Sketching Beading Designs: Examples and Ideas from Readers

Michelle Mach

Back in April, I wrote about how I sketched the design for my chain maille necklace ("Rambling Rose"). I had so many emails from beaders who also sketched their designs that I decided to ask everyone–Do you sketch your designs?

More than 1,300 responded and only 26% answered "no." The "yes" group was divided between those who "always" (21%) sketched and those who only "sometimes" (53%) did. 

A few surprises for me:  The first surprise was how some beaders use sketching as a way of working with customers.  I'd never thought of that before, but it makes sense for custom designs.  Otherwise, you'll waste a lot of time and materials.  Another surprise was how much technology has influenced the sketching process.  When I'm relaxing with my beads, it never occurs to me to open up my computer!  But the biggest surprise for me was learning how beadmakers use sketching.  When I asked the question, I was thinking about beaded pieces and not individual beads.  But it makes a lot of sense for beadmakers to sketch, particularly if they plan on re-creating their designs.  Here's what else I learned:

For so many of us who work with tiny little seed beads, we end up doing it for the love of it. Not because there’s a future in selling our handiwork. In fact, rarely does it seem as though we could make money on bead creations, as it takes so many hours of our time. 
Not so with wire. You really can whip up a piece of jewelry in a matter of minutes. Additionally, wire is a very forgiving medium. If you make a wrong bend, you can usually just unbend it!  

Those who did not sketch felt that they didn't need to or that drawing was too difficult or too time-consuming.


Sketch and finished bead by lampwork artist Lori Peterson
She uses sketches to make sure her proportions are right.

"I guess I'm just wired differently. I stand and stare at the materials and work it out in my head."

"Most of the time I enjoy watching it come to life from my thoughts as I go.  Usually thinking ahead takes the spontaneity out of my ideas.  I know if I do it in my head and adjust as I go, probably it will be one of a kind."

Of course, by just asking this question, I managed to change a least one person's mind:  

"When this survey first came out I said NO, but since then, I have started and you know what? It really helps! Even though my drawings are pretty sketchy, it helps me look at my ideas before I go pulling beads out!  I had never sketched a design until last weekend. I needed to figure out how the design was going to look using certain numbers. Instead of my usual way, just putting the beads on the wire, I actually put it on paper. Must have been because I read the question in Beading Daily!"

A few reasons for sketching included figuring out design problems, capturing inspiration, saving time, saving money, keeping a record of ideas, planning projects for classes, and working with other people.  Many designers did not see their sketches as absolute and changed them as they designed. 

"[I sketch] only for commissions, otherwise my designs sort of 'grow' in my head. I usually have a very clear idea of what I want and only use sketches when I have to convey ideas to others".

"I work a lot in silver, so I do sketches so that I don't waste the silver."


Rose Mary Jameson’s “Royal Peacock”
was a semi-finalist in the Swarovski’s
Create Your Style 2007 contest. 
(The link takes to to the full slideshow
of winners, including Rose Mary's design.)


Work (especially during meetings) was a popular place to work out designs.

"I sketch my designs partly to keep my mind busy while I do a boring telemarketing job. I can come up with an idea and explore it when I get home."

"I am day bartender down here in Sarasota.  While working, something will come to mind and I sketch my ideas on bar napkins!"

Sketching materials varied greatly.  Some beaders used special pens, colored pencils, paper (lined, graphed, plain, art).  Other tools mentioned were charcoal, mechanical pencils, and watercolors.  One beader has covered her beading notebook in beads!

"I try to keep everything in one notebook, but sometimes I use whatever's handy to make notes or draw on."

"I sketch on random Post-It notes, but then I'm way too young to be organized. Maybe when I get older and wiser I will move into a notebook!"

"I use a 5"x7" notebook and generally use a purple-ink pen.  Purple ink is bliss."

"I keep a rubber band around the notebook, as I generally clip photos of things I visualize beaded up from magazines and ads.  I also have little Post-It notes in the book, usually of color schemes I find interesting while I am walking the streets of New York."

"I use a sketch book called Circa (from It's olive green leather notebook binder, fits 8½"x11" grid paper, and is embossed with my company name. The Circa option is great, it allows me to insert paper whenever needed, and when the design piece is finished, I can attach a picture of the final piece and remove it for filing. It's perfect!"

Technology has impacted sketching. Some readers had design systems or used programs on the web like Fire Mountain's virtual beadboard. Other tools mentioned were graphic programs like Photoshop Elements and MS Paint, as well as the drawing tools in Microsoft Word.

"I have found it easier to use the camera on my phone to take a picture on my inspiration so I never miss a thing. After downloading the pictures of a leaf that spoke to me, I find that viewing all the pictures together sometimes leads me in a completely different path. Sometimes I even find I change the materials as well."


Sketch and finished polymer clay cane
by artist C.A. Therien.
She scales her drawings down and
uses them as templates for her designs.

"I like to use the stylus and touchscreen of my IPAQ Pocket PC.  It goes everywhere with me!"

"MS Paint is my swiftest sketch-tool; I use it to check visual balance and colour harmony, and to rough out how many of each type of bead I'll need to fill a length."

Some beaders went beyond the one-time sketch.  They created entire notebooks, dated their designs, and added notes after they created the design.  This way, they had a record of their creative journey.  And one beader admitted to sketching her designs after the project was completed, not before.

"Comments both good and bad are also recorded, so if I redo the design I will be able to remember where I've had any problems and how long the assembly took. Keeping a record book really helps document my beading journey and shows how far I've come. It's kind of like a Beaders Bragbook."

I love that idea!  Even if you don't sketch, you might consider creating your own "bragbook" of photos of your designs.  I bet you'll amaze yourself! 

Do you sketch?  Why or why not?  Share your thoughts on the website.

New Reader Poll:  I know you love to bead, but what other crafts do you enjoy?  Take this poll by June 27. This question was suggested by Beading Daily reader Ruth.  If you have a poll question you'd like me to ask, please post your suggestions on the website.

Bead Spree Reminder:  Have you signed up yet for the bead giveaway?  You could win a shopping spree to your favorite U.S. or Canadian bead shop.  Deadline is June 15th.  Details.

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