Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Try, Try Again

I always tell my students to make models before diving in and cutting the metal. Many seem to believe that it is some obscure form of torture invented by professors to make their lives more difficult. It's not.

I am really glad I took my own advice today and made a model of my clasp before cutting up the silver. I am a bit of a pack-rat, so I grabbed some plastic I had pulled off of a day planner and cut out the first version (the plastic was handy because it was really close to the gauge of metal I would use, takes less time to cut, and was free). I wanted to check the scale and shape in relation to the overall piece. There was the added benefit of checking to see if the silk ribbon would fit through the hole.

So I made a drawing and cut out the first version of the clasp. The scale and shape were okay but the ribbon stuck in the hole too tightly and looked awful. I went back and made a new drawing and cut out another sample. Same problem. The scale looked wrong on the third piece, because I shifted the proportions. After five samples, I finally arrived at a good balance of proportion and hole size.

It would have been really expensive, if I had tried to cut it in silver first and encountered all these problems. Plus, I probably would have spent hours trying to file and adjust the size of the original before I gave up and cut a new one. And the moral of this story is... models, models, models!

Now it is time to cut some silver clasps. Woo-hoo!

P.S. The plastic dust is really itchy.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tripping up on processes

I spent a good part of today sewing a silk ribbon to close a piece that I have been working on for well over a year. Given the rather limited demands that sewing a straight piece of fabric will put on the brain, mine was at liberty to muse extensively on the genesis of this piece and the reasons it has taken so very long to complete it.

The piece began, as many do, as a hazy image in my head that I sketched out in one of my books (mind you, this is so long ago that I can't even figure out in which book I made that original sketch). Then came the collecting of materials; hours digging through beads and stones and pearls searching for the right combination of size, color, and texture. Then I began fabricating samples for the main collar which involved resolving structure and getting loops and groupings just right. Finally, fabrication. I spent hours crocheting the silver into a long band of gem and pearl encrusted loops. All along, in my head, the piece closed at the nape of the neck with a giant silk bow.

I finished the silver collar and I was pretty well pleased with the look, weight and texture. But here, I faltered. A bow just was not a metalsmith's closure. A bow was certainly not a meaningful resolution of the issue of closing a piece. And so began the year of struggling and trying to come up with a proper jewelry solution.
I made more sketches and drawings. I purchased a handful of carefully selected citrine cabochons. I set to work making the fanciest, most complicated slide clasp with moving parts and all, like a proper metalsmith. There were sketches and storyboards and extensive soldering, fitting, and planning.

Unfortunately, the closer I got to finishing the clasp, the worse it looked with the piece. It just felt wrong. So I stuffed the clasp away in a drawer and went back to sketching. Nothing worked. Forged hooks, box clasps, various tricky catches and closures all fell short. Then the collar got tossed in a box and all but forgotten. I was never going to finish it. It was an utter failure.
A few weeks ago I was cleaning my bench and I found the unfinished clasp with the citrine still waiting to be set. It was still wrong for the piece but, as I looked at the clasp, with all its inane and overwrought complications, I realized that the simple answer had been the right one all along. The silk bow.

The piece had always been about the lusciousness and luxury of costly materials and rich textures. It desperately needed the sensual accent of the buttery, warm silk contrasting with the sparkling, crunching stones and metal. The soft swishing contrasts with the clink of citrines and pearls. The fabric becomes a focal point, given its scale in relation to the piece and the body. More importantly, it creates the sensual counterpoint to the metal and stones. The materiality of the piece gains depth through the contrast and the piece becomes a whole.
And so, today, I made a bow.