Whenever I am at a market selling my work I am always asked ‘how do you make these things?’. So I start to explain how I wire wrap or otherwise fix pieces together. Then I am asked ‘no, not the technical side. How do you come up with your designs?’
It’s a difficult question to answer because for me it seems like the designs just ‘come out’ and voila! – there you have a necklace or bracelet or earrings.
In fact there is more to it than waving a magic wand but the concept of how I design and lay out my pieces is still a bit of a mystery to me. Maybe that’s what a ‘talent’ or ‘skill’ is – something indefinable that comes out of the dark recesses of the mind and manifests itself in the creative output.
It usually always starts with the focal piece. I buy my focal pieces based on one simple rule – they interest me. There has to be something about them that tells me that they are well made, well designed, made from quality components and will make a new owner and all their admirers go ‘wow!’
I can hold onto a focal piece for months and years until I get all the right pieces together to pair it with. I don’t move on a piece until it feels right to me.
I am strongly influenced by colour, and colour combinations. I go thorugh stages where I tend to favour blues and greens, then pinks and purples will pop in and I might then go all metallic. I am sure there is something related to the seasons and weather in how colour influences me, but I don’t think too much about it.
I am also driven by a strong desire to be original and not to rely on tried and tested successes to develop my future creating. In other words, I don’t like to do the same thing twice. This is why my work seems so diverse and eclectic – because that’s what it is. Some people find success in doing the same thing over and over because it works for them, but for me the real challenge (which is what drives me) is to create new and wonderful things each time I pick up my tools.
I thought I would photograph a few steps in my construction process to show how it all comes together. I personally don’t think this is too exciting but people ask about it, so here it is.
I have drawers, boxes and baskets full of pieces I can use for focals in my designs. I am fairly organised with my bits and pieces because over the years I have amassed quite a collection of beads, stones, chains, focals and other elements. I need to know where I can find something and I only have a smallish desk to work on so I can’t leave everything laying around. Besides, I am quite a tidy, organised person…
I have lots of things to choose from to start a design. I spend a bit of time thinking about what my focal piece is and what it means, or meant, and try to draw out a sense of place from it. This then helps me to work out colours and textures. If something has a forest, outdoors personality to it then I will use earthy, organic colours. If the piece is glamorous and ritzy then I might choose premium pearls or gemstones to complete the design.
With the necklace I will use to illustrate this exercise, I am working with a centrepiece that is an old silver mourning brooch. It had been drilled for an earlier design that never happened so I have to think about how I can work around the holes already in this piece.
I also want to use some beautiful big round Kyanite beads I bought recently. With Joan of Arc as another focal in this design I will use mother of pearl rosary beads for their popularity in religious jewellery. I think that a chain entirely of stones would be a bit too much, and I like to combine stones and chain so I can introduce another antique element into the design. The striking chain I will use for this necklace has a masculine feel and was probably a man’s pocket watch chain in the early part of the 20th century. This masculine link seems fitting for the Joan elements for some reason.
When I get all my bits and pieces together I use a beading tray to layout the design. This way I can gauge the length and also move things around until the combination of colours and other elements works for me. (I, or my dog, will probably knock the bead try off my table a few times before I get started so I often take a photo of my layout so I don’t forget what I will work to.)
You will see that I have two small mother of pearl beads sitting below the brooch focal. I am deciding between these and the small silver rosary beads to dangle from the two outer holes at the base of the focal. I would usually leave such decisions until the design is nearly finished and I can see if the piece needs larger or smaller elements. You can also see right at the top of the photo where I have a mother of pearl heart connector that I might use to fashion a clasp. I am not sure yet how it will look or work, but I will make it work within the elements I have selected. I might not use it at all.
Next comes the construction phase, where I wire wrap the gemstones and beads and link everything to the focal pieces. I tend to use silver filled wire if my focals are silver, or gold fill if they are gold plated or even brass/bronze. I usually oxidise my wire so it takes on a darker tone more suited to the antique silver elements that have darkened naturally over time. I generally only use cold connections for my pieces, as it can be risky to solder old jewellery if you don’t know how it was originally made or what it was made from.
Here is a work in progress shot, showing the sections as they are being connected. I have four tools that I use when making jewellery. I do have other tools but these four are the ones I use all the time.
And finally, after a few hours of planning, layouts and wire wrapping and photos, I have the finished product. A one-of-a-kind design that combines antique elements from different countries and eras. It all came together really well I think. This piece is for sale at my Etsy shop.