Sunday, February 26, 2017

the golden ratio of things

In my last post I mentioned how geometry was an organizing principle in my work. What I wasn’t very clear about was how math plays into that concept. (Now I'm not always successful at incorporating this into all my designs but I do try to remember to use this rule as much as possible.)

The golden mean, golden ratio or golden section is based on an equation where an object such as a line is divided into parts and the longer part (a) divided by the smaller part (b) is equal to the sum of (a) + (b) divided by (a), where both equal 1.618 or Phi.

Now before your eyes roll back in your head as you contemplate this formula, this all comes down to aesthetics and how the application of the golden section can be used to produce pleasing compositions in design.

The golden section exists in nature,

is found in the human body,

has been used in architecture for over 2000 years,

and is found in the paintings of the masters.

If you're interested in learning more there are great sources on the internet that explain it much better than I can. Just do a search with the words "golden ratio". There are hundreds of entries and examples of how it can be used in design.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

the expected and unexpected outcome of things

This is a fairly long post but I hope you’ll find it interesting enough to read through…

I’m often asked if design school really helped me be the artist I am today. And the answer is yes without question. But then again I enjoyed school. This is not to say you can’t become a successful artist without a formal education and there are other ways of honing one's design skills without a degree. However, this is what design school did for me:

  • It taught me to look at the world in detail.
  • It taught me to be a curious person.
  • It taught me the rules of composition. I try to keep the elements of design; point, line, plane, balance, symmetry, asymmetry, rhythm, repetition, scale, proportion, massing, etc. in my mind during the creative process. I believe you need to know the rules before you break them.
  • It taught me how different materials can be combined and that a connection can be a significant part of the design.
  • It taught me how important it is to work from a concept.
  • It taught me the importance of knowing the history of design. Context is so important and knowing that we build on what came before is essential to our evolution as designers.
  • It taught me that good design doesn’t happen on the first try. I clearly remember one professor who required 100 solutions to the same problem with one day to complete. At the time we all thought it was crazy but some of my most original and best work came out of these assignments. Sometimes just turning a drawing upside down revealed new and exciting possibilities.
  • It taught me to evaluate design without saying the words, “I like or don’t like that”. No one ever learned anything from your telling them that.
  • It taught me to accept criticism. Once you put your work out there you invite critique. Don’t take it personal. If it's valid, learn from it, if not, leave it and move on.

I started as an art major at Boston University School of Fine Arts. After about a year, I realized my becoming a “fine” artist just didn’t feel right, something was missing, and so I took some time off to work. When I returned, I decided to switch gears and I enrolled at the Boston Architectural Center (I eventually received a BS in Design at Arizona State). I remember the moment I knew that I had made the right decision when I was browsing the library and came upon a book on Constructivism. I was hooked. Here was a way of combining the technical part of my brain with the artistic side. The idea that geometry could be used as an organizing principle spoke to me. I love classic order and so I automatically fell in love with the Modernists such as De Stijl and the Bauhaus.  I read as much as I could about Malevich, Albers, Kandinsky, Gropius and others. 

Rietveld chair
When World War II began most of these people escaped Europe and migrated to the US where they affected a generation of architects, designers and artists who became leaders in modern design and art movements such as Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. These influences are still felt today and that is why context and the history of design are so important to understand.

Gropius's home in Lincoln Mass. I had the pleasure of visiting several times when I lived in Boston.

For me designing is a thoughtful endeavor. Even when experimenting the notion of “playing” at design is foreign to me. I’ve listened to many interviews with sculptors, painters, dancers and writers who are at the top of their professions and who talk about what they do in the same way. I’ve worked with many architects and designers and all say that what they do is rarely “fun”. The process of design is more about problem solving and clients are a demanding bunch. Design is serious work and the joy and satisfaction it brings when you know that it’s “right” is the best feeling in the world.

Sure there are some serendipitous moments but for the most part concept and composition will always be the foundation of my design process. Maybe if I compared the way I approach design to the way a writer might write a novel it would make more sense. There are main characters and there’s a plot. I’ve even heard that some writers know the ending to the story and write backwards. I like that idea. When I design a piece of jewelry the main character might be the stone, gem or found object. The plot would be the composition and like a writer who might work from an outline, I do dozens of sketches until I know how the story might end. Sure there may be some twists and turns along the way but for the most part I like to have an idea where I want to end up before I begin the fabrication process.

Here are some sketches that got me to the final design of my latest piece. I thought it would be vertical but after turning it I like the horizontal orientation better. However the others have possibility and I plan to develop them as well.

Here is it is completed; very geometric and there's movement in the piece which is a very important element for me. The piece hinges and the beads move freely. I'm very happy with the way it turned out

Thursday, February 9, 2017

thoughts on what it means to be a designer

I just returned from a week long metalsmithing retreat in Tucson which corresponds with the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. From dinosaur bones to diamonds it’s a rock lover’s dream on steroids.

In addition to taking classes it gives me a chance to connect with fellow jewelry makers. It seems there are several types of people who attend these classes and I’ll mention three that I observed and had conversations with. The first is the person who treats this time as a creative get-away, wants to make a piece of jewelry or two and go back home and show everyone what they made. They don’t sell their work and make jewelry just for fun. Then there’s the person who takes the class to learn new techniques. Every instructor has a slightly different way of doing things and the littlest trick of the trade can make your life so much easier during the fabrication process. Then there’s the person who takes the class because they intend to duplicate the instructors project, make some minor modifications and claim it as their own design.

There were many strong opinions, disagreements and a few arguments about this. Some say there’s nothing new under the sun and we are all inspired and influenced by what we see around us. There are only so many ways that metal can be forged, folded and attached. After a while all silver chains look alike and a rivet is just a rivet. Plus if an instructor teaches you to make a ring or writes a tutorial about it shouldn't they expect that you'll make that ring? Others say that may be true but isn’t being creative more than taking someone else’s design and making a few tweaks here and there and calling it your own? When you do that you are making derivative art, and by definition derivative art is art derived from other art work. Technically (and some say legally-I'm not a lawyer so I definitely don't know the answer to this) the only person who can create new art from existing art is the person who holds the copyright of the original work. If we take a class with Jane Doe and make her ring design and put poke a dots on it, are we simply wearing Jane Doe’s ring with poke a dots? 

I understand how difficult it is to be creative. I work at it every time I enter my studio. I'd like to think that I use materials and the techniques I've learned from the instructors I've taken class with and combine them into something that is unique to me. However there are some styles we all prefer more than others and sometimes styles have a similar look. For instance, there's a lot of jewelry that's nature inspired. This is not to say that if you like making butterfly pins and there's another jeweler who makes butterfly pins that you can't also. It's how you put the butterfly together that counts. Maybe it’s okay to start with someone else’s finished product as the basis for your work and make a few alterations. While process, concept, style and technique can't be copyrighted once the idea is in concrete form it belongs to someone else. At the end of the day we each have to decide what it means to be a designer. Is it to use our skills to make something that reflects our own aesthetic and creative vision or is it to copy and alter someone’s else’s design? It's complicated, and like I said, we each have to make that choice for ourselves and even that requires some soul searching and maybe giving credit where credit is due. What does being a designer mean to you?

Monday, November 28, 2016

the branding of things

Branding is all of the ways you establish an image of your business in your customer's eyes. It encompasses the look of your website, business card, logo, packaging, advertising, etc. 

To be truthful I never really thought much about it until I did my first show several weeks ago. Up until that time I thought of marketing and branding as selling-out and compromising my authenticity. But I got so much positive feedback on my work and the way I displayed it that I'm more comfortable with the idea because it seems like a natural progression of my growth as an artist. 

What's important to me is that I make careful decisions in crafting my look. I know I don't want it to be too commercial looking. 

When I designed my display I knew I wanted it to be hand-made and as organic as my jewelry. 

I also wanted a business card that represented my process. By not using an image of my art it would never be outdated as my designs evolved.

Those two things set in motion the look of my business.

And now I want to figure out a way to “sign” my work.

I thought about using my name. I know other artists who have done this very successfully. But what I’ve come up with something I think may be more interesting and really speaks to me. I have curly hair. I mean really curly hair. And when I saw this stamp I knew I had to use it as my identifier.

The tag that I’ll attached to my jewelry.

Friday, November 11, 2016

the marketing of things

Marketing and selling my art and jewelry has never been easy for me. It's not that I'm shy. Quite the opposite. It's just that I'd rather be in my studio making things. But I just can't keep creating and piling what I make in the corner. Selling my work allows me to make more. 

I've always sold my work through various galleries. For over 10 years I fabricated large steel wall art and because steel is heavy it was easier to let the galleries handle the logistics of shipping and handling. But jewelry is a different story. It's light and easy to pack. So I finally decided to give doing an art show a try.

The Shemer Art Center and Museum is an art education facility and gallery in Phoenix and last Sunday they held their annual juried art show and I'm very pleased to say I made the cut. 

The Art Center supplied the tent so all I had to do was bring my display which is hand made and very simple; old boards bolted horizontally to two vertical steel supports. The necklaces hung from hooks welded to a flat piece of steel also bolted to the boards. I think that the way you display your work needs to reflect your art. Everyone loved it and I got so many compliments.

It was a beautiful day and I really enjoyed myself. It was so great to talk to people about what I do and hear so much positive feedback. And best of all I made sales. So now with one show under my belt, I see more art shows in my future.