Design Techniques

Hi to all, I’m sure this has been asked before but I am curious about
others creative process. Do you carefully draw out a design for a
piece and then make it? Do you have an idea and just start working?
Or do you just hit the bench and let your creative mind take over?
Thanks, Mary Barnes

Mary - how about all of the above? Depends on what I’m doing. I
keep a sketch book with me most of the time to jot ideas as they
come. Some are comprehensive, some just a general idea. Sometimes a
certain stone or bead will “speak” to me and say “do this”.
Sometimes I just pull things out and start composing. Just depends.

Beth in SC

I only do sketches (poor ones, at that) when required by a customer
for a custom piece. I usually use catalog photos to get a close idea
across both to and from the customer. The rest of the design work
comes straight from my head direct to the wax or metal, unless I am
working from an existing design. Those designs might be from nature,
or something like logo artwork that I am translating into jewelry.
Most of my designs evolve as I am working on them. I quite often
start having only a vague idea of how I am going to finish. Jim

Hi Mary, I have always believed that a clean bench is the sign of
some one that’s really really good,(they get mega dollars for their
work)so they only have to do 1 job a week, or they don’t have a lot
of work. I usually have many pieces of cut and polished stones on my
bench, my catch tray filled with pieces of silver and tool’s well
let’s just say sometimes unless they are big they are hard to find, I
usually just sit down, look a stone and start to work somewhere a
finished piece evolves, But while I’m sitting there I’ll see another
stone and something sparks and the Muse whispers wake up look at
this, then I start again and just do what the voices in my head tell
me to do, of course at any one time there are 10 or more “pieces in
progress” on my bench. Currently I’m in the midst of doing 10 Rings
10 Pendants and 20 pr. of Earrings. No preconceived designs just
sheet wire and a bunch of very pretty agates, jaspers, which were
furnished by the client and a hand full of stuff for earrings. So I
guess I’d say for me it’s just start working, But there are times
that I will look at a stone and think Why did I cut this like this, I
musta been nuts ! then I’ll remember something I was thinking about
making with that stone! and I guess I either need to learn to draw
but at my age (please no you can learn any thing at any age) Now
carving wax is really a whole different matter there you really need
a preconceived idea and for me that’s actually the hard part, same
for reppoused and chased work, Ken Ferrell

Hello Mary, I’m an avid collector of ideas, whether they be from
magazine photos or a sketch of a nifty piece I saw someone wearing.
When it comes to designing, I may scan my collection of drawings and
photos and sketch an idea, but I rarely draw out the finished piece.
Guess that’s why my portfolio of renderings and finished work never
got an “A” ;-). My process seems to be design “on the fly” in 3D.
In other words, go to the bench and start fabricating from the idea
in my head and adjust things as they come up. It’s more fun that
way, but doesn’t lend itself to mass production of identical items.
Judy in Kansas

A lot of my designs start with the cutting of the stone. If I am
cutting cabachons or cutting and putting together pieces for intarsia
by the time the stones are polished I have the design pretty much
down in my head. Inlay is a different story and I do a little
sketching. When doing custom orders I do sketch out the design when
talking with the customer. But for the most part the designs are
just floating around in my head, along with some other unidentified
junk from the 70’s :wink: I guess I’m more of a spatial person when it
comes to designing…

Rick Copeland
Silversmith and Lapidary Artisan
Colorado Springs, Colorado

Lately I have been very carefully drawing my designs out, because I
am working in wax and know what I am going for. Then I transfer the
design to wax by poking through with a needle, getting another layer
of precision in the work. I then work from the drawing, and pictures,
and on and on.

When I work in fossil ivory/ mixed-media, I design in my head and
happily allow it to come out the way it will (always different than I
imagened it).

and I guess I either need to learn to draw but at my age (please
no you can learn any thing at any age) 

Ken, you would be amazed of what you can learn on how to draw (see)
by reading/doing what’s on “Drawing on the Right side of the
Brain”,by Betty Edwards. At least browse through it. You’ll be
inspired! Best regards, Jerry

    you can learn any thing at any age) 

i hope so because i’m 49 and i’m still dead set on learning how to
make molds of my stuff, cast it, learn lapidary, learn engraving,
become a better metalsmith and jeweler, learn CAD/CAM and work it
into all the ideas i have for it, etc…, i think the list could
fill this page easily.

 Now carving wax is really a whole different matter there you
really need a preconceived idea and for me that's actually the hard

this is not true at all, the proof; get a piece of carving wax,
files, a carving knife(almost anything), chisel, dental tools, wax
tools, gravers and whittle on the thing, dig in it, try to get some
type of holes going so you’ve got an inside and an outside, even
drill into it or through it if you like, then keep whittling, oh
yea hot knives etc. are real cool too, and melting other pieces of
wax to it, and work it, you’ll see, whittling is second nature to
humans, always has been, better yet, use some wax ring blanks, or
bracelet blanks, makes it look more real, after a while it will be
a work of art, i guarantee, another thing i’ve always disagreed
with is people who say they cannot draw or make art, all the
people’s doodles can be brought into 3D, just try it, you will
satisfy yourself, but if you do carve wax don’t forget the weight
factor, either you make the 3D object thinned down, or you hollow
the 2D from behind, etc etc etc.dp

Believe what you want about a clean bench, but it simply isn’t true.
I myself believe its more a sign of a obsessive compulsive jeweler
who’s held back because of their fear of getting things messy.
Tidiness has NOTHING to do wit talent or ability.

just wanted to give some safety tips for whittling strokes in wax,
but also harder materials, like wood. DULL knives(butterknife
sharpness is great!) work tremendously for EVERYTHING except fine
detail, but if they are sharp, and your stroke is pulling the knife
towards you, while holding the piece with the other hand, in this
case the knife is held inside, across the four straight fingers,
closed tightly, and a SHORT, controlled stroke is created by the
hand, right where the knife sticks out, the thumb stays
outstretched or behind the edge of the piece, you do not pull with
the thumb because the stroke is plenty strong without it and it is
dangerous, you practice the stroke a bunch of times, in the air and
on the surface of the piece, never letting the knife go farther than
the end of the stroke! As the blade comes out of the material at the
end of the stroke, you curl it up and stop it right there in the
air, EVERYTIME,that way the thumb will not be hit,make sure BOTH
thumbs are out of reach of the knife, especially in the event of a
full slip, but you will not have a full slip if you keep the stroke
SHORT and controlled, the plan should be followed that the thumb on
your carving hand, is around a corner, if possible, or leather
thumb, . Ramblin man… , just one more stroke, and the most safe,
pushing the knife away is recommended! This is a very powerful
stroke and very precise, simply by holding the knife, laying the
blade on the workpiece, and pushing on the back of the knife handle
at the collar,with the thumb on the hand that is HOLDING the
piece,it is so controlled, it’s silly, again, fairly short stoke
is advised. It is all very theraputic and fun, just scraping wax
off a piece is really nice.dp

, But there are times that I will look at a stone and think Why did
I cut this like this, I musta been nuts ! then I'll remember
something I was thinking about making with that stone! and I guess
I  need to learn to draw 

One of my problems!!, that’s why i make on the spot templates of
both pieces, together (when i’m not lazy), I take the piece, trace
it, then draw around it, next to it, an approx sketch of what needs
to be made to accompany, and it is template size to boot. It helps
you remember the original design moment, and i think, the worse you
draw, the more words you gotta use! Got many notebooks, full,
Biggest screw up; you use the made piece in 10 different quick
sketches, but don’t include it in the drawings, by tracing, so when
you go back to look, your missing the original
piece! $#@^&%#, your serve.dp

I’m really a beginner on this one–I tend to have a vague image and
then play with things (for too long!) until they work. But recently,
having zero art training, I took a “drawing and design” course (at
the urging of the “masters” I met at SNAG) and keeping a sketchbook
has become something that, at the very least, makes me feel different
about my work.

Sometimes I sketch other people’s jewelry designs (and sometimes I
paste in pictures). This almost inevitably leads me to thinking about
what I would do differently, which leads to more sketches. Sometimes
I sketch whatever idea has come into my head–they can come thick and
fast and I may never “realize” any of them, but the process itself
brings a kind of joy and satisfaction. And sometime I follow the
advise of an old jewelry “textbook” (sorry, I can’t remember the
name) that I found in a library–I sketch beautiful things, like
shells and flowers (and even landscapes), that might morph into
jewelry designs (or might not).

Learning to draw changes your way of looking at the world. I highly
recommend Betty Edwards’ books–I think she’s right that learning to
draw realistically is a prerequisite for for good "imaginative"
drawing and that anyone who can write a legible sentence can learn
basic drawing skills in about 5 days.

On the other hand, if I’m stringing, I still can’t design using a
beading board–I need to do it to see it, and getting it “right” can
take many re-stringings. Also, when working with wire, I sometimes
just start, but with heavier gauge wire than I intend to use, and in
base metal. That way I can just play and see what comes out of it.

I’m still hoping to take one of those (hard to find or afford)
jewelry design classes, where they teach you how to make 3-D models
with cardboard, etc. Hopefully, they also throw in some practice with
"design principles"–my summer school class only gave me a “design
vocabulary,” so I can ask questions that sound very professional, but
they have no experience behind them.

Lisa Orlando
Aphrodite’s Ornaments

Good News!!!
I took a design course through GIA . only 10% new “how to draw” We
were taught shading, and basic shapes- after all most Jeweley is
composed of basic shapes. Any way there are books out there on
design, they come with templates to make things really easy. once you
learn the technique - your set!!

Do you carefully draw out a design for a piece and then make it? Do
you have an idea and just start working? Or do you just hit the
bench and let your creative mind take over?

I like to try a variety of things. It is important IMHO to be able
to draw, there is nothing that can replace it for speed, simplicity
and accessible materials. All you need is paper and a pencil.
Usually I just sketch but sometimes it is important to use graph
paper and make a technical draft of the item. I find this
especially helpful when making something like a three stone, wire
basket ring or other design that requires accuracy. I use graph
paper that has 10 squares to the inch and another pad that has 5
squares to the inch. I then scale the item a millimeter per square
and use the size square that will give me the definition I need.

I have also had some great designs that I have “discovered” while
playing around with materials or while making something else.
Several years ago while trying to create a shank that I needed for a
rather difficult design job, I used some sheet that I slotted and
soldered together. It didn’t work for the job I intended it to, but
it became the inspiration for much of the work I do today.

I also like thinking up designs completely in my head (usually while
driving) and then going into the shop and making the piece. It is a
very good exercise to go through. You make up some parameters for a
design and then mentally make the piece completely in your head.
It’s kind of like doing math in your head rather than doing it on
paper! After you have made the item in your head then you can make
it at the bench and see if you come up with the same piece. If you
do this often, I believe it will make you a more creative problem

One thing I have never been able to do is come up with a design
while dreaming. The usual scenario is that I will awaken from a
dream and have this exhilarating feeling that I have come up with
the most beautiful, awesome design, only to realize, upon rational
scrutinization that the piece is unmakable or just silly.


Tidiness has NOTHING to do with talent or ability. 

I don’t think so either. (:-)) I have been casting tonight. I quench
my flasks outside - we live in the middle of nowhere anyway. For a
reason that is not entirely clear to me, the investment is often
still hard after quenching, so I have to poke it loose. I know that
some raccoons were watching me - they are always around and very
curious. When I came back in the garage, the whole place was full of
white raccoon traces. They had put their feet into my bucket before
paying their nightly visit to where my wife keeps ten tons of food to
be used in case of nuclear disaster. Best, Will

For those of you looking for good info on design, here’s a few good
books that will help. Lisa commented about the cardboard shape
method, and heres a book that addresses that some-“You Can Master
Jewelry Design and Creation” by Gerald Wykoff, G.G. It has a lot of
interesting concepts for design such as ‘Temporary Impression
Molding’ , and using ‘idea generation’ techniques.

You Can Master Jewelry Design & Creation
Gerald L., Wykoff 
Hardcover: ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.00 x 9.50 x 6.50 
Publisher: Adamas Pubns; (June 1989)

An excellent book that teaches methods of rendering and drawing for
professional presentations to your customer, is “The Art of Jewelry
Design” by Maurice P. Galli, Dominique Riviere, and Fanfan Li. This
is a large, hardback, fullcolor book and is a bit pricey(about $60
ten years ago), but worth every penny.

The Art of Jewelry Design: Principles of Design, Rings and Earrings
by Maurice P. Galli, Nina Giambelli, Dominique Riviere, Fanfan Li 
Price:   $59.95  
Hardcover: 224 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.00 x 12.50 x 9.50 
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.; (October 1, 1999)

Other good helpers are “Handbook of Designs & Devices” by Clarence
P. Hornung, “Amulets & Superstitions” by E. A. Wallis Budge, “The Art
Nouveau Style” by Roberta Waddell, and “The Grammer of Ornament” by
Owen Jones. If you digest these books, you’ll have a never ending
source of design flowing outta that noggin’ up there, in no time! Ed

Add book URL

Thanks to all who have responded so far. Now I know I am not …
unusual. I have read in so many books you should carefully draw out
and plan your designs. I guess I do a bit of everything in my
original post but I love to go out to the shop sometimes and just
tinker and see what comes up. I am very lucky in that when I do have
an idea in my head I really can visualize it exactly as I want it
to come out and know if it will look good. Sometimes it comes just
like I think it will and other times I turn to another path as it
develops that I like better.

I too taught myself to draw using Betty Edwards books. “Drawing on
the Artist Within” is another good one. I’m not too shabby now. I
do use templates with my drawings because I really like geometric
shapes and why stress out trying to draw the perfect ellipse when
you can get one with a template!?

I am also encouraged by the number of 40ish and aboves that write
in. I was talking to an older gentleman a few months back and
mentioned how I wanted to go back to school and get a degree in fine
arts (I was in the Natural Sciences in another life) when he told me
’it was too late’. (I am in my mid 40’s) I thought to myself it is
never too late to learn or go back to school. Maybe someday I can.

Anyway, I’m enjoying these responses they are inspiring in and of
themselves! Mary B.


    just wanted to give some safety tips for whittling strokes in
wax, but also harder materials, like wood.  DULL knives(butterknife
sharpness is great!) work tremendously for EVERYTHING except fine

I have to take issue with you here. Coming from the city which was
built on knives and edge tools and having been brought up with people
who really know about these things, I can say quite categorically
that there is nothing more dangerous than a blunt edge tool. Perhaps
in shaping wax a blunt knife will do quite well if heated but, as far
as wood is concerned, blunt knives are DANGEROUS. A sharp knife or
chisel will dig into the wood and continue to cut in the direction in
which you are applying force but a blunt one will skate off the wood
or cause it to split in the direction of greatest weakness in the
grain. This unpredictability and the greater force needed to make it
cut is what makes the use of a blunt tool dangerous as, even if the
knife, chisel, drill or whatever, is too blunt to cut the wood
cleanly, it will still be sharp enough to do you bodily injury when
it hits your flesh. The other major consideration is that the blade
of the knife must be under full control all the time and should
always be used facing away from the body - never cut towards yourself
or, if you are sensible, towards your thumb. For greatest safety, fix
the workpiece in a vice or, at least steady it against something firm
and use an appropriate tool for the job - i.e. do not try to whittle
detail into a piece with a pocket knife which would be better done
with a chisel. Sorry for the rant but knives have been an integral
part of my whole life and I hate to see them abused!

Best wishes,
Ian W. Wright
Sheffield UK

I do both waxwork and pierced work. For the waxwork I generally draw
a rough sketch of what I want, sometimes on my work surface so I can
work directly on it, and wing it from there.

For pierced work, I use the computer. I work in Photoshop, first
scanning the stones, and I have a database of all my sketches and
reference materials. I can put the scans of the stones, and all
needed design elements, on separate layers and manipulate them
however I need them. I love Photoshop. Beats the heck out of layers
of tracing paper!

Janet Kofoed