Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Blowin' Bubbles

Designing to a Theme

What do you think about designing to a theme? Occasionally it has been suggested that competitions have a theme or a design brief. From what I've seen most people are against it because they say it's too limiting or think the results will be boring because all the submissions will look similar.

Personally, I like the idea. With my background in interior design I am very accustomed to designing to 'a brief". I would even venture to say that, usually, it makes things easier - gives me a starting point, narrows the parameters, provides a series of guidelines that I return to every time I need to make a decision throughout the creation process.

During my studies we were issued with a weekly assignment that was supposed to reinforce a particular design concept. It was handed out in the form of a design brief with quite limiting parameters, at the end of the week we would all pin up our work for critique. That was my favourite part. There were no two images that looked the same, the design solutions were as diverse as the students who created them and although we never picked 'winners' like we do in beading competitions, you could rationalise why one work was more successful than another based not only on its aesthetic qualities, but also on how well it answered the design brief.

I did say usually. This year's Australian Beading Competition was titled 'Fun and Laughter'. Now, anyone who knows me would tell you that fun and laughter could not possibly describe my design sensibilities. In real life I am fun, I promise! But creatively speaking, I am the antithesis of fun and laughter - I like dark, creepy, Disney movie, happily ever after version for me! I'm all about the Brothers Grimm, the children were eaten by the witch version... I was stumped! For a long time! I had to have words with myself: "If you keep saying this is too hard, it will prove to be beyond your capabilities - that's a loser-ish attitude. Think! What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear fun and laughter?"

Easy! No one knows how to laugh and have fun more than kids. I thought about the joy of my kids giggling when they were little...what made them giggle?? They loved chasing soap bubbles in the back yard. Delighted in the 'pop' when one hit their body, squealed when the breeze lifted the trail of bubbles out of their reach and couldn't wait for the hose to go on when it was time to wash the suds off their chubby little fingers.

In the halcyon bubble blowing days of my memory it was always early summer - the grass was a verdant green and carpet soft underfoot, the skies were crisp, blue and cloudless and the bubbles were oil-slick perfect every time. And there was my colour scheme on a platter - the new Swarovki Ultra AB rivolis in Blue, Green and Emerald that I'd first thought were too psychadelic in their brightness, larger rivolis in White Patina and transparent white AB seed beads shimmering with the colours of the rainbow exactly like a soap bubble. Next, the form...for the competition we were restricted to a medium sized bust because of the cabinet size so I wanted to make something wearable-y modest in size and concentrate on trying to make it exquisite. I googled images of bubbles...the image above provided the form - it made me think of the exquisite artisan hemispheres of Anna Chernykh that I'd always longed to incorporate in my work and a trail of soap suds that I knew instantly how I'd create.

And there it was, that moment of know the one that you actually feel as a current of electricity runs through your body and you see a complete image in your head? It doesn't happen often for me, but when it does the piece is always a joy to make.

And it was! I thought I might struggle a little because the colours are totally out of my comfort zone but because the concept was so fully fleshed out in my mind, I just enjoyed the process. I didn't even mind all the time it took to individually weave all those little bubbles (based on Nancy Cain's wonderful design for a hollow beaded bead from Beadwork December 2010/January 2011).

Sadly, the Australian Bead Show was cancelled (not for the want of trying but due to the tyrannies of bringing a very small population of beaders and vendors together across a very large country) and along with it went the 2016 Beading Competition. But I still had a piece that I was really proud of. I felt I'd met the design challenge (and for me it really was a 'challenge') and because I'd once again experienced that perfect state of being that Elizabeth Gilbert describes in her book Big Magic (Bloomsbury, 2015)  thus '...the highest degree of human happiness is eudaimonia, which basically means "well-daemoned" - that is, nicely taken care of by some external divine creative spirit guide...'. That very rare sensation you get when you see in your head exactly what you're going to make rather than getting there by trial and error. It had been so long since I'd felt it, that I'd begun to think that I had imagined ever experiencing it.

There is a also a happy postscript to this story. Since I'd been an early bird and made it well before the publicised submission date I took the opportunity to enter it into Bead Dreams instead. Happily it has been juried in as a finalist, so Blowin' Bubbles still gets to compete!