Monday, September 24, 2012

On Fire

The first four pieces I've made as part of my senior project. Featured materials include: Anasazi pot shards collected in New Mexico as a child, clip-on earrings from my grandmother's cousin, enameled and heat patina copper welded pod forms, etched and pierced copper, Brazilian capim dourado golden straw, antique Mozambique Island trade beads. These were not made to be a collection (they were just quick projects), but I am really happy that they seem to fit together quite nicely.

I am having one of those periods where things just come together. Thank God. It's nice timing, too, seeing as I've just started my final year of school.

After three long years of very, very, very hard work something big has shifted and I've found my voice and style as an artist. I don't now quite how to explain what happened, but things are feeling very different. Fluid. Easy. Fun, even.

Over the last three years I have been very concerned with the final product of my art-making. I wanted it to be beautiful, desirable, marketable, praise-worthy. Our instructors and other wise people kept saying that in order to make good art one needs to make bad art, but the prospect of making "bad art" seemed too scary to let happen.

I am a planner at heart, and my default way of working until this recent shift in spirit was to come up with a design, make a to-scale drawing or model, then execute that design. Making jewelry in this manner I got "good" results but always felt strangely insecure about my work. It was too commercial, too predictable, too this or too that. My internal hackles went up during critique, and it felt like a blow to the gut anytime someone gave their thoughts about what was unsuccessful about a particular piece. I felt a deep need for outer reassurance that my work was valid.

It was also a stressful way to work, for often in metalsmithing there are unforeseen technical problems that come up during the process, and I felt desperate when my super planned-out designs didn't work the way I needed them to. It made me feel very anxious when I had to deviate from the plan, like somehow I'd failed by not anticipating every little issue beforehand. I found that I often hated my pieces once they were finished, no matter how much praise I received from others. It was a very strange feeling to simultaneously love and hate the process of making jewelry so much.

I realized sometime last semester that something big had to give. I was on the fast track to burning out. I saw my colleagues working in a much looser way, playing around with materials and enjoying the experimental nature of seeing what works and what doesn't. I really wanted to be like that, too, but of course this is one of those things that you can't just wish for and have materialize.

I was aware for most of the semester that I was in the midst of a major growth period, and it was really uncomfortable. Painful, even. I cried an awful lot and had a major-ish breakdown right before my junior review mid-semester. I just wanted to be on the other side of that hump, making authentic and personally meaningful work and finding joy in the process. Yet there I was, stuck in the rut of feeling like I had no good ideas, being under pressure to make work, freaking out about deadlines, and having a hard time just letting go.

At a certain point, the way I'd been working became too much to bear. I was making myself sick from stress and was tired. Tired of crying, tired of feeling like my work was crappy, tired of trying and trying and not making progress.

So I gave up. I decided that my last round of projects would be unplanned, uncontrolled, and unpredictable. I started playing with raw materials and putting them together without knowing what the final product would look like. I allowed myself to experiment, to let go, to be more free with my process and accepting of the results, whatever they might be.

And wouldn't you know I made my very best work to date. Pieces that I was proud to show, that people's criticism or praise didn't really affect how I felt. *I* loved my work and felt it was authentic, fresh and unique. FINALLY.

After a quick step back into control freak/designer mode over the summer while working on the sapphire engagement ring (and making myself physically ill from stress all over again) I realized that this new way of working is something I want to embrace as a permanent part of my life as an artist. I am content to let go and let God (I like that phrase, even though I'm not particularly religious).

My task for the next two semesters is to create a body of work and then show it at an individual, week-long gallery exposition in May 2013. I approached our first assignment with the same loose, experimental philosophy I'd discovered in the Spring and found it to work really well. I am just playing with different arrangements of raw materials, using objects I've collected over the years and carried with me across the globe and back. These are objects that tell the story of who I am and the places and people that have touched me. By arranging them in new ways, creating groupings of materials, I have finally found a way to weave narrative and content into my work. I am able to talk about New Mexico, Italy, Brazil, Mozambique and everything in between and after, the way these cultures and places have shaped who I am.

It feels so good to finally have found my voice.

(Although part of me is super wary and anticipating the day when, a few months from now, I look back and laugh at that time in the beginning of senior project when I thought I had shit totally figured out.)

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Sketches for Custom Carved Sapphire Engagement Ring

I've been trying to develop my rendering skills. It's a really hard process but with every sketch I get a little better, and it becomes a little easier.

Making of: Custom Carved Engagement Ring with Sapphire

I recently completed a commission for an engagement ring. It was a very intense project, as the client (a friend of mine) was really detail-oriented and we had a tight turnaround. He wanted a carved band with lots of organic detail, a center sapphire, and imagery inspired by Indonesia. I tried to create a motif that would reference an orchid flower as well as a lotus, common images in the woodcarvings and batik prints I looked at for reference.

I designed and made the bulk of this ring while on the road in New Mexico, visiting my dad and his wife and working out of my friend Lauren's amazing studio space. You should definitely check out Meltdown Studios if you are a metalsmith in Albuquerque needing some space to work out of. Lauren has created something pretty special, and I'm super grateful to her for all the support.

I first carved the bulk of the ring design in wax, then had a mold of it made in silicone (in case the casting failed for some reason). Then Lauren helped me cast the design in sterling silver, and I bought the center sapphire and the accent diamonds in what I thought would be nice sizes. Then I carved all the 14k gold accents, they are involved in all of the stone settings. I soldered everything together, then got a bunch of help from my professor Curtis when it came time to set the stone. We decided it looked best set upside-down (with the point of the stone facing up) and happily my client agreed.

I delivered the ring, he liked it, he proposed to his girlfriend in Paris, she said yes, very happy endings all around.

From design through to finished state, this is how it went down. Now I just need a photo from their wedding. :)

I have video of the client (my friend) receiving the ring and looking at it for the very first time. He asked me to film the moment. We were in an alleyway in San Francisco and Rico was waiting in the car on a conference call. It's pretty priceless, I'll try to share it at some point.