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.