Conversation with the Artist: Sherry Serafini
Conversation with the Artist: Sherry Serafini
In today's conversation, we sit down with Sherry Serafini, an internationally recognized bead artist, published author, and well-loved beading instructor. Her work has been coveted by stars such as Lenny Kravitz and Steven Tyler. Sherry shares how she got started, making art while on the journey that life takes us, and what beading means to her.
All images used are courtesy of the artist.
MoB: Who are you, what do you do, and why do you do it?
Who am I? Some days I ask myself that same question. I’m a bead embroidery artist, but not limited to that. I was raised in a military family, moving every few years. I credit that nomadic lifestyle with giving me an adventurous and uninhibited approach to design.
Throughout my school years I was always that kid that painted in the corner during recess because I’d rather get paint on my hands than dirt on my knees. Doodled images of my cartoons during math class because zero’s reminded me of eyes. Some of my greatest inspirations and mentors were my art teachers while in high school. And likewise at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
After high school I messed around and earned money painting race cars and coal truck logos. Did signs for local businesses as well. Having enough of that…I then went to college for a few months and studied art, but that didn’t work out, so I left for art school. I went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and earned a degree in graphic design. I worked as the ad director for a local newspaper after art school in 1987. It was the birth of my daughters and deciding to stay at home with them that led me to the fabulous bead world!
I’m so grateful to have had the path that I’ve traveled. I’ve explored a million mediums, but my chosen expression is bead embroidery. I’ve been hooked since the 90’s. Bead embroidery is “painting with beads”…it’s “mixed media”….it’s storytelling and thought provoking. It’s an adventure to me every time I sit down to create. It gives me joy. It keeps me sane. It takes me away to another world, one that is peaceful and beautiful.
Unusual objects and shapes become part of a new story when one stitches the beads one at a time to a chosen “canvas”. And lately that can be anything you can sew thru successfully for me, fabrics, wire lace, leather, etc. My personal pieces are born spontaneously as the beads and my imagination dictate the design and are often riddled with texture. I’m obsessed with textures and the layering of beads on top of each other. I find this meditative form of art to be a rich counterpoint to a society full of instant gratification.
MoB: What are your current inspirations and influences?
My interest in art history consistently influences me...painting, sculpture and music are things I get emotional about. And that “feeling” goes into my beadwork if that is where I’m at mentally. I am also drawn to structure. Armatures fascinate me as I love covering shapes with beads. I’m always on the look out for wooden shapes that I can cover with beadwork.
My design degree was graphic design, and I minored in cartooning. Depending on where I am in life, I call upon all of these things. Sometimes combining all of the above.
It’s been a tough year as we all know and at the time continues to be. When Covid shut us down, the hermit in me was okay with staying home and creating. But with the uncertain times, I found myself stifled. All the time in the world in my studio to do what I wanted and I sat looking at my beads like they were foreign objects. It was so frustrating.
So what did I do? I took the advice I give to my students all the time when they have a “block”. I walked away from my beads. I then went back in time to when my interests were in drawing, painting and working with images. I spent endless hours working with different mediums and found new inspirations. I decided to stay off the internet and explore what was inside me, not what I was influenced by. The only internet interaction I allowed myself was technique driven articles. I also poured thru my old art history books and fashion magazines. I’ve dabbled in resins, metals, shrink art (thank you Julie Haymaker)…. So right now my inspirations are chunks of “puzzle pieces” that I’ve found in my own head thru a personal journey. It was an interesting journey and I feel rejuvenated.
MoB: If you were to pick a favorite piece from your collection and tell its story, what would it say?
My pieces don’t have specific stories. They’re about emotion. I create to evoke reactions, not so much in others but in myself. If another person is affected by my art I’m very happy. I’ve had people at art shows stop dead in their tracks and say a piece spoke to them, pulling up something deep inside of them. I’ve sold many pieces this way which is amazing because it began with me and touched another human. We connected thru art. What a beautiful thing.
After pondering your question, Road Warrior came to mind as my favorite. It was the first large piece created after my divorce. I had no idea if I would be able to survive on my beadwork and art. I had two daughters and two dogs to take care of and I had bought a house. For me it represented my freedom from a controlling situation…. There are pieces of license plates that represent freedom, traveling and getting away from what doesn’t work. Vintage drops that represent constant movement and searching in my life….gaining some patina, showing the wear and tear of life and some of the journey’s I’ve been on. Spikes on the piece are my pointy guarded allies. Don’t mess with me, I’m doing the best I can and I’ve got no fear of what you can do to me. Wile E. Coyote because he would get knocked down and get back up again!
MoB: Do you have any upcoming projects, concepts, and new work we should look out for?
I’m so excited and on fire with my new components! It’s so freeing to be able to play and let yourself go to another universe for a while. I’m totally in love with painting wooden shapes and then adding images and metals. Merging all of my little experiment pieces together into a bead embroidered piece is exciting. The very simple bead embroidered necklace shown in the photo is a collaboration of playing with metals, resins, silk and clay. The cylinder shaped hand bag is also riddled with personal pieces I created myself.
In the future I’d like to do a workshop with some willing bodies! Spend a day making your own focals that are personal to the individual. Then spend a day designing and creating the beadwork around it. I must say it’s totally exhausting in my head right now. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with rambling thoughts about what to do next. I literally need 24 more hours in each day to create! If we only didn’t have to sleep...(heavy sigh).
- Heather Kahn