Monday, June 23, 2008

Marion Hunziker-Larsen: Jewels In Fiber

Marion Hunziker-Larsen In Her Studio

I came across Marion Henziker-Larsen's website, Jewels In Fiber while searching for top designers in the Bay Area. Marion's gorgeous work in fiber just blew me away so I had to get in touch with her to find out how she creates these unusual and stunning pieces. Here is what she told me:

Most of the work I do was developed by experimentation. Many of the techniques I use are fairly unique. I am self-taught in fiber and refuse to see lines of demarcation between fiber techniques, such as micro macrame, tatting and needle-lace for example. I will use any techniques in fiber that is useful to my designs regardless of its origin. The design determines the techniques, not the other way around. I go from what I call Zen designs with a little as 5 to 10 knots per piece to neckpieces with 300 to 500 knots per square inches with many hours of designing and execution. But believe it or not, the ones with fewer knots are often the hardest to design as it becomes a challenge to create a signature piece with so little, like a haiku it has to be distilled to its pure essence.

In addition to art, design all around us and nature, my customers are my biggest sources of inspiration. After I design a piece and execute it, to see it worn on the person it is meant for, and by that I do not imply the perfect model, but a person to whom the piece has meaning. It is such a treat; it is like finally this orphan, the piece I created, has found its rightful home, or emotionally it feels like it. And as to inspiration, the body of work already done is also a great source as each piece already done creates new possibilities.

I am always fascinated by successful artisans who are self-taught. How did you teach yourself these fiber and textile techniques?

It all started when I went to the Southwest with my husband to be, a painter. He would stop in the middle of the desert, sketch and paint for hours, so to relieve my boredom after searching the desert floor for geodes, I taught myself how to knot from a small book I had picked up at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He happened to have some waxed linen, then I found some local seeds that could be turned into beads with a hammer and nail to make the holes. I studied silversmithing after that and it completely changed my approach to jewelry designing with fiber and textile techniques.

When I studied metalsmithing, my instructor told me that the result, the finished piece was not enough to justify the process. I realized later on what he meant. In order to be able to work in our field, handmade work, one needs to be passionate about the process, the actual work one does every day, to create a body of work. It is the real connection with the work, day in and day out. So even though I liked the result of my work with metals, I felt drawn to fiber, connected to thread, and the processes involving thread.

Marion grew up in Switzerland and now lives San Carlos, CA, just outside of San Francisco.

When I grew up in Switzerland, my father exposed us to art and architecture and helped us develop a sense of design. He was an architect. My husband, a painter, taught me to see and experience nature. Together we learned a lot about colors. Anywhere I go now I see art, color and design, and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. Seeing design and beauty and taking the few seconds it takes to truly see them nourishes the soul. I find this to be a great source of energy. As a designer I see myself as a combination of Swiss and European roots with limbs and leaves exposed to the California sun and wind. And California being on the Pacific rim has also more Eastern influences. When I came to California, I really got a sense of freedom and possibilities. Risk taking is part of the reality here. So I was able to experiment in ways not quite possible in Switzerland. I still often feel like I am playing as a kid and wonder what I will do when I grow up, just kidding... though that thought often passes through my head.

Being new to the arts and crafts fair circuit myself, I was astounded by the amount of workshops and shows that Marion has on her schedule! I asked her about how she manages them all:

For many years I sold most of my work wholesale, so I was working in my studio, alone, days at a time. My only contact was with the UPS driver and the checks in the mail 30 days later. That was in the golden days for crafts wholesale. Later on when the business model for buyers of handmade crafts changed, requiring us the makers to jump through too many hoops for wholesale, I returned to doing mostly craft shows. I find a lot of satisfaction in the direct interaction with customers. I like setting up a show, creating my own unique temporary retail space for a weekend. I have now lots of repeat customers, some just come by to say hi and to tell me how much they enjoy the pieces they already own, or to see my newest designs. Of course I get affected by the way people react to my work, though I work in an areas of design with techniques that have not always been very popular. It is really a very small niche and fiber and textile arts, since traditionally a women's occupation, tend to be under-appreciated and undervalued.

A friend got me involved in teaching my fiber techniques for jewelry. I realized at that time that a lot of my work was unique and if I was not willing to teach it, it would be lost. My first classes were completely unrealistic, I thought everyone would learn very quickly and had no understanding of the learning curve of the techniques I taught. I had to come up with better teaching methods and sometimes better techniques altogether. Teaching forced me to refine my work. And students have actually taught me so much over the years.

How do you balance the creative side of the business with the "business" of the business?

That's always a challenge, and it took me a long time to understand that the business side also needed some creativity and attention. It took me forever to understand the principle of a 'bread and butter' items for example, items that can be purchased easily by customers, like bread and butter, because they are not too expensive compared to their perceived value. Nowadays I divide my time also with my online store. It opened in January 2006. It got its start on a whim with supplies, nylon thread and a few jewelry kits. I thought it would be mainly for my students who could not find thread. To my amazement the store grew, literally overnight... In 2002 I had gone back to school to learn web design. I took one full semester class per semester, designed my artist website, my husband's, had fun one semester with flash animation... I also like the challenge of designing a beautiful website that works.

What advice do you have for fledgling jewelry designers?

Here is the advice I still give myself all the time: whatever I do, do it to my best ability, create with passion, make sure many of the pieces I create are affordable, exhibit them with care and be ready to pass them along to their future owners, my customers. Creating 'objects d'art' is such a luxury and joy, it is nice to share it with others. And if one is able to make a living at it, it really is a form of grace.

Ah! A form of grace. How lovely that sounds!

Thank you for stopping by!


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Susan K. Jones: Making Magic in Mississippi

Susan K Jones

Perhaps because my own jewelry making journey is my new "second life" after a quarter century owning and running a video production company, I am particularly interested in artists who have become successful at their craft later in life. Susan Kemp Jones is one such person- who unleashed her creative spirit after her children were grown and has found great success and fulfillment. Here's what she had to say:

For 15 years, I commuted 100 miles a day taking my children to schools in Memphis, Tennessee. During this time, I also worked with my husband in his business. As a college student, I toyed with the idea of becoming an art major but chose sociology and social work instead. A huge drawback was my lack of exposure to many facets of the larger art world and confidence that I could make a living in it. With strong creative leanings, I often created art for fun by drawing, sewing (making Halloween costumes for the kids) or quilting. Over ten years ago, I seized an opportunity to take a lampworking course and began to make glass beads. In trying to find a way to use all of the beads I had made, I took a silversmith course. A real passion for jewelry design developed and I have found myself wanting to learn everything possible in the mediums of metal and glass. At this point, my thirst for knowledge in these areas are pretty much unquenchable, so I continue to take classes, experiment by setting no boundaries within the two mediums and in general, am always working on expanding my knowledge and talents as an artist and designer.

The greatest opportunity for me has been, without a doubt, the opportunity to exploit my creative side. I can’t fully describe the personal satisfaction that comes from being able to do something that I so deeply and completely enjoy doing and the opportunity to continually expand my knowledge only enhances that experience. Secondly, the people I have met through learning and working with this craft have taught me so much. There is an intimacy in having someone share their talents with you and teaching just because they want to share their knowledge and love of their craft to those whom they know will appreciate their perspective.

As someone who has always lived and worked in the south, how do you think the region has inspired your designs?

Living in several different areas of Mississippi, I was fortunate to be exposed to the proud and unique cultural heritage found in each region of our great state. My childhood was a learning experience in itself, as I was surrounded by fascinating people from all walks of life who contributed to our state’s art history in many and varied ways, from handcrafted quilts in the hills to the blues music of the delta. These experiences have influenced the way I see life, and shaped my taste in the arts. Anyone living in the south can tell you that the Southern woman loves a classic, beautiful, stylish piece of jewelry that will stand the test of time. She wants to be able to wear it with her jeans or to a party and have it be the perfect accessory for both occasions. The influences of the south have inspired me to want to create that timeless piece of jewelry.

Aside from the culture in which I grew up and now live and work, my greatest influences have been my family and my teachers. My father, a Methodist minister, always worked with his hands outside of his profession, my mother is a painter and my grandfather was a blacksmith. Because of them and their influence on me, I’ve been able to cultivate what I feel must have been an inherent creative ability.

The greatest influencers beyond my parents have been my teachers. Barbara Joiner, resident jewelry/metal artist at John C. Campbell Folk School, has been wonderful in sharing her keen knowledge and ability to work with metal. Other outstanding teachers that I would mention are: DX Ross (deceased), Don Viehman, Tom McCarthy, Doug Harling, Patsy Croft, Mary Chuduk and Ken Bova.

You mention that you have a connection to every piece you make....

I only make something that I would be willing to wear myself. When I work on a piece, I must have a certain love for it to make it. The creativity, the detail, the stone, the difficulty and the finished product all go hand in hand and they must come together in a way that is “right” for me. I have at times found myself holding a piece for a time just because I love it and can’t bear to part with it just yet – much as one would want to hold onto an old friend knowing that for various reasons you would ultimately have to part ways. It is rewarding to know that someone else is enjoying my work long after I have “entrusted it” to them. Nothing makes me happier than to continue receiving positive comments about a piece long after it has left my shop.

After being a student at the John C Campbell Folk School, you will be teaching there now! What do you think is important about becoming a teacher?

I love the idea of sharing my knowledge and passion for my work. It will be especially meaningful to know that I have influenced someone in a positive way, just as others have positively influenced me. Also, there is a sense of achievement -- a certain satisfaction of knowing that I have met the approval of my peers to the point of being considered skilled enough to teach.

-What do you find most interesting/challenging about being an artist and also a business person?

The challenge is to make what I love, which is usually something that stretches my imagination and abilities, and have it still be affordable. Narrowing my targeted market is not an easy job. Do I want to make something affordable for most of the people that I see or concentrate on a select market that can afford what they want? While I won’t compromise craftsmanship, my goal is always to strike the right balance between quality and affordability.
-What advice do you have for fledgling jewelry designers?

If you really love it, stay with it. If one particularly enjoys the fabrication of jewelry, my advice is to study under as many great teachers as possible. Take notes in classes and for sure take your camera to document the process and materials they use.

Susan's work can be seen at her website: A selection of her work is offered at a gallery called Taylor PO in Taylor, Mississippi. And, her jewelry is sometimes found at the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi in Jackson, Mississippi and the National Ornamental Metal Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

It was a pleasure getting to know Susan! It is clear to me that she is a woman with a mission...first to quench a thirst for knowledge of the craft and now to hone it and pass it along to others. Congratulations to her!

Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Natasha Jade: Beautiful Buttoned and Beaded!

Natasha Jade

As I travel the internet highway and visit craft shows and boutiques in pursuit of jewelry designers doing unique and masterful work, I am constantly impressed with the quality of what is available and the creativity in the use of chosen materials. This is certainly true of Natasha Jade's amazing pieces using recycled buttons and fibers. These "adornments" as she calls them, are major showstoppers, with some of her best work conveying a sense of moist forest moss beds and salt water seas. From Melbourne, Australia, I asked Natasha how she first thought of the idea to use buttons:

I started with basic jewellery, but tried giving it more of an edge- using the buttons as features and the clusters of buttons as a base form to bead over. I really love buttons- the colors, the shapes, the overlapping forms / landscapes I would create out of clustering them together, and the way they would not appear as buttons at 1st glance until you looked a little closer, and it's really nice to take something that has essentially been discarded and turn it into something beautiful. I'm so tactile- I love to touch the fuzzy softness of yarns and felt against the glint of beads and the textures of buttons. I love the buttons to represent mushrooms in the textile pieces, plate-like fungi.

I like to make it up as I go, let the materials nestle around each other as they want to, let the little features "grow" out of the spaces in the forms as though the pieces were scooped up off the forest floor.

From beads to buttons to textiles to glass...I love that my vision for things has the chance to keep expanding with the introduction of new materials. I guess the subject matter/ inspiration for the pieces is much the same, it just becomes more refined as I incorporate more elements.

Your work is an interesting combination of the very modern with ancient sensibilities...tell us about this.

The Enchanted Earth series are particularly a homage to our ancient Mother Earth. She desperately needs our love and healing and in a small way I hope my pieces remind us of how precious our earth is, and by wearing them, we are re-connecting ourselves to her. Adornment is an ancient practice too- worshiping our bodies by the simple act of adorning ourselves.

Tell us a bit about your background...

Creative childhood- not a lot of cash so we would make things to play with, make art for the walls, make more of a mess than much else!!! I loved the arts subjects in school, I went on to a diploma of Fine Art after high school, and after that made films wrote/directed/edited/music).

I belonged to a medieval re-enactment society and discovered tablet weaving braids but more importantly belly dance- so from there it was creating my own costumes and jewellery galore and performing and teaching dance. I learned to crochet which probably solidified my love of yarns. Discovered glass most recently and have begun to incorporate that into my work.

A friend of mine was looking to start a business making accessories- mostly handbags and a bit of jewellery, and being that we loved creating things together, I decided to jump on board... as it turns out she decided not to go ahead with it, but I continued and "Jade Adornments" was born.

What advice do you have for fledgling jewelry designers?

Be brave enough to be original and love what you do! Fashion dictates what is popular at the time and I always found that really frustrating when my heart/soul/inspiration was leading me in a totally different direction. Do what the heart wants- you will be more fulfilled for it and those that love your work honestly will find you if you persist.

What a pleasure it was to "meet" Natasha! I am a fan!

Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Contemporary Crafts Market: The Best of the West

Cynthia Downs
Mary Darwall

The Contemporary Crafts Market returned to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium for its 23rd season this weekend as the West Coast’s premiere event for one-of-a-kind functional and decorative crafts. Over 250 artists exhibited their juried work including jewelry designers working in enamel, fibers, knotting and weaving to various gold and silversmiths of exceptional quality.

Most of the designers I met were gracious and wonderful about discussing their work and processes, though three vendors actually shooed me away saying that they didn't want me to take photos of their designs. VERY WEIRD if you ask me. Why, I wondered, would someone AT A SHOW, not want publicity on their work? Maybe someone out there can comment and educate me on this strange behavior.

But otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the best the west has to offer. A few of my favorites included the wire woven cuffs by Cynthia Downs, the elaborate seed bead pieces by Mary Darwall, the gold and silver fused cuffs and rings by Marne Ryan and the glass and silver designs by Alison Antelman and Amy Faust.

I hope the economy and gas prices didn't put a damper on the crowds. These talented designers deserve great success!
Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Wonderful Jewels By Wiwat Kamolpornwijit!

Wiwat Kamolpornwijit In His Studio

I found yet another extraordinary jewelry designer through the GFS Craft Show website. This artist has a most unusual name and style! Wiwat Kamolpornwijit works in polymer clay and creates exquisite adornments that are each beautiful little art pieces. Beginning his career as an environmental engineer, Wiwat's fascinating story fits perfectly with his very unique work:

I helped my friend selling polymer jewelry as a fund raising activity for a temple in 2004. During that time my friend broke up with her partner who supplied her jewelry. Somehow I was insane enough to volunteer making jewelry for sale with no prior experience. I spend many hours each day to work the clay. It seemed I held 2 full-time jobs as both an environmental engineer and a craft artist. My life took a big turn at the end of 2006 when my father passed away. I went back to Thailand for the funeral and to accompany my mother. When things got better at home in Thailand I came back to the US and learned that a job promise was no longer available. It was kind of shocking but I also saw this as once in a lifetime chance to becoming a full time craft artist. Under a normal circumstance it’s very unlikely I’d have given up my full time job. I have been a craft artist for about 15 months now.

What do you like about the polymer clay technique? What does it offer that other techniques can't do?

It helps that there is not much capital investment in working in polymer. I also like its pliability and colors. Caning or millifiore is a very common technique in polymer, it is the same technique used to make Murano glass. Many rolls of different colors and patterns of polymer are placed together carefully to create a pattern across the section. The thin slice of the cane showing the final pattern is used to make beads and surface design. Particularly I like exploring new shapes and the challenge of making it. For example I create a grill-like drum in one of the images by repeatedly slicing a slab of a cane two third of its thickness and splitting the slice.

For being relatively new to this industry, you are showing regularly, have a number of retail partners and appear to be quite successful.....yet most designers have said that it takes at least 3-5 years to build a real business. What do you think you have you done differently that has made your business viable so quickly?

I had made jewelry part-time for almost 3 years before I opted for doing it full-time. So I am not completely new to the business. I’m still learning the ropes and always re-evaluate my plan or my direction based on my experience at shows. Pricing work is a tough task; I priced my work to be very affordable at the beginning and continually increased the price till I started to feel the resistance. Slowly I have gotten better at pricing my work. The approach might be wrong but coming from a completely different field I need to learn how much people are willing to spend on my work.

You do craft/fine art shows several times a month. What do you enjoy about these and where do you find the stamina?!!

Doing show is a way to get to see people, test new designs, and learn what appeal to customers. The most enjoyable parts of doing show are when repeat customers tell me how much they like my work and when I make some money! Believe it or not I felt a bit stressed when not doing shows. I guess it’s something to do with being so used to having paychecks at the end of every month. Thanks to meditation I’m still sane. When there is so much uncertainty in both being accepted to a show and the sale of the work, I tend to apply to more shows than I should. I think doing shows is a good workout nonetheless!!!

What advice do you have for fledgling jewelry designers?

You've got to like doing it first, then it is perseverance in my opinion. After I decided to go full-time in 2007, my first show was held in the middle of an unexpected snowstorm. At the second show the gust was so bad it blew my tent away during setup, then the rain pour down so badly, it was a complete mess. Surviving these two shows made doing other shows a piece of cake. Also find a balance between what sell and what you like to make, and don’t hurt yourself!

I love Wiwat's unique style and his adventurous spirit! Hats off to him for creating this life for himself. I wish his great success!

Thanks for stopping by!