July 12, 2010

Interview with BeadDreams Second Place Winner, Vanessa Walilko

Our blog interviews with the 2010 Bead&Button BeadDreams Winners continues with Vanessa Walilko.

A bit about Vanessa from her bio on her website...

Vanessa Walilko has been making meticulous pieces of jewelry most of her life. At age eight, she took a beaded jewelry class in the summer, and fell in love with putting together little beads in order to make whatever ideas she could dream up. She took a chainmaille class in 2006 and has linked over 100,000 jump rings ever since.
When Vanessa is not making jewelry, she can be found teaching jewelry making in Chicago or writing papers on critical theory. She is webmaster and treasurer for the Bead Society of Greater Chicago.

We loved Vanessa's showstopping chainmaille jacket and were excited to learn more about her designs and thoughts on jewelrymaking. We think you'll enjoy learning more about her!

All photos courtesy of the artist. Click on the images to get a closeup view.

Beaducation: WAIT! WHAT!!! Your necklaces on your Etsy site are just insanely cool!!! There is that red scale maille piece that is subtitled “Statement Art Necklace” It is a statement indeed! What brought you to the chain maille world? Can you tell me a bit about your background? Your inspiration?

Vanessa: Thank you for your kind words about my necklaces!  I think if you're going to spend time making something, it should be something that people can see from across the room. 

It's a showstopper!

I got into chainmaille over five years ago.  I was interested in learning the different weaves, but I couldn't find anything online that gave a straightforward explanation of aspect ratio.  I decided to take a chainmaille class at a local art center and I was immediately hooked. I've been making seed bead jewelry since I was eight, when my mom signed me up for a class at my elementary school and I feel in love with that right away too.  I've always been a fan of putting little things together to make cool big things.  My first fashion armor pieces were made using bead weaving and netting techniques.  Chainmaille was a natural progression.

Beaducation: The piece that you entered in the BeadDreams Competition was an awesome chainmaille jacket. How long did that piece take to create? Do you view it as a piece of clothing or a piece of jewelry? 


Vanessa modeling her prizewinning jacket.

Vanessa: Compliments on my jewelry and my clothing?  You've made my day!  It's so hard to estimate how much time a piece like that takes to make simply because of the way it's made.  I never use a pattern, so I just try to build the pieces to fit my body.  I estimate that it took at least 200 hours over the course of several months, but there was a lot of fussing with the design that probably took longer.  There's also a lot of time spent just staring at the piece as you figure out the next move and I'm not sure how many hours that involved.


More fashion armor. Cool, huh?

I actually consider all of my larger pieces fashion armor.  It's difficult—they're shaped like pieces of clothing, but constructed using jewelry-making techniques, so they're hard to categorize, especially when submitting to competitions or shows.  I usually just try to find places that are looking for wearable art, but I'll also submit to both jewelry and fashion competitions.  

Beaducation: You list your classes that you teach on your website. What’s your philosophy on teaching? Do you like teaching or selling jewelry or both?

Vanessa: For me, teaching jewelry is sacred work because it gets people to use their hands and their minds to make something for themselves.  For me, teaching in general is about giving people the opportunity to discover who they are and what they love.  The fact that I get paid to spend time with lovely people and teach them how to make jewelry—I still can't believe that's part of my life.

Selling jewelry can also be fun when people come up to your booth and get really excited about your designs.  I love it when people tell me that they really like my work; it's nice when people get what I'm trying to do.  There are also few things more satisfying than making a piece for someone and it being exactly what they're looking for.

Beaducation: What is the one wire working tool that you can’t live without?

Vanessa: Honestly, my Euro Tool ergonomic pliers.  They're economy pliers, but they just fit to my hands perfectly and they've got the perfect weight.  I've opened and closed countless jump rings with them.  Without those pliers, I don't know what I'd do with myself!  Of course, if I'm doing fine work with sterling silver, I will only use my Lindstrom RX pliers.

Beaducation: Are your artistic endeavors your full time job?

Vanessa: I'm trying to make them my full-time job!  After a conversation I had with my grandfather last year, I decided to scare myself and try an experiment, my “Year of Freedom.”  I had some money saved up and I decided that I would spend the next year creating many of the art pieces that I had been thinking about and building up my business.  My goal is that by the end of the year my jewelry and teaching bring in enough money to support me financially.  I have three months left in my year to make it work—keep your fingers crossed for me!

Beaducation: After reading the posts on your blog, it seems that you are really committed to creating and sharing new ideas. You seem to be able to find a lot of time to actually make really beautiful things. What advice can you give to other designers that might not be able to find the time to create? What motivates you to make things at such a steady pace? What are your words of wisdom to share?

Vanessa: I'm committed to carving out time to make beautiful things because that's what matters most to me.  I love working with my hands, ever since my mom gave me my first Lego set when I was three.


All that playing with Legos really paid off!

It can be really hard to find the time and mental space to make something, especially if you're exhausted from work or raising a family.  I would recommend to other designers to set aside at least 15 to 20 minutes every day to devote exclusively to creating something.  It doesn't sound like a lot, but it can help you train yourself to be in a design mindset so that even despite all the other distractions in life, you can sit down and work when you need to.

What motivates me is a conversation I had with my grandfather just over a year ago.  He's been struggling with dementia for several years, and can't really communicate anymore.  Last year, he was still occasionally lucid, and I think he wanted to give me some words of advice while he was still able.  He said to me, with tears in his eyes, “Enjoy every minute of your life because it's all you get.  Spend time with nice people.”  I think about those words every day, and it drives me to create art and spend time with people who make and/or appreciate art.


Yep, it's seed beads...take a closer look.

Aside from my grandfather's words of wisdom, I would just say that life is precious and brief so you should spend as much of the time you have on this planet doing what is most meaningful to you.  My grandfather had a hard life.  He grew up during World War II, and spent his teenage years in labor camps.  The sacrifices that he and my grandmother made gave my mom a better life, and her sacrifices gave me all the opportunities I have.  I believe that you owe it not only to yourself, but also to all the generations before you who struggled to make the most of your situation and to use your gifts to the best of your ability.

Beaducation: What prompted you to enter the BeadDreams contest?

Vanessa: In previous years, I had applied in the beaded objects category and wasn't even chosen as a finalist.  When people say no to me, it's even more motivation for me to fight for what I want.  I was excited to enter BeadDreams this year because of the new Wirework category.  Since the Wirework category was vague enough to include even my fashion/armor/jewelry pieces, I thought I'd give it a shot.  I hoped that the judges would be impressed by a piece that was made with over 30,000 jump rings. I still can barely believe I got second place in the Wirework category AND the People's Choice Award.  It's a dream.

Beaducation: Anything else that you would like to add?

Vanessa: I've been making jewelry most of my life, and while it's totally exhausting to spend to much time looking for shows and competitions and creating entries, designing new pieces, and working on creating instructions, I wouldn't want to live my life any other way.  It's amazing how the love of what you do can sustain your motivation and keep you working to make your dreams a reality.

Thanks Vanessa! We wish you all the best. You can check out more of Vanessa's work on her website and her musings on creating and other jewelry-related stuff on her blog.

Stay tuned. Next week you'll meet the third place winner...we'll just say it's worth the wait!

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