Predigital Digital Type


I remember as a child an activity my mother would put before my sister and I when she wanted our full concentration on something – i.e., peace and quiet. Bead artwork, where you place small plastic beads with holes in them on a plastic form, after which you melt them with an iron. The final product was never really worth keeping, but I imagine the hours it kept the two of us occupied were priceless.

So when a friend of mine recently went on a bead buying binge at a craft store, I was gripped by nostalgia and later a slight streak of OCD when I started on some bead artwork again. The process was both frustrating and meditative, but after some warm up I was able to pick up two beads at once to place on the gridded plate.

The first plate I made tested my skills in one-bit typography in spelling Oink, Moo, Juhu. The background became a gradient to create the contrast needed for the type to stand out, and because the bead bags I had were a random blend of colors, so there wasn’t enough of one color to make a solid color background. The second plate used all the beads I didn’t use for the first plate in a much simpler patchwork composition.

The words are much easier to see if you close one eye and slightly blur your vision. I suppose a composition with 1500 beads would have given a crisper image, but I also would have had to put my wrist in traction afterwards.

Small plastic melted bead artwork: Oink, Moo, Juhu and patchwork pattern.
"Oink, Moo, Juhu" and patchwork bead plates at 100% size.

Each of the little plastic beads is 2.5mm in diameter. That is very very small. So small, that picking up beads with your fingers would be near impossible unless you were a hamster. So out came the tweezers to assemble the 784 beads per plate. The bag of beads cost 10 kroner, so I’d say I got my money’s worth based on hours of entertainment per bag.

While making these I also had plenty of time to invent a new party game. Best played in the wee hours after guests are sufficiently inebriated to think just about anything is amusing, I call it “Sweaty Palms”. The rules are:

    1. Take a plate of plastic beads
    2. Take your hand and place flat on beads
    3. Lift your hand and see how many beads stick to your sweaty palm
    4. The player with the most beads (by count or by weight), wins the game!

Finally, a game that gives sweaty people the upper hand.

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