Commissions–to take them or not is a question many artists have to figure out for themselves. About ten years ago the parents of a friend of mine were celebrating a big anniversary and they wanted new wedding bands. They came to me to make them. I was flattered and scared. The rings turned out well and they have been worn everyday for the past decade. My friends’ father is a woodworker, gardener, golfer and has worked hard while wearing a fine silver ring…so you can guess that it has been pretty beaten up. It was flattened and reshaped at one point which work-hardened a few spots. Over time these spots weakened. He asked if I could solder the opening. I figured it would be much better to remake the ring in a stronger sterling silver metal clay. So here I am with a ring I made over a decade ago–and I need to remake it– “Exactly the same. The fit and shape are perfect.” (Pictured is the old ring and the old texture plate.)
The first thing I had to do was find the texture sheet I used over a decade ago….in another studio! My studio moved from a shop I had downtown to my garage–then was cleaned out last summer. Oy! I remember finding the old texture sheets and tossing them. But did I toss them in a “maybe I’ll teach metal clay again someday bin” or in the garbage? It took me a few hours to find them…but I had them. Whew! “Exactly the same” rang in my head! So here we go…I documented remaking this simple ring band so that you can follow along.
I was introduced to the work of Canadian artist Véronique Roy by Jeannette Froese LeBlanc and as soon as I saw her pieces, I knew this would be an interesting article. There is a simplicity and purity about her work that is so attractive, I really looked forward to learning more about her. Veronique was brought up in Montreal and now lives in a small village in the Laurentians which is a mountainous region in Québec, Canada.
“I consider myself as a creator, a maker and a jeweller. Also a businesswoman!” she told me. Her studio even has a name! “I work from a small workshop on the edge of the forest, in my backyard. To get there, I have to cross a little stream that runs through the land. The workshop was built three years ago, with the help of my friends. As my work was encroaching too much on the living space of the house, it was time for a change and to have an exclusive space for Brelokz (the name of my studio).” How cute is this snowy little house, like something out of a fairy tale?
Véronique has always valued her creative side. “Creativity has always accompanied me in how I see life. When I look at things, my eyes capture details that can escape others at a first glance,” she says. “From the beginning, I felt that metal clay would play a central role in my professional development.” I asked her about her first experience with metal clay. “I discovered metal clay almost six years ago. I attended a training course to learn basic silver clay techniques. I immediately fell in love with this somewhat capricious material which allows working in so many different ways. I remember that my first piece (a pendant) was not at all to my taste, but it was a model that was required for certification in the course.”
I find the organic nature of Véronique’s work really aesthetically pleasing. “My creative process can find its initial spark anywhere! Ideas can germinate without my noticing it. Sometimes when I am taking a walk in the forest, or even when I am reading a newspaper article,” she explained. “Nature is my primary source of inspiration. Besides living in a small village in the countryside surrounded by mountains, I also have a personal interest and a formation in herbalism. These played an important role in paving the way to create jewellery from nature’s textures. One day, I was tending to my garden, and saw a tomato leaf wrapped around my finger, which brought a clear image of a leaf ring! Step by step, I started using leaves for my pieces. The four leaf rings are the first pieces that defined my artistic process. I consider them as the basic image that represents my collections. They capture the essence of nature. Simply.”
“Initially, I started with medicinal plants thanks to the influence of my herbalist background. Then, I started looking for plant textures suitable for the material. Gradually, I evolved towards other materials, always keeping contact with my initial source of inspiration. Honeycombs found their way to my heart and imagination. Oak bark and coral were to follow. I use the materials as simple and pure as possible, without too much transformation, in order to preserve their primary nature. As a result, the essence of nature is captured in metal, eternally.
I asked Véronique about her creative process. “When the idea is there, I have to find the source material, and usually make it into a mold. As I only work from organic textures, I have to preserve them to be able to work with them even in winter, when they are buried deep in snow. After the mold is ready, I experiment, try, and test. As soon as I find the form and the finish that I wish to bring out, I go for it. Thus a new collection starts to see the day; quite simply. The process rarely involves designs or notes, but is mainly created in my mind and by taking action. This is also similar to how I live my life. If I have an idea, I have to put it into action as quickly as possible; otherwise, the idea loses its breath and lustre. Living with the passion of the moment!”
Véronique likes to keep her creative process somewhat separate from the rest of her life. “I am in the workshop to for the creation process, whereas I have an office at home for complementary processes such as packing online orders for mail,” she explained. “The workshop is the place where magic takes place, and each piece is created from A to Z. While I try to keep regular weekday work hours, in the period of exhibitions (about 15 shows a year) I usually work double time! You can call me someone organised in chaos, which is clearly reflected in my workspace. Forget the Pinterest image of a well decorated workshop, mine is quite far away from that. I make a big clean-up three times a year (!!!)”
I asked Véronique to describe her style. “I like to follow trends from a safe distance as I don’t like them to influence my work. Trends come and go, changing in the blink of an eye, and sometimes enjoying rebirth after many years; whereas I prefer to create by remaining true to myself; thus my pieces remain timeless. I consider my style to be timeless, organic, and even pagan to a degree! Simplicity and beauty of nature is reflected on each piece.”
Véronique uses several other techniques in the production of her work in addition to metal clay. “I make my own earring hooks and rings. I recently started collaborating with a company where I have some of my pieces cast in .925 Sterling Silver. This new way of working allows me to give more time for the creative process while somewhat cutting down on the time required for production. A few pieces of my Oak Bark collection will also be offered in gold as of 2016 summer, thanks to a jeweller working with traditional techniques who helped to open a door for a new path!”
I asked Véronique what she does to relax. “Travel, discovering new places, new faces,” she began. “Last year, I had the chance to visit Costa-Rica. This summer, I intend to visit Turkey, and I dream about visiting Spain next year. This, for me, is a way to open the gates for inspiration and restoring the energy that is somewhat depleted come spring (winters are long in Québec). Therefore, I prepare my backpack and hit the road. I also like to read and go to music shows.” I asked her if she wore her own jewellery when she is travelling, or even day to day. “I love jewellery, I create them, but I only wear small bronze studs,” she laughed.
So where does Véronique see herself going with her jewellery creation? “I would simply like to continue finding inspiration,” she said. “Sometimes, around the month of January, I feel like the well is dried up and I will never have any more ideas! It is winter. The high season of shows has just ended, the excitement has waned, and I feel the need to think about the spring and new collection ideas. I ask myself whether I will be able to find new ideas, and continued inspiration is what I wish with all my heart!” She sells her work in several places. “I sell online, through my Etsy shop. My creations can also be found in several stores that sell works of Canadian creators. And I sell in exhibitions all over Québec and Ontario. I believe that by participating in shows throughout Québec and Ontario, I help demystify this material in the eyes of the public and traditional jewelers. I hope to continue doing this and presenting my creations while introducing the material so that one day people will get to know it better. I see myself continuing to work with this material as long as I have fun doing it, because, above all, it is the pleasure that keeps the passion going!” Absolutely!
Finally, I asked Véronique what she is currently working on. “At present, I am working on my Oak Bark collection as well as a small series of jewellery created from Lilac twigs.”
It was such a pleasure to spend a little time getting to know Véronique and I look forward to seeing her new work in the years to come. To find out more about Véronique, visit her here… www.brelokz.comwww.facebook.com/Brelokz.Bijoux
JULIA RAI is a teacher, writer and artist working in a variety of media. She is the director of the Metal Clay Academy and runs the Cornwall School of Art, Craft and Jewellery. She finds inspiration in science fiction and fantasy and loves a good story where disbelief can be suspended in favour of wonder. Her practical and ultra-organised side is always vyingfor attention alongside her creative and messy side. Each is trying hard to learn from the other and live in harmony.
One night I tossed and turned in bed, sore…so sore. I started think about my day and to try to diagnose the causes for my pains. My hands hurt. That is easy to figure out…I work with my hands. While I’ve had TWO carpel tunnel surgeries, my hands and wrists still hurt and still go numb. I found this article about exercises for hands. It reminded me that my hands and wrists would benefit from stretching and flexing exercises. I am trying several of their suggested exercises in the morning before I get out of bed.
My back and neck hurt too. “Oy! The pain in my neck and back are killing me.” Okay, maybe a little dramatic. I was complaining to a friend who figured that my bench is too high. I made my bench…it’s a Franken bench—and in theory it would be easy to cut some off the 2×4 legs. Having tried this in the past and unsuccessfully cut each leg the same… I’m looking into a higher chair or a chair that adjusts better. My studio chair was a road side find…so I’m sure there are better chairs to be found.
My body also hurts due to decisions I made while in my twenties such as jumping out of “perfectly good planes” with a parachute in the army. I have aches and pains that make sitting for long periods impossible. To compensate I’ve learned to do many tasks standing up. I added a rubber gym mat where I stand to work, that helped. And I added more lights—this may sound strange but more lighting improved my posture! I wasn’t working at weird angles to get the best light.
Where I store my tools is also important to help keep my body happy. I have a small studio and so I take advantage of all and any areas for storage. Under my bench I put a set of drawers. I added wheels and some pegboard to the side. The idea was that I could pull it out of the way while using the bench and it would provide handy storage. That is the theory. In practice–I haven’t the room to pull it out, so I work squished to the left of the bench, the tools on the peg board are hard to get. (Don’t ask me how many times I’ve dinged my head on my bench pin as I bent over and down to get a tool!) Having tools handy is obviously important. I think I’ve held on to this “system” too long and despite the time I spent building it and painting…it has to go.
I hope I’ve started you thinking about where you work and how you work. For further reading, I recommend this paper that was presented at the 2010 Sante Fe Symposium on the topic of studio ergonomics for jewellers. In the article, the authors show many examples of solutions from jewellery studios.
Jeannette Froese LeBlanc is the editor at Cre8tiveFire.com and a jewellery artist. She is definitely “A glass 1/2 full kind of person”. She has learned to enjoy the journey and not solely focus on the destination, which is something her kids taught her. Look down, look around, enjoy where you are.
I always have loved jugs and I have a much-loved collection of milk jugs in all shapes and sizes. It was natural that I should want to make miniature jugs in pure silver! The project instructions will make a jug about ½” (13mm) high,which is equivalent to 6” (15cm) tall in the standard dollhouse scale of 1:12. These little jugs also look wonderful hanging on a charm bracelet.
The secret to sculpting small miniatures in metal clay is to make the rough shape of the object in fresh clay, dry it, and then refine the shape with sanding, repairing imperfections with paste as necessary.
Patrik Kusek placed 2nd in this years Saul Bell Design Award in the Metal Clay Category. I had a chance to ask him a few questions about his piece and his studio work.
Creative Fire: Can you tell us about the inspiration for your Saul Bell Design Award winning piece?
Patrik Kusek: The piece if part of an ongoing series of work that deals with my mother’s dementia. Molds were made from 18th century plaster cameos called Tour Cameos. I used these to create each of the cameos in the necklace. Tour cameos were collected by Europeans while on their “Grand Tour” As long as 3 years were spent aboard learning about different cultures. I used the Tour Cameos as a metaphor for my mothers life. The fractures and spotty gold represent my mothers memory which is fading away.
CF: Could you have imagined today’s level of metal clay work 10 years ago? Do you think there will be the same level of technical advances in the next 10 years in metal clay art?
PK: I could not have imagined the beautiful work that is made from metal clay today. When I first started using metal clay I could count on one hand the really great metal clay artists. Now we are fortunate enough to have wonderful artists world wide and the new generation is pushing creativity to it’s limits. I don’t think there will be much more advancement in metal clay. There might be smaller achievements but not breakthroughs of the past few years. Metal clay is just a material, and the focus for the future is expressing artistry through the medium of metal clay.
CF: Do you have any advice for a new to metal clay jewellery maker?
PK: Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, we all make mistakes and with metal clay you can always reconstituted, recycle or refine it.
CF: You teach classes on your techniques. Do you have advice for your students about the difference between inspiration and the copying your work.
PK: It’s a thin line to walk sometimes because we encourage our students to copy our work in class but primarily to learn the technique. However they should take the technique and use it to express their own vision. Inspiration is a starting point, a jumping off point to express the idea. A good artist will put there own unique voice into the piece.
CF: What 5 tools do you always have on your bench?
PK: JUST 5????? JoolTool, Dockyard Carving tools, Textures rollers, Water, iPad for music or movies or CNN.
CF: What is your favourite quote?
PK: I don’t really have a favorite. It’s more like my favorite for now…”Commit to Mastery” I like this because it applies to just about any medium. As adults I think we can get too bogged down with being perfect right out of the gate. We need to remind our-self to take our time to really learn the process. If we commit to mastery it becomes a life long process not just a weekend workshop.
CF: If you could spend a day with any artist (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
PK: Picasso, Paris, 1920’s — need I say more?
CF: What’s next for you? (Art shows, lectures, new work….)
PK:I have a couple of videos coming out soon with Interweave. Base metal mosaics and micro mosaics. I love these techniques used in the video they are dramatic yet straightforward.
Thank you Patrik for taking the time to share your responses to our questions. And once again, congratulations on your award. Your design is stunning.
-(especially in children’s use) a person who copies another’s behavior, dress, or ideas -denoting an action, typically a crime, carried out in imitation of another.
“No one likes a copycat”….in fact I’d rather the word was stronger when it comes to artists stealing ideas from artists. Last week we posted a video on FaceBook that started a lot of conversations. Which is EXCELLENT! What a wonderful use of technology to have artists all over the world talking! But will things really change? Will you stop seeing derivatives of artists’ work? “If you copy someone’s else, that is a derivative work. It doesn’t belong in a gallery or showcase and it should not be published anywhere—this includes your website and all social media.” -Sean McCabe (quote from video)
California artist Harriete Estel Berman has written extensively on the topic of copyrights and copycats on her blog: Ask Harriete. “The issues are serious. By our silence, we in the arts and crafts community are cultivating a climate of copycats. Bringing this issue into the open is not going to be popular, but the undercurrents are eroding our economic, ethical and legal boundaries.”
Here are some links to select articles by Harriete. Be an informed artist!
Until awareness gains traction in every “craft corner”, workshop, retail fair, wholesale show, online forum, manufacturer, retailer, designer, internet site, and becomes a public discussion, the copycat thieves will continue as pirates of our work, our ideas, and our content.In the “Age of the Internet” and digital technologies we can no longer go back to the studio and come up with the next idea fast enough. Ideas and images are stolen at the speed of light.
Are you prepared to protect your work?
Do you understand the concepts of Fair Use under Copyright Law?
A guild member takes a workshop, then comes home to show everyone else the workshop’s techniques, tips and tricks.
Guild members distributing copies of handouts that they did not create or own.
A member demos a skill learned in a magazine tutorial.
A guild hires a copycat workshop instructor instead of hiring the original innovator of a skill or technique.
Ironically, all this sharing is usually rationalized as “helping” each other. But with some reflection, this “feel good” cloak of generosity is concealing ethical, legal and moral issues that, in the long run, have an impact on our community.
Has anyone ever purchased your art or craft work and then started copying the original? I’ve seen this issue discussed online. Or people write to me when they find out about unauthorized copies of their work, especially when other people are profiting from their designs. The situation is frustrating and nearly impossible to stop – once it is out of control.
We wanted to catch up Anna since our last interview in MCAM in the Fall of 2013. I can’t believe it was 3 years ago already! Time flies and so many things happened since then. Thanks to Metal Clay Artist Magazine I started teaching in other countries – I travel a lot ever year and meet fantastic people all over the world. I also learned a lot of new, different techniques and refined those I already have been using. Recently I also started creating a permanent collection of my designs (in addition to my one of a kind pieces) using lost wax casting technique for making pieces from hand sculpted metal clay prototypes. This medium still excites me so much! It brings endless possibilities both for hobbyists creating things once in a while and full time businesses.
Tell us how the style of your work has evolved? Where do you get your design inspirations?
I get my inspirations mostly from Nature, but understood in many different ways. Sometimes just straight from it – raw impressions, forms that I simply see during my walks or hiking trips. Trees, flowers, stones… Sometimes I find my inspiration in Nature as seen through “glasses” of ancient cultures – expressed in myths, old tales, folk songs, philosophy. I am also inspired by modern Earth-based religions and sometimes fantasy books. Everything that explores our relation with Nature is my inspiration. Recently I am also taking a little journey inward, seeing myself as a form of a microcosm reflecting Nature. I focus on my emotions, reactions to loss and this intense longing to know the answers I will probably never know. This is still before me – I mostly have a lot of sketches, but I guess that my recent piece “Natura abhorret a vacuo” shows this direction the best.
Generally I feel my style and designs are much more effortless now than there were a few years ago. I focus mostly on what I want to do, what I want to say, rather than how to do that from technical point of view. I see this tendency in whole metal clay community – more and more people are becoming really skilled in metal clay. We know more, we are able to do more. But the thing is that this is the point where real journey and challenges begin. When you can do whatever you have in your mind, then you have to face the question – what do I really WANT to do? How does is it really say “me”? What I want to say through what I do? WHY I am doing this in the first place?
The style and design of your work is very recognizable. How long has it taken you get to the place that your artistic voice is so strong? Honestly I feel that finding your own style is a process which starts far before you even think about actually creating something. It’s like a potential, a seed within you which is nurtured by your upbringing, by things that happen to you, your actions and all things around you. When you start making things – bringing them from your mind into physical plane – it sprouts. For me it felt like the most natural thing in the world – like speaking my mother tongue. I knew since I made my very first piece of jewellery that this is my style. But don’t get me wrong – the fact that you discover your style is only the beginning. This is were years of hard work (and fun!) start. You have to learn to use it in a beautiful, skillful way. Just like we can speak a language just so so, struggling to barely communicate or to create most beautiful, refined poems, saying words straight from your heart. For me it took years, and I feel I still have so much to learn! Exercising your artistic voice is a never-ending, exciting journey. I think that my point is that your style, your designs feel genuine, truthful, only when they come from within you, from who you are, who you are becoming during your whole life, what you actually feel. Otherwise it’s just like trying on masks in a shop. The effect might be pretty, might be interesting, but will never be true.
You teach classes on your techniques. Do you have advice for your students about the difference between inspiration and the copying your work. Funnily, people who try to copy my style or particular pieces are not those who take my classes or even meet me in real life. During my workshops I teach skills, certain techniques which lead every student to creating a piece that is completely different, depending on who they are, what they like, where they are on their journey of creating their strong artistic voice. It’s just amazing to see how varied are pieces made during each of my classes, even though, they are constructed using exactly the same techniques. It’s also super inspiring and humbling for me. A few days ago I came back from United Kingdom, where for the first time I taught a new, two days class, I created this year. I brought some class samples as I usually do, I thought I knew what kind of pieces I might expect from students. But then – it turned out that at the end of the class I saw a whole bunch of pieces I would never even think about in a million years! This is the most rewarding experience both for the teacher and students. That’s why I always give my students time to look at the samples, to think about what they want to make, to plan a design, I encourage them to bring their sketchbooks if they have one. I always say, that spending time on designing, even during the class, is really worth it. You don’t want to spend 23 days working on something that you hate ;) or doesn’t feel right, because it’s completely not you.
Again – I think teaching classes, in a way is similar to language lessons. I am just trying to add some new “words” or, lets say, “grammar constructions” to my student’s vocabulary. They can use them in as many different ways as possible. We are all very different and we came from different places and this is the most beautiful thing to me. But even if you attend classes where you recreate a particular project from beginning to the end, situation is exactly the same. You don’t learn a poem by heart to repeat it over and over in random moments. You learn it because it makes you a more beautiful person. It enriches you. It enables you to maybe create something on your own.
We have noticed that there are imitators of your style. Some people say that it should be considered flattery. What are your thoughts? Ha. That’s a difficult question. On purely intellectual level I believe this is, indeed, a form of flattery. But it doesn’t feel like one at all. Situations when your work is being imitated are simply super stressful, hurtful and disheartening. It feels really unfair, when you know how long was your journey, how much of yourself you put in your work, and then someone just takes superficial, visual layer of it, and recreates it. Just because they are manually skilled, and for some reason they thought it would make them successful in one way or another. In such situations you just wonder if people see the difference at all. I also wonder what a copyist have to feel. I usually choose to believe that maybe they don’t really understand what they are doing. But that’s just me :). I can’t imagine someone consciously choosing copying if they have something to say on their own. It would be just excruciating to hide behind a mask all the time. I also wonder if such situations affect me financially – I won’t pretend – my passion is also my work and source of income. Being copied not only means having your feelings hurt, but also a possible financial loss. I think that copying is not totally bad though – personally I believe it’s ok to learn by copying, if it’s your way of learning, perfecting your skills. But then just don’t publish what you make, and definitely don’t call it your own. It’s as simple as that.
Thank you Anna for taking the time to chat with us! Best wishes on your upcoming classes!
Jeannette Froese LeBlanc is a jewellery artist and the editor of www.cre8tivefire.com. She is definitely “A glass 1/2 full kind of person”! She has learned to enjoy the journey and not solely focus on the destination, which is something her kids taught her. Look down, look around, enjoy where you are.