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June 9 Colors in Beading

By K. Shuck

Well we had some fantastic guests again today. Not the least were a few technical folk helping us with some new cases that have covers. YAY! Some of the butcher paper history drawings are also up now thanks to Steven, the Wednesday intern. More work done by visitors on the communal beading project, and my table mess proceeds apace. All things unfolding as intended.

Someone asked me today where I got my beads. I have two stores I like to order from online. I have one place I like to go and poke through. I have a serious bead collection myself. When community members see me bead they often donate things they think I'll like. Finally, I am often given collections of beads from people who have passed. None of this helps the fact that seed beads come in certain colors and not really others. Glass is a picky substance.

If you come into the gallery and look at Michael's beading you will see a sort of blue bead that it is literally impossible to get anymore. The bead is turquoise blue, on the blue side of that range, and almost has what is called a 'greasy' finish to it. Seed beads are classified by size, color, surface and finish. The possibilities should be endless, but they just aren't. There is a good range of reds, blues and greens. Browns are, frankly disappointing, though they are getting better. Yellow ranges are better than brown ones, but meh... Although whites are good generally, there are some that I never seem to be able to find when I want them. Beads come transparent, opaque or 'greasy'. Greasy beads are sort of translucent, can't see through them but they do catch light. Any of these can be shiny or matte. Either of these can be treated with a luster to give it sort of a rainbow effect. There are also some new galvanized beads, don't have any, not played with them yet. All of this sounds very exciting but unless you are just staring at the beads and enjoying the colors how do you put them together?

Historically color use in Native beadwork was reasonably flat. They also didn't have the range of color we have now. If you look at the older beadwork in the gallery you will see what I mean. The artists picked a range of colors, assigned them to areas of the beading and got on with it. The work is fantastic, but very graphic. If you look at Michael's blanket strip on his buffalo hide you will see that he uses the geometric patterning that is wonderfully traditional, but also uses more colors than would really have been likely. It's access to materials. Folks would have used all of the colors if they'd had a bigger box of crayons. Someone in the gallery the other day said that one of my pieces looked very victorian. I know that the reason is the five close pinks I used in one geometric section of the work. I like color. I like shading. Beads don't mix like paint. I use close colors together. For what I do I have to really.

I often have the work of one of my mentors out on my work table. Dav Pate is a painter and bead artist here in SF. He taught me one of the more difficult styles of beading: flat round peyote stitch. Some of you will be familiar with tubular peyote stitch, it's common enough on things like feather shafts and keychains. Many groups all over used flat peyote stitch my favorite examples include Apache t-necklaces and a really fine beetle from an egyptian source. Flat round peyote stitch is just what it sounds like: patterns built in concentric half-steps from the center, though they often end up hexagons or octagons rather than circles. Dav uses more brights than I usually do: acid yellows, flame reds etc. He plays these off against matte beads generally, his favorites being black or beige. This makes the colors pop and gives a dynamism to the work. The most common beginner problem with beading is an analog to overblending drawings, things can look muddy if you don't make sure that there are highs and lows in your color choices. I fall into that one if I'm not careful.

Anyway, color is amazingly tricky in beading. Blending, even if done technically well can look either messy or mechanical. Come look at the vest I'm doing, I have three different blacks so far to get the effect I want. The pics won't show it, mostly because I intend that your eye doesn't without looking carefully. Come visit, I'll show you.