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.


Catching Up on Things…

So, yeah. You may have noticed I’ve been otherwise occupied for some time now, as I’ve been dealing with a few real life issues in my family. But good news: we are out of the woods and into the light now. Sorry for abandoning you, but as they say: family first!
Last weekend, I was very busy teaching all-day and two-day workshops at BeadFest Spring, and I’m sad to report it’s going to be the last show of a 10-year run for that particular event. I must say I am kind of sad to see it go, because that’s how I made the connection with the publishing company I work for, I met my current boss, and got my “dream”job as an editor for Lapidary Journal.
I did love April in Oaks every spring — even when it rained, or snowed, or was too cold, or too warm — because I love meeting new students and starting the warm season energized, inspired and ready to work. But, don’t despair! The annual August BeadFest Show is and will still be on the books, and for sure I will be teaching there every year.
On that note, this is my usual post-BeadFest debriefing, where I answer any and all questions that came in after class from students (so far) and I will continue to add to it through the rest of the month to capture any stragglers. So, without further adieu…

Q: Hi Helen,
I attended your amazing cab making class on Saturday at Beadfest. I planned to order diamond drill bits from the company I usually order metals and materials but when I checked into it I learned that they are very weak on lapidary supplies 😦
Can you recommend a couple of suppliers and which bits you find to be the most durable and reliable. Also, do you have any experience with Diamond Pacific’s Pixie Grinder/Polisher. I know… it’s hard to take a lapidary machine named “Pixie” seriously… but now, thanks to you, I REALLLLLY want to work with stones and the big boy Genie is to much $$$ at the moment. My guess is I should save my pennies for the real deal and not mess with a machine built for rock hounds living in an RV. It’s definitely time for the Spirflame torch to find a new home and make room for new equipment.
Thanks a bunch!
— Gina

A: Hi Gina!
I Like LASCO Diamond for shaped diamond tips for the flex shaft, and the Crystolite brand “Triple Ripple” Diamond Drill Bits. I like The Gem Shop, Inc. and Kingsley North as a great all around Lapidary suppliers, and don’t forget — Diamond Pacific is a full service lapidary and jewelry suppler as well.
For my hands, the Pixie is way too small. I owned a used one for about 6 months, and like all DP equipment, it’s fabulous, really well made and durable. My only “problem” was the petiteness of it  — I could span 4 wheels by stretching out my hand from thumb tip to pinky tip, and needless to say, I went right for a Genie and never looked back. I will be teaching Lapidary again at BeadFest in August, so stop by and say Hi!


Q: Where do you get metal and tools?

A: My favorite suppliers for metals and general metalwork and jewelry making tools are varied. I do have regulars, though:

Metalliferous in New York is always worth the trip for metals, tools, beads, supplies, discontinued parts, findings, chain and other needs. the Store and Mail Order Department is at: 34 West 46th Street; 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10036

Allcraft Tools, also in New York is another not-to-miss vendor. They have a website in progress, however I always suggest calling: 800-645-7124. If you want to go, they are located at: 135 West 29 St.; Suite 205, New York, NY 10001

Rio Grande is a large jewelry supply house located in Albuquerque, NM. They have all the major brand name tools and are well stocked in precious metals and materials for the serious hobbyist to the professional bench jeweler. Their online store can’t be beat when you need something right now. Get on their mailing list for a thick fully illustrated catalog, and browse their giant library of tip and trick videos, tool use videos and instructional materials as well as call the live tech support team during the day. 800-545-6566


That’s it for the moment, guys! Thanks for coming to class and I’ll blog again as soon as I get my studio straightened up… Ciao!


On the Radio!

Quick hit here… Just finished a Metalsmith Benchtalk chat with Jay Whaley on Blog Talk Radio. If you missed it, click this link and listen to the recording. I had loads of fun! Nite!


Busy is an Understatement

Feast or Famine. This is the way of life for most creative people. Every artist that I know in every discipline constantly copes with waves of too much/not enough over the course of their career. This applies to everything: work, money, time, inspiration, sleep, raw materials, you name it. If you aren’t used to that too much/not enough rhythm, the artist’s lifestyle is bound to be too stressful for you.
I think it’s crucially important to find whatever balance you can and establish a boundary system of sorts — despite the fact that being undisciplined is more common to us creative types than the opposite.

Since the last time I posted here, I have fabricated 9 objects, taken a master class, tech edited 4 issues of the magazine and done the never ending onslaught of day job stuff, produced a series of set designs and illustrations for an immersive theater performance, pitched 9 newly created classes and created sample objects for them, packed kits for 3 Tucson classes, taken inventory for the 6 others and formulated a 2016 student needs shopping list for Tucson, traveled to the home office and back, oh, and also dealt with the normal life stuff: house, family, pets, laundry, garden, gym, etc.

Most of this recent wave of stuff has reached the finish line, and I can see an open space on the horizon. Yahoo!

Bring on some famine, because I sure need it now. I look forward to my famine times — however brief they may be — because those are the places of possibility. Where I think, dream, begin and push. I start to build an energy bank for the next wave. Having those calm, empty, famine spaces is essential for me, so I have disciplined myself to black out sections of my calendar specifically for the purpose of having open space. I may or may not go anywhere or do anything particular during those times, but if I don’t create that space and protect it from intruders, I know I will self destruct.

So here is a trick for you — if you are also a member of the feast or famine crowd. Trust me and try this. The crazy holidays are coming. Don’t feel guilty, just do it. Block off three days of your choosing and then don’t let anybody schedule you for anything. Except you. Guard those three days and see what happens to your head when you know they are there to depend on and that you can trust yourself not to surrender them to anything or anyone. And then, once you have spent those three days doing exactly what you felt like, take a look at how proud of yourself you are for defending your right to open space.

Then, make a habit of it.

See you next time!


What I’m playing with now

Sometimes, you must give yourself permission to play. Art becomes not so fun when you have to keep doing the same thing again and again — working hard to meet some external need — like a deadline, due date, quota, etc., and you never have enough available time for free experimentation.

Here are some multi-media experiments with recycled materials I have been engaged with.

Here are some multimedia experiments with recycled materials I have been engaged with.

Every book, workshop, guideline or system for creative types will tell you that you really do need to schedule non-negotiable “play dates” for yourself, and on those dates, just make something with no agenda on it. Doing this on a regular, scheduled basis seems counter intuitive to the “creative muse sweeps in and gives me a genius idea” concept, but it isn’t. You’ll discover that practicing this routine will allow you to access your creativity with ease. Because you’ll be familiar with the sensation of slipping in and out of the creative zone as easily as a dolphin flies and swims in front of a speeding ship. Doing this will put some “creativity bucks” in your bank account and you’ll have them when you need them.
Who doesn’t want that?

In my experience, it is absolutely true that “all work and no play” makes me one unhappy camper. If I make the critical error of cutting out play due to being overburdened with “real work” I get really cranky. When I get cranky, I can’t make work, even when I have to. Even if there is time. Because I end up forcing myself to make work, but what I produce is flat, boring, soulless stuff. I hate that crap — and it makes me want to not work. But I have to. So I sit at my bench and move things around and I can’t seem to finish anything. Sound familiar? Its a vicious circle. Why? No fun. No fun = no energy. Artists are kids. We have to play to get energy. And that means cutting loose.

This is some hand-painted, hand made paper I am encasing in resin.

This is some hand-painted, handmade paper I am encasing in resin and sawing out after it has cured.

I have learned that if you take care of yourself by scheduling play, there is a payoff. Because eventually, you’ll discover that when you do need to crank out work to meet those deadlines, you won’t be so exhausted or demoralized by the endless demands of external — and you will have the energy to get that work done. Which will make you feel a sense of accomplishment, which in turn will make you feel satisfied enough to give yourself permission to play again. End of vicious circle.

On that note, I have been playing in my studio a lot lately. I know I will need energy to teach soon, so I am banking up some creativity bucks — courtesy of regular, scheduled play dates for myself. None of this stuff I am creating has anything to do with anything, except that it’s what I feel like playing with. I am flipping the proverbial bird to those external demands and doing what-I-freaking-feel-like-thank-you-very-much. There’s metal, plastic, wood, paint, fabric, fiber, stone, glass, ceramic and other crazy stuff all over the studio. I have paint under my nails, loud music on the speakers, tools everywhere, books open, piles of inspirational materials next to my rocker and bed, and a big smile on my face. What a nice feeling. And, boy, do I feel smug.

So, go play. It will do you a world of good. Meet you at the jungle gym…


Metal Stamping Part Two

Sorry for the delay on this one, folks. I am a real fan of the phrase “Life Got in the Way of Art” and that applies here… So, hmmm…where were we? Oh yes, Vertical Spacing. Let’s start small and work up.

When it comes to readability, vertical spacing in lettering (including stamped lettering) can make or break you. It’s amazing how a teeny sliver of extra space can make the difference between seeing a word as one recognizable word, or two shorter, somewhat confusing words that were supposed to be one word. Again, this is not too critical for one, single, short, word, because your brain has the ability to process typography and put two and two together, so to speak. For sentences or phrases, clarity is important, so it helps when you are metal stamping to be intentional about spacing between individual letters and also the words. Let’s recall the glossary from part one of this topic: letter spacing is the space between individual letters of a font. Word spacing is the space between words. There are nuances to both.

When you look at the business end of a metal stamp, you’ll notice the raised letter sits relatively in the middle of a big square slug of tool steel — called the shaft of the stamp. Because all metal stamps are manufactured from stock-sized tool steel, a skinny letter i will sit in the middle of the same size steel shaft as a wide letter w. Here is where the smallest unit of vertical spacing comes in.

Here are an a and an i when spaced mechanically and visually.

Here you can see what happens when an a and an i when spaced mechanically vs visually.

There are two choices when using square letter stamps: mechanical positioning or visual positioning. What’s the difference? Mechanical spacing means you use the width of the tool shaft to determine the space of the individual letters. For example, 2mm stamps would be lined up along a base line with 2mm marks. Each letter would sit in a 2mm x 2mm cell. Think graph paper.

Visual spacing means you take the width of the individual letter form into account. An a occupies more space than a thin i, so you scootch the i a little closer to its neighbor before you stamp it. As you can see, that i can be moved over to the left almost half the width of the tool shaft. The point of this is readability. Trust me, you want to go for readability.
Another consideration when you look at letters is that you’ll notice some are friendly neighbors — like w with z, or m with n — they want to be close to each other, and it makes sense to take the extra time to decrease the space between them because it just looks better. Unlike graph paper.

Letter out your phrase. CHECK YOUR SPELLING. Find the center character -- spaces count as one. Circle them.

Letter out your phrase. CHECK YOUR SPELLING. Find the center character — spaces count as one. Circle them.

Now, lets look at vertical spacing blocks of text. Centering is a difficult thing to do for most people, despite the fact that it’s the most common type of text alignment used on jewelry objects. Centered type looks great on round things like pendants or charms. Here’s a handy method for getting well-spaced, centered text.

First, take a scrap of paper and write out your phrase. Then, count the number of letters and spaces in each line. Write them down. With a different color marker or pencil, circle the character that occupies the center of each line. In this example, you’ll see four lines of text. Line one has 9 characters and the k is in the middle at position 5. Next line, 5 characters; e is the center. Next, the space between the two words is in the center, and so on.

Once you have found the center of your text, its a good idea to test-stamp the phrase with the actual stamps you want to use before you go to your real jewelry object. Chill your jets and test it. I promise it will be worth the effort, because any little quirks about your particular stamps will be discovered in the test run, rather than on your sterling. Here’s how to layout your test. Cut a piece of scrap metal roughly the size of your finished object.
Clean it well, sand out the surface, dry it.

Here is a sketch of how I would letter this particular example phrase.

Here is a sketch of how I would letter this particular example phrase.

Use a Sharpie to draw a center line. Then, measure and draw the number of baselines you need for your phrase (If you forgot what baselines are, go back to part one). Start with the first line, using the middle letter. Make sure the stamp is not upside down. Position it on the center of the center line with the baseline at the bottom of the letter. Whack it like you mean it. Once. Take a peek.
Then, finish the rest of the characters on the right side of that letter from the center out. After that, finish all the letters on the left side of the line from the center out. Once you have the entire line stamped, follow the same process with the next line. And so on.

If you want ragged right type, no center line is needed. Start the lines of text at the left, stamp to the right. If you want ragged left, do the opposite. You can also letter on curved baselines, by following the same layout guidelines.

So, that’s the rudimentary lesson on vertical spacing for metal stamping. When you get really good with your particular stamps, you will anticipate where to make letters close to each other (called kerning) when to make letter forms closer to each other in general (called tracking) and when to space words closer together or further apart because of the shapes of the letters in your particular font. Have fun stamping… and check out my Twitter Facebook and Instagram feeds for more metal mayhem.

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