How I choose beads From Photos for French Beaded Flowers

I was hoping to have a new video class for my Camellia design published this month, but the system I use to provide video classes released a new version that was causing problems with the automatic order flow and other things on my website so I was a little nervous to publish it. If you placed an order the last few weeks you might have noticed that I was having to send those orders manually, instead of the email automatically sending after payment. They have finally fixed the system just yesterday, so I’ll be spending some time this upcoming week getting all those videos uploaded and the listing set up on my site and the final photography of my Camellias done. So, there will be two posts this month.

In February I ran a Mini Tulip bead-along here on my site and in the Facebook group (it’s now available in the Video Classes section). This class also explores the basics of using bead finishes in French Beaded Flowers, and this article was meant to go along with that class, but due to some crappy life things, didn’t get it finished. This is a long post, and took a great deal of time to put together. so I really hope this will help someone out there who is wanting to learn how to pick their own beads for their flowers.

How I choose my beads is a question I get a lot, so I thought I could take some time to write on my blog about part of my process. Let me be very clear that this is my artistic process. It doesn’t need to be yours. I’m not presenting this as the holiest of artistic processes that will work for every single person out there. This is what works well for me, my brain, and my situation. But I hope that by sharing my process, it will give you a starting point so you can launch yourself in the direction your little beading heart wants to fly. I’m not going to just give you all the answers either. I truly believe that you will be better off in the long run if you have to figure some things out on your own. You are the only one who can cultivate your own creativity, and along with it, confidence in your own creativity. There is no shortcut to learning art. There is no magic formula. Start small and build over time. Creativity is just like the muscles in your body. The more you use it, the stronger it gets, and the easier it becomes to use it.

There’s no way I could cover everything and each nuanced circumstance that you will run into. So, consider this some tips to get you started. In this article, I will discuss:
The difference between bead color and bead finish
How I choose bead colors from a photo
How I narrow down bead finishes
How I picked beads for a couple previous projects

The Difference Between a Bead Color & Bead Finish

One thing that all beaders need is an understanding of bead finishes. This is something that I’ve seen confuse a lot of people, especially those who are newer to this kind of artwork. A bead finish is an effect applied to the bead (most often the outer surface) that alters it’s appearance. This is separate from the bead color (though some finishes can affect the resulting color of the beads, or some colors can only be found in certain finishes).

Let’s look at some common bead finishes in the same color (as close to the same colors as I could find in my stash) in a little slideshow so you can see the various effects.

You can download a printable PDF that shows all these bead finishes here. This was a chart I put together for my Mini Tulips class. It is not a comprehensive list that shows every single bead finish in the world. Just the ones that I see the most often. I’ll try to update it with more eventually.

Choosing Bead Colors from a Photo

Picking colors might seem like a no-brainer. You just look at a picture and then go get the beads, right? Pink is pink. Green is green. While that may work for some, I like to go a bit deeper to make sure I’m getting the right shade. So, I usually use a photo editing program to pull out the colors from the photo so I can see them all and create a little palette. This is something that really helps me see each color individually.

These instructions are specifically for when you want to recreate coloring in a in a particular flower from a photograph. Before I dive in, I will say that it helps to be familiar with beads in general, specifically what you have in your personal stash, or the bead that are available at the stores you frequently shop with. It’s a good excuse to spend time looking at your sparkly beads. Spending the time to sort them into an organized system does help you build that familiarity. And that’s why this isn’t something you can learn in a day. This is something that you learn in bits and pieces over time. But, you have to start somewhere or you will never get anywhere.

There’s a quick screen capture video demo below the instructions. 🙂

  1. 1. Find an image of the flower you want to make, or photograph it yourself. I’ll be using a photo I took of some Hyacinths that I studied recently. Open the photo in photo editing software. I usually use Photoshop for this, but for this I’ll demo in Microsoft Paint since most of you probably don’t have Photoshop. I haven’t personally used the Paintbrush program that comes on a Mac, but as long as you can open a photo in the program and use an eyedropper tool to select a color, it will work.
  2. 2. Make a white background that is larger than the image by grabbing the corner of the image and dragging it outward. This will make a little canvas so you can paint color blobs beside the photo.

  3. 3. Find the eyedropper tool and use it to click an area of the petal that you believe shows the main color of the petal. This does take a bit of an eye for color to make sure you’re selecting a useful color and not some weird little pixel, but a little practice will help. You can zoom in on your photo if needed.

    4. With the color selected, click on some kind of paintbrush tool. Doesn’t really matter which. Just anything you can make a large shape with.
  4. 5. Then click on the white area around the photo to make a little color splotch using the color you selected.

    5. Repeat the whole process to pull out all of the useful colors. Grab colors for any markings, along the edges of the petals, the stamen, the leaves, etc. Notice in the video that I grab multiple greens from the leaves as it fades from the darker to lighter green at the base.

You’ll probably want to hit the expand button to make this video larger so you can see my cursor moving around.

Once you can clearly see all the colors, export the photo as a JPEG, or print the photo. Then pull out all of the beads in your stash that are close to the colors you pulled out of the photo. You can search your online stores for beads of similar colors – just know that not all colors displayed online are shown exactly what they look like in person. I don’t have local bead stores so I do all my bead shopping online. I’ve been burned many times, which is one of the reasons I have a stash. I just bought so many of the “wrong” beads, so now I have lots of options on hand. If you are fortunate enough to have a local bead store where you can see the beads in person before you buy them, send a copy of your color swatch picture to your phone, or print it out, and take it to the store with you.

Remember that the colors you pulled out of the photo are possible color choices. You don’t actually have to use them all. As the artist, you can include or leave out any details you want. Which of the colors are the most important? Sometimes you can’t find exact colors, so you just get as close as you can. My color picker revealed a periwinkle blue. All of my beads were either too blue or too purple or too dark for that exact color. So I pulled some lavenders and pale blues that I thought would be worth taking a closer look at, or might be close enough to capture the essence of the flower.

Choosing Bead Finishes

Alright, now that the colors are picked out, let’s narrow it down by finish. This process is highly subjective based on personal preferences, or even your mood while picking beads. Do you want the flowers to look natural? Which finishes will help you accomplish the same textures that you see on the plant? Do you want something sparkly? Which finishes will provide the most bling? Maybe just a little sparkle around the edges and the rest natural? Maybe some of the colors you need only come in one or two finishes. Maybe you want to work using beads you already have.

I usually select finishes based on the whole finished flower or arrangement, rather than in pieces. I want the finish I use in the petals to look nice with the finish I pick for the leaves and other components. I don’t want the leaves to draw more attention than the flowers. To me, they should look like they belong on the same flower, and not like I’ve Frankenstein-ed different plants together. Beads of the same or similar finish or opacity always look like they belong together. Even if it’s not very creative, it is at least cohesive. Using the same finish and opacity throughout is a good starting place when you don’t know what else to choose, or when you first start learning about bead finishes.

I also use the same or similar finish and opacity when I want colors to blend together smoothly in a shading pattern. If I use vastly different finishes or opacities, it creates a visible barrier between the colors where the eyes stop – because they are visibly different. But when you use the same or similar finish or opacity, it’s easier for the eyes to trick the brain into thinking that it all runs together. It smooths the transition between colors.

Blending using same finish (transparent matte). The colors flow together nicely.
Poor blending using two vasty different finishes (transparent and opaque). The colors do not flow nicely together.

I use different bead finishes when I want a certain detail to stand out instead of blending. Opaque beads are bolder. They tend to come forward in a design. Whereas, transparent beads tend to sink into the background. When you mix the two together, the opaque beads look raised.

Opaque leaf with transparent veins. The veins appear more recessed.
Transparent leaf with opaque veins. The veins appear slightly raised compared to the leaf.

Bead finishes reflect light differently. Using a mix of shiny and non-shiny finishes (especially when working in all one color, or similar colors) can bring attention to certain details, and creates a fun effect of playing with the light. This is especially fun to do with edgings and veins.

Opaque matte petal with shinier 2-cut transparent rainbow edging.
Transparent rainbow petal with transparent matte rainbow edging.

Okay, let’s go back to the Hyacinth example and narrow down my bead choices. Due to the colors I need and the colors I have on hand, I am limited in what I can choose, so that actually narrowed it down quite a bit for me and I haven’t had to make any decisions yet. There are two of the blues that are fairly close to the periwinkle that I need. One is a silver-lined opal bead (which is medium sparkly and not transparent due to the silver-lining inside), and the other is an opal bead (a semi-transparent bead, sometimes called waxy). So, I decided to make what I call “bead swatches” involving those two beads first.

The silver-lined opal bead is a little sparkly. So, I first tried it with other sparkly beads that I had pulled. Most of the time if I have sparkles in my flowers, I want sparkles in the leaves. Because another way to create cohesion, when you aren’t using the exact same finish, is to have equal visual weight or interest. These beads aren’t all the same finish. In addition to the silver-lined opal, I have some 2-cut satin purple, 2-cut satin green, 2-cut transparent rainbow, and 2-cut transparent luster. I actually think I have a silver-lined opal pale green somewhere, so I might pull that so I can continue the same effect from the flowers into the leaves. Or at least another round seed bead (because the 2-cuts aren’t round) so I can have the same mix of bead shape textures in the leaves and flowers.

Option 1

Option number two centers around the opal blue. I had an opal purple and an opal green. I did not have any lighter opal greens that I thought would look good, so I chose a transparent matte rainbow bead. It is a similar texture to the opal beads, so I think it would blend right in. I did not have a medium green, so I just omitted that detail because I don’t feel like going shopping.

Opal beads have a wonderful waxy/velvety texture that I think really represents a lot of natural petal textures. From my hyacinth studies, this finish would be great for a hyacinth petals and leaves!

The blue opal is semi-transparent, which means there’s a chance it could be affected by the wire I put through it. In this case, that might not be a bad thing since my color isn’t exact. What happens if I put a darker purple wire through the bead? Will that be enough to shift the color to what I want?

Option 2

Option number three is a mix of both of the above. Let’s try adding a little sparkle in the flowers and a little sparkle in the leaves to play with the light. A little bit of natural texture and a little bit of sparkles – the best of both worlds. I could have easily used the sparkly blue instead of the sparkly purple.

Option 3

There is a fourth option… and it’s likely the one I will be going forward with because I’m bored and in a mood to experiment. I’m calling it my “why limit my options when I can go crazy and shove it all together?” option. Yeah. I’m going to make some flowers with sparkles in both colors, some flowers with only one of the sparkly options, and some flowers with no sparklies. I omitted the opal green when I took the photo, but I think I’ll shove that one back in too so I can have more variation in the leaves too. Also notice that I added in the brown for the bulb. I didn’t have many options because brown isn’t a color I use a great deal. But I stuck with the theme of one sparkly and one not – a 2-cut satin brown and a transparent matte rainbow brown.

Option 4

My hyacinth is going to be published in my Spring Collection book, which is currently in the works. But, I will give one little sneak peek of some of the samples I’ve made to test my petal bead choices. Not exact colors, but probably the closest I’ll get with the selection I currently have.

One extra little note here. My hyacinth will most likely end up in an arrangement with other flowers. If my hyacinth has lots of sparkles in it, but the other flowers don’t, the hyacinth might pull more visual interest than the rest of the flowers. I would like to avoid that kind of situation as I want all of the flowers to be equally interesting. But I also don’t want to overwhelm an arrangement with sparkles. So I will keep that in mind as I select beads for the other flowers that will end up in the same pot.

But, I think all of these choices above are viable. I could have also chosen to go with one of the lavender colors instead of the blue if I wanted to avoid the silver-lined beads (because they do tarnish eventually) and just not have been as close in the colors. Or, tried to alter the transparent or semi-transparent types of lavender beads by running a blue wire through them. Because wire does affect beads that you can see through. That’s something I’ve done several times to alter the color of a bead when I needed it just a little bit different.

Case Studies: Why I picked These Beads

I thought it might be helpful to also discuss why I picked certain beads for projects, because studying what other artists prioritize and consider while selecting beads is a great way to learn.

1: Mini Poinsettia Topiary

French Beaded Mini Poinsettia Topiary by Lauren Harpster

I knew I didn’t want to use any complex shading patterns in the leaves because I was making so many of them. So I chose a transparent green rainbow finished bead for the leaves to get more depth of color for interest, and then edged them with something sparkly. If you have a mass of the same color of beads all in the same place, you lose the shape of the leaves because it all just melds together. Edging really helps keep the details of the shape of the leaves, and gives you the look of a little highlight around the edges. I chose to use a sparkly edging because it’s for Christmas and Christmas should be sparkly. Those edging beads were a 2-cut (hex shaped) transparent green rainbow. So the same color, but the cut made it sparkly.

For the flowers I used different types of opaque whites. I specifically chose opaques. One, because it’s white and whites with more transparency look dull to me and I wanted my whites bright. And two, because I knew there would be dark greenery behind the flowers. Transparent beads take on some of the color of whatever is directly behind them, so some of the green would have shown through something like a ceylon white which is fairly transparent. Or if you switch to a different flower color, like red, a transparent red would have turned dull with the green showing through it. I chose several different finishes of whites though. Partially for the same reason as using the edging on the leaves. I wanted one layer of petals to stand out from the layer underneath it so I don’t lose the detail of the shapes because the beads blended together visually. But also due to the size of the finished piece. If I’ve got one type of white covering the surface of a large piece, it’s not as interesting to look at because everything I look at is the same. But if I use a mix of finishes I get so much more texture and interest. Some of the beads sparkle, and some don’t. I used an opaque white rainbow, because it’s more fun than a regular opaque. 2-cut white satin, because they are so sparkly. 2-cut opaque white luster because it’s got the sparkle from the cut and the luster finish. Opal white rainbow just because I needed another non- 2-cut bead that wasn’t see-through enough to cause problems.

French Beaded Mini Poinsettia Topiary by Lauren Harpster

French Beaded Mini Poinsettia Topiary by Lauren Harpster

For the berries I knew a transparent red would have the same problem as a transparent petal. The green would show through, and the transparent reds just aren’t as bright anyways. So I used an opaque to prevent that problem, but with a luster finish to get that shiny fruit look.

For the little pine branches I wanted something that would stand out from the poinsettia leaf green so they wouldn’t blend together. I chose an opal green, it’s mostly opaque so it will stand out against a transparent green leaf. The opal green also has a nice waxy texture that I thought would capture the texture of pine needles very well.

The pattern for this project is available in my shop!…/french-beaded-miniature…/

2: Ivory Wedding Bouquet

Another example that comes to mind is a custom wedding bouquet I made years ago. The bride wanted an ivory and crystal theme. She wanted Dahlias and Roses and lots of textural elements. Having a fairly monochromatic scheme presented a bit of a challenge. I knew that when working with beads of all the same color, they tend to blend together and form a big mass of indiscernible beads if you use the same bead for the whole thing. So I used lots of different finishes of beads – opaque, satin, silver-lined opal, ceylon, silver-lined… I think there were also some transparent rainbow ivory beads as well in the dahlias somewhere. I tried to use various tints of the ivory/cream color as well – light and dark. I actually altered some white ceylon beads and turned them a light cream color by running an ivory wire through them, just so I would have another shade of the color to work with. I also got approval from the bride to use small bits of white in the textural stems as well to help keep all the pieces from blending together too much.

I used different types of beads to create texture. Most were just the regular size 11 seed bead. But there were some 9/0 3-cut beads as well. Others were bugle beads, or fire-polished glass, crystal pearls, crystal drops, and little acrylic flower beads. I also used rhinestone buttons and sew-on rhinestone montees for flower centers. I was especially fond of the silvery ruffled leaves because I made the ruffles out of bugles and that made them so much more fun. There were some white ruffled leaves where I sewed silver-lined veins on top of the leaf, though I don’t think they show in the photos.

I used some basic shading patterns to bring out individual flowers. I made a silver-lined edging around the rose petals to separate them from each other and the flowers around them. The dahlias have a shading pattern that I think used transparent ivory at the bottom of the petals and opaque ivory at the tops.

Happy beading, everyone!

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