The Design Process & Incubating Ideas

Melanie Potter – The Design Process and Incubating Ideas into Tangible Beadwork Designs

Melanie Potter is the owner/artist/designer for School of Beadwork and a national/international instructor teaching unique off-loom seed bead jewelry designs. Her background in couture sewing was a natural transition into beadwork design and construction. Melanie’s presentation explained the design process for incubating ideas into tangible inspiration and methods she incorporates to execute on these ideas to create a finished design.

Melanie has a business background working in the software industry.  The rest of her time, she spent her artistic hours doing fine hand work stitching and sewing.  Then, her daughter taught her how to do peyote ~ the rest is history and the bead world is certainly better for it.  She has now beaded for over twenty years, and admits to literally beading all over the house as well as in her studio.

Living in San Luis Obispo gives Melanie and Scott a central base for traveling around California.  We were fortunate to have them here on March 20, 2018.

As members of the Bead Society of Northern California, we have probably all read a tutorial or two. Melanie’s presentation outlined all the planning and work that goes into creating successful tutorials. The entire room was amazed.

She began by demonstrating her sketching process and prototyping techniques which evolve into the finished pieces. Melanie described the organizational systems she uses to make her work streamlined, and efficient in selecting materials for her color palettes. She discussed her process of writing and illustrating her patterns that refines her beadwork designs.

There are 5 phases of Melanie’s design process:

1) Requirements and inspirations;

2) Ideation exploration;

3) Prototype development;

4) Testing to verify that the item works as intended;

5) Distribution / Codify and Production

  • Client requirements: She works with clients (such as beading magazines) to determine their design vision and her deadline. Melanie carries a sketchbook and a “bullet” journal, keeping notes of any little thing that pops into her head as she walks around, goes shopping, lazes in a hammock, travels the countryside to and from teaching. She has found that these journals help to enrich her visualization process. . Her main exercise is lap swimming, and she often comes up with ideas while swimming or lounging around on the patio. She also is inspired while riding her bike, and hiking.
  • Requirements: She works out what stitch(es) she could use, and her color palette.  Then, the sketching begins. She looks to nature, beads, books, movies, gainin interaction from things around her.  She does research by taking photos, gathering reference material and articles, and consulting her extensive library of watercolor books and nature photos.
  • Ideation is to discover ideas. She explores word pictures by making sketches, notes concepts, brainstorms on a storyboard, and weaves ideas together. By having all of the ideas before her, she can visualize her developing ideas, things that don’t even exist yet. Wild thoughts can become a thread just likeyarn spins into the fabric of an idea.  Melanie becomes a story teller, a poet, a weaver of colors and ideas.  The client usually has some type of idea of what they want, and Melanie needs to transform that into a picture.
  • The development of a prototype is the most difficult part. She begins to work out the textural components of the designs. She plays out the client’s ideas into her sketchbook; and from there, develops the dimensional shapes into a rough design. The development entails the most difficult parts: technicalities of its structure, the smaller parts that will work with the center ideal, and adding the colors . She begins with developing the smaller components, works out the basic shapes and then determines the beads that will draw all the elements together.
  • Testing the prototype: She has the most fun when testing out the prototype. She physically makes the item and wears it all day, every day. By doing this, she can learn how it fits on her body, if it is comfortable, and if it is structurally sound. She needs to be very critical of this stage of development to observe all of the results ~ no matter how discouraging. If everything goes as planned, she then moves forward into the instruction development.  If something doesn’t work as planned, she regroups and develops another prototype. Melanie explained how she made up one particular prototype for a client:   On the first day it broke, and she fixed it.  On the second day, it broke again and in the same place.  Aha!  Something was definitely wrong in that stage, so she went back to work on her design board.  She stopped everything and sketched out numerous ways that the breakage area could be changed and how it would affect the overall design.
  • Distribution and Production. While Melanie executes the prototype, she writes down everything she does, step by step and bead by bead.  She also takes photos of each step, paying close attention to every minute point that could or would make it easier to make the instruction a success.  Melanie draws detailed illustrations of the layout of each section and labels each part carefully.  Then she proofreads every step. When she feels that she has the layout finalized, the pages numbered, and each step matching it’s picture correctly, she gives it to others to also proofread, making any corrections or clarifications as they are found.  Only then, does she make up color prints.

When everything has been completed, Melanie finalizes the instructions.  She prints out them on paper that will fit into the kit envelope along with the packages of beads involved.  Then the real test begins.  The beads for the kits are organized into their bags.

She then designs kits in four to five different color palettes. Once they are all put together, she trials the new tutorial kit in classes, examining the students’ ease of understanding her tutorial and accomplishing the finished product.

The color choices are often as critical as the design itself.  She creates the first prototype in her favorite color story, working with muted colors, playing with the color wheel, and then inventing her own palettes using colored pencils and watercolors.

The success of one design often leads to others. She examines her goal, where she may have gone wrong in the design, and what was she thinking that may have caused her to go off on that tangent.  Were the color combinations wrong?  Was there a flaw in the design?  Failure can be very discouraging, and it takes a strong person to achieve the next success.

Melanie is constantly changing her design systems.  She has a huge backup stock of beads, organized by size and color; but her working stock is packaged in 2×2 clear bags.  This way, moving colors around from on her different work stations is much more manageable.  Her color stories are organized by tones, as color is relative.  Light shades refract onto each other and the wrong shade, even the wrong thread color, can totally affect the overall look of a design.  Then she weighs the beads used in each part of the kit.  This allows her to order sufficient quantities to build the kits and have enough for reorders.

Melanie works on the instructions for a minimum of two hours per days. Under tight deadlines and compressed schedules she can work 12 hour days writing and beading. However, she prefers working steadily at a comfortable pace.  It usually takes a month to put a kit together, weighing the parts of the prototype, ordering the beads and parts needed, and separating everything into each kit color way.  This is all organized into a spreadsheet so she can visualize and make any changes as needed.

Her work is published in a number of books and magazines including Master’s Beadweaving, Major Works by Leading Artist, Larks, 2008.

Melanie Potter is an off-loom beadwork artist innovating new designs each year for a number of beading venues. She and her husband Scott also run the yearly premiere beading event, “Beads on the Vine” on the central coast of California. BOTV is celebrating its 17th anniversary!

**All this goes to prove one important thing: Be nice to your bead instructor, as she has gone through all of the steps you have just read.

Melanie’s Trunk Show:  Melanie and Scott brought a trunk show with them featuring her kits and supplies, beads at a discount just for BSNC.





Leave a comment