So You Want To Be A Jewelry Designer … Becoming The Bead Artist and Jewelry Designer
BECOMING THE BEAD ARTIST AND JEWELRY DESIGNER:
The Ongoing Tensions Between Inspiration and Form
Abstract: As a jewelry designer, you have a purpose. Your purpose is to figure out, untangle and solve, with each new piece of jewelry you make, how both you, as well as the wearer, will understand your inspirations and the design elements and forms you chose to express them, and why this piece of jewelry is right for them. Not as easy as it might first appear. This involves an ongoing effort, on many levels, to merge voice and inspiration with form. Often challenging, but very rewarding.
BECOMING THE BEAD ARTIST AND JEWELRY DESIGNER:
The Ongoing Tensions Between Inspiration and Form
As a jewelry designer, you have a purpose. Your purpose is to figure out, untangle and solve, with each new piece of jewelry you make, how both you, as well as the wearer, will understand your inspirations and the design elements and forms you chose to express them, and why this particular piece of jewelry is right for them. Not as easy as it might first appear.
You will want the piece to be beautiful and appealing. So you will be applying a lot of art theories about color, perspective, composition and the like. You will quickly discover that much about color use and the use of lines and planes and shapes and so forth in art is very subjective. People see things differently. They may bring with them some biases to the situation. Many of the physical materials you will use may not reflect or refract the color and other artistic effects more easily achieved with paints.
You want the piece to be durable. So you will be applying a lot of theories and practices of architects and engineers and mechanical physicists. You will need to intuitively and intrinsically understand what about your choices leads to the jewelry keeping its shape, and what about your choices allows the jewelry to move, drape and flow. You also will be attentive to issues of physical mechanics, particularly how jewelry responds to forces of stress, strain and movement. This may mean making tradeoffs between beauty and function, appeal and durability, desire and acceptance.
You want the piece to be satisfying and accepted by various wearing and viewing audiences. So you will have to have some understanding of the role jewelry plays in different people’s lives. Jewelry is more than some object to them; jewelry is something they inhabit — reflective of soul, culture, status, aspiration. You will recognize that people ascribe the qualities of the jewelry to the qualities of the person wearing it. You will bring to the forefront ideas underlying psychology and anthropology and sociology, and even party planning, while designing your jewelry or introducing it publicly. You may find the necessity to compromise part of your vision for something socially acceptable, or in some degree of conformance with a client’s taste or style.
BECOMING THE BEAD ARTIST AND JEWELRY DESIGNER
Sometimes becoming a designer begins by touching some beads. Or running a strand of pearls through your hand. Or the sight of something perfectly worn around the wrist, or upon the breast, or up near the neck. Or trying to accessorize an outfit. Or finding something for a special occasion.
Jewelry designers are extraordinarily blessed to do what they love for a living. For many, they have turned a hobby into an avocation into a lifestyle.
But it’s not like a regular job. There are many intangibles. Such as, what exactly is creativity and creative thinking? What are all the things that have to come together to recognize that creative spark when it hits you in your heart, gut or head, and how to translate that into something real, with beauty, with function, and with purpose? How do you mesh your views of and desires for aesthetics and functionality with those of your many audiences — wearer, viewer, buyer, seller, collector, exhibiter, teacher and student?
What exactly does it mean to design jewelry, and how do you know it is the right path for you? This is a tough question. You may love jewelry, but not know how to make it. You may get off on creative problem solving or be a color addict but not know what specific techniques and skills you need to learn, in what organized way, with what direction, leading you towards becoming that better jewelry designer. You may wonder what it means and what it takes to be successful as a designer. You may feel the motivation, but not know what the jewelry designer really has to do each day.
You may be taking classes and getting some training, but how do you know when you have arrived? How do you know when you have emerged as a successful professional jewelry designer? And what are your responsibilities and obligations, once you get there?
THERE IS SO MUCH TO KNOW
There is so much to know, and so many types of choices to make. Which clasp? Which stringing material? Which technique? Which beads? Which strategy of construction? Which silhouette? What aesthetic you want to achieve? How you want to achieve it? Drape, movement, context, durability? How to organize and manage the design process?
And this is the essence of this series of articles — a way to learn all the kinds of things you need to bring to bear, in order to create a wonderful and functional piece of jewelry. Whether you are just beginning your beading or jewelry making avocation, or have been beading and making jewelry awhile — time spent with the material in these segments will be very useful. You’ll learn the critical skills and ideas. You’ll learn how these inter-relate. And you’ll learn how to make better choices.
Everyone knows that anyone can put beads and other pieces together on a string and make a necklace. But can anyone make a necklace that draws attention? That evokes some kind of emotional response? That resonates with someone where they say, I want to wear that! or, I want to buy that!? Which wears well, drapes well, moves well as the person wearing it moves? Which is durable, supportive and keeps its silhouette and shape? Which doesn’t feel underdone or over done? Which is appropriate for a given context, situation, culture or society?
True, anyone can put beads on a string. But that does not make them artists or designers. From artists and designers, we expect jewelry which is something more. More than parts. More than an assemblage of colors, shapes, lines, points and other design elements. More than simple arrangements of lights and darks, rounds and squares, longs and shorts, negative and positive spaces. We expect to see the artist’s hand. We expect the jewelry to be impactful for the wearer.
We want to gauge how the designer grows within the craft, and takes on the challenges during their professional lives. This involves an ongoing effort to merge voice and inspiration with form. Often this effort is challenging. Sometimes paralyzing. Always fulfilling and rewarding.
Jewelry design is a conversation. The conversation in ongoing, perhaps never-ending. The conversation is partly internal and partly external. The conversation is partly a reflection about process, refinement, questioning, translating feelings into form, impressions into arrangements, life influences into choice. It touches on desire. It reflects value and values. Aesthetics matter. Architecture and function matters. People matter. Context and situation matter.
Jewelry focuses attention. Inward for the artist. Outward for the wearer and viewer. In many directions socially and culturally and situationally. Jewelry is a voice which must be expressed and heard, and hopefully, responded to.
At first that voice might not find that exact fit with its audience. There is some back and forth in expression, as the jewelry is designed, refined, redesigned, and re-introduced publicly. But jewelry, and its design, have great power. They have the power to synthesize a great many voices and expectations into something exciting and resonant.
JEWELRY DESIGN: An Occupation In Search Of A Profession
Jewelry design is an activity which occupies your time.
How the world understands what you do when you occupy that time, however, is in a state of flux and confusion, and which often can be puzzling or disorienting for the jewelry artist, as well.
Is what you are doing merely a hobby or an avocation? Is it something anyone can do, anytime they want, without much preparation and learning?
Is what you do an occupation? Does it require learning specialized technical skills? Is it something that involves your interaction with others? Is it something you are paid to do?
Or is what you do a profession? Is there a specialized body of knowledge, perspectives and values, not just mechanical skills, to learn and apply? Do you provide a service to the public? Do you need to learn and acquire certain insights which enable you to serve the needs of others?
Are you part of another occupation or profession, or do you have your own? Is jewelry design merely a craft, where you make things by following sets of steps?
Is jewelry design an art, where your personal inspirations and artistic sense is employed to create things of aesthetic beauty for others to admire, as if they were sculptures? Is the jewelry you create to be judged as something separate and apart from the person wearing it?
Or is jewelry design its own thing. Is it a design activity where you learn specialized knowledge, skills and understandings in how to integrate aesthetics and functionality, and where your success can only be judged at the boundary between jewelry and person — that is, only as the jewelry is worn?
The line of demarcation between occupation and profession is thin, often blurred, but for the jewelry designer, this distinction is very important. It feeds into our sense of self and self-esteem. It guides us in the choices we make to become better and better at our craft, art and trade. It influences how we introduce our jewelry to the public, and how we influence the public to view, wear, exhibit, purchase or collect the things we make.
What Does It Mean To Become A Professional?
At the heart of this question is whether we are paid and rewarded either solely for the number of jewelry pieces which we make, or rather for the skill, knowledge and intent underlying our jewelry designs.
If the former, we do not need much training. Entry into the activity of jewelry design would be very open, with a low bar. Our responsibility would be to turn out pieces of jewelry. We would not encumber ourselves too much with art theory or design theory. We would not concern ourselves, in any great depth, and certainly not struggle with jewelry’s psycho-socio-cultural impacts.
If the latter, we would need a lot of specialized training and experience. Entry into the activity of jewelry design would be more controlled, most likely staged from novice to master. Our responsibility would be to translate our inspirations into aspirations into designs. It would also be to influence others viewing our work to be inspired to think about and reflect and emote those things which have excited the artist, as represented by the jewelry itself. And it would also be to enable others to find personal, and even social and cultural, success and satisfaction when wearing or purchasing this piece of jewelry.
To become a professional jewelry designer is to learn, apply and experience a way of thinking like a designer. Fluent in terms about materials, techniques and technologies. Flexible in the applications of techniques and the organizing of design elements into compositions which excite people. Able to develop workable design strategies in unfamiliar or difficult situations. Communicative about intent, desire, purpose, no matter the context or situation within which the designer and their various audiences find themselves. Original in how concepts are introduced, organized and manipulated, and in how the designer differentiates themselves from other designers.
The designs of artisans who make jewelry reflect and refract cultural norms, societal expectations, historical explanations and justifications, psychological precepts individuals apply to make sense of themselves within a larger setting. As such, the jewelry designer has a major responsibility, both to the individual client, as well as to the larger social setting or society, to foster that the ability for the client to fulfill that hierarchy of needs, and to foster the coherency and rationality of the community-at-large.
All this can happen in a very small, narrow way, or a very large and profound way. In either case, the professional roles of the jewelry designer remain the same. Successfully learning how to play these roles — fluency, flexibility, communication, originality — becomes the basis for how the jewelry designer is judged and the extent of his or her recognition and success.
Why People Like To Bead and Make Jewelry
Most people, when they get started beading or making jewelry, don’t have this overwhelming urge to become a star jewelry designer. On the contrary, fame and fortune as a designer are some of the furthest things from their minds. Most people look to jewelry making and beading to fulfill other needs.
Over the years I’ve seen many people pick up beading and jewelry making as a hobby. They are drawn to these for many reasons, but most often, to make fashionable jewelry at a much lower cost than they would find for the same pieces in a Department store, or to repair jewelry pieces they especially love. When you start with the parts, and the labor is all your own, it is considerably less expensive than the retail prices you would find in a store for the same pieces.
Some people want to make jewelry for themselves. Others want to make handmade gifts. Giving someone something of great value, that reflects a personal expression of creativity, and a labor of love — you can’t beat it. And everyone loves jewelry.
When people get into beading and jewelry making, they discover it’s fun. They tap into their inner-creative-self. They see challenges, and find ways to meet them. They take classes. They buy books and magazines. They join beading groups and bead societies and jewelry making collaboratives. They have beading and jewelry making parties with their friends. They scour web-sites on-line looking for images of and patterns for jewelry. They comb the web and the various beading, jewelry-making and craft magazines, looking for sources and resources. They join on-line jewelry and bead boards, on-line forums, on-line web-rings, on-line ezines, groups, and on-line blogs. They take shopping trips to malls and boutiques and like little good Agatha Christies and Sherlock Holmes, they spy, looking for fashions, fashion trends, and fashionistas. They attend traveling bead shows. And every town they visit, they schedule some free time to check out the local bead stores and boutiques.
As people get more into beading and jewelry making, some discover that these avocations are not only sources of artistic self-expression, but also have many meditative qualities. They are relaxing. They take your mind off the here and now, and transport you to a very calming place.
Still, for others, beading and jewelry making become a way to earn some extra income. They might be to supplement what you’re making now. They might be ways to generate some extra dollars after you retire. They might be the start of your own business as a designer of jewelry. They might be a sense of independence and self-reliance. Having someone pay you for something you made is often the hook that gets people addicted to beadwork and jewelry making.
Most people, however, are content just to make jewelry. There are no professional Design paths to pursue. They may realize that they are out there somewhere, but don’t particularly care. Or sometimes they are unfamiliar with or can’t see all the possibilities. Perhaps they get stuck. No mentor, no book, no magazine, no project to entice them or spark an interest in something more than what they are doing now.
For those fewer people, however, who get a whiff of what it means to design jewelry, and jewelry which resonates, well, what a trip they are in for.
Do You Chase The Idea or The Material?
It is important up front to ask yourself, as a jewelry artist, what is more important to you: the piece of jewelry itself, or the reason why it was made? The idea? Or the material object?
The idea is about cause and effect. How the inspiration resulted in choices about colors, materials and techniques. How the artist’s intent is revealed through choices about composition, arrangements and manipulation of design elements. How the jewelry relates to the person and to the body? How the artist anticipates how others will understand whether a piece is finished and successful, and whether the piece incorporates these shared understandings into the choices made about design.
As solely a material object, the jewelry so designed shies away from resonance. It becomes something to be judged apart from the wearer. It too often gets co-opted by global forces tending towards standardization and same-old-same-old designs. The designer’s mastery is barely referenced or attended to. The designers voice is reduced to noise. The very real fear is that, with globalization and standardization, the designer’s voice will no longer be needed.
Jewelry as idea fosters communication and connection between the artist and his or her various audiences. It bridges thinking. It bridges emotion. It bridges social, cultural and/or situational ties. It goes beyond simple adornment and ornamentation. It becomes interactive, and emerges from a co-dependency between artist and audience, reflective and indicative of both.
Analyzing reasons, finding connections, and conceptualizing forms, components and arrangements are the primary functions of jewelry designer survival.
Otherwise, why make jewelry? Why make something so permanent to reflect your inner motivations, efforts, even struggles, to translate inspiration into this object? Why make something wearable, especially when each piece is usually not worn all the time? Why make something that might have such an intimate relationship with the body and mind? Why make something that can have real consequences for the wearer as the jewelry is worn in social, cultural or specific situational settings?
The Challenging Moments
Developing yourself as a jewelry designer has several challenging moments. You want to maintain high expectations and goals for yourself, and see these through. Some challenging moments include the following:
1. Learning your craft and continually growing and developing within your profession
2. Recognizing how jewelry design goes beyond basic mechanics and aesthetics, thus, differs from craft and differs from art, and then learning and working accordingly.
3. Getting Inspired
4. Translating Inspiration into a design
5. Implementing that design both artistically and architecturally by finding that balance between beauty (must look good) and functionality (must wear well)
6. Organizing your work space and all your stuff
7. Managing a design process
8. Introducing your pieces publicly, and anticipating how others (wearer, viewer, seller, marketer, exhibitor, collector, teacher, student, for example) will desire your pieces, as well as judge your pieces as finished (parsimonious) and successful (resonant)
9. Infusing your pieces with a sense of yourself, your values, your aesthetics, your originality
10. Developing a fluency and flexibility when working with new materials, new techniques and technologies, and new design expectations, including well-established ideas about fix-it strategies when confronted with unfamiliar situations
11. Differentiating your jewelry and yourself from other jewelry designers
12. If selling your pieces, then linking up to and connecting with those who will market and buy your pieces
Some Bottom-Line Advice For The Newly Emerging Jewelry Designer
Always keep working and working hard. Set up a routine, and do at least one thing every day.
Find a comfortable place to work in your home or apartment. Develop strategies for organizing the projects, your supplies and your tools, and for keeping things generally organized over time. But don’t overdue the organizing thing. A little chaos can be OK, and even, sometimes, trigger new ideas.
Give yourself permission to play, experiment, go down many paths. Everything you work on doesn’t have to meet the criterion of perfection, be cool, or become the next Rembrandt. A key part of the learning process is trial and error, hypothesis, test, and conclusion. This helps you develop fix-it strategies so that you can overcome unfamiliar or problematic situations, enhancing your skills as a designer.
Don’t let self-doubt and any sense of impending failure take over you, and paralyze you. Designer’s block, while it may happen occasionally, should be temporary. Jewelry projects usually evolve, and involve some give and take, change and rearrangement. Often the time to complete a project can be lengthy, and you have to maintain your interest and inspiration over this extended time period.
Don’t get stuck in a rut. Try new materials. Try new designs. Try new styles. Try to add variation, new arrangements, smart embellishments. Learn new techniques and technologies.
Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:
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