Michelle and Natalie Packard

Michelle and Natalie Packard

Fire Mountain Gems and Beads' Contest 2010 featuring Pearls, Organic Beads or Kato Polyclay™


Meet the Designer-Artist

Where do you live?
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Describe your artistic style.
We design together and our style and taste really varies, which is great for the customer. Natalie likes to use bolder, bigger stones and lots of color. While Michelle likes the more dainty and delicate side of jewelry-making. When we mix it up together we get a really cool signature look that you know when you look at the final product it's one of our pieces. We each really have our own artistic style, which we encourage each budding jewelry designer to find. The pieces also take on mood, which we feel is really important for an artistic style. We might use greys like labradorite and ocean jasper which is what Michelle did when she was a finalist in the 2007 Fire Mountain Gems and Beads Contest. That was a great mood piece and the colors just blended so well.

What inspires you as designer-artists?
We think being true to ourselves is what inspires us as jewelry designers. It's so easy to get caught up in the trends that you have to remember what makes a trend at its inspiration point was somebody who did something different and thought outside the box. So, we really sometimes spend more time thinking and sketching out a piece than actually making it. We are also inspired when we make a purchase of new items from Fire Mountain Gems and Beads. Seeing the colors and shapes of gemstones and the different kinds of chain really gets the muse going. We would also like to emphasize for anyone starting out that you should follow your own style. Yes, that's difficult when you're trying to sell your work but in the end, it's worth it. Don't try to copy other peoples work. When we started, people would look at our work and used to say to us, "Oh, I can just go and copy this." Well, no they can't. You may be able to reproduce a piece that someone else did, but you'll never be able to reproduce the style. Use your own imagination that's really the secret to success.

What materials do you most enjoy working with?
It's really a toss up. Once you get started making jewelry, you want to progress and try new things. We love wood, gems, pearls, Swarovski crystal and seed beads. We always come back to natural gemstones mixed with chain. We've just gotten seed beads to work with cabochons. Some of our favorite gemstones are calcite, carnelian, ocean jasper and labradorite. We really like experimenting with different combinations of gems and beads in shapes and sizes. It's always so much fun. Both of us are self taught and we think that's what makes us so excited to be experimental with our work and ideas. So, we'd like to say we enjoy working with new things as well as our old favorites.

What is the name of the piece you submitted with your success story?
Men's Warrior Wood and Handcrafted Leather Necklace (Our 2010 Fire Mountain Gems and Beads submission that placed us in the finals for the pearls, organic beads and polyclay category).

What inspired this design?
We both got into leather crafting as a side hobby about two years ago and we loved the idea of incorporating our new craft into our jewelry-making. We also spent time learning how to sew seed beads into cabochon designs. These two elements really make our piece. We loved the natural elements of the wood, especially the intricate seed bead work around our focal piece--a stamped leather medallion. We loved the idea of an elaborate piece with a neutral shade and a bit of edge, which is why we use a lot of the gunmetal chain in our work. We liked using the leather cord to tie it all together, which looks pretty seamless, but you get the idea there's a lot of thought behind the piece, which there was--many sketches. If you look closely at the stamped leather, it's been stained and has really cool barbed wire designs mixed with these great open wooden rings pieces. The center medallion piece is the focal point with more stamped barbed wire and a compass of sorts, north, east, south and west. Overall, the design was inspired by the natural blend of colors and material. Wood and leather, it just makes sense, and the boldness of the piece gives it the overall ''warrior'' theme we were inspired by.

How did it come together? For example, did you plan it out or did it define itself once you began working?
It was definitely a bit of both. This was a huge experiment and a bit of a risk for us with the leather. We began with all the elements--wood, chain, leather, leather cord and other materials. We got them all together and began formulating an idea of what we wanted to do with the piece. We wanted the colors of the wood to really pop and blend nicely, so we took that into great consideration when we chose the stain for the leather. There was a lot of tracing of the circles to get the stamped leather just the right size and look to not overwhelm the piece. Lots of sketches started us off but the piece took on new development as we began to make it. There's a lot of technical work that goes into our pieces--such as spacing out the beads on the chain to make them look perfect in symmetry. That is a bit of an as-we-go-along process. But we definitely knew we wanted to take some risks going into the piece. For example, using leather cord to go through the beads in the center of the piece and knotting them to the chain on the top and bottom. It was a very difficult process but we just loved the idea of using those 4mm and 5mm wood seed beads because it was different than the classic rocaille beads. That was very intricate work, sewing that around the leather and making it just perfect to get a medallion. We were pleased and a bit relieved when it was done, as we are with the piece.

Share Your Background

When and how did you begin making jewelry/beading?
Michelle began beading by picking up a book that included a bead kit with projects at an airport because she was intrigued, and never forgot the many happy hours spent creating those first pieces of jewelry. Both of us are self taught. So, Michelle really began back in the mid '90s. But it wasn't until she discovered Fire Mountain Gems in 2005 that we really thought of making it into a business.

Who introduced you to beading?
Michelle always thanks that beading book and kit back in that airport, as it really changed her life. Michelle has always been a craft person. So, she decided to take up jewelry-making herself. It was very easy for her. Natalie, on the other hand, can eye a potential piece and know what kind of findings and gemstones or beads to use but isn't as talented at making the pieces. Michelle has a fine eye for detail. We guess for some people it comes easy and some people learn techniques by books, magazines, photos or classes. So, don't be discouraged if you don't get it on the first try yourself. Turn to other resources to learn.

Do you have artistic backgrounds?
Michelle has always been a self taught kind of gal and always been interested in fashion. For both Natalie and Michelle, their mom, Hilda, has been a great inspiration for fashion. She always knows how to shop and shop well. That helped a lot with the business aspect. When we first started out we bought a lot of beads from Fire Mountain Gems and Beads' sales, mainly because we didn't have much money. You will be amazed at what you can do with gems you buy on sale or regular price. We really found that it's all about creativity. Thanks, Mom!

How did you discover Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®?
Michelle discovered Fire Mountain Gems and Beads in a beading magazine and then the possibilities became endless. Thanks Fire Mountain Gems--we wish we would have found you sooner. The free catalogs are great as well as the online website and customer service.

What other hobbies do you have?
We both really enjoy anything fashion related. Natalie loves photography and writing. She has taken all the photos for our entries in the Fire Mountain Gems and Beads beading contests herself. She most liked the recent photos of their necklace that is a 2010 Fire Mountain Gems and Beads contest finalist. She also took the photos for the 2007 and 2009 pieces that finaled. Michelle loves music. She finds inspiration in music and much happiness. But she mostly loves crafts, any kind of craft really. Our family is always thinking, "Oh no," when she discovers a new craft. Her latest, bobbin lace to learn to make vintage lace cuffs and collars. She always finds a way to try that new craft and either incorporate it in her jewelry-making process or let it inspire her jewelry-making designs. We both love to make our mom happy when she goes shopping (for free of course) through our collection of jewelry we design. That's our mom's hobby, we think.

Do you belong to any beading societies or beading groups?
The only beading group we belong to is our sister beading group. We both love to work together as sisters. We can sit and chat as we work. So, we encourage others to find a partnership too. It's been hours and hours of fun for us.

Beading Success

What role does jewelry-making play in your lives?
Creativity and inspiration is such a gift, and it's free to anyone. To be able to create a piece of jewelry is really a blessing and something we cherish. We feel it is a gift, whether making something, sketching or designing, it's fun. It is a lot of work but if you really love it--it doesn't feel like work. For us, it's always a hobby first and a part-time career second. The funny thing is we never have time to make anything for ourselves, so we guess it's a career.

If you used jewelry-making as a way to bring in income, how are you selling yourselves and your jewelry?
We recommend craft fairs and especially farmer's markets to sell your jewelry. You really have to be committed to go this route. Farmer's markets are great though, because most are held every week, even though you might have to get up at 5am to set up for 8 am but you get to meet a lot of great people and it's a great way to learn about how to sell your product. That's how we built our client base. Yes, we enter beading contests, especially Fire Mountain Gems and Beads. We are working on a website for the future.

Do you participate in any charity fundraisers?
We made a necklace and donated it to NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) for their Wisconsin conference. The lady who won the piece was so thrilled, she commissioned us to create a matching pair of earrings.

Any advice for aspiring jewelry-artists?
If you have beads... take the plunge. Don't hesitate. Take what you know in color and design and create what is pleasing and appeals to you. A real artist always has a look and feel to their work that is inherent to them. Whether you like working with tiny beads, or love suede mixed with chain. Try it. Read some books, fiddle around, start at the beginning with just one bead and we guarantee you'll find an ending you love. In short, be true to yourself, hone your craft, tone your work, make it unique and you will always be a shining success.

View all of Michelle and Natalie's designs in the Gallery of Designs.
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