A friend of many, many years, Judy Coates Perez, invited me to participate in this Around the World Blog Hop for artists. Judy and I met 15 years ago, as part of a new art quilt bee within the Austin Area Quilt Guild. With many mothers of young children, our group met weekly for a much-needed escape to make art, discuss our projects of the moment with others of like interests, and participate in group challenges and projects.
Those were my art quilting days, when I entered shows and produced numerous award winning quilts. My love was all the thread work, which could take hundreds of hours for a huge quilt. There are more images of some of my quilts in the archives of my website.
When I began homeschooling my son, never expecting that journey to last through high school (he is now a junior in aerospace engineering at UT Austin, so it was a successful detour), I needed to find something smaller and less time intensive to work with artistically. So my experiments into glass and eventually metal began. I’d been using dichroic glass cabochons to embellish some quilts, so I decided to learn to make them myself. Then I wanted some silver to set the glass into for jewelry. That’s how I eventually got hooked on the jewelry work that now consumes my time. I could finish something in just a few hours instead of hundreds, and that kept me going through the homeschooling.
Our old art quilt group has staying in close contact, even when members (like Judy) moved away. I think I’m the only member who has really fallen away from quilting, although I have all my old supplies and think about experimenting again some days now that the homeschool trek is over. Maybe if the old group were still here, I’d get sucked in again.
1. What am I working on?
I’ve been working on a jewelry collection that I call Night, because of the dark oxidized surfaces. I love the contrast of the bright silver and gold with the dark backgrounds. My jewelry is inspired by my central Texas garden, and so this collection is the garden at night.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My latest endeavors combine metal clay and Argentium silver, two novel metals. There are a fair number of metal clay artists nowadays, because the material is so much more accessible than traditional metal working. There are also an increasing number of metalsmiths using Argentium, because of its unique working properties (it fuses or solders without fire scale) and tarnish resistance. I bridge those two techniques and materials, and that’s a pretty unique place to be right at the moment. It’s very exciting, and I hope that others will find the joys of using each material for its own special properties. I even recorded a recent CraftCast online class to introduce my methods, and published a project tutorial in Art Jewelry Magazine.
Metal clay is a combination of microscopic particles of metal (I use mostly silver) with an organic binder that makes the material workable like clay. I love sculpting tiny birds, flowers and leaves directly with my hands and a few humble tools, then popping the pieces into the kiln to burn away the binder and “sinter” the metal particles to produce a solid piece of metal. Then I compose these components into vignettes with bases made of Argentium sheet, wire and tubing for the structural part of the jewelry.
3. Why do I create what I do?
I’ve worked in many media, but I always wanted to make jewelry. It’s a consequence of my name, I think. Hallmark is a metal quality mark. Knowing that made me imagine ancestors who made jewelry, so I wanted to try it myself. The fiber work happened because I grew up sewing and painting, so it was accessible, but I eventually got to the metalwork and now I’m hooked. It feels like I came home.
Jewelry requires a lot of equipment and training that I didn’t have, until recently. Several years ago, I started working metal clay on my own, took some workshops, and then studied intensively with a master jeweler to learn many of the more traditional techniques. I set out to make my own one-of-a-kind work, as I had with quilts. Eventually, I started making some more affordable designer pieces as well, and I began to approach retail outlets to carry my line.
4. How does my creating process work?
I begin by sculpting the metal clay components in fine silver or gold clay. These are then fired in a kiln at high temperature to reduce the pieces to pure metal. I have containers full of these components so that I have a selection to draw from when I compose the vignettes.
I use my sketchbook (often on my iPad nowadays) to brainstorm new designs, such as this idea for a brooch.
Then I fabricate the structure of the piece in Argentium, arrange the metal clay components into the scene and fuse everything together.
The I cut the piece out, flip it over and add more components onto the reverse.
Finally, I set stones, add the pin stem and dark patina, and polish the highlights to reveal the finished piece.
My one-of-a-kind work is getting more and more detailed as I gain experience. My limited production work is quit similar in technique, although more minimal in design. (These pieces are available on Artful Home.)
Now to continue the blog hop with links to two other exciting artists. Their responses to the questions will be posted on Monday, December 8. Please check back then to hop onward.
The first artist I’m pointing you on toward is Sue McNenly, whose amazing creations are in a class by themselves. Sue is alway reliable for using materials beautifully in nontraditional ways. We met through metal clay, but Sue has also slipped into my worlds of Argentium and fiber. I’m totally enamored with all her creations, built of meticulously cut paper, wool, metal, resin, wood and enamel. Adorable, right? And yes, she does make jewelry, too! Sue lives in Canada, our first step around the world.
Needle felted sheep by Sue McNenly
The second artist takes us to Europe. Helga van Leipsig lives in the Netherlands, but occasionally ventures to the US, such as when she’s attending the Saul Bell Design Awards, the Oscar of the jewelry world. Not only is her jewelry divine, but I love her blog posts about her process and symbolism.
One of the most inspiring series of posts was called her “Summer Residence at Home,” where she did an artist retreat by staying at home. We all love the experience of a special art retreat, but we can’t always afford to do it, so this is a brilliant idea for the disciplined artist. Helga gives lectures on process and creativity, so she really knows what she’s talking about.