The Three C’s of Jewelry Making

By Dana DeBarros

Greetings of joy, smiles, and sheer excitement. And for what you may ask? Simply for an object the size of a pea: a bead! Whether it be solid in color or shimmer in the light of the sun, a bead is the start of something so much more. For a few years now, I’ve had the pleasure of being a teaching artist for ARTS By The People, bringing jewelry workshops to senior citizen homes. Over the years, I’ve come to learn how simple yet important jewelry making is to these groups of women. I want to share with you what I’ve learned from teaching these workshops, the three C’s of jewelry making: community, coordination, and creativity.

Working in a group setting provides many benefits. It promotes sharing, as others may also have interests in a set of beads. They compare designs, and ask for advice on which beads work best together. At times the room falls silent as all participants focus intently on their creations, and at other times they are chatting away about events coming up and life stories. This type of art form is perfect for a fun social scenarios, getting the individuals out of their comfort zone and away from being alone with nothing to do. At the end of the workshops, I tend to stick around to reorganize the beads, and I often overhear the ladies showing off their creations to others and receiving compliments. It puts a smile on their faces and mine. It brings joy to them and helps boost their self-confidence.

Creating a necklace or bracelet is like putting together a puzzle. It requires finding the right piece (or bead) to complete the puzzle (or necklace). It’s more than just stringing some beads together. Depending on the senior’s physical abilities, many can string their own creations, while other need a little assistance, whether it be due to the inability to see well or arthritis damaged hands. The motion of grasping beads and transferring it onto the string helps improve fine motor skills, visual perception, and hand-eye coordination. In addition to enhancing coordination, creating jewelry helps with memory; the ladies count the beads they need to create a pattern. Jewelry making is an art form that is more than making beautiful pieces, it’s beneficial on a healthy level.

Look no further, why search for the perfect accessory when you can create it? Fashioning your own jewelry set allows you to be creative and design to you own unique style. Design for that outfit you’re wearing for that special event, or design a set that showcases your favorite color and simply makes you happy. Creativity is not only in picking your favorite color, imaginations run wild combining complementary colors, contrasting colors, or even using the same color, but alternating with various shaped beads. Every workshop starts with me laying out the stock of beads, and each container removed from the bag gets a different reaction of “oohs” and “aahs.” There’s a thought process involved, they take in their options and go for it.

Offering jewelry workshops for a couple years now has made me see that there’s so much more to this art form than meets the eye. Participants enjoy learning a new skill, making wearable art for themselves, or even their loved ones like their grandchildren. No workshop goes by without the sounds of beads dropping on the floor. The sound echoes as the bead bounces across the floor, but the best part is seeing that despite the failed attempt to get the bead on the string, these ladies don’t give up. They don’t quit. This adds to the sense of accomplishment as they create a necklace, bracelet, or set of earrings. Jewelry making, bringing participants together, benefiting health, and embracing imagination and creativity one bead at a time.


Expressive Language and Art

By Sydney Prusso

 When we speak, we speak using facial expressions, tones, and notes. Not only that, but we can sing! Our bodies are a perfect vessel for expressive language. On the contrary, when we write, we are limited in our expressions. Generally, the exclamation point is the most popular emotion we can type or write. But even that leaves too much room for interpretation. Too many times have I sent an email with far too many exclamation points in an attempt to sound like more than a robot, while the recipient might find me just plain…abrasive. (Thank god for emojis. I can’t wait until they’re considered professional enough for work emails. I like to think they’re the missing link to the lack of expression naturally built into written English.) But that's where expressive typography and hand lettering come in to play.

Expressive typography is the art of highly visual text where the text itself can become imagery. Designers can play with the juxtaposition of what the words say and style of the words themselves to support the message or even create an entirely new meaning. Hand lettering is the illustrating of words from scratch, similar to graffiti, which lets the artist have total control over the meaning and feeling of the text. (Not to be confused with calligraphy, which is the art of beautiful handwriting.)

For example, take the phrase “Let it Be.” Although this piece may not add anything obvious to the phrase, it adds a melody. Similar to how we might sing words to convey a feeling, the words “Let it be” here are illustrated in a symphony of loops and curls and colors to create an entirely different meaning to the viewer than just the words themselves.


My artistic journey as a designer has gone through many phases. (I like to think of artists and designers as being in relationships with their current interests.) At the moment, my artistic love lies in the art of hand lettering and pieces such as this, “Let it Be.”  I started my journey with painting and drawing in high school and several ARTS By The People workshops. In a graffiti workshop, I loved learning about all the fun and expressive ways to handle typography. That ABTP workshop that I took at 14 years old influenced my love of lettering to this day at 22. I love to call to experiences like that when I do my design work now. Here’s a picture of me at that workshop.


Next time you see some cool graffiti or lettering, remember its creator is just a singer who is more comfortable working with their hands.

Enjoying the Process

By Jean Choe

I can’t paint. I am not an artist.

This is the response I get very often when I teach senior art workshops. Many students are intimidated by the thought of creating something. They are also afraid of not being able to produce something good enough. I totally understand how they feel. I myself sometimes feel afraid when I am faced with a blank piece of paper. 

I try to remind them that everybody can be an artist. I suggest them to focus on the creative process itself – making lines with a pencil, adding colors, watching watercolors blend into each other, making marks with a brush, etc. It is ok to not produce something perfect. 

I believe there is beauty in everything we create. So I try to point out what they are doing great and provide encouragements. At first they didn’t believe in my compliments. They thought I was just saying it. Nonetheless, I kept doing my job – to find out what they are good at. It is a surprising experience to see that at some point they start to believe in my words AND themselves!

Sylvia, a student who comes to my art workshop at Lester Senior Housing in Whippany, used to say that she cannot paint. After a few months, she stopped saying she couldn’t, and  instead was proudly showing around her paintings to colleagues. Millie, another student at the workshop, also was hesitant to paint in the beginning. Now she is confident with her brush strokes. Every time we paint, she looks forward to showing it off to her grandchildren.

It is a big joy to see my students learn to enjoy the process of creating. And it is a great reminder to myself too!


February 2019

Jean Choe