Making Color Palettes for Your Focal Beads

One of the challenges of working with handmade focal beads and cabochons is picking out which beads will go with it to create a harmonious color palette. There needs to be a balance between the main colors in the focal bead or cabochon and the accent colors in order for the piece to work. (And believe me, I've had my share of color disasters!) Since I took a personal color consultation with bead artist Margie Deeb back in 2009, I feel a lot more comfortable using color, so I asked her for her her best advice was for choosing a color palette based on your focal bead.

"The simplest approach, yet often the most difficult to pull-off successfully, I've named 'All Colors Present.' In this strategy you employ all the colors of the existing source (the focal bead) in the necklace itself.

"The reason the 'All Colors Present' approach is often difficult to pull-off successfully is because it risks becoming too busy and chaotic. There's already so much visual activity in that focal bead: you don't want to make a necklace that competes with it for attention. Your job is to shape the colorful chaos into a pleasing degree of form and order. To do this use unifying elements, such as similar sizes, shapes, textures in the necklace strands. You can also use solid colors to 'frame' focal bead."

Here are a few examples of pulling together a color palette from a focal bead or cabochon from my own beading projects:

Use several different shades of a main color. For my ceramic face by Diane Briegleb, I chose to focus on the purple accents and yellow undertones of the piece. Because I didn't want to use a lot of different colors, I used several variations (shades and tints) of the same color – purple. Using many variations of the same color gave me more choices of beads while sticking to my yellow-purple complementary color scheme.
Pick and choose your colors. I made a silk knotted necklace to showcase this amazing handmade ceramic focal bead by Lisa Peters Art, but I knew I didn't want to use every single color in the bead. I used camel brown and royal blue colored silk cord and left the maroon color in the bead as an accent in the bead only. I also used gold head pins and metal accent beads to pick up on the metallic gold accents on the focal bead.

Pay attention to your proportion. While I was putting together the beads for the chunky ceramic tube by Lisa Peters Art, I noticed a little streak of red in the glaze. I dove into my stash of freshwater pearls and came up with a handful of perfectly colored pearls to use in the beaded rope. I didn't want the cranberry color to overpower the whole piece, so I'll just be using a few of them while continuing to use the green colors as the main colors in the rope.
Mix and match your materials. Gemstone cabochons have always been particularly hard for me to match. Picking beads for this hand-cut Rhodochrosite cabochon by Sheila Hoag of Tradewinds Studios was particularly hard for me, because I'm never happy with the way that gemstones and glass look together. I finally decided to go with a pale pink cylinder bead for the bezel and some darker Swarovski crystal bicones for accents, pulling out both the light and dark shades in the cabochon.

Sometimes, you just get lucky. Sometimes, the beads just sort of pull themselves together. As soon as I unwrapped this cabochon by Lisa Peters Art, I knew which beads to use for it. The cream colored cylinder beads made the perfect peyote stitch bezel, and I just happened to have some rose gold Charlottes from a bead shopping trip I did many, many years ago. I can't remember where I got the delicate powder blue druks, but they went into the mix and everything just came together like it was meant to be!

And since you can't count on getting lucky every time you pick beads for your color palettes, here are two more tips for picking beads to make a good color palette:

  • Use a color wheel. A color wheel will be a huge help in finding just the right accent colors. Put your focal bead up against the color wheel and use it to match the main color and any accent colors that might be in the focal bead.
  • Look at your beads under different types of light. The colors in your beads might look like they match under a regular fluorescent light, but when you see them in direct sunlight they look completely different. If you can, look at your beads under a true color lamp that simulates natural daylight.


If you want more great ideas for making color palettes from your focal beads, you won't want to miss a single issue of Beadwork magazine. With designs from today's top beaded jewelry designers, it has all the resources, ideas and instructions that you'll need to make beautiful beaded jewelry like a pro. Subscribe to Beadwork magazine and make sure you don't miss a single issue! You can also now subscribe to Beadwork magazine digitally and get your magazines delivered right to your iPad, desktop or laptop computers!

What's your favorite tip for making a successful color palette from your focal beads? Share it here on the blog!

Bead Happy,


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