Monday, December 22, 2008

Steve Shelby: Nature Reflected In Brass

Steve Shelby

I found Steve Shelby on Ganoksin Gallery and asked him to participate even though he's not a jewelry designer but rather a metalsmith working on a larger scale to create lovely, gentle and flowing objects from brass. Here's what Steve had to say:

Your work has a graceful quality; tell us about what you try to achieve with your pieces?

I like curvy things, especially growing plants, like vines that you can practically see growing. I have grown gardens and observed and studied these things since I was a small child. My sense of aesthetics is based on these forms found in nature; they are ingrained in my subconscious mind. What I am trying to achieve is to translate my sense of beauty into forms in metal.

How would you describe your style?

I think my style most closely resembles Art Nouveau, which, from the time I was first aware of it, I have considered to be the most aesthetically pleasing style. I'm not trying to imitate Art Nouveau, but since my inspiration is the same as that of the artists of that style, the results are similar. My style in some ways could also be called impressionist, since rather than putting a highly refined, perfectly smooth surface on my pieces, I leave them showing the hammer marks that created them. I also strive for simplicity and elegance. I admire the way that Constantin Brancusi was able to take a subject and simplify it to an extreme. I don't go nearly that far, but I try to avoid getting involved with a lot of detail, the only adornment being the texture created by the hammer.

Why do you focus on brass? What do you find special about this metal?

The reasons are many. It started with my teacher in college who said that brass was more appealing than copper. Then when I worked for Fox Products Corp., making parts for contrabassoons, I worked with brass constantly, getting to know the material intimately. That brass was finished off perfectly smooth and silver plated. I like the looks of brass that is aged and takes on a mellow brownish-ochre tone. Then there's the durability factor. I never thought I was making a statement with my art, but I just realized I am in a way: I really hate the way everything we buy today is meant to be used briefly and then thrown away. It bothers me that possibly in future ages, our era's greatest monuments will be our landfills. Anyway, I want to counter that by making things that last, and brass is strong and durable enough to last a long, long time. The fact that I use brass also makes me somewhat unique, and I have never been one to follow the crowd. I started doing what I do now only about six years ago, and prior to that I was largely uninspired. At the risk of sounding crazy, I was hit with a vision one morning upon getting out of bed. It was something made of brass, like a vase. I took it as a message that it was time to get started on a new course. I ordered a sheet of brass and made the vase in the picture. I have had more inspiration than time ever since.

How do you think the work primarily differs from work done by jewelry metalsmiths?

Mostly in scale. I made jewelry when I was a student, and got so I wanted to make bigger things. I did make some rather large pieces of jewelry, and I've seen some really outlandishly large art jewelry, but I really doubt if anyone wears it. I decided that I would rather make larger pieces and forget about jewelry. Since what I make is larger than jewelry, generally the tools are also larger, and I need a slightly larger area in which to work. I have narrowed myself to pretty much just hammer-forming. I don't do any casting or stone-setting, although I'm taking a departure on a piece I'm working on now, which has a large cabochon as its focal point.

How did you come to make a career out of metalsmith work?

It took a long time to get to that point. After many years of doing other things, I came to the realization that it's what I enjoy the most, and what I feel I was meant to do. I'm not a particularly religious man, but I feel that somehow I've been guided into this by an outside force, and I'm just going along with it.

What advice do you have for fellow metalsmiths on surviving this economy?

Hope...pray...I wish I knew. I try not to dwell on it too much, it's too depressing. My hope is that the people who buy art will not be the people who lose their jobs, and so we'll continue to sell our art. It's hard to talk about it without sounding selfish. I feel for anyone facing hardship because of the economy, and I hope and pray I don't have to become one myself.

I love Steve's work and love his quote about having more inspiration than time. What a great way to wake up each morning! You can see more of Steve's work at his own website:

Happy Holidays to all!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

My Blog is Over The Top!

I just learned that this blog earned the "Over The Top" award by Nancy Troske of Silverlight Contemporary Jewelry. Thank you and thanks to all the incredible jewelry artists who participated this past year!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Kim Fox: Texture and Tenacity!

Kim Fox

As we look around at the state of the economy, any one who is not at least a bit scared about their own well-being is probably...lying. So it is with admiration that I present this profile on Kim Fox, creator of beautiful and unique jewelry with a story that inspires:

In 1999 I was at a watershed in my life. In one year I had lost my marriage, suffered financial reverses in my business and then lost it, filed corporate and personal bankruptcy, the stress had taken itself out on my body and my health suffered severely. In the following years I took a job to repay part of the bankruptcy debt and started examining what I had done and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. During this time I started writing again and took up making simple jewelry.

In 2003 I had completed the repayment of the bankruptcy and came to the conclusion that the second half of my life was to be lived out of my heart – not my mind. Though I had taken art and had written through most of my schooling – my mind told me that I could not make a living at it – so when I was young I used my analytical skills to make a living in sales and teaching technology.

My mother died in 2003 and I decided to take the money that would have been my retirement and use it to invest in me. I sold my home in Phoenix, and in the beginning of 2004 moved to Carlsbad, Ca to attend GIA (Gemological Institute of America) where I completed two six month courses – one in design and the other in Gemology. From there I went to San Francisco to study with Alan Revere. In the middle of 2005 I took a job in San Luis Obispo in a jewelry store – the job lasted a month. I started my studio, did my first shows on the beaches of central California.

In 2007 I moved back to Arizona and live simply in a double wide mobile home, I travel to shows all over the United States and spend time at home designing new pieces, managing the manufacturing of my collection. I get scared but have learned my gut instinct is my best friend. I have no regrets about spending the first part of my life in other areas. I have used all of it in the second half of my life.

If times get really bad I know that I can use my skills old and new to feed, house and clothe me.

What especially caught my eye with Kim's jewelry is her interesting use of texture.

When I work to get textures I use old fashioned tools like hammers, drills, fire and rolling mills, but sometimes I use technology where I import images or textures in gray scale into sections of my CAD design. My style I would say is intercultural. I use what I have seen in my travels, studied in art and what comes out of my imagination. Depending on the context of the viewer I have been told that my work is similar to the early Taxco Work, Craftsman Style or Art Deco.

The tool that has worked well for me is my computer. I used it to design jewelry using a very sophisticated CAD program. Ideas for my future work come from photos of architecture, nature, and art that I store on my computer. Sketches made by me are duplicated and stored there on my computer. While I use technologically sophisticated tools, I do not want people to look at my work and see that I used a computer to create it. Simple shapes are beautiful, when you add relevant texture to the simple shape it makes is visually interesting, especially if the texture is random or natural looking. In some of my pieces I have added gray scale textures of water, fire, mountains, flowers and shapes I have seen in architecture and used as cultural symbols. The textures are picked for their meaning as well as visual interest. On my Phoenix pendant the background is the base of a flame, the background of my Tree of Life is running water.

My jewelry design has evolved into three distinct areas.
The first is the area of Jewelry Components or Findings. This started with my desire to have my jewelry to be different. Initially some of the components were hand carved or made using traditional methods such as assembly. Those methods are very time consuming and the results were sometimes great and sometimes not.

The second area is custom design for other designers and customers. This started with friends who wanted special pieces for themselves and moved to other designers who had ideas and didn’t know how to make them.

The third area is the area of finished work of my own design. Some of these pieces are hand made, some cast, fused, strung, whatever I put my hand to. This is the area where I play. Sometimes it turns out well sometimes it gets put into the recycle pile.

Despite Kim's extensive training, she continues to take classes regularly. I asked her about that.

Most artists pretty much work alone. I know that I do. I have contact with my partners over the phone most of the time. Taking classes allows me time to experiment, see a master’s perspective on creating things and offers me an opportunity to socialize and share with other artists.

It was a pleasure spending time with Kim! She has my deep respect for the journey she has traveled.
Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Marianne Hunter: Exquisite Enamels

Marianne Hunter

I first saw Marianne Hunter's work at the recent Contemporary Crafts Market in Santa Monica, CA. Marianne's specialty is highly intricate enamel work incorporating precious metals and stones to create glorious, magnificent works that are so extraordinary that pieces are displayed in museums including the Mint Museum, the National Museum of American Art, Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Oakland Museum of California and the Gemological Institute of America Museum.

And through my friend, goldsmith and artist, Beth Rosengard, I had the opportunity to enjoy Marianne's company for dinner. It was there that I learned she started making jewelry as a teenager and first sold her jewelry for a song!

I started selling my work at 17, and the pieces were actually 50 cents. I did my first show that summer at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. Shows were quite different then as the craft movement wasn't even in its infancy at that point. Booth fees were $5-$35. I set up on a card table and my "inventory" was carried in a cigar box. It was really exhilarating to be having so much fun with the enamel work and earning my own money.

It appears that you've been working at your craft in such a focused way for more than 30 what point did you come to know that you were creating extraordinary work?

Thanks for the compliment. it's actually more than 40 years now. I always liked the pieces I made. I think the first pendant I made in my interpretation of grisaille enamel was the turning point. towards more serious art work, although it took several years for me to have the confidence to leave the safety of inexpensive, repetitive pieces behind...that and then learning to set the pieces in precious metals has made an enormous difference.

What are your thoughts about having your work displayed in prominent museums?

It's just wonderful! I'm very glad that both my parents were able to enjoy that recognition with me. It is gratifying to know that some of the pieces I've sent out into the world have ended up with that formal recognition.

Many of Marianne's pieces are Kabuki Kachin and Kachina figures. I asked about this focus...

They are metaphor and alter-ego for me. In my imagination they are powerful protectors of and sources of Nature, Elements, Beauty, Harmony, Joy and such things. They come from my imagined perspectives of other cultures, other times. They represent what I wish the world could be like for every one, every where all the time. Beautiful, interesting, harmonious and safe.

From your website explanation of your work, each piece is meticulously planned this a factor of the type of enamel work you do or part of your nature?

This makes me laugh! If you would see the chaos I work in you would know that very very little in my life is meticulous! But I have learned over time that to enter into one of these pieces, with the smoothest journey forward, takes a map. It's something like creating a puzzle; the shapes of the enamel panels have to fit with the stones and metal work. the colors have to integrate. the foils cut and laid on at the right point. A detailed drawing and the time spent deciding on stones, orientation etc, spares me hours and hours of locked up delay during process. I still spend a lot of time unable to move forward until I've made another decision as the piece comes together, but the planning ahead helps make the pieces possible.

Do you ever just set out to create something without knowing how it will turn out?

Almost never anymore. I'm sometimes surprised by new ideas along the way. But I'm interested in work that is really challenging and really well integrated, so the drawing is a very important creative part of the process.

I love your comparison of your work to instruments working in concert....and in fact, your pieces have a lyrical does music play a role in what you create?

I don't know. I just felt really comfortable with that analogy as I way to express the emotion, the flow, the complexity, the twists and turns and, hopefully, the unity of the finished work.

What do you enjoy about the solitary nature of your work?

I've always been this way. I was never creative in a classroom or group environment. I like to work alone with my own thoughts free to wander. Even gardening I prefer to be unobserved. I think it frees the little freezes when the grownups come in!

After so many years of doing this, what are the best moments?

Feeling really excited by a drawing I've just completed; finally setting all the enamels and stones into the finished metalwork; holding the piece with all the polishing, engraving and bead work done, done, done. Having a person love that piece so much, they are willing to exchange their own energy value to choose it as their own. Then it's really complete. I also really enjoy when they ( the owners and their pieces) come back to year after year. Another best moment...when the show is over, when I've regrouped and recouped my energy; I've cleaned up the benches, going into the studio to start new drawings. That's a great day.

What an honor to get to know more about Marianne and her amazing work!

Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Brittany Golden: Sundance Sensations!

Brittany Golden in Utah

I found Brittany Golden through the Ganoksin Gallery and was impressed with her rugged, natural style. It wasn't surprising then to discover that she lives surrounded by the mountains of Utah and is the resident artist and silversmith instructor at Sundance Resort.

Here's a few moments with Brittany:

Sundance has a very relaxed energy, kind of a well worn feel to it that helps keep me grounded. I am able to have a great balance of work and play there, in the summer and fall after spending the morning in the studio, I love to trail run up to the waterfall and look out over the valley. In the winter I can go ski for a few hours and show up to teach in my ski pants and my students will have just come off the slopes themselves, then we make jewelry over hot chocolate with rosy grins. I love my life and it helps to keep the creative energy flowing!

You mention that you grew up learning to appreciate beauty...what was your path to silversmithing and jewelry design?

I have always been an artist since I could hold a crayon! I have always been in an art class and have done almost every medium out there. I have also enjoyed teaching many things. After making jewelry for a few years I knew I had found my life calling when I walked into the Art Shack Studios at Sundance and told them that I wanted to teach their jewelry classes and they said that their instructor had just quit!

What have you found to be the most challenging part of trying to make a living at jewelry design? Most enjoyable?

At first it was selling things at all because I would get so attached to my pieces! Once I got over that it's been a lot of fun to see people wearing my jewelry. I recently observed someone complimenting someone else on a ring of mine that they were wearing and the person replied that it was their favorite ring, neither of them knew the artist was watching the interaction, those moments are rewarding.

What appeals to you about teaching?

I like seeing the joy people get from having a completed piece that becomes priceless to them because they made it! The moment I see the light bulb go on for someone, when the inspiration kicks in and they get into the flow, I know they are hooked and will be back to see me again! Everyone sees things so differently and having people from all over the world and all walks of life challenges my perceptions of things and inspires me to look at things differently. It makes every class different and I love it!

How has the price of metal and the economy affected what you are doing?

Positively! I have started exploring other metals and non-traditional materials, the possibilities are endless!

How would you describe your style?

Organic. That word seems to encompass all the pieces I've made up till now. They all have that handmade, not too perfect look that gives them a very comfortable feel. I like mixing metals and textures for more visual interest while keeping things simple.

What have you found to be the best way to find clients?

Talking to people, wearing my jewelry and being passionate about what I do. People like sharing their jewelry stories and listening had gotten me some faithful clients. Having a relationship with someone through jewelry is special for me, I think it creates a deeper connection for the me and the wearer.

What advice do you have for fledgling jewelry designers?

It's an old saying but still true, do what you love and the money will follow! Never lose faith, just because things don't happen on your time frame doesn't mean that they will never happen, the universe probably has something better in mind! Before taking my jewelry class I had applied at Sundance (my favorite place to be) to work in the store and didn't get hired! Shortly after that I signed up for a jewelry college course and took it 5 times. Almost 3 years later I was hired as the Resident Silversmith and Instructor, a job I'd much rather be doing but may not have if I had gotten the store job earlier!

More of Brittany's work can be found on her website and at the Sundance Gallery as well as the Thanksgiving Point Art Institute Gallery.

I love Brittany's positive attitude about working with rather than fighting against the economy challenges!
Thanks for stopping by!