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Interview with BeadDreams winner Cliff Swain-Salomon part 2

A design over 700 hours in the making - read more about the pattern and execution behind Cliff's winning piece, "Spirit House!"
bushes and bridge
Bushes and rocks were patterned freeform and modeled after the bushes in the garden.

A koi fish. Monet's water lilies. Spirit houses. If you're only just tuning in now, these things might not make much sense to you - but in reality, they are the pieces of a puzzle that fit into a cohesive whole in BeadDreams People's Choice Award winner Cliff Swain-Salomon's vision turned masterpiece. 

Before reading further, I suggest you revisit part 1 of our series on Cliff's winning piece! Aside from being a fascinating story of conceptual inspiration, it will help fill you in on the whole story, bringing us to part 2: the technical execution of the piece itself.

From sketches to stitches

You would think that once the sketch of a design is complete, the hard part is over. You have the vision and everything should theoretically fall into place. For Cliff, everything eventually did fall into place, but just as a scientist must experiment with different combinations and formulas, so too must an artist experiment with different materials and techniques to transform a sketch on paper into a piece of wearable art. 

Upon completing the initial sketch of "Spirit House," Cliff was naturally overjoyed at seeing his vision on paper. As he pondered over the structure of the piece, though, he identified a number of shapes that didn't match his technical experience with beadweaving. He knew that in order to overcome such a hurdle, he would have to go about inventing some new stitches.

Roof prototype
To make the roofline pictured here, Cliff consulted a Sri Yantra Hindu diagram to help figure out the mathematical formulas that would best capture the shape of the triangles and the dramatic sloping of a traditional roof.
Wearer of many hats

Upon realizing that the right kind of stitches didn't exist, a lot of people would alter their design so that already existing beadweaving stitches could be used. I guess you haven't met Cliff though! Embracing the challenge that his piece posed to him, Cliff took off his artist hat and replaced it with the hat of a researcher and mathematician.

He studied ancient Hindu and Buddhist diagrams to determine the mathematical geometry of the piece, as well as botanical and animal anatomical charts to help design the shapes of the creatures and the plants in the garden.

It's hard to truly explain the level of detail work this piece required. But if you want to get down to hard facts and numbers, Cliff dedicated a whopping 250-300 hours of planning, experimenting, and sourcing materials to bring "Spirit House" to fruition. And that's not even including the hours of stitching the actual beads (we will get to that in a bit)!

patterning consistency
As you can see from Cliff's snapshots of his creative process, he used a mix of writing out his designs and charting them.
dragonfly v2
According to Cliff, many sections had to be redone before he was satisfied with it. This included the dragonfly's wings, which were redesigned by tracing anatomy charts onto peyote graph paper.
creatures v2
Anatomically correct

Cliff's piece is so dynamic, it's almost as if he has out-of-this-world abilities! Perhaps he can be in multiple places at once - or more likely, he is an artist who exemplifies what an artist should be: one who reaches to the limits of his or her potential with each stroke of a brush, writing of pen on paper, or weave of a bead. 

In addition to capturing the shape and detail of the building his creatures would be housed in, Cliff drew from anatomical charts to make them - and his garden - come to life.

For the dragonflies, Cliff traced an anatomy chart of dragonfly wings onto peyote graph paper to mimic the delicate and beautiful look of a dragonfly in flight. For his one-eyed koi fish creatures, Cliff watched the fish in his own fish tank to see how they moved so that he could best capture their body posture. 

Finally, for his stunning reproduction of lotus petals, Cliff traced anatomy charts of a petal onto peyote graph paper and then picked real cherry blossom petals to complement the charts and trace the pattern of those flowers.

beaded cherry blossom
blossom flower
The real petal Cliff picked to best capture the essence of cherry blossoms.
water bracelet ripples
A close-up of the water and the "ripple" effect.
45,000 beads later

Before beginning the actual weaving process, Cliff had to carefully choose the materials that would be involved in making the piece.

Each beading material was strategically chosen: Aiko beads for their uniformity and to keep the roofline pristine, Aiko and Delica beads for the water, which complemented each other to create a ripple effect, and natural stones for embellishment and to evoke the organic feel of nature.

In addition to anatomical charts and ancient diagrams, and of course, bead weaving itself, Cliff supplemented his research with a number of other techniques to bring "Spirit House" to life. To determine how his piece would continue below the roofline, Cliff used his iPhone to finger sketch over a photograph he had taken of the work in progress.

The diamond grid work of the trellis was stitched freehand without patterning, and modeled after a peace lantern featured in one of the real spirit house structures he studied. 

digital finger sketch patterning and roofline
Cliff's digital sketch.
The trellis.

At this point in the process, there was no turning back - and as such, Cliff encountered by far the most difficult and challenging component of his piece: patterning the cherry blossom tree over the hand. 

To begin, he photographed the piece on the mannequin form and hand drew what he envisioned it to look like.

He then used a 3D printer pen to make a template which would guide him through freeform stitching twisting tubular Ndebele with several branches.

hand with ndebele
3D Printed Hand Pattern
400+ hours of stitching and 45,000 beads later, "Spirit House" had become reality.
Learn more

Want to know more about Cliff? Visit his website to view more of his transformative work!

To learn more about 3D printing, view an article about it on our site!

Finally, make sure you stay tuned for more articles about the finalists in our BeadDreams competition. You won't want to miss the stories of all of our amazing beaders!

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