Entropy/order- chaos/pattern- predictability/surprise-boredom/interest...

OK, many of you in your comments (OK, 2 of you) asked about my ... well I guess the question is "What is it about your pieces?" And mentioned something about taking a class. Being a teacher, I instinctively encourage questions and I'm going to answer by divulging a bit about how I arrived at my aesthetic. Keep in mind that I'm self-taught (so I may be talking out my ass) and that not all of my pieces necessarily achieve my design ideals.



When I first started, a big revelation I had was that I could pull out all the pictures of jewelry that I liked, that I found inspiring and amazing, lay them out side-by-side and systematically discover what they all had in common. What I realized was that I loved the wabi-sabi of the imperfect, handmade element. The unexpected, no-before-seen (i.e. a new style of bead or bezel) as well as something so old it was made new in that presentation (i.e. a classic sacred heart). I looked hard- with a knit brow and sharply focused eyes- it isn't easy to look analytically at the things that strike you as beautiful. I used to do that to faces as a child- I'd search the face to try and uncover a harmony that harbored the secret to the intensity of the person's appeal, and sometimes it was disturbing. I'd feel an ache in my stomach, a nausea. I remember seeing posters of Marilyn Monroe and looking until I just couldn't look anymore.

Keith Lo Bue
I was helpless to do anything but wonder at faces. Jewelry, on the other hand, I've slowly been able to figure out. Look at the work of Keith Lo Bue and you think it looks ancient, although it clearly isn't. So you ask yourself- why does it look ancient? What is it about these objects? One thing is you see a complete lack of reflective surface. All kinds of dull grungy browns with nothing shiny- not even the glass that is often used. I had no opinion about shine before but as I compared my pieces before and after oxidation, or bits of glass and resin before and after waxing, I started to see how distracting that shine is to the eye that's trying to uncover an overall design logic. And it makes sense realizing that anything found in, say, an archeological dig will never have a reflective polish. That was just one detail among many that I analyzed to the point of satisfactory conclusion.


OK, lets talk about overall design harmony. I just now went to etsy and typed "antique bracelet" , focusing at about the $70-$100 range, as that is where the most interesting designs are found in my experience. Right away I saw things I didn't like. Mostly it was too consistent- an array of charms and dangles that remained the same over the entire length of the bracelet. Basically, the eye figured it out too quickly, no more to examine or be mystified with, nothing to pull you in- the way trying to understand the beauty of faces pulled me in as a child. That means that to escape this design mistake, I have to change it up along the length. Being a bracelet (since these questions came up from bracelets I made), we're talking about a short length, so one area of focus works (although other things work too!). Since the clasp needs to be there like it or not, I've found it's a good area to place the focus. If I aim the focus opposite the clasp, then I have 2 competing points for the eye. Now that could work, as long as I have some underlying reason or something I'm "going with" in that design, but in the case of these, I don't, so clasp it is....


There should also be an underlying color scheme. The ones at work in the above 2 bracelets  are "ivory" and "dark" (seeing as actual "black" and "white" are too clean for my archeologist's aesthetic). However, notice that while the 1st bracelet's scheme for the hanging charms is light, it has a dark rectangular piece to sort of subvert that scheme. That is, the pattern is only slightly there, keeping our eyes on their toes. And while the second one is mostly dark brown, it includes dark purple and blue as well as black for variation. The 2nd also has "long shit" as a principle (yeah, that's what I said) and that is subverted by 2 shoe buttons and a carved horn bead, again, keeping the eye interested. It's as if the eye has to go, "Ok, long things. Wait-that's not long. Was I right about the long things? Let me re-check..." at which point it has to look at the piece again to make sure there's enough long things to make up a design principle. All this is time your eye has been busy and entertained. So maybe the principle can be stated as: "Come up with a rule, then break it a little." I guess. In any case, that is what the title of this post refers to.
(Maybe you'll understand better if I use some more quotation marks? Yeah.)

It really helps to look at tons of stuff and say overtly to yourself what you do and don't like about each. And make a ton of stuff and a couple days after making each decide what works and what doesn't. You can do this right away by looking back at your work from when you started up to last week. I know, we cringe, but it helps.
Also, say you decide to make something similar to an inspiring piece you see on etsy- we all do it, it's how we learn. Carefully compare your results to the original piece. You might think yours sucks. But why? What about it isn't as good as the one that inspired you, what does the original have that yours doesn't? Often it consists of many little details or something that doesn't seem important enough to make such an impact. For me, I didn't think a bit of shine would be so important. But it was. So there. And you'll take that lesson into your next attempt which will suck a bit less.

Boscaresque. Tea Tin Cuff.
Boscaresque. Tea Tin Cuff.

Your homework for today- look at antique bracelets in the $70-$100 range. Focus on color, shine, consistency of design. Make a pile you like and a pile you hate. Write in one or 2 sentences what it is you like about the items in your like pile (can be a sentence for each, but try to write at least one for several or all the items) and what you don't like about your hate pile (there might be more variety of reasons here, so more sentences).
Assignments due on Monday.
Salute. Leather Cuff with Knight.
Class dismissed.


Anonymous said...

Inspiring stuff, great to read how you approach looking at how a piece of jewellery works. Will be doing my homework.

Penelope said...

okay it took me forever to read that, because you were so inspiring I had to jump up halfway through and go make something!

The thing is I go through these exact analyisis points myself, and often come up with the same results as you- that is the same common aesthetic. But then you make something that's completely different from me, even though we both come from the same base. Isn't that amazing? I guess that's the bit they call the artist's eye, I just think it's mental that we both have the same seed and yet get a completely different tree. I have more to say, but I shall convo.

~Debi said...

Fantabulous post Fanci!
*Raising hand* I have a question. How do you =start= a project? Do you start with one part and build on it? Grab a bunch of things you like and put them together? or do you have a design in mind and pick pieces to "make it happen?"

stregata said...

An interesting discussion - hmm, is this a discussion, or am I in the wrong classroom? No matter. I have often browsed through your sold items, trying to define just what it is that fascinates me about your pieces. I am with you all the way about wabi sabi - the beauty of the imperfect. What draws me to your jewelry is your total lack of inhibition in combining things. There is always something in there that I wouldn't have dared to include. Which is why I adore your work. You create with abandon and joy. At least, it seems so to me.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. Homework done. I am seeing things with new eyes. I am really wanting to start making jewelry again, but have to finish reorganizing my craft room so I have some space to work. You are giving me an incentive, and I will appreciate all your valuable tips as you continue your lessons.

Spirited Earth said...

how did i miss this post..so many things to think about,my homework is gonna be late Miss Fanci.
i love how you combine all manner of crazy bits and pieces into some fabulous design

Unknown said...

This is a great post, really full of precious insight. Thank you for sharing what happens in that enigmatic mind of yours.

dinnaforget said...

I've been having lots of fun reading your faq pages this week, and this one strikes me as particularly interesting and helpful, especially the idea that one's pieces need to have some mystery about them. I love to make things, but I rarely keep anything for myself, for the very reason that I know exactly what went into the making of each piece. I buy other people's work specifically because it comes from someone else's hands and mind. It's mysterious and unknowable. Yet, just like finding a book or movie that speaks to me, a great piece of jewelry makes me feel less isolated in the world. There are other people out there who share my aesthetic.

Unknown said...

I really appreciate your openness to sharing your process and I love the way you teach and as much as I was inspired I was entertained, if you had a job as a prof, your classes would be full with waiting lists because you are genuinely funny. Whew, long sentence. Love the class dismissed, but I truly am going to do my homework. What a wonderful piece because I ask myself all day long, all day, what is it that I am trying to do????What is my theme, what do I like???? I have decided to be true to my soul and create things that have deep meaning to me. duh???? took me a long time to figure this out you see.

Elsa said...

Fanci: the more I dig around in your mind, the more I love you. Your explanation of how to find your esthetic is so spot on! I make what I make right now because it pays the bills, not because it is my esthetic. My taste runs more towards yours, but with a bit of rhinestone sparkle tossed in. But I am known for the flatware jewelry, so I buy other artists work that appeals to me. Maybe one day I can get a large enough body of work together in my "style" to get new customers interested. Until then....