Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Write What You Know...Design What You Know?

Aspiring writers are often told to "write what you know". This lends authenticity to the writing. It seems pretty straightforward and makes sense. 

But does this translate to other creative endeavors?

It seems that one of the buzzwords these days is authenticity, especially related to business. Google authenticity+marketing to spend your day reading hundreds of articles about it. I read two books recently, Be Your Own Brand and Everyone Communicates, Few Connect. The overwhelming message I took away from both was to be your authentic self, both in personal interactions and in branding your company.

They started me thinking about what I, personally bring to the table in my designs. What makes my work mine? What makes it different from any other jewelry artist's? For a while, I thought...nothing. And for a while there probably was nothing. I'd been told my creations looked a lot like what was being made by many other students at the Spruill Center. I'd been told they looked like other artisans' work. Probably all true. But over time, I think they are becoming more individual and recognizable. 

Why? Because of my authentic self. Some aspects of it are:

- I was born in the late 1960's and my formative years were in the early- to mid-seventies. There was a lot of spillover from the mid-century mod look, and design and this applied to furniture, jewelry, clothing - clean lines. No unnecessary fussiness. Bold color.

Hm. What do I aspire to in EVERY jewelry design? Or in my own home and wardrobe?  :)

I could easily live here.  :)

Though born in New York state, I spent twenty-five years in Arizona. Spare landscapes. Adobe-style houses (again, no unnecessary fussiness). Ranch homes. Surrounded by arid, ragged-edged mountains (very unlike the lush hillsides of my current state).

NOT the green countryside where I now live. This is the land of my childhood!
Well. I love making jaggedy, asymmetrical shapes that remind me of the mountains. I use embellishments sparingly in my creations.

I like a lot of open space in my life. And I like a lot of open space in my jewelry. I feel no need to cover every bit of metal with extras and adornments. I don't usually put two design elements right next to each other - I leave a little room. Maybe because I grew up with a vast amount of space? Arizona in the 1970s and into the 1980s was a lot of wide open land. I could drive ten miles from my house and be in the middle of the desert, seeing a million stars in the utterly dark sky and gazing off for into the distance for miles and miles.

That's Phoenix in the foreground. But it's the mountains in the background that I'm looking at.  :)

What do you think? Do we subconsciously (or deliberately) design what we know? 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Upward. Always.

A little over a year ago, I was at a small local show. I'd just finished setting up the booth, and was giving it a once-over. I wasn't very happy. I felt ashamed of my work. I know I go on all the time about, "Begin where you are" and I talk about the process, but I am an impatient soul. I wanted to BE there already. I felt like my current work didn't represent who I was, or who I was becoming. And I wasn't sure I'd GET to who I was wanting to become. What if I couldn't "do" it? Good design, sale-able design, is not easy. I always want my first design to be *brilliant*...and like most processes, it takes several iterations before any "brilliance" shows through.  :)

So there I was, feeling down on myself. Remember how I've talked and talked about the life of a creative? This was a trough. Eventually, I started chatting with the man in the booth across from me, who was also selling jewelry. Most of our discussion was casual, immemorable, but he said something that stuck with me. "Don't go backwards. Look up. Look forward. Always."

At the time, I felt frustrated by this advice. Looking forward was like staring into an abyss! Nothing was working. I wasn't creating what I wanted to create, and I was unsure that I could create anything worth the effort.

Well, eighteen months or so, lots of hair-pulling, teeth-gnashing, and sailor-like language later, and I might be getting there. I realized this week that my "cold work" table, where I do things like wrap beads, make wire shapes, and do other non-torch-related work, has been very neglected lately. Why? Because I am creating at the other table. The fabrication table. Where I do the metal work with the torch. And I've started to shift from colored stones being the focus of my designs, to being accents. Which means that the metal work is slowly coming to the forefront.


I've mentioned in an earlier post that when I went to Sedona for a festival a few weeks ago, I felt like  my work was too small. And I think that subconsciously, that's been an issue for me for some time now. I've always worn the largest-scaled of my own designs. And most other jewelry I own is not for the shy or subtle. So why haven't I pursued that in my own creations?

 green aventurine

Several factors, I guess, the biggest one being fear. Fear of putting too much materials cost and labor into something that might not sell. Fear of taking a big risk and losing. But you know...the way *I* shop is kind of pricey. I don't shop often, but when I do, I'm not a cheap date.  :)   I buy big, and big costs more. But I don't mind paying more because I like a statement bag. Shoe. Bracelet. You get the drift.

So I decided to take a design leap and create a design that is physically larger and more statement-y than my normal work. I started sketching a necklace which would be three pieces, separate to one another but related in their design elements. I went through my stone stash for the right sizes (note for next year's buying trip: more smaller stones!) and found three that would complement each other. And then I got to work with the torch.

I hand fabricated even the chain - in fact, everything but the clasp - and made a custom tag for the back. I used over an ounce of sterling silver in the construction of this necklace and you can feel the weight.

Peruvian blue opal
The photo above shows how thick the sterling silver border is. It's hard to see in most of the photos (best seen in the first two shots) but I cut the insides out to leave some open space, and then added additional wire and sheet elements to frame the stones. 
Here's the whole piece:

The back plate is heavily oxidized for contrast against the shiny wire and sheet metal elements, and the stones really jump out, especially that gorgeous opal. The green aventurine has the softest color, so I added more silver around it to brighten things up.

It feels good. It looks good on. The day I test-wore it, it definitely got noticed. And I learned so much while making this piece. While not everything I design will be this substantial, I think I'm addicted to making some larger designs. I'm looking, and moving, and creating, forward. Upward. Always.  :)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Taking the Hack Out

Last week I had the sweetest email from a customer. It said, in part:

"Your jewelry is so exceptional - very quality made - you can tell.  Thanks again for shipping so quickly - can't wait to wear them both to work tomorrow.  Look forward to seeing you at
another show again soon."

I can't tell you what that meant to me. I work from home more than two-thirds of the year. So I'm in the studio most days. Alone. And while I love being alone, sometimes that much isolated time can warp a girl a bit. You start getting a bit to much into your own mind, and the mind can be a treacherous thing when it's not reined in. 

To design and create seems to mean a regular ride of highs and lows. The highs of doing something new, getting over the next bump, to the next rung on the ladder, jumping for joy when something you've put your heart (and your hands) and soul into and it turns out better than you even imagined.

But the lows are unavoidable. Or at least, I haven't found a way to keep them from happening. The voice in your head, which usually is an insidious whisper, a constant stream of sentiments like, "You're not good enough." "Someone else has already done that, and done it better, so why even bother?". "You're just a hack. Everything you do is not worth the effort."...that voice occasionally kicks up to a nearly deafening din in your mind and it's enough to make you give in. Or give up.

Sound a bit dramatic? Ask any creative. We're as filled with doubt, at times, as much as we're filled with joy at other times. When the doubts come, I like to remind myself of this quote:

“The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.” Robert Hughes

I hope so!  :)

As I write this, there are only two months left out of the year. And it's had some definite highs...and some serious lows. Right now I feel like I've got one foot on either side of that fence. But lately the Hack Voice (that's its most common refrain, so that's what I call it) seems to be pretty dominant. I *have* noticed that it kicks up a few notches whenever I'm trying something new. Last week I began the work on a bigger, bolder, more "YOWZA" piece of jewelry than I've ever attempted before. And that voice is running at full bore. But what I've learned over the years is that if you can't silence the voice completely (and so far I can't), the best response is something like, "Bite me, I'm going to do it anyway".

just the back of the necklace...for now.  :)

Which is exactly what I'm doing. Working through. This new piece is teaching me quite a lot and even the mistakes are helpful - because they mean fewer mistakes next time.  It's all part of building a relationship with the metal. Learning how and where to heat with the torch. When and where to place the solder. How to minimize the dreaded clean up time. Everything counts...even the pieces that end up in the scrap jar.  :)

The best way to defeat that inner voice is to create. And continue creating. And know that it's all part of the ride. Ups and downs. Top to bottom. The bottom sucks, but the top is ah-mazing, and the low parts are worth it because there will be another high. It's on the way...I'm ready for it.

And if you're just starting out in your creative life, this got me through a lot of doubt at the beginning:

It's been out and about on the 'net a lot, but I don't think it can be shared enough. Read it, remember it, and apply liberally as needed. We're fighting the good fight.  :)