For the last two months, my creative time has been dedicated to working on a project that’s a little outside my comfort zone - making a large number of the same bead design. I’ll be the first to say that for me, the best kind of creativity happens in the times when inspiration is flowing, and I can’t wait to bounce out of bed to work on new ideas. If you’re the kind of person who loves to do really unique, one-of-a-kind things, you may be wondering why ANYONE would choose to do ‘production work’, making multiples of a certain design as part of their art practice. And believe me, I felt the very same way - until I tried it.
After making many, many of the same bead over the course of a few months, I have to say - there is a lot of potential benefit in repeating certain designs, if it’s something that you’re able to do in your particular style or medium.
Even if each of your pieces is unique, there may be repeating elements or tasks you can complete in larger batches - ear wires, jump rings, self-made components, cutting lengths of cord or wire, oxidizing or finishing. Chances are good that the more of the same thing you can tackle in one go, the more you can streamline your process. Materials and tools are costly, but the most significant investment you make in your work is your time. Saving time means improving your bottom line, which means…… more money for beads! And that could never be a bad thing.
One way to approach it is to offer variations on a popular design that preserve a unique look. Our own Rebecca Anderson of Songbead fame is a master at tweaking certain elements of a design, once she’s nailed down a ‘blueprint’ that she can build on. She wrote about her approach here along with some brilliant illustrations of that idea.
The ability to create multiples is key if you’d like to create a ‘line’ of work that you can wholesale to shops - or perhaps if you require a large inventory to participate in a show. Click here to see the amazingly wonderful Heather Powers' (Humblebeads) approach. Her new book, Beautiful Elements, may also be just what you need to get inspired to create unique components that could be made in larger quantities and used as repeating elements in your designs.
So this is my second go-round with a fairly large batch of orders. In May of last year I did the first - and completed over 90 sets of my ‘weenie beads’ (teeny tiny spacer bead pairs).
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the process of making the same object over and over again. In many ways, the repetition and predictability of a production session feels very soothing and meditative. Not only was it *really* rewarding to get to the end of that process and send all those beads out to happy new homes, but I learned some really useful things about my technique and workflow while making them.
Here are my top 5 lessons learned from deep-in-the-trenches adventures with production making:
1. Set a limit and stay within it.
If you think you might have more demand than you can supply, set a limit that feels comfortable and doable - you can always open more spaces for orders once you’ve completed the initial run. Decide on a shipping date that gives you enough space to handle unexpected detours along the way, such as supply issues, family events or illness. Also - and this is very important - build in enough breathing room that you can still take time to experiment and play. Somehow, as soon as I don’t have a lot of time to work on new ideas, they start overflowing so quickly I can’t keep up! Keep your sketchbook nearby to capture all the new inspiration that pops up as you restrict yourself to making the same thing for a little while.
Blocking the flow of creativity and inspiration can lead to feeling unbalanced, and for many of us, really quite miserable. For that reason, my first rule of production work is that during every session, I take the time to experiment with at least one new idea at the beginning or end of the day. Even if it’s only one bead, it helps to feel like I’m staying open to new possibilities that I can explore later.
2. Keep it simple.
Consider how many options you plan to make available (ie. different colors, sizes, finish, customization, etc.). In my experience, the fewer the variables, the easier it is to keep track of everything and stay in my happy place. The first time I held a made-to-order event, I had dozens of different color choices in two different finishes and it was a logistical nightmare to keep it all organized. Do yourself a favor and keep it as simple as possible.
3. Organization is your friend.
Especially as you near your shipping date, the more organized you’ve been at every step along the way, the easier it will be to stay on top of things. It can be helpful to make sure your orders are clearly mapped out by printing out order slips or invoices and making notes about your progress as you go along. Spreadsheets and charts are great. Keep the supplies or tools or recipes or resources you need close at hand so you don’t have to go looking for things every day.
4. Make yourself comfortable.
Experiment with your working environment. Once you’re at the point where you can make this component or piece of jewelry your sleep, you’ll be in a good position to tweak little things that can make creating easier now and in the future. Consider your chair height, your lighting, your hand positions, the tools you have and the way you use them. I found that there were a surprising number of tiny adjustments that could be made when I was on creative autopilot and had time to think about it more mindfully.
Make your creative space a peaceful and inspiring place to spend time - whether it’s meditating before you begin working each day, aromatherapy, decorating your space with meaningful objects, burning incense to start with clear energy… whatever feels good to you.
Repetitive work is a great opportunity to find out what kind of ambient noise helps you get in the ‘zone’. You may work best with music you really love. Some people swear by audiobooks, podcasts, or complete silence. My productivity skyrocketed once I started listening to music that’s designed to be minimally distracting (think: instrumental, spa-like music, sounds of water, etc…). I use an app for that called focus@will, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that it’s completely revolutionized my creative practice. After a free trial there is a monthly subscription fee but after all my basic beadmaking equipment, it’s probably the most important tool in my studio. If you struggle with concentration, it may be just what you're looking for.
5. Pace yourself.
Whether it’s 15 minutes every hour or two, an entire day to relax and regroup, or a weekend to think about something else, breaks are important. Take care of yourself - you're the most precious tool you have. Be kind to your body and your mind. Have a bubble bath, get some extra sleep, find some good chocolate, drink tea… whatever helps you stay balanced and healthy. If you reach the stage where you start to wonder what on earth you were thinking… remind yourself that it is part of the process. Any challenge worth doing feels uncomfortable at some point. Be open to lessons that can be taken forward into your future work. Production work has taught me to be much more efficient, improved my ability to stay focused while working, and given that all-important dedication muscle a regular workout - things that are valuable to me no matter what I’m doing.
Even if you decide that production work is NOT for you, limiting yourself temporarily can be a wakeup call; a reminder that creative freedom is a beautiful thing. I firmly believe that gratitude and inspiration go hand in hand. A deeper appreciation for what you do may ultimately lead to better and more inspired work.
If you’ve experimented with making multiples of the same piece, or changing up a detail here and there to get some extra mileage out of a successful design, I’d love to hear about it! What did you learn that might be helpful to other art bead and jewelry makers thinking about giving it a try?
Until next time...
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Julie is a glass beadmaker with a passion for building community and inspiring conversation around her writing. Her best work comes from that magical place where nature meets creative flow. She is fascinated by all things weird and wonderful. You will find her hanging out most days in her Uglibeads Facebook group or on Instagram, and you're invited to join in the adventure by signing up for her weekly email newsletter.