Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jeweler, Metalsmith, Goldsmith, Silversmith? What are we?

Naked Jewelry

Unless you have been living under a rock, you are probably aware of the Orchid network for jewelry professional and hobbyists. This online forum is one of the most valuable sources of information for me as a jewelry designer thirsty for knowledge from those with more experience.

Recently a fascinating thread has been circulating that someone started by asking a simple question. What do people who make and/or sell jewelry call themselves?

You might think we'd know this seemingly simple answer but it sparked a debate that is going on several days now.

The consensus seems to be that we are JEWELERS...and that a person is a JEWELER is they sell jewelry, even if they don't know much about making it. However that doesn't make a person necessarily a BENCH JEWELER who must apparently know how to do repairs as well as make jewelry.

And, a person can be a GOLDSMITH even if they never work with gold. A goldsmith, we learned, is any person who makes small objects of precious metals, usually for personal adornment. It was also said that a GOLDSMITH must see the big picture; creating from initial conception through completion.

A SILVERSMITH on the other hand, is a person who works on larger hollowware; things like candleholders, knifes, forks, spoons, plates etc....

Some call themselves METALSMITHS, however, one person mentioned that she has been contacted to make wrought iron and shoe horses...not exactly the same thing!

Given that I rarely work with gold, I hardly feel that "goldsmith" works for me, though it sure sounds nice! I previously thought a better term for me was either "metalsmith" or "silversmith" but I learned that neither of those are right at all!

So, I have decided I am a JEWELER. I like the ring to that as well, although as a "jeweler" I have so much still to learn from far more accomplished jewelers. At one of my classes, I noticed a man wearing an apron that said "Jeweler In Training". Maybe that's me!

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Linda Gebert: Abstracts and Color!

Linda Gebert

I first encountered Linda Gebert through the Ganoksin Gallery. Her work stood out to me as particularly colorful and joyful. Then I discovered that aside from her jewelry designs, Linda also works in fibers. I asked her about working as a metalsmith, enamel expert and fiber artist:

I hadn’t consciously considered a connection before, but since they spring from a common brain they must.

I transitioned from painting to enamels, then included metal working, missed working with color there, so

combined enameling into my jewelry. I had always wanted to try silk painting, loving the lush way silk absorbs

dye, but held myself back, thinking I needed to narrow the focus and perfect one medium, instead of being all

over the map. The restless mind would not behave, so I started with silk painting, and gradually added the

needle felting too. I enjoy the different way of working, actually, physically, that each presents. I find there’s

also new sense of enthusiasm in being away from one media for a while. It renews the spirit, and spurs the


Your enamels have a quirky, joyful quality...how would you describe your style?

Abstract, first and foremost. Every piece is approached as a new direction, to see what the serendipitous

medium of enamel can do. I often work on several little “canvasses” of copper or silver, concurrently. Then I

decide which speak to me the most, and the chosen ones become pieces of jewelry.

Linda also specializes in "faux bone" pieces. I asked about the attraction to this material.

This is something that appealed to me, but I’m very new at it, and my pieces are pretty derivative of the

wonderfully inventive Robert Dancik’s examples so far. Things from the natural world, rocks, leaf skeletons,

bone, shells have always held a fascination, and this product is so easily made to look like something natural

and organic. Germinating in my head right now, are ideas of the earthy, primitive look of bone, combined in

pieces, with enamel. Stay tuned.

Who have been your greatest influences over the years?

First I have to answer to “what”, and that is growing up visiting the Wichita Center for the Arts, and it’s vast

collection of enamels. From childhood, I knew I wanted to work in that medium. For many years we had the

“Midwest Enamelist Guild”, founded by Australian enamellist Glenice Lesley Matthews, who was Director of

the Center for a time. Through this organization we brought many renowned enamellists to the Center,

including Rebekah Laskin, JoAnn Tanzer, Harlan Butt and others. Rebekah Laskin probably influenced me the

most, as to the style of working. In painting? Larry Rivers.

How fortunate to have studied with John Cogswell! What do you think has been the most valuable lessons

from your teachers?

I’ve had workshops with many fine enamellists, as well as several metals people. From the Cogswell workshop,

I learned to dispense with formalty, as to the “proper way” to accomplish something. Instead, be pragmatic.

If it works for you, do it that way. It was license to experiment, and “cut corners” if the outcome was successful.

And what did you most enjoy about teaching?

I loved teaching enameling. Everyone knows how to make a line with a pencil on paper, but executing many

lines to make a stunning drawing is the real trick. But students come to enameling not knowing anything

intuitively, or experientially, about it, so creating their first object in enamel is such a thrill of discovery for them.

That makes it all worthwhile. I always emphasized that it is the most empirical of learning experiences. Enamel

is very serendipitous, and you only become an expert when you can figure out why it did something unexpected,

and find you have the ability to duplicate what happened.

What advice do you have for weathering this economy?

Since I don’t depend on sales of my work as my only income, I’ve been disappointed at the drop in sales at the

galleries and museums where my work is placed, but not devastated.

What advice do you have for fledgling jewelry designers?

Wow, if I had a wonderful nugget of advice, I’d give it to myself. I’ve always had to balance my art with making a living elsewhere, and earlier, raising children too. I never had the luxury of doing it full time. I guess the best advice would be to study with someone who will push you to your limits. And keep learning, always.

Where can your work be seen?

I show in local and regional galleries in Kansas, the Wichita Art Museum, Karg Glass Gallery, and several others

around the state. I found it was difficult to monitor what was happening with work placed farther away. Your readers/viewers can see my work at www.lindagebert.com

I really appreciate Linda's sense of abstract color! Her work is ever so lovely!

Thanks for stopping by!


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Jay Whaley: Teacher, Toolmaker, Jewelry Master

Jay Whaley In Class

I’ve been hearing about Jay Whaley’s rolling mill workshop for quite some time now. It seems that whenever the topic of rolling mills comes up, his name is in the next breath. So when I had a chance to take his workshop this past February…well, I jumped at the chance, even though it meant a 2 ½ hour drive to San Diego from LA!

Jay is a 30-year master jeweler who now spends most of his efforts teaching and designing jeweler’s tools. He heads the jewelry department of the University of California San Diego and teaches in his own studio. His Whaley Workshops studio is located in a quaint, upstairs space overlooking a trendy street about 20 minutes east of downtown San Diego. Jay is so upbeat and passionate about his work that the fun he creates is contagious. In the class, I learned far more than I imagined, including pouring ingots creating my own precious metals alloys such as sterling and 18 karat gold and rolling them into custom wire, bezel and sheet. I asked Jay about why he teaches this method:

I guess you mean why I alloy my own metals. It is simpler for me, actually. With a wide selection of alloys I keep on hand, which are pretty inexpensive, really, and pure silver and gold, I am ready to create any color or carat of gold I want, in any amount at all. I can custom make my own “high-tech” sterling with alloys I buy that are far superior, in every way, to ordinary sterling silver. I make custom wire and sheet stock myself that I could never find in a catalog, and I make it faster than I could order it. It’s true!

Why do you think most jewelers purchase their metal materials instead of making it? What is stopping most jewelers from taking this extra step do you think?

Well, there are many reasons. Many goldsmiths don’t understand just how easy it is to alloy your own metals. It seems so complicated, with those formulas and careful weighing, etc. It’s really easy with an alloy chart and an accurate scale. The quality of my “home-made” alloys is very high, and color and workability is excellent. I wouldn’t use it if it was problematic. Many jewelers feel that the time spent to hand-make their own stock is wasted time. Some forms take much longer than others, I would admit. I just can’t buy the stock I want from any catalog, and I refuse to pay the premiums commercially made metals cost, as well as waiting at the post office to pick it up!!

Tell us how you first got started making jewelry. Who were you most influenced by and why did you pursue this path?

I took my first art class my junior year in high school, after my mother’s suggestion. There, I learned how to lost wax cast, the year, 1968. In that class, I cast a set of sterling wedding bands for my parents, and entered them in the Scholastic Art Show, a national juried art show for high school students. I won a National Semi-Finalist Award for my rings, and that was probably the event which propelled me into making (or teaching) jewelry-making for the rest of my life. So you could say that my mother was my first important influence!

You are well-known now as a teacher. What particular satisfaction do you get from teaching jewelry making techniques?

I have exhibited jewelry , drawings, and sculpture in galleries and juried shows through the years, but never found that particular satisfaction that showing others how to make something themselves gives me. After so many years of experimenting with jewelry forms and techniques, I feel I can create pretty much whatever I want, but experiencing the glow of accomplishment from someone who has completed an original piece of jewelry to their satisfaction, is quite profound to me. I love teaching.

You are also making instructional videos. What about that appeals to you?

I am just now learning just how valuable the internet can be. My old brain was trying to figure out how many students I could get into my studio for each workshop I offered. Now I have learned that by creating instructional videos, I can reach out much farther than my shop in San Diego, and virtually teach around the world. My brain is expanding with the possibilities online…

You also invent jeweler's tools...tell us about this aspect of your work. What are your favorite self-designed tools?

The first one, “Heetrix” was just a solution to a bench problem I had to resolve. I was working in a very small bench space in the lobby of the old Jeweler’s Exchange Bldg. in San Diego. My workbench was quite cramped, and my soldering had to be done where I did my fabrication work. Heetrix was the rotating soldering tray that swiveled out of my way when I wasn’t using it. I still use that soldering fixture almost every day in my studio. I pour all my own ingots, and used a pair of tongs and a melting dish for years. My students had real difficulties making ingot pours, until I bent some heavy stainless steel rod into my first ‘wire-handled ingot pourer” or WHIP, for short. Now that operation is really easy for me and all my students, and much safer, too.

What do you think is the cleverest tool you've designed so far? Any sneak peeks of anything coming up soon?

I have gotten pretty proficient at bending heavy stainless rod to create heat-proof clamping fixtures. One which is “on hold” for now is a “speed clamp” for the ingot mold, which doesn’t get hot, helps steady and direct the pouring process, but is going to be hard to manufacture, I know. Then again, I may be one of the only customers for such a tool… I do have a couple of really clever tools coming up, that I’m not ready to produce or market yet. I have been through a few different prototypes, and with one, it is just so trick… well, I need to get it into the marketplace! My prototype machinist gets calls from me every week to check on his progress.

Jay also has “Wedding Workshops” where novice couples design and make their own wedding rings…under the close supervision of Jay’s expertise.

Again, taking a couple who has never picked up a hand tool, and guiding them through all the steps needed to make rings for each other, that they actually make with their own hands, well, it’s magical. I have seen tears in couples’ eyes after their rings are finally finished. Not even close to the experience you get when you buy a ring out of a store. It’s wildly gratifying for me, in the strongest possible way.

How would you describe your own style of jewelry?

I have jokingly called myself a “jewelry whore”, because I do custom work of about any description. They tell me what they want, pay me for it, and I perform… My own designs are more mechanical, rather hard-edged, carefully finished. Unfortunately, with my schedule the way it is now, I really don’t have much time to make my own designs, or even custom work anymore. Actually, that is a good thing, as my hands are going out. Jewelers never discuss this aging problem, but it happens. My old hands are just wearing out from all the hard use over the years. I can still do the work, but the next day, my hands are really trashed, and hard to move.

What advice do you have for fledgling jewelry designers?

Just learn everything you can. Try everything, experiment with everything. Learn something from every “expert” you can, but don’t think “their way” is the only way,( including my own way). Making and selling jewelry is damned hard to do effectively, and honestly I don’t know what sage advice I could give someone trying to be successful at it. It’s also a bad economic climate now, which doesn’t help matters, either.

Jay’s first instructional video offered for sale is on Making A Roller Printed Ring:

You can also see several of his other videos on the Ganoksin BenchTube:

It has been a pleasure getting to know Jay and his wonderful assistant, Terrie! (I saw one of his tool prototypes and it’s very cool so stand by!)

Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Gordon Aatlo: Stunning Gemstone Swirls and Orbits!

Gordon Aatlo

Swirl Rings

Orbit Ring

Two Blossoms

Torus Ring Pendant

Swirl Pendant

I first learned about Gordon Aatlo through a request I put out on LinkedIn seeking “the best-of-the-best” jewelry designers. Numerous wonderful designers came forward (some to be included in this blog down the line), but Gordon Aatlo's work was so clearly outstanding!

Born in Minnesota, Gordon moved to San Francisco at a young age. With his uncle as jeweler to the King of Norway and his father an accomplished bench jeweler, Gordon followed in their footsteps and has enjoyed a lifelong career as a designer, producing all of his own work himself, from concept to finished piece.

Gordon debuted several new pieces at the AGTV Tucson show including his Orbit and Swirl Rings which are published on this blog for the first time. Gordon’s assistant, Christine, also mentioned that his work was featured during an ACTV meeting of the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers where they noted that they were putting a different appraisal value on work actually hand made by designers.

Here’s a few moments with Gordon:

It is fascinating to interview a person such as you who has made a lifelong success as a jewelry designer/creator; still with what appears to be a passion for the craft. What do you most enjoy about this career choice?

There are many things I enjoy about my career choice! First, and most important is, I look forward to going into the studio each day, developing new designs that I like. I have the freedom to pursue and experiment with no outside influences or expectations. The other aspect that I enjoy is the people I meet, gemstone artists, suppliers, and clients, who enjoy and appreciate fine jewelry and gemstones.

You write on your website so eloquently about the time early in your apprenticeship when your skills started to come together and the work began to flow...how is it that you so clearly remember that period and what do you think triggered that "ah ha" moment?

I clearly remember that period because I had worked so hard, struggled really, for over a year and I had my doubts many times that my work would never progress. I can’t say that there was one moment, it was more of a gradual progression of improvement in both technical and design skills, until the one day I had a finished piece in my hand that I was satisfied with. Gradually, with every new project, I came to have more confidence and an excitement for the possibilities of what I could accomplish.

I continue to have “ah-ha” moments!

How would you describe your style?

If I have to choose one style that encompasses a description of my designs, I would have to say modern. I feel my style is wide open as I’m not structured or rigid with a design that it can’t be changed. I chose modern over contemporary because I think contemporary describes more of a style that is of the moment and I think my designs stand the test of time and cannot be defined to an era.

My styles and designs are subject to where the gemstone and idea are leading me to the moment I start to develop the design. When I first started showing my work in Tucson, my assistant would be asked “How many designers do you represent?” That is how varied my styles are. I might create a series of pieces, such as the Swirl Pendants, no two pieces are ever the same?

Tell us about the importance of gemstones in your pieces and how you work with gemstone artists?

Gemstones are the centerpiece of each design and for me, I am attracted to the gemstone first, and then develop the design. The color, cut, shape, size and quality all play a part in what design will best showcase the gem to its best advantage. The shape and size will naturally dictate some part of the design: curved lines for round stones, straight lines for trillion or cushion shaped. The gemstone color also will dictate what metal I use. Sometimes I will use both gold and platinum and I like to set cooler colors, like Tanzanite in platinum or white gold, but not always.

Artistic gemstones are the biggest challenge of all, finding the perfect balance between showcasing the work of art and creating an interesting design to showcase the gem. Arthur Lee Anderson’s work is so precise and the optics are fascinating. His Webbed Halo cuts and Blossom cuts are some of my favorite to work with. Glenn Lehrer “Torus Ring” gems are challenging, whether they are round or rectangular, because of the hole in the center. Sometimes I fill the hole with a diamond set in a bezel and there have been pieces where I set another Torus Ring inside of the Torus Ring. Michael Dyber’s work is fantastic and is so is the work of Larry Woods and Daylan Hargrave.

Berndt Munsteiner’s work has sometimes been my biggest challenge. I am intrigued by the gem, the cut, the size, but the idea isn’t there. I had a pair of Ametrine’s he cut, large and flat, and not matched for size or shape. I had done many designs for Munsteiner’s single gems, but these demanded something special. They sat in the safe for years until one Sunday, while I was reading the newspaper, the idea struck. I went to my desk and in five minutes I had my idea sketched. The finished pieces were all I had hoped they would be.

I do collaborate with the artists when I have an idea and they will design a gem for me, but most of the time I see what they’ve done and get inspiration from their beautiful and unusual work.

I love the work of all of the artists and it’s hard to pass up a beautiful gem and often I don’t! I have many gems sitting in the safe and I’m waiting for that great idea to strike.

You have a section on your website you call "Gordon's Favorites". What becomes a favorite for you?

There are many reason’s a piece becomes a favorite. It can be because from start to finish how the work flowed, how it came together, from finding the gem and the excitement I have while developing the design and even how the metal seemed to lend itself to the design. Another part of what makes it a favorite is the response from people as they see the piece and enjoy it as much as I do.

As I say on the website, I am happy with everything I produce and it’s hard to pick favorites!

Tell us about your new designs which you premiered at the Tucson show?

For Tucson this year, I premiered new designs in rings, pendants and bracelets, and also continued designs in the current Swirl and Petal Pendant series that have been popular with my clients.

The new rings are highlighted by one Tsavorite Garnet and diamond ring which received lots of attention for its design. Some people thought it reminded them of an amusement park ride, some the solar system! We’ve taken a consensus and have decided to call it “Orbit” Other rings premiered are in the same style and feature Pink Sapphires, Spessartite Garnets and Blue Sapphires. They are flatter than the Orbit and easier to wear.

New pendant designs included Paraiba Tourmaline’s cut by Glenn Lehrer; one set in yellow gold and one set in platinum. Both designs were very well received. I featured versions of my AGTA Spectrum Award winning design featuring new work by Arthur Lee Anderson and his new cut, the Spired Webbed Halo cuts in Citrine.

Another pendant shown this year is a continuation of the Deco inspired pieces in gold, platinum and Lapis. Because of the response, I am working on new pieces in this series in pendants, rings and cuffs.

New bracelets this year included a free form yellow gold multi-colored Sapphire and Diamond cuff with matching earrings and a fabulous Pearl cuff with large, natural colored pearls ranging in color in white, pink, peach and lavender tones, diamonds and multi-colored sapphires. Another cuff, more streamlined and structured, showcasing another Arthur Lee Anderson Amethyst, was premiered.

As the designs are all one of a kind, we have a lot of visitors to the booth that are always interested to see what we’ve brought along.

How was the show for you and what did you perceive to be the biggest change with this economy factored in? What was the overall theme you heard from other jewelers?

We did consider the current economic situation months before the show and that did play a part in what pieces were developed to premiere at the show. I followed my instincts and created pieces I thought were right and know my clients expect to see from me.

Although attendance was down, we were quite pleased to see that most buyers were focusing not only on the design, but the quality of the work and the value. Great designs, big looks and quality of workmanship are what we offer and new customer’s are amazed how affordable my work is.

In the AGTA section “Spectrum of Design” most of the designer’s I talked to expressed some surprise as to buyers being more interested in the higher end, unique pieces. With none of us really knowing what to expect and that comes with any show, most of us were pleasantly surprised. And I do think that has to do with buyers appreciating more and more they need to set themselves apart and offer their clients something different.

As someone who has been successful through many years of good and bad economic times, what advice do you have for the rest of us?

My first bit of advice is to be strong in your convictions and go forward with your ideas and appreciate your talent. We have to do whatever it takes, whether its longer hours or cutting back on expenses. It does get scary, but as artists it can be that way in good times too. There always seems to be something out there to get you through. Hang in there and have faith in your talent and yourself.

What a pleasure to feature Gordon Aatlo’s work! His upcoming show schedule is:

Paradise City Art Festival - Spring Schedule:

Marlborough, Mass: March 20, 21 & 22

Philadelphia: May 1, 2 and 3

Northampton, Mass: May 23, 24 and 25

Thanks for stopping by!