Studio workshops

Hello!! For those of you paying attention, I am starting something new this fall at my studio in NE Washington, DC.

Are you looking for a creativity boost?
Want to learn about new art and craft materials and techniques?
Need a time and place (and helping hand) to get back to work on an abandoned project?

I LOVE to teach! The thing I enjoy most is the exploration and exchange of ideas – brainstorming and figuring out how people learn, what gets their creative juices flowing, and how to give new information that enhances the tools and knowledge that students already have.

So, a few evenings each month, I am inviting people to come play with me in my studio. Participants are welcome to come and work on their own projects, learn about and try out what I am working on, use my table space and tools, and/or pick my brain.

Sessions will last 3 hours (6–9 pm) and be held on varying weeknights to accommodate different schedules.

Fee$50 per session (including most materials available in my studio).

Contact me if you are interested and want to learn more details (like where I am and how to get there).

You can’t just show up – I need about two days advance notice because I need to prepare space for what you might want to work on. I can accommodate up to 6 people each time, so I need to know you are coming!

This month (September 2019), I will be making mulberry bark paper and carving small printing blocks. The first three sessions will be:

Monday, September 16

Wednesday, September 18

Monday, September 23

I will post upcoming workshop dates on my Facebook Artist Page (JBeelsDesign) and Instagram (materialworldstudio) and will send out email updates to anyone who requests a monthly reminder. This is not an ongoing commitment – come just once, once a month, or every session!

We’ll be playing it by ear to see what works and adjusting as we go.

For more information about me and my work, please visit (for papermaking, wirework, and beaded jewelry) and (for sculpture using recycled materials). In addition, I have extensive background in knitting and some experience with wet and needle felting, sewing, embroidery, netting, and crochet.

Please contact me if you have questions, and feel free to spread the word to anyone you think might be interested.

Jessica Beels


Catching up – (old) new website!

Quick, quick post to say that almost two years ago (!), I started a new website. Surprise! Time sure does fly. focuses on work that incorporates reused materials and examines how humans interact with our material world.

It includes information about ongoing bodies of work:









Recycled birds

Fused, painted, reused plastic jewelry and wall pieces

Bycatch series of nets

Beach plastic collages

I am selling my recycled birds through this new site (see Birds for Sale) and hope to add other items to the shop soon.

OF COURSE it has its own blog (yes, I am a glutton for punishment), but rather than keep visitors up to date on what I am making, it is more of a forum for musing about larger issues, some related to my work and some just pondering the universe. I got a very slow start on that, but I am happy to have that venue available as my profound thoughts start percolating again.

Of course, my original website still exists (, and paper sculpture and jewelry, as well as beaded jewelry (which I am honestly not making much anymore), will be housed there for now. I will continue to post my newsletter and show and exhibition schedule there, as usual.



Earth Bound: Small Sculpture at the American Center for Physics

It’s official – I am terrible at keeping this blog up to date. However, even though this show is about to close, I am going to post images of the work included and a link to the wonderful essay that curator Sarah Tanguy wrote for the exhibition, which also includes artists color photographs by Michael Collier and encaustic paintings by Andrea Huppert.

The show opened in April 2017 and closes at the end of October and was installed in the rotunda of the building that houses the American Center for Physics in College Park, Maryland.

The rotunda includes four sets of dark-paneled curved shelves with lighting. My work in them had the effect of a cabinet of curiosities and the sculptures looked even more like the biological specimens that had inspired many of them. Most of my work was high-shrinkage flax paper over steel armatures. A few had gut instead of paper, and a few also had no covering at all. I made this work over the past six years, so it covers a few series – marine creatures (shells and blastoids), microscopic organisms (radiolarians and viruses), vessel forms, and abstracted volumes. It was a treat to be asked to take the opportunity to review this work and think of it as as a representative portfolio, revisiting my inspirations and technical solutions while considering what to make next.





I had to select work that would fit into the closed shelving, so I was limited to work no more than 10″ deep. This have me the opportunity to think about the flow between objects a bit differently than usual. Sarah Tanguy’s keen eye, both in helping to select the work in my studio and in placing the pieces on site, was immeasurable.

Here are the pieces in the show:


Sea Urchin Bracelet (2012, flax over steel, 6” high x 10” wide x 10” deep)

Large Echinoid (2012, flax over steel, 6” high x 10” wide x 10” deep)

Radiolarian (2014, flax over steel, 13” x 13” x 13”)

Dodecamer Protein (2011, flax over steel, 20” high x 20” wide x 8” deep)

Rough Seas (2012, flax over steel, 20” long x 8” high x 8” deep)


Elizabethan Urchin Necklace (2011, flax over steel with brass, fine silver, freshwater pearls, and gold leaf, 12” wide x 9” deep x 2.25” high)

Chrysalis Fibula Pin (2016, flax over gold-filled wire with freshwater pearls and fine silver, 6” high x 1.5” wide x 2.5” deep)

Medium Printed Squash Vessel (2012, flax over steel with acrylic print, 8.5” long x 6.5” wide x 6” high)

Small Printed Squash Vessel (2011, flax over steel with acrylic print, 6” long, x 3” wide, x 4” high)

Gestation Sculpture (2012, flax over steel, 5” high x 12” wide x 5” deep)

Point of Impact - Arrowhead sculpture (2013, flax and abaca over steel, 18” high x 10” wide x 6.5” deep)


Delineated Conch (2012, flax over steel, 12” long x 8” wide x 6” high)

Rusty Conch (2012, flax over steel, 5” high x 8” long x 6” deep)

Six-sided Echinoid (2017, gut over brass, 6.5” high x 3” diameter) and Nudibranch (2017, gut over steel, 2.75” high x 6.5” long x 3” wide)

Organic Boat (2017, steel with enamel paint, 9” long x 4.5” wide x 4” high)

Melon Vessel (2017, steel with enamel paint, 12” long x 9” wide x 7” high)

Two New Flax Squash Vessels (2017, flax over steel, 13” long x 6” wide x 5” high and 8” long x 5” wide x 6” high)


Skeleton Nautilus (2011, flax over steel, 16” high x 16” wide x 8” deep)

Fat Nautilus (2017, flax over steel, 16” high x 16” wide x 8” deep)

Contain/Release – Virus Vessel (2011, flax over steel5.5” high x 10” diameter)

Baroque Nautilus (2015, gut over steel, 6” diameter x 2.5” deep)

Printed Blossom Melon (flax over steel with acrylic print, 2011, 4” high x 7” wide x 4” deep)

Blastoid (2012, flax over steel, 10” high x 8” wide x 8” deep)

More Ocean Plastic Collages – Chesapeake Bay, MD

In May 2017, I got to participate in a weekend artists’ retreat at Echo Hill Outdoor School  in Worton, MD, on the Chesapeake Bay. A group of artists from the Baltimore, MD, and Washington, DC areas were invited to spend time on the beautiful grounds, making art and getting to know each other. We agreed to donate at least one piece of art created over the weekend (or resulting from inspiration gained over the weekend) for the school to use for fundraising for the school in return for our immersive experience.

The property includes both a substantial beach and wooded and swampy areas, as well as open fields. I had a hard time deciding what to focus on—there were so many natural materials available for incorporating into work! So, typically, I did a little bit of everything. I gathered willow and made a rustic basket, I drew a little (but not as much as I had hoped I would), and I walked the beach a few times, collecting both driftwood and garbage. I also did a 3D sketch of a treeline, made from wire on driftwood, with some bonsai wire I had brought along.

The two most successful pieces I made were two more ocean garbage collages for the Bycatch project. These are each approximately 18–24″ wide assembled. As with the first collages in the Bahamas, they are ephemeral. I have kept the bits and pieces (unassembled) and hope to make more arrangements some time in the future.

I was struck with the radically different palette of these two pieces. as compared with the ones that I made in Eleuthera. I was hard pressed to find much material in bright colors in Maryland, but in the Bahamas, those comprised the bulk of the beach plastic washed ashore. As nature decorates wild scenes with colors that are site-specific, does garbage reflect that palette as well, even if it has traveled a long way through the water?—Tropical riots in regions closer to the equator, and more muted tones as one travels toward more temperate climates. It seems illogical, but I will have to pay closer attention to this.


The Bycatch series continues


I have added three new nets to the Bycatch series. The first two were for a group show called Personal Patterns at the Montgomery College King Street Gallery (October 22 – Nov 25, 2015). That show included two new nets. “Blue Bycatch” is about 9 feet tall and made using traditional netting knots with strips of recycled saris from India and Nepal, anchored with used plastic water bottles that had been refilled with tap water (about 9 feet tall):


The second, “Spiral Bycatch,” is made from strips of recycled white silk saris, cotton fishing net cord, and nylon fishing line. This net is about 10 feet tall, and I used a traditional netting knot to create it, but in order to create the spiral pattern, I had to work six separate balls of fiber simultaneously, with knots hanging progressively about one inch lower for each loop in each segment. It was a mind-bending exercise until I got used to it, and I am very pleased that the final effect was successful! Retracing one’s steps is very hard and time-consuming, so I just had to trust that I hadn’t made any major mistakes as I worked on the long form:

The third one is the biggest yet. About 25 feet long, it was made from recycled fabric strips and fishing line, forming a spiral pattern, like “Spiral Bycatch.” It was part of the Man/Made show at the Takoma Park Community Center from November through December 2016, suspended in the central atrium area over the entrance to the police station on the first floor. What had been the open base for the previous nets was elevated to open like an entry into the center of the spiral, the entry point for which was viewable from the second-floor entrance to the community center. It still had a traditional net form, but read more ambiguously as both the net and something the could have been caught at sea – perhaps a squid or jellyfish.

This show was installed during the week of the 2016 Presidential election, and provided a meditative, colorful, and technically complicated distraction from the seeming chaos unfolding in the country. I hope the presence of such a large contemplative object helped provide a way for people to explore issues larger and more abstract than the day-to-day world.






Ocean Plastic Collages


In February 2016, I made a trip to visit dear friends who have retired to Eleuthera, Bahamas, and to scope out a possible project about how coastal communities’ lives are affected by changes in the ocean, including increasing garbage in the water and on the shores and changing marine life migration and availability.

Eleuthera is a long, thin island with beaches running along both the Atlantic and the Caribbean side.

I took some lovely long walks along the island’s many beaches and, especially on the Atlantic side, I found a stunning amount of plastic garbage washed ashore.

I collected the more durable and colorful pieces (only a very few of which are in the image to the left) with thoughts of making a jewelry series (which I still may do). In the meantime, I was visiting during Valentine’s Day, so I made a collage using the warm colors:


Then, since I had so much fun with that image, I made a few fish collages. Perhaps I will use cards with these images to help raise awareness of the problem of plastic in the oceans.



And now I am inspired to make more! One small bag of plastic yields many possibilities. To be continued….



Ephemeral at GRACE

I am thrilled to be included in the Washington Sculptors Group show Ephemeral at Greater Reston Arts Center (VA).  This show is part of the group’s Sculpture NOW series and draws its inspiration from the Patrick Dougherty “stick” installation A Bird in Hand added to Reston Town Center this summer. I was able to volunteer to help with the installation for two days of the two-week installation.  What a wonderful experience!

The Washington Sculptors Group show includes work reflecting 27 artists’ meditations on the fleeting nature of things in general. My piece, “Bycatch I,” which I made originally for the Call and Response show at Episcopal High School in Alexandria (VA) fit nicely with the theme, and I was honored to be selected among the exhibiting artists for Ephemeral.

“Bycatch I” is made from white cotton fishing net cord and red flax thread knotted with traditional fishing net knots into a 9-foot suspended form, held open with a 2-foot fishing net hoop and draped to floor where it is anchored with 60 recycled water bottles refilled with tap water.









The piece presents the difficult position of coastal fishing communities throughout the world, where overfishing and dwindling fish populations due to damaged ecosystems, as well as changing fish migration patterns, are challenging the fishers’ livelihood.  Some fishers are catching species they are not permitted to keep (bycatch) and many are encountering increasing amount of yet another kind of bycatch – garbage. This cycle of human reliance on the natural world and our inability to resist putting overbearing pressures on it is affecting all of us, making an already tenuous balance even more fleeting.

I found out at the opening reception on September 11, 2015, that I had been chosen for the Washington Sculptors Group’s 2015 Tom Rooney Award for Excellence in Sculpture.  What a lovely surprise! I am excited about the Bycatch series and this award certainly encourages me to continue.



Fused recycled plastic – going global

I have been fusing used plastic bags for a few years now.  I often paint them with acrylic paints and then fuse a few layers together to get a stiff fabric that I can sew into jewelry pieces or incorporate into larger sculptures.

I have blogged about the piece that the Union of Concerned Scientists acquired a few years ago, “Can’t See the Forest for the Trees”

which included heavy-weight boutique shopping bags and Whole Foods vegetable bags labeled “ORGANIC” in a comment about the irony of earth-conscious consumption feeding our need to feel responsible (by buying local and organic) while adding to other environmental issues by increasing the demand for plastic.

I also made a fused wedding dress out of Target bags for a show at the Torpedo Factory:

This is an image of the bodice. This was another comment on consumption and excess vs bargain-hunting.

More recently, the piece called “Core, Drill, Spill” that I collaborated on with Michele

Banks and Ellyn Weiss for our Voyage of Discovery exhibit (shown at the American Association for the Advancement o

f Science and the McLean Project for the Arts in 2014) included about 2,000 bags fused into about 200 square layers and assembled into three pieces representing ice cores.

We liked the way the whiter and bluish layers looked somewhat like layers in ice core samples.  And then we used other colors to show a change in elements and substances found in more recent samples.  The final core/column included black garbage bags spilling out of the bottom to represent potential oil spills, now that the Arctic ice is melting and the water is open enough for oil exploration.  An accident is almost inevitable, and at the time we were making the piece, I think that was one of our biggest fears for drilling in the region – a catastrophic spill.

My experimentation with this medium will continue – although thankfully it is getting more difficult to find the raw materials as businesses choose to avoid plastic bags (or charge for them).   I plan to incorporate plastic into the Bycatch net series as well, especially as I move to pieces that involve coastal communities, where plastic is increasingly found on beaches and floating in the fishing grounds.

Call and Response

Bycatch - cotton cord, flax thread, repurposed plastic water bottles, steel hoop

Angie Newman Johnson Gallery at Episcopal High School
1200 North Quaker Lane, Alexandria, VA 22302

May 12 – June 14, 12015

Jessica Beels, Elsabe Dixon, Inga Hamilton – curated by Elizabeth Vorlicek

For the past year or so, I have been marinating ideas and slowly producing work for a 3-person show called Call and Response.  Liz Vorlicek invited the other two artists and me to collaborate on a show, and our similar interests in nature as both narrative subject matter and as a source of materials seemed an intriguing and inspiring match.

A montage of details from Call and Response


Here is Liz’s curator’s statement for the show:

“In music, call and response is a technique where one musician offers a phrase and a second player answers with a direct commentary or response to the offered phrase. The musicians build on each other’s offering and work together to move the song along and create a sound that’s inventive and collective.” When I ponder the process of call and response in visual art I become drawn in by the idea of generating a buzz of conversation in a gallery space. From the moment I asked these artists to show together, a wonderful interplay started to happen that I think was critical to the creation of some of these pieces in the scheme of each artist’s individual artistic practice. This back and forth between friends not only started the first notes of “What if?” for this exhibition but also generated the forward momentum to stay connected. Over the period of two years we engaged in a dialogue. It involved an exchange of ideas, stories posted on Facebook and tender morsels shared about our practice as artists and teachers and people in the world. A collaborative work is also in progress in the linear, wall construction called Call and Response. We are eager to watch it take shape and change during the duration of the show.

Details of Bower - dogwood branches, mulberry bark fiber, steel, and gut

It has been fascinating watching the artists work on site from their respective mobile studios. I have experienced recycling at its finest in Elsabe Dixon’s tactile and gutsy, Hive sculpture; weaving in action with the delicate threads and linear elements that make up Jessica Beels’ environments and the explosion of color in the cornucopia of fiber and mixed media elements collaged together in Inga Hamilton’s mythical creatures. Thematically this exhibition is tied together with each artist’s unyielding desire to connect with her materials and to make a commentary through installation art and storytelling. The themes are unified under the umbrellas of fiber work and the building up of structure through repeated actions and elements. Each artist knows her materials in a way that harkens back to a time when most people actually knew how to make and repair things by hand: like darning a holey sock. Dixon’s, Beels’ and Hamilton’s practices are profoundly connected to the world of the craftsperson and re-define traditional practices like crocheting, net making and bee keeping through an evocative artistic inquiry. This connection and respect for the past is compellingly modern. The artists’ actions implore us to take notice, stay a while and learn something new. As viewers this is our invitation to connect with the work. It is our call and we are invited to respond with questions, “AH HA!” moments and perhaps a broad smile or furrowed brow.”


In addition to work we each produced individually, we installed a wall piece using materials gathered from all three artists’ stash and building by successive additions, one artist after the other, in a responsive cycle – a sort of 3D collage. This piece is about play, light, time and transformation. Because Inga lives in N. Ireland and was unable to make it “across the pond” to participate in person, we held video meetings with her to get her input on what to add where in the responsive piece, as well as feedback on our installation of the other pieces.

Call and Response collaborative piece as of May 7, 2015

Migrating Radiozoa – Voyage of Discovery

Stylatractus giganteus

“Radiolarian” is the word generally used to denote a large family of microscopic sea animals that includes radiolaria (silica-based), acantheria (strontium-based) and foraminifera (calcium-based) – hundreds of tiny creatures found in the oceans throughout the globe.

Heliosphaera echinoides

My focus on this group for the Voyage of Discovery show was inspired by a 2012 article in The Journal of Micropaleontology that describes how species of radiolarians usually only found in tropical waters are more frequently being found in the Arctic.  Because these animals rely on ocean currents to carry them while alive and their hard “skeletons” endure after they die, they are an interesting measure of change.  The significance of this change, and the many possible reasons for it, inspired me to make this series called Invasive Species. The sculptures are high-shrinkage flax paper over steel wire, ranging from approximately 1 to 3 feet in diameter.


installation viewed through lobby window at AAAS, downtown Washington, DC (January 2014)

The show traveled to the McLean Project for the Arts in September 2014 and some of the pieces from this series will be featured in a show in February – April 2015 of this year’s DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities arts fellowship grants.

installation at McLean Project for the Arts, McLean, VA (September 2014)

The radiolarians are designed to be hung in loose groups, hanging above the heads of visitors as tough floating through the ocean. They respond to slight changes in air flow and cast dramatic shadows on the walls nearby.

As with much of my work, while I knew that shadow and movement would play some role in the final piece once installed, I started to work on the series with the forms of the individual elements in mind.  I did research into which species were migrating to the arctic, drawing on the wonderful online resources for such research, especially and an archive on the site that includes all of the plates from Ernst Haeckel’s Challenger voyage.  In the end, I decided to build pieces that were most compelling to me as pure form and happen to be radiolarians (for the most part) instead of sticking to a strict list of only those that were changing their migratory pattern.  I even built a few structures that I have not been able to match to particular radiolaria (although, with hundreds of species and such a wide range of forms, I wouldn’t be surprised if they turn out to be “real” after all).

Ceratospyris polygona

"invented" radiolarian form