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Developing a style

Frustratingly for myself I have found it extremely difficult to
come up with a style of my own that is consistent.  

Marta, I had the same problem during my first 5 years of making
jewelry. I was all over the place, excited by each new technique I
learned and trying it out. What finally settled me down and gave me
a consistant style was that I started working on a degree in art and
my jewelry instructor had me do one-of-a-kind in series. Series work
had a common theme but let me explore different ideas. I still try
to apply the elements of design that I learned in class.

Donna in VA


I’ve also been musing over the "developing a recognizable style"
versus “follow creativity and be eclectic” schools of thought. The
idea of limiting myself to one genre or style would be death to my
creative spirit, yet I know instinctively that to market one’s work,
it must have a cohesive “brand” if you will, that customers would
find recognizable.

I think the answer might depend on what a metalsmith’s overall goals
for work aRe: reaching the apogee of one’s skill as an artisan and
receiving recognition from peers (including juries for awards); or
making ornament for customers that brings joy to both wearer and
maker. I tend right now toward the latter, so I do develop lots of
very different styles. But I am not going to market them all at once.
I’m getting ready to do my first craft show after only doing custom
work, and I chose 2 lines to develop and offer to customers, so that
my work is clear and branded. As I develop a broader base of loyal
customers, I can introduce new lines from my always growing stable of
crazy ideas (that make me very happy).

The current issue of Ornament (Spring 2004) includes a profile of
goldsmith Judith Kaufman. Her musings on creative spirit, especially
that “going from piece to piece keeps her alive in the mind”, are
worth reading for those who might be strangling themselves creatively
in the perhaps false notion that you MUST have only one “look” to
make it.



My question arises in response to Donna Wilson’s comment,

I still try to apply the elements of design that I learned in

Not having been to a technical school and having learned the
elements of jewellery making in adult education classes and read
books in our local library, I am puzzled by the whole design
question. Are there text books of the theory and practice of design
with respect to jewellery making. I know that there are for
commercial art and industry because I see them on the shelves. The
"design" books in jewellery seem to cover the “how to” elements that
every other book does with perhaps a last chapter saying look to
nature for your inspiration.

I knew that an absence of formal training (including some form of
apprenticeship) would come back to haunt me.

Any comments?


Hello David, My initial college major was art. I don’t recall any
text to accompany the design coursework, but that was back in the
middle ages before Xerox. All I recall were discussions about
positive/negative spaces, balance, and use of color. The rest was
studio work, sort of OJT. It still seems to me that either you have
it (good design) or you don’t and that design is mostly instinctive.
One of those things that you don’t get from “book lernin.” IOW,
don’t fret, be happy… and if it sells, enjoy success.

My humble US$.02, Judy in Kansas, who is madly preparing for the
annual plant sale at church… dig, dig, dig.

Judy M. Willingham, R.S.
B.A.E. 237 Seaton Hall
Kansas State University
Manhatttan KS 66506
(785) 532-2936 FAX (785) 532-6944

My question arises in response to Donna Wilson's comment, I still
try to apply the elements of design that I learned in class. 

The “design” books in jewellery seem to cover the “how to” elements
that every other book does with perhaps a last chapter saying look to
nature for your inspiration.

The principles I try to follow were from my 2D Design and 3D Design
art classes, not really specific to jewelry, although the jewelry
instructor always reminded us of what we learned in those classes
and that it applied to jewelry as well as painting and other

Donna in VA


I think that good design principals underlay all forms of good art
and craft. It doesn’t matter if you are painting, potting, or
photographing or making Jewelry. Look for books on design and apply
to your jewelry. I think that many people develop a good sense of
design through observation but it you are concerned about yours,
look for a class or a book. Latter, you may decide to break all the
"rules" but you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you are
doing it on purpose.

Marilyn Smith


Do a lot of work. A style will emerge if you are honest about your
work and what you are trying to do. Doing custom designing has
nothing to do with personal style. When you design for a customer,
you have to be cognizant of their needs, goals desires, etc., not
your own. Personal style derives from sincere, consistent,
thoughtful work.

My two Alaskan cents.
-BK in AK


Some thoughts:

Don’t let your ideas about style marketing and marketing style
impact the development of your true style.

“True Style” may need many years of creating to reveal itself
through the interrelationship of themes, the exploration of
materials and techniques, and your existential approach to making.
Make sure that an adequate portion of your creations are done only
for your pleasure, and not immediately for selling.

When fear arises, hold on to it and create through it. This can
cathartic-ally lead you into your style.

Learn how to not be too proud of your work. Don’t identify your
self with your creations.

Be willing to be contrary, and make attentive mistakes. Great
learning can occur in embarrassing work. Develop some work in secret.
Don’t show it to anyone for six months. Secret work can help you to
develop power, and power is always stylish. Review your past efforts
once a year. Older work can sometimes inform works in progress.

Have a retrospective exhibition when you’re over sixty, and see what
style you have developed.

Keep working!

Sydney Cash

    Review your past efforts  once a year. Older work can
sometimes inform works in progress. 

Not that I think I’ve graduated from crafter to artist, but -

My 17-year-old daughter (with artistic tendencies and very decided
tastes) has always liked at least some of my work. She recently
came home from her first year in college, which means she hasn’t
seen work in progress for a while. I showed her a few of my newer
things and she said, “I like this. And this (pointing to my use of
a small pearl where I never would have before). Mom, you’re getting




Craft is the Discipline that frees the spirit;
Style is the Result.

Ben Shawn, "The Shape of Content".

Hopefully I got that right… It’s been a while since I read the
book. I’ve been an artist (2d) for a long time, but I’m pretty new to
jewelry. I don’t know yet what my style is. I have inklings of things
I really like: High Karat gold, a funky, biomorphic style mixed with
high quality stones. I think I’m pretty good at color combinations.

When I first got started a few years ago, I bought tons of 14K GF
wire and lots of mediocre stones. I recently went through a period of
uncertainty. I had all this material that I don’t want to use in the
long run, I couldn’t afford to buy a lot of new materials, and I’m in
a temporary living situation right now (Fulbright exchange) and can’t
set up my soldering/ etc.

So, I decided to just have fun with what I have and the skills I
have right now and not to worry about styles, etc. I’m making lots of
wire-wrapped 14K GF and SS jewelry…and I’m having a blast. Nothing
is terribly original, but I feel like I’m putting my stamp on designs
and I did come up with a simple wire-shape design that I’m pretty
pleased with and I’ve been developing that into a line. I’m also
stretching my ideas of shape and color in a medium that I can afford
to be a bit wasteful. I find I tend to be a bit stingy when working
in higher Karat gold.

My mantra these days is “The work will take me there” Rather than
waiting for a style idea to come to me, I’m going to work at the
level I’m able while continuing to develop my skills. I have this
faith now that I will eventually find the shape of my unique vision.

By the way, sure, some people are maybe naturally creative, but I
don’t completely agree with the "you either have it or you don’t"
opinion that someone expressed. 95% of success is showing up.

My 2 euro cents!
Leslie Nicole


I realized that I did have a style even though I thought I didn’t.
Here’s how it went for me. I was hell-bent on making unique,
one-of-a-kind pieces so I intentionally tried to be innovative and
different with each piece. Then I discovered I was doing things in
certain pieces that I really liked but I was AVOIDING making other
pieces with similar elements on purpose. Once I realized that I
could use a “theme” in one-of-a-kind pieces but still repeat certain
elements, I have developed “lines” of jewelry that are uniquely me.

J. S. Ellington