Hummingbird Knight

Hummingbird Knight

About The Artist

Erin Peña • Minneapolis, MN
Fiber and Textiles - Homegoods • CUSTOM COMMISSIONS

I build geometric sculptures out of tiny glass beads and thread. I have always played with beads, and some 15 years ago I began learning how to turn two dimensional components into three dimensional sculptures. It began with trinket boxes, and for many years I was stuck in a "box" rut; all my sculptures had to have some sort of opening, to be either a box or a vessel. I became very creative working around this format but it took several years before I was able to make sculpture for its own sake. Once I broke this mental barrier the world of geometry opened up for me and it's been a non-stop journey since then. I've learned new techniques, reworked old techniques, and sought out other beadweavers to learn with. The community is small but tightly knit and very encouraging of experimentation. This year I finally made the transition to full-time artist, and I can't wait to see what I can do next. Joining the ACC online marketplace is a big step into the wider world of professional art.


Artist website

Q&A with the Artist

Tell us how your work is made.

The first part of the work is research into the shapes I want to work with, to see if I can find concrete examples. My sculptures are made of many smaller components, so I need to have a solid grasp on the geometry fundamentals. If I want to use a shape I'm less familiar with, the research step can help me better visualize how the end sculpture will be built. Often I will bead a smaller version as a test run if I'm trying out any new techniques. Once I know how the sculpture will be built, I make digital blueprints and plan the color scheme bead by bead. There are over a thousand colors and textures available in the beads I work with, and a completed sculpture can contain many tens of thousands of individual beads. Choosing the colors for a piece is one of the most intense parts of my practice, and I will stop work on a sculpture until I can source the colors I want. After that, the work is bead weaving. It can take a week of work to finish a sculpture that fits in the palm of a hand.

What makes you passionate about the medium you work with?

I love working with beads. It's like working with light; the sparkle and texture of glass is something I haven't found anywhere else. I love both the precision and freedom of beadweaving. There's a structure to beadweaving, an underlying set of fundamentals that are comfortable and solid, but the further one progresses in the craft, the freer one becomes to push the boundaries of the known. Different stitches combine for unique outcomes and the geometry of the work opens up from 2D, to 3D, to something beyond Euclidean. I love this too: that the craft unites two parts of myself that are generally supposed to be in opposition. Math or art, numbers or colors. I get to work with both when I bead, and the sculptures I make reflect my passion for both. Most of all, I love the nature of beadweaving. I get to hold a space in myself for the meditative, repetitive work of beading and for the intensely imaginative process of planning new works.

What is something unique about you or your practice?

Apart from the nature of my craft itself, which is a fairly unusual application of beadwork, most people are surprised to learn that I work without armatures. The type of stitch I use interlocks beads like bricks in a wall, and I use a type of thread that is closer to fishing line and is very stiff. The components of my sculptures that are made this way hold their shape without any assistance from a form. This is unusual even among beadweavers, since most practitioners begin by making jewelry where the craft is in having the pieces hang and drape properly. I have begun to learn some of these softer stitching techniques and I have also begun to experiment with larger components and sculptures. Even using the stiffest stitching techniques I know, larger beaded pieces are heavier and generally more flexible. I've begun to teach myself to make some armatures out of wire in order to support larger beadworks. I plan to improve this aspect of my craft with guidance from experts down the line.