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Trinket Treasure Trove: How to paint ceramic beads to fight anxiety

Things seem to be progressively going back to normal here in London. Whilst trying to organise future plans and life in general, I’ve also been holding onto Craft projects I (re-)started during the last lockdown. This jewellery project I’m presenting here is quite dear to me because it includes so many different creative elements - from playing with colours to recycling old jewellery parts. On a more personal note, this little project has also been a huge help in calming my anxiety and sort of grounding myself in the moment.

One of my joys in life has been collecting beads. About 6 years ago, I discovered the most adorable ceramic beads (apparently originally coming from Peru).

After obsessing on them for a few months, I eventually got my hands on a little stock: skulls, Koi fish, chameleons, elephants, unicorns and Pegasus.

From the get go, I had in mind to paint some of them myself and particularly so the skulls (which I got plain). The idea was to create my own little Calaveras and turn them into unique necklaces.

After doing a few trials, I kind of left the whole idea to the side. And a few months ago, here I am and this time, painting ALL of them.

Now one important note here before we get any further: this post is by no mean trying to disrespect the look of the original beads. If I could I would have one of each in every colour just as a personal collection that would eventually be exhibited in a museum! All I wanted here was to re-appropriate myself the colour palette entirely in order to create a unique jewellery piece.

The (fantastic) online shop I have used for these precious beauties is The Crafty Bead on Etsy. Sadly, as I started working on this post, Kat pointed out that it is now closing as the bead factory is also closing down! Some of the beads I had favourited were already nowhere to be found so I rushed and placed a quick order. So I’ll probably do a second part to this post hopefully some time in the future.

In the following part, I’m sharing my process, what I used and how as well as some of the final necklace results. Some interesting tips or even stimulating some new ideas? Hopefully there’s something for you.

The material used to paint these beauties is really unpretentious:

  • Acrylic paints and inks (love visiting Great Art on Kingsland road)

  • A relatively small paint brush

  • Toothpicks

  • Wooden skewers

I have a selection of acrylic paints and inks collected over time - I’m not really brand loyal and make my pick mostly based on price and colours that caught my eye. Same goes for the paint brush - I’m definitely a peasant and get my hands on whatever costs a dollar and works.

As for the toothpicks, they’re ideal for painting all the finer details on the bead and can really be reused over and over. Finally, the skewers are what I found to hold and turn the bead as I’m painting it - it allows me to paint the bead entirely without touching it, provides me with support when doing tiny details and I can let them dry safely in a pot. The only thing to pay attention to though is when removing the skewers - better to do it delicately and slowly by twisting and pulling.

The elephant is one of the most intricate beads I’ve worked on so far. It has a few different small details such as the toes, the tusks and the little rug ornament at the top.

My first step is to paint the bead entirely, starting with the main colour (as shown with the light pink elephant on the far left). It can require a couple of coats to get a homogenous colour all around. Something I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with was adding a layer of ink onto the paint after it dried. It allowed me to play more with the colours I had (creating new ones) and it also added a sort of “glassy”, watercolour look.

After painting the base colour, I usually work my way through the details of the bead, starting with the rug ornament - first the centre and the fringe element secondly (as shown with the yellow and then blue elephants above). The last finishing touches go to the toes, tusks and eyes.

The skull beads are the ones I’ve painted the most of and the only real difficulty here are the exposed teeth (which I painted each individually). Six years ago, I had done some trials I was pretty satisfied with at the time. The colours were super bright and in a sense very Mexican inspired. With time, I kind of fell out of love with them, finding them a little unoriginal.

So I went on and un-did it. Removing the paint is a little bit of an effort but relatively easy, using some good old nail polish remover and cotton discs. I told you my materials are unpretentious! Here as well I used toothpicks to reach little corners and scratch the paint.

The idea this time around was to use softer colours and more pastel tones. I wanted to give a precious look to my beads. And this is how I ended up creating myself a little trinket treasure trove to pick from, to make one of a kind necklaces.

For the jewellery part of this project, I limited myself to use bits of chain and findings from old samples we discontinued. So doing a little bit of recycling whilst creating some new jewellery!

As mentioned earlier on, I wanted my little trinkets to have a bit of a precious look to them, hence why I paired each bead with a crystal. It was fun going through my personal collection and taking the time to play around with colours and shapes. Each is so unique with a mix of media. At the end of the day, I couldn’t be happier with the final results and I’m even considering sending some of these beauties to the gold plating for a lush finish!

If you stumbled this way of the cyberspace and made it to the end of this post, don’t shy away from dropping us a line and let us know your thoughts! In the meantime, we’ll be working on the second part of this post and more...

By Juliette


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