Designing and sketching
An idea for a piece of jewelry might come from a shape drawn from nature, architecture, or an arrangement of stars in the night sky. I derive shapes from the world around me, from the geometry inherent in all things and groups of things… from colors and textures. The world is an infinite resource for inspiration. It takes practice to learn to look with a discerning eye and draw what you need from it.
I particularly like the symmetry found within the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles. When you look at my wire based work you’ll find that though the basic shape of the piece as a whole initially infers symmetry. Looking deeper into the piece, you’ll see individual wires and other elements crossing over and under each providing asymmetry, the way vines and flowers grow in nature. This complication draws your eye into the work, always leading to the center line, the base around which the structure visually balances.
It’s all very sensual, the way it happens.
When I first began making jewelry the designs flowed right out of my head. There was freedom to working without a predetermined outcome in mind. I'd forge curls and swirls from wire and arrange and rearrange them until they achieved a flowing balance. Only then did I apply solder. Over time, I found that my custom clients and I needed a way to visualize our collaborations.
I learned to visualize what I wanted to make, and then to see it in three planes… top down, a side view 90 degrees from the top, and then 90 degrees rotated horizontally. Years of drawing practice has rewarded me with the skill to render a sketch quickly. Clients can watch the design evolve even as we discuss it. It takes being a skilled listener, able to gather and translate with paper and pencil, the aesthetic desires each individual client brings to the design table.
From the beginning, I’ve preferred to build my work directly in the metal. The first pieces were made with copper wire acquired by stripping the plastic insulation from leftover lengths of electrical cable. I liked the way I could form shapes directly with hammers, pliers and files, and assemble them to create a finished piece. Today, my work is done primarily with gold and platinum wire, sheet and tubing but I still feel the same way about working the metal directly. My methods are basic. I alloy, forge, draw wire, roll out sheet stock, and use hand tools to form the shapes I want. Then, they're welded, soldered or assembled with cold connections such as riveting.
Carving wax and casting
When I need to, I carve desired shapes in wax. For a long time, I couldn’t understand why I fought integrating this particular technique. Finally, a good friend helped me realize that it’s a kind of reverse process, and opposite to the way fabrication works. Where fabrication is an additive technique, wax carving requires visualizing the piece inside the chunk of wax and then removing everything but the desired shape. The same visualization methods employed when drawing apply to laying out the guide lines on the outside of the block.
Wax made for carving is a hard material. Ironically, many of the tools used to carve it are the very same tools I use when fabricating metal. With the exception of a heat-tipped wax pen used to manipulate and weld the material in various ways, I still use a jewelers saw, files, sandpaper, knives and gravers, to work the wax.
My jewelry almost always incorporates gemstones. Gems lend color and light to designs. They also provide ways to express intangible qualities like sentiment, celebration, gratitude, remembrance.
In creating a mounting, my primary job is to present each stone to it’s best advantage, Practical considerations such as style, security, durability, heat sensitivity, and intrinsic value contribute to my choice of setting method.
I recall a time when I regarded stone setting as a separate task from the actual construction of a piece. Initially, my designs relied primarily on bezels and basic prong work to secure a stone onto a piece of jewelry rather than into it.
Later, when I became relaxed and comfortable with engraving, stone setting took on a whole new dimension. The ability to raise a securing curl of metal right out of the surface changed the defining character of the task from choosing one particular method to one of incorporating stones and metal together, one complementing the other. At this stage, I seldom have to make a choice of how to place a stone where I want it. I just put it there. The act of setting has become integral to the entire process.
Finishing and Texture
The shape of a piece is but one aspect of the visual appeal. How the surface is treated provides it with character.
We all like nice clean polished things. Smoothness proclaims fine craftsmanship. But, what of organic shapes? Bark and wood grain? Or, the hammer and tool marks reminiscent of a blacksmith’s work? In many cases, the methods used to apply those illusions in a work of jewelry involve just as much attention to detail and creativity as is needed to bring forth a highly polished finish. I make use of hammers, gravers, punches, rolling mills, scratch brushes, abrasive wheels, electroplaters, tumblers, sand blasters… the list is endless.
When visualizing as I work at the bench, I rarely see the various operations as separate tasks. Rather, the individual processes overlap and become transparent to the goal of building the finished object.
Engraving is the use of sharpened tools to create patterns on a surface. The styles of engraving are can be as varied as the personalities of the people who engrave. One can focus an entire life to the pursuit of mastery, perfection, and technique of engraving. My own inclination was to acquire a basic grounding in the theory and method of it and let my artistic soul be my guide.
It’s a relaxed approach, combining pattern making with stone setting and surface texturing, all with the single objective of creating a beautiful whole composition. The result is that I’ve developed a unique and personal style. As an artist, who could ask for more?