Sunday, July 6, 2008

Focus On: Amber Middleton

Profile: Amber Middleton
Amber is a fellow member of the EBW Team on She has a colorful retro style. This is her avatar on Etsy, the Marveen Bracelet.

Tell us about yourself. What makes you, you?
Maybe my friends and family should answer that! :) Well, let’s see… I live in New Orleans and have for about 11 years. I have been beading for about 15 years, and I guess I got really serious about it last year. I started getting into a few galleries and then opened my Etsy store. Now I spend most of my free time sitting at my work table, trying to keep up! I need to get more exercise! I’m a big ole nerd, I talk too much, and I am actually really easily distracted. I would much rather just read or watch a movie about half the time, or hang out with my friends, but I keep pushing myself to make this jewelry business happen. I want to give up constantly and just sit back and take it easy. But, I keep pushing myself, for whatever reason – determination or insanity? I just want to be my own boss. Period. I have never played well with others and the older I get, the less patience I have for punching someone else’s time clock.

Do you see yourself as an artist or craftsman or both?
Definitely both. I think of myself as a bead artist. I think that the artist part is what drives the creativity, but pushing yourself to develop your craft is essential to becoming the best artist you can be. I try to keep both the creativity alive and push myself to make the best product that I can.

What made you want to be an artist/craftsman?
I have always been a very creative person. I have had several experiences that have shaped my pursuit of art. The first was in the third grade when I won 3rd place in a drawing contest. After that, whenever anyone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was always “I want to be an artist”. I really wanted to be a fashion designer when I was in high school, and I planned to go to art school, but that didn’t work out. We won’t rehash that can of worms, though. I just love making things with my hands. I HAVE to make things. I can’t stop.

Why beads?
I went to a pow wow near where I am from in Georgia when I was in college. I was mesmerized by the Native American beadwork there. After I graduated, I had the opportunity to move to Tucson, Arizona and I spent almost 3 years out there while in my mid 20’s. I really got into beadwork while living there. I love the idea of taking these little dots of color and building something from them. I always wanted to be a painter, but I don’t paint very well. Beads give me the opportunity to paint with little tiny dots of color – and they don’t turn all grey or brown on me like oil paint does! Also, beadwork is one of the oldest forms of personal adornment. I get so mad when I see people act like beadwork is second rate to metal work.

How do you see your style?
Very retro. I like bold colors, simple lines, and geometric patterns. I see myself working in that area for a while. I am very drawn to color and pattern. And I like big, bold jewelry designs. I am a very small person, so I like to wear big jewelry. I wear my own work pretty much all the time, so I basically design what I like to wear.

What's the most wonderful thing you've made? The oddest?
I really don’t know what I would consider the most wonderful thing that I’ve made. Any time someone likes my work enough to buy it, I think it’s wonderful! The oddest think I have ever made would probably be a Christmas tree ornament shaped like a New Orleans shotgun house which I donated to the Louisiana Animal Shelter’s annual auction about 10 years ago. It was pretty ugly, but it sold.

What inspires you?
Oh, so much!!! I am inspired by weird things. I never really take in everything I see as a whole. I think I take in bits and pieces of things and then I reconstruct them to look the way I want them to. I very much live in my own little design space. About a year ago, I discovered the quilts of Gee’s Bend. I have more designs inspired by those quilts than I will ever have time to make. I am also very inspired by the works of Gustav Klimt, Piet Mondrian, and Frederick Hammersley, I also really like retro fashion, textile designs, and advertising prints, and of course, other beaders. The EBW Team is a great inspiration to me. Whenever I am feeling like I just can’t work – the muse is not talking to me – I just go onto Etsy and look at the Team’s work, and I always get inspired.

What scares you?
Never being able to fulfill my dream of being a full time, self supportive artist.

Tell us about your creative process.
Hmm… I don’t know if I really have one. I do have several sketch books which I keep on me or at my work table all the time. I don’t use patterns for my bracelets, and only for a few of my pendants. I really just work from a sketch or sometimes just an idea in my head. I work in the hallway of the tiny apartment I share with my companion, Joseph. My work bench is an antique writing desk. It’s a small space. I have a huge CD changer right next to it with the largest, oldest speakers on the planet. I will put on music – I HAVE to have my music when I bead. I like Big Mama Thornton, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Gillian Welch, Loretta Lynn. That’s what I listen to when I bead. I usually just get my sketchbook out, find a design I like, choose my color scheme and start beading. Of course, when Joseph wants to get a snack from the kitchen, I have to stop and let him go by, so I guess I work fairly sporadically most of the time!

How did you get on Etsy and where else do you sell?
I found out about Etsy from a guy at work. It took my about year to get up my nerve to open a shop. I have my beadwoven work at High Gloss in Houston, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans and at Thomas Mann Gallery I/O in New Orleans. I also have 2 other lines that I make from gemstones and vintage components which are carried by Tomato and Ragin’ Daisy - both of which are in New Orleans.

Describe your shop.
In bad need of a banner! When I first started selling on Etsy, I was told by several people I knew who had shops on Etsy, to put the emphasis on my lower end, gemstone and vintage pieces. They told me my woven pieces were too high end and probably would not appeal to Etsy shoppers. Since opening up my shop in April of this year, I have all but discontinued the other two lines. No one looked at them. The woven pieces get the hits and the hearts. That makes me more than happy, because those are the pieces that I truly love making. I think that shows in my shop. I hope that when people visit my shop they can see that I love what I do. I feel that I need to add more work, on a more regular basis. But I think you definitely see my style in each and every piece I have there.

Make a recommendation.
Work hard. Follow your dreams. Try new things. Treat yourself to some handwoven beadwork!!

Tell us the answer to a question that we didn't ask, but should have. If you can't think of anything, tell us something random.
Most people ask me about my name. I am named after my late mother. My family is from Georgia but she was born on Honolulu during WWII because my grandfather was in the navy and was stationed there. My grandmother loved the name Leilani. She named my mother Carol Leilani . When I was born my mother named me Amber Leilani. I have red hair and pale skin. I am not Hawaiian. And it’s my middle name, not my last name. It confuses even people who know me pretty well.


  1. Loved your article. Very good answers Amber.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this, thanks!

  3. Wonderful article and Amber's work is gorgeous!!! :-)

  4. Another great interesting interview Sarah and Amber - I am really enjoying these :)

  5. What an interesting interview! Great job! LOVE Ambers work!!

  6. This is such a great interview! I love Amber's work and her unique style, and it's so interesting to read about it!

  7. Very nice interview, Sarah and Amber!

    I love Amber's work, so it's nice to see the source of the inspiration.

  8. I love these interviews, Sarah! thank you for bringing us a little closer to some of our favorite beadweavers :D

  9. Thank you all for your support:) YAY!

  10. Great interview, Sarah! I loved reading about Amber's inspiration. Thanks!