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Showcase 500 Beaded Jewelry: Photographs of Beautiful Contemporary Beadwork is one of Lark Crafts’ “500 Series,” which exhibits the best work of contemporary artists in their chosen fields. And — wow — this one does not disappoint. With 500 beautifully photographed beaded jewelry pieces — many of which would more properly be referred to simply as “works of art” — the book is, essentially, the ultimate bible of what bead artists are doing today. Some pieces are elegantly beautiful; others are tour-de-force works that defy description; still more are showpieces exhibiting a true mastery of the form, showcasing a variety of virtuoso techniques and cutting-edge stylistic approaches. My favorite piece is a beaded artpiece, by I-shan Tsai, entitled, “Peacock Feathers,” which magically re-creates several tinted peacock feathers in miniscule beadwork; it is simply breathtaking. If you are someone who enjoys creating (or just seeing) beaded jewelry, and you’d like to get an idea about just how much is possible today, Showcase 500 Beaded Jewelry is an essential book to obtain, ponder, study, and enjoy.

Showcase 500 Rings: New Directions in Art Jewelry is another of Lark Crafts’ “500 Series.” And if you are looking for the absolute state-of-the-art in ring design, whether as a jeweler, costumer, aesthete, or jewelry lover, you are sure to be amazed. For example, among the 500 rings beautifully photographed here, multiple-finger rings (of all types and sizes) are seemingly as common as single finger rings. What is perhaps most striking to me in the book is how many of these are not pursuing simple beauty per se, but rather are seeking to make a larger artistic statement far beyond what one would expect on a piece of jewelry. Some are outlandish, with foot-high extrusions, while others bear subtle surface affects on the metal of the ring itself. Among my favorites are a series of simple rings from Sarah Hood, from which sprout a miniature shrub, a sprig of grass, and small rock — which were actually taken from railroad decorations(!). Some of the most exciting, for me anyway, are the rings which use the movement of the wearer to create an aesthetic effect. For example, Dukno Yoon’s “Suspended Wings,” is an elegant silver contraption, which flaps a small, white feather — like a tiny angel’s wing — up and down as you bend your finger. Practical? Not remotely. Beautiful? Beyond beautiful; truly amazing. As is the entire book. If you are looking for pretty, solitaire engagement rings, this is not where you’ll find them. But if you want to see how amazing contemporary artists are working — and extending — the concept of “ring,” you will find this to be an utterly engaging work.

One of the most interesting aspects about art created with metals are the incredible surface effects that artists can create — if they know how. If you are an artist or jewelry maker, and would like to learn how to easily create sophisticated and varied surface effects in your metalwork, then Heat, Color, Set & Fire: Surface Effects for Metal Jewelry, will show you how. Author Mary Hettmansperger shows you step-by-step, in this lavishly photographed, hard-cover book, how to embellish your works with beautifully varied surfaces. Various effects are showcased through specific projects. For example, her Etched Copper Necklace includes embossing, scoring, scratching, polishing, adding colors, creating a patina, and more, for a wonderfully complex and ancient-appearing piece. Each work is really a beautifully unique work of art.

For millenia, Asian artists and craftsmen have created a wide range of beautiful beadwork. However, due to problems with translation and other technical and social issues, many of their secrets haven’t made it across the seas. If you are looking to add depth and dimensionality to your beadwork, then Japanese Beadwork with Sonoko Nozue: 25 Jewelry Designs from a Master Artist will help. Each project is well-photographed, and features clear diagrams of how to actually structure and weave the patterns in the photographs. Thus, the book features both beautifully intricate designs, and “oh, duh, so that’s how they do it” diagrams blueprints for each piece. Author Nozue capably shows how to create different ropes, spirals of various kinds, woven patterns, beaded strands of “fringe,” and much more in this high-quality book. Some of what she shows is a bit beyond me and my time/budget (so many beads!), yet she truly puts the “master” in “master artist.” I haven’t seen as clear explanations of Asian techniques anywhere. I really enjoyed this lovely book and her amazing work.

Something a little more at my own, personal level is Necklaceology: How to Make Chokers, Lariats, Ropes & More. Author Candie Cooper introduces beginners-to-intermediate bead and jewelry makers to the tools, equipment, and basic techniques needed for the book, taking about 1/5 of the book to do so — which for someone like me is truly welcome. The 40 projects take you through a wide range of projects, each with a different design and approach. All together, it makes for a rich (and fun!) encyclopedia of nearly every type of necklace you’ve ever seen, from the elegant, to the fun and quirky, to the elaborate and sophisticated. Each project begins with a description of her original inspiration for her particular piece; then, she lays out the specific, new technique that will be used, along with the materials and instruments. Then, through a series of numbered steps, she shows you how to create the necklace yourself — or any number of other designs, using the same approaches. This is a really valuable book!

As I began working with jewelry, one of the most exciting things I came across were metal clays. I had assumed that any metal jewelry was either pounded out under heat, like a mini blacksmith, or melted down and poured into a mold. Yikes. The idea that I could form, carve, imprint, and shape a soft piece of clay, and then heat it to reach an entirely hard, metallic shape and color was both surprising and thrilling! But then, it all looked so complex, I really didn’t know where to begin.

Metal Clay Fusion: Diverse Clays, Detailed Techniques, Artful Projects helped me to learn how to handle these exciting materials for myself. I’m no master, but author Gordon K. Uyehara walks you carefully through each step of using metal clays, with detailed descriptions and many, many photos, and then takes you through 22 original projects. Each project is both an inspiration, and a delight. I am just getting going, but I am going to make my own Celtic-patterned version of his “Poisoned Pill Ring” if it kills me; And with his painstaking help in Metal Clay Fusion, I’m sure it won’t. If you want to work with metal clays — and omg, it’s all so awesome, how could you *not* want to — this book is indispensable. Epic jewelry, here I come!

Like Sonoko Nozue’s excellent “Japanese Beadwork,” there are several other beautiful books in Lark Crafts’ “Beadweaving Master Class” series. The first is Jill Wiseman’s Beautiful Beaded Ropes: 24 Wearable Jewelry Projects in Multiple Stitches. This beautifully bound book includes a straightforward set of directions to thicker and/or more advanced styles of beading, including spiral, netting, and herringbone ropes. After a basics section, which explains the different stitches (with simple diagrams), it walks you through the process of creating beaded jewelry that is as wearable and stylish, as it is fun to make.

Similarly, Sabine Lippert’s Beaded Fantasies: 30 Romantic Jewelry Projects, another book in Lark Crafts’ Beadweaving Master Class Series, will help take your beadworking to a fun, new level. This lovely and well-designed book takes you through the basic supplies and techniques, and then a series of projects to make necklaces, chokers, bracelets, earrings, brooches, and more. This book focuses on how to use a variety of stitches and approaches to add a third dimensionality to your work, to create ornate and elegant pieces which are as dazzlingly dramatic as they are lovely. The simple color diagrams show you how to arrange your beads and stitches, and compliment the many beautiful photographs throughout the book. Some of the pieces, like the Nathalie Pendant, show you how to sort of encase a number of larger, colored beads within a lattice work of small, golden beads, which immediately suggests a style that is simultaneously Celtic, Art Nouveau, and Contemporary, for a sophisticated look with a beautiful impact.