”.    Each season’s fashion colors are reduced to Pantone codes, and beads are forced to conform to Pantone.   But this never works out well.
The bead is reduced to a flat circle in a diagram or in a photo.    It’s colored in with Crayola pencils or jet-dry inks.    It is static on the page.   Lifeless.   It makes no shifts.   The spaces between beads are white and show no shadows.    The threads are shown as lines at the beginning and end of the piece, and maybe a dotted line, if any, through the beads as they line up and progress along.   The bead is a monolith.    It’s trapped in a spatial odyssey, computer-designed, and reduced to a 1 and 0, Yes and No, black and white.   
So, when someone like Esther, always chooses blue, she does the bead a disservice, almost a put-down.   Blue, for Esther, is a safe choice, but it’s not necessarily a designed choice.   And it’s not a choice about beads.
Beads are not paints.  They are not inks, or colored pencils or magic markers.    You can blend paints, and inks and stains.   You can’t blend beads.   Beads do not come in every color.    Bead colors do not necessarily coordinate with similar palettes and in tones, shades or tints.
Beads have boundaries.   They have curvatures, other shaping, faceting, edges, crevices.
Beads reflect and refract light, and this reflection and refraction changes as the wearer moves from space to space, lighting to lighting, shade to shadow, angle and perspective to another angle and perspective.
Beads are parts in whole compositions.    The sum of the parts may not add up to the value of the whole.
Jumping from bead to bead within the composition – almost like your mind/eye jumping off a cliff — means the viewer’s mind has to fill in where there are gaps of color and light.   This requires some work.   It is effort.   What color choices – selections, combinations, arrangements — would motivate the person to be actually willing to jump off a cliff?   How many people will have the necessary energy it will take to intellectually work their way through a composition of beads, so that they can make sense of it and appreciate it?    That means filling in the gaps of light with color.    That means responding to all the myriad color choices – good, bad, incomplete, redundant or indifferent — in the composition.   Jewelry has to be really special to have this kind of motivating power.
And jewelry must be appreciated as it is worn.   That means the colors must be appreciated as well – as the person moves up and down, and side to side, and back and forth, and cattycorner to cattycorner.    The jewelry and its associated colors have to maintain their “power and appeal”, no matter what.   No matter if the person is working at a desk.  No matter if the person is dancing on the dance floor.   No matter if the person is negotiating a contract.  No matter if the person slips on a banana peel.


About Blue

It’s always disturbed me that there are virtually no blue fruits and vegetables.   Blue is so calming.   Did Nature not want us to be calm when we ate fruits and vegetables?    Blue is so In Nature, but seems so out of it as well.   The contradiction is disturbing.   The skies are blue, the ocean is blue, some flowers are blue.   Yet when we hear of a blue lobster or blue spider monkey, we are somehow surprised and taken aback by their “blue-ness”.    Don’t they have a right to be blue?   Shouldn’t we be calm about it?
Blue is the most popular color for fashion.    It shows loyalty, honesty, calmness, reliability.     It should come as no surprise – although it did to me – that people are most productive in rooms that are painted blue.     Even weight lifters can lift heavier weights in blue settings, than in non-blue settings.    Have you checked the color of the walls at your local gym lately?

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.

About Green

Green was once the preferred color choice for wedding gowns and veils.   I wonder at what point brides-to-be decided that looking like a tree was no longer a positive thing.    They jumped ship and went to white.   
Green has so many good feelings going for it.   It brings you closer to nature.  It refreshes you.   It has a sense of renewal.   So it always seems so out of place to go from saying someone has a Green Thumb, to saying someone is Green With Envy or Green With Jealousy.  
Did you know that people in green rooms experience fewer stomach aches than people not in green rooms?  Or that if you lay a green transparent piece of plastic over a page in a book, you can read more attentively, and retain more of what you read?  

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.   

About Orange

Orange is another color, like Yellow, that is difficult for me to work with.   I like burnt oranges and hyacinths, but a simple bright orange is not usually my thing.   I hear that I am not alone.  Orange, it appears, is the least favorite color on earth.
The Sumptuary Laws in Elizabethan England dictated who could wear orange in their clothing, how much, and in what areas of the clothing.     This inclusion and placement of orange signaled to others the social status of the wearer in terms of wealth, social status, and religious conviction.     The Laws applied to the lower classes, as well as the upper classes.
It seems fascinating that the dye used to make orange at the time was very cheap and bled out and faded over time.    I guess this allowed for a little bit of democracy in action, ups and downs in class status, and some avoidance of class warfare, as well.     But I’m glad we get to pick our own colors to wear, and no longer have any limits proscribed by law.


Subjective or Objective Choices?

Can choices about color(s) ever be objective? Or are they primarily subjective?
If there are no objective, scientific, universally accepted understandings about color, can you ever teach jewelry artists to be better users of colors, that is, to clarify and intensify the effects the artist is trying to achieve?
Much of choosing colors is very subjective.    Different people prefer different colors and combinations of colors.   There are socio-cultural, preset expectations about colors, as well, where some colors are used to reaffirm membership in a larger group, or exclude others.   Some people like certain colors when part of a vertical positioning and arrangement, but may dislike those same colors when organized horizontally.   Some people gravitate to pristine colors, with little shading, and sharp boundaries, where others prefer shading and tinting, and blurred boundaries.    Some people prefer very rhythmic arrangements of colors where others are more satisfied with pieces which are more subdued and measured.
However, if we are to teach the use of color, and give students tools toward that end, we want some things which can be seen as objective and universally understood.    There has to be a set of objective, grammatical rules, for using and combining colors that have been proven over time, are workable, and good rules of thumb to use when selecting colors for any design.    
Here we can turn to some research history on color and universals about how people recognize color and satisfying color combinations. We can begin to know that there is an “Objective, Grammar of Color” by exploring some of the research on our reactions to color.    Understanding how viewers react to color helps us make choices.   Research shows us Universals – how everyone seems to be pre-wired to experience color and relationships between and among colors.     We find that there are certain universally agreed upon ways that people decode color, its selection and its expressive use in art and jewelry.   As teachers, we can think aloud and demonstrate for our students how to decode and become more fluent with design and color.


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 gold, they associate it with school colors.   When others see gold, they associate it with something else.    The same goes for University of Tennessee Orange, and so forth school to school.
I remember when I was a kid, I worked in my father’s pharmacy.  His pharmacy was in an old-world Italian community in central New Jersey.   One of the things I did was manage the Hallmark cards section.    I noticed that in the general cards, as well as the seasonal ones, we seemed to always be stuck with brown cards.   These old-world Italians did not like brown.   No brown.  No way.  
To save us from ending up with all brown cards in every general card slot, and in every seasonal card slot, I frantically called Hallmark.  How can I bypass your system, so I can weed out brown cards? I asked.   They told me how I could alter the computer codes.   I did.  And success.    In about a year’s time, I had weeded out all the unsalable brown cards.
And I got rid of brown wherever it predominated, (and wherever I could) – no brown earring cards, no brown cosmetic packaging, no brown displays, no brown bags, no brown stationery or stationery ink.    Again, big success.
But this doesn’t mean that all people, or even all Italians, have a distaste for brown.
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.

About Purple

Purple has always been the color of royalty.    This was probably because purple dyes were very expensive.    One source was mollusk shells, and it took something like 10,000 crushed shells to produce enough purple dye to make a simple scarf.
The color purple is associated with spirituality, psychic powers, and healing.   
I love the poem by Jenny Joseph called Warning, in which she writes, “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple, with a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.”    Later this line in the poem was used to expand on a collection of writings about growing older.  
There are many famous purple stories in literature.   There is the story of the two Japanese girls who went to Australia to see the purple kangaroos, only to be told that they were just two people, and that “two” people was not enough to warrant the opening of the zoo’s gates.  
There is the little girl whose parents told her to go to the forest to wait for the purple wood.    The girl is still waiting.    
And there is the story of purple friends who look green.    Too gory to go into the details.

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.

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

Russian Flag
Do French people turn their head to the side when viewing the Russian flag?   Do French think Russians are gloomy and do not know how to have fun, because the rhythm on their flag, as suggested by the horizontal layout, is so much less energetic than the vertically organized colors on the French flag.     
Or do Russians, because of the color layout on the flags, have a great deal of suspicion about the French, when they see their flag?    Are the French too indecisive and too ready to change their minds?  
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.
The same might be said of objects.    People often tend towards themes when buying jewelry, and collect jewelry which are all Native American, or all Wicca, or all Horses, or all Wolves, or all something.     The Fish people are especially interesting.   Some Fish people prefer to wear Dead Fish (hanging vertically), and others Live Fish (swimming horizontally). 

Debby was a student of mine.   She related to colors as if they were notes in a marching band’s score.    Sharp cacophony!  Sharp boundaries.   No color shall begin before the next color ends.   Each color’s note should be pure and clear.    COLOR A, COLOR B, COLOR A, COLOR B, COLOR A, COLOR B, Left, Right, Left Right.    Debby, in fact, goes ballistic over blurring, and shading, and tinting.   Any color pattern that isn’t the One-Two variety, is very disconcerting.    She doesn’t like it.
Again, the world and all its people seemed so preset to be biased in viewing colors, opinionated in understanding colors, and subjective in choosing colors.      Is there no place for Art Theory, Science, and the Objective Way?
Color Research suggests that there is.

About Black

Some fashion experts say a woman wearing black implies submission to men.   I’d don’t know about that.   A lot of women wear black.   Dracula wears black.   Villains and bad cowboys and mobsters wear black.    Priests and nuns wear black.  
Wearing black with another color can enhance that color’s energy, just like wearing black can enhance your body’s energy.      Black can convey an inner strength and control.  
I like to use black a lot.   I use it to create shadows, to frame things, to back up things, to create borders, to create a sense of negative spaces.    Black is a great non-color color.

Some Research History on Color

Color research over the past 100 years or so suggests that there are many universals in how people perceive, understand and respond to colors.   My favorite book on this research is by Johannes Itten [2] called
The Elements of Color
.    The most important color universals for jewelry designers, I feel, include,

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


(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:

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.     Again, the brain wants balance, harmony, beauty, non-threatening situations.   The brain does not want anxiety, feel, ugliness.
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.   
Your eye/brain does Not want you to push yourself and your jewelry to the edge with color.   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 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.   If, in reality, something doesn’t balance off the color red, in this case, the brain will create its own after image to force that balance.   The brain wants to feel safe.    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, 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, and edge.    There are many color tricks and techniques that the designer can apply here.
(2) Simultaneity Effects

A second line of research dealt with Simultaneity Effects.   Colors can be affected by other colors around them.    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

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.

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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 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. 

About White

Don’t wear white after Labor Day.    This is a rule among rules among rules.   It’s an instructive piece of advice to help the fashionista and colorist to maneuver their what-with-alls and get through the remainder of the year.
White is neutral.  It goes with everything.   And I extend the idea of White to that of Clear, Crystal, and Transparent.
White can also be used to frame and boundary.   It can be used to fill negative space.  
I once read an article about Europeans’ impressions about Americans.   One of the comments always stuck in my mind.    “WHITE TEETH”.     Americans have White Teeth, implying that Europeans don’t, and don’t care.    The article was illustrated, and next to this comment was a picture of ruby red lips and very white teeth.

(3) Color Proportions

A last series of research on color focused on balance and harmony by proportion of color use.   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).    
And again, I’ll make the point that not all compositions have to be harmonious.

You can play with these concepts about proportions most easily with the colors Purple and Yellow.

Using your Yellow and your Violet pencils, color each row in with the following pattern:
First row:    alternating Yellow/Violet/Yellow/Violet etc.
Second row:   set this pattern:  Violet/Yellow/Violet/Violet/Violet/Yellow/Yellow/Violet/Violet/Violet/Yellow/Violet

Third row:   Violet/Violet/Yellow/Violet/Violet Violet/Yellow/Violet/Violet/Violet/Yellow/Violet







Which arrangement do you find most attractive or satisfying?
Yellow is very bright and draws your attention immediately.  You don’t need much yellow to make your point.    In fact, the scientific formula which balances yellow with purple is 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.     (This is the pattern in Arrangement 3/Third Channel above).

Some other harmonious proportional relationships:
Orange to blue, 1:3
Red to green, 1:2
Yellow to orange: 1:1.3
Itten has a picture of the relative proportions of colors.


(4) 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.  The Color Wheel is a tool and a guide.   It’s not an absolute.   A rainbow bent into a circle is a color wheel.   This curtain of color provides the insights for selecting and arranging colors that might go together well.   But 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.
Science and Art Theory have provided us with tools to help us pick and combine colors.    One tool is the Color Wheel.   This curtain of color provides the insights and tools for selecting and arranging colors in jewelry design.    The color wheel helps us delineate what color choices we can make, and which combinations of colors might work the best together.
There are 12 colors arranged into
three families of color
The Primary Color 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 fulcrum of a scale.
In fact, you can create your own chart of colors, if you wish.   Perhaps your Color Wheel should show Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall quadrants of colors and transitional colors.    After all, we frequently name our fashions and cosmetics and moods after the seasons and their colorations.    What should you wear in May, and how would that differ than what you should wear in June?    What should someone with a Winter skin tone wear in July?
Or perhaps your Color Wheel should show Earth, Wind, Fire and Water quadrants of colors and transitional colors.      Take Water, for example, what colors would be Fish (water) or Mermaids (water-air) or Flying Birds (air-water) or Turtles (water-land)?    How would you color-illustrate a Surf N’ Turf necklace?     Or, Fire and Ice?     Our color and design choices are so often influenced by our experiences of nature and natural phenomenon, why not Earth, Wind, Fire and Water?
Whatever your take on The Color Wheel, the wheel provides you some ways to view and interrelate colors.   But remember the power to pick colors is in your hands – you have the power.  The Wheel is not the power.  
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 and vocabulary.
Expressive Attributes of Color:
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, and light and dark.    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 the other colors.
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 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.]

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So, as you work with people to create jewelry for them, you make choices about, and then manipulate:
– colors
– simultaneity effects
– balance and harmony (distribution, placement, and proportions)
– intensities
– values
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.

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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

Colors Have Quirks

Color names have always fascinated me, but they are a bit quirky.    When I started in the bead business, many colors went by names I had never heard of before – like Smaragd (Kelly green) or Chroust (a brown tiger eye looking color), or were colors that I did not associate with the color name, like Hyacinth (which was orange) and Amber (which was a bright yellow).   There are over 12,000 named colors.  
Glass beads, particularly glass seed beads, are created in so many colors, that you can’t make every color using glass alone.   Some of the processes used to make some of the colors are unstable.   That means, the color can fade, bleed out or rub off.    That could end up as a nasty surprise.   And somewhat quirky.
And each time the factory makes a batch of a particular color, that same color but next batch, may be different.   The color of the beads is affected by the barometric pressure outside the factory when they are made.   This is something the factory cannot control.
Traditionally in Europe, transparent color names were given jewel tone names and opaque color names were given what I call crayon color names.    So we have Amethyst and Purple, Sapphire and Blue, Rosaline and Pink, Ruby and Red, Emerald and Green, Jet and Black, Black Diamond and Gray, Hyacinth (for the orange version of Zircon) and Orange, and so forth.     But this tradition, however elegant, is not kept to very much these days.   Things are quirkier.
The violet and blue violet colors of purple were reserved for European royalty, so today, we find very few choices of beads in this part of the color spectrum.    Too bad, because people seem to love purples.
The Japanese like to rename their colors every two years.   They view color naming in a similar way to “fashion”, and, they reintroduce colors in new names every two years or so.    Over the years, I’ve seen “yellow-lined crystal” become “transparent yellow Ceylon” become “daffodil lined transparent crystal” become “daffodil Ceylon lined crystal” become “luminescent yellow lined Ceylon crystal”.    The color names don’t make it seem like the bead is the same color.   Ceylon means “pearlized”, but none of these color names are used with pearlized beads.  The beads are clear with a yellow lining.   And so this changing-name-thing is quirky.
The Czechs started doing this.    Smaragd is now Kelly.   Chroust is now Tiger Eye.   Sphinx first became Hematite.   More recently, Hematite has become Gunmetal.   With some lines, Gunmetal is morphing into Antique Brass.  Amber is Citrine.     It’s very difficult keeping  up when you don’t deal with these quirks of naming on a day-to-day basis.
I came to find out over the years that people claim to own certain colors.   This sounds strange, but it’s true.    Like in, “Janice, here’s your brown.”   Or, “Elaine, come quick, this was the red you wanted.”    Or, “Cynthia, that’s not my purple.   That’s Ellen’s purple.  You know she’ll only work with that one purple color.   And I don’t like it.  It’s not for me.   I don’t even think it’s for Ellen, but God knows, she sure loves that purple.  No, it’s not mine.   It’s hers.   Not mine.  No.”
Other quirky things come up with color as well.   A lot of people get unpleasantly surprised when they cut seed beads off the hank, or pour them out of the tube.    The color of 1 bead alone is often different than when bulked up together.
You cannot easily mix Czech glass and Japanese glass.    They use different color palettes.   This is most noticeable with the purple color.   The Czech purple is reddish; the Japanese purple is dark bluish/black.     There is a similar problem with seed beads and delica beads.   Again, look at the color purple iris in each.    These don’t mix.
Nor can you easily mix Swarovski crystal with glass, or different Swarovski crystal colors with each other, because Swarovski doesn’t coordinate the tones/shades/tints of all the colors.   Your eye/brain also wants to blend all the crystal colors, when confronted with more than one color in a composition.    It’s very difficult to work with Swarovski Crystallized Elements and control your colors, as a designer should, would, and can.
And it’s difficult to mix crystal beads made in different countries.   Swarovski, the Czechs and the Chinese do not use the same color palettes.     Swarovski’s color palette is more intense.   Swarovski and the Czechs use more lead so their beads are brighter; the Chinese less lead, so their beads are duller.  Swarovski modifies the shapes of their beads so that the light refracts through the glass differently than similar beads made in other countries.   This altered shaped – a 4mm bicone is 3x4mm, a 10mm round is 9.5x10mm – also changes the way the light refracts through the glass, and results in an intensifying of the bead color.
Familiarity with these different quirks about color make it a little easier to apply and interpret color schemes and theories to beads.

The Kayapo

The Kayapo live in villages in the Amazon River basin in Brazil.     One of my anthropology friends studied them for awhile.    An interesting thing that she found was a peculiar cultural behavior related to naming colors.   
The Kayapo have three names for colors:  White, Black and Red.    They can see and recognize all the colors of the rainbow, but have not found the cultural or social need to have specific names for them all.   So some colors might be light white, or dark white, or very dark white, off-white, and so forth.
When the Kayapo perform ritual feasts and ceremonies, they drop one of the color names – the name for Red.   So during rituals, they use White and Black for all colors.   During non-ritual times, they use White, Black and Red for all colors. 
During the rituals, and I was lucky to watch hours of video on this, when the anthropologist points to red, and asks what color it is, the Kayapo will say Black.   If you tell them, that an hour earlier before the ritual, they called this Red, they look at you quixotically and wonder what planet you live on.   It’s clearly Black, at least at this moment.     During non-ritual times, when you ask them about what just happened, they still think you’re crazy.    It’s obviously Red, at least at this new moment.
These naming behaviors triggered several lines of inquiry.   One of them was to see if there was a predictable ordering to when color names are created for specific colors.   It turns out that you can highly correlate the level of technological development to the number of colors which have specific names.   Moreover, every society in the world seems to find the need to name colors in the same order.
So, the least technologically developed cultures have two names – Black and White.   Again, they can see and describe all colors, but only have the need for two color names.    The next color to be named is Red.   Red, then, is the first true Hue or color that people recognize and want the kind of control over it, that giving a name to it would provide.    We can only speculate Why.    Perhaps it is a color that is easy to make and the materials to make it are readily at hand.   Perhaps it relates to the color of blood or the color of something else that is particularly important in society.
Nevertheless, after Red comes Yellow.    Then it’s a toss up.  Some groups go with Green, then Blue.  Other groups go with Blue, then Green.    Finally then, comes Orange, and last Purple.
As a jewelry designer, your choice of colors might mimic some of this naming behavior.   If you wanted to do a more primitive look, you  might emphasize Black, White and Red.    An ancient Egyptian piece might emphasis White, Red, Yellow and Blue.   A contemporary piece might emphasize Green, Orange and Purple.  


(5) Color Schemes – Rules of Composition

Color schemes are different, 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.
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.  Do you always need 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 or value 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

With any Color Scheme, you not only pick particular colors to play with, but you also must decide if one is to be Predominant, and the others Subordinate, or not.   Some Color Schemes work best if one color is dominant; others work best where all the colors are co-equal.
With some Color Schemes, symmetrical arrangements are more satisfying and asymmetrical ones are less.    
When you select a Color Scheme, sometimes tweaking the intensities and/or values of some of the colors you’ve chosen, will end up with a more satisfying outcome.
In a similar way, when you select a Color Scheme, sometimes tweaking the proportions or placement of colors will end up with a more satisfying outcome.
When you study Interior Design, there is a rule accepted by most Interior Designers about always adding a “Splash of Color.”   I don’t know if this is critical to jewelry design, or not.    A room will not look right without some drama, some focal point, some surprise.      Does jewelry need the equivalent of that Splash of Color?    If so, how does this relate to choosing colors on the Color Wheel?   Or is it to be some afterthought – some fourth color from the fourth dimension?     Is there a science here, or some intuitive emotional irrational choice?
We’re not going to find the answer to this mystery today.    So let’s look at the three most popular, often-used Color Schemes – Analogous, Complementary, and Split Complementary.

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.

Exercise: Test drive the Analogous Color Scheme.    Take 10 beads of each of 3 analogous colors, and arrange them on the bead board into a pleasing analogous design.    Try changing the proportions of each color, and then evaluate which arrangement seems more satisfying.

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.

Try these exercises:
Exercise:   Take 15 beads of each of two complementary colors, and arrange them on the bead board into a pleasing design.      
Exercise:  Now put back 10 beads of one color, and replace with 10 beads of the other color, so you now have 5 beads of one color and 25 beads of the other.     Arrange them on the bead board into a pleasing complementary design.

Which arrangement is more satisfying?


Split Complementary

This is the most popular color scheme.  Here you choose a hue and the hues on either side of its complement.   For example, you might choose yellow and blue-violet and red-violet.   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.

Exercise:   Choose a hue and its two split complements.   Take as many beads of each of these three colors as you like, up to a maximum of 30 beads, and arrange them on the bead board into a pleasing split complementary design.
Play with these beads awhile.   Take some away.  Add some.   Replace one color with another.  Change patterns.   Change rhythm.  Which approaches feel more satisfying than others?

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.


The bead presents greater complexity and depth, in terms of color, than any flat surface, like paint.   We need to know how the bead asserts its need for color.   We need to spend some time contemplating this.   [In fact, we need to know how all the materials we use in our jewelry compositions assert their needs for color and spend time in contemplation.]

After you thread the needle and pierce the hole of a bead, you are eyeball to Bead.   You cannot fail to notice the sharp and steady interplay of color that rushes to your eye and your brain.   That interplay could be subtle, as shadows and subtle differences in shade and tone.   Or it could be dramatic, as an Aurora Borealis effect on the bead opens up like a silk and paper fan across the lenses of your eyes.    That interplay is often unexpected, as if directed by “someone else’s hand”.    
Before you know it, your needle is through this bead and on to the next.   You almost gasp, to take in all the color, its powers and effects.    As you string or weave more beads together, the developing composition provides more intellectual challenges and stimulations to your mind and eye.   Beads demand much more commitment, they are much more assertive, they require much more attention, than paint.   And you are there to provide it.
Bead shapes, dimensionality, and movement-when-worn create shadows and highlights.    They force you to perceive and have to interpret your perceptions.    They offer many plays on light, reflections and refractions, some anticipated, others not.   
The Bead has many levels upon which to target your eye.     There is the surface.   There are the outer edges.   There are the inner edges that come with faceting, and texturing, and crevicing.   There are the layered inner spaces you see in opalescents and micas and color lined and quartzes and Picassos and hurricanes and tortoises and cubas and conglomerations.    There are many other applied effects from aurora borealis to celsian to valentinit to azuro to Labrador to clarit to vega.
And there is the hole, its rim, its recesses, and its channel through the object we call Bead.    And as the eye and brain try to target the eye on the bead, it is important to realize that some materials of beads restrict the eye to its surface colors; other materials bring the eye into the bead to different levels or layers below the surface and within the bead itself.
Although many people try to “paint” with beads, you really can’t.    Beads don’t come in every color, and they don’t “blend” like paints.   Often, you have to make work the limited color palette you have with beads on hand.   You rely on techniques based in proven color theories to trick the brain and steer the brain into seeing blends, seeing coherence, seeing continuity, seeing unity of effect.

Each bead already presents some color variation in terms of intensity and value, as the viewer experiences the bead in its entirety, examining the bead over and around each curve and surface.    The intensity of value of the bead color may be more or less near the curvature or hole, and more or less at its center.
Sometimes this works to the artist’s advantage, in that the color as experienced on, with, within, through and around the bead might be more “forgiving” than picking a paint color.    On some beads, you find color effects fired on to one side, but not the other, and this affects intensity and value, as well.

Color must “jump a cliff” in the spaces between any two beads.    The smaller the bead, the less “gap” created between beads, and the more intense and sharper the colors.   A composition with 15/0 seed beads would be viewed more favorably, than if the same piece had been done with 11/0 seed beads or 8/0 seed beads.   Smaller gaps.

The color and its effects with a bead, as you hold it in the air, may vary considerably than when you place it over cloth.   In a similar way, the color of beads on hanks or in tubes or on strands, may be very different than when used within a particular composition. 
The time of day, the brightness or dimness of the sun or moon, the casts of shadows along the landscape – these all affect perceptions of color, and the bead, its shape and texturing and coloration effects only makes these perceptions more complex and multi-plex.   The color of lighting in a room – fluorescent day, cool or white, or incandescent yellow – and the colors of the walls and floors and ceilings, and the amount of windows, and their positioning – these all affect perceptions of color, as well.    The list can go on – the direction of lighting, directed lighting, filtering of lighting, and so forth.    The good jewelry designer needs to understand these things.


With Beads, to understand color combination, you must also understand the materials the beads are made of, and how the materials contribute to or work against such combinations.   Whether the material is of the bead itself, or of the stringing material, the light-conveying and light-inhibiting qualities of these materials will also be critical, when choosing color combinations.
One time, we were experimenting with making simple beaded beads.    Traditionally, you would use a wooden bead as the “core”, and bead weave all around it.    Usually, you would color the wood bead with magic markers or paint, in a color similar to the beads you were weaving with.   We tried doing the same beaded bead, first around an acrylic bead, and then around a glass bead.    Bead weaving around the acrylic bead seemed more attractive and satisfying than around the wood one.   Bead weaving around the glass bead had a considerably bigger and more positive impact on the result.   
With the wood core bead, the beaded bead looked a little listless, with little resonance.   With the glass core bead, the beaded bead had a lot of resonance.   Light flashed all around and through the bead from side to side.   The colors seemed more vibrant.   With the acrylic bead, the resonance seemed in between that of wood and glass.
It’s very difficult to mix materials within the same piece of jewelry.    The eye/brain interacts differently with different materials.     When you mix materials, it can get awkward for the eye/brain to perceive and interpret what it’s seeing.   When this happens, you begin to trigger our pre-wired fear and anxiety response.  This makes the brain edgy because the brain always prefers harmony and balance.   So things start to get translated as ugly, boring, monotonous, unsatisfying and the like.
With most glass, the eye/brain sees the outer surface.   The light travels to the surface and reflects back from the surface.  With most gemstones, the eye/brain sees the surface, as well as sees into the bead and below the surface among many levels and layers.   The light travels below the surface, and then is reflected back from below the surface.  
When you mix glass and gemstones, you need to try to pick glass that duplicates the eye/brain/gemstone interaction.   Opalescent colors of glass work well.    Matte transparent beads with color lining, or color effects beneath the surface layer work very well.
It’s also difficult to mix glass and glass crystal (leaded glass) within the same piece.   Swarovski crystals use a very different color palette than Czech glass and from which to work.   Crystal beads draw the eye/brain deep within the bead and below the surface.   Light diffuses, and often, with crystal beads, we see the brightness before we recognize the color itself.   This is a very different dynamic than our brain/eye/material interactions associated with most glass and most gemstones.
Each color within the Swarovski crystal line does not seem to be from the same color palette when compared to each other, either – they don’t have the same underlying tones/shades/hues.  When mixed, many colors become muted, and less distinct, then when separated.   There are many color boundary issues – your eye wants to merge/blend/wash the colors together.  Some lighter colors seem to fade or wash out, when next to others, or in a finished piece.
Mixing fibers and other related stringing materials have big impacts on perceptions of color and color combinations.     In transparent or translucent beads, the color of the stringing material, or its finish, (glossy, matte, waxed, metallic, dull), can affect the perception of the bead color.  Your eye/brain can actually see the stringing material between each pair of beads butted up against each other.   This affects color.  
How you finish off your necklace or bracelet, and attach a clasp – The Clasp Assembly – can affect perceptions of color.    This can be as simple as a gold clasp vs. a silver clasp, or it could be more involved.

The Color Effects of Threads

The color of the stringing material has a big impact on color perceptions of the piece as a whole.
With Black Thread, you see shadows.   Black seems to make things look richer, older, more antique-y, with a patina.   Black Thread works in most pieces. 
With White Thread, you can see the white, where you tie knots.   White seems to make things look sharper, brighter, more contemporary.
Most people, when using color threads, match the color of their thread to the predominant color in their piece.  In this case, there is little color effect.  However, you can get very strategic with color threads.  You can take an amethyst colored thread and an olivine colored bead, and get a neat color-lined effect.    There is no reason that you have to use the same color of thread throughout your piece.  You can change colors, and also get unusual color effects.

Mixed Media Projects

When you mix Beads and Other Media, like fibers, in the same composition, the different materials compete for attention and dominance.     The Designer leads the way in how this unfolds.    Frequently, though, the person making the jewelry loses control over the materials, their powers, their essence, their color.    One of the major things that goes wrong here is a failure to control the colors and the light reflections and refractions.  
Say you were creating a felted piece with some additional braiding on it, and embellished the piece with crystal beads.   You might have created some fascinating scroll work and layering with your fibers.     The brightness of the beads, however, might distract the viewer, or the experiencing of colors within each material might be distracting, making her turn her head.   The crux of your piece, then, goes unnoticed.  

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, Colorado topaz – colors that have a lot of black tones to them.    Most color lined beads result in a gray effect.    Metallic finishes can result in a gray effect.
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 amethyst  beads together.    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.


I like to put “frames” around things.    I like to frame segments of beads in my pieces, to delineate sections, forms and themes.  I like to frame pendant drops so that there is a clear top and bottom, beginning and end.   I like to frame color blocks to play with line, silhouette and boundaries.
Framing means using colors on either end of something, so that you establish a start and stop, a beginning and end, a top and bottom, or some related boundary.   For example, you can put two black seed beads on either side of an 8mm round red bead, to frame the bead, not detract from it, and enhance the viewer’s experience with it.

Need Focal Point In Piece

Not necessarily a “splash of color”, but there is some need to create a sense of drama, life, excitement, a look-at-me-first bead or color.   These could be high contrast, or a monochromatic piece.  But something because of size or pattern or texture needs to draw focal interest.

Color Blending

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.  “Alternating” or “graduating” colors doesn’t always work well.    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.
One 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.  


QUESTION: If your jewelry needs something else, how do you make these choices…That color’s not right, what’s not right about it? I want to add a color, which one?   My colors are not working 100% within the composition, what can I tweak?

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.    It is more like a building component.    The specific term is “Design Element”.    Color is the most important Design Element.      It can both stand alone, as well as easily be combined with other Design Elements.
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
Often, the first problem with color in design is the distribution of lights and darks.      Using the same colors, you can get very different results, based on how the colors are arranged.    When you have questions, it is useful to take a black and white photocopy of the different patterns, and to choose, based on the black and white image.
The second problem is creating a focal point with color.
The third problem is creating a rhythmic feeling, using the distribution of colors and their proportions.
Better pieces are either
(a) those with a dominant color, and some variation in values or intensities, or
(b) those that are dominant in 1 or 2 complementary or analogous colors, with some change in values and/or intensities
Better designers are able to decode the use of color and its expression within any piece.   This means being able to determine which colors were selected, define the intensity of values of these colors, determine whether placement, distribution and proportion is applied well, identify where color combined with other Design Elements creates additional expressive qualities, such as movement, dimension, and balance.    Fluent designers can decode 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.

Good Jewelry Design has
1. Resonance
2. Strategic Use of Line
3. Strategic Placement of Colors and Proportions of Colors
4. The Use of Shapes, Forms and Themes
5. The Power To Affect the Viewer’s Emotions, Moods and Understandings of the Situations Around Her
6. Parsimony  (knowing when enough is enough)

1. Resonance

Resonance is the energy the jewelry exudes.   Without resonance, jewelry is lifeless and listless.   Resonance reflects the jewelry designer’s control of light and shadow, warm and cold, receding and extending out.
Resonance doesn’t mean “sparkle.”   It doesn’t mean “bright”.   It means the mood, the rhythm, the tonality.    It means that the piece of jewelry reflects a sense of design, and a sense of the designer.    Not just art.  And definitely not just craft.    Resonance is the reason why some jewelry gets your attention, and others do not.    Pick up a fashion magazine or a bead magazine, and page through it.    Which pieces catch your eye, and which ones do not?   
The jewelry designer is responsible for creating jewelry which resonates.   That is, the jewelry reflects the artist’s intentions, and fully utilizes the powers of color, their combinations, their variations, their arrangements, and distributions with their pieces.
2.  Strategic Use of Line

A second aspect of good jewelry design is the strategic use of line.    First off, most jewelry is, in essence, a line.    Things are lined up.  They are organized into a line.   They are worn as a line.   You don’t necessarily want that line to be creepy or disjointed or disconnected.   
The line has many points along it.   It outlines things.  It sets boundaries.   It separates things which are above it from things which are below it.  

The line can come to a point.   It can curve.   It can undulate.   It can snake in and around things.  
It can be very long.   Or it can be short.   It can serve alone, or be joined by other lines in sequence or opposition.
The use of line accomplishes two goals.   

First, the use of line creates an outline or a shape or boundary.  We call this “silhouette”.   Usually the silhouette identifies for the viewer, where the wearer feels comfortable accepting the viewer’s gaze, and where she does not.    Can/Should the viewer gaze upon the wearer’s face, neck, breasts, belly button, wrist, elbow, upper arm, ankle, knee, thigh, groin?    The line demarks the acceptable paths for gazing.

Second, the use of line creates a contour, as the eye moves all around the piece as it is worn; the line and the use of color choreographs the sense and direction and speed of movement that the viewer’s eye follows.    This choreography reveals part of the wearer’s personality, moods, and aspirations.    It can excite the viewer, or bore her.   It can resonate power, or be demure.    It can command the viewer to step forward, follow, hesitate, wait, or turn around.    It can affect self-image or social class.
Many women are afraid to wear jewelry which does not conform to a straight line.   They don’t know how to wear it.     They seek the simple straight line, over the multiple straight lines.   They seek the simple straight line, over non-straight lines.   They seek parallel lines over ones which are skewed.  
It’s the jewelry designer’s duty to make the wearer comfortable with whatever line(s) the jewelry embodies.   Often this is done with the use of color.
3. Strategic Placement of Colors and Proportions of Colors

A third aspect of good design is the placement and proportions of colors.   Colors and their placement work best when they appear to have been coordinated, not necessarily matched perfectly, but neither as afterthoughts.   Everything must feel balanced and harmonious, even when the piece is asymmetrical.   Placement shows purpose.   It reflects choice.   It provides a mechanism for the viewer to evaluate the success of the piece, therefore, the success of the wearer.   It is very signifying.
4.  The Use of Shapes, Forms and Themes

Interpretations and experiences with colors may change, when the color is presented within a shape, or is part of a form or theme within your piece.   After all, clusters of Design Elements can have synergistic or antagonistic effects.
Shape is an important Design Element, made up of lines and points, yet different than lines and different than points, when these stand apart from shape.  Shapes serve to provide positioning, direction and orientation to the pieces, often better than lines and points. This is an important psychological function. 
Shapes provide more dimensionality to pieces.   Greater dimensionality is often perceived as more contemporary, smarter, wealthier, higher status, more creative, more beautiful.  
Shapes convey symbolic meanings.   Triangles suggest action. They are dynamic. They are directional. They seem purposeful and strong. They have a power over the viewer, in that they can control the viewer’s process of perception.   Triangles can be made into pyramids, flags, arrows, beacons. They are often used as elements in religious symbols.
Square shapes denote honesty and stability. They are trusted, familiar, safe, comfortable. Most shapes we encounter are squares and rectangles. Squares could also symbolize rigidity and uniformity. [An unexpected placement of squares within a piece, could evoke the opposite feelings and symbols.]

Circle shapes suggest infinity. They are associated with protection (you’re inside the circle or outside). They are associated with movement and freedom. They suggest completeness.
5. The Power To Affect the Viewer’s Emotions, Moods and Understandings of the Situations Around Her

Color affects the viewer.   It affects the viewer’s perceptions about reality.   If affects the viewer’s understandings of social relationships, power relationships, sexual relationships.   It orients the viewer to what is up and down, and left and right, and skews the viewer’s interpretations about right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, satisfying and unsatisfying, that which is to be feared and that which is to be approached.   
Some colors get very associated with certain moods.   These include,
1.        Power/Highly Emotional  (red)
2.        Rich  (burgundy; red with black)
3.        Romantic  (pink, red with white)
4.        Vital  (red-orange)
5.        Earthy  (red-orange with black)
6.        Friendly (orange-yellow)
7.        Soft  (peach)
8.        Welcoming  (amber)
9.        Moving   (yellow)
10.      Elegant  (pale yellow)
11.      Fresh  (green)
12.      Traditional (green with black)
13.      Refreshing  (blue-green, teal, aqua)
14.      Tropical  (blue-green or teal or aqua with white)
15.      Classic (royal blue)
16.      Dependable  (navy Blue)
17.      Calm  (pale blue, blue with white)
18.      Regal (deep blue-violet)
19.      Magical  (deep red-violet
20.      Energetic  (fuchsia)
21.      Subdued  (any color with gray, like mauve)
22.      Professional/Corporate  (gray)
But it is so easy to make a misstep with color.     The choice of the wrong color, or wrong intensity or wrong value can lead to misunderstanding, anxiety, stress, avoidance, diminished social status, destroyed relationships, and the like.    So, if you have the time, you might want to practice a little with color and evoking moods and emotions.
6.  Parsimony

Parsimony means that the designed piece is finished and successful, and should the artist add or subtract one more element, the piece would be less so.    Parsimony signals when enough is enough.    The artist has not overdone or underdone the selection or application of colors.

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.

[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
Color References Worth Checking Out

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


Posted in Art or Craft?, art theory, beads, beadwork, design management, design theory, jewelry design, jewelry making | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Goal-Oriented Designer: The Path To Resonance

Posted by learntobead on May 18, 2018


The Path To Resonance

by Warren Feld, Designer


“Vestment”, Warren Feld, 2004, Miyuki cubes, seed beads and delicas, Austrian crystals, with 14KT, gold filled, sterling silver, and antiqued copper chain, clasps and other findings, lampwork bead by Lori Greenberg


Jewelry Designers want to be successful.     But things can get a little muddled when thinking about how to get there.    Our teachers, our friends, our colleagues often disagree on this point, and tell us to look for conflicting measures of success.  We can often lose sight of what we want to end up with.    The Goal-Oriented Jewelry Designer has but one guiding star: To achieve Resonance.   Everything else is secondary.   We achieve Resonance by gaining a comfort in communicating about design.   This comfort, or disciplinary fluency, translates into all our composing, constructing and manipulating choices.    This is empowering.   Our pieces resonate.  We achieve success.


The Path To Resonance

Jewelry Designers want to be successful.   

But things can get a little muddled when thinking about how to get there.    Where should they start?   What should they learn first?  What materials should they accumulate?   What techniques should they start with?   Should they focus on the process of designing jewelry?   Or moreso on making jewelry?   Or still yet, on achieving certain target measures, such as numbers of pieces made, or numbers of sales, or numbers of venues in which their jewelry is sold?    Are there qualitative things which are important to accumulate, such as self-satisfaction or customer-satisfaction?    Or style?  Or recognition?   Acceptance?   Understanding?

Our teachers, our friends, our colleagues often disagree on how to get there, and tell us to look for“Vestment”, Warren Feld, 2004, Miyuki cubes, seed beads and delicas, Austrian crystals, with 14KT, gold filled, sterling silver, and antiqued copper chain, clasps and other findings, lampwork bead by Lori Greenberg


Jewelry Designers want to be successful.     But things can get a little muddled when thinking about how to get there.    Our teachers, our friends, our colleagues often disagree on this point, and tell us to look for conflicting measures of success.  We can often lose sight of what we want to end up with.    The Goal-Oriented Jewelry Designer has but one guiding star: To achieve Resonance.   Everything else is secondary.   We achieve Resonance by gaining a comfort in communicating about design.   This comfort, or disciplinary fluency, translates into all our composing, constructing and manipulating choices.    This is empowering.   Our pieces resonate.  We achieve success.


The Path To Resonance

Jewelry Designers want to be successful.   

But things can get a little muddled when thinking about how to get there.    Where should they start?   What should they learn first?  What materials should they accumulate?   What techniques should they start with?   Should they focus on the process of designing jewelry?   Or moreso on making jewelry?   Or still yet, on achieving certain target measures, such as numbers of pieces made, or numbers of sales, or numbers of venues in which their jewelry is sold?    Are there qualitative things which are important to accumulate, such as self-satisfaction or customer-satisfaction?    Or style?  Or recognition?   Acceptance?   Understanding?

Our teachers, our friends, our colleagues often disagree on how to get there, and tell us to look for, what turn out to be in effect, conflicting measures of success.  We can often lose sight of what we want to end up with.    We get a lot of contradictory advice.   How should we organize our creative work and our time?  How should we select materials and techniques?   How do we know when our piece is finished?  How should we anticipate our client’s desires?   How should we showcase our jewelry?  How should we be judged and evaluated?   We need to perform, we want to perform authentically, but how – how should we perform as a jewelry designer?   The search for answers can be very frustrating, confusing, even demoralizing.

But it shouldn’t be.    Every jewelry designer should have but one guiding star – Resonance.    If our jewelry does not have some degree of resonance, we keep working on it.   If the process of creative exploration and design does not lead us in the direction of resonance, we change it.    If the results we achieve – numbers of pieces made and numbers of pieces sold – is not synced tightly with resonance, we cannot call ourselves designers.

The Goal-Oriented Jewelry Designer specifies those goals about performance which will lead to one primary outcome:  To achieve Resonance.   Everything else is secondary.   Design elements are selected and applied with that idea of Resonance in mind.    Principles of Composition, Construction and Manipulation are applied with that idea of Resonance in mind, with extra special attention paid to the Principle of Parsimony – knowing when enough is enough.

People may approach the performance tasks in varied ways.   For some this means getting very detailed on pathways, activities, and objectives.  For others, they let the process of design emerge and see where it takes them.   Whatever approach they take in their creative process, for all designers, a focus on one outcome – Resonance – frees them up to think through design without encumbrance.

This singular focus becomes a framework within which to question everything and try to make sense of everything.    Make sense of what the materials and techniques can allow them to do, and what they cannot.   Make sense of what understandings other people – clients, sellers, buyers, students, colleagues, teachers – will bring to the situation, when exploring and evaluating their work.     Make sense of why some things inspire you, and other things do not.   Make sense of why you are a jewelry designer designing jewelry.     Make sense of the fluency of your artistic expression, what works, how it works, why it works.

We achieve Resonance by gaining a comfort and ease in communicating about design.    This comfort and ease, or disciplinary fluency, has to do with how we translate our inspirations and aspirations into all our compositional, constructive and manipulative choices.    It is empowering.   Our pieces resonate.  We achieve success.

Resonance, communication, success, fluency – these are all words that stand in place for an intimacy between the designer and the materials, the designer and the techniques, the designer and inspiration.     They reflect the designer’s aspirations.   They reflect the shared understandings of everyone the designer’s jewelry is expected to touch.   They reflect the designer’s managerial prowess in bringing all these things together.

Resonance and disciplinary fluency result from a well-managed jewelry design process [3].  This process of creativity involves artist, audience and context.   It is very interactional.   Transactional.  Integrative.   Contingent.

For the artist, this process functions on several, coordinated levels, including…

  1. Contemplation
  2. Inspiration
  3. Aspiration
  4. Anticipation
  5. Specification
  6. Application
  7. Fluency and Empowerment

CONTEMPLATION: An Intimacy with Materials and Techniques

Contemplation is a mystical theology.   

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

You don’t just bead and make jewelry.   There’s a lot involved here.

You have to buy (or fabricate) beads and findings and stringing materials, organize them, buy some extra parts, think about them, create with them, live with some failed creations, and go from there. If there wasn’t something special about how our materials translate light into color, shade and shadow, then jewelry making would simply be work. But it’s not.

You have to put one piece next to another…and then another. And when you put two beads next to each other, or one on top of the other, you’re doing God’s work. There’s nothing as spectacular as painting and sculpting with light.

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

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

You need to select a method or strategy for arranging your beads.   There are so many choices.    Your organization should be appealing.   It must enhance the power the bead has for you, then transcend as a power the bead has for others.    It must be architecturally correct because this architecture determines the wear, drape and flow where the jewelry meets the person at the boundary between bead and body.

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

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

Designing jewelry is an authentic performance task.    This involves a profound intimacy with the materials (and techniques) the artist relies on.   This intimacy means understanding how to select them, how to leverage their strengths and minimize their weaknesses, and how to manage their ability to enhance or impede resonance.

INSPIRATION:   Becoming One with What Inspires You

Inspirations are sacred revelations you want to share through art and design.

The word inspiration comes from the Latin roots meaning “to breathe into.”   But  before you can breathe your inspiration into your jewelry, you need to become one with it.

There are these wonderfully exciting, sensually terrific, incredibly fulfilling things that you find as you try to imagine the jewelry you will create.   They come from many sources:   ideas, nature, images, people, behaviors.   They might be realistic or abstract.   They may be the particular color or pattern or texture or the way the light hits it and casts a shadow.   They may be a need for order over chaos.  They may be points of view.   They may flow from some inner imagination.

For some reason, these inspirations take on a divine, sacred revelation for you – so meaningful that you want to incorporate them somehow into what you do.   A fire in your soul.   You want to translate these inspirations into colors, shapes, lines, patterns and textures.   You want to impose an organization on them.    You want to recapture their energy and power they have had over you.   You feel compelled to bring these feelings into ideas.

There are many challenges to inspiration.    That which we call “inspiring” can often be somewhat fuzzy.   It might be a feeling.  It might be a piece of an idea, or a small spot on an image.   You might feel inspired, but, cannot put the What or the Why into words or images.    On the surface, it may seem important to you, but unimportant to others.   You the artist may not feel in control of the inspiration in that it seems like it is something that is evoked, not necessarily directed, by you.

When inspired, artists perceive new possibilities that transcend that which is ordinary around them.   Too often, the artist feels passive in this process.    This transcendence does not feel like a willfully generated idea.    However, it needs to be.  The successful artist – one who eventually can achieve a level of resonance – is one who is not only inspired by, but also inspired to.    This all requires a great deal of metacognitive self-awareness.   The artist must be able to perceive the intrinsic value of the inspiring object, and how to extend this value in design, where the piece of jewelry becomes its expression.

Inspiration is motivating.  Inspiration is not the source of creativity; creativity does not come from it.   Inspiration, instead, should be viewed as a motivational response to creativity.   It motivates the artist, through jewelry and its design,  to connect this inspiration with others.   It serves as a mediator between the self and the anticipated shared understandings of others.    The jewelry encapsulates the artist’s ability to make this connection.    When the connection is well-made, resonance follows.

But finding inspirations is not only personal, but more importantly, it is an effort to influence others.    It is an act of translating the emotions which resonate in you into some object of art which, in turn, will inspire and resonate with others.     How does the inspiration occur to you, and how do you anticipate how this inspiration might occur to others?

Too often we lose sight of the importance of inspiration to the authentic performance task of creating jewelry.   We operate with the belief that anyone can be inspired by anything.   There’s nothing more to it.   Moreover, inspiration gets downplayed when put next to the discussion of the effort of making jewelry itself.    But it should not.   Inspiration is not less important than perspiration.   It plays an equal role in the creative process.   The artist’s clarity about why something is inspiring, and why this inspiration motivates the artist to respond, will be critical for achieving success, that is resonance.

ASPIRATION: Translating Creativity into A Technical Product Design

Aspiration motivates the artist to actualize inspiration.  

Aspiration is where the artist translates inspiration into a completed product design.   The artist begins to control and regulate what happens next.    This involves selecting Design Elements[1] and clustering them to formulate meaningful expressions.    The artist then applies Principles of Composition, Construction and Manipulation[2] for organizing and arranging things into a more complete whole with more elaborated expressions.    The greater value the artist places on resonance, the stronger the aspiration will be to achieve it.

Aspiration is future-oriented.    It requires a stick-to-it-ness.   The artist must be sufficiently motivated to invest the time, energy and money into designing and making the jewelry that will not necessarily be finished, displayed or sold right away.   It may require some additional learning and skills-development time.   The artist may need to find a level of creativity within, and discover the kinds of skills, techniques and insights necessary for bringing this creativity to the aspired task at hand.

Aspiration requires the calculus:  Is it worth it?    It adds a level of risk to the project.    It forces the artist to pay attention to the world around her or him.    This world presents dynamic clues – what I discuss below as shared understandings – about opportunities, constraints, risks, contingencies, consequences, strategies and goals, and likely successes.

For some artists, motivation primarily is seen as instinctual.    Think of seat-of-the-pants.   Emergent, not controlled.   A search for harmony, balance, rhythm, unity as something that feels right and looks right and seems right with the universe.    Expressive, yes.  Imaginative, yes.   But not necessarily resonant.

Achieving resonance, however, is, for the most part, more than instinctual.  It has some deliberate quality to it.   It is communicative.  It requires a purposeful act on the part of the artist.    It is a different type of motivation — intentional.   The artist might want to convey a specific emotion.   Or advocate for some change.  Or illustrate a point of view.    The artist may want to entertain or teach.   Heal.  Attract mates.  Propagandize.     Where a jewelry’s design is not reflective of an artist’s intent, there can be no resonance.

ANTICIPATION: Shared Understandings[4]

Shared understandings dictate opportunities, contingencies and constraints.

The question of whether the audience correctly infers the presence of the artist’s inspiration, and the sense of how the artist’s hand comes into play within the design, remains.   The answer revolves around a dynamic interaction between artist and audience, as they anticipate understandings they share, and ones they do not.

Shared understandings should be enduring, transferable, big ideas at the heart of what we think of as good jewelry design.   These shared understandings are things which spark meaningful connections between designer and materials, designer and techniques, and designer and client.    We need, however, to recognize that the idea of understanding is very multidimensional and complicated.

Understanding is not one achievement, but more the result of several loosely organized choices.    Understanding is revealed through performance and evidence.    Jewelry designers must perform effectively with knowledge, insight, wisdom and skill to convince us – the world at large and the client in particular — that they really understand what design is all about.     This involves a big interpersonal component where the artist introduces their jewelry to a wider audience and subjects it to psychological, social, cultural, and economic assessment.

Understanding is more than knowledge.  The designer may be able to articulate what needs to be done to achieve something labeled good jewelry design, but, may not know how to apply it.

Understanding is more than interpretation.   The designer may be able to explain how a piece was constructed and conformed to ideas about good jewelry design, but this does not necessarily account for the significance of the results.

Understanding is more than applying principles of construction.    It is more than simply organizing a set of design elements into an arrangement.     The designer must match knowledge and interpretation about good jewelry design to the context.   Application is a context-dependent skill.

Understanding is more than perspective.   The designer works within a myriad of expectations and points of view about good jewelry design.   The designer must dispassionately anticipate these various perspectives about design, and, bring some constructed point of view and knowledge of implications to bear within the design and design process.

We do not design in a vacuum.    The designer must have the ability to empathize with individuals and grasp their individual and group cultures.    If selling their jewelry, the designer must have the ability to empathize with small and larger markets, as well.   Empathy is not sympathy.  Empathy is where we can feel what others feel, and see what others see.

Last, understanding is self-knowledge, as well.   The designer should have the self-knowledge, wisdom and insights to know how their own patterns of thought may inform, as well as prejudice, their understandings of good jewelry design.

How the jewelry designer begins the process of creating a piece of jewelry is very revealing about the potential for success, and ultimately achieving a level of resonance.    The designer should always begin the process by articulating the essential shared understandings against which their work will be evaluated and judged.    For now, let’s refer to this as Backwards Design[5].    The designer starts with questions about assessment, and then allows this understanding to influence all other choices going forward.

Some essential shared understandings for good jewelry design, I would posit, might include the following:

  1. Every designer has some creative ability, but may need to learn concepts and techniques and ways to apply them
  2. Some understandings are universal and objective, particularly in reference to the selection, clustering and application of various Design Elements, such as color, shape, movement and dimension.
  3. Other understandings are both objective and subjective.     There is universal acceptance of what various organization and arrangement schemes — Principles of Composition, Construction and Manipulation – might be applied by the artist.   However, how they are actually applied, and how satisfying that is to various audiences, is very personal and subjective.
  4. The strengths and limitations of various materials or techniques should be respected, maximizing the strengths and minimizing the limitations 
  5. Jewelry should communicate and reflect the artist’s intent
  6. Jewelry should affirm the wearer’s purpose and identity in context
  7. Jewelry can only be considered as art, as it is worn
  8. We know the jewelry is finished and successful when the choices made and the tradeoffs among appeal, function, and context are implemented to the point we see parsimony and resonance.

SPECIFICATION:  Goal-Orientation

It’s not just what you do…it’s how you get there.

Jewelry designers are too quick to focus on the outcome, and too lax to focus on the process.    It’s always things like getting it done.   Getting it to the client on deadline.   Ending up with something concrete to show someone.   Too much concentration on outcome can lead to taking shortcuts.   Shortsightedness.  Inflexibility.  A misunderstanding, perhaps illusion about, whether the piece is finished and successful.

Artists more appropriately should focus on goals.   Artists who are focused on goals tend to embrace process.   It’s about all the smart choices regarding composition, construction and manipulation you made at each increment along the way.     By specifying goals, the artist is encouraged to find connections, and be connected to and aware of shared understandings and their impact on perceived success.   When problems arise, a goal-oriented focus allows the artist to be flexible and problem solve.   The artist is present from contemplation to inspiration and through to aspiration, anticipation, specification and application.   The goal-orientation prevents the artist from becoming lost or paralyzed with inaction.

The jewelry artist pursues several goals at once.    The jewelry should be both appealing and functional.   It should evoke emotion, elicit response, and resonate.   The piece should show both unity and variety.   The piece should create opinions, validate status, and reconfirm a cultural and social identify.   The piece should be reflective and communicative.    It should be pleasurable to the maker, the wearer and the viewer alike.

When specifying goals, it is important to remember that not all goals are alike.    The goals I am discussing here are the essential elements related to effective performance.   That effective performance results in a finished and successful piece of jewelry reflective of the artist’s hand and which resonates among a varied set of audiences.

The artist needs to set goals which clarify what results need to be accomplished by the time any piece of jewelry is finished and showcased.   Goals provide perspective.   They are there to prevent the artist from achieving anything less than resonance.   These goals relate to generating deep understandings and competence at performance.     They are not results-specific per se; they are overarching.    They serve as sign-posts to point to and highlight what jewelry designers need to engage with when thinking through and implementing design.

The jewelry designer specifies goals as standards of professional performance, such as…

  • Leveraging the strengths and minimizing the weaknesses of desired materials and techniques
  • Discussing and reflecting upon inspirations and motivations toward the expression of the creative self
  • Defining aspirational intent, point of view, and what it means to connect to various audiences
  • Delineating shared understandings among self, wearer, viewer, student, master, buyer and seller, in relationship to how the jewelry will be observed and assessed and worn within a context
  • Elaborating on all artistic and architectural elements and principles which should come into play, and why
  • Reflecting on personal learning throughout the process, particularly as it relates to developing and expanding on skills related to fluency in design
  • Determining how skills, insights and lessons learned from the current project might be transferred to your next one

Within each generalized performance goal, the designer can further identify particular tasks, knowledges and skills required in order to accomplish them.    Often, with too many choices about what to do, what to include, and how to proceed, priorities and timeframes will need to be set, as well.

Resonance is more easily achieved when the designer approaches design as a process, an understanding of the myriad sets and levels of choices as made within a coherent system of creative thinking and activity, and with clear performance goals to guide the way.

APPLICATION:  Unity, Emotions, Resonance

Think like an assessor[6]…find evidence related to desired results.

What is the evidence we need to know for determining when a piece is finished and successful?   What clear and appropriate criteria specify what we should look at?

There are different opinions in craft, art and design about what are the most revealing and important aspects of the work, and which every authentic jewelry design performance must meet.

The traditional criteria used in the art world are that the designer should achieve unity, variety and evoke emotions.     These, I feel, may work well when applied to paintings or sculpture, but they are insufficient measures of success when applied to jewelry.   Jewelry involves the creation of objects where both artistic appeal as well as practical considerations of use are essential.   The artistry of jewelry cannot be distinguished from that jewelry as it is worn, and the context within which it is worn.   So, when referencing any jewelry’s design,  I prefer to use criteria of parsimony and resonance, instead.    We know when a piece is finished and successful when the choices of the artist are deemed parsimonious, and the various audiences perceive the piece to resonate.

Parsimony vs. Unity/Variety

In art, the traditional measure of completion and success is a feeling or sense of “Unity.”   Unity signifies how everything feels all right.   All the Design Elements used, and how they were coordinated and placed, are very coherent, clear, balanced, harmonious and satisfying.   I think the idea of unity begins to get at the place we want to end up.   But this concept is not concrete enough for me.

What bothers me the most is that you can have unity, but the piece still be seen as boring when there is no variety.   Criteria provided from the art perspective recognizes this.   But somehow tempering unity with variety starts to add some ambiguity to our measurements of finish and success.   This ambiguity is unacceptable as a principled outcome of jewelry construction.

Another concern I have, is that you can have unity with variety, but, from the art perspective, these assessments rely too much on universal, objective perceptions of design elements and their attributes (for example, the use of color schemes).   Resonance is not about picking the correct color scheme.    It is more about how that color scheme is used, manipulated, leveraged or violated within the piece.   We must not leave the artist, the wearer, and the situation out of the equation.    We must not minimize the artist’s hand – the artist’s intent, thinking, strategizing, arranging, pushing the boundaries, even violating the universal, objective rules.

Jewelry creation usually demands a series of judgment calls and tradeoffs.   Tradeoffs between aesthetics and functionality.  Tradeoffs between artist goals and audience understandings and expectations.   Tradeoffs between a full palette of colors-shapes-textures and a very limited one.    Any measure of completeness and success needs to result from the forced choice decisions of the artist.    It needs to account for the significance of the results, not just the organization of them.    It needs to explain the Why, not just the What.

For me, the more appropriate concept here is Parsimony.  Parsimony is when you know enough is enough.  When the finished and successful piece is parsimonious, the relationship of all the Design Elements and their expressed attributes will be so strong, that to add or remove any one thing would diminish, not just the design, but rather the significance of the design.

Parsimony is sometimes referred to in art and design as Economy, but the idea of economy is reserved for the visual effects.  The designer needs to be able to decide when enough is enough.   For jewelry designers, we want that economy or parsimony to apply to functional and situational effects, as well.


– forces explanation; its forced-choice nature is most revealing about the artist’s understandings and intentions

– relies on evidence moreso than assumptions to get at criticality

– focuses examination of the few elements that make a difference

Resonance vs. Evoking Emotions

Finished and successful jewelry should not only evoke emotions, but, should resonate.

Resonance is something more than emotion.   It is some kind of additional energy we see, feel and otherwise experience.   Emotion is very reactive.   Resonance is intuitive, involving, identifying.    Resonance is an empathetic response where artist and audience realize a shared (or contradictory) understanding without losing sight of whose views and feelings belong to whom.

Resonance results from how the artist controls light, shadow, and their characteristics of warmth and cold, receding and approaching, bright and dull, light and dark.   Resonance results from how the artist leverages the strengths of materials and techniques and minimizes their weaknesses.   Resonance results from social, cultural and situational cues.   Resonance results from how the artist takes us to the edge of universal, objective understandings, and pushes us every so slightly, but not too, too far, beyond that edge.

Jewelry which resonates…
– is communicative and authentic

– shows the artist’s hand as intention, not instinct

– evokes both an emotional as well as energetic response from wearer and viewer

– shows both degrees of control, as well as moments of the unexpected

– makes something noteworthy from something ordinary

– finds the whole greater than the sum of the parts

– lets the materials and techniques speak

– anticipates shared understandings of many different audiences about design elements and principles, and some obvious inclusion, exclusion or intentional violation of them

– results from a design process that appears to have been more systemic (e.g., ingrained within an integrated process) than systematic (e.g., a step-by-step approach)

– both appeals and functions at the boundary where jewelry meets person

FLUENCY[7] AND EMPOWERMENT: Managing Choices In Expression

Empowerment is about successfully making choices.   These are choices about expressing one’s intent through art and design.

These choices could be as simple as whether to follow through on some inspiration.  They might involve selection of elements of design, or principled arrangements of beads, forms and components.   The designer will make choices about how to draw someone’s attention to the piece, or, present the piece to a larger audience. The designer will make choices between aesthetics and functionality.   She or he may decide to submit the piece to a magazine or contest. She or he may want to sell the piece and market it. The designer will make choices about how a piece might be worn, or who might wear it, or when it might be worn, in what context.

The fluent designer will be adept at making these choices.    The better designer is able to bring a high level of coherence and consistency to the process of managing all this – intent, shared understandings, knowledge and skills, evaluative review, and reflection and adjustment. This is called “fluency in design”.

Fluency is the ability of the designer to select and connect Design Elements smoothly, in visually and functionally and situationally appropriate ways with understanding. The idea of understanding is broadly defined, to include the artist’s personal goals for expression, as well as the expectations of all the audiences – the wearer, the viewer, the buyer, the seller, the student, the master. The better designer achieves a level of disciplinary literacy where fluency becomes automatic, accurate, and rapidly applied.

The better, more fluent jewelry designer is able to anticipate how others will come to understand these mechanisms and the implications for applying them in one way or another.    For example, the better and more fluent designer would be able to select and combine design elements to appropriately differentiate jewelry that would best be worn at work, and jewelry that would best be worn, say, when someone was going to a night club for dancing and socializing.

Lastly, fluency means that the designer has also been taught to look for, anticipate and incorporate context clues. Design does not occur in a vacuum. It has implications which become realized in a context. That context might be historical, cultural or situational.

More proficient, fluent jewelry designers will be comfortable

and somewhat intentional and fluid in their abilities to…

  1. Leverage strengths and minimize weaknesses of materials and techniques.
  1. Decode, select, cluster and apply Design Elements, and implement and apply various organizational arrangements related to Principles of Composition, Construction and Manipulation.
  2. Work within shared understandings about jewelry and its successful design.

  3. Apply key knowledge and skills to achieve the desired result.
  4. Anticipate how their work will be reviewed, judged and evaluated by criteria reflective of these same shared understandings.
  5. Communicate their intent.
  6. Step back, reflect, and validate all their thinking to reject any misunderstandings, and make adjustments accordingly.



Designers need a simple map to all these ideas about literacy and fluency – something they can easily review and determine where their strengths and weaknesses are as they gain proficiency and fluency in design.     One type of map is a rubric.

A rubric is a table of criteria used to rate and rank understanding and performance.   A rubric answers the question by what criteria performance should be judged.    The rubric provides insightful clues for the kinds of evidence we need to make such assessments.    The rubric helps us distinguish degrees of performance, from the sophisticated to the naïve.   The rubric encapsulates what an authentic jewelry design performance would look like.

Such a rubric is presented below for the artist to use as a thinking routine.[9]  Here I have used one rubric to represent both (1) understanding and (2) performance, but, I could have easily created two separate rubrics toward this end.   In this rubric table below, the rows represent contemplation, inspiration, aspiration, anticipation, application, and fluency and empowerment.    The columns represent the degrees of understanding and performance along a continuum, from proficient on one end to not there yet on the other.   By way of example, I use the rubric to assess my performance with a piece I created called Vestment (Feld, 2004).

RUBRIC:  How Proficient Am I In Achieving Resonance?

The Rubric…




4- Proficient

Insightful, intuitive understanding, effectively established, with clear intent, and  well supported by details


Well-considered understanding, appropriately established and supported by details

2-Shows Potential

Some plausible understanding, some consistency established and supported by details, but not always sustained

1-Not There Yet

Superficial or no understanding, not consistent or sustained, perhaps vague or incomplete


Exhibiting an intimacy with the materials and techniques

Purposeful in selection of materials and techniques which synergistically work together

Insightful understanding and clear ability to leverage strengths and minimize weaknesses of materials and techniques

Selects materials appropriate for technique used, and select technique appropriate for task at hand

Some ability to leverage strengths and minimize weaknesses of materials and techniques

Selects materials and techniques for which may have some fit the task at hand, but could not articulate the reasons why

Has limited understanding of the strengths and weaknesses materials and techniques bring to the task at hand

Does not understand the relationship between the selection of materials and techniques and the task at hand

Has no understanding of the strengths and weaknesses materials and technique


Sharing sacred revelations art and design

Clearly recognizes intrinsic value between inspiration and the design of finished piece; applies inspiration

Deliberately reflects on using inspiration and the design of the piece to motivate and energized others to so be inspired

Some recognition of the connection between inspiration and the design of finished piece; applies inspiration

Thinks how others might be inspired by and emotionally connected to the piece as well

Passively responds to inspiring objects while designing piece with some intent to evoke a personal emotion but limited intent to evoke that emotion in others; consumes inspiration

Does not think deeply about how the piece might inspire others

Either does not begin with an inspiration, or only a weak connection between an inspiring object and the design of a piece

Does not think about how the piece might inspire others


Actualizing inspiration into a design

Can clearly and intentionally

translate a feeling or idea into a jewelry design or model; With considerable intention and control, select and arrange Design Elements, Principles of Composition, Construction and Manipulation resulting in an inspiring design which resonates

Can clearly determine risk-calculus comparing all costs associated with constructing piece relative to all benefits from how the finished piece will be received

Can, with some clarity, translate a feeling or idea into a jewelry design or model, and select Design Elements and Principles of Composition, Construction and Manipulation which come together well and evokes emotion

Has an intuitive feel for the risk-calculus, comparing all costs associated with constructing piece relative to all benefits from how the finished piece will be received

Can translate a feeling or idea into a jewelry design or model, but mostly based on instinct rather than intent; can select Design Elements and Principles of Composition, Construction and Manipulation which results in a satisfying design

Has not taken the time to think about the risk-calculus for implementing a design

A jewelry design emerges somehow, but there is little obvious connection to an inspiration or an artist’s intention

Does not know how to think about the risk-calculus for implementing a design


Awareness of shared understandings

Shows empathy;

can anticipate others’ points of view, and how to incorporate them with his/her own

Can engage with others around this project

Can delineate misunderstandings

Can explain how a piece and its construction conforms to others’ ideas of good jewelry design, and shows some evidence in applying this

Anticipates some understandings, but is somewhat reactive to them

Can explain, in an academic sense, how a piece fits broad understandings about good design, but is weak in applying this

Is weak, in reality, at anticipating others’ understandings about design and is very reactive to them

Cannot explain or apply understandings of how a piece fits a definition of good design

Does not anticipate others’ understandings about design, nor responds to them in any significant way


Clarifying what results need to be accomplished

Can clearly define and articulate those performance goals necessary to achieve resonance

Can implement a coherent process and system of creative thinking and activity as a series of smart choices leading up to the finished product

Can make visible the consequences of his/her design process choices

Can identify what it will take to overcome misunderstandings, and flexibly problem solve, when necessary

Can define some performance goals necessary to achieve resonance

Can implement an organized process of creative production

Can identify some consequences related to his/her design process choices

Can identify misunderstandings and determine some strategies in response, when necessary

Does not overtly define performance goals necessary to achieve resonance; however, may have an intuitive sense of some performance goals which need to occur

Does not work within an organized process of creative production

Does not identify consequences related to his/her design process choices

Does not identify misunderstandings, nor develop strategies for overcoming these when they occur

Is not yet performance goal-oriented.

Does not understand how to define or work within an organized process of creative production

Cannot identify consequences related to his/her design process choices

Does not recognize, or incorporate shared understandings or misunderstandings into the creative process


Strategically and parsimoniously selecting Design Elements and applying of Principles of Composition, Construction and Manipulation

Provides in-depth, coherent, insightful, and credible reasons, based on evidence and both art and design theory, for all design choices, particularly tradeoffs among aesthetics, function and context

Argues what is central to piece that makes it work; emphasizes application in context

Uses materials, techniques, design elements and principles in an especially novel way

Determines confidently that piece is finished and successful, that is parsimonious and resonant

Provides coherent, insightful reasons based on evidence in art theory for all design choices

Weak or no tradeoffs among aesthetics, function and context.

Uses materials, techniques, design elements and principles in novel way

Judges based on personal and art theory assumptions when piece is finished and successful, that is unified with some variety, and evokes emotions

Provides justifications for design choices, but not grounded in art or design theory and perspective

Does not make any accommodations among aesthetics, function and context

Uses materials, techniques, design elements and principles in interesting or generally appealing way

The piece is finished when the artist stops working on it; no judgements related to success

Does not recognize the design process as a series of choices, or in any way rooted in art or design theory and perspective

Does not understand that tradeoffs may need to get made among aesthetics, function and context

Does not show significant understanding about materials, techniques, design elements, principles, and how to choose, cluster them

Shows no confidence in determining whether piece is finished or successful.


Managing design process and demonstrating disciplinary literacy

Intuitive; metacognitive; can make choices based on intent, and anticipate implications of choices; can take a critical stance; can

recognize personal and situational biases

Effective and appearing almost effortless decoding Design Elements and applying Principles of Composition, Construction, and Manipulation; has complete and extensive knowledge about Elements and Principles and their application in context

Somewhat intuitive; can articulate some of the intentional choices and their implications made in design process; may not be fully aware of personal and situational biases

Understands what is required for decoding Design Elements and applying Principles of Composition, Construction, and Manipulation, but does this with some effort and some varying degrees of effectiveness; has extensive knowledge of Elements and Principles

Weak demonstration of process management; typically following step-by-step process outline or instructions where most choices have been made for the artist; unaware of implications of choices

Doing some decoding of Design Elements and some applying of Principles, but with some difficulties or misconceptions; may have considerable but not full knowledge of Elements and Principles

No demonstration of process management; requires others to delineate the necessary design and implementation choices; unaware that there are implications for any choice

Noticeable difficulties (or unable to do) decoding Design Elements and applying Principles; generally unfamiliar with full range of Elements and Principles

RUBRIC:  How Proficient Am I In Achieving Resonance?

The piece…


“Vestment”, by Warren Feld, 2008

I was contracted to do a series of workshops on Contemporizing Etruscan Jewelry.   “Vestment” was one of the pieces I created as a contemporized version of a traditional Etruscan collar.    Contemporized refers to drawing inspiration from a traditional piece, not reviving or imitating it per se.

With my contemporized version of this Etruscan Collar, I’ve used bead weaving techniques (Ndebele stitch and Petersburg chain stitch) to get a more dimensional effect, stronger color play, and a more               contemporary sense of fashion and wearability.

The piece shown uses Miyuki cubes, seed beads and delicas, Austrian crystals, with 14KT, gold filled, sterling silver, and antiqued copper chain, clasps and other findings. With some pieces, I include artist-created handmade lampwork beads made by Lori Greenberg.

My Etruscan VESTMENT is worn like a scarf. It is meant to present a different jewelry profile than a typical necklace. It is at once formal  and relaxed, complementing the body and fashion, rather than  competing with it. The Vestment fastens in the front.

The main strips of the vestment are created using a double-layered, Ndebele stitch. These strips are attached to the clasp with an assemblage of pieces created using the Petersburg chain stitch.


Detail 1


Detail 2


Traditional Etruscan Collar

If I were using the Rubric above to evaluate my conception, design and implementation of this piece – Vestment – I would be thinking about the following…

Exhibiting an intimacy with the materials and techniques

The Ndebele stitch allows a fluidity and draping while still maintaining the basic shape.   Using two small beads and a cube to make the Ndebele stitch, rather than the traditional four small beads to complete the stitch, adds resonance.  Creating two overlapping layers of stitching creates unusual color/shadow effects while the piece is worn.


Sharing sacred revelations art and design

This piece draws inspiration from form, cultural color preferences, yet results in a very contemporary piece with more fluidity, dimensionality, movement, and sensual appeal.


Actualizing inspiration into a design

The design shows considerable intent and forethought in bringing together color, materials, techniques, forms, in a coherent arrangement.


Awareness of shared understandings

The piece is generally well-received, with some questions about how and when it is to be worn, and whether it is sufficiently contemporary in design.


Clarifying what results need to be accomplished

At the time I created this design, my process was generally organized but with considerable trial and error.   Tried to get result of appealing piece, had difficulty making tradeoffs between aesthetics and functionality.  Did not have a clear understanding of resonance.


Strategically and parsimoniously selecting Design Elements and applying of Principles of Composition, Construction and Manipulation

Was primarily driven by art theory, with more last minute choices about functionality.   Otherwise, made strategic choices in selecting materials, construction techniques, and meeting most contemporary expectations.


Managing design process and demonstrating disciplinary literacy

Was not fluent in design at this point in time.     Most of my great strategic choices were more intuitive than intentional.


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 wire working and silver smithing, 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, 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. 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.


 [1] Feld, Warren.  “Jewelry Design Composition: Playing with Building Blocks Called Design Elements,” 3/17/2018

[2] Feld, Warren.  “Jewelry Design Principles: Composing, Constructing, Manipulating,” 4/25/2018

[3] Feld, Warren.  “Jewelry Design: A Managed Process,” Klimt02, 2/2/18. https://klimt02.net/forum/articles/jewelry-design-managed-process-warren-feld

 [4]Shared Understandings.  In another graduate education class, the major text reviewed the differences between understanding and knowledge.   The question was how to teach understanding.    Worth the read to gain many insights about how to structure teaching to get sufficient understanding to enrich learning.   
Understanding by Design
by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, 2nd Edition, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005.
[5]  Backwards Design.  One of the big take-aways from
Understanding by Design
(see footnote 3) was the idea they introduced of “backwards design”.   Their point is that you can better teach understanding if you anticipate the evidence others will use in their assessments of what you are trying to do.    When coupled with ideas about teaching literacy and fluency (see footnote 2), you can begin to introduce ideas about managing the design process in a coherent and alignable way.
Understanding by Design
by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, 2nd Edition, p. 146, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005.
[7]Fluency. I took two graduate education courses in Literacy. The primary text we used was Literacy: Helping Students Construct Meaning by J. David Cooper, M. Robinson, J.A. Slansky and N. Kiger, 9th Edition, Cengage Learning, 2015. Even though the text was not about jewelry designing per se, it provides an excellent framework for understanding what fluency is all about, and how fluency with language develops over a period of years. I have relied on many of the ideas in the text to develop my own ideas about a disciplinary literacy for jewelry design.

Understanding by Design
by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, 2nd Edition, p. 146, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005.
[9]  Thinking Routines.  I teach jewelry design.   I find it useful to engage students with various ways of thinking out loud.    They need to hear me think out loud about what choices I am making and what things I am considering when making those choices.   They need to hear themselves think out loud so that they can develop strategies for getting more organized and strategic in dealing with information and making decisions.    My inspiration here was based on the work done by Visible Thinking by Project Zero at Harvard Graduate School of Education .

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