Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pondering Beading Illustrations

I've long prided myself on the number and quality of the illustrations in my beading patterns for as long as I've been writing them. I was fortunate to have picked up a few skills in Adobe Illustrator from my time in graduate school, so when I first started writing beading patterns, I used this software to make my illustrations look as close to the finished beadwork as possible. Here's one that I made of the Double Bubble Jacks beaded bead:
Except for the color differences, I think it's a pretty good representation of the real thing:
The problem is that this kind of illustration isn't as helpful for teaching how to weave this design. There's no space in between the beads to show the thread path, and most of the seed beads are hidden behind the larger drop beads.

To remedy this problem, last year I switched to a more open style of illustrating that shows the thread in between each bead. But I still liked my illustrations to look like the finished beadwork, so I didn't use dotted lines through the beads or very much shading of the background beads. Instead, I used labels: letters for newly-added beads during a step, and numbers for beads passed through during a step. Here's an example:
But now I'm thinking of making changes again. While the text that accompanies this illustration lists the beads that are added and those that are passed through during this step, many of my students are visual learners who would rather just follow a nice, clear illustration and avoid reading through the text as much as possible (I must admit that I'm partial to this method too).

So I'm thinking of ditching the labels, shading beads that were already added in a previous step, and adding dotted lines through the beads to show the thread path. This method is more in line with the illustrating conventions of the major beading magazines too. Here's the same step as illustrated above, but in the style I'm considering:
What do you think? Which one is easier to follow?


  1. I agree that your first drawing is pretty, but not particularly useful. It's not giving info that's not already in the photo.

    The last illustration is easy to read, somewhat easier than the second illustration that it replaces. I like the shading a lot. I like the red dot and arrow head too. I would still like the labels in a more complex drawing where there are more than just two types of beads or something more complicated is going on.

    Also, I wonder if the dotted lines will work in a drawing with a lot of beads in it. Yours here is from an early step, but the dotted lines might not be long enough for the effect if the beads are smaller because there are more of them in the picture. Thanks for a great post. I write this as I'm drawing some of my own illustrations and it's giving me some nice ideas. I really like the red dot and arrow head.

  2. The last time I taught I found that several of my students were drawing in their own red dots, so that was a given change that's here to stay.

    That's a good point about the dotted lines - I think I can tinker with the dot spacing so that there are more dots on the line, which will be better for size 15 beads.

    Maybe I'll keep the labels for some steps, such as the first step that is to be repeated, but I want to get away from using them if I can. I found that I was getting into situations where beads were both added and passed through during a particular step, which meant that the bead was both lettered and numbered in the illustration. I worry that too many labels can get confusing.

  3. Ohhh, I like the third one -- and this is coming from someone who usually ignores diagrams because she can't understand them.

  4. I think the third illustration is the most helpful to someone trying to follow the pattern.

  5. I started using start dots as well a while back, and I am a fan of the dashed line through the beads...I use a 2 pt 2 pt dash and I like the effect. I also use the opaque beads to show the prior step and the full color beads to bring your eye immediately to the current step. What I haven't done and what I love in your illustrations is the good amount of space between the beads to make the thread path really clear. And so I too may be considering change. It's nice to learn from a pro!

  6. This one uses a dotted line with a .25 pt dash and a 4 pt spacing on a 2 pt line, with rounded corners. I'm finding that a 3 pt spacing generally works better in order to put enough dots on a size 15 seed bead.

    I'm beginning to think that illustrations are like photographs: even if you're good at it, there's always room to improve and learn from others. Like how with this new way of illustrating, I'm using the Smooth Tool much more than I used to. Thanks for telling me about it!

  7. Last one is the best. I like everything about this one as everyone else has already described above.


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