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Advanced Jewelry Design and Production

I have always been an artistic type of person for as long as I can remember. Crayons, colored pencils, paints, clay, and sketchpads were all things that were constantly at hand. Both my parents were in the United States Army and we were stationed overseas for most of my childhood. I had the exposure from an early age to a variety of cultures, experiences, and artistic mediums that would help shape my interests over the years. I graduated high school in 1995, and my jewelry making skills were largely limited to simple stringing of necklaces, or macramé bracelets. But I had an interest- the sort that you have when you like things and are curious about how they are made. Before the internet I came across a second-hand copy of Alan Revere’s Professional Goldsmithing: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Jewelry ignited my interest into a full-blown passion. Revere, a world-renowned metalsmith and award-winning jewelry designer, would serve as my initial inspiration, and his work continues to do so today. That text still sits on my shelf, along with the revised edition, and gave me my foundation for skills such as:

  • Metalsmithing
  • Enameling
  • Metal casting and molding
  • Lapidary work
  • Stone setting
  • Repair work
  • Patination
  • Scale in design
  • Reticulation

One of the things that I love most about jewelry, in both the design and production of, is how you can mix techniques to produce an infinite number of results. Interestingly, doing the same thing repeatedly can still produce different results depending on the material. This means that even when you become highly skilled at something, there is still a challenge present. There can never be a true mastery of all the skills involved. My favorite challenge is seeing something that may not be my aesthetic and using something from that piece to inspire my own work. For example, I took a weekend workshop on Silversmithing. It was taught by David Lee Smith, another nationally recognized metalworker and jewelry maker. This exposed me to ideas and techniques I hadn’t thought of and though the southwest inspired jewelry we created wasn’t my style, one thing I learned to make a dual split-band ring (a ring where the band splits on both sides before connecting with the focal point), out of silver. I would later use this technique as a base, making the split metal band, but combining it with enameled or beaded focals, rather than the full metal style we had been taught. The feeling of personal satisfaction when being able to successfully marry ideas and styles is what keeps me in search of more and more challenges.

Spending time in the Czech Republic when I was younger gave me an appreciation of finer beadwork. Trips to the Museum of Glass and Jewelry in Jablonec nad Nisou started a love affair with Czech Glass beads that continues to this day. It’s a fascinating artistic process because so much thought and care goes into the production of a single bead, making the bead itself a work of art, which can then be used as the focal point of another piece, turning it into something even more. It was at a “bead retreat” in Erie, PA, that I first met Eva Sherman, owner of Grand River Bead Studio, in Cleveland, Ohio. She has become well known in the area of wire and metal jewelry, authoring two books and teaching classes out of her studio and on the road. A discussion about Czech Glass beads during this retreat ultimately led to an informal mentorship for me, which turned into a life-long friendship. We have collaborated on many pieces and classes where she specialized in metal forming, and I in enameling and beadwork. I have taken several courses on soldering techniques, wire-wrapping, and bead weaving, among other things, at Eva’s studio, and any time I’m stuck she is someone I turn to for advice and inspiration.

I’ve never necessarily had my own dedicated studio, or store, like someone like Eva has. I’ve been fortunate enough to have extra room available to spread out, which is when I tended to focus on things that might need larger tools for the best results (for example, a kiln for enameling or lathe for turning wooden beads). My ultimate goal is to have a full maker space, though I’ve managed to do well without it. I’ve sold my work online, and at shows, and custom pieces through word of mouth. A gift shop in Jeffersonville, NY sold my work and displayed it in their shop which also serves as a gallery of local artists.

Three opportunities really stand out in my mind as moments that solidified that I could create art to enjoy the process, but that also speaks to others.

First, I was asked to teach classes for a summer at the Villa Roma Resort and Conference center. I would put together a kit of materials and guests of the hotel would come in to learn to make a bracelet, or a pair of earrings, and get to leave with their finished product. I didn’t think I would enjoy teaching as much as I did. I made the classes a part of my professional offerings. I also volunteer to do similar types of classes at youth meetings for church groups and the Girl Scouts. I find it a fun way to receive feedback and occasionally learn something new myself.

Secondly, I had the honor to showcase at the first Sullivan County’s Day to be Gay celebration. This event is a big deal in a community that isn’t exactly known for its tolerance, which makes it even more special. Even though I had been recommended, I had to apply with a portfolio to receive table space to sell. In addition to that, I had a piece that was also selected to be a part of their juried art show.

Finally, I had work that was used in on the ABC Family television show, Pretty Little Liars, which was broadcast nationally and now available globally on video release. The show, based on a best-selling book series, featured a group of high school friends. The early part of the story involved the friends possessing friendship bracelets, and the costume master came across my website. After many discussions, I was commissioned to create the bracelets for use on the show. I was also a consultant for their designers as we talked extensively about my studio at the time, as they were looking for inspiration for an artist/designer character on the show. The character played by Facts of Life star Charlotte Rae is loosely based on these discussions and also wore more of my work. I was able to turn this experience into a publicity and marketing boon. The bracelets became so popular, I eventually licensing my design and sold the rights to other artists to make. That experience gave me insight into mass production, which was an area of production I hadn’t been familiar with before. People were ordering these bracelets because they were fans of the show, and thus, wanted products to look like the ones on the show did. That wasn’t a problem, but it was a challenge for me mentally because I was so used to making unique pieces or groups of similar pieces that were tweaked a bit here and there. The only thing that changed with these was the names included in the design (these bracelets were made of strands of beads sewn together to spell a custom name, on a purple background). The Pretty Little Liars Bracelet© taught me a lot about streamlining my production process and working more efficiently. I also had to learn a great deal in a short amount of time about business practices, copyright law, hiring contractors, writing licensing contracts. One of the other aspects artists often fail to acknowledge is SEO and website advertising. Although I retired that portion of my business many years ago, you can still Google “Mirandack Arts” or “The Pretty Little Liars Bracelets” and find my work. Eventually I grew tired of the monotony, which is what led me to licensing the design to other artists willing to take on the work.

I have spent years gathering all kinds of manual design and production techniques in beading, like:

  • Stringing
  • Wire working
  • Bail making
  • Enameling
  • Pearl knotting
  • Kumihimo
  • Various stitches like Peyote, Right Angle Weave, Brick
  • Bead Emproidery
  • Bead Fringe
  • Spiral Bead Weaving
  • Chainmail
  • Mixed Media and Resin
  • Jewelry Clay

I have taken many classes and had the opportunity to mentor with such artists as Jill Wiseman and Sherry Serafini, whose fine beadwork has been the focus of many books. They have inspired me to expand beyond basic skills and focus on design and balance of pieces. I have also found it interesting to watch their careers expand from teaching at local classes, to publishing several books, and hosting video and live series like Jewel School on JTV.

I knew that I also needed to focus on the digital world. Virtually everything is going digital in the design process these days and being able to integrate that with more traditional techniques is key to the kind of success I want.

I’ve read extensively and taken courses on programs like Photoshop, and CAD. One of my favorite experiences was attending the Digital Meets Handmade: Jewelry in the 21st Century international symposium at the Fashion Institute of Technology. This was a symposium filled with researchers, artists, and industry leaders from all over the globe, all discussing the role of digital technology in the jewelry making process. The inspiration I received just from the artwork on display was worth the trip alone. Combined with fascinating presentations it provided countless opportunities to learn. For example, an artist named Caitlyn Skelcey showcased work inspired by and designed around spinal problems which resulted in surgery. She used 3D imaging and printing techniques to produce work that looked organic and natural, and melded with hand drawn parts. This showcase really drove home the fact digital programs can go hand in hand with more traditional techniques, and still produce work with a unique identity and soul, that people sometimes don’t associate with technology. The role technology plays in my own artwork can vary from piece to piece. Sometimes I might sketch something out on my tablet or design a piece in a 3-D rendering program. I’ve even printed 3-D prototypes in order to get a better idea of how a piece might look or react in different mediums. All these processes are important to me as an artist and as the technology evolves, I will continue to evolve with it.

It’s a bit staggering to consider just how far I’ve come in the past 25 years of designing and producing jewelry. It’s a field that fits my personality perfectly, as I can dabble in whatever strikes my interest at the time. As trends change, I keep that knowledge base and continually build and improve my skills.

Many people don’t think of jewelry as “art” right away, but to me, there can be no doubt that it is. Balance, emphasis, movement, proportion, harmony, and contrast are all different philosophical aspects well known in the art community, be it painting, sculpting, drawing etc. These ideals are just as vital to jewelry design. The fact that jewelry has been used to adorn and symbolize power, wealth and beauty throughout history is a testament to the artform. Which is why I will continue pursuing the knowledge and skills necessary to elevate my work even further.

I have not only read many books about the history of jewelry, various production methods. I have gone to many museums to study ancient pieces and current artist. With the explosion of the internet over the past 25 years, access to information has been a great advantage to my skills. I have been able to learn, collaborate and study things that would have taken me at least twice as long before. I have been able to receive feedback regarding my work, and technical ability in a timely manner. I have access to new sources of inspiration and join communities of artists. I can discover technology and materials that I may not have ever been able to experiment with. It is a great time to be an artist, and I look forward to what I will learn, create, and inspire next.

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