California jewelry artist Cindy Thomas Pankopf, the author of Beadmaille, is a certified Senior Art Clay Silver Instructor, founding president of the Art Clay Society of Orange County, California, and a popular teacher at the Bead & Button Show and Bead Away events. In Beadmaille, Cindy merges beadweaving with chainmail to make 25 gorgeous and inspiring jewelry designs. I spoke with this self-described obsessive and addicted beader about what drives her, what inspires her, and what she eats for dessert. You can learn more about Cindy and her work at www.cindypankopf.com.
Cindy, describe your personality …
I am a rather obsessive person. When I get involved in something it pretty much takes over my entire brain.
I am an all-or-nothing girl. My husband will often look over at me when my eyes are distant, tap my forehead and say, “It looks awfully busy in there!” He is always right!
I also like things to be very precise. Those who know me well call me a perfectionist.
… and describe your art.
Seed beads are my drug of choice. I love all the colors and finishes and must have as many as I can find.
Beading for me began as experiments in color interactions. I would make the same project over and over but change just one of the colors to see how that would affect the overall look and feel of the piece. Color is still at the heart of everything that I create.
As I got more experienced with beading, I became intrigued with structural seed bead work. Because I am primarily self-taught, I do not have a lot of preconceived ideas about how a particular stitch “should” be done. I think that this has given me tons of creative freedom, which has led to some pretty neat stuff, like Beadmaille!
What led you to merge beading and chainmail techniques? What do you find attractive about the combination?
While out of state on a family vacation—without any beading supplies— I sketched up an idea in a hotel room for a necklace that had interlocking strips of right angle weave. I dragged my family all over town trying to find seed beads and supplies, because I knew I was onto something, and I had to make it right away. That concept has given birth to countless pieces, including Swirl, a seed bead shawl that won second place in the 2010 Bead Dreams competition.
As I was immersed in right angle weave, I discovered some beautiful decorative rings made by TierraCast. I thought, “How cool would it be to have those rings trapped—yet floating—in the right angle weave?” That was the start of BeadMaille, which I’ve trademarked.
I began adapting traditional chain maille patterns to BeadMaille, replacing metal rings with stitched seed beads. The result is a hybrid of the two techniques.
The thing I love about the combination is that the chain maille gets some color, and the beadwork gets great weight and drape. BeadMaille has a very slinky feel.
How did you get started beading?
I had seen seed beads in the local craft store and thought they were beautiful, but I had no idea what to do with them. Years later, my good friend Stephanie was visiting me with her son, Baxter. We were driving somewhere and passed by a bead shop. She wanted to stop in to make a necklace for her son.
When we stepped in the door, I saw lots of samples of seed bead stitched bracelets. It was a revelation. I thought, “That is what you do with those things!”
Immediately I took one class, which taught me which kind of thread to use, how to tie off properly, and how to use a thread zapper. I was amazed! Ever since, I’ve beaded pretty much every day.
What do like best about art clay as a medium?
Metal clay is still in its early years as a medium, and it is so exciting to work with. It’s certainly amazing that someone can make pure silver jewelry so easily at home and with such basic tools.
In the beginning, I started working with metal clay to produce special findings for a specific beading project that I could not find anywhere. My metal clay work then turned to focal pieces for my beading. Now most of my metal clay pieces don’t involve seed beading at all! It is so funny how things change.
You were at Bead & Button in June. Which artists, discovered at the show or elsewhere, do you find most inspirational right now?
I try not to look at the work of others too much. I think it is really easy to be influenced by others, though with metal clay I will say that it has been fairly impossible for me to not to be affected by my certifying instructor, Gordon Uyehara. His influence is undeniable.
I do think it’s good to keep tabs on general trends and general techniques, so I keep my eyes open! Participating in events like Bead & Button certainly makes you realize how diverse the work of beaders from around the world is. It’s really refreshing to step out of my own bubble and become surrounded by people with similar interests.
You’re a teacher, too. What are your most important values as a teacher of crafts?
I love to teach and share what I do with people. It’s very gratifying for me to show students how to do something that they didn’t think they could do or to show a tip or trick that makes creating easier.
The biggest compliment that anyone can give me is to thank me for being patient and being genuinely interested in helping them to succeed. I especially like to see what people come up with on their own after class.
Also, seeing my designs made up in all different colors is very exciting.
Your new book Beadmaille is selling strongly. What do you hope to accomplish when you write a book? And do you have another one in mind?
I received such a good response from people locally about BeadMaille that I wanted to write the book to reach more people. Plus, students kept asking me when I was going to write one!
Also, I really enjoy writing and illustrating the instructions for projects, which makes use of the skills I acquired in my 15-year career as a graphic designer.
I’m currently writing a beginner’s guide to metal clay. After that, I have several concepts for more beading books—my obsessive side is coming through again! I really feel like I have finally found what I was meant to do in life.
Cindy, what do you do for fun?
I also like to make lampwork beads, knit, crochet, bake, sew…. I am always making something.
What’s your favorite …
Olive green. I have always loved the greens found in the forest, where I feel most relaxed.
I don’t use many cabochons. I prefer beads.
… Cake? Cookie? Candy?
Sugar is good! I am not a fan of chocolate at all. Let me have the caramel, please. I really love lemon squares and pineapple upside-down cake. I used to be an avid baker before I was diagnosed with celiac disease, which really rained on my parade for several years. Now I’m trying to get back into it and adapt recipes to be gluten-free.
If I could only have one cuisine for the rest of my life, it would be Thai food. The mix of spicy, sweet, and salty makes me very happy.
San Francisco, where there are lots of Thai restaurants.
Halloween, by far. I love to sew outrageous costumes for my entire family, scare lots of people, and reward them with full-sized candy bars.
I am living my dream right now! Having people enjoy what I do and being able to do it every day is what I’ve been working toward for years. Every job I have ever had has come together to make what I do today possible.
This last year has been just the beginning of my dreams coming true: teaching nationally, having several articles published in magazines, Beadmaille being released, placing in Bead Dreams and the Toho Emerging Artist Competition.
I want to continue designing, traveling, teaching, writing, and hopefully inspiring people all over the world. Someday I want to teach in Japan and tour the bead factories. I’m going to go crazy!
On a personal note, Mike and I celebrated out 20th wedding anniversary this year. He has always been part of my dreams, and I am so grateful.
I’m also very proud of my two terrific kids, Keely and Connor, who have creative streaks of their own. They are the best things that I have ever made.
*Check out the Lark Jewelry and Beading page each and every day for great content, including these fascinating recent interviews with leading jewelers, beaders, and metalsmiths—please click the Facebook “Like” button and leave comments!
Laura McCabe (with free project PDF!)
Jamie Cloud Eakin (with bonus project PDF!)