This “Margie’s Muse” column excerpt is available in it’s entirety at

What makes a well designed piece of beadwork? How do you create a unified, harmonious piece so completely balanced and whole that nothing added or taken away would improve it? Emphasizing differences is one way.

Contrast is the opposite of concordance. A composition needs contrast because too much visual similarity becomes monotonous. Imagine if everything in your day-to-day life was the same shade of the same color. There would be few cues to help you make a visual distinction between your beads and, say, your lunch. We need contrast not only for visual distinction, but for pleasure: variety can add zest and delight to life.

The more contrast you use, the more dynamic and energetic your work. If you like high drama, begin by emphasizing differences.

The major ways to create contrast among colors are by using differences in color properties: value (dark and light), intensity (dull and vivid), hue (the actual colors), extension (the physical amount of color used), and temperature. To create contrast, vary these properties of color. The easiest contrasts to discern are those of value and hue.

Stingray, 2010 by Yoli Pastuszak. An emphasis on varied texture adds depth and intrigue to this bead embroidered bracelet. How dull it would have been had the artist maintained similar texture throughout the background.

But don’t limit your exploration of emphasizing differences only to the realm of color. Contrast basic design elements. Juxtapose straight lines against curves, diagonals against horizontals, blocks of color against spheres of color. String patterned beads next to solid colored beads and squares shapes next to ovals.

Play with contrasting finishes and materials. Combine smooth beads with faceted, irregular, or chunky beads. Place shiny metallics next to flat matte finishes.

In single strand necklaces, a contrast in size piques interest. A strand of large, faceted amethyst chunks separated by spacers and seed beads is far more intriguing than a strand of amethyst beads that are all the same size.

Texture contrasts are both visually and tactilely fascinating.  Everyone loves to touch fringe laden with different sized beads. Add texture to seed bead weaving by introducing larger beads, peyote ruffles, kinky fringe, or netting.

But be careful with contrast. Too many contrasting elements overwhelm and confuse the viewer. When exploring contrast, aim for balance and unity.