I'm always on the look out for jewelry designers who are doing unusual work, so when I asked my Los Angeles friend, bead/jewelry expert, Ken Rogers, who he would recommend, he pointed me to Eni Oken's Jewelry website. Wowee! Such intricate wire work combined with bold colors for pieces that practically smile!
It turns out that Eni Oken, originally from Brazil and now living in Los Angeles, has a fine arts and architectural background, but worked extensively as a computer graphic design artist before turning her focus to jewelry design and teaching. Here's what she had to say:
I always worked on jewelry as a hobby, since I was a girl, on and off. For many years during the time when I was working as a computer graphics artist, I did not work on my hobby at all. Then by coincidence, a close friend mentioned she liked to make jewelry and we started getting together some to do beading and chat. That brought me back into making jewelry around 1999.
Your wire work is very unusual and detailed. How would you describe it?
If you look at all my other work such as clay modeling, embroidery, fiber arts, fantasy art and especially the computer graphics, the style is ALWAYS the same. It’s a little whimsical, ultra ornate and very colorful. Friends who know my other work laugh when they see the jewelry, because they say I did not change a thing, only the medium.
How do you think your Brazilian background influences your designs?
I believe the strongest cultural influence I took from Brazil is the liberal use of color – Latin countries are typically known for using strong, saturated colors combined in unusual palettes. Before I returned to jewelry making, I was also a color theory teacher, and was able to observe Brazil’s cultural influence on my work in depth in all areas.
Where do you find your inspiration and what do you do when it is in short supply?
I find inspiration everywhere, as many artists do. I could be talking to someone, suddenly something catches my eye and I have an idea for a design. I also like to look at historic references and to keep a close watch on fashion trends. When I do find inspiration, I draw or write it down in a “creative journal”. Those are invaluable when running out of ideas -- we all go through phases when the ideas seem to go dry.
Eni's website has an unusual "artist's statement" that seems to reflect her sense of humor. It says, "Learn how to make pretty shiny things. Teach others how I made them. Repeat from the beginning." I asked her about it...
I just got tired of the traditional “artist’s statement” where people embellish so much their words, most of the time you can’t understand what they truly want to say. I was hoping to convey a quick and short message of what I am all about. I have always, in my entire artistic career, followed the same cycle: create, learn and teach – and then back to the beginning.
What do you enjoy about teaching?
Besides the obvious reward that comes from giving someone else the ability to create, teaching is a learning experience for me too – I learn more about the technique or design when I need to explain it in detail. By doing so, I am able to glimpse other derived design possibilities. So the cycle starts again (create, learn, teach): after teaching, new creation comes from what was learned during the teaching process.
You mention "fantasy" often as you describe your work. How does that factor in to what you do?
During the time I worked in computer graphics, I created what is called ‘fantasy or fantastical art’. Surrealism, sci-fi, sword and sorcery are all different styles of fantastical art. I was also a teacher of fantasy design for video games. As mentioned before, my style remains the same no matter which medium I am using, and jewelry making is particularly suitable to interpreting fantasy design.
How have you managed to be an artist and also successful business person?
I think there are three components to being successful in any artistic profession: focus, persistence and taking care of business. Intense focus is the first one: you need to choose one path and really stick with that one. The hard part is not CHOOSING ONE, but giving up on all the others!!! Persistence is the second ingredient and very necessary if you want to pursue any kind of business – most people tend to give up too soon. In my experience, any venture takes at least 2 to 3 years to show the smallest sign of success, and most people give up way before that. The last and final component, taking care of business, is doing the grunt work that needs to be done even when we hate it, such as accounting, marketing and financial matters. Most artists dislike those tasks intensely. I don’t like them either, but I know they have to be done, so I just do it.
What do you think are the most difficult challenges of making jewelry design into a viable business?
I believe there are two: a) deciding what kind of artist you want to be (and sticking with it) and b) finding the right venue to sell the work you decided to create as that type of artist. For example, if you decide you want to be a designer and mass produce your work, then you have to sell at chain stores and department stores. If you want to be an artist producing one of a kind pieces, then you need to find galleries or find a niche on the web.
Eni's work is sold only by special order through her website and she also offers online jewelry making tutorials.
It was great fun to "meet" someone who so clearly radiates joy and happiness in each piece she designs!
Thanks for stopping by!