Inspire Me with Helen Bowen

1. What's your background? What were you doing before editing the magazine?

Hmm well, I've had quite an unusual career so far and it's been an interesting and unconventional journey to my current role. I graduated with a degree in languages in the 90s and, after several years of travelling and more study, I ended up in Management Consultancy, IT specifically. I left the rat race in 2006 to have my first child and never went back! It was while I was pregnant with my second child that my sister-in-law invited me to a jewellery making workshop. I went along for a bit of 'me time' and came home with a bracelet, necklace and a couple of pairs of earrings, all designed and made by me - I was completely hooked! I dabbled in the hobby over the next year or two until family and friends encouraged me to take the next step and start selling my work.

I set up a Facebook page and 'Ring O' Roses - original jewellery by Helen Bowen' was born! Over the next couple of years, I juggled running my own business and bringing up two children with a part-time job for an electronics company. Then in 2012, I won the Stringing and Linking category in the Beads & Beyond Jewellery Maker of the Year competition and that was when things really took off for me creatively!

I became a contributor for the magazine and when the opportunity to cover Editor Rebecca's maternity leave presented itself, I had to apply! We relocated to Malvern where the publisher is based in January 2014 so it was a big undertaking for a temporary role, but I haven't looked back. Rebecca returned to work for a different title so I have been permanent Editor since March. It's a high-pressure role and taking time off can be tricky but I am completely submerged in a hobby I love every day, and I get paid for it. What could be better?

A Ring O' Roses - Original Jewellery by Helen BowenRing O' Roses Original Jewellery by Helen Bowen
Casablanca - my winning bracelet - Beads & Beyond Jewellery Maker of the Year 2012Casablanca - my winning bracelet Beads & Beyond Jewellery Maker of the Year 2012

2. What style do you love working with most and why?

Mixed media. I would always describe my jewellery as 'quirky and unconventional'. I enjoy finding new ways of using ordinary components and discovering unusual objects to use in my designs. I love to recycle and upcycle and am always keen to learn new techniques and familiarize myself with different materials to keep my work fresh and unique.

Labelled with love - Beads & Beyond February 2015Labelled with love Beads & Beyond February 2015
Sew loved - Beads & Beyond February 2014Sew loved Beads & Beyond February 2014

3. Do you find yourself dreaming beads? Where do you get your inspiration from?

I live and breathe beads 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! I get inspiration from all sorts of places - the colours, textures and patterns in nature, a fabric or wallpaper in a department store or a vintage find in a charity or antique shop. Sometimes, I design a whole piece of jewellery around one component, other times I have an idea of a theme and go in search of the components to realise my vision. There's a lot of experimentation and reworking involved before I arrive at a final design.

Nature's treasures - Beads & Beyond October 2014Nature's treasures Beads & Beyond October 2014
Coffee o'clock - Beads & Beyond June 2015Coffee o'clock Beads & Beyond June 2015

4. As editor of the magazine, how do you balance everything timewise?

Spreadsheets, spreadsheets and spreadsheets! Every task for every issue is recorded in a spreadsheet along with its status. I am working on a minimum of three issues at any one time (usually four or five!) and it is impossible to keep track of everything otherwise. I am already planning well into 2016, not just the magazine but also the blog, Facebook as well as planning promotions with our beading partners, shows and web content. You have to be good at prioritizing and meeting deadlines in this job. A few juggling and fire-fighting skills come in handy too!

5. As editor, you must see a lot of submissions of work, how do you select what goes into the magazine? Any tips for those wanting to submit?

It's really hard! We have a wonderful team of regular designers across most of the jewellery making mediums but are always on the lookout for new contributors so that we keep the magazine fresh and hopefully on trend!

We work to the seasons, with a twice yearly Fashion Colour Special issue is full of projects for you to accessorise your new wardrobe and we also work to loose themes as it really helps in commissioning and 'curating' each issue. We aim for a mix of techniques and skill levels in every issue and have recently introduced a new 'make it easy' feature aimed at introducing our readers to components or techniques they may not have tried yet. We try to include at least one project each month from the current 'hot' crafts but also feature tutorials that cross other craft disciplines such as sewing or papercraft, always with a jewellery focus.

We do receive a lot of speculative submissions from designers and we can't always respond to them all. Often, we'll keep a project proposal on file though, in case it fits with a future theme. We love to see new materials, new applications of usual components and of course, new techniques! Occasionally, a submission from a new designer excites us enough not only to commission the project but to build the theme for a whole issue around it!

Fashion Colour Special - Beads & Beyond September 2015Fashion Colour Special Beads & Beyond September 2015
Jewellery inspired by books - Beads & Beyond November 2014Jewellery inspired by books Beads & Beyond November 2014

6. Rareflair is a new beading community ecommerce site, how would you hope to see our site grow?

Ooh, there are lots of opportunities once you have a good number of designers on board! I'd love to see a 'most popular' list on the homepage so I can go straight to the most purchased products or kits - perhaps even the most popular designer? I think there will also be lots of ways that you will be able to share content with customers - a regular newsletter with a summary of the new designs and products available and perhaps a YouTube channel with all the designer videos! I'm also thinking that the HOT TOPICS page could really become a 'go to' source for the latest in jewellery trends, colours and techniques as well as a new product showcase.

7. Tool kits of beaders are something else, remind me often of a mechanics bag, albeit gentler! What tool do you rate the most highly in your kit, and why?

I could not live without my flush cutters. I am a big advocate of buying the most expensive tools you can afford and I spent a small fortune on my flush cutters compared to my other pliers. Decent quality tools are really worth the investment - not only do you get better results when using them but they tend to last longer too! Cheap tools are a real false economy - whilst sets of pliers can be more cost-effective and a great starting point for beginners, if you are serious about your hobby, you should definitely look at buying tools individually, especially when it comes to wire cutters and round nose pliers.

Aside from the conventional tools, I have one more vital piece of equipment that I use pretty much every time I design a new piece - a white shallow bowl! It sounds strange but when I am picking out possible beads and components for a design in my head, I love to be able to mix them around in the bowl and see how the colours, textures and shapes work together. I'll usually add and remove beads as I go along and end up with a lot more than I can use in a single piece but I find it a great starting point for a design, especially when I am trying to pick out components to complement a specific focal bead or pendant.

8. Personal projects; what are you working on now? Have you set yourself a personal challenge?

I don't get much time currently to work on my own projects. At some point, I would like to find time to create a new collection for my own jewellery line, 'Ring O' Roses - original jewellery by Helen Bowen'. I have lots and lots of designs in my head but at the moment my priority is the magazine. Maybe in 2016!

9. If you were giving beaders a bit of advice starting out, what would it be?

Book yourself in on a few jewellery making courses. Make sure you have the basic skills mastered and build from there. Books and YouTube are great but nothing beats face-to-face tuition. If you can't afford to attend a course, look for a local bead group. For a few pounds a session, you can take along your own project and pick up tips and knowledge from other beaders, and make some great friends too!

10. And a bit of fun, If you were a Rareflair bead, which one would you be and why?!

I'd probably be one of your fancy strands. I like to mix up shapes and textures and am a sukcer for anything aqua/turquoise coloured. I love quirky things, never follow recipes and my tastes are eclectic in all areas of my life. I love asymmetry in my designs and mixed strands really suit this type of creating!

My favourite fancy bead strandMy favourite fancy bead strand

11. What is your website, facebook, twitter, any other links / contacts you would like to promote, Helen?

Beads & Beyond: