Monday, November 2, 2015

A Peek Into Our Drawers

This month’s Blog Carnival theme is the ever-interesting “Studio Tour”. Peeking into each other’s studios is as close to hard-core porn for artists as it gets.  We’ve shown our studio several times on these pages, so this time around we’re going to dive in a little deeper and show you some of the nooks and crannies. We didn’t know you were coming over so we didn’t clean anything up (as if we would). Showing large pics of the studio rooms often generate questions like  “what’s that thing in the corner’, or  “what’s in all those drawers”. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Not discussed very often is the investment artists have made in the tools and equipment for their studios. Jewelry artists, in particular, get questioned all the time about the cost of the items they make. Part of the answer is that there is usually a small fortune in specialized tools used to make that little gem you are holding.  

Bench Tools

Speaking of which, here is a corner of one of our fabrication benches. This photo shows a small selection of the pliers, cutters and other specialized tools used for up close and personal work. Many of the tools shown here have been modified in one way or another to suit our personal working preferences. Customizing tools is common practice among jewelers and metalsmiths when we don’t make our tools outright.  

Tool storage is a major consideration in every studio. As a result, we have made pegboard into a religion. It covers every square inch of practicable studio surface. Anything that can be hung on a peg is.

Peg Boards

The Holy Grail in a studio is bench space. The goal is to get as much stuff off the bench top as possible, leaving room for working space and the larger pieces of equipment. Drill presses, machine tools, and grinders eat up bench space.

Larger floor equipment poses a challenge related to power supply, ventilation and safety issues, such as this metal cutting band saw. For our metalsmith friends, this is wood band saw that has been re-geared for metal cutting. It has some other pimped out features that make it a metal cutting workhorse. We’ll do a future blog post on how to make one of your own.


Sometimes the challenge is simply floor space for the equipment and workspace around it for practical use.  This stake set and wire rack are good examples.
Stake set

Wire Rack

Now, what’s in all those drawers?  A lot.  We could easily fill several blog posts on just the drawers. Here are three at random.

Disc cutting tools


Dapping, Swaging, Punching

We hope you’ve enjoyed a closer look at our studio. Now if you’ll excuse us were going to go nose around in the studios of a few of our Etsymetal friends. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

How Has Your Work Evolved

We have been asked, "how has your work evolved", many times throughout our careers. Despite our previous tome on politically correct artistic influence, the real answer is that all artists are guided on a daily basis by a wide variety of internal and external influences. This rarely results in a straight linear path in the evolution of the creative output. 

This question of "evolution" is often confused with the artist's refinement of a particular technique. 
The resulting answer usually amounts to, "I started painting squares and circles and I wasn't too good at it. Now I paint squares and circles with great precision."

In our case the "technique" is experimentation, collaboration and hybridization. 
Here's the executive summary for those of you who are in a hurry: A long time ago we started experimenting and collaborating and creating work with a hybrid of materials and techniques. We weren't to good at it. Now we're much better at it. 

We’ve been making jewelry as part of the output of our design studio since 1972. It was a very small part in those days. In 1989, we decided to focus the studio much more on jewelry. This shift was a reaction to the then growing art jewelry movement. All of a sudden jewelry design became the creative Wild West. Traditional concepts of jewelry and adornment were being challenged. Bold experimentation with materials and techniques was expected. This environment suited us just fine.

We came to this new movement well armed with over a decade of formal art training and a broad experience with a wide range of materials from the studio’s industrial design practice.  The studio was also heavily involved with the mining, gem and mineral trade at the time. A significant part of our output was lapidary work with an emphasis on commesso (intarsia) techniques.

This jelly fish design was typical of the type of work the studio was producing in the late 1980s. We often worked with plant and sea life forms using a fair amount of custom cut gem material.

In tandem with the more experimental work, the studio still produced a regular stream of more conventional products such as this ring with custom cut tourmalines. This was mainly an acknowledgment that we wanted to keep eating.  During this period, we were also mining almost all of the gem and mineral material used in our work

By the early 1990s, we had developed a purist aesthetic that relied almost exclusively on stone with little to no metal. This approach won considerable critical acclaim but proved to be too advanced for the public taste. Many people simply did not understand why there was no silver or gold in the pieces.

This reaction led us reluctantly back to using more metals. To satisfy ourselves we decided to play more with unconventional compositions and materials. During this period, we made considerable strides in mixing metals, plastic, wood, stone and resin into the designs.

The experimentation we were doing with materials also exposed us to a growing list of metal specific techniques. By the mid-1990s, we had expanded our metal repertoire far beyond using a single metal. During this period, we produced a considerable body of work using everything from marriage metal, keum bo, mokume game and Damascus.

By 1998, our reputation for working with a wide variety of odd materials was well known. Because of this, we were approached by the Mitsubishi Corporation to develop jewelry applications for a new laboratory-grown opal product that they were introducing to the US market. This ring is one of the promotional prototypes produced for that program.

During the early 2000’s the studio output was both flamboyant and restrained. These dual paths served both our creative needs and the demands of the marketplace.

By mid-decade, we had arrived at a middle ground and were producing lines that featured a highly eclectic blend of materials in a somewhat standardized context such as this bracelet. The form of the bracelet allowed us to mix a highly varied range of materials into each segment.

Throughout this period of focusing on jewelry, we continued to produce small sculptures and functional objects. These objects, such as this martini glass, exhibited a considerable overlap of the jewelry and metal working techniques we had been developing.

At this time, we were also very interested in using completely non-jewelry related industrial materials in our work. Electronic and computer components featured prominently in our work from this period.

It was during this period of working with industrial materials that we discovered polymer clay. This material proved to a transformative intersection in our work. Early polymer work used the material as a counterpoint in traditional compositions.

As we progressed, the work became bolder, and the polymer began to stand on its own as the main element of the work.

In parallel to polymer clay, we are also currently re-examining ancient metal working techniques, specifically from Asia and the Middle East.  These ancient techniques are being melded with modern technologies and materials such as micro pulse arc welding and polymer clay to create a hybrid style.


Blog Carnival is a monthly exercise by the members of the Association of International Metalsmiths.
Volunteer members post their own perspectives on a common theme, giving the reader a view into the minds and lives of how artists from around the world relate to the same topic. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The politically correct guide to artistic influence.

Welcome to another installment of Blog Carnival, where an International group of artists gangs up on a singular idea for your amusement and edification. This month we probe the depths of artistic influence.

Many of our creative compadres will muse about Nature and long walks on the beach, and all myriad other things that influence their art.  We, on the other hand, create in a vacuum. We are influenced by Nothing.

Thus, we never assimilate an idea from another artist, living or dead. We are wholly original and create totally new forms, concepts, colors and designs that have never been seen on planet earth before.

We are deaf, dumb and blind to history, other cultures and other avenues of artistic expression. We never employ any creative element or idea that is from another peoples or place. Even though we have traveled the world, we see nothing, retain nothing, employ nothing.

We are like sieves, our lives flowing freely through us, while we are aware of only the correct and appropriate experiences to our race, color, creed, religious and sexual preference. We fully respect that others of our race, color creed, religious and sexual experiences could have had similar experience before us, and thus have a prior claim on artistic influence. We have purged all memory of our lives from our art.

We don’t “borrow” from nature. After all, this is just another form of theft. We refuse to perpetuate the exploitation of nature for the arts. Nor do we unconsciously steal ideas from other forms of creative expression such as music, writing, vegan cooking or reality TV. Our art is honestly created from nothing.

We have undergone extensive formal training in the arts. Proudly, our many instructors and mentors have had absolutely no influence whatsoever on us. We have never explored any of their ideas or followed along any of the paths they have been on. Nor have we shared with others what was taught to us.

We take the high road and remain pure unto ourselves. We’re creators, not haters.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Favorite Things

This month’s Blog Carnival** is “Favorite Things”. The actual mandate was only to show photos of some of your favorite things. Which immediately put us in touch with our very most favorite thing – breaking the rules.

As we were scurrying about on this assignment trying to determine “favorite” things, it turns out that our favorite “things” aren’t things at all. It’s the meaning and memory attached to the things and what they represent in terms the intersection of our lives and the lives of others.

Everything we surround ourselves with has a story behind it. The banalest objects often represent a deeply felt moment in time. It is these moments that define us as people; the “things” are just the footprints of the journey we are on.  Come by for coffee some time and we will tell you the full story, but for now here is a synopsis.

Cookie Jar
Belonged to Corliss’ mother. Corliss’ nickname as a child was “Cookie”  for her propensity of sneaking cookies from this jar.

Cow Jumping Over the Moon
The first thing I did to modify our house when we bought it in 1982 was to make this window.  It was (and still is)  an expression of our attitude toward life in general.

Frog Soap Dish
A birthday gift from Corliss. All couples have pet names and inside jokes between themselves. Frogs are one of ours.

Brass Die
This is a custom die that was used to make a commemorative bookmarking the completion of the Pertamina Oil Refinery in Jakarta Indonesia, at the time the largest refinery in Indonesia. The die was presented to us as a special gift and acknowledgment of the work we did on the project.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle
This is a natural history specimen that we were given in payment for work done for a very old and prominent California family. The family is a member of a very select group referred to as “pioneers” families. These were early settlers to the territory during the time California was owned by the King of Spain. This specimen was collected by a family member circa 1840 prior to the American Civil War.

Micro-Deburring Tool
This list would not be complete without at least one tool, in this case, one of my own invention.  It works like a champ for deburring small jewelry sized holes, and I use it constantly.

L’Art Statue
I love the stylized naiveté of this piece. It serves as a reminder of how far our perspective on art and its intent has shifted in the last 100 years.

Pan Flute
I approach our entire house as one big art project that I have been working on for the last 33 years. It is a reaction to the often sterile interiors I encounter in modern architecture and a conscious attempt to encrust the entire interior surface of the house with art and decoration. In this case, the space under the kitchen sink. The project will never be finished.


A trifecta of meaning - a gift from Corliss, an allusion to yet another inside joke, and an acknowledgment of a remark we have heard from visitors to our home.  “Looks like a cross between the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Addam’s Family house.” Yep.

Balinese Wood Carving
A masterwork of Balinese wood carving acquired from a prominent California collector who needed to “clear some space”. These folks were only slightly ahead of us on the way to encrusting the entire interior surface of their home and were quite happy to help us out with our project. 

Cast Iron Skillet
Passed to Corliss from her grandmother, it has been in constant use for at least three generations. Not many things made today will ever be able to say as much.

** Blog Carnival is a collective ongoing project of EtsyMetal Team, an international group of metalsmiths and jewelry designers. Each month, members share their perspective on a common topic, giving you the reader a comparative view into the creative mind.