This Artist’s Life

7 Apr

Creating and designing isn’t easy.

At least, it isn’t for me.

I create and design organically and on-the-fly.  I have a concept and a basic idea, I have chosen the materials I want to work with, but I can’t sit down and sketch it out on a piece of paper and then one, two, three, here’s a finished piece that looks exactly like the drawing.

No, I struggle.  I make, unmake, and make again.  Sometimes three or four times until I’m satisfied.  This usually means I run through a lot of materials that can’t be salvaged and have to use new, and it always means time, time, time.

When you are buying something that is handmade, often the greater part of the cost of the item is not the materials but the labor.  Even pros admit this.  When they’re making a new design, they do it in a cheaper metal first, with cheap stones.  They say they can whackadoddle screw up a piece just like anybody else and they don’t want to scrap precious metals and gemstones any more than I do.

That makes me feel a bit better.  And sometimes I suspect, when I see those “sketches,” that they were made after the fact, a record so the artist could make duplicates.

So you can get an idea of how this process works for me, take a look at this ring:

I’ve worked a lot with my stash of glass cabochon peacock eyes lately, and I wanted to pair one with a real peacock feather.  My basic idea was a ring and the concept was that the feather would fan out over the back of the wearer’s hand.  I hadn’t worked with my brass filigree for a while, so I started there.

I set the eye in a low rim brass bezel and then wrapped it in a round filigree that I had to cut 1″ slices into to form “petals” that I could pull up and over the rim of the eye, and then curl out.  Cutting the filigree wasn’t fun.  It was a nice, sturdy piece and put up a fight.  When I finished the wrapping, the base (where the slice cuts ended) was very jagged and not round, and the petals would not stay in place.  I worked for hours with different pliers to flatten and roll the jagged base smooth, and finally resorted to wrapping a piece of wire right under the petals to keep them in place.

I used another piece of filigree to make the ring shank and began to figure out how I was going to mount two components on one ring:  the feather and the wrapped eye.  I finally decided that the feather would be mounted on the underside of the ring and the eye on the top where settings usually are mounted.  I wired the eye in place and clipped the eye off a peacock feather.

Now, a peacock eye has a lot going on.  There is an iridescent blue pupil surrounded by a small band of green that is then encircled by a wide band of iridescent brown and two more thin bands of two shades of green.  Above that, greyish “eyelashes” go every which way, curling and waving about.  And the barbs (each one of those delicate “hairs” coming out from the shaft of the feather) don’t point up except at the very tip; they point out.  So I had to strip off a lot of barbs until I reached a point where I could get the remaining barbs to point up.  Then I had to deal with those pesky “eyelashes,” so I trimmed along the outermost green ring and glued the feather into place.  Where it promptly spread out.  I couldn’t strip off the offending barbs because they were securely glued, so I trimmed them along the edge of the blue iris.  Not pretty.  Also not comfortable.  So I glued a low rim brass bezel over the feather on the inside of the ring to protect the feather and make the inside smooth.  Then a section in the barbs split and would not knit back together (the reason they’re called barbs is because each little “hair” has hair-like barbs on it that grab the barbs of the “hair” next to it, creating the smooth, unbroken surface of the feather), creating an unsightly gap.

The ring is like a rock, it’s so heavy.  When I put it on my hand, the split in the feather heals and it doesn’t look too bad, but it can’t be sold.

So after a week of struggle, I let it sit while my brain digested what it had learned.  And then I made another peacock feather with glass peacock eye:

The feather is mounted on the outside, sitting inside a piece of filigree so it won’t get damaged, and the eye is in a much lighter setting.  This ring didn’t whip up one, two, three, because getting filigree to curl and bend and do exactly what you want is a tedious task, but it was much more enjoyable creating this ring than the first.  And this one is for sale.

Maybe this artist’s life ain’t all that bad.

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