Inspiration and Custom Designs

September 06, 2017

Inspiration and Custom Designs

“Where do your ideas come from”? As an artist in several different mediums besides jewelry making, including carving stone and wood, painting and sketching, that’s a question that I’ve been asked on more than one occasion, and there is no definitive answer. Ideas and inspiration come from all over…inspiration can hit at any given moment, and often there is no rhyme or reason to it. Sometimes it’s a thought, sometimes it’s a random shape in a cloud or a rock, and sometimes even a coffee stain can spark a design you may not have thought of otherwise!

The important thing is to be open to random ideas and keep in mind that sometimes what works on paper may not work in a finished piece, and that’s okay too. It’s how we learn (hopefully) what to change or alter in the next attempt. Because I have a background in carving wood and stone I like to get sculptural with my jewelry as well, building up textures and overlays, or turning to carving the pieces in wax which will then be cast in silver or gold. I often start with just a vague sense of where I’m headed and build as I go. I once read a quote (and if you know who to attribute it to I’d love to give them credit), that went something like this…”as a jewelry maker you are always one step away from disaster, and one step away from brilliance”. I can’t tell you how many pieces haven’t worked, have melted, have had solder joins pop open just as you think you’re almost finished, or have been just plain ugly once fabricated! Truthfully, that’s okay too. Not every piece is a masterpiece, but you move forward, hopefully you learn from the mistakes, and then you try again. Given the option I would always much rather have a piece fail in the fabrication than have someone spend their hard-earned cash on it only to have it fail later!

One of my favorite designs to create is a dragonfly, and I have made many in my career as a jeweler – I have also melted many wings, had the multiple elements fall apart in the final soldering, had pieces fall away in the final polishing or stone setting, and yes, have had stones crack when I can’t resist just one more pass with the burnisher while smoothing the silver, and yet, I continue to make one of a kind dragonflies and they are always a popular item at the gallery. There is all kind of symbolism attached to the dragonfly, and they are meaningful not only to me, but to many. Because each piece is unique, there is always something new to learn along the way, and that’s what it’s all about. Frustrating at times? Sometimes absolutely yes! Satisfying when it works and I create a piece I am proud to display in the gallery? Always!

When I create custom work for a client I am bound by certain design elements and restrictions bases on what the client is hoping for in their finished piece. That in itself is much more challenging than the pieces I create just  because I’m inspired to. There are so many elements at play – customer expectations, absolutely clear communication about what is and what isn’t possible, sometimes multiple fittings and adjustments being done in early fabrication, and being able to gently steer a customer in a certain direction if what they want won’t work – essentially being an educator as well as an artist. I’ve learned never to take these words at face value – “Do whatever you want – I trust you”, lol. While it is a great compliment to have a client place that kind of faith in you and your work, it can also lead to disappointment. Jewelry is personal, it is intimate, and if you are hoping to have a custom design it is essential to provide your input into the design process and try to be as clear as possible about what you are hoping for; it is much easier to adjust a drawing than it is to rework a finished piece of jewelry. When you are having a piece designed there is a good chance that you will wear if often, perhaps even every day, so you want to see it, love it, and be proud to wear it…don’t be shy about asking for what you want, what will make you most satisfied with the outcome. Having pointed that out, it is also important to consider that your artist is probably an expert at what they are doing, so if they tell you something won’t work or needs to be adjusted that is experience speaking, so be open to adjustments and work with your artist to find the compromise that will give you a beautiful finished piece that makes you happy, and lets the artist do what they do best, and what they want to do most…design something they will be proud of, and that will make you feel good every time you wear it!