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How faithful are you to your sketches?

This was alluded to in some answers to my “start over” question
(which was a very interesting thread, thanks for your responses).

When doing your own custom work (no customer involvement) do you
allow yourself to go off sketch or minds eye image?

I wonder how many find it irritating and undisciplined, and how many
embrace it as a natural part of the design process.

Ben Steiger

do you allow yourself to go off sketch or minds eye image? 

Picasso said (reputedly): If your work turns out as you planned then
you failed.

Picasso or not, it’s great advice.

Les Brown
L.F.Brown Goldwork

Dear Ben,

You will undoubtedly get many, varied responses. David, the designer
for our design company, very rarely deviates from his sketch. He
firmly believes varying from the original design concept is the road
to unforseen pitfalls. I will add, for all of you who do not know
David, that his ability to see 3 dimensionality in a 2-d sketch is
almost uncanny. So, it stands to reason that as he draws, his mind is
seeing the finished 3 dimensional product and the steps he will take
to get there.

I design a bit on the side, and I rarely complete a project exactly
as drawn. I tend not to see the pitfalls ahead, and then need to
adjust my design for a better end product. Usually it is something
like, the design looks great from the front, but not so hot from the
side. Or perhaps it doesn’t lay quite right, so I alter the design to
accommodate. I suspect this is a short coming, but I like your
wording better : “embracing it as a natural part of the design
process” sounds so much better than my explanation!

David and I do agree that there is a place in design work for
spontaneity. Being open to a great idea is always a good thing,
regardless of when the idea strikes.

david lee jeweler

I almost never stick directly with what I sketched or had in my
head. 2-D is not the same as 3-D, and what looked great on paper, may
not turn out to translate quite as well to 3-D as I thought it would
:wink: I have never worried about having to stick to some pre-set plan.
My sketches are a starting place, a way to grab an idea and save it
to use at some future time. Quite often I will take a bit from one
sketch, a bit from another, and a bit that I’ve never sketched and
wind up with that for the final piece. Just as often the materials I
am working with will “tell” me that they “want” me to do this or
that, or not do this or that. Sounds weird, I know! But sometimes I
am convinced ahead of time that I’m going to do a setting in silver,
and I get my materials out, lay everything out, and the gemstones
fuss at me and insist that they be set in gold - or vice versa. I
can’t explain it, but I do listen and go with the flow.

Beth in SC

I sometimes start with an actual sketch. sometimes not. I do in my
one offs allow myself some freedom in the design as I am working.
Sometimes as I work other pieces take form in my mind and this has
sometimes lent itself to a whole group of work just from one piece.
I call it the willy nilly approach HA HA. I am, most of the time,
very faithful to the sketches. I trace the un-calibrated stones and
work the design around the stone and color the piece before making.


When doing your own custom work (no customer involvement) do you
allow yourself to go off sketch or minds eye image? I wonder how
many find it irritating and undisciplined, and how many embrace it
as a natural part of the design process. 

Ben, I’m going to make a statement first for all of us pros or sorta
pros. I’m about the least egotistical person you’ll ever meet. I do
have my skills and knowlege, and I hope that in talking about that
it’s not taken as an ego thing - it’s something I have and own, as do
many here. When I say that I can do “most anything”, first off, I
don’t mean that literally, of course, but it’s also a statement of
confidence and ability. To use the inimitable James Miller as an
example instead of myself - he has a vast arsenal of “tools” at his
command. I mean mental tools, techniques, skills. He can set out into
a complicated piece with the full knowlege and confidence that when
he gets to those places, he will know just what to do, and do it
well. That’s what a professional is - someone who KNOWS what to do -
not guessing or poking around. We all have our frontiers, of course -
nobody can ever know everything. This is a pep talk for some who are
less confident - yes, there does come a place where it’s easy and
effortless, and you just know how to do the work without thinking.
That place is a place of artistic freedom, and yes I do just set out
at times to do “something along those lines”, and just solve the
issues as they present themselves. I (and many others) just have the
the confidence and experience to be able to do that, and also to look
4 or 5 steps ahead, so I don’t paint myself into a corner. If you’ve
ever watched someone sit down at the piano and just play freeform and
it makes you cry and you think, “Jeez, why can’t I play like that?” -
it’s like that - the skillset becomes ingrained, and after that you
just think about what results are wanted in the end - I rarely think
about process, I think about the vision, and then do what I need to
do to get there - another analogy is a horse and rider just flying
across a beach - not thinking about the riding part, just the
beautiful day…

Personally, I like to do both and shake things up. Usually my
’sketches’ are no more than chicken scratch to remind me of my
lightning burst of inspiration (I usually think in 3 dimensions and
I’ve always had problems getting it from my mind’s eye on to the
paper). Then again I have quite a few pieces that I made up directly
from some line drawings that turned out really well, if I do say so
myself :wink: Guess it depends on the mood, what the piece is telling
you and which house the moon is in :slight_smile: Just my 2 cents.

I wonder how many find it irritating and undisciplined, and how
many embrace it as a natural part of the design process. 

That is a fascinating question.

I am classically trained, which means that I was drawing geometric
shapes for a year before I was allowed to touch the brush, and etc.
But I am practically never faithful to my sketching. I probably
should be the last person doing it, but I find that staying faithful
to the original sketching sacrifices the properties of the material,
which I like to emphasize.

Leonid Surpin

I wonder how many find it irritating and undisciplined, and how
many embrace it as a natural part of the design process. 

This is a very interesting question, I think. It will be interesting
to see the variety of answers here. As I’ve considered how to reply
to this query, I started to answer one way & then realized that
wasn’t quite right, then thought about it a little more in depth. I
suppose I usually just do it, I haven’t tried to analyze it before.
An interesting way to start the day, to evaluate my whole creative
process! :slight_smile:

When I sketch a design, particularly just for my own use (not custom
work), it’s usually pretty basic, so I suppose I consider it sort of
suggestion to myself, an idea, and then when I start working on the
actual piece, I might have other ideas & then, yes, I will stray from
the original sketch idea. It might also be that I had some wild idea
about what I wanted to create, but then in practice, I realize that I
don’t like it as well as I thought, so I’ll wander in another
direction. I may do it again some other time, and then either stick
more to the original idea, or again wander in yet some other
direction. So, I guess I see it as your second thought, “a natural
part of the design process”. Sometimes, of course, sticking to a
"problem", as in a project for art class, is a challenge, and is
interesting. I suppose that’s just not how I work most of the time.
Maybe I save that work more for the custom pieces. Usually, though,
each piece is its own unique creation, developed through play with
the materials, based on an original IDEA, not a requirement.

Designs by Lisa Gallagher

I can’t do anything without an accurate sketch! I usually sketch out
an entire line (sometimes as many as 6 lines all at the same time)
before I begin anything at all. (about 150 pieces of jewelry) This
gives me a really clear idea of what the body of my work will be as a

Mary R

Ben great question!

I always start with a drawing and sometimes it looks great in 3-D,
sometimes it lacks the oomph I had pictured in my head, and sometimes
I see potential that I had not recognized in just the drawing stage.
I just go with it. I think to do otherwise may be an injustice to my
creative self. Obviously, if it is a piece I’m commissioned to do for
someone else, then sticking to the drawing may be a must, unless that
client has given me creative license and then Wahoo!

Here is an exercise for when you are doing your drawing… I had a
professor in one of my design classes in college who had us come up
with 4 designs for a project. After laboring over them for hours, he
collected them and tossed them into the trash – he always went for
the drama and of course everyone in the studio was ready to pounce
on him. He then told us to do one more sketch. With a sigh, we all
did it, and guess what, the best and most unique work was the
result. Year after year this professor always pushed his students to
reach deeper into the uninhabited part of his students creativity.
His explanation was that the first couple of drawings were always
nice or pleasant, maybe commonplace or schematic, but that last
drawing made you reach.

Just food for thought.
Holly Gage

I am TERRIBLE on paper, this is a problem with very few clients most
seem to understand my pencil scratching and trust me. This leads to
problems pricing designs out. This is not a problem with designs in
developement for my production line or one off art pieces but, for
commissions this can sink profit. Sketching is something which needs
practice and for some reason, like bookkeeping, I rather work in
metal than practice either of the other busness arts.

Sam Patania, Tucson

Hi Ben,

In my situation all work is for a customer; there is always a
customer even if it is myself. The purpose of pure art or pure
experimentation to achieve a visual expression for others to see, so
by my reasoning if any people see it then they are customers!

I am faithful to the sketch but I take liberties in the details,
sometimes because the appearance in the sketch is technically
difficult to achieve, sometimes to make the appearance even better
than the sketch, and also to make the item completely practical for
it’s intended use.

Decisions such as to taper a strut or keep it uniform, leave a bit
of metal there for later or cut it off now, make the intersection
flush or leave a little step; all have a dramatic effect in the end
as do subtle differences in the curve of a surface or the treatment
of edges and corners. These little things are best seen in the metal
and are difficult to show on a sketch. A favourite trick with the
details is to make a very solid and strong item appear light and
fragile by using tapers and bevelling edges.

Physical balance needs to be felt in the metal. An item that is
meant to be worn is a failure if it is frustrating and impractical to
wear because of some minor detail. “The devil is in the details”.

Regards, Alastair

he always went for the drama and of course everyone in the studio
was ready to pounce on him. He then told us to do one more sketch.
With a sigh, we all did it, and guess what, the best and most
unique work... 

That’s also the advise in writing - throw away your first draft.
Also writing complaints - write the first letter, which will have
the venom, throw it away and write another…

I cannot, and do not sketch. I have been told by a knowing friend,
that I do not think in third dimension. That just may be true. I came
later on in life to creating with metals and stone. I did knit and
crochet, usually from a pattern, ditto sewing. When I came to do
needlework and embroidery, I let myself free flow, and loved it far
more. I created a hanging, strong colors, curving lines, and used a
different stitch within each color. I love it today.

Long lead in to metals, I prefer using fire and water to create
shapes, some immediately lead me to the next step, others I keep on
hand and switch to stones, Even there I do not like calibrated
anything, so when I see a certain shaped stone, I go through my
silver and design from there.

This can and does lead to problems where I do not have a flat
surface onto which to solder a bezel. I work around that as best I
can. I love to reticulate, and good luck having a flat surface there,
corrugation is another.

My instructor, whom I love and respect, is always asking me for a
sketch. So hard for me to do. Yes I do frustrate him. The other
teacher referred to some of my work as “turds,” and wanted me to do
plain and simple. That is not me. I really listen to the metal and
the stones. I have been curvy my entire life, I do not see straight,
shiny, calibrated.

Had I started in an art program, perhaps I would see things
differently now. I did not. Traditionally, classically, trained
persons may well disagree. That is what they were taught and know.
For me, I welcome change, at times that works, and at times, back to
the crucible, and a do over.


Take the GIA counter sketching course, it’ll do wonders.

Let’s see, I have a back ground in technical drawing, and I started
my metal working career as a blacksmith. So to start with I had to
be rather faithful to my drawings, and I still am. That said if while
I’m building/making a piece I notice a detail that would be better
if made differently then that’s what I do.

I see my drawings (so long as they are for and by me) as a map to a
destination, if however the drawing was done with a customer (I hate
the word client) then I’m a lot more mindful of the details as drawn,
and if something comes up that would be better another way I contact
the customer and we work through the changes until we are both
satisfied, remember I still have to be able to make/realise the

As an example, right now I’m designing a pendant that has to hold a
41ct created diamond, and be free floating (sort of a fold over clasp
design) on an oval (in cross section) knitted chain, as the custom
has bough my work before they have said here is the idea, make it
happen. The details (and yes my drawings are very detailed when there
are mechanical aspects to a design) are all up to me so long as I
keep to the free floating pendant idea… And yes I thing the rock
is ludicrously huge, but that’s life.