Monday, April 1, 2013

Advice for budding artists

Today's post is for both for those who have never designed jewelry (but have always wanted to), and for those who are already jewelry designers.  What are your favorite places to turn to for inspiration?  Do you enjoy jewelry-making magazines like the ones above?  I have personally been designing jewelry for about 7 years, but I find that even at this point, the way that I search for inspiration and how I go about turning inspiration into wearable jewelry continually evolves.
At a recent trip to Barnes and Noble (one of my local happy places), I spotted a book on a shelf that was too shocking not to pick up and thumb through.  It was called "Steal Like an Artist, 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative", by Austin Kleon.  This book, a New York Times bestseller, has quite a controversial title.  There are some excellent tips in this book for getting started as an artist when you don't know where to start, BUT, and this is a big must tread very carefully in the artistic community when it comes to using other artist's work as inspiration.  This book does have some valuable pages on the best ways to do this, including a chart on "Good Theft vs. Bad Theft". 
Here's my two cents on the subject.  In the age of the Internet, there is an overwhelming amount of free "inspiration" to be found.  For jewelry designers, places like can keep you "oohing" and "aahing" all day long.  You may see a necklace that you like and think "I could make that!"  But is it ok to copy another artist's necklace exactly?  The answer is, "it depends."  If a Web site, or book, or magazine offers you a free tutorial (like my site often will), giving you a list of materials to buy and showing you the techniques to make the same exact piece of jewelry, then the answer is, "yes", it is okay to make an exact copy for yourself to wear.   But, (and here's where it gets tricky) if you plan on selling the piece of jewelry, I would not advise copying anyone's work exactly, even if there's a tutorial.  So what to do then? 
Something that I read many years ago, that has always stuck with me, is the story of Joaquin Phoenix in his struggle to portray Johnny Cash in the movie "Walk the Line".   Joaquin was having a very hard time, constantly worrying over whether or not his portrayal of Mr. Cash in the film was accurate enough.  The director, who was very aware of Joaquin's distress, sat Joaquin down for a few words of wisdom.  I don't remember the exact quote, but the director basically told Joaquin (paraphrasing here), "Your job is not to play Johnny Cash.  Your job is to play your interpretation of Johnny." And upon hearing those words of advice, Joaquin felt instantly freed to play Johnny Cash with a lot less stress and worry.  All he had to do was portray Johnny Cash as he saw him, not how anyone else did.

So in the same way, I do not design my jewelry as another person might.  I may be inspired by another artist' necklace, bracelet, etc..., but then I always remember to give it my own interpretation.  I strive to turn inward, and think about representing my true self with each of my designs.  Always remember your passions in life and do your best to share those passions with others through your art.
So yes, I advise that you do continue to search for ideas and inspiration from other designers, but do the things listed below, and you will be heading down the right path:
  1. No one can possibly lay claim to the basic construction techniques of making jewelry, so it is perfectly okay to copy the fundamental processes of jewelry-making, like how to make a wrapped loop with wire, or how to string a knotted pearl necklace, etc....
  2. If you see another artist's work and just fall in love with the style of the piece and want to create something very whatever you can to put your own personal spin on it.  Even if the piece of jewelry is perfect in your eyes and you don't immediately think of something you want to change about it, you must force yourself to!  Ask yourself this question, "what could I change about this piece to make even more relective of who I am and my own personal style?"  There are plenty of things that can be altered.  For example: the choice of beads, the types of findings used, the colors, the simplicity or intricacy of the piece, the theme of the piece, etc....  As they say on American Idol, "Take it and make it your own."
  3. Keep a journal, bulletin board, sketch book, or my personal favorite item, a Smash book (see photo and video below) filled with favorite design images that you have printed out from the Internet, torn out of magazines, photocopied from books, etc....  It's extremely helpful to have all of your favorite pieces of inspiration located in one place.  If you are going to do any form of copying, abide by my Golden Rule - with each of your designs, it is much better to incorporate inspiration from multiple sources than from just one source.  If you have a Smash book always at your fingertips, filled with dozens and dozens of ideas from many different sources, it is very easy to flip through your book and "gather" various elements.  Decide to incorporate one particular element or technique that you like from an artist's design (not the whole design), along with another good idea or theme from a different person's design, and then with a little brainstorming, throw in some new ideas of your own.  Because what then will you have?  Not a direct copy of any one person's work, but something that actually required you see things in a new way.
  4. To be more original, let fate dictate your designs!  Pick a place that you love.....a good source for unique materials.  For me (because I love working with old things), it is usually a local antique show/flea market.  But you could also visit a local bead shop, or a gem show (here's a link to my favorite shows for buying gemstone beads -, or even a good online shop, and wander around until you find materials that call to you.  Sometimes when you don't know what you are looking for, the materials will find you!  When you find unique materials that truly appeal to your own personal sense of style, purchase them and then challenge yourself to incorporate those new materials into your next design. 

As mentioned in step 3 above, below is a photo of my own Smash books that I purchased at a local Michael's arts & crafts store.
And below that, be sure to check out the cool video that shows you how fun it is to use Smash books!  

I hope that all (or just some) of this information was helpful to you.  I wish that someone had shared this kind of information with me when I was first struggling to come up with my own designs.  But I promise you that more research you do and the more practice you put into actually making pieces of jewelry, the easier it gets.  Then someday, something magical will happen.  It happened to me for the first time many years ago, and it still happens now.   I will lie awake at night, unable to sleep, because without even really trying, various images of new designs are popping into my head like fireworks on the Fourth of July!  Then the only way I can get back to sleep is to sketch the designs down on paper so I know they will not be forgotten.  Then I usually re-evaluate them in the morning.
I wish all my readers the best of luck........happy designing!!

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