Monday, November 30, 2015

47 amazing secrets for putting the ass in aspirational

1.    providing or showing creative or spiritual inspiration.
"the team's inspirational captain."

On a fairly regular basis, every artist gets asked, “what was your inspiration for doing THAT”. The expected answer is typically some lofty, noble, family friendly, gushy, tree hugging, bodhisattva-like connect the cosmic dots epiphany of universal Truth. Most artists will confess that it works exactly like that – except when it doesn’t, which is most of the time.

But, because people want to know these things, this month’s Blog Carnival goes poking about underneath our intellectual rocks to see what crawls out.  Technically, the theme is “What inspires you and how has it influenced your work”.  Just remember, you started this.

But we digress. Where were we….? Oh yes, lofty, noble, blah, blah, blah.
For us “inspiration” is a game of imaginomic roulette. The wheel never stops. The dots keep flooding in. Layers of connections and associations build. The problem is not turning it on. The problem is turning off the tsunami of ideas, associations and inspiration long enough actually to get some work done.

We find that inspiration comes just as much from negative as positive. Things that invoke our darker emotions are just as likely to motivate us toward creation as kittens and long walks on the beach at sunset (something we never do).
Case in point was a visit to an art exhibition a few years ago that featured some pieces taking obligatory swipes at the Catholic Church. Our favorite being the practical and irreverent, “Our Lady of Guadalupe” waffle Iron. But then there was a piece like this:

What struck us was the wholesale unoriginality of the piece. Another guns cum crucifix “statement” almost identical to the three dozen or more that we have seen in art exhibitions over the last four decades. How did this find its way into a contemporary art exhibition?  Never mind that the Crusades were, like, so last millennium. It was the apparent absence of knowledge of art history on the part of the artist AND curator of the exhibition.

Our connect-the-dots brains immediately jumped into hyperdrive like some cosmic pinball machine. Catholic church…art history…artists protesting institution of church…church greatest patron of the arts in history…artists biting the hand that has traditionally fed them…what does the opposite look like? 

Now, none of that may make any sense to you at all, and you may not agree with any of it. That’s OK. You get to connect the dots any way you like – or not at all. It's art – we don’t need no stinking rules.

For us, the dots lead to creating a piece that addressed the idea of “faith” or belief.  The result of all that looks like this:

Article of Faith, 2Roses, Sterling Silver, Rutile, Paper, Brass
We chose the iconography of birth over death.  The design draws deeply on traditional references from Catholic ritual objects.  It has never been a goal to produce art with religious or spiritual intent. This is simply where the path led us - cause and effect. But that was so, like, 15 minutes ago. There have been a thousand other inspirations in the meantime.

See what inspires our Etsymetal teammates.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A Peek Into Our Drawers

This month’s Blog Carnival theme is the ever-interesting “Studio Tour”. Peeking into each other’s studios is as close to hard-core porn for artists as it gets.  We’ve shown our studio several times on these pages, so this time around we’re going to dive in a little deeper and show you some of the nooks and crannies. We didn’t know you were coming over so we didn’t clean anything up (as if we would). Showing large pics of the studio rooms often generate questions like  “what’s that thing in the corner’, or  “what’s in all those drawers”. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Not discussed very often is the investment artists have made in the tools and equipment for their studios. Jewelry artists, in particular, get questioned all the time about the cost of the items they make. Part of the answer is that there is usually a small fortune in specialized tools used to make that little gem you are holding.  

Bench Tools

Speaking of which, here is a corner of one of our fabrication benches. This photo shows a small selection of the pliers, cutters and other specialized tools used for up close and personal work. Many of the tools shown here have been modified in one way or another to suit our personal working preferences. Customizing tools is common practice among jewelers and metalsmiths when we don’t make our tools outright.  

Tool storage is a major consideration in every studio. As a result, we have made pegboard into a religion. It covers every square inch of practicable studio surface. Anything that can be hung on a peg is.

Peg Boards

The Holy Grail in a studio is bench space. The goal is to get as much stuff off the bench top as possible, leaving room for working space and the larger pieces of equipment. Drill presses, machine tools, and grinders eat up bench space.

Larger floor equipment poses a challenge related to power supply, ventilation and safety issues, such as this metal cutting band saw. For our metalsmith friends, this is wood band saw that has been re-geared for metal cutting. It has some other pimped out features that make it a metal cutting workhorse. We’ll do a future blog post on how to make one of your own.


Sometimes the challenge is simply floor space for the equipment and workspace around it for practical use.  This stake set and wire rack are good examples.
Stake set

Wire Rack

Now, what’s in all those drawers?  A lot.  We could easily fill several blog posts on just the drawers. Here are three at random.

Disc cutting tools


Dapping, Swaging, Punching

We hope you’ve enjoyed a closer look at our studio. Now if you’ll excuse us were going to go nose around in the studios of a few of our Etsymetal friends. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

How Has Your Work Evolved

We have been asked, "how has your work evolved", many times throughout our careers. Despite our previous tome on politically correct artistic influence, the real answer is that all artists are guided on a daily basis by a wide variety of internal and external influences. This rarely results in a straight linear path in the evolution of the creative output. 

This question of "evolution" is often confused with the artist's refinement of a particular technique. 
The resulting answer usually amounts to, "I started painting squares and circles and I wasn't too good at it. Now I paint squares and circles with great precision."

In our case the "technique" is experimentation, collaboration and hybridization. 
Here's the executive summary for those of you who are in a hurry: A long time ago we started experimenting and collaborating and creating work with a hybrid of materials and techniques. We weren't to good at it. Now we're much better at it. 

We’ve been making jewelry as part of the output of our design studio since 1972. It was a very small part in those days. In 1989, we decided to focus the studio much more on jewelry. This shift was a reaction to the then growing art jewelry movement. All of a sudden jewelry design became the creative Wild West. Traditional concepts of jewelry and adornment were being challenged. Bold experimentation with materials and techniques was expected. This environment suited us just fine.

We came to this new movement well armed with over a decade of formal art training and a broad experience with a wide range of materials from the studio’s industrial design practice.  The studio was also heavily involved with the mining, gem and mineral trade at the time. A significant part of our output was lapidary work with an emphasis on commesso (intarsia) techniques.

This jelly fish design was typical of the type of work the studio was producing in the late 1980s. We often worked with plant and sea life forms using a fair amount of custom cut gem material.

In tandem with the more experimental work, the studio still produced a regular stream of more conventional products such as this ring with custom cut tourmalines. This was mainly an acknowledgment that we wanted to keep eating.  During this period, we were also mining almost all of the gem and mineral material used in our work

By the early 1990s, we had developed a purist aesthetic that relied almost exclusively on stone with little to no metal. This approach won considerable critical acclaim but proved to be too advanced for the public taste. Many people simply did not understand why there was no silver or gold in the pieces.

This reaction led us reluctantly back to using more metals. To satisfy ourselves we decided to play more with unconventional compositions and materials. During this period, we made considerable strides in mixing metals, plastic, wood, stone and resin into the designs.

The experimentation we were doing with materials also exposed us to a growing list of metal specific techniques. By the mid-1990s, we had expanded our metal repertoire far beyond using a single metal. During this period, we produced a considerable body of work using everything from marriage metal, keum bo, mokume game and Damascus.

By 1998, our reputation for working with a wide variety of odd materials was well known. Because of this, we were approached by the Mitsubishi Corporation to develop jewelry applications for a new laboratory-grown opal product that they were introducing to the US market. This ring is one of the promotional prototypes produced for that program.

During the early 2000’s the studio output was both flamboyant and restrained. These dual paths served both our creative needs and the demands of the marketplace.

By mid-decade, we had arrived at a middle ground and were producing lines that featured a highly eclectic blend of materials in a somewhat standardized context such as this bracelet. The form of the bracelet allowed us to mix a highly varied range of materials into each segment.

Throughout this period of focusing on jewelry, we continued to produce small sculptures and functional objects. These objects, such as this martini glass, exhibited a considerable overlap of the jewelry and metal working techniques we had been developing.

At this time, we were also very interested in using completely non-jewelry related industrial materials in our work. Electronic and computer components featured prominently in our work from this period.

It was during this period of working with industrial materials that we discovered polymer clay. This material proved to a transformative intersection in our work. Early polymer work used the material as a counterpoint in traditional compositions.

As we progressed, the work became bolder, and the polymer began to stand on its own as the main element of the work.

In parallel to polymer clay, we are also currently re-examining ancient metal working techniques, specifically from Asia and the Middle East.  These ancient techniques are being melded with modern technologies and materials such as micro pulse arc welding and polymer clay to create a hybrid style.


Blog Carnival is a monthly exercise by the members of the Association of International Metalsmiths.
Volunteer members post their own perspectives on a common theme, giving the reader a view into the minds and lives of how artists from around the world relate to the same topic.