Andrea Mazzenga is a registered nurse turned lampwork artist and beader. She has been designing and teaching jewelry making since 1999. Andrea left medicine in 2007 because, in her own words, “beads are just more fun than bedpans!” She now owns Buttercup Beads in Audubon, Pennsylvania, and is a Bead Fest vendor. Andrea’s Blue Hydrangea Bangle was featured as the cover project in June/July 2017 Beadwork. Learn how Andrea got into beading accidentally, as well as what inspires her.
A Little White Lie Led to Beading
Q: How did you get started beading?
A: I actually got into beading accidentally. Many years ago, I consigned my paintings and other handmade items to sell in a small, local gift shop. I had used a few glass beads as decoration on some of those items. The shop owner noticed the beads and assumed that I also made jewelry. It had never occurred to me to make jewelry! I’m embarrassed to admit that I told her a white lie, saying, “Uh, yes, I make jewelry, too . . . I’ll bring you some to sell.”
I thought to myself, “How hard is it to make a few pairs of earrings?” As soon as I left the shop, I bought some more beads, went home, and started teaching myself the basics of making jewelry. I was delighted to discover that the colors, textures, and design possibilities involved in jewelry making were similar to everything I loved about painting. And even better, women love jewelry, and jewelry sells!
The whole world of beading, including lampworking, suddenly opened up to me in that moment. And as they say, the rest is history . . . .
Inspired By Mother Nature
Q: Where do you get your design ideas?
A: My design ideas come from everywhere — Mother Nature, textures, colors, shapes and forms, other artists, magazines, books, and happenstance. Art and inspiration are all around us. You just need to take the time to notice.
Q: How do you approach the use of color in your designs?
A: Mother Nature is my biggest guide to use of color. You’ll never look at anything in nature and say, “Oh, how garish!” or “That tree clashes with those flowers.” Think about spring, summer, autumn, winter — each season is glorious and conveys a sense of color, feeling, and emotion.
For me, there are no hard and fast rules to use of color. Tones of color, maybe. But all colors are harmonious and play well. The hard part is breaking out of your comfort zone when using color. We’re all drawn to certain colors and the emotions they produce. For practicality, there’s the wear-ability factor to certain colors — so I do keep that in mind when designing a piece to sell. When in doubt, just pair a piece of jewelry with a simple black outfit and let the wearable art be the focus.
Q: What was the inspiration for your Blue Hydrangea Bangle?
A: Photography is another hobby of mine, and I love taking pictures of flowers. Hydrangeas are beautiful because of their soft shape and romantic color palette. I zoomed in on a hydrangea photo and thought the design would make a beautiful abstract peyote pattern. I combined that idea with the new channeled brass bangle and loved the outcome. You can use the bangle with any peyote pattern and give a new look to a favorite technique. It’s a modern way to wear peyote ribbon designs, with endless possibilities!
Andrea’s Creative Process
Q: Do you plan your designs in advance, or do you just let the creativity flow?
A: I’m happiest and most successful when I sit down and just begin playing. Beads have the nicest way of taking you on a lovely adventure. It’s pretty hard to not end up with something beautiful. Worst case scenario, you set it aside, cut it apart, and start over. There’s no such thing as a wasted bead, or even wasted effort, for that matter — it’s all part of honing your artistic abilities.
Q: How do you get out of a creative rut?
A: Honestly, I never feel like I get into creative ruts. There are way too many different beads, techniques, shapes, and mediums out there to use the beads. This is also the main reason I have so many unfinished projects. A messy bead space is a good thing, in my opinion. If I get bored or feel that a design isn’t coming together, I move on to another project and come back to it later. A lot of new ideas often spin off the project I’m currently working on.
Q: What’s your favorite stitch or technique, and why?
A: I love to use a variety of stitches, but peyote, spiral rope, and right-angle weave are probably the most important and useful stitches to learn. You can use so many variations of these stitches, and you can pair them with so many other techniques.
Beading Mantras and Advice
Q: Do you have any helpful advice for other designers?
A: I live by several mantras related to creativity, design, and inspiration. I often share these bits of wisdom with my students:
- First and foremost: You, too, are creative! Say it aloud, believe it, and say it again.
- Choose a variety of beads to create an interesting piece.
- Mix shapes and sizes to create texture and dimension.
- Don’t be afraid to use and mix colors! Use a color wheel, or snip pieces of fabric, wallpaper, or photos for inspiration.
- Let color tones and values play off of each other.
- The eye likes to see things in odd numbers — and remember that 1 is an odd number, too!
- Incorporate metal findings, but realize that a little goes a long way.
- Clasps should complement the design and can even be used as a focal point.
- Incorporate visual space into a design to give the eye time to rest and study the components.
- If you don’t like a design, cut it apart and start over. After all, it’s only beads!
- Use Mother Nature’s textures and colors for comforting inspiration.
- Recycle old beads or old jewelry components — it’s economical and interesting.
- Start a design journal; sketch or snip pictures for inspiration.
- Read about your craft in great books and beading magazines.
- Find a bead buddy!
- Take classes; learn new techniques to expand your creativity.
- Study projects. Decide what you like or don’t like about a design — and why.
- Occasionally work outside your color palette, comfort shape, or typical bead size. Challenge yourself; it broadens your creativity.
- Cultivate and grow your “bead garden.” It’s easier to design with more available options. You can never (ever!) have enough beads.
- Buy the best tools you can afford. They will be your friends for life and will make your finished work all the better.
- You’re not weird; we all have our “special beads” just waiting for the right project.
- Wear your creations every day — you are your best advertisement!
- Spend time with other creative people; they’re fun and give you lots of inspiration.
- Finally, never sell your first piece. Save it to see how far you’ve come.
Stop by Andrea’s booth and dozens of others for beading tools and supplies at Bead Fest!