Copying another designer’s work is a huge taboo in the fashion word. So that I am about to give you an entire post about how I sometimes copy other designer’s work, and how it’s a really great way to improve and diversify my own work may come as a surprise. But the truth is, all designers riff of off each-other from time to time, and sometimes they arrive at the same place at the same time by taking vastly different approaches. Sometimes two items look the same, and the designers got there different ways, and other times, two designers follow similar seeming paths, and arrive quite far from each-other.
Sarah Tolzmann, who has a great design & fashion blog, Note to Self, and is fun to follow on pinterest, pinned a pair of Loren Hope earrings the other day. I’m not sure that I can say I liked them, precisely, but they interested me. I liked things about them, if not the end result. I liked, for instance, the color palette. I liked some of the shapes they included, and how those shapes were arranged. I thought they might be fun to copy, but in beading. (I could copy them exactly through metalsmithing and stone setting, but where would be the fun in that, right?) So right away, I’m not really talking about making a mirror image of someone else’s design, what I am really talking about is interpreting a design–because if you copy something in a medium different from the original, then it’s not a copy, it is at the closest an adaptation or interpretation.
I use this copy-as-interpretation in another medium trick frequently in my design work, and I have a system. If I am copying something for dyeing wool, for instance (and I copy a lot of pictures of floral arrangements, for some reason) I take the image and break it down into it’s component colors. These earrings, then, are bright pink, clear, gold, and pale green. They are mostly gold, pale green, and pink–the clear part is just an accent. In wool, I can’t even do clear, but I can do white–so my options would be to change to white or ignore it totally–giving me roughly equal parts pink, green, and gold. How the colors are arranged can be useful too–in this case, the gold appears as parallel lines, while the pink and green are dots. So I might do something like stripes and dots on the wool.
But I’m not doing this design as wool right now (I will, but it’s not the subject of this post). I am copying it as jewelry, but shifting to beaded jewelry. So the colors, gold, pale green, hot pink, and clear are important. So are the shapes. The pink gem is a square, the green gem is round, the clear and gold elements are rectangular. The arrangement matters too; the pink is on top, the gold is in parallel lines at the sides, and the green is at the bottom.
The first step in making this copy then, is to pull beads that match those criteria. Pink & square, green & round, golden & clear rectangles; gold wire, too. I quickly find the elements I need– but immediately have to switch the pink to a pale pink (if I want square) and swap the green to an ovoid shape (to get the right color). I quickly mock up the approximate shape using the beads and wire. The result, is however, uninspiring. I fiddle with it for a while, and don’t really get anywhere.
Then I spot something else on my design tray–some pink beads I pulled for the design copy (right color, wrong shape) are right next to some glass beads from work I was doing yesterday. And they look amazing together.
I switch tracks, deciding to focus on the beads that look right together right now, and set the copying project aside. I have maybe 16 inches worth of the little glass beads, and 3 of the ridged pink spheres (I only have 3 in stock). And I am feeling… off kilter, like the design should be asymmetrical or in some way off balance. Asymmetrical designs that don’t feel wrong are challenging– they need some kind of obvious balance point to act as a focal point, and it needs to be apparent that the design is intentionally asymmetrical, not just poorly assembled.
I spend a good deal of time arranging the three main beads for the necklace, but the balance isn’t happening. It’s not asymmetrical, it’s just off. I dig through the stash looking for other beads– something to put with the pink and something as a focal. Since the glass beads flash in shades of amber, yellow, pink, and lavender, I’m looking only at those colors. I quickly eliminate the yellow, it’s too loud. Lavender turns out to be too twee and girly. Red works, but the red beads aren’t right. Then I find a lonely pink agate. It’s darker than the beads that inspired this whole project, but similar. It’s bigger but still round. It’s a good focal. At the same time, I find 3 round dark purple beads. It’s not a shade that’s in the glass beads, but it feels right. Where lavender was too sweet, this dark purple is more mature and sophisticated, and feels like autumn. I love autumn.
Now I have the 16ish inches of glass beads, the dark pink agate focal, and 3 each of the dark purple and hot pink. I’m still feeling off kilter for this design. That’s okay, though. It’s easier to create balanced asymmetry with a larger number of beads, and I have an odd number of each. I place the focal bead at the center, and then alternate the pink and purple beads at equal distances. Too organized. I then stagger the pink and purple beads, so they get progressively further from the center as they move out. That works. I then count out how many of the glass beads it will take to make the intervals between beads longer in a predictable way. I come up with units of 6. So there is the center bead, then 6 glass beads on each side, then a larger bead, then 12 glass, a larger bead, 18 glass, a larger bead, and then 30 glass before the clasp. Odd numbers, a set color palette, and an increasing but predictable distance between elements based on a multiple of 6. A design that’s off kilter but not out of control comes together.
While I was working on the necklace (and searching for components) I pulled other beads in the same palette. More hot pink, some amber, purple, pale green, and yellow. Now I’m thinking about autumn leaves, and there are simple pink geometric leaves. They look good with the amber glass beads from the necklace, and quickly become earrings.
Then I think about leaves some more–and pull some vintage copper leaves. I quickly pair them with little golden crystals. Then I think about how half of what is amazing about autumn leaves is their movement once they are detached from the tree. The way to get that lively feeling is with chain, so the copper leaves are suspended from chains. I try them with another iteration of the pink leaves and amber bead “branches” but the contrast is too jarring. The copper leaves on chains become their own piece.
I’m still thinking leaves. And about how irritating I find it that many autumn palettes forget early fall, where there is still lots of green. How early fall is really all about the contrast between green and “autumn” colors like red, orange, yellow, and brown. I still have those pink leaves, one final pair. I have some lush green crystals, too. And the amber glass beads. These elements quickly combine to form another pair of simple autumn leaf earrings.
I make one more necklace and pair of earrings with the bright pink and amber glass elements, this time playing with shapes– circles and pie-wedge triangles. I use up the last of the amber glass beads, and put away most of the bright pink. I’m back to the earrings I started out copying.
Again I try to get the construction right. Pink square, parallel gold lines, rounds of green. I make it more linear, putting the parallel lines of gold right next to each other. It’s still wrong. The pink is too light, too small. I still have nothing square in the correct pink. It’s still not working. I try to distill the design again, more generally. Pink + Rectangular (since a square is just a variation on a rectangle). Gold + Parallel lines. Green +Round. I like the green ovals, they feel right. I like the yellow fluorite, too. The pink isn’t working. Neither is the construction. I try to break it down. Pink on top, green on the bottom, gold on the sides in parallel lines. I try making it again, but with diamond shaped pink beads that are the right shape (a diamond, like a square, is just a variation on a rectangle). Closer. But still wrong. Still too stiff. And then I see it. The gold has to be parallel, below the pink and above the green. But it doesn’t need to be connected. It can move. Movement, really, is one of the best things about beading. It’s design that captures movement without restricting it.
The pink diamonds are the right color, and they are drilled on both ends. I devise a way to attach a loop to the center top, and then make additional loops at each end. Then I think parallel gold above green and round. I try a few variations of two lines of fluorite connecting to a single green oval. The connection is awkward if it is parallel, and angled otherwise. And too stiff. I try something else–parallel lines of fluorite terminating in the green oval. One on each side. Two green ovals on each earring. Four total. It works. The design incorporates what I liked about the original–the colors, aspects of the geometry, but sacrifices the exact shapes and some of the proportions of the color. I have more green, but that’s okay, I like green. Less gold, as well, and more movement. But it feels right.