One of my most favorite parts of French Beading is the design work, making a brand new flower from scratch. The whole process excites me. For me, at least, if it's not challenging, then it's not fun. So, when deciding where to begin with the new Tips segment on my blog, I thought it would be nice to start where I usually start when I make flowers - with the initial Design. You gotta know what you're making before you can make it. Consider this first post as an introduction to how I design flowers.
There are so many ways to go about making flowers. Some people like to follow patterns made by others, while some like to make their own patterns. Some artists prefer to make realistic flowers using the simplest method possible, while others love complexity. And yet others choose to make fantasy flowers that bloom completely from the imagination. Any way you go about it, I believe seeing the process behind the design is important, or at the very least, interesting. Even if you normally make flowers from other designers' patterns, you may find yourself needing to make your own design if you can't find a pattern you like for the flowers you want to make.
If you are like me, you like to make your flowers as botanically correct as you can within the limitations of beads and wire and your own skills. (Of course, you don't have to make flowers this way, it's just a personal preference.) And there are certainly limitations. Even the smallest beads will produce a petal that is thicker than a petal on a natural flower. This means that you may not be able to have as many petals, stamen, and other parts as a natural flower without making it look bulky and awkward. We emulate and mimic flowers, and we can usually get pretty close! But you should not expect to reproduce every flower with exactness.
To produce a flower that is as botanically correct as possible, you will first need to study that flower. And I mean really, really study it. Usually, my studying process takes just as long as the actual making. I don't like to design from memory, because memories are imperfect. They fade or get mixed in with other memories. I did this once with an Iris (pictured right) in my earlier years with French Beading, and while the flower was easily recognized as an Iris in shape and form, I missed the mark on a few details (like the missing crests and abnormal stamen). So I highly recommend studying the flower from a variety of sources.
This is the part where science and art overlap.
The absolute best way to study a flower is to get your hands on it and take it apart. Or, if massacring innocent flowers upsets you, at least measure each piece and photograph the flower and it's parts from all angles.
Pictured below are wild Sunflowers (a variety called "Little Sunflower") that grows along just about every road and freeway here in Southern Utah in the Summer and Fall. Sometimes driving down the freeway you can see whole fields full of them. Last year I collected these flowers while on a walk with my boys near our home. (I've learned since that it may be illegal in some areas to collect wild flowers, so do check your local laws before doing this!) If you cannot collect them, then take a camera and measuring tape with you and photograph them in their natural environment so you can study further at home. Or if you are fortunate enough to have drawing skills, make a sketch.
We also go on hikes in the mountains nearby, and there is always a plethora of wildflowers to enjoy.
Finding samples is harder for me because I do not, yet, have much of a garden. I tend to kill all the flowers I plant. I'm also fairly shy, so going up to my neighbors' houses and asking if I can clip a sample of their Poppies or Lilacs is not something that's very comfortable for me.
Online Pictures and Illustrations
Because no one on earth has every variety of every flower and plant known to mankind growing in their garden (or their neighbors' gardens), it is highly likely that you will also need to rely pictures that others have taken. (Thank heavens for the internet! But do be respectful of the copyrights of others, who the photographs belong to.) Before making a flower, I have likely studied dozens of images of the flower, if not more.
If you follow me on Pinterest, maybe you've noticed that I pin a lot of flowers. However, most pictures on Pinterest are made to be pretty to attract attention and drive traffic to a specific website. Most of these images will show only the face of the flower. But I still regularly search Pinterest for flowers because it introduces me to new species of plants and different varieties. Then I take my search off Pinterest to find the details.
You will want pictures of the face of the flower, the backside, the profile, the petals, the leaves, the buds, the stamen, sepals, and every other angle you can imagine. I also try to find a picture of the plant in a pot, and a picture of a person holding the flower, if possible. Do a google search for "daffodil petals", for example, and you will often find pictures of the petals separated from the flower. You can do this for sepals and leaves and buds as well. This will give you a really good idea of the shape you need to make your individual parts. Search online nurseries, gardening websites, and even wikipedia.
I also really love to look through botanical illustrations. You can find many of these online. The artists who make these drawings are also trying to make them as botanically correct as possible. They usually only include a small sample or clipping of the flower or plant, so it's easier to see details than a picture of a live plant or bush with a tangled mass of leaves and branches. Thus they are a well-loved resource for me. Some will have just the small flower sample illustrated, while others have the flower sample, and drawings along the side that depict petals, stamen, sepals, etc. They are simply fantastic.
And, while you're out there browsing the world wide web, take a stroll over to YouTube to see if you can find time-lapse videos of your flower blooming. Not only are these fascinating for flower lovers, but they also let you see the flower in every stage of its life.
While online pictures are wonderful and easily accessed world wide, nothing quite replaces the substance of a book. After the internet got me addicted to botanical illustrations, I started collecting books of them so I can hold them in my hands. Some of my favorites contain artwork by Pierre-Joseph Redouté. I highly recommend his work. Here are the books on Botanical Illustrations that I have in my library (not all are Redouté), and I do recommend every single one of them. (I found all of these below on Amazon, by the way.)
I also have a few Encyclopedias of flowers, and these are a great resource. Not just for pictures, but information on the plant, too.
I've heard of others using seed catalogs for pictures and information.
Another resource that shouldn't be overlooked are the books and patterns written by other designers. Now, I'm not saying to copy their designs, or change a few numbers and call them your own. I mean to study the construction methods and techniques that they use to achieve certain results and figure out how you can utilize those in your own work.
While I'm searching through images, I always ask myself questions about the flower to make sure I'm observing all the details.
- How many petals does it have? Are they all the same size, or are some larger? How are they arranged? (Not all follow the strict "over-under" layering pattern that we see so often with french beaded flowers.) Do they lay flat? Are they curled, crinkled, folded?
- What texture do the petals and leaves have? Silky? Waxy? Translucent? Velvety?
- How thick is the stem? What color(s) is it?
- Do the flowers grow one to a stem, or in multiples? If multiples, how, and where, do they connect together?
- Do the flowers heads stand upright? Or do their stems bend below the flowers to show the face? Do they cascade? Do all flowers on the plant face the same direction?
- How do the leaves connect to the stem? Do they each have their own little stem, or do they connect directly to the main flower stem with no space between leaf and branch? Are there multiple leaves on a branch or just one? Perhaps both? If multiple, how are they arranged? Sometimes leaves are directly across from each other on a stem, sometimes they are staggered. Sometimes they are only on one side of the stem.
In addition to figuring out what the individual pieces look like, you'll also need to search for information on sizing, which will obviously vary from one variety to the next. (One variety of waterlily Dahlia may grow to 7 inches wide, while another waterlily type Dahlia maxes out around 5 inches) How tall is the flower head? How wide is the flower head? How tall do they grow? How do the leaves compare in size? You might have to dig a little deeper for this information, as many gardening websites, online nurseries, and even books will give you the plant spread and height, but not always the bloom size. If you do struggle to find the info, do a search for a picture of a person holding the flower. This will help determine the approximate scale so you can get close.
All of these details that you gather will help you decide how to make your flower. Is there a certain type or finish of bead that will best replicate the texture in the leaves and petals? (I don't always match finishes. These are beads we're working with here, why not let them sparkle!) Which technique will work best to make this shape, without making the stem too bulky? How much support will my petals need? Are the petals and leaves so large that they will require additional support wires to keep them from drooping? Will the flower be heavy enough to require multiple stem wires bundled together, or will just one be sufficient?
I hope this post was helpful or enlightening to some of you wonderful readers. It's a broad overview, and I hope to narrow the topics down as we go along. If there are any tips or resources that you'd like to share, please do so in the comments below!
I'm going to quickly update about this last piece I've finished. My series of Tips will start next week as I am completely exhausted and haven't had a chance to gather all my thoughts (or what's left of my thoughts after this piece) for the first segment on Designing Flowers.
Alrighty. Last week I showed you a picture of the sketch I made for the customer who commissioned this piece. It features roses made from my Free Miniature Rose pattern, assembled into a wreath with draping vines. This was a seriously intense project. Around 160 roses, and over 300 leaves. Working with carpal tunnel affecting both of my wrists, thumbs, and pointer fingers made it take much longer than it normally would.
This piece will be displayed on my customer's shelf, which has a dome shape. But I didn't have one of those, so I used this little birdcage with the same top dimensions to display it for pictures.
The outer width of the wreath is about 10 inches, and the longest vine is 18 inches. The assembly alone took around 6 hours, not including the time it took to put the layers of petals together into roses, or the time to turn individual leaves into leaf branches. So, it was just a massive project. I've been up into the wee hours of the morning for many days. I had to push myself that hard to finish because I have more custom work, and other projects, with deadlines that I can't miss.
But, all the work was worth it as I think it turned out amazing! Even better than what I was imagining. It's so wonderful to see the end result of something you've been toiling over for so long.
And now I jump into my next custom order, which is also very exciting!
Come back next week for my first Tips post, or subscribe so you don't miss anything!
Hello everyone! I am Lauren Harpster, the designer behind Lauren's Creations. I am a 28 year old wife, and a mother to three adorable little kids. I've been making French Beaded Flowers for six years now, and teaching French Beading through my website for about four years. I hope you'll join me on my blog so you, too, can Learn the Art of French Beading.
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