Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Guest blogger: Cath Thomas

One of the things I wanted to do with the Bead Mavens this time around was invite designers to contribute as I feel we all want to get to know them better, see how their design process works, what inspires them, etc.  So here is the first of our guest bloggers...the amazing.... 

Cath Thomas

I am very happy to be a Bead Mavens guest blogger. I wondered what to write, in particular what would be of interest to you, dear reader, and then a friend from Canada visited me, and she said to me: "Cath, you really have no idea how much I wish that I could open your little head and look inside your head, watch how your creations are born and developed." Mikki had already suggested me to write something about my creative process and even a third person said on Facebook that my creative mind is a complete mystery. Let's take a tour of my 'mechanism' - you might be surprised that it is not that mysterious and maybe some of my crazy 'rules' will bring you further on your own creative journey.

Note: you can click on the images to see a bigger photo. If you wish to learn more about the story behind a piece, or about a subject, you can click on the links, which will open a new window to read more in my galery or blog - however, you will not leave this page - have a look at your thumbnails.

Honestly, I had to sit for a while to look at my 'way of functioning', because I don't really think in a specific order. Ideas and inspiration flow through my head and heart in every direction, and I simply give in... I didn't think of it as a process, but after this closer look, I must admit that it can be described as such.

I can play with beads in various manners (yes, play, that is the most important), but I do mostly beadweaving.

Sauron's Eye
For me, a beaded something has to be a challenge. Challenges are fun. It starts with "Ooo, I want to make that with beads" and that that can be anything, something invented or existing already (something that is made with metal, paper, or made by nature, or a design made by another beader, you name it). Sauron's Eye and the Kaleidocycle (video) are perfect examples of this: the inspiration is an existing object and after a short brainstorm figuring out which stitch/es I'll use, I start immediately with the big thing - no test samples, and generally it works great. It either feels good, or not good.
Sauron's Eye in progress

When things go well from the start, I know that it will be ok. If it doesn't feel good, I simply stop it. Generally half-way the work, unpleasant things happen (fraying of the thread, needle falling on the ground and even beads spilled all over the place, etc.), but it feels like some kind of spirit warns me, because if I watch carefully, it always appears to be the moment to stop and look back because I made a mistake. When the mistake is corrected, everything goes really well again. I happen to shout at the spirit, though... Hubby is used to it.

When the shape I plan to bead is not a challenge on its own, 3 requirements rule my designs:

1) The jewelry or object has to represent something (water, fire, greenery, witchcraft, history, queens, godesses, ecology - anything that resonates inside of me). My beadwork is either a tribute to something or someone I love, or simply an ode to the beauty which surrounds me. So I am not really a creator but more a transformer, a storyteller. Mother Nature is the best muse, followed by geometrics, history, love, books or films; not necessarily in that order.

Kanagawa Wave Bangle,
inspired by
Geometrics, Nature, Art
2) It has to have small to medium proportions, and preferably be intricate in shape. There are mainly two reasons for this. The one reason is that I am a tall girl and big necklaces only make me look bigger - so for me, less is more. The other reason is that with fibromyalgia I need to be gentle with my tendons (Rippled Water resulted in a frozen shoulder and that is really very very long to heal).

3) The colors must 'work' together. Ah, color! This is very difficult to explain and I can only say that it is very personal. Picasso said "Why do two colors, put one next to the other, sing? Can one really explain this? no. Just as one can never learn how to paint." In other words: what feels good for you is good!

But that doesn't help much to pick a range of colors for a new project, doesn't it? So let's talk about it a bit more.

The incredible Mandarin Fish
Image courtesy Technical Prowess
Mother nature fortunately is very generous. Take time to look at her perfection, she's always right. If you don't have time or a lot of nature to admire, color generators are very handy to pick colors which 'sing'. It also is helpful when making something for another person who loves the colors which you don't like...
I generally use only 2 or 3 complimentary or complementary colors. Sometimes only one color, but with matte and shiny finish. However, I love rainbows too and tend to use more contrasting colors now, because it brings depth and rythm. Like music.

I'd like to add that the choice can become pretty complicated with the many existing finishes of beads. Not all finishes work well together. I prefer blending matte with shiny beads, opaque beads with lined opal, matte silver-lined or metallic beads; mainly beads which are least affected by the color of thread. I nearly never use transparent or ceylon seed beads; and I also avoid dyed beads (because they are not durable). I also like the warmth and shine of gold-plated beads, but I use them in limited quantities, because their shine can give me eye migraine.

Did you know that a particular finish can determine the 'main' aspect of a piece? I used a lot of colors in the necklace 'Connectedness' (based on an original idea by Nan C Meinhardt, Izzy and Lucy Bracelet) and they work even better together because all the cristals have the same 'Champagne' finish and I chose 15/0 with a gold luster finish, very close to the champagne effect. 

So this is the base of my 'creative process'. There must be a story to tell or a song to sing, and the challenge is to do it with not too many beads, in a harmonious color way.

Now the next level of my creation process might seem a bit strange: restrictions. To make the challenge more interesting, I challenge myself to

A - Sometimes try to make jewelry without clasp

Isn't that an interesting challenge? It made me play with ribbon, Memory Wire, lariats, loops and twists, etc. Below you can see 3 examples. Left: a Yukka Flower wedding collar made with 2 memory wires; Middle: Rippled Water twisting around itself; Right: Ishtar Collar with slips for ribbon or chain.

Claspless Creations

I love the look of open necklaces, it gives a feeling of freedom. And ribbons and chain are so sexy...

B - Try using the same number of beads, or multiples of that number

Most of my past pieces have an 'invisible' signature: multiples of 11. In the Netherlands (I am Dutch) and in Germany they call it the fool's number. It might seem odd, but it was incredible how things turned out well.

Examples of beadwork made with this idea in mind: there are 11 beads on the side of the pepper, the fork and the yukka flower. The cabachons in 'Splash' (picture left - a design based on Shelley Nybakke's Ruffles) were bezelled with 44 seed beads, same bead count for the ruffled rings.
Venus of Willendorf
The number of seed beads and firepolished beads in the spiral rope of 'Venus of Willendorf' are a multiple of 11 (11 pink, 11 fuchsia, 11 ruby, etc.). Connectedness was made with loops of 11, 22, or 33 beads per addition, and 11 crystals per 'bridge'.The Blues bangle is made with 11 'ups and downs'. Sections of the Herringbone ropes in Mokuren are 11-beads based.

I could mention half my portfolio, this crazy number pops up everywhere in my work.


I stopped using it on purpose, but it tends to come back naturally, like in my petals, pods and soliflore - my floral designs for which I wrote a few patterns. 'Souls' - my BOTB'13 piece is based on sections of 22 seed beads. I now have a new magic number and hope to make many more nice things. Ishtar's Collar is based on it.

The Blues
C - Structure everything like an architect

Shapes, repetitions, repetitions of shapes. It brings rythm, balance and flow. I like shapes, twists, texture, bumps and valleys, wings and horns. It makes beading more interesting, funnier. People are intrigued when they see my work and some pieces, like The Blues, have been seen as "fractals".  

Last but not least: except if designed for very special occasions, the jewelry should be wearable in many occasions, and have a little touch of elegance. Not that I don't like the funky, groovy, Bohemian, punky, rock, carnaval, steampunk, metal, gothic styles. Not at all: I like nearly everything plus that little touch of elegance.

Little Rainbow
Warrior's Ruff
I have to admit that I am a bit a control freak. My rainbows, for example, seem to be framed in black or white - white for the Little Rainbow Warrior Ruff set and gunmetal for Souls... It looks so much better with a neutral background, the colors pop up, so maybe I'm a control freak, but I guess it is good for something...

When I get tired from geometric beadwork, I like to make organic beadwork. Read: freeform peyote. Which I still tend to try to control, but generally, the beads are the boss.

Thank you for reading me. I hope that you will find this useful to build your own signature work. You don't necessarily need to invent new techniques or designs. You can take existing things further to make them special, give it your own touch.

I hope that you enjoyed (re-)discovering my work and that you will visit my galery and/or my blog and eventually my Etsy Shop.

Btw: The Blues is a free pattern! Visit my Facebook page to download it!

Happy Beading!



  1. Thank you for explaining your creative process, it was really interesting and I love the idea of challenging myself. I LOVE Sauron's eye. I am a Tolkien geek and I think it's an amazing piece - you nailed it.

  2. Dear Cath, I am discovering you little by little, as an artist and as a person and I love what I see.
    Sauron's Eye is a "chef d'oeuvre" and I am in love with Kanagawa, The Blues, Souls.

    Thank you for this wonderful entry and happy beading! ~Ileana

  3. Wow, thank you for the fascinating look into your creative process! It is a great post! I admire your incredible talent! ~Val

  4. Here is a post I will revisit several times to make sure I have sucked out all the juicy marrow! I love your work Cath, and it was great to see so much of it represented here all together. I love your thinking about design. The ideas and work DOES speak to us, if only we can hear it, I think. I love! Thank you!

  5. Thank you all very much for your kind reactions!

  6. Thanks, Cath, for this peek into your incredible designing mind! I always love designers' glimpses into the inner pathways that lead to the creation of so much beauty. A lovely post with lots of great information; thanks for sharing!

  7. I gotta tell you - you wrote an excellent blog ; I find you & your work to be extremely interesting & thank you ever so much for sharing yourself & your work with us :)~~~ I', in love with your art !! Very impressive! .......Jan

  8. Very insightful..... I love knowing how someone else's mind works... I shall re-read several times I think.... I love your work... it has such depth. :)