Thursday, May 24, 2012

Taking A Moment

I should be (and am!) working on building inventory for my next festival. But I needed a breather and so I sat down to fill out an online application for a metalsmithing group associated with Etsy, where I have an online shop.

The application is fairly extensive and asked some thought-provoking questions that made me really consider where I am and where I'm going. So I thought I'd share some of the questions and answers here.

Q. What drew you to work with metal, and when did you start? What is your favorite part of the creative process?

A. I began my jewelry career (though it was initially a hobby) as a humble bead-stringin' gal. But soon I wanted more, so I taught myself to work with wire and did a lot of cold-joined designs. This kind of work satisfied me and sustained me as the hobby transitioned into a career but eventually I had too many designs in my head and my sketchbook that could not be realized (or at least not in the "clean, simple, modern" way that I preferred) with my existing skills.

I have taken fabrication classes at the Spruill Center for the Arts in Dunwoody, GA, which opened up my world. They were fantastic, but eventually I realized that classes alone would not be enough and in December 2009 my husband and I made room for an actual studio in our home. Over the last two years I have spent a lot of time at the torch, with the saw, at the polishing wheel...I have burned myself, gotten silver "splinters", melted and destroyed some things along the way (but thankfully only metal - not the house or myself!) and have learned a great, GREAT deal by trial and error. I still consider myself a "baby" metalsmith but I'm growing and learning all the time.

My favorite part of the creative process is twofold:

1. I love stones / cabochons and I will sit down with several at once and start doodling in the sketchbook. These are always rough ideas as I find that my perspective shifts or happy accidents happen in the actual fabrication process and sometimes the finished piece doesn't exactly match the original design. But I love the blank sketchbook page, the stone in my hand, and the "making what would not be there without you" aspect of the process.

2. I love the actual process of joining all the yummy metal goodness together. I'm still excited by the most recent solder flow as I was the first time I ever was able to do that with a torch. It's still a little mystical to me. Figuring out placement, how to position a design element(s) to not kill myself at cleanup time (my least favorite part of the process), how to keep trying to give myself more complex soldering puzzles and solving them...that gets me out of bed every day.  :)

Q. Please list at least 3 metal working techniques that you employ on a regular basis, and describe how you incorporate them into your work. 

A. 1. Hammering. I love texture and am not in a position (yet!) to own a rolling mill, so I have to get creative with texture in other ways. Even with a textured hammer, the end result will look different on a thin wire than it will on a flat sheet, so creating the texture(s) I desire (and having them turn out the way I desire!) is part of the problem-solving process.

2. Sawing. I'm not as good with my saw as I'd like to be but I use it quite often to cut out sheet shapes for cabochon settings.

3. Soldering. My torch is used almost daily unless I'm traveling or working art shows. I sweat solder (most of my embellishments are sweat soldered) and placement solder. I don't pick solder much because I have tremors in my hands, so I tend to line everything up, get the solder placed where I want it, and then hit it all with the torch. I find I'm more efficient that way too.  :)

Q. Do you outsource any parts of your work, like casting , or have help in the studio? (Having help will not disqualify you, but we'd like to know what parts of your process you outsource when we consider your work).

A. I do have some items cast. I make my living selling my jewelry, and in my opinion it's almost impossible to keep up - since it is just me in the studio - with production for art shows if some items aren't cast. Plus it keeps my pricing affordable on those pieces.

Otherwise it's only me. I would love to have help but right now I am keeping a pretty tight rein on expenses.

Q. Please provide links to 3 pieces (need not be Etsy pieces) that best portray who you are as an artist

A. This is tough as my work is in flux right now while I am mastering fabrication and sort of re-designing all over again (or so it feels) but I'll show you three of my proudest pieces:

I feel like the Water's Edge pendant came together so beautifully and all elements are in harmony. This hadn't happened as well as I'd have liked in earlier pieces so this felt like a big step forward.

I feel like the Tide Pool necklace represents the beginnings of a new direction for my work that is more "me" - clean, simple, modern - I love the contrast of the darkened metal with the high shine components, and the bead dangle is a nod to my prior "beady" girl days.  :)

What I love about this piece is that it turned out so balanced. I am starting to play with asymmetry and really was happy with the feel of this one once it was done. The customer who bought it really connected with it as well which is part of what I strive for when I design, especially designing with stones, which is my favorite thing to do!

So that's my little snapshot in time. I should know if I'm accepted to the group sometime in June. And I can't wait to see where this path will take me next!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What They Don't Teach You...

I haven't posted anything (or any new designs) for a little while...mostly because I haven't designed anything new. Why? Because I am still working on my own style, my own voice, for the designs I create...and it's not as easy as you might think to make that happen.

This garnet is centered on the pendant, but at an angle. And then I added some asymmetrical elements around it...

What metalsmithing classes can teach you is the physicality of how to create. How to hold the torch, where the hottest part of the flame is, how to prep your metal, how to hold a saw when cutting, etc. etc. What they really can't teach you is what YOUR work looks like. In my opinion they often don't even do a great job of teaching you finishing (admittedly, my experience is limited to classes at two different locations, so other places may be better at teaching finishing, at least).

And finishing is an important part of jewelry making. It also figures heavily into how you design your creations. It's not so easy to get a high shine on sterling silver...and if you have a pattern on your metal, you'd better know if you want a matte, satin, or shiny finish from the beginning. AND you need to know how to place any design elements / embellishments on the piece so that you don't kill yourself during cleanup and polishing to realize your vision.

This lapis piece came together so easily...more easily than any stone design I made before it. And it sold immediately. If only they could all play so nicely... 

All this is not to complain...okay, maybe to complain a little. I AM frustrated. But I know that learning these things is all part of my own design will get figured out. I just don't like to feel like I'm in *constant* figuring-out mode. I'm not a natural problem-solver and right now it feels like every attempt at design involves so much of that.


This one...I'm still not satisfied with...

So I'm not designing...I'm researching. Studying. Deliberating. Drawing...but not executing designs at the moment. It's not necessarily a question of who I am but what I want to say with my jewelry. And how I actually say it...and a thousand other designers are so far ahead of me on this path that it gets discouraging. But I do believe I have something to offer. It's just going to take some time to figure that out.  :)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Charoite Revisited

I previously posted about some of my charoite cabs, here. I recently set one of them, and wanted to show you the result, and share the process that led to this design:

Hard-angled stones tend to pose a bigger design challenge for me than rounder ones, so I sat with this one for a while before the idea took hold. I originally was going to set it vertically, with the point facing down (sound familiar?):


but that's sort of my "go to" for teardrop stones, so I wanted this to be a little different. Also the charoite triangle is a scalene (each side is a different length) rather than an isosceles, where two of the three sides are the same length, so it wouldn't really have looked right (at least not to my eye) if I'd set it vertically. 

Charoite comes from Siberia, Russia, and that made me think of rugged mountain country. So I made a mountain-ish backing for the stone. And the stone itself, set sideways, has a slope kind of like a mountain. I didn't want the mountain to be too rugged, since the stone's finish is a soft satiny look, so I added just a few sawn cutouts on the sides:

I gave the overall piece a soft satin finish to complement the stone. The back is softly textured as well:

I like for my jewelry designs to have some meaning, because jewelry is the most personal form of adornment. And I really enjoy writing the descriptions for the stone items. In this case it wasn't just the stone itself but it's host location that influenced the design. Also, charoite is considered quite ugly in its natural state. It's not until it's cut and polished that it becomes this fantastic creation. And that made me think about personal growth, how we go through changes and constant learning in life. So here's the description:

"Through life we all climb our personal mountains. The work of growing emotionally and intellectually is never done; not if we want to keep reaching and striving for our own personal goals. Sometimes it is raw strength that pushes us through and sometimes it's learning to be gentle and receptive. The journey ends when we do; before that it's about moving forward and experiencing everything that life offers us."

Sometimes I think I'm a big cheese-head, but this does reflect how I try to live my own life and so I guess if it's cheesy, I'm okay with that. There are worse things.  :)

So that's the story of this particular design journey. I'll try to post some more in the upcoming weeks as time permits. I can't wait to see where the next design will lead me!