Category Archives: Metalsmithing

Busy? Yes, busy…

Hi all! I have been missing for a month (almost 2!?!) due to a very full teaching schedule and lots of work – which I am NOT complaining about! I have successfully pitched a load of new spring classes for my local evening gig, at the Innovative Bead Expo in April, and Tucson, of course. I will also be doing a live webcast on January 28, 2018 for CraftCast and also live from the JewelryTools.com classrooms at the JOGSShow in Tucson just a few days later. It’s been a busy but delightful fall full of creating demo objects, class proposals, handout design and creation and all the other fun stuff that goes with being a jewelry instructor and having a full, rich and rewarding life. If you are interested in whats on deck, my current teaching schedule is posted here.

So sorry, but this post is a quick hit, because I am on deadline for my latest At the Bench column for the MJSA Journal, and one other secret: I am writing my second book as we speak. It is scheduled for a Fall 2018 release, will be a jewelry making book, and I am really thrilled with it so far. I took a break to blog because I reached the halfway point late yesterday, and now the fun begins: creation of the jewelry objects and project pieces, WHOO HOO! Watch my Instagram feed for photo updates…

So, hang in everybody, I hope you are all keeping sane, resisting lunacy, keeping busy and having fun making work. I know I am. I’ll try harder to post more often, so see you sooner next time… I hope!

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2017 Denver Gem & Mineral Showcase report

I was so lucky to have a chance to cover the Denver Shows in conjunction with a wonderful writing assignment I have been engaged in for the JOGS International Gem & Jewelry Shows. It was a busy, fantastic weekend with the team — covering 8 out of 11 shows over 4 days — culminating in a red-eye flight back east. For me, this Denver Showcase was a whirlwind trip, but I somehow still managed to hunt down and catch up with my friends to collect the many hugs that I’ve been missing out on for a few years since I last attended the shows in Colorado. So first, shout-outs to my Denver peeps!

Back to business now. I’ll post links to my coverage for JOGS as soon as I can, but here are some quick highlights for those of you formulating your “must-haves” list for the upcoming Tucson Gem and Mineral Shows…

New materials to keep an eye on

Denver usually functions as an “early warning” show for the next big thing coming to market. Many dealers buy early in Quartzite and bring those finds to Tucson, but the Denver Show is the place for the post-Tucson discoveries that catch hold and boom in the following winter. Denver’s a great place for rock hounds and lovers of stone of any type to gather, gossip and make predictions plus the fall weather is nearly always perfect. After attending this Showcase, I can say one thing for certain: Blue is the 2018 color to watch! Here are some materials from Denver that I’m most jazzed about, all coming soon to jewelry pieces and mineral collections near you…

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Aquaprase cabs available from Village Silversmith

Aquaprase
This gorgeous, natural, new blue-green chalcedony was discovered in Africa in 2014 and ranges from gemmy-clear to translucent blue green to a more matrixy-mixed white with earth tones combined with baby-blue. The GIA report can be found here, and I shot these stones at the Denver Coliseum Show with a little lighting help from my buddy John Bajoras from Village Silversmith who cut these cabs and was selling there. You can also see and buy his work at gem shows across the US.

 

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Dumortierite on quartz from Brazil.

Dumortierite on Quartz
Pure Dumortierite is rarely found, and most of it is dense and of a dark blue color. Dumortierite is also found as inclusions, splotches or in zones of quartz. Both light and dark blue occurs, and this new material from Brazil is an appealing pale baby blue forming strips, stripes and segments on clear to nearly-clear crystals. The stones are fascinating to look at under magnification, and the more rare, clean and clear crystals with blue Dumortierite encased within are always snapped up first.

 

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Burtis Blue Turquoise by Clinton Cross.

Burtis Blue Turquoise
Miner Clinton Cross has collected a gorgeous, natural, untreated turquoise from Cripple Creek, CO in colors ranging from pale blue to greenish. Named Burtis Blue, this stone has been submitted and certified as 100% natural and untreated by Stone Group Laboratories and is from the North Star mine. Clinton will also be debuting a new Malachite-Chrysocolla-Cuprite find from Australia at the JOGS Show Tucson in 2018.

 

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Colla Wood from Turkey, courtesy John Heusler, G.G.

Colla Wood
This Turkish material was discovered in 2012. It is wood that has fractured during fossil formation, and water containing copper-rich minerals has created beautiful deposits of intense blue azurite, deep green malachite and blue-to blue-green chrysocolla in the fractures. Some sections opalize and the stone surface will change both in the intensity of color and of brightness with some areas of chatoyance. My good friend Gemologist John Heusler, owner of Slabs To Cabs had an amazing chunk of Colla wood displaying every one of these qualities at once, and this particular hunk of rock was probably the most amazing thing I saw at the Coliseum Show.

Other fun from Denver

My focus this trip was hunting for new minerals and gems, but that didn’t stop me from admiring (and acquiring) other treasure, like, tools, stones, slabs, beads, and gifts. At a big collective of shows like Denver, well, you just can’t help yourself. I restocked drills for my student Lapidary Kits at Lasco Diamond, found some great stone and shell cabs for my Wire Jewelry Making class, bought a few presents for my sister, plus some great old slabs for myself. I am ready for my fall teaching schedule now, and eager to start.

Stay tuned for updates, and I’ll just park these other Denver shots here… Enjoy!

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BrassElementsDriggsDenver

 

 

 

 

 

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Touching Base from Touchstone

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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.

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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!

 


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.

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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.