When Bri Bol wrote me in an email asking for a feature, I nearly fell off my chair. I had seen her work on Instagram and was in awe of her handmade jewelry pieces. Not only do the beads carry stories, but Bri does as well. Discover how Bri and her partner live small and how she mixes art with her travels.
I grew up drawing and crafting constantly. When I was younger, my mom and I used to bead together. We talked about starting a jewelry business, but I was 10, so it wasn’t a serious endeavor.
In high school, I made most of my clothes. I would sit at the sewing machine minutes before leaving for school, frantically trying to finish my look for the day.
I worked in the fashion industry for a hot moment before realizing it wasn’t for me. After that, I went to college and studied Art and Anthropology. I took a jewelry-making class without any forethought or intentions that it would one day become my career and passion. I mostly painted in college, and after school, I wanted more flexibility. I wanted to be able to continue to make art, but simultaneously travel. I was inspired by a few friends at the time who were starting their own female-owned and operated small businesses, and they were killing it.
What art can I make that is small, compatible and relatable to myself? I thought back to the small tools in jewelry-making class and one morning, I sat up in bed and thought, “I love jewelry and I know how to make it. I can do this.” And that is where it all started.
While working a summer job, I saved some money and poured myself into making a body of work. I found it was the perfect medium to combine my love for nature, adventure, travel and handmade textile art. I set out to create a business and received a ton of support by the people around me. I’m insanely fortunate and grateful for that chapter in the beginning.
It took about two years to say I could do this as a business. I continued to take a few odd jobs through the second year just for mental security.
Jewelry making is extremely fufilling, albeit a bit hectic at times. I try to buy all my materials and glass beads from whatever local bead shop I can find depending on the town I’m in. In that way, I feel like I’m giving back and supporting a local economy.
I love using vintage beads as well, they carry human stories with them that I try to think about when sewing the tiny beads together.
Each piece is made by hand by yours truly, either sewn together with a needle and thread, or hand drawn and etched on metal. The map pieces are of my favorite places in the wild. For me, making art is a way to try and take in the beauty around me and then put it back into the world. It is a constant ebb and flow.
I covet these really old vintage Czech beads that I found at a shop in Portland. I bought out their stock at the time and am about to run out. They are the dusty rose seed beads that you see in a lot of my work. They date back to the turn of the century and for some reason I didn’t write this anywhere on my site. For the past few years, a bunch of my work has had these beads and people don’t even know the history they’re wearing.
Bead weaving is an incredibly old art form that dates back to many ancient cultures, and the beads themselves have a really beautiful rich history as well. And so I typically seek out old beads because I love the history of humanity and connectivity they carry with them.
As far as balancing work and play, I have mostly tunnel vision for one or the other. I’ve found that I can’t split up work and play in a day. One always wins out. So instead, I work for days on end and then I take a day or two off. Or like this past holiday season, I worked for four months nonstop everyday and then went to Thailand for almost two months. I still worked, but didn’t ship anything, which allowed me a bit more time to explore and play. I’m figuring it out year by year.
I’m hoping to make a few pieces this next season and give back a percentage of the proceeds to a great cause. If you have any that you’re super passionate about I’d love some suggestions. I also work very closely with Wylder goods who has sold my work from the beginning, and they run a giveback program, donating to environmental groups and nonprofit organizations.
My partner has a Sprinter van, so depending on where we’ll be, we’ll switch back and forth between my Scamp and his rig. We joke about connecting the two to have a two-bedroom apartment, but for gas-efficiency purposes, we have yet to do it.
This past year, we’ve lived out of the Scamp and Sprinter van constantly, from Bishop, CA to Jackson, WY to Boulder, CO, to the southeast and back, and finding gorgeous spots along the way. We’re constantly looking for hot springs to pit spot and sleep at.
We also traveled by van in Europe this past year. Portugal is incredible for vanlifers. You can camp all along the coastal cliffs and it’s insanely gorgeous. I would go back in a heartbeat.
I’ll be in California for a little bit longer and then I’m off to Florida. Then, you can catch me somewhere on my extended trip back to the west this summer. I’m hoping to get out to Tuolumne a bunch this summer as well. And who knows, things are always changing.
As an artist and a brand, I believe in being story driven, community oriented, conscientious and transparent. If you have any other questions for me, let me know.
Follow Bri Bol & her work
Produced & edited by Kathleen Morton.
Photos courtesy of Bri Bol, Sasha Turrentine, Mary Mecklenburg, Lamberto Franco and Alex Aristei.