In an effort to identify the method with which I work, I printed out all my blog posts labelled ‘design & work process’. In laying them out in order I saw a pattern starting to form which looked something like this:
I often have an idea that I want to explore and end up making a couple of prototypes or test pieces. These are made with no intention of becoming a final piece of jewellery, but rather for the satisfaction of turning an idea into something workable and making something with an unknown outcome, and seeing where it leads.
More often than not, the unfinished pieces get placed somewhere on my bench or wall as I start working with another idea. What I have come to realise however, is that the threads of the ideas behind all these little test pieces feed other ideas and designs later down the line, linking up in a network of interwoven threads, slowly weaving a pattern.
For example; my idea of wanting to incorporate colour with ribbon earlier this year lead to a bunch of test pieces for interchangeable jewellery, then I carried on working with my metal lace concept for a while. After a few months, I found a test piece that seemed to link up with some sketches I had done and I ended up making ‘lace’ rings with coloured ribbon.
I guess what I am trying to illustrate here, is that for me the making of jewellery is an indulgence where I can explore the thoughts in my mind and tangibly work with and make sense of many of the influences and ideas in my mind. It is this making process that gives the pieces of jewellery I make value to me. Many of my little test pieces of metal I cannot bring myself to get rid of, yet somehow it is easy to sell a piece of jewellery. Where is the sense in that? Surely a piece of jewellery is more valuable…or is it?
I am currently exploring jewellery as an expression of identity, and making jewellery as an expression of myself as the maker.
In reflecting on the bangle that I have just made, I picked up on two aspects of myself that are being expressed.
Childhood Memories: I grew up in Zimbabwe in an old Rhodesian house with decorative iron burglar bars. I would lie in bed and stare at the patterns trying to see if I could make other patterns within them. I have seen some reminiscence of the elements from those burglar bars in my work (this bangle included). The use of these elements in my work is a connection to my childhood and upbringing.
My Femininity: I like to embrace and celebrate my femininity. I think that the qualities of a woman, both inside and out are a beautiful combination of strength and meekness. I think it is important to note that the lace-look I have chosen for this piece is a rugged lace, not refined and perfect. This is a representation of how I feel that although the nature of a woman is delicate and refined, each of use holds a unique strength and character. We may have flaws and faults but it’s the little knots and tassels that when woven together create a beautiful lacework.
After doing some research I found it quite interesting that it is very hard to find contemporary jewellers who make jewellery specifically for, or with the expression of its wearer in mind. I found this very intriguing that one of the oldest crafts in history and means of ornamentation that originated around the world as a means of expression for the wearer has started to lose its original purpose…or has it?
I speak from personal experience when I say that as a contemporary jeweller, the ‘artist’ and ‘creator’ in me seems to only be satisfied when making a piece of jewellery where the only reference to the wearer is how the piece will fit on the body. It is satisfying to see the finished product appreciated and worn by someone, but only after the creation process has taken place. Is this strange? Has contemporary jewellery or ‘art jewellery’ become so far removed from its original function that function other than artistic expression is not even considered anymore?
Lin Cheung is a jeweller who makes jewellery for the wearer, and considers the function and meaning given to jewellery by its wearer.
Some work by Lin Cheung ^
I have been dappling with the concepts of preciousness and value for a while and after recently reading a section of the book Jewellery of or time-art, ornament and obsession (Helen W. Drutt English and Peter Dormer / Thames and Hudson) I think I am arriving at a deeper understanding of how things acquire value, and how it relates to my work.
The way I see it is that any material in its raw state or form is of absolutely no value, it acquires its value through other influences and therefore its value fluctuates in accordance to what value man applies to it.
Think of it this way- take a ‘precious’ metal such as gold. Only once a purpose was found for the raw material, and its qualities it could produce when refined through different processes did it become of some value. And when it became a comodoty in numerous forms (namely jewellery) that people were attracted to and delighted in, it’s value increased.
Yes, value can also be aquired by the rarity of something, but what is it that decides rarity is precious? Is it one’s desire to have the ‘only’ of something, and why? Do we need to find our own value and individuality in holding the individuality of something else?
What is it about owning something that no one else has that is so attractive?
In the book I mentioned above it is stated, ‘…it is people who make materials what they are…they learn that certain materials can be worked upon to produce effects that they, and others, gain much pleasure from. Jewelers, of all craftspeople…know how much they must bring to a material to make it precious…In this sense the preciousness of jewelery is a part of its content.‘
I’ve been thinking about jewellery in the context of its relationship between the artist, the wearer and the viewer.
How often when we make a piece of jewellery do we think so much about the wearer, and actually forget about the viewer. Is the viewer not just as important? The wearer naturally has more of a connection with the piece of jewellery than the person looking at it, but when the piece is viewed on the wearer, is it not put into a completely new context? This context of the wearer could actually enhance the piece considerably!
So as an artist, is our piece ever viewed in the way we intend it to be if the perception and aesthetic judgement of it is constantly changing? I dont think so, and I think that is what is so beautiful about being a creator; you are the beginning of a snowball effect of people tuning in to a connection inside them, and what starts as one piece with a specific meaning or intention, ends up gathering more and more significance and meaning as it is exposed.
I think that it is important for us as artists, and people to have at least a vague understanding of aesthetics and the ways in which we make aesthetic judgments.
When writing about my work recently, I almost frivolously used the word aesthetic, and only once I went back and unpacked what lies behind the etymology of the word, did I really have a sense of understanding, and it has made me aware of and question how and why I see things the way I do. As an artist as well, I have become a lot more aware of how differently people can perceive my work.
After recently displaying these earrings, a friend told me that they really connected with the concept of the miss-matched earrings, using the same pattern but one being cut out and the other embossed really emphasized the concept of how a person has many facets and sides to them and a person can never be a perfect reflection of what they want to be.
Another lady, on the other hand, was actually buying the earrings and asked if I realized that I had forgotten to cut the pattern out of the one earring.
Both of these reasonings seemed perfectly understandable to the person making the judgment because of the context which they created in their minds. Their reasoning and connection to these earrings were completely different because of their separate influences in life.
These are Pictures of my half year display I set up at tech recently. Because there are so many other things I explored as a journey up to making my jewellery, I found it difficult to show everything in the display in order to create a context for my pieces, but at the same time, keep it from becoming too much and ditracting from the jewellery.
I layed everything out in a progression, almost as it happened, starting with my journal, test pieces, leading on to printing and paper embossing, followed by clay and wax work, then it all culminated to one point which was my cuff, and that lead on to a collection of smaller peices inspired by the technique used in the cuff.
After looking at my display, I realised that in the future I need to isolate pieces more, almost creating a little atmosphere or context for each piece rather than such a broad overview, because apart from the cuff, the other jewellery pieces didn’t seem to speak out as much as I think they could.
Because my display was more or a long line of progression of my work and exploration, I thought the photographs of the display would be a lot more affective if I took close ups of each section and compiled them all together in a collage. I think it worked more effectively than the photo I took of the entire display.