What happens when you choose the alternative?

Polymer clay guru Christi Friesen on creative fun

Creativity is everything to me! I am fortunate to have been born with the desire and ability to create. I’ve spent my whole life trying to do so to the best of my abilities. But it’s not really a choice, I think. To be creative for me is to scratch the itch that is always there… and you know how very satisfying a good scratch can be.

Mary Ellen Beads talks with Christi Friesen, polymer clay artist, about creativity.

Christi Friesen, polymer clay artist, delights in life and recommends alternative headshots.

I was one of those kids that showed artistic talent very early: in my first art class at age three (in oil paints, of all things!). Since then I’ve continued to try just about every kind of art I could. As you may have guessed, I grew up in a family that appreciated art and saw to it that I had supplies and classes. I attended school at that time in America where there were good art programs, and I was fortunate to have had excellent artistic outlets during all my growing up years.

Art as business still creative fun

People always wanted to buy what I made, so art as a business choice was an early development. It’s an interesting thing to have someone want to purchase what you’ve created. Some people can’t bear to part with their creations, but I always found the act of creating to be very satisfying in itself, and the extra funds allowed me to part with my artwork rather easily! There was always something to spend money on (candy and clothes, mostly, I think!). But even though I did sometimes create things because I thought they would sell, I always made things purely for my own amusement. It is one of the most important things about growing as an artist – follow your own voice and create what you want and need to create, not what you think you should create.

I got older to the usual things — marriage, kids, credit card bills. I still created but not as much. In my early 40s I figured I better get serious.My life grew to include creativity immersion daily. I couldn’t be happier!

Chocolate adds to creative fun

When I am in my creative space (and I’m lucky to finally have a nice roomy studio full of all the things I need to create with), I am content. It is a sanctuary, figuratively and literally (I can close the door and block out everyone and everything whenever I want/need to). I have filled it with the things I need to create, but also creative things to look out – paintings and sculptures and things I’ve acquired from my teaching trips all over the world. It’s important, I think, to have inspiring things around you to keep your creative juices flowing. Also chocolate. That’s important to have nearby at all time. Hee hee.

Mary Ellen Beads talks with Christi Friesen on creative fun and shows one of Christi's polymer creations entitled Coming in for Landing.

“Coming in for Landing,” Polymer clay by Christi Friesen

To increase creativity, I recommend get your own creative space: a place that is yours alone; space you don’t have to clean up unless you feel like it; an area that offers privacy. The creative process can be almost trance-like. When you’re interrupted, your flow stops. A big space isn’t necessary. A personal space is required.

Art expands creative fun

The work of other artists is always around me in my studio. By choice, I am constantly influenced by others’ work. The more art we see, the more connections we can draw and the more unique we can become. While that sounds contradictory, it’s true. Your influence is restricted if you only look at small variety of art. Your work will probably look a lot like those few artists you admire. If you look at everything, everywhere, all the time, then your input is immense and it swirls around and gets all mixed up and everything sloshes over into everything else, so when it’s time to dip into that soup, you’re going to get quite a mixture of influences that you can shape into your own new thing. That’s the goal, anyway.

I purposefully look at art in mediums other than the one I work in, and art from contemporary artists all the way back to ancient artworks. There is soooo much!

My unpredictable path began in 2000 when I got serious about my artistic career. Since then I traveled the world teaching, wrote 11 books, participated in galleries and shows, and developed a product line. I had no idea that one thing would lead to another. Lo and behold: here I am.

This polymer clay item entitled Bone Metal Heart is by Christi Friesen, who is talking with Mary Ellen Beads about creativity.

“Bone Metal Heart,” polymer clay by Christi Friesen

Growth as an artist

A couple years ago I realized that this journey had compromised my growth as an artist. The demands of social media recognition and business success meant no time to grow as an artist. The time it takes to explore, develop new ideas and push yourself forward just never seemed to be available. I took efforts to slow down and carve out time to nurture my artistic soul. In talking with my peers – other teachers and business artists – I’ve found that many were struggling with the same dilemma.

So I’ve been devoting time this year to studio-only artwork. Art for it’s own sake. I now share works in progress and my thoughts behind each piece or series of pieces on Facebook. I’m amazed and delighted to see how hungry many of my friends also are for more meaningful art.

Unexpected joy. I created as I wanted and then shared with a group of interested people. (Previously much of what I created was to support products workshops, books and how-to projects). I challenged myself to keep up with my own creative development:. take more risks in what I create, share deeper expressions with my peers. Yeah, I still make fun creatures, of course! But that’s not all I do anymore.

Creative fun includes the meaningful, impactful

I’ve realized that I do care about saying something interesting, meaningful, impactful. I want to reach a broader group of people. I’ve set goals for myself to enter international competitions, and look to the larger art community as a constant part of who I am and what I do. I’m not looking to shake the world, just be a part of it.

I am delighted beyond words to have the innate talent to create and the desire to grow in my art. I am grateful to have access to so many wonderful supplies. I am daily buoyed by the outpouring of support and love I am given from my community. I am very lucky to be here, now, making.

“Count me in on creative fun!” -Mary Ellen Beads 

This picture shows Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque with Christi Friesen, Gail Crosman Moore and Anne Mitchell

Triple Terrific Pendant – Christi Friesen-polymer clay, Gail Crosman Moore-felt embellishment, Mary Ellen Merrigan wears her tt pendant, Anne Mitchell-silver

Disclosure: Christi Friesen, Gail Crosman Moore and Anne Mitchell presented a fun and informative workshop, “Triple Terrific Pendant” in Tucson. My mouth is open with amazement at the end-of-day results!

This interview with Christi Friesen is part of my ongoing series on artists and creativity. Please subscribe to follow other creative fun adventurers via your inbox.

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Party Pretty With Unique Jewelry You Need to See for Spring

“Spring is nature’s way of saying “Let’s Party.” – Robin Williams

“Let’s Party!” …and Party Pretty when you join ME 11am – 6pm Thursday April 27 at Silk Road Connection, 5200 Eubank NE, Ste. E-6, (Spain & Eubank) Albuquerque.

“Ooh!” and “Aaah!” over my collection of one-of-a-kind wearable art pieces.

A stunning glass focal emphasizes five strands of pearls, rich with hues of ecru, bronze and turquoise. Faceted glass beads add sparkle to the presentation.

This five-strand necklace from Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque screams, "Party Pretty!"

©2017, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Pearls and Glass

My love for fiber, texture and tiny seed beads brings life to Birdsong Creativitree. Enamel owls, a sterling leaf and a large branch of natural coral coalesce into a dramatic beadweaving. This one-of-a-kind necklace

This beadweaving entitled Birdsong Creativity is part of the Party Pretty collection by Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.

©2017, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Beadsong Creativitree

Tibetan prayer boxes continue to intrigue me.

Themes with Tibetan Prayer Box is part of the Party Pretty collection from Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.

©2017, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Themes With Tibetan Prayer Box

I’m drawn to natural elements with an urge to transform them. These shells frame a perfect collar.

This shell collar is part of the Party Pretty collection from Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.

©2017, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Shell Collar

This show is just in time for Mother’s Day. Why not give a gift of my signature “Barely There” necklace? Always-elegant pearls, in a variety of colors, are lightweight and affordable. You’ll feel the creative energy in each one-of-a-kind creation.

Barely There Pearl necklaces are part of the Party Pretty collection from Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.

©2017, Mary Ellen Merrigan, “Barely There”

Party pretty with ice resin creations and so many more fun items you’ll have to see them to believe. Yes, I’ve been busy.

Party Pretty Show Details

Save the date: 11am – 6pm Thursday, April 27, 2017 at the incomparable Silk Road Connection, Spain at Eubank in Albuquerque.

Will you Party Pretty with ME?

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Explore Bead Embroidery on SkillShare

Author and bead embroidery expert Nancy Eha reached out to tell me she has two online SkillShare classes. She extends a free month SkillShare subscription AND her two classes to readers of this blog. Read on.

I’m a fan. I experienced an online class from Nancy and discovered how clear she was in her instruction. See this earlier post or, read more about Nancy’s views on creativity.

Have you used Skill Share?  After experiencing Nancy’s classes for myself, I decided to share more about this online learning resource with you.

ME: You are offering two Bead Embroidery classes on Skill Share: Beading Fantasy Flowers and Beading on the Edge. What can students expect as a result of these courses?

NE: As a teacher my primary goal has always been, no matter what a student’s beading experience, that they be successful in learning new beading skills and have fun doing so! Yes, I have authored books that teach my beading techniques, but with my classes on SkillShare there is an opportunity to not just read instructions, but hear step-by- step instructions, and see my hands performing the beading skills and techniques. Video based classes teach to multiple learning styles. Also the opportunity to pause and repeat if needed, or review the entire class. An opportunity that usually is not possible in an in person class with a large group of students.

SkillShare is subscription based (think NetFlix), so for a low monthly subscription you can watch any and all 10,000+ SkillShare classes. That includes my current and future bead embroidery classes, but not limited to only my classes. Currently SkillShare is offering your first month of SkillShare for free, and you can cancel anytime. Use this link that Nancy is providing: http://skl.sh/2kwHeC3

ME: How do these courses work? Do they require a huge time commitment?

NE: The classes are each a series of short videos with total video time ranging from 20 minutes to more than an hour. A student can choose to enroll in a class after watching the introduction. Then watch the series of class videos whenever it is convenient and at their own pace. There is even a SkillShare app. With the app and a wifi connection you can download all your enrolled classes to your phone and watch later without connecting to the internet.

Two Bead Embroidery Classes From Nancy Eha

ME: You picked two techniques from dozens you use regularly. Why these two?

NE: Over the course of 4 or so years I have taught for several online schools. For my first class with SkillShare I wanted something new, something I had not taught either online or in person. After some thought, I realized I have been asked many times which of my classes or books teach beaded fringe. The answer was none. I also wanted to engage nonbeaders, those who would be interested in a DIY garment remake project and cross over into the realm of beading. So I developed Bead Embroidery: Beading on the Edge.

This shows a project from Nancy Eha's bead embroidery class on Skill Share - Beading on the Edge, as discussed with Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.

The focus is on preparing and repurposing a large square scarf, into a triangular beaded edge scarf. Thus the name Beading on the Edge which I thought would be an intriguing title. For my second SkillShare class I am teaching some of my most popular course content, making a variety of delicate flowers and leaves with mostly size 11 seed beads. Entitled, Bead Embroidery: Beading Fantasy Flowers. No pressure to make a flower that looks like anything in the real world let your creativity run wild!

This class, Beading Fantasy Flowers, is a bead embroidery class from Nancy Eha as discussed with Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.

ME: Tell us about this platform. Why SkillShare?

Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque interviewed Nancy Eha about bead embroidery classes she is presenting on Skill Share.On the SkillShare platform, teachers must include a project with each class. Over the years, I have taken student surveys and the vast majority of students want to learn techniques in a class. But they want to do so making a project.

With SkillShare classes, the project can be as simple or elaborate, the student decides. Students are encouraged to upload a photo of their project, sharing their creativity with other students in the class.

As a former elementary school teacher now teaching adults, I know I can teach anything to anyone in small teachable steps. SkillShare encourages the same, teaching the class project in small bites of video lessons.

ME: Will you teach additional classes?

NE: The future of online learning holds no bounds. It is 24/7 to fit your schedule, PJs anyone? You can learn from teachers and interact with students worldwide.
It is economical; no travel expenses, hotel rooms, or meals on the road.

I was an online learner prior to being an online teacher. Being skeptical, I was amazed that not only did I learn a new software program ( I am so a non-techie) but I used the skills I learned to make my own WordPress website. The experience was so empowering!

I have new online classes in the planning and production stage. I know each will be better than the next as I learn more filming skills and better my audio and video editing.

Link to Nancy Eha’s Bead Embroidery Classes on SkillShare

ME: How can potential students benefit from this opportunity?

NE: Here is the link to take a look at my classes, and have one month of SkillShare for free. http://skl.sh/2kwHeC3

ME: Thank you Nancy. It’s great to have this information. I, for one, plan to take you up on the special offer? Will I see you on Skill Share?

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Bust the Comfort Zone

A wire wrapping class from the Bead Society of New Mexico led me to reflect on the comfort zone we can easily adopt. Comfort zone is defined as the level at which one functions with ease and familiarity.

Early on, our teacher/leader said, “You’re brave!” It was obvious that no one in the session had ease and familiarity with wire. Thanks to such a tone, confidence and success grew, rather than diminished throughout the day.

No one quit. Each student did far more than she expected.

Participants of the Bead Society of New Mexico pose with their wire wrapping projects and instructor Ginger Shockey, and Mary ELlen Merrigan of Mary Ellen Beads.

©2017, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Chevron Earrings Class Participants with Instructor Ginger Shockey

The challenges of the chevron earring class, an original design presented by Roswell bead artist Ginger Shockey, included (and were not limited to):

  • Dexterity
  • Tension
  • Balance for beads
  • Counting beads and chevrons
  • Straightening wire already tangled
  • Keeping five wires straight while weaving

Author and artist expert Julia Cameron talks about joy in the process. She maintains doing the work is the best cure for the difficulty of doing the work. Why? Because the joy lies in the process and not in the product.

When, as beginners, you feel “all thumbs,” this is a good thought. In spite of the learning curve, participants sensed the meditative benefits of the pattern. Wrapping wire in such a situation might almost be fun if only one could trust themselves in the next step.

A participants demonstrates busting the comfort zone during a wire wrapping class attended by Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.

©2017, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Class participant weaves chevron earrings

Maybe it helped that the company was good, the chatter supportive and the help instantly available. These factors eased group members into the world of wire.

For beaders who love seed beads, or simply enjoy stringing, “…even your pure intention might disturb comfort zone of others.” The quote aptly describes disturbance potential for the departure from norm. The words come from Toba Beta who wrote “My Ancestor Was an Ancient Astronaut.”

Progress measured in the process

By the end of the afternoon, two participants completed one earring.

This earring busts the comfort zone for Mary Ellen of Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.

©2017, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Chevron earring completion

Within hours class members received an invitation for an earring completion party. What will the final chapter in wire wrapping say?

Other Reflections on Comfort Zone

“One element of Madonna’s career that really takes center stage is how many times she’s reinvented herself. It’s easier to stay in one look, one comfort zone, one musical style. It’s inspiring to see someone whose only predictable quality is being unpredictable.” Taylor Swift

Is there a “Madonna” of wire wrapping hiding here? Certainly five students moved out of their comfort zones.

“The comfort zone is the great enemy to creativity; moving beyond it necessitates intuition, which in turn configures new perspectives and conquers fears.” Dan Stevens

What will you do to bust your comfort zone?

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Boost Artistic Creativity with 5 Sincere Tips

Carrie Story Shares About Artistic Creativity

Read more about Carrie Story and her tips on Artistic Creativity in this blog excerpt from Mary Ellen Beads. Albuquerque.

Carrie Story

As I meet artists and makers, I’m pulsed to talk with them about artistic creativity and how it positively impacts our lives. The creative spirit and the good life co-exist. In our modern world, it’s more important than ever to embrace the art of making things. I sensed that agreement when I met Carrie Story, founder of Clay Revolution at To Bead True Blue in Tucson, AZ.

Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque snapped a picture of the class projects from Carrie Story's Creative Foundations class in Tucson.

©2017, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Creative Foundations Class Projects

Eight of us made a horn cuff bracelet, a creative foundation. Quick. Easy. Fun. Carrie’s easy manner supported us in the process. She explained her passion for making colorful, individual pieces of work versus making a million of the same earrings. (We get it, Carrie!)

On the role of art in her life:

“I always loved art class. Although I only have a few memories from grade school, most of them revolve around art class or projects I made. With this in mind, I took every art class available in high school. I did very well and was even given a few awards for my work. My favorite classes were ceramics, but with a lack of equipment availability, my skills didn’t go any further than high school. I did attend a small amount of college with a focus on art, again receiving a few recognitions, but the world of financial need vs. artistic desires arrived.”

Find Your Creative Medium

“My art went on hold for too many years. For many years I have spent my free time making something or other. In 2006, I discovered jewelry and began making and selling a few pieces to friends and family. But in 2008, I discovered metal clay. That changed everything. As soon as I put my hands in the clay, I knew this was the medium for me. My art went from basic skills, making simple designed projects, to complex constructed pieces made with fine silver within just a few months.”

“I have had many careers and enjoyed all of them. As a result of my business experience, I consider myself to be 1/3 business person, 1/3 artist and 1/3 entrepreneur. This strange combination has brought me to where I am today; instructor, artist, owner. Now, I make my art work to suit me. I don’t really mind if someone doesn’t like it, or if it never sells. Of course it always feels good to have it recognized, but that is not my goal when creating.”

Focus on Creativity as a moment in time

What does creativity mean to you?

“I think of creativity as a moment in time. It is that moment when all of those little tid bits of information in your head coalesce into a perfectly inspired piece. Sometimes the ideas flow so easily that you can’t keep up with them. Other times, you must look to your favorite inspirations to bring them together.”

Do you see an impact of fellow artists on you and your work?

“Yes, of course! I never want to copy anything another artist does, but it is impossible not to get inspired by great art. I scroll through images and come up with more and more ideas to incorporate into my work. As an example, when an artist creates a new technique in metal clay, the first thing I do is start coming up with ideas on how to use that in my own way.”

Make Creativity Personal

Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque captured Carrie Story with two of the projects from her Creative Foundations class.

©2017, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Carrie Story Creative Foundations Class projects

How has your art changed your perception of the world and how the world sees you?

“Once I was able to do this full time, I was fortunate enough to meet a whole new group of people. These people are from several different social groups, but would have never been in my circles prior to this. This has opened my eyes and allowed me to understand many more cultures, opinions and social norms. It is fascinating to me to learn about other cultures and even participate in them when I can.”

“…I hope that the world sees me as a cheerful, nice person. …always full of information that I am willing to share and willing to laugh at myself at any given moment.”

Jewelry Making Daily editor Tammy Jones highlighted Carrie and Clay Revolution’s new products after the Tucson show in her wrap up of supplies and new products.

Define Your Biggest Creativity Challenge – and meet it

Because we’re all human, I asked Carrie to elaborate about challenges and doubts she faces.

“Expectations of others – that is a challenge I face every day. Each of my students, customers, family and friends expects my work to be a certain thing, a certain way or a certain amount. It is likely due to me not communicating my goals in full or just a general misunderstanding of my ‘job’. I find myself continuously trying to make what people want instead of making what I want to make. It is a constant struggle and one that I work hard to try to overcome.”

Impact one person at a time

To end, I asked: What impact do you want to have with your art and on whom?

“You know, I really only want to impact one person at a time. My desire is to make something that someone walks up to and just stares at for hours. I want to create that sense of inspiration, of awe, of emotion. Making someone feel like that with my art is the most I could ever ask for.”

Well said, Carrie. Thank you!


The place of “no patterns,” that I found in beads caused me to think differently about everything, infusing my entire life with creativity. I hope you benefit from tapping into an ongoing well of artistic creativity brought to you by makers from around the country. Carrie Story of Clay Revolution and Divine Ornament is the artist co-creator highlighted in this month’s episode of my series.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if each of us considered our impact one person, one interaction at a time?

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Beaded Antlers Make Natural Statement

Could beaded antlers be the most unusual beaded object you’ve seen?

In New Mexico, mule deer shed their antlers during late winter or in early spring. Antlers, an extension of male skulls, vary in size with age, increasing annually before reaching maximum size. In this part of the country deer are plentiful.

I began using antlers for jewelry displays because it seemed like a natural fit for my tribal-themed creations. I draped necklaces over antlers at various shows. I hung bracelets from them as well.

I’m not prepared to disclose how many antlers I now possess. When does a grouping become a collection? How many objects must one assemble in order to be credited with a collection? The query interests me because many of us assemble, preserve or display like objects in our lives. My friend Ann has a collection of salt and pepper shakers. Margie displays kitchen crocks on the top of her cupboards.

Somehow, I have embraced a collection of rather unusual subject matter: beaded antlers.

Beginning a beaded antler collection

Like many things, my obsession began with an experiment: “What would happen if I added leather and beads to this?”

This is a picture of the very first beaded antlers from Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.

©2015, Mary Ellen Merrigan, First beaded antlers

My project received much commentary during the Sandia Heights Studio Tour. One visitor even returned the next day with two antlers he’d picked up during a walk around our neighborhood. (So, as you can surmise, my collection grew organically.)

Intrigued with the many ways of enhancing a natural object like antlers, I announced and completed a road project. More about that effort and one of my first beaded antlers in this 2016 post. 

These bronze beaded antlers are from Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.

©2016, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Bronze beaded antlers

After I received eight dainty mule deer antlers as a birthday present, (Note the continued, organic growth of the collection) I obsessed about a deep purple set of beautiful colors beaded into my small, elegantly shaped antlers. Voila! It happened.

These purple beaded antlers are from Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.

©2016, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Purple beaded antlers


Since then, other beading enthusiasts have asked me to lead a class during which I’d share techniques for beading antlers. That’s on my list. I’ve also fielded calls about custom beaded antlers as well as other unusual objects of nature. These conversations about sharing beauty with beads make me happy.

Beaded Antler Conclusion:

Before I lead a class project, or do a custom piece, I have to add one more beaded antler to my collection. I call this Sunset on the Mesa.

These beaded antlers named Sunset on the Mesa are from Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.

©2016, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Beaded Antlers: Sunset on the Mesa

Could there be a pair of beaded antlers in your future?

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Three “H’s” of the Kantha Quilt Class

Happy colors, history, hand-stitching: these three inspirations emerged from A Reversible Kantha Quilt Vest class experience.

The word Kantha, pronounced (KAAN taa), means rags in Sanskrit. A Kantha stitch can also refer to a small straight running stitch in Bengali embroidery.

Something about alliteration tugs at my heart. It resonates. I’m prompted to repeat it. Thus, the three “H’s” of Kantha Quilts: happy colors, history and hand-stitching

Happy Colors in Kantha Quilts

Not every Kantha Quilt is bright, but one side of the Kantha Quilt is usually patterned. My fabric with its strong orange, green, red and black colors screamed ‘happy’. (It didn’t hurt that my Saturday was dedicated to using my hands, learning something new, and spending time with some of my favorite people.)

We wrapped ourselves in the Kanta quilt of our choice. In spite of the multiple colors and patterns, cohesiveness reigned. Some of us chose to own more than one quilt!

These Kantha Quilt class participants including Mary Ellen of Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque wrapped themselves in a Quilt.

©2017 Mary Ellen Merrigan, Kantha Quilts, Class Participants

History of Kantha Quilts

If you don’t know the Kantha story…

“These vintage sari quilts from India are created using multiple of very worn and aged saris that have been mended and patched over many years of use. The quilts are then pieced together using various scraps of fabrics as batting (sometimes as many as 3-6 layers of scrap filling causing different thicknesses within a quilt.”

Here’s a Wikipedia page about all things Kantha.

Instructor Cindy Chavez of FreeForm Inspirations gave running background commentary as we worked. She also presented a wide range of options for our stylish, asymmetrical reversible vest. In addition to her original four-way design, Cindy encouraged us to make purses, totes, curtains, pillow covers and more. Her samples caused class members to ‘oooh and aaahh.’

She also suggested we use remnants for other mixed media projects and described how we could stamp, and further embellish the Kantha quilt material.

I met Cindy in 2012 when I interviewed her. Read more about how she packs fun into every project. 

Cindy makes it easy to improvise. She encourages experimentation. Each student incorporated their own version of the project into her pattern plan. Once the perimeter was marked, the cutting began.

Hand-stitching on Kantha Quilts

One student, who had a large sunflower in her quilt design, cut out the sunflower and embellished it on the reverse of her vest. Most of us added rectangles and/or pieces of material to form pockets and then hand-stitched them to our vest.

Hand-stitching is a soothing experience requiring no previous sewing training.

Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque participated in a Kantha Quilt class with these ladies.

©2017 Mary Ellen Merrigan, Reversible Kantha Quilt Vests, Participants End-of-Day-View

In our always-on society, hand-stitching offers a different opportunity to feel connected. Hand-stitching connects you first of all with yourself. Feel into slowing down, threading a needle and sewing on fabric. Hold something besides the cell phone. Enjoy present moment awareness as you stitch.

This picture shows the hand-stitched rectangles and pockets on a Kantha Vest made by Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.

©2017 Mary Ellen Merrigan, Reversible Kantha Quilt Vests, Hand-stitched rectangles and pockets

Kantha quilts have always been hand-stitched, typically by someone using a running stitch. It’s easy to replicate. More importantly, it’s a satisfying experience. You’ll be amazed at the sense of confidence that comes from your hand-work.

This collage from Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque shows the different ways this reversible Kantha quilt vest can be worn.

©2017 Mary Ellen Merrigan, Reversible Kantha Quilt Vest

My reversible Kantha quilt vest delivered these three H’s to me: happy colors, history, and hand-stitching. Which one most appeals to you?

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Completion is Rocket Fuel for Creativity

My brain wrestles with completion. In fact, it mangled this quote to imply some art projects were meant to be abandoned.

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” –Leonardo Da Vinci

I found myself looking through boxes of projects and incomplete class works. Some had notes and plans. Others included beaded bits and findings. A few were barren structures. Obviously I’d lost interest in ever completing them and had used the parts for something else.

This picture shows three unfinished beadweaving objects from Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.

©2017, Mary Ellen Merrigan, trio of UFO – unfinished objects of beadweaving

In the Beginning Stages of Completion

Like yesterday, I could remember deciding to rescue two woefully outdated vintage pins with a comment like,

“What if you could forge a new and beautiful piece out of a family memento?”

Contemplating a stylized beadweaving to showcase a leaf and a pair of enamel owls, I concentrated on choosing just the right seed bead color, adding the perfect piece of natural coral to mimic a limb and building my focal. As usual, beading itself came easy. But then what? Stumped, beadweaving complete, I set it aside and went on to other projects.

The next time I revisited my owls, they seemed to need a deeper base, so I added beads and then once again set it aside. Aware of my ‘out of sight, out of mind’ problem, this time I placed the piece on top of my revolving bead shelf where I would see it daily.

Because I didn’t push for closure, the owls languished. I found it easier to start a new project (multiple new projects) than to finish this one. The commentary in my head assured me ‘inspiration’ would come. I waited for it to strike. Reviving interest proved to be more difficult as time passed. In fact, the right time never arrived. I conducted full conversations in which I argued the necklace would be too large, too complex, too difficult and I simply never restarted.

At last I confronted the procrastinator in me and called her to task.

“Your energy is part of this project,” my commentary began. “Until it’s finished there’s leakage.” That phrase got my attention. Looking to shore up personal performance I vowed to focus on completions.

Examining the completion energy

As a part of the exercise, I wrote about three ways in which this unfinished project hindered progress.

First of all I confronted the lie of busy. Multiple projects lend an appearance of busy to one’s mind. In reality, there is nothing to show in the form of work to sell or submit for recognition Busyness is like treading water. As fast as you paddle, you make no progress. I re-visited my studio as an outsider might see it and considered perspective. The beginning sense of resolve kindled a fire in me. 

Secondly I faced the myth of focus. My attention is fractured because I have not narrowed my focus. Instead I begin one thing, move on to another, get distracted by a third, etc. I remind myself that constraints augment creativity. I begin to list the UFO’s (unfinished objects) and estimate how long I need to finish each project. Next, using the leaking energy metaphor, I scheduled a meeting on my calendar.

Finally I looked carefully at my own accountability. I noticed a fear of or reluctance about completion, because of what comes next. Numerous excuses surface: this isn’t a good time, you don’t have a show anyway, that’s not a color currently in style, what will your friends think, etc. My growing sense of awareness found that looming truth: If it’s not complete, then I don’t have to hold myself accountable.

Generating a completion cycle

Project incompletion number one, my owls. There , nearly five years later, they sat, not giving a hoot about completion. With new resolution I assembled the pieces of my necklace on the bead board. No sooner had I chosen beads and findings then I discovered myself re-organizing the workbench. “Oh no!” I was doing it again. (The act of being busy was a substitute for my focus on completion.)

I fiercely tackled the engineering of this necklace. Using wire to weave three strands together at the base, I realized I’d forgotten to allow for a method of crimping the ends. Frustrated, I nearly walked away again. Instead, I gave myself a deadline and pushed forward. I used a technique of imagining what could work and trying it without pausing on feasibility considerations.

First the left side, then the right. I concentrated on the detail in each step, right down to recording the materials, assigning an inventory number, and photographing my finished necklace.

This necklace called Owly depicts the energy of completion for Mary Ellen Merrigan of Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.

©2017, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Owly

Conclusion-Completion Cycle

There is pride in the accomplishment and joy in the completion of this project. I celebrate for the moment and schedule my next completion. I’m stoked. This is cool. Onward. I’m inspired now because this list is going to be totally amazing when it’s finished completed.

This version of Owly reflects a beadweaving completion for Mary Ellen Merrigan of Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.

©2017, Mary Ellen Merrigan,Owly Beadweaving

Where’s your fuel for creativity…completion anyone?

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Top 10 Reasons to Participate in a Bead Challenge

Quick. Can you think of 10 reasons to participate in a bead challenge (or, any artistic challenge, for that matter)? The Bead Society of New Mexico invited members to a Winter 2016 Cowgirl Glam Bead Challenge. The “kit” for the challenge was a cigar box.

This is a collage of the top, inside and bottom of Mary Ellen Merrigan, Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque's cigar box Cowboy Glam bead challenge.

©2017, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Back in the Saddle, Cigar Box Bead Challenge

In the aftermath of the event, I reflected on these 10 reasons to join a bead challenge:

Personal reasons to participate in a bead challenge

10. Play. Get in the sandbox and make something happen! That’s what a challenge will force you to do. It’s one way to have fun. When you join like-minded partakers you expand your creative expression. Not only that. With a deadline and rules to observe, you frame your project accordingly.

“Inspiration comes and goes, creativity is the result of practice.” ~Phil Cousineau

9. Participate with a group. You’ve heard the saying, “You get out of this what you put into it.” An organizational challenge such as this offers new levels of involvement to membership. You’re committed to the success of the venture and the organization.You’re invested (skin in the game!). In addition, you have the chance to gauge how your project resonates with others in the organization.

8. Discover new resources. Most challenges offer a list of resources as background. Other participants are usually eager to share their ideas as well. Have a question about application? Just ask. Or, want to know where you could purchase a like item? Speak with the source. As you explore other submissions, ask about their inspiration. 

“To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.” ~Kurt Vonnegut

7. Generate inspiration. I didn’t count on the ideas that continue to pummel me. I have at east two other cigar box projects ready to execute. (NOTE to self: move cigar box stash to studio table as a get-started reminder.) It’s more than cigar boxes: I’ve outlined a charm necklace, a cowgirl resin collage and a couple of other surprises in my notes. 

Results you can expect from a bead challenge

6. Bust the comfort zone. Themed challenges place you in scenarios differing from your chosen style. This stimulates creativity, not only in the challenge project, but once you return to your regular medium. “Back in the Saddle,” forced me to grapple with engineering problems such as “How do I coil braid so it flows?” “What can I use to simulate a handle?” Three dimensional, flat design took on a different perspective that that of a bracelet or necklace.

5. Create thematically. The central theme of Cowgirl Glam can be interpreted quite differently. In our challenge, entries ranged from a Honky Tonk to a Trophy Horse, to a Cowgirl Bedroom and more. Each of the entries was individualistic and outstanding.

These are three of the entries in the Cowgirl Glam Bead Challenge as relayed by Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.

Three of various other entries in the Cowgirl Glam Bead Challenge

4. Use stash materials. While challenges don’t mandate this rule, you will definitely promote your own creativity as you restrict options. Force yourself to think with the materials at hand. Upcycle. Catcus and horseshoe charms added authentic, “Back in the Saddle” detail to the front and the inside cover. Old leather earrings became the handle. 

3. Emphasize detail. Repetitive elements can add effectiveness. Horseshoes cut from the selvage of the material decorated the sides of my box. Larger horseshoe charms echoed the theme and the turquoise and pearls in those charms prompted me to make the billboard header. Cactus charms reflected the fabric cactus. I cut and painted the original cardboard divider insert to represent fence.

This is the side view of the Cowgirl Glam bead challenge from Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.

©2017, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Back in the Saddle, Cigar Box Bead Challenge-side view

2. Promote a message. My cigar box was a fun expression. Using fabric material created by Kate Ward Thacker for Robert Kaufman, I cut out cowgirls, then added sequin frames and bits of cup chain to appropriately glamorize each vignette. A second fabric offered a large, stylized cowgirl cutout for the inside. Pure imagination. However, challenges can also be used to promote messages of activism. Betsy Greer in  “Craftivism,” writes:

…craftivism is about change from within as much as it is about creating work that makes the world a better place. In order to inspire the best, most lasting change, we need to create from a place of determination and love inside ourselves.”

The #1 reason to participate in a bead challenge

  1. You will love doing it and you might win a prize. In a totally unexpected highlight of the evening, “Back in the Saddle” won first place and a cash award of $25.00. How fun is that?
This is a picture of Susan, Mary Ellen Merrigan of Mary Ellen Beads, Albuquerque and Pat at the BSNM Cowgirl Glam party.

©2017, Mary Ellen Merrigan, (center) with Susan and Pat at the BSNM Cowgirl Glam Party.

It was a total blast in process.

So, no matter what reason you choose as most important to you, do yourself a favor and step up to the next challenge that comes your way. Are you ready for a bead challenge?



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Bead Artist Margo Yee Adds Whimsey to Creativity

Bead artist Margo Yee pursues beading with an unerring eye for detail and endless curiosity. The results surprise and delight those who come in contact with her creations.

This is a photo of bead artist Margo Yee from an interview with Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.

Bead Artist Margo Yee

I first met Margo in a bead class during which we experimented with free form beading over filigree. She immersed herself in the learning of an idea and it morphed into an amazing creation, a natural and frequent Margo occurrence.

When prompted to pick her theme for the year in another class, Margo chose gratitude. She then proceeded to complete an over-the-top necklace.

Bead Artist Margo Yee presented this whimsical necklace entitled "A Cup of Gratitude" in response to a prompt from Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.

©2017, Margo Yee, A Cup of Gratitude, bead embroidery necklace

On her website, Margo describes the effect of her designs:

“A synergistic response to motion …results when vibrant colors, reflecting light, are combined with varied textures to draw attention to the most expressive part of a woman, her face.”

“Margo designs necklaces to focus the observer on the interesting facial character of the female who wears the necklace, bringing additional sparkle to the wearer as the woman moves, but not in any way competing with or outshining the wearer. So it is interesting that one of the hallmarks of Margo’s necklaces is multiple focal pieces. The artist designs the necklaces, so the observer’s eyes deliberately bounce or skip from one beautiful area of the necklace to the next, so the necklace is interesting even when the woman turns her head and the necklace is viewed from the side!”

What does creativity mean to you?

Creativity is a beautifying, problem-solving wandering that allows me to take a breather from the complexities of life and get lost in a singular focus for a while. The repetitive process of beading is like a sleep that refreshes me. Tools and jewelry making materials or components form the framework for many of my pieces. Other artists have generously shared their techniques with me, expanding my repertoire. The beads left over on my bead mat frequently form the basis of my next piece. It’s like of like a brandied fruit starter that just continues to evolve as different fruits (beads) are added.

I am fortunate that I have an adequate supply of beads, cabochons and slabs and colored wire which allows me a lot of choice in what I’ll use in a piece. I remember first buying Beads at NM Bead & Fetish and the woman there told me to be sure to buy enough, so I wouldn’t have to run out to buy beads in the midst of a project. It was great advice.

How did your passion for creating jewelry begin?

My interest in making jewelry started with a summer school art class the summer before I started 8th grade. My first pieces were copper enameling. Seeing classmates melting silver scraps, I made a silver pin. The teacher liked it and entered it in Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Art show. My parents, who were not artists, but were encouraging, suggested I transition from enameling to silversmithing.. I remember it was not an easy transition as I loved color and viewed silver as monochromatic.

As an art major in college I frequently didn’t have adequate resources for materials, so I feel grateful to be able to create now with more freedom both in terms of having a good inventory of materials and time, as I’m retired. It’s not necessary for me to sell my work to be able to continue to create.

What impact do you want to have with your work?

My work is not statement making, just designed to enhance the wearer. It’s amazing to think that someone would select to wear a piece of my jewelry, when they could wear anything.

Margo, an active member of the Bead Society of New Mexico, also serves as Classes and Special Events Manager for the not-for-profit organization. In December, she and Kenny Hallstead previewed the bird bead class they will present at Beadfest 2017 in Santa Fe.

Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque supplied this photo which represents the Bead Birds from Margo Yee's class.

©2016, Kenny Hallstead and Margo Yee, Bead Birds

There’s still time for you to register for Bead Bird, a special presentation of Beadfest Santa Fe 2017. 

Don’t miss an opportunity to play. Explore the whimsical side of creativity with bead artist Margo Yee.

Disclosure: I had the opportunity to participate in the Bead Bird class and can heartily endorse the experience. Meet Ratana, my bead bird.

Meet Rentana Bead Bird created by Mary Ellen Merrigan of Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque during a class by bead artist Margo Yee.

©2017, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Ratana Bead Bird

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