How to sketch a beading design if you can’t draw


‘How do you sketch a beading design?’ is a question I’ve often been asked.

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Well, it’s confession time…I don’t think I’m very good at drawing. Lots of people say that and mostly it’s really not a problem. But if you’re a designer, it can be more of an issue. My design work is all with beads. Since I am the one making the pieces I design, my ability to sketch a beading design is perhaps less of a problem than it would be if I were trying to ask someone else to create a finished object from my design. I just scribble some notes, do some very rough sketches and then take out the beads and play!

However, if I want to sell custom-made items, it’s a different story. I need to sketch a beading design in order to sell it to the potential customer.

Why might you need to sketch a beading design?

Imagine your friend approaches you with a request for a fabulous necklace to wear to a special occasion, perhaps a wedding. Maybe you already love working with pearls and your mind is over-flowing with ideas for beautiful pearl jewellery. You just need the excuse to make one of these pieces.

The thing is, unless this is a very good friend, they’re not likely to trust you with the commission unless they can have some idea of what they’re going to end up with. So you need some means of conveying the idea in your head to your friend.

Sketching a beading design. Chopard 810391-1001_sketch_diamond_necklace_from_the_red_carpet_collection_2013

Things to think about

Now, I’ll be honest, I wish I could make a sketch like this Chopard design. But I never have done and probably never will…at least not without some serious investment in drawing classes! However, I have made many bead commissions. In doing that, I have found a way of conveying my ideas well enough without needing to worry about my rather basic drawing skills.

Before I get on to my tips, there is one other point to consider. How will you be conveying your ideas?

I am almost always working with people who have contacted me via email. They never live close to me. In fact many of my customers have come from thousands of miles away. So I am conveying my ideas back to them via email. That means I need to make sure I either put the ideas together in electronic format or I can convert them to that format.

If you are also in this situation and if you like to put pencil to paper and do a sketch, then make sure you have some means of scanning that sketch into a computer.

Using software

I have always opted to make my design sketches in electronic format so that I just have a file that I can either print out to show, or attach to an email.

I received training in Powerpoint in a previous career, so I feel really comfortable with that software. Maybe you are used to using something like ‘Paint’, or perhaps you already use Adobe software like ‘In Design’. Either way, the idea is the same.

Use the software to outline the shapes of your design, add in text to make notes to explain what the shapes represent.

I also try to colour my shapes in the approximate colours of the beads. So you will be sending over an outline of shape and colour with some notes.

This is a good start, but I add to this by including photos. If I am designing a pendant on a rope, I will include a photo of a close up of a couple of different beaded rope stitches. For example, I might show a daisy chain or spiral stitch and then ask the customer which they prefer. Make sure you also include information on cost if you are asking the customer to make a choice.

Alternatively, if I feel a particular technique is necessary, I will send a photo of that. If need be, I may have to bead a sample to photograph. Make sure you are also very clear on colour combinations if that is relevant.

Real life examples

To give you an actual example, this wedding bouquet started life as the drawings below. I sent over both an annotated design and a page of photos of flowers with notes about choices of colours and costs.

This was enough information for the bride to agree to the design. I actually sent over a couple of choices and she picked her favourite. So, with the order agreed, I was able to take out my beads and start creating.

Potential pitfalls and how to overcome them

One last point… I find that however familiar I am with the techniques I’m using, I almost invariably find that the beads don’t perform in reality quite as they did in my mind!

It is very common for me to need to make alterations to the original design as I’m working. This is no problem if the design is for me, but if it’s for someone else, I need to let them know how things are turning out, just in case they hate what I’m doing.

So once I’ve started the beading, I take regular photos and send them across for approval as I’m working.

Occasionally the customer wants to make a minor alteration to what I’ve planned. But usually they are quite happy with any change that I’ve felt it necessary to make.

For me, the most important rule is keep in touch with the customer. However much care and passion you are pouring into your work, at the end of the day, someone else is paying for it and will be using it. So their opinions have to come first, even if they go against what you would like to be doing.

A tip for custom orders

A quick tip here. If you are making a custom order, be sure that both you and the customer know the criteria to which you are working.

What happens if the customer suddenly decides they don’t want the order after all? How would you deal with that?

If you have said you are prepared to make changes as you work, just how many changes does that include and how major are you prepared to go?

Think about this and make sure it is laid out in a written agreement before you start working. Believe me, it will save a lot of arguments further down the line. You can read more on that here.

But hopefully this article has helped you to realise that even if you feel like you can’t sketch a beading design, you can still find workable solutions.

And if you want to learn how to design, take this online course.


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