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Artist profile: Dulcey Heller

Mary of Burgundy, created for Beading for a Cure

Artist: Dulcey Heller
Location: Minneapolis, MN

Dulcey Heller’s Beadwork
Buy the Kit

Rubber Gaskets Bracelet
Published in the June/July 2006 Beadwork

Dulcey, would you tell us how you describe your work?
My work is mostly driven by shapes, and to a lesser extent, colors, of things I observe. I am most interested in creating interesting shapes, and finding the seed bead technique that will give me the result I want. For example, I wanted to modify herringbone to get a different profile of the stitch, so I experimented to get the points of the seedpod set and the cuff bracelet that I sell on Buy The Kit. I recently made a mushroom, and it was a combination of peyote, herringbone, and brick stitch that resulted in the shape that I want. I’m still trying to figure out how to get a smooth, controlled, increasing, self-supporting, three-dimensional curve that I really like…

What is your creative process like?
My creative process mostly begins with an idea of a shape. Sitting on my work table right now are some rose montees and a drawing of a Celtic knot-inspired border. I’d like to get the two to meet in a necklace; keeping the diagonal slant of the knot will require modification since I work with thread and not wire.

A recent piece reveals the extent to which I will go: for a swap of small beaded hearts for Valentine’s Day, I started with a picture I found of Pakistani embroidery that I used for both motif inspiration and colors. Then I learned that the national language of Pakistan is Urdu, and how to draw “mohabbat” (love) in script. I made the arches of heart pointed, to reflect the arches often seen in architecture of the area. I am a web-surfing librarian in my day job — it helps. I usually don’t go quite this far!

For a fun piece I entered in the 2005 Minnesota State Fair, I brought home the stick from a giant pickle-on-a-stick that I had eaten at the 2004 Fair, and then recreated a beaded pickle with right angle weave over a form on that stick. It greatly amused the judge, even though he thought it was a corndog totally covered in mustard.

My beaded figure that I made for Interweave’s Beaded Figure was first inspired by a beautiful French bead that is a milky white, reminiscent of marble. Then I went to the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts to figure out stances for Ancient Roman statues. I decided one arm should be partial to reflect the damage often seen in these statues.

If Ancient Romans used beads
Displayed in The Beaded Figure show

Mostly, I work in small chunks of time towards any project, small or large. I keep lists and rough sketches, take pictures of all sorts of things for inspiration, and then try to assign myself working time. I have more things to do than can possibly be done, so I make lists for each month of 3 or so items related to my beadwork, whether it’s writing an article, planning a larger project, or actually doing the project. I try to give myself at least a few minutes of “bead appreciation” time daily, so that I can at least play with combinations of color even if I’m not picking up a needle.

What kind of training did you have which helped you achieve your current level of artistry?
I have learned technique mostly from reading instructions in books and magazines. I have been fortunate to take two week-long Split Rock Arts programs through the University of Minnesota. The first was with Joyce Scott, and the second was with David Chatt. I learned so much from both of them, both are excellent and enjoyable teachers. Beyond learning about their techniques, sculptural peyote and right angle weave, respectively, I learned about the working life of an artist. How to present a piece for judging, for example. Or valuing a piece. Setting aside studio time to work. Things like that.

Pearl Beaded Bottle

Is there a tool or material that you can’t imagine living without?
I have a lot of thread. A LOT of thread. An embarrassing amount of thread! Seed beads are the mainstay of my work, so I have those too, of course.

What inspires you to keep going when the work gets frustrating or tough?
I’ve tried a variety of methods. That smooth, increasing, three-dimensional curve? I’ve given that one at least a dozen attempts, it’s now set aside until new method inspiration strikes. I tend to like to bead my own designs. Sometimes it’s relaxing and rejuvenating to bead someone else’s design, then I can just enjoy the process, and appreciate someone else’s hard work. Also, I’m an advocate for finding inspiration in other mediums — going to a museum, reading coffee table books, enjoying the local nature center.

What is your best piece of advice for those who would like to rise in their level of artistry?
The best idea can’t be fully realized until your technique is immaculate. Good craftsmanship and finishing is essential. Ask for and accept constructive criticism.

Beaded Cockroach

What takes up the majority of your time besides your art?
I am married with school-age children, so family is where I happily spend an important amount of my time. I also am a public librarian, with my hours averaging about half-time. I also read voraciously.

What’s your favorite comfort food?
Beyond family, beading, and reading, I like to cook a fairly wide variety of foods; I bake our bread. Family, food, beads, and books. Good stuff!

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