Friday, October 15, 2010

How did I get here?

It's time for the Handmade Division's Talk About. Each month members blog about a given topic. This month's topic question is: Tell us about yourself - how did you get to where you are now with your skills?

My path toward metalsmithing and jewelry making began in a roundabout way while I was a grad student, studying medieval literature. I loved the program and the literature, but was not certain that I'd enjoy a career in academia. One day I happened to visit a fun little rubber stamp store and signed up for their mailing list. A fellow shopper noticed my handwriting on the sign up sheet and asked if I had ever taken calligraphy classes. I hadn't, but the idea intrigued me. She recommended a fantastic calligrapher/instructor in the area. I took some time off from grad school while trying to make a decision about my future, and meanwhile signed up for a calligraphy class. I loved it and pursued additional calligraphy classes. It was fascinating to learn traditional illumination in one of the calligraphy classes, having studied illuminated manuscripts in grad school.

For quite a few years since becoming a calligrapher, I've been fortunate to participate in a monthly artistic exchange with nine talented calligraphers from across the US and Canada. In 2006, I experimented with etching my calligraphy into metal for our monthly swap and from there I became interested in metalsmithing. Meanwhile, I had envisioned and search for a piece of meaningful jewelry but never quite found what I had in mind. It occurred to me that perhaps I could make what I had envisioned, and that's when I began making jewelry. I am primarily self taught, but early on I began to wonder about "proper" technique and if I was going about it all in the right way. I had learned while studying calligraphy how important it is to learn correct technique from the start since it can be difficult to unlearn poor habits. I enrolled in a metalsmithing class but it was terribly disappointing. More than once I drove well over an hour to this class only to learn when I arrived that the instructor had canceled class with no notice. There was no new information, and some of what was taught was actually incorrect. I regretted wasting the time and money on that class. From there I continued learning on my own but with the help of some fantastic DVD resources, such as Alan Revere's Goldsmithing DVD series, in addition to a collection of fantastic books. I dream of one day taking classes at the Revere Academy or Penland School of Crafts, but for now I continue to experiment on my own and work to expand my skill set.

Here are a few glimpes of my earliest pieces:

My first etching experiment in copper:

My first piece of jewelry, a hand carved ring:

My first etched jewelry piece:

I often wish I could thank the woman I encountered in the rubber stamp store, for had I not fallen in love with calligraphy, I would not have discovered a passion for metalsmithing or combined these two skills. Perhaps she will read this post and recognize herself.

Be sure to check out other members' blogs to read their thoughts on this topic:

Andes Cruz -
Tess Norberg -
Jaime Pickering -

Purified -
Nancy Dale -
Jewelry by Natsuko -
Sand Fibers -
Alice Istanbul -
Thomasin Durgin -
Susan Moloney -
Beth Cyr -
Emily Watson-
Tosca Teran-

Tamra Gentry -
JJ Papke-
Alisa Miller-
Mary Spencer-