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5 Essential Questions Every Jewelry Designer Should Have An Answer For

Posted by learntobead on April 14, 2020

5 Essential Questions Every Jewelry Designer
 Should Have An Answer For

Interested in trying your hand at jewelry design? 
 
 Before you begin, consider the following 5 questions I pose for you…

  1. Is what you do Art, Craft or Design?
  2. How do you decide what you want to create?
  3. What materials (or techniques) work well together, and which do not?
  4. What things do you do so that your finished piece evokes an emotional response?
  5. How do you know when your piece is done?

Many people begin to explore jewelry designing as a hobby, avocation, business or career. This requires, not only strong creativity skills, but also persistence and perseverance. It means understanding that jewelry can only be judged as finished and successful as the piece is worn. Jewelry design is more than the application of a set of techniques; it is a mind-set, as well. It is a way of thinking like a designer.

A lot of the achievement and accomplishment in this pursuit of jewelry design comes down to ability to make and follow through on many artistic and design decisions. Some have to do with managing a process, which can take an extended period of time. It also comes down to being fluent, flexible and original in your thinking through design. The greater your disciplinary literacy, the more empowered and confident you become in your design work.

Susan is one example of what happens when uncertainty — that paralysis or deer-in-the-headlights feeling that we so often face — sets in. Susan felt very unsure of herself. And unsure of her jewelry. Would people like it? Was the color mix appropriate? Was the construction secure? Was the price smart and fair? She allowed all this uncertainty to affect her design work — she had difficulty finishing pieces she was working on, starting new projects, and getting her work out there.
 
 
Like many of my jewelry design and beadwork students, Susan needed to be fluent as a designer. With fluency comes empowerment, confidence and success.

Fluency and Empowerment

The fluent jewelry designer is able to think like a designer. The jewelry designer is more than a craftsperson and more than an artist. The jewelry designer must learn a specialized language, and specialized way of balancing the needs for appeal with the needs for functionality. The jewelry designer must intimately recognize and understand the roles jewelry plays for individuals as well as the society as a whole. The designer must learn how art, architecture, physical mechanics, engineering, sociology, psychology, context, even party planning, all must come together and get expressed at the point where jewelry meets the boundary of the person.

And to gain that fluency, the designer must commit to learning a lot of vocabulary, ideas and terms, and how these imply content and meaning through expression. The designer will need to be very aware of personal thoughts and thinking as these get reflected in all the choices made in design. The designer will have to be good at anticipating the understandings and judgements of many different audiences, including the wearer, viewer, seller, exhibitor, client, and collector.

With fluency comes empowerment. The empowered designer has a confidence that whatever needs to be done, or whatever must come next, the designer can get through it. Empowerment is about making and managing choices. These choices could be as simple as whether to finish a piece or not. Or whether to begin a second piece. The designer will make choices about how to draw someone’s attention to the piece, or present the piece to a larger audience. She or he may decide to submit the piece to a magazine or contest. She or he may want to sell the piece and market it. The designer will make choices about how a piece might be worn, or who might wear it, or when it might be worn, in what context.
 
 
And for all these choices, the jewelry designer might need to overcome a sense of fear, boredom, or resistance. The designer might need to overcome anxiety, a sense of giving up, having designer’s block, feeling unchallenged, and even laziness.

In order to make better artistic and design choices, the Fluent and Empowered Jewelry Designer should have answers to these 5 critical questions:

Question 1: Should BEADWORK and JEWELRY MAKING be considered ART or CRAFT or DESIGN?

The jewelry designer confronts a world which is unsure whether jewelry is “craft” or “art” or its own special thing I’ll call “design”. This can get very confusing and unsettling. Each approach has its own separate ideas about how the designer should work, and how he or she should be judged.
 
 
When defined as “craft,” jewelry is seen as something that anyone can do — no special powers are needed to be a jewelry designer. As “craft”, there is somewhat of a pejorative meaning — it’s looked down upon, thought of as something less than art. The craft piece has functional value but limited aesthetic value.
 
 
But as “craft”, we still recognize the interplay of the artist’s hand with the piece and the storytelling underlying it. We honor the technical prowess. People love to bring art into their personal worlds, and the craftsperson offers them functional objects which have some artistic sensibilities.
 
 
When defined as “art”, jewelry is seen as something which transcends itself and its design. It is not something that anyone can do without special insights and training.
 
 “Jewelry as art”
evokes an emotional response. Functionality should play no role at all, or, if an object has some functional purpose, then its functional reason-for-being should merely be supplemental. For example, the strap on a necklace is comparable to the frame around a painting, or the pedestal for a sculpture. It is not included with nor judged as part of the art work.

When defined as “design”, you begin to focus more on construction and functionality issues. You often find yourself making tradeoffs between appeal and functionality. You incorporate situational relevance into your designs. You see “choice” as more multidimensional and contingent. You define success only in reference to the jewelry as it is worn.

How you define your work as ART or CRAFT or DESIGN will determine what skills you learn, how you apply them, and how you introduce your pieces to a wider audience. [The bias in this book is to define jewelry as DESIGN, with its own disciplinary-specific, specialized knowledge and skills base, where jewelry is judged as art only at the point it is worn, and where jewelry-making is seen as a communicative process.]

QUESTION 2: How do you decide what you want to create? What kinds of things do you do to translate your passions and inspirations into jewelry? What is your creative process?

Applying yourself creatively can be fun at times, but scary at other times. It is work. You are creating something out of nothing. There is an element of risk. You might not like what you end up doing. Your friends might not like it. Nor your family. You might not finish it. Or you might do it wrong. It may seem easier to go with someone else’s project.

Applying creativity means developing abilities to generate options and alternatives, and narrowing these down to specific choices. It means developing an ease and comfort generating fix-it strategies when approaching unknown situations or problematic ones. It means figuring out how to translate inspiration into design in a way that inspires others and taps into their desires. It means differentiating yourself from other jewelry designers as a measure of your originality.
 

 Creative people…

Set no boundaries and set no rules. They go with the flow. Don’t conform to expectations.
 
 Play.
They pretend they are kids again.
 
 Experiment.
They take the time to do a lot of What Ifs and Variations On A Theme and Trial and Error.
 
 Keep good records.
They make good notes and sketches of what seems to work, and what seems to not work.
 
 Evaluate.
They learn from their successes and mistakes.

As jewelry designers gain more and more creative experiences, they begin to assemble what I call a Designer’s Tool Box. In this virtual box are a set of thinking routines, strategies and fix-it strategies that have worked well in the past, are very workable in and of themselves, and are highly adaptive when used in unfamiliar situations. Every jewelry designer should develop their own Tool Box. This vastly contributes to success in creative thinking and application.

QUESTION 3: What kinds of MATERIALS work well together, and which ones do not? This applies to TECHNIQUES as well. What kinds of TECHNIQUES (or combinations of techniques) work well when, and which ones do not?

The choice of materials, including beads, clasps, and stringing materials, and the choice of techniques, including stringing, weaving, wire working, glassworks, metalworks, clayworks, set the tone and chances of success for your piece.

There are many implications of choice. There are light/shadow issues, pattern, texture, rhythm, dimensionality and color issues. There are mechanics, shapes, forms, durability, drape, flow and movement issues. There are positive and negative space issues.

It is important to know what happens to all these materials over time. It is important to know how each technique enhances or impedes architectural requirements, such as allowing the piece to move and drape, or assisting the piece in maintaining a shape. Each material and technique has strengths and weaknesses, pros and cons, and contingencies affecting their utilization. The designer needs to leverage the strengths and minimize the weaknesses.

All of these choices:
 
… affect the look
 … affect the drape
 … affect the feel
 … affect the durability
 … affect both the wearer’s and viewer’s responses
 … relate to the context

Question 4: Beyond applying basic techniques and selecting quality materials, how does the Jewelry Designer evoke an emotional and resonant response to their jewelry? What skill-sets do Designers need in order to think through powerful designs?

An artistic and well-designed piece of jewelry should evoke an emotional response. In fact, ideally, it should go beyond this a bit, and have what we call “resonance”. The difference between an emotional response and resonance is reflected in the difference between someone saying, “That’s beautiful,” from saying “I need to wear that piece,” or, “I need to buy that piece.” 
 
 
Quite simply: If no emotional response, and preferably, resonance, is evoked, then the jewelry is poorly designed. Evoking an emotional and resonant response takes the successful selection and arrangement of materials, the successful application of techniques as well as the successful management of skills.
 
 
Unfortunately, beaders and jewelry makers too often focus on materials or techniques and not often enough on skills. It is important to draw distinctions here.
 
 
Materials and techniques are necessary but not sufficient to get you there. You need skills.
 
 
The classic analogy comparing materials, techniques and skills references cutting bread with a knife. Material: bread and knife. Technique: How to hold the knife relative to the bread in order to cut it. Skill: The force applied so that the bread gets cut successfully.
 
 
Skills are the kinds of things the jewelry designer applies which enhance his or her capacity to control for bad workmanship and know when the piece is finished. Skills, not techniques, are what empower the designer to evoke emotional and resonant responses to their work.

These skills include:
 
— Judgment
 — Presentation
 — Care and dexterity
 — Knowing when “enough is enough”
 — Understanding how art theory applies to the “bead” and to “jewelry when worn”
 — Understanding the architectural underpinnings of each technique, and how these enhance, or impede, what you are trying to do
 — Taking risks
 — Anticipating the desires, values, and shared understandings all client audiences of the designer have about when a piece should be considered finished and successful
 — Recognizing that jewelry is art only as it is worn

QUESTION #5: When is enough enough? How does the jewelry artist know when the piece is done? Overdone? Or underdone? How do you edit? What fix-it strategies do you come up with and employ?

In the bead and jewelry arenas, you see piece after piece that is either over-embellished or under-done. Things may get too repetitive with the elements and materials. Or the pieces don’t feel that they are quite there yet.
 
 
For every piece of jewelry there will be that point of parsimony when enough is enough. We want to find that point where experiencing the “whole” is more satisfying than experiencing any of the parts. That point of parsimony is where, if we added (or subtracted) one more thing, we would detract from the whole of our design.

Knowing that point of parsimony is also related to anticipating how and when others will judge the piece as successful. And what to do about it when judged unfinished or unsuccessful.

There is no one best way — only your way

The fluent and empowered jewelry designer will have answers to these 5 essential questions, though not every designer will have the same answers, nor is there one best answer.
 
 
Yet it is unacceptable to avoid answering any of these 5 questions, for fear you might not like the answer.
 
 
The fluent and empowered jewelry designer will have learned the skills for making good choices. He or she will recognize that jewelry design is a process of management and communication. The fluent and empowered designer manages how choices are made. These choices include making judgments about selecting and combining materials, both physical and aesthetic, and techniques, both alone or in tandem, into wearable art forms and adornment, expressive of the desires of self and others. The artist’s hand will be very visible in their work.
 
 
This is jewelry making and design.

This is at the core of how jewelry designers think like jewelry designers.

This is the substantive basis which informs how the designer introduces jewelry publicly.

Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:

The Jewelry Design Philosophy: Not Craft, Not Art, But Design

What Is Jewelry, Really?

The Jewelry Design Philosophy

Creativity: How Do You Get It? How Do You Enhance It?

Disciplinary Literacy and Fluency In Design

Becoming The Bead Artist and Jewelry Designer

5 Essential Questions Every Jewelry Designer Should Have An Answer For

Getting Started / Channeling Your Excitement

Getting Started / Developing Your Passion

Getting Started / Cultivating Your Practice

Becoming One With What Inspires You

Architectural Basics of Jewelry Design

Doubt / Self Doubt: Major Pitfalls For The Jewelry Designer

Techniques and Technologies: Knowing What To Do

Jewelry, Sex and Sexuality

Jewelry Making Materials: Knowing What To Do

Teaching Discplinary Literacy: Strategic Thinking In Jewelry Design

The Jewelry Designer’s Approach To Color

Point, Line, Plane, Shape, Form, Theme: Creating Something Out Of Nothing

The Jewelry Designer’s Path To Resonance

Jewelry Design Principles: Composing, Constructing, Manipulating

Jewelry Design Composition: Playing With Building Blocks Called Design Elements

Contemporary Jewelry Is Not A “Look” — It’s A Way Of Thinking

I hope you found this article useful. Be sure to click the CLAP HANDS icon at the bottom of this article.

Also, check out my website (www.warrenfeldjewelry.com).

Subscribe to my Learn To Bead blog (https://blog.landofodds.com).

Visit Land of Odds online (https://www.landofodds.com)for all your jewelry making supplies.

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