Author Archives: Helen Driggs

About Helen Driggs

Metalsmith, Artist, Writer, Maker of things. Former Senior Editor of Lapidary Jewelry Artist Magazine

Touching Base from Touchstone

helen-driggs-touchstone

Touchstone Center for Crafts is located in Farmington, Pa.

Recently I was invited to be a presenter at the Touchstone Center for Crafts for an awesome annual event called The Jim Campbell Hammer-In and Alchemists Picnic. Other presenters included the amazing Eric Burris, Rebecca Strzelec and Laurie Brown on the jewelry track and Caitlin Morris, Bob Rupert and Jerry Veneziano on the blacksmithing track. It was a full, rich, rewarding day and the demos were fun, informative and well-worth attending. I had never been to Touchstone, so when organizer Wayne Werner invited me to present, I jumped at the opportunity.

Touchstone Center for Crafts runs a full schedule of workshops, classes and year-round activities, the metals studio is fully equipped, and the setting could not be more serene and peaceful. Forget your cell and computer, abandon the endless beeps, chirps and never-ending electronic intrusions of daily life and just focus on making work — my idea of heaven on earth. Centrally located for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, DC, Maryland and upstate New York or Ohio residents, it’s worth the drive out the PA Turnpike to attend a class there. And do not miss the food either, because they really, really feed you well and make every effort to meet any dietary restriction or preference!

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The Blacksmith shop is one of the best I have ever been to — here are some of many twisted iron samples.

Because I have been screaming busy for several months preparing some grant applications, doing digital housekeeping, creating new work and curriculum work and doing lots of freelance writing and teaching, it was great to just get away from my computer for a weekend, eat food prepared by a talented cook, see other members of the metals tribe, listen to nature and chill out. I did not realize how much I sorely needed a break until after Saturday’s lunch, when my full stomach and tired hit me like a ton of bricks…

Next year, I am planning on attending the Picnic for the fun of it. Or, maybe teaching a workshop there leading into it, or following after. Either way, I intend to be there or be square in 2018.

My favorite part of the weekend was the mokume gane demo by talented Eric Burris (he has workshop openings, I am totally going) who has invented an affordable, ingenious small-scale mokume gane kit that works with an acetylene/air torch in your average home studio. Can somebody say awesome? What a brilliant idea, and what an amazing artist.

eric-burris-genius-mokume

Eric’s amazing setup allows you to create mokume gane in the average home studio.

The metals studio is fully equipped with benches, torches and flex shafts, and situated on the hill down from the blacksmith shop. There is also a secret mosaic studio, spring houses, a kitchen and flower garden, a hot glass studio, the main hall and gallery, dorms and camping facilities, so you can go rough or not. There are bonfires and sand casting at night, plus myriad other ways for metalheads to entertain themselves.

Basically, I can’t recommend Touchstone and the Alchemist Picnic enough. If you live in the region, you owe it to yourself to attend a workshop there, visit the center, or at least join.

So, check out my photos and links, and if you are in the Mid-Atlantic region, make it a point to go to the 2018 Alchemist Picnic next year — I’ll be seeing you there!

 

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Keep Making Work

It’s been a rough couple of months for everybody I know. The only thing keeping me sane these days is the commitment I have made to myself to keep working, keep making art, keep writing, and do my best to keep my personal house in order. Being jobless has been difficult for me because I love to work, but I’m hanging in, getting leads here and there, and taking a Teacher certification course with an eye on becoming an elementary school substitute for awhile — just to keep bread on the table, insurance on the docket, and a roof overhead. One thing is certain: I’ve discovered I still struggle with Math as much now as I did when I was younger, so it hasn’t been easy, but it is getting better. I actually search for math problems to solve now just to stay in practice.
After Tucson, it’s the Praxis Core Tests for me.

On the metals front, I have been experimenting with some cool new tools and techniques and have designed a group of fun new classes to teach this year. I am writing for the MJSA Journal now, with my first “At The Bench” feature running in the January 2017 issue, and I’ve contributed some tool content to http://www.wirejewelry.com for the educational section of their website, and will continue to do so all year. I’ve booked some gigs, pitched some classes, submitted a book idea and outline, and have managed to stay afloat so far, so life is good. I desperately hope that things turn for the better soon for me and for everyone, and that the Arts and Education are not hung out to dry by our new administration. I hope that we all find calm soon, as it seems the entire country and every person I know is still in a state of unrest and turmoil. We are all agitated and scared, which makes each day a real challenge, especially for the hypersensitive. Thank goodness for my jeweler’s saw — it is a calm port in the storm, and the place I go when I can’t bear the news any longer. I just map out and saw complex patterns and try to find the peace in my silent studio — to escape from the loathsome behavior, selfish greed, cruelty, paranoia and rage that is just everywhere now. Participating in the Women’s March helped, but I fear it did not turn any tides. I often lie awake at night terrorized by what may come. I know I am not alone in this.

We must continue to notice what is happening, watch out for each other, speak up for what we know is right, carry on, have hope and make work because we are artists and that’s our job. Artists are the sentinels of society and we can’t help but pay attention. Sometimes, it’s hard to do, and it’s difficult to be calm or kind in the face of an aggressor, or someone you believe has done something that takes our country the wrong way, but my friends, hang in there. When you don’t know what to do, pick up a hammer and hit some metal. Maybe it will help to fix something inside of you, or me, or us, or them, or everything and all of us. I just continue to saw, and I still continue to hope. I will remain kind, hold fast to my core values and go on. Because anything else is unthinkable.


I’ve been a busy Metalsmith…

Since the layoff from the magazine in August, I have been having way too much fun in my studio creating new curriculum pieces for 2017’s upcoming classes in Tucson, for an 8-week introduction to jewelry course at a local adult school, and hopefully, for the August BeadFest in Philadelphia. I am truly lucky because so many people have called and emailed me with an eye on getting a hold of the new, free me to teach, lecture, create video content or write for their respective publications and sites that I am as busy now as I was whilst employed full time. Not. Too. Shabby. If you are interested, you can find my current workshop descriptions here, and my class rosters and signup information here. If you plan to go to Tucson, look me up and I hope to see you there!
PS: Check my Instagram feed for works in progress shots and to see what I am up to these days. I usually post there a few days per week.

On a side note, I have also been busily creating print content in the form of some short technical features, tool reviews and tips, and how-to articles for a large jewelry industry magazine. It’s fun writing that kind of content, and what I enjoyed most/did best in the old job, so I feel extraordinarily lucky these days for the continuity. Thanks universe, you never let me down.

Now that my plate is a little less full of all that time-consuming transitional employment and other real life stuff, I plan to be here more. Keep an eye open for news about upcoming classes, online workshops, heads-ups about magazine articles and projects I have on deck. I will be adding a few pages to this blog for up-to-date ways we can stay in touch, so check here often, because I promise this year will be a fun one. Surely we will need fun in 2017.

And to all of you who have contacted me, thanks so much for your kind words and encouragement. You really have no idea how much it means to me!


Embrace the Unexpected

When I was rather unexpectedly laid off from the day job at the magazine at the end of August, I decided to look on the upside of things — all of a sudden I have lots of time on my hands to spend in my studio without being mentally distracted by the daily demands of a job. Sure, there is anxiety associated with being unemployed, but if you treat the job hunt part of your day like a temp job and just blitz through the finding leads, sending out and following up on stuff to efficiently get it over with, all of a sudden you have hours and hours of unencumbered time at your disposal. It’s actually really awesome. I’ve been sleeping like a rock, eating so healthy it’s scary, suddenly have lots of energy, and strangely, no more acid reflux. I haven’t left the house for weeks except to take a daily walk around my local lake, or to visit the mailbox or work in my garden.

All this positive force means I’ve been making work like a fiend, sending out class proposals, applying for residencies, shaking up some freelance work and teaching workshops, organizing my paperwork, cleaning up my digital assets, mastering some code, getting the book idea that’s been dancing in my head for about 8 months committed to a worddoc, and generally investing 100% of my creative energy into ProjectHelen instead of ProjectElsewhere. Hate to sound selfish, but ProjectHelen is so rewarding because there are actually tangible rewards when you invest in yourself. I could really get used to this…

Anyway, quick word of reassurance — I promise will still be writing about Tools and Bench Tips here on a regular basis. My last formal column will run in the November 2016 issue. For the past few weeks, I gave myself permission for an essential and very healing mental break after what went down at the magazine. I just had to allow the trauma to sink in and process itself down and out of me. I am happy to say I am cool with it now, doo-doo happens and, it was a great gig while I had it. Oh, and good luck…

So. Over, next. If you follow me on FB or Instagram, you’ll see I’ve been toying with some video, taking loads of step shots, and creating some new classes for Tucson and BeadFest, plus some other places I hope to reveal soon. Keep an eye on my class descriptions for updates. And now, I can be here more often, too.

Change, they say, is as good as a rest. Um, yep!

 


What is Immersive Design?

HelenDriggs Line Sape Form

Line, Shape and Form are the three most used Design Elements for jewelers.

Lately, I’ve been bombarded with many questions about Design. You see, next weekend, I hope to embark on a new series of site-specific Immersive Design Workshops I have created to help jewelry makers who may not have a formal education in Art or Design understand what exactly design is. My hope for this series is to show how to consciously use the Elements and Principals of Design to create new jewelry works. As an artist, I want to introduce you to the new ways you too can see the world around us that will open all new avenues to creating your own jewelry. But first, let’s address a scary word to the uninitiated: Design.

 

Understandably, Design is a hard concept to get across to a group of folks who may have been conditioned to just make jewelry during workshops or classes that spring from project-based ways of working.

 

We can’t help it — as jewelers, we use materials and techniques to create objects. We make a thing. The only way to learn how to use a specific technique or material is to act it out with something real. So, there has to be some wearable or hold-able result to wrap our hands and minds around, and every teacher must come up with some object to copy that hopefully achieves the results that she hopes to get across during that class. It’s no wonder Design often is sidelined in the process. You are there to copy a thing. Sad, but too true. But please consider this: if you intend to go beyond copying works that others have designed to solve a particular set of teaching objectives, Design eventually has to come into your skills arsenal. I hope I can help you.

Design is a hard concept to communicate using words, because much of it comes from intuitive, feeling or purely visual places — we see or feel or deduce a thing, and then we set about expressing those qualities during the creation of an object. Simply stated, Design is the sum of Form plus Function. As a trained Graphic Designer, I love art and design. I live for design. And, there’s a huge world of exciting and beautiful 2D design I won’t go into here, because we are talking jewelry, right?

HelenDriggs sketchbook

Art: your sketchbook is the place for unbridled expression. Just draw like nobody is watching you!

The interesting thing about jewelry design is that it not only encompasses Art, it also involves Craft. For many, Art and Craft are the same thing, but consider this: there are ways to craft an object that is well designed, extremely useful and which also may or may not simultaneously be a beautiful work of art. Art, Craft and Design can all exist together in one object — or not. So, what the heck?

 

 

Let’s start at the beginning: Art. Art is a human need to express something in a creative way. It’s communication of a feeling, idea, or emotion. It can be beautiful or not. Whether 2D or 3D, Art makes you see or feel something using a creative way.

Helen Driggs Technical Samples

Craft: Models and technical samples are a way to work out fabrication issues while you develop materials and tool mastery .

Then, there is Craft. As jewelers, Craft is our guiding light. Craftsmanship is probably the most important skill we can master, and it takes practice and expertise with many tools and many materials to become a jeweler who makes objects with fine craftsmanship. You don’t need to be an artist to be a fine craftsman, though.
Believe it or not, the mechanical skills required to craft any object can be passed on to other people who can copy or even duplicate the object if they have spent enough time practicing or developing those skills. I am not saying this is easy, because there is tool mastery, and mastery of materials — but you don’t need to be an artist to have them.

 

So what is Design? Like art, design is a human expression of creativity. But design is a process that solves a problem. A designer is an artist who “solves” things through planning, and organized thought and then follows a process to create an object that serves some purpose or some function. As jewelers, the “solution” is usually some object to be worn on the body. Sure, you can craft an object without designing something new or different — like a simple metal band ring. But what if you want to make a band ring nobody has ever thought of before? Welcome to the world of Design.

techjournal

Design: Technical Journals are imperative for jewelers to keep track of patterns, fabrication steps, layouts and plans.

The language of Design is easily understood. There are Elements and Principles and Disciplines and Categories of Design. My Immersive Design Workshop will help you unlock your potential by mastering the Design Language in a fun and approachable way. For two and a half days, we will work together as a team in a location that allows us to go out, look, see, feel, explore and understand with our senses and our hands and minds. You will walk, draw, learn, investigate new ways of welcoming the muse, master the language of design, and learn dozens of new tricks to get in touch with your very own artistic genius already living inside of you. I will show you how to use what you see, hear and are intrigued by to jump start what’s already there. And we will have fun while we do it. There is work too, so don’t think this will be a cake walk — although there will be food, too… It is New York, after all.
Need more info?
Details can be found here: Helen’s Immersive Design Workshop, September 23-25, 2016.


New Immersive Design Workshop

Ever since the late 1940s, Greenwich Village and other neighborhoods in New York City have been thriving centers for Art and Design. Many well-known modernist jewelers took up residence there post World War II, like Sam Kramer, Art Smith, Irena Brynner, Ed Weiner and Frank Rebajes and NYC became one of the most thriving centers for Wearable Art in the states.
“The city” has always been a magnet for the best, brightest, hippest, most innovative and talented in the arts, and the constant inspiration of museums, galleries, design schools, studios, shops and businesses, citizens of the world and other artistic delights awaits.
Every time I go to New York, I come home full of ideas and energy, and I can’t wait to sit at my bench and make. It’s fun to discover, look at, breathe in and feel the pulse of the Big Apple. What’s even more fun is when you are there unhurried, free, and with kindred spirits who are also open to what the Muse will bring. This kind of contagious fun is the most creative kind. As an experienced teacher and a mom, I recognize it for what it truly is, and see it as something every child (um, I mean artist) needs to grow and thrive: Parallel Play.

Ask yourself this: When is the last time you hung out with your pals and gave yourself permission to just experiment together and make something completely different from what you normally do for the sheer delight of doing it? Sound fun? It is…

In that vein, I am pleased to announce that I will be forming a loose “collective” of like-minded souls who will meet regularly (or irregularly) in the city to come together as an informal team of makers. As your “leader,” I will form an itinerary and curriculum with specific object-making goals for each immersive class. We will walk, visit museums, galleries, shops, or places around town to gather inspiration. We’ll work together at the Studio (and independently afterward) and also stay in touch beyond that to help each other and the group as a whole to reach specific goals by specific deadlines. You will be responsible for meeting the goals because the group will be relying on you. We’ll trade ideas and techniques and create a collection of individual jewelry works based on themes, concepts and exchange. Our Makers will constantly evolve, grow and change, but the framework of what we do will remain constant. You will make your own work, and you will inspire other makers too. We will work in a safe and nurturing environment and build community using the city as our muse. And we will create an interesting body of wearable art to share with and inspire other makers. You will learn about design and how to be more confident about what you do with it.
If you want to (or need to) jump start yourself, would like to get away to a fun place with good food, do something inspirational, cut loose, make new friends, be open to something positive that will help you grow, or all of the above, I hope to see you in the city!

HarryBertoia

Brooch by Harry Bertoia  from the Museum of Art and Design’s current exhibition of his jewelry and sculpture.

IrvingPotter

Pendant from Irving Potter; another piece in the MAD’s permanent collection

Interested? Here’s what I have so far. I know this seems a teeny bit vague, but I’m still formulating and planning the best experience for you. I will update as we go, but this much is certain:

Helen’s Immersive Manhattan Design Experience: One
September 23-25, 2016; Class limited to 8 students.
Sign up: Call Tevel at Allcraft Tools (800) 645-7124 for class fee and to reserve your spot. Based on demand, a second session of Design Experience: One may be scheduled, so watch this space for updates.
Location: Downtown New York City, meetup location and times TBA.
Please note: Museum fees, transport and meals are not included. For distance travelers, reduced rate hotel information is being investigated, updates to come shortly. We will use transit and have use of a fully-equipped jewelry studio, with tools and equipment available all day Sunday and at other times as required during the weekend.
There will be a materials list or purchasable kit available, as well as a final syllabus and suggested tool list. You will need a dedicated sketchbook or journal, and the prime requirements for success are to be courageous, have an open mind, share well, and wear some good walking shoes.

Preliminary Syllabus …
Friday, Day One: Gather. If you arrive early Friday, we’ll meet up at the Studio between 3 and 4 pm for light refreshments to mix as members of the collective, distribute materials, discuss goals and directions. The official start will be an evening Museum visit beginning at 5pm with exposure to a plethora of food choices that evening for dinner.

Saturday, Day Two: Collect, Explore and Interact. We will hunt, sketch, photograph, look, learn and see. There will be games. This is a day of discovering what it’s like to be a studio jewelry artist in New York. Final organization of a walking tour is underway. As we go, we will determine the best ways to meet our collective and individual goals for the weekend and by the end of day we will have our individual assignments.

Sunday, Day Three: Make. We’ll have all day in the studio to explore our ideas and experiment with design concepts. Each member of the team will design a concept board and begin to fabricate one work that solves their “problem.” I will demo a group of design and fabrication techniques relevant to the class to get you started, but we will all work together as a design team to help each other. You’ll go home with homework, too.

If there are questions, comment here. I can’t wait to see you there!

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What’s on your Bench?

I love to work. It’s so delicious to sit down at the bench and play with a wide range of fun and inspiring stuff and let the old gray matter go gonzo. I’ve had a hard few months helping my sister navigate the dark waters of a medical crisis, and now she’s nearing home port. The joy I feel for her eclipses all the hard and nasty stuff on my plate right now, and somehow I have managed to stay strong, help her as I can, and keep the eye on the prize while steering us straight. Sorry I’ve been away, but she is more important.

Now that we are here, I am actually happily excited for the near future. Life is good.

Speaking of the near future, Bead Fest is coming, and in case you aren’t connected, I’ve got some fun new classes on deck that I am making sample objects for. There are two new ones I LOVE: No Torch Captures and Connections, and Urban Conchos. Both are a departure for me — they are technique driven and intended to stretch your design skills, rather than technique driven and intended to increase your tool mastery — but don’t worry, I’ve still got tool classes too, lol.

And, my most awesome teacher’s assistant (the aforementioned super sister) will be there helping you/me/us and playing really good setup tunes, troubleshooting your Dremel collets, standing by you as you rock the Genies, and running the shop — so I can totally focus on giving you a great class. What would we do without her, right?

So, here’s a peek at what’s on my bench now. If something looks fun, try it. I’d love to see you in class if you can come!

helen driggs jewelry

I’ve been cutting some fun materials to connect via rivets and other methods.

helen driggs tools

This is for Urban Conchos — and whoa! check out the antique pipe flaring sets I found at the Flea.

captures and connect driggs

One of the target objects for Captures and Connections.

helen driggs bench

I scored a nice lot of Bamboo Knitting Needles at a yard sale last week. Soon, I will cut them up for pendants.

Let’s have fun together and celebrate the end of a hard journey. Feel free to come by and say Hi to my sister and I — even if you aren’t in class. For those of you already coming, I can’t wait to play with you in class.

PS: It’s been rough, but now that we are almost home, I promise to visit you here more often. See you soon and thanks for your kind words, well wishes and support.