AT THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN
JEWELRY AND PERSON
Jewelry is art, but only art as it is worn.
That’s a powerful idea, but we somewhat ignore it, when thinking about making jewelry. We like to follow steps. We like to make beautiful things. But too often, we avoid having to think about the difficult choices and tradeoffs we need to make, when searching for that balance among aesthetics, functionality, context, materials and technique.
I am going to get on my soap box here.
Good jewelry design must answer questions and teach practitioners about managing the processes of selecting materials, implementing techniques, and constructing the piece from one end to the other.
We tend to teach students to very mechanically follow a series of steps.
What we should be doing, instead, at least from the Design Perspective which is so influential in my approach for creating jewelry, is teach students how to make choices when managing at the boundary between jewelry and person.
I recently put together a video tutorial for a brick-stitched project I call Tuxedo Park Bangle Bracelet, where I tried to write and present the instructions, from this Design Perspective. I first discuss the jewelry design process as a series of choices and tradeoffs. And only then do I list the steps the student needs to follow for completing the project. But each step is presented as the result of a particular analytical or problem-solving process, something to the effect, “I confronted this situation, I weighed these options, and, for these reasons, I decided to execute the next step this way….”.
This bangle bracelet has to stretch wide to get over the hand, and then shrink back to its original dimensions, all the while keeping its shape and integrity. It will have to do this many times. That means, the beads within the piece, as well as each bead woven component of the piece, will need to be able to bend in more than one direction, yet remain somewhat stiff enough for maintaining each component’s shape as well as the bangle’s aesthetic and functionality over all. If we redefine the brick stitch architecturally, we can see its versatility and flexibility, making it is the perfect stitch to achieve these goals.
You can find this tutorial at CraftArtEdu.com, or
The preview is free, and introduces some of my ideas.
Discussion Questions for you…
1. Re-look at one of your favorite pieces. Review the questions posed in the article below. Now, describe your piece for the group, in design and architectural terms, using the questions posed below to guide your thoughts. And post your description for the group along with an image of your piece.
2. Think about your favorite technique – whether bead stringing, bead weaving or wire working or some other jewelry-making interest area. How does this technique help your pieces, which are made using it, keep their shape? How does the technique help your pieces withstand the forces that come from wearing and movement?
From an article I’m writing about the architectural approach to defining bead weaving, bead stringing and wire working….
In addition to teaching students “steps”, we need to teach students about making good design choices. The “steps” should be presented as the results of these choices. The thinking and reasoning processes should be the focus. How we arrived at these choices, and how we have made tradeoffs, should be at the forefront of what we teach. The steps should not be presented as fait accompli. But rather, the steps should be overtly understood as the logical outcomes from our thought and design process.
This is the architectural manifesto and challenge for re-thinking and re-defining jewelry design. We need to teach students to think this way and answer these 10 core questions at the heart of this manifesto:
(1) Why or how does a particular bead stringing technique, wire work technique or bead weaving stitch suggest a particular form of representation?
(2) How does my work relate to the complex factors at play in design, including philosophy, science, religion, ecology, politics, cyberspace, gender, literature, aesthetics, economics, history, culture, and technology?
(3) What kinds of things characterize contemporary design, and its aesthetics and functionality?
(4) What about the materials you are using helps you transform them into a pleasing, satisfying piece?
(5) What about the particular techniques you are using helps you transform materials into a pleasing, satisfying piece?
(6) What should the design process look like? What are the design elements which need to be managed? What are the rules for their manipulation?
(7) How do you best define, create and use components, forms and structures?
(8) What is the structure (or, you might visualize the anatomy) of your piece of jewelry, and how is that structure construed and constructed? What specifically about the structures or building blocks of your piece contributes to a successful and satisfying design?
(9) How does your jewelry, given its structure and the techniques you used to assemble it, withstand forces? What, in the designing, the selecting of materials or techniques, or the strategizing about the overall construction help you better manage things like movement, drape, flexibility, strength, comfort, and interplay of light, shadow and color?
(10) How do you best manage your visual presentation in terms of color, light, shadow, dimensionality, pattern, texture, and perspective?