Category Archives: designing jewelry

Working in Series – Jewelry Collection Design

The art world uses the term “working in series,” while the business world refers to “jewelry collection design.” These are two ways to think about the same thing. As an artist, I build a vocabulary of elements that I reuse in my work in various ways. These elements are what makes my work instantly recognizable as mine. Even so, there are various groupings within my work, as my skills and inspirations and ideas evolve.

Vickie Hallmark - Acanthus jewelry collection design - earrings

Vickie Hallmark – acanthus earrings

Recently, I’ve been exploring ideas for a new series or collection. While I want to keep my general inspiration of nature and the studio garden, I also desire to move forward from the previous work. I really enjoyed the detailed pictorial elements that I hand-sculpted from metal clay and then added to fabricated pieces, but I also want to explore simplified forms. So I’ve been working on a new series that doesn’t have a speck of metal clay sculpture included.

Vickie Hallmark - Acanthus jewelry collection design - Moonleaf and ammonite necklaces

Vickie Hallmark – Moonleaf and ammonite necklaces

It’s both challenging and rewarding to place limits on the work. The rules for this series are:

  1. riff on acanthus leaf forms
  2. use only sheet and wire (maybe tubing for small stone settings), Argentium of course
  3. add gold accents
  4. include beautiful stones, especially ones I hand cut myself
  5. explore using “stones” cut from glass
  6. explore both light and dark patinas
  7. work toward simplified and elegant forms
  8. make only things I love, with no regard to how long it takes or how expensive they become
Vickie Hallmark - Acanthus jewelry collection design - Dark Moonleaf necklace with variscite drop

Vickie Hallmark – Dark Moonleaf necklace with variscite drop

I’m several pieces into the new collection now and I’m really loving some of the pieces. I’ve been wearing the acanthus leaf earrings and the long (30″) dark pendant as frequently as possible, because they really feel like my style. I wear a lot of black clothing, and while dark oxidized jewelry doesn’t appeal to everyone, I find it to be striking and fitting with my own wardrobe.

Breaking Artist Block by Limiting Options

sterling silver flower petal earrings

1st iteration – 2 loops look like flower petals (or inverted bunny ears!)

Sometimes as an artist, having too many possibilities is overwhelming. We stare at the bench or blank page or garden and wonder where to start. Limiting options can be a very freeing device to break through artist block. Those limitations might mean narrowing down the materials to work with, or restricting the techniques to be used, or  putting a time constraint on the work. The actual choice of limit is less important than the fact that there is one. Once the limitations are in place, the decisions get easier just because there are fewer possibilities. Just pick one and execute. Then repeat until the flow begins.

sterling silver flower petal earrings

2nd iteration – 3 loops so they really look like petals, smaller and daintier

I’ve been concentrating a lot recently on the business end of my jewelry efforts. Wholesale jewelry is all about making the same thing over and over again. All limitations all the time. Art jewelry is about making one-of-a-kinds. No limitations at all. I much prefer the latter, but it’s (supposedly) easier to earn money with the former. And I find it can be difficult to switch back and forth.

sterling silver echinacea flower earrings

3rd iteration – 3 petals with stamens

So I’ve set myself up a tiny challenge – make things with just wire. No metal clay. No sheet. No tubing. No stones. Just wire. Lots of jewelry artists do it. The trick is to do it well enough that the work is recognizably made by me and consistent somehow with the remainder of my work. If I can repeat long enough, I’ll hopefully find some design options that start to speak to me. If I’m lucky, I might even keep them simple enough to work as wholesale designs.

Silver Isn’t Always Silver – Have a Little Black Patina with Your Jewelry

One of the trends for silver jewelry I’ve noticed over the last year or two is silver that’s not silver: the rise of deliberate black patina. Since silver tarnishes from exposure to sulfur (not oxygen!) in the environment, regular cleaning is a necessity to keep that bright silver color. So we buff with a cloth, or dip into chemicals, or, best of all, prevent the tarnishing by storing in protective covering. The overall black patina converts a drawback into a desirable trait, starting off with the black surface as a design element.

Flora bracelet
©2013 Vickie Hallmark
sterling silver, dark patina

Of course details can be harder to see if the silver is all uniformly black. Typically silver jewelry is given a black patina to fill the lower areas in any texture, then the patina is removed from the raised surface to highlight all the detail. The surfaces may be bright and shiny or brushed and matte, but still black is only an accent.

Flora bracelet
©2013 Vickie Hallmark
sterling silver, light matte patina

I decided to experiment with my new Flora bracelet, just to see how it looked with various finishes. So you see it here in black, matte and shiny versions. I posted the first two on Facebook with a poll to see which was most popular, and the light version won by a landslide. Still, there were a number of friends who preferred the dark version.

Flora bracelet
©2013 Vickie Hallmark
sterling silver, light shiny patina

Which is your favorite?

Variations on a Theme

Today I have three new variations on an earring theme. I’ve had a bad cold, so the most work in the studio that I could muster was fusing together components with some heavy wire to make these new dangles. Available now in my Etsy shop.
Rock Rose Trapeze earrings
©2013 Vickie Hallmark
sterling silver

The first variation uses medium rock roses with double small leaves on either side.

Rock Rose Long Drrop earrings
©2013 Vickie Hallmark
sterling silver
The second variation has  single large rock roses with medium leaves below. The heavy wires in both cases are about the same length, but more curved in these.
Rock Rose Swing earrings
©2013 Vickie Hallmark
sterling silver

The final version has double small rock roses with medium leaves below and a couple of berries. 

All in all, a fun set that were easy to fuse together because of the properties of Argentium sterling silver.

Similar Earrings, Different Paths

This morning I finished the Periodot Leaf Bud earrings that have been sitting on my bench for literally months.

Peridot Leaf Bud earrings
©2013 Vickie Hallmark
sterling silver & peridot
These earrings started off as modifications of sketches I made on my iPad when I was exploring this new leaf series.
All these designs incorporate the leaf-on-leaf design from my early double leaf earrings, a favorite of mine. Early in the process I drew single leaf earrings with tube set stones, since I’m really drawn to more color in my work. 
Then I drew double leaf earrings with stone “buds.” The leaves are all small and similar sized.
Then I got the idea to mix up the leaf sizes, which led to the Garnet Leaf Earrings, made at about the same time as the Peridot Leaf Bud earrings. 
Garnet Leaf earrings
©2013 Vickie Hallmark
sterling silver & almandine garnet
Those earrings went through the convoluted casting learning process, while the peridot version languished on my bench waiting for their own attention. 
Since green is my favorite color and a staple in my wardrobe, these may become my new “go to” for regular wear.

From Drawing to Metal

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my design process for a custom ring. That post detailed how I start with an idea, develop the drawings, and convert them to texture plates. Finally, I’m happy to report that the design has been reduced to metal.

Canary Ring
sterling silver
©2013 Vickie Hallmark

I used the original texture plate to impress the design into sterling silver clay, which was dried over a domed form to give the bowl shape. Then I hand-fabricated the ring shank from Argentium sterling silver. I felt it needed to be wide enough to support the one inch diameter top, but wanted it to be comfortable to wear, so I cut the band five millimeters wide, but filed a taper on both sides to reduce the edge against the palm to just over two millimeters. In the next photo, you can see that I also used my leaf vine texture to simultaneously pattern the back of the bowl.

Canary Ring, back
sterling silver
©2013 Vickie Hallmark

The Argentium band was secured to the unfired clay form via extra clay, including my usual small oval hallmark with my swallow, initial logo, and .925 quality mark. Then the entire ring underwent the two stage firing process required for sterling clay. First, the ring was supported in vermiculite while slowly heating to 1000ºF and holding for thirty minutes to burn out the organic binders that glue the tiny metal particles together in the raw clay. During this stage, the Argentium darkened somewhat, but didn’t develop fire scale like regular sterling would. Then the ring was buried in carbon and refired at 1500ºF for two hours to allow the metal particles to move to compact and sinter the metal into a solid piece of sterling silver. After cooling, the entire ring had a very slight golden color to it, which was quickly polished away.

Canary Ring
sterling silver
©2013 Vickie Hallmark

I think this is my new favorite ring!!

A Flock of Bird Components for My Jewelry

I’m known for my bird themed jewelry, where each bird is hand-formed individually just as nature would do it. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of work involved in sculpting a half inch bird by hand from a pea sized lump of metal clay. That limits the amount of jewelry that I can produce. Many people over the years have suggested that I mold my birds and reproduce them. I’ve always resisted. Until now.

bird casting trees

Finally, I’ve realized that I sometimes procrastinate on delicate, fussy work (who, me?!) such as birds. While it’s lovely to make exactly the right birds for each piece of jewelry, it is frustrating to have to spend time getting in the flow to be able to easily get the expression that I want for a bird. I did mold a couple of birds and shoot multiple waxes of them in one of my casting classes, which I then assembled into bird trees to mold again later in class. That enables me to easily cast multiples of each of these two.

Bird Teardrop earrings
©2013 Vickie Hallmark

But then I’ve gone to use them in jewelry and gotten frustrated that I only have a couple of different birds, two different sizes and facing the same direction. I like my earrings to be mirrored, with the birds facing both directions. I’ve come to a realization.

Spring Flock necklace
©2012 Vickie Hallmark

I need a flock! Big birds and little birds. Perching birds and flying birds. Recognizable wrens and cardinals and hummers, as well as generic birds. Birds from the back and front and side. Matched, mirrored pairs of birds and single birds. Upright birds and horizontal birds. Left wingers and right wingers. A variety, like I would use on my Flock necklaces.

component bird pair

So I’ve committed time to sitting down with clay and working on just that – a flock of birds to mold and cast so that I always have exactly the bird in the hand that I need. It’s time consuming prep, but  of course repetitive work builds skill and the birds get better as I do more. And hopefully (right!), procrastination will recede.

Coordinating a Jewelry Line

My first jewelry love is earrings. When I was sixteen I finally persuaded my mother to allow me to pierce my ears. Her own experience involved ice and a threaded needle in the hands of friend, so she wanted to spare me some agony. For some inexplicable reason, we were convinced that “self-piercing” earrings would be better. Over the course of many grueling weeks, those sharpened 14k gold posts bored through my earlobes. I swabbed with alcohol religiously to fight the infection issues of a long open wound, and refused to give up because I wanted to wear earrings so desperately. Two years later on my sister’s sixteenth birthday, she got to have the studs shot through her ears instantly. Older sisters really do blaze the trail. I still have the 1/2″ tormentor rings in my jewelry box.

3 Leaf Pendant
©2013 Vickie Hallmark

Over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve experimented heavily with my cast components, mostly working on earrings. I make things I would wear myself, and earrings are the item I always collect. Other people have different preferences. Some wouldn’t leave the house without a necklace or pendant of some type. Some always have an armful of bracelets. Some love statement rings. To make my jewelry appeal to others, I need to make other jewelry besides just earrings. So this week is dedicated to working on jewelry other than earrings, inspired by the earrings I’ve made recently.

Oh, and maybe an occasional pair of earrings, just because I can’t help myself.

Revisiting a Previous Design

One of the best things about working in a series is that I don’t have to totally recreate a project. Say I need a new brooch, in the style of my Bird Song brooch which I adore (but which has some issues due to less than perfect workmanship).

Bird Song brooch
©2012 Vickie Hallmark

I don’t want to simply remake the brooch, which would be impossible anyway since that was a special stone. I want to make a piece with the intention of it being even better. What would I improve?

Well, first I need a focal stone. This elongated pear citrine called my name during the last few minutes of shopping the vendors at SNAG. I listen when purchases speak to me, as over the years I’ve learned that my subconscious knows what I need before I do. It might sit for years, or it might get used immediately, depending on how long it takes me to execute the work sitting in my head. How’s that for shopping justification? 😉 If I look at my Book of Attractions, there are many pages of black and gold themed work, so citrine is a good choice for a heavily oxidized Night series piece. I also happen to have a collection of round citrines hanging around, if I decide to tube set some smaller stones, as I did on the original Bird Song (those were white CZs). The original brooch used gold ball accents, but my lack of heat control led me to remove them. I’m a lot more experienced now, so I could try that again.  Ah…the plan is shaping up.

night brooch sketch 1
©2013 Vickie Hallmark
night brooch sketch 2
©2013 Vickie Hallmark
night brooch sketch 3
©2013 Vickie Hallmark

Now, I need to brainstorm layouts. Is there a different shape, a better shape, some other accents? Perhaps I should sketch a few options. These are three from a yellow pad late at night.

night brooch sketch 4
©2013 Vickie Hallmark
night brooch sketch 5
©2013 Vickie Hallmark

These are from Paper by 53, my favorite iPad app, which lets me add color easily. So, how about some feedback here – which sketch is your favorite? (I already know which one appeals to me!)

Designing Jewelry – Same Components, Different Combinations

Over the last weeks I’ve made multiple earrings that each used the leaf-on-leaf cast components. Each pair is totally different than the others, but yet clearly related because of the consistent use of the leaf-on-leaf element.

3 Leaf Drop earrings
©2013 Vickie Hallmark
I feel that I could go on like this for ages – rearranging the components into slightly different groupings, exploring the possibilities. The pair above has a medium and small double leaf stud at the top, with berries and a ring to attach the larger leaf drop. 
Open Leaf Drop earrings
©2013 Vickie Hallmark
This pair has the same double leaf stud at the top, only done with large and medium leaves. The drop on it is much longer, an open wire leaf shape with a medium leaf-on-leaf at the bottom. Someone suggested it might look more balanced if flipped vertically, so there’s another option to make.
Twig earrings

The Twig earrings have a short stem, medium and small leaf-on-leaves and two large berries each.

These have the long stems, leaves pointing up instead of down, and tube set garnets. 
Of course, this opens up an entire collection of ideas: leaves up or down, stems short or long, different sizes of leaves, stones, berries, … 
Beaded Rock Rose Earrings
And then I might even throw in another component and add a flower on top of the leaves. Or berries changed to beads along the stem. 
The limitation of a set of components to work with actually isn’t a limitation at all — it’s an invitation to be creative with a limited set of options, to get the most from those pieces by exploring the myriad ways to combine them.