I recently reviewed Michelle Mach’s new book, Unusual Findings, in the latest issue of Bead Chat Magazine. I did really enjoy the designs and challenge to my own, sometimes conventional opinions about how findings ‘should’ be used.
I decided to see if Michelle might be up for a few questions so that we could all learn a bit more about what inspired her book, and why findings exactly? So of course I jumped right to it asking her ‘why a book on findings?’
“I’ve always been fascinated by findings,” Michelle tells me. “As an editor I saw over and over how the wrong clasp could torpedo a strong design and a fabulous one could elevate a ho-hum one. Findings have tremendous power, but they don’t always get the same attention from designs as beads and pendants do.” That certainly spoke to me immediately. I am an admitted hoarder, and yes I do have a rather large stash of very pretty findings of which my most prized are my box slide clasps. I can’t bear to have them end up at the back of the neck … and so they sit.
But then Michelle said something that really got me thinking. “It always surprises me when I ask designers about a finding that doesn’t quite fit the piece and they’ll say that they used it because they had it lying around. It’s admirable to want to use up materials your stash, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a strong design.”
Ok, raise your hand. Who’s done this exact thing? I know I have, and actually my worst offense is earwires. I have a thing about making earrings. It isn’t so much designing the first earring; it is copying the second that I truly hate. I know hate is a strong word, but I like to design … not copy. And I inevitably don’t quite match it up to exactly the same wire wrap look, or length. So by the time I reach for the earwires I am truly quite done with the pattern. And thus, my snap decision of their design being close enough. For some great inspiration on earwires, Melinda Orr just did a great article on why you should consider designing your own. Perhaps I should start with creating the findings first for a change!
Alright, so now we know why Michelle decided to write about findings, but why a whole book on the topic? Michelle writes for a broad array of magazines, why not just an article? “I’ve been publishing my designs in jewelry magazines since 2007. Many magazines have specific themes and color palettes which challenge my creativity. They also let me explore new techniques or experiment with new types of beads. In contrast, writing a book gives you a chance to take one topic and delve deeply into it. There are so many more findings on the market than there were five years ago that it seemed the perfect time to research them. Plus, I’ve learned a lot about jewelry making over the years that I wanted to share with a wider audience.”
I asked Michelle about her inspiration, and mention a quote from her book where she notes making earrings with ring shanks. Ring shanks? I confessed to her the thought would never have crossed my mind. But Michelle seems to be one of those truly inspired designers who look at the world and the possibility of how she can create from what is simply sitting there in front of her.
“I believe that inspiration is everywhere. Sometimes I’ll be inspired by a specific bead or finding; other times inspiration will come from an outside source such as vibrant pillow at a home decor store. I especially like creating jewelry based on a book I’ve recently read or a movie I’ve seen. In many areas of my life, I look at objects (burnt out light bulbs, empty thread spools) and ask, how else could I use this? So it’s only natural that I do the same thing with jewelry findings.”
Ok so let’s ask the obvious question, aren’t findings a more expensive route to go when thinking about materials for designs? “For the book, I did a lot of sketching to try out different ways to use findings. I wanted to use findings that were common and easy to find, but I also wanted to keep a budget in mind. It would have been easy to make elaborate designs using findings — such as a necklace chain made entirely of pendant bails — but it’s just not practical for most designers to buy 100 bails at $5 each to make a necklace. When I was writing the book proposal, I looked at individual findings and brainstormed as many ideas for each one that I could. When I had 100 ideas, I thought that I had enough to approach a publisher.” And that is what you will find in her book is a plethora of ideas to jump start your creative juices when trying to push your own design inspiration.
In my mind at this point I am imagining Michelle’s studio to look a bit like a ‘tinkerer’s workshop’ with bits and pieces tucked away in every crevice. And so I ask her ‘true confessions, what does your bead table look like?’
“I have an old kitchen table in the basement where I do some of my work. It’s usually cluttered and I often find myself working on a tiny corner that I’ve cleared off. It’s hard to get everything put away completely because just looking at my beads and findings gives me new ideas that I want to try immediately. I also do some design work on the sofa in front of the TV. It’s comfortable, but it does mean that I’m constantly pulling jump rings out of the cushions! I try to keep that area of the house cleaner than the basement, but if I’m on a deadline, all bets are off!”
At this point, I’m really starting to get a sense that I would love to spend an afternoon beading with Michelle. With all her jump rings in her cushions, and my rainbow of dropped beads in mine I think we could mix it up pretty famously.
Michelle also gave a shout out to a charity that she donates beads to, “I periodically clear out some of my old beads and send them to the Denver Refugee Women’s Craft Initiative”
My next burning question was to ask how Michelle chose her selected designers in her book. It is always a mystery to me how to ‘get connected’ and be one of those people that publishers reach out to. “I spent a lot of time online finding potential designers. I looked for ones that I thought could be innovative, work within specific guidelines (limited techniques, specific materials), meet short deadlines, write clear instructions, and take constructive criticism and make revisions to their projects if necessary. It was a pretty tall order and I was thrilled with how they all met the challenge. I wanted the designers to have a strong sense of their own style, but at the same time, I wanted a collection of projects that meshed well together. The publisher had suggestions for designers, too, so it was definitely a collaborative process to make the final list.”
When I asked Michelle if there are places she visits to recharge her inspiration; she simply said “there are too many to count!” But then went on to say, “I belong to a bunch of groups on Facebook such as B’Sue Boutiques Creative Group and Creative Bead Chat, so I always have a good flow of creative designs to admire in my feed. I’m editing a wire jewelry book right now that I find very inspiring. The designer’s doing things with wire I’ve never seen before.” She couldn’t tell us anything more about the book, only to look for it in 2015.
One last question before I finished up my interview. I took a peek at Michelle’s Etsy site to see what her pervasive style was, and not surprisingly words were an important design element. Yep, words. Clearly writing and expressing yourself through words is pretty important to Michelle. “I’ve always loved to write and considered myself a writer long before I discovered jewelry design. (I’ve had essays and other short pieces published in more than a dozen anthologies.) Words have a lot of power. I gravitate towards bead artists such as Heather Wynn, Diane Hawkey, and Erin Prais-Hintz who use words on their bead and pendant designs. Even if I don’t show words in my designs, my best ones tell some kind of story. I’m like many designers in that while I may experiment a lot, at the end of the day, I always circle back to making the kind of jewelry that I myself would wear.”
Well said Michelle, well said. Make jewelry that you, yourself would love to wear. The rest will fall into place.