Monday, March 10, 2008

Creativity and Design: Challenging myself

With the price of silver rising to over $20 a troy ounce (it was under $10 just 2 years ago) I find I am being more cautious about just jumping in and creating new silver pieces. My instinct is to make only what will sell easily - which means making simple items that use little silver and will keep prices down. But then I do not grow in my skills and knowledge. So how do I do some of both?

I stumbled on a challenge the PMC Guild gave its members in Fall of 2000 which was published in Spring 2001. Called the "1 lump challenge" it challenged the members to see how many items they could make out of .9 oz lump of PMC+ (PMC use to be packaged differently then current packaging. This would be equal to one 28 g package). The items and resulting jewelry were as varied as you could image with the winning necklace and earrings being made from 244 individual pieces coming from one 28 g package of PMC+ and the second and third place winners creating over 100 earrings each. This challenge - to be creative, artistic, and yet get the most from a limited amount of MC - really has put my mind into a planning whirl. One of the earring makers stated that at $5 per earring pair (when silver was lower then it is today) she was making over $200 profit from one lump of clay. I suspect that similar profits could be made from the same exercise and I am going to give it a try! (Go to Studio PMC No. 13 on the PMC Guild Studio archives to see the winning pieces)

A rather lively (okay almost heated) discussion was taking place in Orchid - the Forum for the world famous Ganoksin project - about jewelers having to be traditional trained or self-taught. Because I can see and understand the value of both, it was alarming to see how there are still so many traditional jewelers who believe that ONLY going through a full-fledged metal smithing and jewelry design program would do. They felt anyone who was self-taught could only create inferior work. This attitude was what actually gave rise to the Guild system during the middle ages and also led to the systems downfall. Wikipedia had a great comment on this "European guilds imposed long standardized periods of apprenticeship, and made it difficult for those lacking the capital to set up for themselves or without the approval of their peers to gain access to materials or knowledge, or to sell into certain markets, an area that equally dominated the guilds' concerns" ( I suspect this is also why many traditional metal smiths dislike Metal Clay because it allows someone with little or no training to rather quickly create jewelry that is as complex and creative as traditionally made jewelry that took years to master the required techniques. Into the fray stepped Karen Christians, who I know of as she founded Metalwerx here in MA where I have taken my PMC classes at. After suggesting that the woman who was looking for advice on learning jewelry design that she get together with other metal smiths and jewelers in her area and create their own class room environment, Karen offered a great design assignment:

Here are a few tricks I use for design. You will need a bound sketchbook, A4 if you are in Europe, "Journal size" if you are out here. In the US, I use: They make high quality journals which are handmade, beautiful and rugged. Decorate the cover with a photo etched plate and rivet. Everything I suggest should go into your book.
1) take 15 photographs of just the shadows of things. You begin to isolate edges and negative space.
2) take 15 photographs of hinges, gates, door knobs and forged iron balconies. Here you look at curves, geometry, construction and gestural flow
3) find 15 examples of jewelry work you really like and put it in your sketchbook. With each example, writ out what you like about it and what you would do to change anything if you could.
4) find 15 examples of jewelry work you don't like. Critique it to your hearts content. Is the piece cohesive, is the craftsmanship poor, are the elements mismatched, does it look like a workshop project?
5) take 10 photographs of an egg and make them look all different
6) pick up a found object off the ground and create a body of work that reflects the essence of the found object
7) framing. Cut out 2 "L" shaped pieces of light cardboard and use them as a "frame" to isolate parts of a picture. Capture just and [sic] eye and nose of a portrait, or a scene from nature or in a building. Use the lines from this as a reference point for your design.

To read all of Karen's comments click here

I dropped a note to Karen about her great comments and design assignment. Karen stepped down as the head of Metalwerx a few months ago to start Cleverwerx (a high end jewelry tools business) and I found out that she will be starting a blog and a tips section on her new website. When she does I will post it here. In the mean time I am going to get my camera and start my assignments!!!


NOTE: If you are a jewelry artist (including MC) you should add the Ganoksin project to your favorites and sign up for the Ganoksin Orchid Community

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