Designing jewelry around a theme

I truly believe that your inner and outer worlds will try to reach an accord. It is the human condition to strive to understand. I also believe that if you are strong and reasonably stable, it is easy to convey something about your thoughts and feelings with your work — if that is the kind of work you want to make.

I created this to explore the concept of time. I have been sorting through time, objects and connections for about one year in an effort to determine what is essential to my life. Photo: Jim Lawson

Jewelry is an interesting medium, because there are so many things it does and represents — just think of all the levels of complexity surrounding the wearing of  a jewelry object. It can be symbolic and/or decorative, both personal and public, a display of tremendous wealth, status or modest means, “beautiful” or “ugly”, crude or refined, a gift, a commemorative item, a statement, an identifier, a memory, a connection to someone or some place — or not.

So, a particular piece of jewelry can mean very different things to different people, depending on who they are, how they feel and what they think about it. There is an accord between the wearer and the work. That accord is based in their feeling about that particular jewelry object.

What is interesting about making jewelry as a form of self-expression is that there are also many levels of complexity to contend with. When you make a piece of jewelry, what are you doing, really?

Do you ask yourself questions before you start working, or do you just go forward? What pushes you to create? How many minute decisions do you make before you touch your materials? Are you saying something? Solving a challenge? Matching an outfit? Stretching your skill set? Making a gift? Using a different tool for a change? Trying something you just learned? Copying something you like? Killing time by tinkering? Hiding from something else by going to the bench? Practicing? Losing track of everything in the sheer joy of making? Earning a living? Breaking new ground? Making something to sell in next weekend’s show? Filling an empty space? Trying to prove something? What?

There is no “correct” answer to my questions, so don’t worry. The only answer is the one you decide is correct. And it can be a different one every time you go to the bench.

For me, making jewelry is a way to show what I cannot say. I work in bursts, and I typically follow a path that in hindsight is logical, but in the moment of doing may not have any sense. There are themes I follow constantly, and I am driven to explore them. I will always challenge myself to solve a particular physical problem inherent to an object — like holding a stone or making a shape or a color or a line in a specific way that is visually appealing to me. But, at the same time, I am urged by my mind and feelings to “say” something with that work — even if it is just to myself.

You see, I don’t have any expectations from what I make, because I’m not trying to convince anyone to buy it or even like it. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone with what I make. My sense of self-worth is not connected to what others might think of me, or selling jewelry, or anything like that. I earn money doing other things that I am much better at, and I really don’t care too much about an object once I make it, because ultimately it is just a thing. I make jewelry to explore an inner urging that I must uncover and experience in order to grow and understand living here and now in this place.

That said, making jewelry objects is an utterly enjoyable process that I will not try to justify. I do it for love. I do it because I must — my hands need to make, and metal and stone are fascinating to me. I love the difficulty of this craft because it feeds my mind and my heart.

Why do you do it?


About Helen Driggs

Metalsmith, Teaching Artist, Writer, Maker of things. Former Senior Editor of Lapidary Jewelry Artist Magazine View all posts by Helen Driggs

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