Gather Your Colors

“The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something
that wasn’t there before”

Neil Gaiman, ‘Art Matters’
heartwish designs

When the world goes through a dark time, such as the current circumstance of pandemic, lockdown, and isolation, there is a curiously refreshing thing that happens.

The artists in a community rise to the fore—with words, colors, ideas, expressions, and compassion. It’s not that they weren’t there before, sharing these same things. But in times of uncertainty and turmoil, people need to be reminded of everyday beauty, and that they, too, have the extraordinary gift of being able to imagine something better.

Volumes have been written on the role artists have played in a crisis in generations past. For the purposes of this article and my artistic beading friends, I’d like to introduce you to Frederick.

“I gather colors,” said Frederick. “For winter is gray.”

Leo Lionni

If you are like me—one who delights in the simple and sometimes profound wisdom that can be found in a children’s story–you may have already made Frederick’s acquaintance.

In simple, eloquent language, the story, by Leo Lionni, tells of a dreamy, introspective mouse named Fredrick who lives with his family of other mice in a stone wall. Using practical good sense, they all work together to gather food to keep them alive through the winter.

All except Frederick.

For some reason, Frederick prefers to sit and ponder, deep in reflective thought. They ask him why.

“I am gathering words, For the winter days are long and many, and we’ll run out of things to say.”

Frederick

Still they ask, “Frederick, why don’t you work?”

“I do! I gather sunrays, for the cold, dark winter days.”

Eventually, the store of food dwindles, and the little family is overwhelmed by sadness.

Now it is Frederick’s turn to supply the family with what they need.

In the end, the family of mice are grateful to Frederick, for now he brings to life color and joy in their hearts. When they shiver in the cold winds, Frederick tells them about the sun, and they feel warm again. When they feel dreary and spiritless, he speaks the fine words he has stored up. He feeds their imaginations, and in turn, they find new courage, and envision a better world.

You are a poet”, they tell him, gratefully.

The point from this sweet story is thoughtfully presented—while not immediately apparent to some, the poets are necessary, the artists are necessary. The imagination is a critical tool for survival, for producing hope and resolve, and the artists in a community are the experts in stimulating imaginations! It’s a valuable asset we can use to benefit others, and ourselves at the same time.

We’re never too old to learn from a good children’s story. But even artists themselves are reluctant to presume that what they produce from the world of imagination has tangible value in reality. We struggle to place a value on our efforts even in the best of times, so it’s not a surprise that in a time of crisis, this feeling would be amplified, even paralyzing.

While some creative bead artists have tried to carry on business as usual, other bloggers and IG’ers have expressed apologies for continuing to post their wares, because of the greater need they sense being experienced by their followers. Needs they are definitely experiencing themselves. While those same followers have responded, in so many words: ‘please keep posting, we need to see life going on, some sense of normalcy, and we need to be reminded that colorful, beautiful things are still happening.’

We all embody the seed gathering, industrious, harvesting mice. They are all within us, and they must work to survive, just as today’s new crisis has thrust many of us into different roles of urgency and put upon us loads we had not had to bear before the pandemic.

So what about that one different element called Frederick who wants to gather colors, pretty things, and store up lovely words? That is in us, too.

Within each of us there is a complex person of artistry, grace, sensitivity, and lover of beauty, that should continue to be nurtured. It is in these qualities that we find the womb, if you will, of a compassionate nature. When you take away these elements entirely, or suppress them for too long, then the individual suffers. When the individual suffers, so does the family, and the enlarged family—human society.

It’s been exciting, and even inspiring to see the way many bead artists have adapted their art flow to the new situation we’ve all found ourselves in. With new energy, they are visualizing, creating, and “imagining that things can be different“.

“It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that society is huge and the individual is less than nothing. But the truth is individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.”

Neil Gaiman, ‘Art Matters’

Some bead artists have launched a new line of wares. Perhaps it is mask making, which supplies a great need. Or, instead of creating a new pair of earrings for a potential customer, some artists, such as Danielle Wicks, are putting together kits, with all the beads, supplies, and instructions needed for the customer to make their own while stuck at home. This is such a wonderful idea with a practical side, for many new to beading are not sure of where to buy the hardware, the right threads or wouldn’t have the least idea of what ‘findings’ means! Danielle’s kits puts it all together for them in one easy purchase.

Designer Danielle Wickes is now producing kits for the customer to enjoy the satisfaction of creating something beautiful on their own.

Some have taken the courageous leap into producing small how-to videos, explaining what they do and how they do it, for the benefit of those who would like to learn a new craft during this period.

There are many designers who have shared this “how to can do” spirit, but two that I have followed with interest are Gillian of The Pacific Thread, who has created several IGTV videos to help customers stitch their own beautiful, unique earrings. Karin Nelson, of Mountforestbeadery, has also supplied several excellent beading tutorials and how to’s since our new experience of quarantine has begun. These initiatives take courage to achieve, but pay credit to the resourcefulness and sharing spirit of the beading artist.

Karin Nelson, mountforestbeadery on instagram

Artists like this understand, not just the satisfaction, but the importance of “thinking with our hands“. It is a gift they want to share.

“We change our minds by moving our hands,” writes Professor Susan Goldin-Meadow of the Psychology Department of the University of Chicago in a recent issue of the journal Cognitive Science. It’s the recognition that our bodies, and particularly our hands, play a huge role in how we think. Physical acts are a way of working out our thoughts. Psychologists are now recognizing something that artists have intuitively always known, that we think with our hands as much as our brains.”

from the website of Rod Judkins

Paty Damera, of Vida Jewelry Designs, designed a collection of jewelry incorporating rainbow colors, and silver hearts. It was a design inspiration that proved to be quite popular, for who doesn’t love a rainbow, or a dainty heart? What inspired this beautiful collection?

‘[‘It is] a collection inspired by hope and faith, it was created with the utmost love in hopes it brings a smile to those wearing it.’

Paty Damera, Vida Jewelry Designs

Bead artist Olivia, of Reflecting Whimsy, has created a beloved following for her colorful fringe earrings that showcase, as her name suggests, a delightfully whimsical approach to design. One of her most popular initiatives, though, is her monthly Creative Challenge Theme. Each month she highlights a new theme designed to pop artists out of a creative rut, and to encourage a recognition that each of us perceives the same creative stimuli in a different way. In practical terms this means less overlap of previously used ideas by other artists, and less borrowing, which diminishes the power of the idea.

Let’s work together to encourage and inspire each other to create new and beautiful pieces that show our unique design style and stretch our creative muscles a bit. Will you play along?’

Olivia, Reflecting Whimsy

A jewelry artist whose work is capturing the hearts of many is Meagan of Silver Coast Design. One of the ways she has infused life into her work, and also into the lives of her followers, is by initiating a photo challenge: 8 Days of Gratitude. #8daysofgratitude

The idea is simple but effective. Focus on the good things we have in our lives right now. Even small things, counted each day, and remembered with gratefulness, can add up to a better outlook, and increased positivity. And since part of what we’re achieving here is how we, as artists, can benefit our communities, this is one of the best exercises, yet!

Ring by Meagan of Silver Coast Design

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look into just a few of the ways that bead artists are flexing their creative muscles and getting down to the business of doing what they do best–surviving imaginatively and with generosity in a changing world. I’m sure you have some you can share from your own experience–please feel free to mention them below in the comments!

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