Awhile back, I had the opportunity to meet a very creative artist by the name of Jenny Schu. I was introduced to her by my friend Abby at the Bluesfest in Lansing. Jenny had a booth at the event, featuring her lovely handmade jewelry. I really fell for one bracelet in particular, that was the design of a peacock feather. What really struck me was the fine craftsmanship, and sheer detail that went into the intricate pieces. Jenny uses a technique called peyote stitch. I had to find out more, so I am thrilled to share with you an interview I had with Jenny. Be sure to check out Jenny’s blog to get an inside view of her creative process. Pick up some of her pieces at her new shop!
How Delighted: Hi Jenny! I’ve been a fan of your jewelry ever since we met at the Bluesfest in Lansing. Can you tell me about what you do?
J: I am a Fiber Artist, which is a medium that spans from weaving, knitting, beading, felting and more. I mainly do beadwork and weaving, but I keep myself playing in many of the other techniques. My beadwork is what I do the most. I am best known for my beaded bangles which are made using the Native American Beadweaving Technique, peyote stitch. I love to design and create. I am constantly working on multiple projects at a time!
HD: When did you get your start as an artist and how have you developed your skills over the years?
J: Well, I have been making things since I was little. My mom did a lot of quilting when I was younger and that’s where I started to sew. In the 3rd grade a woman that I went to church with, Theresa Doan, taught me how to knit. My Aunt Linda taught me how to crochet on a visit to Texas in the 4th grade and around that same time I began to teach myself how to bead. I started on a bead loom, but when I couldn’t figure out how to take the piece off of the loom, I started playing with the beads in other ways. My mom bought me a great beading book called “Indian Beadweaving Patterns” by Horace R. Goodhue, and that’s when I started to peyote stitch. I have always had an addiction to anything that involved a needle and thread or yarns, beads and embellishments. My mom started to take me to the Black Sheep Weaver’s Guild meetings sometime when I was in middle school. I joined the guild in high school and started selling my beadwork at their yearly Christmas Sale.
When it was time to decide what I wanted to do for college, I had a lot of support through the guild, my high school art teacher Ms. Poniers and my parents to go to Art School. I ended up going to the University of Michigan where I mainly focused on my weaving, and kept my beadwork development low key and on my own time. I had a great Fibers Professor, Sherri Smith, and lots of great jewelry classes that made me think outside of the box when it came to beadwork.
I am still developing though. I love making jewelry, but I want to push my beadwork into a realm of larger works like sculpture and wall-hangings in time.
HD: What is your studio space like and where do you do most of your work?
J: My studio space is kind-of spread out throughout the house. I think the best description I have heard was when I was talking to another Lansing area artist named Craig Mitchell Smith. He said that his significant other describes his art as a “gas.” It kind-of floats through the house and takes over whatever free space it can fill.
I have a loom room that has all of my yarns and my loom of course. But then my beads are stored in a huge trunk in the guest bedroom and a pull them out based on the current project. I tend to like to work on a large table space (dining room table, coffee table, desk…). Really my studio space is wherever I feel like being. I do most of my beadwork…everywhere. I work at the Grove Gallery Co-op all day on Wednesdays and I get a lot done there, but I also bead in the car when my husband is driving, or I’ll hunker down in a coffee shop if I really need to focus on getting a piece done and out the door. You could say my bead studio space is the 9mm gun case that keeps my current beading project safe within it, and I can pull it out wherever.
We are also setting up our laundry room for large sinks and a counter so I can get back into dying my own fabric and yarns!
Luckily we have a big house for the two of us, so I can be like a gas and spread out.
HD: What various arts and crafts have you done? What have you enjoyed the most?
J: I have dabbled in a lot. Going to the University of Michigan School of Art and Design I had the opportunity to work with ceramics, fine jewelry making, field sketching, scientific illustration, and some computer work. I also know how to knit, crochet, I taught myself how to tat once (which is a lace making technique), and dye fabric in various techniques. I have made some clothing for myself and occasionally do pieces for weddings. I recently made paper flowers for mine and Zack’s wedding this May which was my first play with paper and I may do a project like that again. There are so many different types of art and techniques I like to learn what is out there and then apply it to my own style. There is no contest that I like beading the most. I always go back to it, and I know I can keep pushing it as far as I can. There is no end in sight to its possibilies.
HD: What are your favorite and least favorite things about having your own business as an artist?
J: My favorite thing is that art can be so arbitrary. A piece that one person loves someone else could hate. It’s really about finding a style that fits your own personality or love and then finding other people that appreciate what you do. Having your own business as an artist also gives you the freedom to take commissions as you think are appropriate. I think my least favorite thing is when someone says they want you to make something for them, a new design, and then they control it down to the color and style to where it doesn’t look like one of my own pieces anymore. I have done this only a few times. Now I politely back down or explain that it doesn’t sound like my type of work. I think sometimes it’s hard to remind yourself to maintain your artistic style when someone is offering to pay you to do something else.
HD:Where do you get inspiration from for your work?
J: I get inspiration from everywhere. Often times I’ll have a new outfit or dress that I love and I will make something to match the colors and style. But a lot of my designs I try to keep organic looking due to my love of being outside. I take lots of pictures in gardens, woods, even just close-ups of a nice mixture of colors that I should use together called a “color study.” There are a few of my bracelets that focus to things that I enjoy. I did a horse design for my mom once, and then I just finished a bicycle one. I think my inspiration is mainly just remembering to keep my eyes open and keep drawing!
HD: From what I understand peyote stitch is a technique that was used in historic Native American beadwork. Can you tell me about the process in which you create your pieces?
J: Peyote Stitch is the main technique I use for my bangle bracelets. It is a one-bead-at-a-time process where you thread each bead in to the piece with a needle and thread. Technically it is a beadweaving process, there are many out there that can be used together. I graph my patterns out first and then start in on a piece. Sometimes I will do a sample first to see how the colors look together, but not very often. I have done this stitch for a long time, but I did my first bangle in the style that I am know for the summer between my junior and senior year of college. I had had a hard time doing a repeat pattern project making 3 yards of a fabric design in Fiber class and thought that I could possibly apply it to my beads. My first bangle was 2 inches wide and over 4,400 beads threaded together and I thought it turned out great, but I was never going to do that again. Reading a graph and applying it to that wide of a piece was so hard, but I have since gotten to know what it all looks like. I’ve become quite a bit faster. That first piece took me almost all summer!
HD: What was one of your favorite creative projects?
J: Hm, normally I love all of them, but as of late our wedding became a giant creative endeavor. I have never really worked with so much fun paper before. I also wove the wraps for our bridesmaids and made my lavender pearl jewelry.
There is also a tree piece in our dining room that was tons of fun. Zack was out of town for a bit and I took over the dining room table working with crayola model magic, wire and crocheting fun yarn. I also made the leaves in it using a great beadwork technique called a Russian Leaf. This piece was different for my usual work because of it’s sculptural and “found art” aspects, which I would love to use more often.
HD: What sorts of resources or advice would you recommend for somebody who is interested in creating handmade jewelry or starting their own creative business?
J: I think the internet has so much information as far as learning where to start and what kind of start is good for you. Also getting involved in groups locally that you will meet people who are interested in what you do. I have learned so much about art and the business of it through friends I have made in weaver’s guilds growing up. You have to put yourself out there and get to know your business and your customer.
Jewelry is also a great way to start a creative endeavor. It’s functional, small and pretty portable. It makes great gifts and you can wear it yourself. There are so many different types of jewelry out there too, you never know what you’ll run into or what your customer is attracted to. It’s fun to experiment with.
HD: Do you have any exciting new projects on the horizon?
J: I am currently finishing some pieces for the Greater Lansing Weaver’s Guild exhibit that is going up at the Michigan League of Handweaver’s Conference this weekend. I am beading wine glass stems and napkin rings! The napkin rings are also going to be like a sample for a new type of bangle bracelet I’ve been rolling around in my head. We’ll see how lacey edges look on the bangles this time. I’m sure I’ll get around to blogging about it, and I’m excited to get pictures of the Guild Exhibit when it’s done!
Jenny’s wedding photos are courtesy of Telltale Photography.