Native Artists Online- Early September 2019 Edition

This edition brings a fitting follow up to our August Featured Artist, Wapshkankwet, with her personal favorite beader Ali Watson (@igmuthankastore) as our Featured Artist for early September (full disclosure @igmuthankastore is also the founder of this site, @aliwatson117).
Ali will be our first bi-monthly featured artist with a new featured artist following later this month, those of you who are only familiar with Ali through her writing will now see the visual arts side of one of #NativeTwitters most tenacious cultural commentators. I can’t think of a better way to describe her work than to quote Wapshkankwet’s glowing comment on her beading “HOLY WOW, her beading is CLEAN” (#FACT).

Ali’s bead-work began when she was a teen beading her own own regalia, moccasins and leggings but didn’t pick it up again until last year when she was once again bitten by the beading bug. In her words “I had some beads and a lot of stress build up in recent years, so I started playing with making a peyote stitch rope for a lanyard that I never finished. When I went to get some different colors, I found dentalium and started doing dentalium earrings, interspersed with beaded rope and medallions. Now I tend to go between the two, but I’m currently in a beading phase.” but Dentalium will always draw her back, “Dentalium is one of my favorite components to work with. It has a certain energy that draws me to it.” and describes working with both beads and Dentalium as “…very cathartic. I think about problem solving, think of patterns and ideas for future projects. I try to keep my energy positive and put that into my work.”

I asked Ali if she had any tips or advice for new beaders and she was very generous (grab a note pad, she shared some great ones):

1- Ali likes to look at traditional regalia, beading styles, colors and patterns as a reminder of the fact that we are still here “I look at vintage stuff now and then to incorporate old with new. Some of my Navajo fam have gifted me with supplies, so I have a little bit of a Navajo/Lakota fusion going on now and then.” Ali also recommends involving family, especially youth in color choice and reminds those of us from multiple Native Nations that it’s okay to look to all you Native heritage for inspiration (fusion is in!) as well as vintage regalia (but remember to never copy from Pow Wow dancers without their permission).

2. Know when to sort your beads- as Ali puts it “I don’t always cull my beads, but usually for wraps, it’s fine. For other things like a medallion, I do pay more attention as to the sizing and shape of the beads. It’d be nice if beads could be consistent in size, but I find the sorting to also be rather cathartic. Or that not all of the same bead size are actually the same bead size. I have colors that are just a hair smaller or larger than my main color but show as the same size. It’s frustrating, so I’ve taken to taking in a thread of the bead colors I need to make sure they’re the same size before I commit.”

3. You can learn a lot from your past work…and YouTube: “Thinking of my regalia back in the day, I can see a lot of things that I did wrong that I can do better now, though I haven’t tried yet. I wanted to make a medallion and watched a few YouTube videos, which helped me gain confidence that that’s what I wanted to do, so I highly recommend YouTube for tips!”

4. Patients is key: “There are some days that I don’t create because I’m waiting for a design to come to me. If you don’t see it, just wait a little longer. When you start to bead, be it two needle stitch, bead wrapping or peyote stitch, be prepared to be stuck. Keep your nails trimmed because too short might make your fingertips sore, too long and it may affect how you work – I grew out my nails for a while and my nails kept cutting the thread or making grooves in my nails. Don’t let your thread be too long; shorter lengths will help prevent snagging. Always beeswax your thread, it does help.”

5. Be aware of your energy: “Always create for you first, too. Your vision, your energy, your work. I appreciate getting input, but ultimately when I create, the final piece and design are how I need them to be.” and “I try to keep my energy positive and put that into my work. Sometimes I bead when I’m not in a good state, and that’s usually stuff that I bead for myself so that any mistakes made aren’t going out anywhere. For example, while recovering from a hematoma, I beaded on a decoration for my crutches and now that I’m almost fully recovered, it’s almost finished with one side. It helped focus away from the pain, but because I was in that kind of pain, I couldn’t put that into anything for someone else, if that makes sense.”

6. Relax, beading can and should be an enjoyable way to unwind.


NTVTWT.COM readers know Ali through her articles but may not be aware of her love of creative writing or work in the Japanese music industry “I’ve gotten to do some pretty amazing things for artists, such as helping one band into a, at the time, major music video game, and a major motion picture soundtrack. I’ve had the privilege of interviewing some of the biggest names in Japanese rock music. It was an exciting decade and things are winding down now, which is still welcome.” Ali has also talked about ways her beading has connectedwith JRock “I beaded an X JAPAN medallion and showcased it on my Jrock Twitter account (@aliwjrr) and YOSHKI, the leader of X JAPAN followed me, which isn’t uncommon for him as he appreciates his fans. It was still exciting for me as an artist. When I got to go to Florida for an event of his, I gave it to one of his assistants so I hope that he received it. It was my second medallion. I kind of want to make another one just for me though. I’m also doing a medallion in the logo for Hotei Tomoyasu, who’s most famous in the Western industry for doing the theme for Kill Bill, “Battle without Honor or Humanity”. (We also hear she makes killer chicken karaage, Japanese curry and ramen all from scratch.)

Ali has an adorable beading assistant of her own -you can follow him, @pumawatson #RestingPumaFace, on IG and see him modeling Ali’s work on twitter & instagram. Unlike some kitties Puma doesn’t try to get involved, play with the beads or sprawl on Ali’s work space and usually just purrs nearby waiting for a petting break (if only all cat guardians could be so lucky) which is a good thing because he’s 25 pounds of strong, spry feline fierceness. In Ali’s words “He’s a good beading assistant.” but “I don’t think he’ll be wearing a pair of dentailum earrings anytime soon though, heh.”

Ali also shared some of her favorite Native artists and I want to share them with you-

@melancholynow (last month’s Featured Artist)



Ali’s prices range from free to over $300, depending on the work. “I’m usually flexible on pricing because I want as many people to afford them. At the same time, many people often tip me above the asking price when they can afford it. Those kinds of gestures are so greatly appreciated. I hope more people take that kind of approach when buying from Indigenous artisans.”

Where to find Ali online and support her work-
Personal Twitter: @aliwatson117
Art Twitter: @igmuthankastore
Art Instagram: @igmuthanka
Personal Instagram: @aliw117
“I want to open an Etsy at some point, but I need to build up some stock, first. Keep an eye out on my Twitter and Instagram for details!”
And, of course, you can read her latest articles right here at

Early September’s Native Arts term is :
Dentalium- a large genus of tooth shells or tusk shells, marine scaphopod molluscs in the family Dentaliidae used by Native American artists in Indigenous jewelry and other adornment.

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