This is a collage of the top, inside and bottom of Mary Ellen Merrigan, Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque's cigar box Cowboy Glam bead challenge.

Top 10 Reasons to Participate in a Bead Challenge

Quick. Can you think of 10 reasons to participate in a bead challenge (or, any artistic challenge, for that matter)? The Bead Society of New Mexico invited members to a Winter 2016 Cowgirl Glam Bead Challenge. The “kit” for the challenge was a cigar box.

This is a collage of the top, inside and bottom of Mary Ellen Merrigan, Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque's cigar box Cowboy Glam bead challenge.
©2017, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Back in the Saddle, Cigar Box Bead Challenge

In the aftermath of the event, I reflected on these 10 reasons to join a bead challenge:

Personal reasons to participate in a bead challenge

10. Play. Get in the sandbox and make something happen! That’s what a challenge will force you to do. It’s one way to have fun. When you join like-minded partakers you expand your creative expression. Not only that. With a deadline and rules to observe, you frame your project accordingly.

“Inspiration comes and goes, creativity is the result of practice.” ~Phil Cousineau

9. Participate with a group. You’ve heard the saying, “You get out of this what you put into it.” An organizational challenge such as this offers new levels of involvement to membership. You’re committed to the success of the venture and the organization.You’re invested (skin in the game!). In addition, you have the chance to gauge how your project resonates with others in the organization.

8. Discover new resources. Most challenges offer a list of resources as background. Other participants are usually eager to share their ideas as well. Have a question about application? Just ask. Or, want to know where you could purchase a like item? Speak with the source. As you explore other submissions, ask about their inspiration. 

“To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.” ~Kurt Vonnegut

7. Generate inspiration. I didn’t count on the ideas that continue to pummel me. I have at east two other cigar box projects ready to execute. (NOTE to self: move cigar box stash to studio table as a get-started reminder.) It’s more than cigar boxes: I’ve outlined a charm necklace, a cowgirl resin collage and a couple of other surprises in my notes. 

Results you can expect from a bead challenge

6. Bust the comfort zone. Themed challenges place you in scenarios differing from your chosen style. This stimulates creativity, not only in the challenge project, but once you return to your regular medium. “Back in the Saddle,” forced me to grapple with engineering problems such as “How do I coil braid so it flows?” “What can I use to simulate a handle?” Three dimensional, flat design took on a different perspective that that of a bracelet or necklace.

5. Create thematically. The central theme of Cowgirl Glam can be interpreted quite differently. In our challenge, entries ranged from a Honky Tonk to a Trophy Horse, to a Cowgirl Bedroom and more. Each of the entries was individualistic and outstanding.

These are three of the entries in the Cowgirl Glam Bead Challenge as relayed by Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.
Three of various other entries in the Cowgirl Glam Bead Challenge

4. Use stash materials. While challenges don’t mandate this rule, you will definitely promote your own creativity as you restrict options. Force yourself to think with the materials at hand. Upcycle. Catcus and horseshoe charms added authentic, “Back in the Saddle” detail to the front and the inside cover. Old leather earrings became the handle. 

3. Emphasize detail. Repetitive elements can add effectiveness. Horseshoes cut from the selvage of the material decorated the sides of my box. Larger horseshoe charms echoed the theme and the turquoise and pearls in those charms prompted me to make the billboard header. Cactus charms reflected the fabric cactus. I cut and painted the original cardboard divider insert to represent fence.

This is the side view of the Cowgirl Glam bead challenge from Mary Ellen Beads Albuquerque.
©2017, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Back in the Saddle, Cigar Box Bead Challenge-side view

2. Promote a message. My cigar box was a fun expression. Using fabric material created by Kate Ward Thacker for Robert Kaufman, I cut out cowgirls, then added sequin frames and bits of cup chain to appropriately glamorize each vignette. A second fabric offered a large, stylized cowgirl cutout for the inside. Pure imagination. However, challenges can also be used to promote messages of activism. Betsy Greer in  “Craftivism,” writes:

…craftivism is about change from within as much as it is about creating work that makes the world a better place. In order to inspire the best, most lasting change, we need to create from a place of determination and love inside ourselves.”

The #1 reason to participate in a bead challenge

  1. You will love doing it and you might win a prize. In a totally unexpected highlight of the evening, “Back in the Saddle” won first place and a cash award of $25.00. How fun is that?
This is a picture of Susan, Mary Ellen Merrigan of Mary Ellen Beads, Albuquerque and Pat at the BSNM Cowgirl Glam party.
©2017, Mary Ellen Merrigan, (center) with Susan and Pat at the BSNM Cowgirl Glam Party.

It was a total blast in process.

So, no matter what reason you choose as most important to you, do yourself a favor and step up to the next challenge that comes your way. Are you ready for a bead challenge?



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