Saturday, June 23, 2007

Ph.Beads ... Florida, USA

Artist: Monica R. Lara, Ph.D.
Business: Ph.Beads (get it?)
Web sites:,
ocation: Coconut Grove (Miami), Florida

What do you create?
Silver and gemstone jewelry

Where and when do you do your creative work?
Evenings and weekends. And when I’m asleep I dream things.

Do you have another "day job"?
I am currently an Associate Research Scientist with the
University of Miami. I specialize in fish larvae (baby fish and their eyeballs, nose hairs, stuff like that).

Where and what did you study?
I studied marine biology and obtained my M.S. from
California State University in Northridge, California and my Ph.D. from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science of the College of William and Mary in Gloucester Point, Virginia.

I’ve been taking jewelry-making at Miami Dade College for several years.

Where do you find inspiration?
I thought about this a lot and was going to say nature, blah blah but that’s not really all of it, is it? The truth is that I get a lot of magazines, not necessarily jewelry magazines but fashion, interior design and fine art magazines. I use them for inspiration for colors and shapes, but it goes beyond that. By looking at lots of them, studying them really, I have developed a specific aesthetic sense. I have developed “an eye”, a feeling for the kinds of things that I gravitate toward. Almost subconsciously I’ve developed a particular sensibility and this is what I express in my designs. I find I like things that are a little off, almost the wrong colors together, slightly off center proportions. And then I edit. Like the science manuscripts I write. I file the ring until the width is just right, until the corners are just rounded enough but not too much, set a stone whose size in proportion to the band is just unexpectedly a bit too small. A bit wrong in just the right way and then it just sings! It’s delicious! How’s that for self-analysis and navel gazing?! Pretty good for me. I think I really just learned something about myself! Huh, go figure.

What motivates you?
When I create it’s like satisfying a craving, eating when I’m hungry, a good sneeze... Frankly, I was lopsided. I developed the logical side of my brain and felt the need to express and develop the creative side. It gives me balance. Rounds me out as a sentient being. And my customers motivate me! I love it when people get my aesthetic, say they love a tiny detail I thought they would miss. I feel I’ve done something right and good. And that I’ve found a kindred spirit in taste! I am motivated when someone falls in love with something I made that I believed only I loved! It pushes me to reach further, to make something even more tasty.

When did you start doing this?
I can’t remember! I guess the incipient obsession was there early on, always seething below the surface. I find stashes of crystals and beads at my parent’s house, so I guess when I was a teenager or younger. I had a rock collection as a kid and started college wanting to be a geologist. I started using silver and “real” stones in the last few years and began selling things to help defray the costs of my habit. Don’t think I’ve gained on it yet…

Do you remember getting into art as a kid?
I always thought I was the black sheep of the family because I couldn't paint or draw or sew or build things like my parents and my siblings. I guess I just had to find my medium! Only now do I see that there was art in making little Barbie pastries using dough and pasta and tiny nail polish and perfume bottles out of beads. Now I love to watch my niece and am amazed by her imagination and creativity. It’s so fun to play with her and release all that again!

When and why did you decide to start your own business?
It was this great guy in Downtown Miami at Pan American Gems. He asked me why I didn’t sell my things. Smart man because then I bought lots more stuff! But we became friends and would talk forever whenever I’d go in to buy beads or chain. Once people started to make a fuss over my things it became a real high and I was hooked! I’m a naturally gregarious person and what is better than doing a show and talking to lots of interesting people. Because as we know, people who appreciate handmade things are all very interesting, intelligent, dynamic, fab people!

How did you choose the name for your business?
My friend that taught me my first real beading skills has a Ph.D. in Malacology (clams). We went to graduate school together and my husband thought of the name for us. He has the quickest mind and weird sense of humor. A match made in heaven!

What do you love most about creating your work?
Ooh. Lots of things but mostly: I love watching my hands doing something I didn’t know they could. It’s like watching a movie of someone else’s hands. It’s weird and awesome. Then that sense of “YES!” when something turns out just right and hits a sweet spot with me. And finally, when someone else gets it and cries when she sees it like my sappy friend who we’ll call “V the sap” to protect her identity. (Except that everyone will guess who it is because how many names begin with V? Haha!)

What's the most fascinating place you've been?
I lived underwater for 10 days in the Aquarius habitat off
Key Largo. It’s like a grounded submarine. We could dive for hours and hours and couldn’t come to the surface until the end or we would DIE! I saw fish do things we didn’t know they did! It was like traveling to another planet and living with aliens. Plus we all sounded like Donald Duck and felt buzzed the whole time and thought everything was supremely funny! I also spent a year in Australia where everything will kill you if you don’t watch it. It was quite invigorating! I met some of the most wonderful people in the world and the place is so gut-wrenchingly gorgeous it still haunts my dreams.

A book you love:
Good question! I’m reading Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It’s the first in a trilogy of memoirs of the Colombian-born Nobel Laureate. One of my favorites is 100 Years of Solitude by this author because it’s a perfect example of Latin weirdness; mysticism and family mythology all mixed together in a complicated family history. It’s weird and colorful and just like my Mexican family’s mythologies; passed down and told over until you don’t know what’s real and what’s surreal. His writing tickles my brain in just the right way. That’s why I said that’s such a good question, because I have always thought you could tell a lot about a person by the books they read. And especially creative people because it all goes back to that aesthetic sense, you know?

What is the most interesting thing about you?
I have three ears. No, I don’t know! You guys tell me!

What achievement are you most proud of?
I’m proud of my Ph.D. because I am really A type and I did the best work I could do and I still read it and feel it’s good work. But I’m even more proud that I have never stopped being a good person, a good daughter, wife, sister, aunt, niece and friend. I try to do my best work there too.

What advice would you give women starting their own business?
To be ready to work hard. Lots of people think it’s the easy way to work but it’s much harder to be responsible for everything yourself! You have to be boss and employee and that takes a lot of discipline. You have to develop all the skills needed even if you don’t enjoy all of them. I think I have been successful in both my careers because I force myself to do the best job with the things I don’t like as well as enjoy the things I do. You can’t just design the stuff, you have to find a way to move it! Marketing, selling, promoting, keeping inventory, pricing, ugh. It’s a lot to learn and not so fun sometimes. Also, know your materials, people want to know about what they’re buying. I know the origin and lore about all the stones, ethnic beads etc. that I use. I ask when I buy and I read, read, read. Many times it’s the story and the significance of the piece that really appeals to people along with the design or color. It adds something extra and makes it special. A piece of jewelry is really a personal talisman after all and those things really strike a note deep inside a person. So the most important advice is to do something you really enjoy spending a lot of time doing, do your very best work, and make things you really like because it makes selling them easier when you’re honest when you say, oh, I just love that one too!

What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?
For one, thinking about a design when I should be concentrating on fish nose hairs and thinking about fish armpits when I should be designing something for someone that weekend! Seriously! But also the challenge of doing something dirty and dangerous in my house. It was easy in a fully equipped workshop, but in my little
Florida room it poses much more of a hazard!

What do you love to do in your free time?
I’ve started cave diving. I’ve been an open water diver for so long, I won’t say how long because then you’ll know how old I am. Now my husband and I travel to central
Florida and the Yucatan to dive in caves. I know the next question: What do you see in there? Rocks and water. And it’s awesome.

What are you working on right now?
A paper on…what else?... fish nose hairs! And necklaces with teeny tiny sapphire beads.

What do you hope to achieve next?
To become a full cave diver, publish a bunch of papers this year and get more jewelry up on ETSY! Oh and meet more cool people to spend an afternoon with!


  1. that's why I love you girl- you just have the knack. And only your friends understand your crazy mind :).
    we love you and are so proud of you! great interview, but we expected nothing less!
    thank you for all that you give and share of yourself...

  2. You are so cool. But we alrady knew that.


  3. I am drooling ove those bejeweled rings.

  4. You have some really lovely features... Thank you for sharing. Sara x

  5. You don't know me but thanks for allowing me to know you! Your answer to what inspires you ... and the process involved in answering what really isn't a simple question amused me to no end. it's so validating to encounter others of the terminally unusual and original kind. Don't lend all your literary talent to the scientific journals and the fish hairs and armpits (up until now i never knew fish had armpits ... lots of questions there) ... you write a beautiful voice for genius and we could use you too :)