Tag Archives: The Jewelry Maker’s Field Guide: Tools and Essential Techniques

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.

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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.


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!


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!


I’m watching you…

This is a test. I have decided to experiment with Google Analytics, just to see what kind of traffic my blog generates in relation to: projects I have participated in creating, classes I am teaching, books I have written and other things…

So, if you’d like to play, and perhaps earn me a bonus at work, check out these links:

My Metalsmith Essentials Basic Fabrication DVD can be found here:
http://www.interweavestore.com/metalsmith-essentials-basic-fabrication-dvd?utm_source=interweave.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=iw-hda-bl-150421-11BD08

My Metalsmith Essentials Riveting and Cold Connections DVD can be found here:

http://www.interweavestore.com/metalsmith-essentials-riveting-cold-connections?utm_source=interweave.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=iw-hda-bl-150421-11BD12

My Jewelry Maker’s Field Guide Book:

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Thanks for playing…


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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