Friday, June 11, 2010

CCA 1st Semester: Jewelry/Metal Arts I

Jewelry/Metal Arts I is an introductory class for people working with small-scale metals, either jewelry or sculpture. It's essentially a crash course in soldering, sawing, hammering, filing, riveting, texturizing, patination and tons of other basic joining, forming and finishing techniques.

It's also hard as hell for an intro-level class.

After the first week, once students had an idea of what J/MA I would consist of, at least 4 people dropped the course. The rest of us soldiered through what would prove to be a semester full of learning, experimentation, lots of frustration, and some triumphs.

Working with metals is no joke. The technical aspect alone is so challenging that it's tempting to make the design aspect an afterthought. But it's art school, so clearly that wasn't an option. Instead we put in studio time. Lots and lots and lots (and lots) of studio time.

Over the course of the semester, we made only four projects in J/MA I. Approximately three to four weeks per project, save for our ring assignment which only took one. There are many dozens of hours dedicated to each project, sometimes for a deceptively simple end product.

This was one of the main changes for me in terms of how I look at jewelry design and production. Prior to taking J/MA I at CCA, the longest I'd ever spent on one projet was probably about 5 hours, including design time. Now I've made pieces that take upwards of 60 hours of production time, and that's only the beginning.

Previously I'd let my materials inform my designs. This was, in part, a forced decision due to the relative lack of jewelry-making materials in Mozambique. I worked with what I had, resulting in astronomical creativity but little planning. My jewelry was intuitive, my process completely flexible and spontaneous.

Now it's just the opposite. I must plan extensively for each piece, including to-scale drawings and cardstock models. I make technical models and sample pieces to test the way a particular piece of wire will bend or the exact color a patina will produce. It's a lot of work, and I'm still getting used to the process. Regardless, I can see the massive jump in the level of my pieces, not just because I have learned new technical skills but because of the sheer amount of time I dedicate to my jewelry.

Here are photos of the jewelry I made this semester. I already posted these images on Facebook, but there are important people in my life who read this blog but are anti social networking, so I thought I'd re-post.

My very first attempt at metalsmithing. The assignment was to make a piece of jewelry based on a personal symbol. I chose the African Daisy, a flower that is able to flourish in any environment. I used layers of brass and copper to make a pendant, then stamped and sawed away at the metal to create the desired effect. I used a cluster of sterling silver rivets in the center of the flower to give texture and put a very dark patina on the copper so it turned black.

This project was insanely difficult. I had problems getting the circles to solder together, and the cluster of rivets pushed my technical skills. Getting the patina to get as dark as I wanted it was also hard. Overall, though, I was really pleased with how the pendant turned out. I plan to put it on a long, thin leather cord and wear it to death.

Our second project was to make a sterling silver ring. Here are some of my initial sketches for the project. I was drawn to curvy, floral shapes initially, but then I remembered how hard it is to saw curves in small pieces of metal. So I decided on a very precise, geometric design to make my life easier since we only had a week to work.

I actually designed the ring for Rico, and he now wears it on his right forefinger. It suits him perfectly - I'll have to get a photo at some point.

Our third project was to take an organic object and abstract it to get inspiration for a piece of jewelry or small sculpture. I chose a piece of star coral that I'd found on the beach in Mozambique. These are my initial studies of the piece of coral, and of a few other items in my collection of sea treasures. I was especially interested in the shapes inside the pores on the coral's surface. They looked like tiny, cell-like flowers, repeated endlessly in a perfect illustration of 'organized chaos'.

I took some inspiration from the Ibo Island metalsmiths and thought about a chain-maille style necklace using the floral shape from the pores on the coral's surface. Each daisy-like component started out as a straight piece of wire, which I then shaped by hand and soldered shut. I ended up using 78 tiny flowers for my necklace.

I joined all of the floral components with handmade jumprings to make a chevron shape. I love the way multiple imperfect elements can come together to create the illusion of something perfect and symmetrical. If you look really closely at this necklace, you'll see that there is no true middle point, and that on one half the flowers are joined with 2 rings, and on the other they are joined with only 1. It's a bit hard to see in the photo, but in person it's a really cool effect.

This necklace is my very favorite piece of jewelry at the moment. I love wearing it and feeling how the metal drapes over my collarbone and chest like fabric. I can't wait to start limited production of this design for sale!

Our final project was to make a box. It could be any shape or size, but had to include a lid and have at least one stone bezel set on it somewhere. I decided to make something rectangular with a hinged lid, figuring that it was best to start with a simple design and work my way up from there.
Even a simple design was super hard. I realized that I have an awfully difficult time visualizing a 3-D box in detail, how the sides come together, how the lid should fit. Even my sketches and model looked funky, and it only "clicked" for me once the box was already cut and built. I definitely learned some good lessons on this project, and would like to make more boxes even though it was such a challenge the first time around.

My favorite part of the box project? Learning to bezel set stones. I had 11 moonstones laying around that I'd received as a gift, and decided this was the perfect opportunity to put them to good use. It was really hard to get the bezel wire to solder to the big box lid without anything melting, but somehow it all came together. I gave this box to my mom for Mother's Day, partly because the gray, twilight colors remind me of her love of the pre-dawn hours, but also because I knew she wouldn't care that the hinges aren't lined up exactly right and therefore the box never closes 100%. ;)
Bottom line? Metals is insanely hard work, but equally rewarding for those who are passionate about jewelry/sculpture and disciplined enough to put in the necessary planning and production time.


Stacie said...

Those are absolutely amazing! I mean, really, really really Great! You really went to the mat with this class...and your aesthetics about metal are right on the mark. I can't believe this was your first metals class. You are really talented,....naturally, and with the technical know-how you are getting, unstoppable. I am really crushing on your work!!!

sayama said...

These are great Ali! I especially love the pendant. Seems the hard work paid off. There can be no doubt that you've found your calling!

Marcia (123 blog) said...

What beautiful pieces, Ali!

Love the silver ring and that necklace - gorgeous :)

Ali la Loca said...

~Stacie - what a lovely compliment to receive from anyone, but coming from you it's especially meaningful. Hard work does pay off, for sure.

~Sayama - Obrigada, dear. I'm having a hard time finding a cord I like for the pendant, so sadly for the time being it's just sitting on top of my dresser, begging to be worn!

~Marcia - Thanks so much. The ring totally suits Rico, you should see him wearing it. I think it's the first truly unisex piece I've ever made.

Eliza Evans said...

Wow, everything looks just gorgeous! I really love the pendant.

Ann Flowers said...

Wow....this necklace looks awesome. I have never seen anything like it.

RD said...

Ali, this is a wonderful post. I've always been intrigued by metalwork, but had no idea how it worked. This was a great intro. Your pieces are lovely, and your gift shows through! I too think the African Daisy pendant is gorgeous! Congratulations on sticking with it!

Vicky said...

Hi Ali! First of all...what AMAZING talent you have. Of the metal I loved the box the most, something about its simplicity.
Not sure if you remember's Vicky from CDC, project officer??? I stumbled back onto your website/blog and now see how your life has continued to evolve and expand. It looks like you're doing fantastic.
I'm still with CDC but in a different position. I'm in Honolulu now and love living here.
I have been meaning to say hi on your blog and your latest posting was a great catalyst. Keep up the good work, and thanks for still making the world a better place Ali. Take care and aloha!

The Girl from Mozambique said...


Anonymous said...

Ali, I love the chain maille necklace and the box with the moonstones!

I worked as an advisor in the School of Art at my university so I know the hours the students put in in the studio.


Ali la Loca said...

~Eliza - Thanks. The pendant was such a challenging first project that I think just finishing it was the most satisfying part of all!

~Ann Flowers - The necklace design is inspired by chain maille and by a traditional silversmithing style done in northern Mozambique...but with a twist to make it 100% mine! I plan on doing a series...can't wait to get going on the next design.

~RD - Thank you very much. I'm still figuring out the basics of metalwork myself, but I'll post more about my classwork as I go forward. It's really fascinating. I heard a quote once that said metalsmiths are simply pyromaniacs on a productive path.

~Vicky - You have no idea how happy it made me to see your comment! Of COURSE I remember you. I'm so pleased to hear that you're loving your new job and life in Honolulu. I can imagine it would be a great place to live. I'd love to hear more about what you are up to - drop me an email if you get a chance. ali.b.amaro at gmail dot com.

~The Girl from MZ - Obrigada! Hope you are doing well.

~Rainbowlens - It seems that most students at school put in some serious studio hours, but the jewelry majors in particular seem to do a very high proportion of all-nighters! At least you have a final product to show for all that work.

shalymere said...

Love the necklace. SO gorgeous and elegant.