4 Tips for Designing Jewelry on Demand

Jean Campbell is the senior editor of Beadwork and a

contributing editor to Beading Daily

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I was flabbergasted a couple years ago when Editor Melinda Barta asked me to be one of the first Designer of the Year (DOY) artists in Beadwork magazine. In fact, I had to take pause before I answered. On one hand, it was an incredible honor to be asked. But on the other hand, how was I going to come up with six brand-new designs in such a short period of time? And six projects that wouldn't pale in comparison to my fellow DOYs Marcia DeCoster, Jamie Hogsett, and Lisa Kan, who are all amazing beaders? Of course, I put my ego (and my sanity) aside and said yes. But the process helped me learn a lot about beading on a deadline and clarified some tricks for designing in a smart way. Let me share some of my observations:

1) Don't Psych Yourself Out

When I sat down to create my first DOY piece, I was very nervous about living up to what I thought would be my fellow designers' expectations. I felt I needed to make my projects better, cooler, and more creative than they'd ever been. The competition I'd created in my head was ruthless! And it certainly didn't bring about creativity or ideas. After the umpteenth day of creative block, I stepped back and saw this opportunity for what it was: an invitation that was based on my design skills, no one else's. It was then that I realized that this wasn't a competition at all, but a chance to show what I do, what my style is. With that simple shift of confidence, I could relax into an easy-going design process and enjoy myself as I put together projects that I knew readers would like.

My example is kind of extreme (international magazine, superstar beaders, etc.), but I think this happens in everyday beading, too. For example, have you ever made pieces of jewelry for a wedding? Did you feel the pressure, considering what everyone else might think of your skills as the bride went down the aisle? The reality is you were asked to do it because you're valued, and the only thing that's important is whether you like the outcome and the bride is comfortable with it, too. Once you let go of that internal pressure and let the quietness of creativity come, you'll end up with something more wonderful every time.

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2) Start with a Focus

When you're designing on demand, it's smart to start with something you're really excited about. A beautiful cabochon. An interesting lampworked bead. An intricate filigree. A unique strand of stones. I can guarantee that one focus will get your creative juices flowing. And if you're not that excited about that focal piece or the excitement fades, simply switch it up; you're the boss of the beads, and it's their job to keep you interested!


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3) Consider the Accompaniments

Once you're set on what the focus of your piece will be, pull in ancillary items such as chain, seed beads, and crystals to round out your thoughts. Play with color by laying out complementary materials next to your focal item. Ask yourself what makes sense colorwise. What doesn't? How does changing the colors alter the overall mood of the piece? Will the shape and size of these extra materials support your focus? This stage is actually the most important one of all, so spend lots of time doing it. Be fervent about making careful choices because it's these wallflower/sideline materials that will actually hold a piece together visually. 


4) Think About Shape

You've got your focus and accompaniments, so now it's time to think about shape. Does the focal piece scream necklace? Then you'll need to think about where that item will lie. Would it look great at the neck or on the chest? At the end of a lariat or in a traditional circle? Keep all of your options open and make sketches beforehand to decide what might work best.


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5) Match the Technique to the Design

Finally, think about what kind of techniques you'll use to honor your focal and background materials. Would a complicated and ornate beadwoven touch pull it all together, or would a simple wire and crimp job do? What about going outside your box and using bead crochet, polymer clay, or knotting? The key here is to envision your design first, then use techniques to get you there.

Have you had a designing-on-demand experience? Are these some of the steps you went through? Do you have other ideas that might help the rest of us? Please share them on the website. 


In the meantime, check out the newest eBook, Best of Beadwork: 10 Designer of the Year Projects. It's here that you can download favorite DOY projects made by Jamie Hogsett, Laura McCabe, Carol Ohl, Melanie Potter, and yours truly. All beautiful projects that will stretch you creatively, just as I'm sure each of the DOYs were stretched as they designed them!


Happy beading-

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