Tag Archives: Jewelry Making

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.


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!


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 Your Jewelry: Part One

Metal Stamping is hugely popular these days, and I get lots of questions about it — particularly about stamping straight and spacing letters. To understand how to nicely stamp words and phrases, it’s critical to understand a little bit about typography. As a former graphics professional, typography and letter forms are near and dear to my heart, so here is an easy primer on the gentle art of typography for non-graphic designers.

First, a glossary is in order — just so we can speak the same language:
A font, or a typeface, is an alphabet of a specific design. All of the letter forms, numerals, symbols and ligatures of a particular font will be similar in appearance, match in size, weight and style, and they will work well together when combined into words, sentences, and paragraphs.
There are font families: Modern, Egyptian, Script, Roman, Gothic, etc.
There are font weights: Light, Medium, Bold, Extra Bold, etc.
There are two major types of letter forms: uppercase (capital letters; all-caps) and lowercase (non-capital letters).

Luckily, today’s metal stamp sets typically consist of one letter form, so the real complexities of typesetting are easily dealt with. Some fonts can be purchased as two individual sets: uppercase letters or lowercase letters. Either way, some essential measurements you’ll need to know about your particular letter stamps are detailed here. I know math and art make an unhappy marriage sometimes, but there are places where you’ll need it, and sorry, this is one of them.

The total height of the font includes the ascenders and descenders.

The total height of the font includes the ascenders and descenders.

In today’s blog, I will deal with just horizontal measurements. Stay tuned for Part Two: Vertical Measurements where I’ll be including samples, too.
OK, ready? Let’s start!

Capital letters of a font live in the space somewhere between the highest point of the ascenders (b, d, f, h, k, l) and the lowest point of the descenders (g, j, p, q, y). Some script fonts include flourishes and swashes that sweep into that space as well. The pink highlight in these diagrams, or, total height of the font, can usually but not always, be determined by measuring the shaft of the actual metal stamp. This measurement is critical to know if you are stamping blocks of text, but not so critical if you are stamping just one word.

Without getting too picky, there are also some special considerations for specific round letters — O, Q, G and C — which just look much better when they sit below the baseline a bit instead of on it, but I’ll save that for later.

Anyway, that baseline is the most important line you’ll need to know for well-spaced stamped lettering. It is used for lining up the bottoms of the letters, and measuring the “x-height” of your font is how you’ll find the baseline. See the green highlighted x in my diagrams? Those lines that mark the top and the bottom of the x are the font’s x-height. The bottom line is the baseline. This is true even if you choose an all-caps font. For a lowercase font, it’s obvious. So, take a scrap of metal, whack your x stamp and then measure the stamped x with dividers — so you know what that measurement is for the particular font you have decided to stamp with.
Here’s a diagram with a closer look…

The X height is the most-needed measurement of any typeface -- be it upper or lower case.

The x-height is the most-needed measurement of any typeface — be it upper or lower case.

So, once you know the total depth of the font and the x-height, you are ready to layout your horizontal guidelines, or grid. This is especially important for blocks of text, and again, not too important for single words. But, I suggest always working on an actual-size piece of tissue paper first, and hand lettering the layout for spacing, and then making a test run of your phrase on scrap metal. with the actual stamps you intend to use. Only then should you commit to your piece. In my mind, it’s worth taking the time to test things, because a poorly stamped text block can really ruin your day, not to mention your metal, so don’t go there.
To create the guidelines on your tracing paper, tape it to the table, and use a T-Square to draw parallel lines at all of these points: the top line, the base line, the bottom line, and the space between each line of stamping.
Here is a closer look at that…

Spacing guidelines for metal stamping must include these measurements.

The horizontal spacing guidelines, or “grid” for metal stamping must include each of these measurements.

I like to use the x-height as my line spacing, but you can also use more or less, depending on the style, size and complexity of your font. Again, making a test run (or several of them) is a good idea, especially with complex blocks of text. You did want people to be able to read it, right?
Next blog, I’ll address the vertical guidelines, so get yourself some letter stamps, a scrap of metal and write out a phrase to practice with. I have lots of tips to share with you, so hang tight… I will be back soon.

Pssst: Thank you, you intrepid souls who are following me on Instagram! It’s super-fun playing I Spy with you.

If this is a mystery to you, click on the photo under the photo of my book at upper right of this blog, join Instagram, and play along. And, if you have patience, wait. I’ll be producing a limited-edition instructional kit of the mystery project I’ve been making on Instagram for sale, in my soon-to-open Etsy Store… In the meantime, follow me here:

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