How to beat the Jewelry Designer Blues

Throughout my four years of designing jewelry at B.BOLD Jewelry for Boomer Girls, I’ve occasionally found myself at a loss as to how to take my designs to the next level.

For many years, I was a professor of Creative Writing, teaching the art of writing contemporary poetry. Writing is very similar to creating jewelry. To improve, you need to have a good sense of what you need to learn next.

I began by stringing beads, which led to my learning about different methods of bead making, and the history of beads from around the world. I learned about and collected African Trade beads, Japanese and Chinese pearls, turquoise, handmade gold and silver beads from Bali, hand-painted Peruvian ceramic beads, Japanese Raku, the Hill Tribe silver beads of Thailand, and the list goes on and on. I found that creating unexpected combinations out of these diverse materials kept my imagination alive.

Then, as I developed, I felt a little as if I’d reached the end of a road. I’ve had this same feeling at times in my writing career. I needed to learn something new in order to “make it new,” as Ezra Pound said.

Here are a few suggestions as to how to stimulate your designing imagination.

1) Try making a piece of jewelry that looks like something other than jewelry. One day it occurred to me that barbed wire has an interesting shape. I was just looking at our barbed wire fence. As a result of keeping my mind open, I could “see” it as jewelry. As a result, I’ve created a line of “barbed wire” earrings, and bracelets. On another occasion, I was looking at a wishbone drying on a windowsill. I loved the shape & created a series of curved bone-shaped link bracelets out of fine silver.

2) Try making your own beads from scratch. This leads to a huge appreciation of what bead makers do, even if you never use the beads you make. Polymer beads are fun and easy, for example. I’ve tried and failed at making silver granulated beads, but in the process I gained a huge appreciation for the art. As a result, I look at Bali beads differently, which has caused a difference in the way I arrange them in my designs.

3) Use materials that you don’t associate with jewelry to see if you can integrate them into jewelry. This will bring an entirely new perspective and freedom into your creations. Not too long ago, I came across pieces of brightly colored satin string, and as a result of loving to work with color, I integrated them into leather pieces that looked a bit like surfer bracelets and necklaces, but they were much more formal and refined due to the satin.

4) Combine opposites. Try combining things you wouldn’t ordinarily think of as going together. This is a common poetic technique that can produce magical results. The first time I came across this principle in jewelry design was when I was working with African Krobo beads. Usually they are strung all together on thick string or grass, which creates a very rustic, heavy, informal look. I suddenly thought it might be interesting to “frame” them in a way that gave them a new context, so I combined them with 24k gold vermeil Bali Beads. Suddenly they had a completely different look—much more formal and European.

5) Color: Have you experimented with color lately? Think of yourself as a painter. Joseph Albers taught his students 200 exercises in color. All of them entailed putting different squares of colored crate paper next to each other in combination to analyze the effects. The effects, it turned out were endless. Some colors made others recede. Some colors made others change. And some combinations created more intensity than each color had on its own. If you experiment with beads in this way, you’ll soon be experimenting with texture and shape as well.

6) Learn an entirely new skill. Two years ago, I started taking classes in working with metals. This has opened up an entirely new avenue of creativity. In spring, I’m planning to take classes in cold connections and bead weaving. Taking classes is probably the best way to “make it new.”

Don’t be discouraged if you feel yourself reach a plateau as a designer. There are lots of great ways to challenge your imagination in a way that will cause you reach a whole new level. When you get there, you’ll feel rejuvenated and fall in love with jewelry making all over again!


Marcia Southwick

B.BOLD Jewelry for Boomer Girls

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