Find Your Inner Beading Cowgirl with Shanna Steele
Shanna Steele is a self-taught jewelry designer who enjoys working with a variety of materials. Her gorgeous Tucson Vista necklace is on the August/September 2017 cover of Beadwork. Shanna recently shared her beading journey with us, including how she got started and where she finds her inspiration.
From Social Work to Bead Work
Q: How did you get started beading?
A: My very first job was actually working in a store called Castle Gap in Dallas that sold Native American handmade jewelry. We had a jeweler on hand to do repairs such as soldering and stone setting. I learned to string and do some basic wire wrapping to help him with his workload.
Years later, I had completed my undergraduate degrees in sociology and history and worked on my master’s in social work. I taught high school and worked as a caseworker, and I felt that my work was draining me in so many ways. I realized that I needed a creative outlet.
At the time, I had a necklace with a pendant that I loved and wanted to redesign. I went to the craft store and got the stuff I needed for that project and picked up a few more things. It turned out that beading was like riding a bike; I never forgot how.
That was about 12 years ago, and I haven’t stopped beading since. I love that I always get to learn something new about my craft. I didn’t realize when I changed careers that I would be changing my life in so many ways. However, it was definitely the best decision I ever made! I got to spend close to 10 years working in the bead and jewelry supply industry as a designer and a purchasing/product manager. And now I get to contribute to Beadwork and sell my wares!
Q: Where do you get your design ideas? What inspires your creativity?
A: Like most artisans, I find nature inspiring. Fall is my favorite season, and you can definitely see that influence in the earthy tones that tend to dominate my work. I’m also a very urban person, so I find architecture inspiring. I especially love that in a city you can find a metal skyscraper next to a 100-year-old church. That juxtaposition of modern and antique really appeals to me. I’m inspired by the arts and crafts of the American Southwest, as well as the clean lines of mid-century modern fashion and design. I’m also largely in awe of — and inspired by — other jewelry artists whose work I admire, even those whose work is very different from my own.
Q: Do you plan your designs in advance, or do you just let the creativity flow?
A: I usually have an idea in my head and I just work until I get it out in some form or another. I feel like some of my best pieces have been accidental, in the sense that I was intending to make a bracelet but a necklace came out instead or I thought a color palette would convey one thing, but it conveyed another. I almost never sketch or chart anything out, unless I’m trying to create a specific pattern or image as I did with my Heavy Metal Bracelet in the December/January 2017 issue.
Creativity and Color
Q: How do you get out of a creative rut?
A: It honestly depends on my mood and what I have the patience for. I’m usually pretty obsessed with a new design, so I’ll rip it up and work on it until I’m satisfied. If that doesn’t happen, sometimes I find it best to walk away from a project that just isn’t working for me. I either take a walk or work on something else. Sometimes I just put the project away until another day when I feel like coming back to it. It also helps to work on another stitch or project that’s more familiar so that I feel comfortable and I’m not sending myself negative messages. Once I start telling myself I can’t do something . . . well, that just doesn’t help anything.
Q: How do you approach the use of color in your designs?
A: Sometimes that’s the hardest thing for me. I tend to have palettes that I love. For example, turquoise, copper, and bronze take my breath away. I also love gunmetal with silver and/or hot pink. I love earthy hues, jewel tones, and metallics with subtle contrast, as well as the occasional pop of color. I don’t tend to branch out too much from what makes me comfortable. If you ever see me create something with neons, for example, you’ll know I’ve lost my mind!
Q: What’s your favorite stitch or technique, and why?
A: Right-angle weave is definitely a favorite of mine. I love the versatility of this stitch. It can be used to create structured rings, earrings, pendants, and bracelets. You can also use pretty much any material you choose: gemstones, crystals, pearls, seed beads. I also love flat spiral stitch and any variation of peyote stitch with Delicas. However, I’m not one to try my hand at freeform peyote; I like structure and symmetry too much.
Q: What was the inspiration for your Tucson Vista project?
A: Believe it or not, this project is my favorite mistake. I had planned to create a Y necklace or lariat that looked like peacock feathers. When the SuperDuos came in, the colors were a bit more Southwestern than I had anticipated, so I went in a different direction. I instead attempted to create a concho-style bib necklace with SuperDuos and Swarovski crystals. But as I wove the conchos together, I discovered that I liked a more simple and classic shape.
Managing Editor, Beadwork magazine
Find Shanna’s designs in Beadwork magazine!