Artist: Susan Shaw
Business name: yellowplum beads
Location: Belfast, Maine and Parrsboro, Nova Scotia
yellowplum etsy shop
Susan, how do you describe your work?
At the moment I’m focused on beadwork. I work primarily in peyote stitch which I love for its versatility. While I use very traditional techniques my work is very contemporary in style, with clean lines and fresh color combinations. Color is definitely the most important aspect of my work, at least as far as I’m concerned.
It’s kind of funny that I’m a jewelry artisan, because I rarely actually wear any myself. I do really love jewelry though, and one of the main reasons is that it can be made out of anything. There’s a basic set of guidelines to consider–a piece has to be durable and wearable–but beyond that you can really get creative as far as materials are concerned, and that’s exciting.
Lately I’ve been playing with paper clay a lot as well. I make molds of various objects, like buttons, for example, and then use them to produce components. I’m just starting out with this and clay is pretty new to me, so I don’t have anything to show you yet, but keep an eye out–it’s coming!
What is your creative process like?
Sometimes designs just appear in my head but mostly I come to them by playing around. I have a series of compartment boxes with every kind of seed bead I own organized by color in an order that only seems to make sense to me. When I first sit down to work on a piece, I select the colors I want to use, and I rarely deviate from them once they’re chosen. I also have a slightly arcane set of rules about where colors should be in relation to one another—especially where repetition of a color is concerned. It’s more of a neurosis than a design principle – but it seems to work for me!
I always design to music, but I have to admit that sometimes I listen to talk radio or watch television when I’m doing production work. I love beadwork but it can get tedious. For that reason I rarely work for more than two hours at a time, unless I’m dealing with a deadline.
What kind of training did you have which helped you achieve your current level of artistry?
Well, my academic background is in linguistics and most of my work history has consisted of secretarial positions. I started doing beadwork when I was about fifteen, and as a teenager I did sell my work on the street in New York, where I grew up. It was a lot of fun but it wasn’t until I was about 26 that I actually decided to try and make a real living as a designer/artisan.
I started out in Athens, Georgia (yes – I move around a lot) and it was a great place to be for me in the sense that there were many established artisans who were very supportive of me. I got lots of mentoring and advice from many people, including Melin Foscue, a local fabric/clothing designer, and Charles Pinckney, a local jeweler.
I did juried arts and crafts shows around the eastern U.S. for four years, but now that I’m in Canada so much of the time shows aren’t really practical for me, so I wholesale and I sell retail online as well.
Is there a tool or material that you can’t imagine living without?
I’m not really into tools, but as far as materials go I would have to say seed beads, especially Matsuno. I know they’re not as easy to work with as Miyuki seed beads or delicas, but I think the colors are unparalleled.
What inspires you to create?
Nature—I split my time between mid-coast Maine and rural Nova Scotia, and both are incredibly beautiful. I’m also inspired by other people’s creativity—other artisans and visual artists, but also by great music, books, and films. It also doesn’t hurt that beadwork is by its nature very meditative and centering.
What inspires you to keep going when the work gets frustrating or tough?
That’s a great question. I wish I had some profound, moving answer, but really it’s just the fact that I love this lifestyle. I love that I make my living making things with my hands. And I hate alarm clocks.
What is your best piece of advice for those who would like to rise in their level of artistry?
I too would like to rise in my level of artistry! I think one of the best things I’ve done is to take classes in other media. Anything different, if only to see what it feels like. The biggest corner I’ve turned so far came after I took a course in jewelry/small object metal fabrication. I was deprived of color and it forced me to think more about form.
What takes up the majority of your time besides your art?
Running the business side of things. Right now I’m spending most of my time on promotion. When I have spare time, I watch a lot of movies, and read a lot. I like to get out into nature when I can, and I love to take pictures.
What’s your favorite comfort food?
I just moved to Belfast, Maine, and there’s a restaurant here called Darby’s. They make the best mac ‘n’ cheese ever. They use cheddar and gruyere, and it has this awesome crumbly top…