Tag Archives: Drawing

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!



Thanks for asking!

I live for questions. Not only do I love to ask them, but as a teacher, I live to answer them. A favorite time of my son’s childhood was when he started to ask me those really complex and profound questions of life, and in my career as a newspaper artist, each day I practically begged for any opportunity to produce a “How” graphic — because I am the kind of person that needs to explain concepts with diagrams and sketches. Many of you it seems are also members of this tribe — we need to show and see to understand something fully. So, this week I have decided to answer an interesting question I received about my book. Here is the email that started it:

Hi Helen!
Have been enjoying The Jewelry Maker’s Field Guide!  On page 129 you mention a tip for cuff bracelets being wider than 1”… I cannot picture what you are meaning by the narrow “V” that conforms to a taper…you wouldn’t happen to have a photo…(guess I’m a visual learner!)
Thanks in advance!  ~Tamra S. Kriedeman 

What a great question!

Helen Driggs

Narrow cuffs don’t need to be tapered.

And yes I would love to show you the answer. The important thing to remember about bracelets and rings and any jewelry object that encircles the body is this: The wider they are, the more consideration must be paid to comfort — because for the most part, human limbs and digits are not really shaped like sausages (I can hear those eyeballs rolling and some snide remarks from the mid-life female members of my readership). The wider a ring band is, the more it must be sized up to allow for knuckle clearance and tapering of the finger joint. For cuffs, it is the same. To prove it, use a tape measure on your wrist at the place just above the wrist bone and then again a few inches up from there on your arm. See? For a wide cuff to be comfortable, you should taper it. Here are two sketches that show this concept, because I told you I have to explain things with drawings.

Helen Driggs

Wider cuffs are more comfortable when tapered.

Luckily, bracelet mandrels are typically tapered just for this reason. On a wide cuff, you won’t need to flip the bracelet around and remove the taper — you’ll want to preserve it, both for the comfort of the wearer, and for the metal too! Here’s why — a bracelet without a taper is more likely to be stressed and work-hardened more and more by the wearer as she struggles to get it on and off her wrist. That means cracking or fracture lines, or creases or bends, so do yourself, and the wearer a favor, and allow for the taper of the wrist. And, it goes without saying, that depending on the design of your cuff, a plain, ordinary rectangular blank of metal might not do the trick — you might have to cut out a wedge-shaped blank instead. To figure out your pattern, tape a sheet of paper around the mandrel and draw the shape of the cuff you’d like to make in the round. Then, untape and flatten the sheet of paper to use it as a pattern to cut out your metal.

More good news

• In honor of Tamra’s great question, and for those of you interested in the book, IWP is running a terrific “Friends & Family Sale” for the holiday shopping season. If you’d like to order a copy of my book, use code FFDEC25 and recieve a 25% discount! So, Happy Holidays! Here’s the link:

• And, to thank Tamra for her great question, and to see her work, click:


How do you make jewelry?

I started my artistic career as an illustrator. I can draw very well, and I used to make my paycheck by making drawings. Thanks to a changing market, the demand for good, old-fashioned hand drawn art has diminshed. But, that didn’t stop me from wanting to draw, and I still use drawing as a way to explore and explain my artistic point of view.

Here is a page from my sketchbook for a series of pieces I am working on this year.

When I make jewelry, an idea usually comes first.  Ideas often pop up when my mind is engaged elsewhere. Once I toy with the idea in my mind for awhile, the next thing I do is start to draw around it. I will make lines, explore forms, textures, dimension, color, space and movement. I will explore other things related to the idea at the same time, so my mind may know the topic well. Once I am confident the idea is sound, I will start the hunt for materials relevant to the idea.

I will then begin to toy with the materials I have

I have begun to gather these materials together in a “job jacket” because I intend to take my sketch to a finished work.

chosen to create the object in the same way I toyed with the idea in my mind. I will cut or texture metal and stone and search for meaning and “rightness.” Once I feel that I have a solid plan, I will go forward and make that object. Sometimes, this process takes months. Sometimes, I’ll abandon an idea after toying with materials, because I am no longer interested in the idea enough to take the time, or make the investment in the materials needed to make the object. Often 3 or 4 ideas are all swimming together on my bench and in my mind. I am always thinking about my work.

Some of my friends work very differently from me. One very good friend has 10 or 12 things going all at once. Another friend works from start to finish on a piece in 1 or 2 sessions. Some design around an existing stone. Others cut a stone and regard the metalwork as a frame for the stone. Thankfully, there is room in the world for everyone’s way of making, and for every artist there is a different way of seeing. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Todays tip: I gather small plastic take out trays with lids to serve as “job jackets” for pieces I am thinking of. As I cut stones or texture metal, I put those tests in the job box until I am ready to make the piece. Then, when I have a block of time in the studio, I don’t have to search for something — it is all right there together.

I’m a Metalsmith and I Like to Draw

I am an obsessive doodler. I start with geometrics if I am blocked. The act of mark-making usually jump starts my brain.

Drawing comes naturally to everyone. I know many of you will say you say you can’t draw — you are wrong. Remember those drawings you made in elementary school on manilla paper, sidewalks and your mother’s dining room wall? You can draw. It has just been beaten out of you through harsh criticism, mistaken ideas of “good” or “bad” art, and you forgetting that the act of making a mark is a basic human drive. Cave paintings prove this out. Drawing will help your metalwork, and remember that you can draw. But, you have to follow these rules:

Get a black permanent marker. Use white paper. Draw on it. Do not think, just draw. Do not throw your drawing away. If you can’t bear looking at it, file it in a drawer and look at it in a few weeks. If you can’t decide where to start, draw a square and decorate it. Then, draw another, and another until the page is full. Do this every day. Soon, you will look forward to drawing, and you will sketch out your metalwork ideas before you touch metal. Trust me, with the price of metal, this is a more economical way to work things out.

Todays tip: Use PH down instead of commercial pickle. I buy mine at the end of season pool supply sale for 50% off at my local big box store. Mix about 1/4 cup to a quart of water in your crock pot.