Designer Uses Beads to Inspire Joy

Virginia Gutiérrez Porter created the first of her '20 Thousand Beads' images, seen here, as a way to provide joy for herself and her sons, and went on to create a series. Photo by Dave Weinstein

It began for Virginia Gutiérrez Porter as a one-time thing. The Covid pandemic was newly upon us, friends and neighbors in her Palo Alto Eichler neighborhood were suddenly distant. Virginia, who’d grown up in Mexico City, surrounded by the warmth of a multigenerational family and friends, was distressed.

“It was a transitional part in my life in general,” says Virginia, a graphic designer who was divorced and sharing her two sons with her ex. “Even going to grocery store, it was ghostly.” She adds: “Everything stopped.”

“I needed to have my mind healthy and really occupied, doing something,” she says.

  Bead image
Each of her '20 Thousand Beads' images evokes a different mode, from light to somber. The mood also changes with lighting conditions throughout the day. Courtesy of the artist

So she turned to materials she had at home: canvasses, beads left over from an earlier project, silicon glue.

She began working in the garage of her home in Palo Alto’s Triple El neighborhood, meticulously arranging lines of beads in a rectangle-within-rectangle design, inspired by Bauhaus mater Josef Albers but with some inspiration of her own.

Rather than just paint, Virginia created her lines using beads. “They’re alive,” she says. “When the night comes, they shine differently. They shift depending on how light hits them.”

What began as a plan to create a single work of art for her own home, however, soon became a series of works, dubbed ‘20 Thousand Beads,’ about 15 so far, that she has sold to friends and others, and resulted in an exhibit at a friend’s home.

Placing beads on canvas is meticulous work requiring much focus. The artist often listens to books while working, including on the subject of quantum physics. Photo by Dave Weinstein

About the first in the series, which indeed used 20,000 beads, she says: “I actually wanted some color with high-frequency energy. So I thought, yellow and green. They have beautiful energy.” She adds; “It’s a happy, shiny piece.”

Virginia acknowledges her debt to Albers, and says the aesthetic of her 1955 Eichler home was also an influence.

“I love Bauhaus. I’m a graphic designer. I love simple lines, straight lines. When I was thinking about making a piece for my house, it had to be coherent with the architecture of Eichlers.”

“And I wanted something that would be interactive, so I chose the beads, because depending on where you are standing, and if the lights are on and off, your perspective changes.”

The process of creating the work is as important as the final product. Gutiérrez, whose house is at all times super orderly, says it is “a very meditative process.”

Virginia's workspace can be seen from the sidewalk as her neighbors walk by. Photo by Dave Weinstein

Carefully lining up each of the thousand beads she uses for each canvas (smaller works might have only 5,000) takes time and attention.

“I go one by one, so your attention is right here right now. The first one I didn’t do with a ruler so I really had to be there to make a straight line, horizontal and vertical. So it was very grounding, and a very mindful process for myself,” she says.

Because she kept her garage door open, the process was also social.

“I spent hours and hours in my garage listening to audio books and watching people walking. Because I needed to see people. From being human, but also from being a Mexican, I need warm, I need touch, and I was lacking it. So it was a wonderful way to say hello to people every day.”

It was also during the pandemic that Virginia inaugurated what looks likely to be a tradition – created a 'Day of the Dead' display in her open garage. Her mother flew up from Mexico City to enjoy it. “It’s a beautiful way to celebrate life,” Virginia says.

Virginia, who was raised in Mexico City and studied graphic design there, moved to the Palo Alto in 2004 when she got married. She has lived in her Eichler for five years.

Veronique and Virginia
Veronique Lafargue (left) and Virginia have become very close friends during the pandemic, and Veronique finds her friend's designs very comforting. Photo by Dave Weinstein

She emphasizes how her Mexican heritage has made her who she is as a person and a designer. “I was born surrounded by family, a big family, surrounded by friends.” And she says the community in the Eichler Triple El neighborhood (named for its streets, El Cajon Way, Elsinore Drive, and Elsinore Court) provides some of that same community feeling.

A close friend from across the street, Veronique Lafargue, has one of Virginia’s bead designs in her home and finds it comforting, at a time when she has suffered a loss.

“It’s a place in my house where the sun is constantly changing morning to evening,” Veronique says. “It is like living art. It is comforting. When I work from home, I have it in my background. So when I Zoom, it’s there. And I have a rowing machine, and I watch it [while rowing]. Art is very healing, and it’s joyful."

Virginia Gutiérrez Porter is also working on a new series, using glitter, and envisions yet another series, one that will use sawdust. She sells work, and does commissions, and can be messaged at Instagram.

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