Back to Ganoksin | FAQ | Contact

Inspiration and influence

All, I have been thinking about this one for a long time but never
seem to have time to sit and write it down. The thread concerning
books for learning how to draw jewelry renewed my desire to write on
this subject and, well, my wife is gone on a long trip and I seem to
have a lot of time after I get the kiddies in bed so here it is.

There are a lot of things that bring us inspiration. I think that
it would be helpful to hear from others where our inspiration comes
from and what inspired or influenced us the most in our art.
Especially those things that inspired us that are not jewelry

For example two things really helped me to get me where I am today.
The first is a book called "Drawing on the right side of the brain"
by Betty Edwards. This book isn’t just a text on how to draw, it
describes creativity and explains where it comes from, or at least
from what part of the brain it comes from. The exercises in it
really helped me to do more than learn how to draw, it taught me how
to “see.” The author relates in the book how different “seeing” is
from merely “looking” and what that means to someone who is trying
to draw and create art. Her explanations took me back to the first
time I really “saw” a ring. It was like I had accessed a part of my
brain that had never been opened to the light of day. I always felt
a great joy in that moment but also a little bit of embarrassment.
Before I read her book I could never properly explain it to others
and most people, except for the artists, just looked at me like I
had two heads.

So, I recommend the book for those who don’t just want to learn to
draw jewelry but want to learn how to draw anything and everything.
I discoed that the exercise of drawing is to creativity what weight
training is to athletes. You just must do it to stay in top shape.

The other thing that really influenced me was my study of bonsai,
the art of growing miniature trees in shallow pots. I’ve never had
formal art training and my art education really ended when my public
school stopped requiring it. So, even though I’ve made jewelry my
whole life, my concept of composition for the years prior to about
1982 was pretty abysmal. With bonsai you need to create a feeling
of life and character from pretty static materials. The books I
studied taught me about balance, form, texture, composition and
movement (as well as patience). It was amazing to me that I could
make a relatively static tree in a pot look like it had movement. I
could make a small and fragile plant look solid and a young tree I
just purchased from a garden center look ancient and withered.

Nowadays I don’t do bonsai. I have applied what I learned in that
field to jewelry design, which I found to be a lot more satisfying
(plus I didn’t have to remember to water my jewelry every day or
find someone to do it for me when I was on vacation). But what I
learned from it will be with me forever.

I’d love to offer recommendations about the best bonsai books, but
honestly I got most of my learnin’ from books at my public library.
That is a pretty good place to start because most books on bonsai
aren’t just texts but are fairly large art books with great pictures
of extremely old trees and so were too expensive for me to buy.

Anyone else care to share personal areas of inspiration/influence
and more importantly, how these might help us to create more,
beautiful jewelry? The less jewelry specific the subjects are the
more fascinating, as far as I’m concerned. I’d love to find a new
field of study that will enhance my creativity and open up new ways
of thinking by giving me an alternative, but perhaps parallel, trail
toward making new jewelry.


Hi Larry, My favorite source of inspiration is nature. Not only
using shapes of natural objects in my work (trees and leaves are a
favorite), but also the textures and contours. I am especially
facinated by found items that are smooth on the surface but all
gnarled, rotted, or in some way detailed on the inside. And in the
same way architecture sometimes inspires me, too.

I don’t know if this will count toward inspiration, but the best
jewelry ideas I get are through the subconscious. The most common
way this happens is when I think I see something interesting in a
quick glance or at the corner of my eye. When I look closer the
thing is usually not what I thought it was, but that idea that I
thought I saw is usually something I think is good and want to
transfer to jewelry somehow. For example, if I think I see an old
log in the shape of a woman I may look closer and realize that it is
not the shape I thought it was at all. But then the idea will stick
to make a bark textured figure in metal as a pendant or a cuff
bracelet. It especially happens with jewelry. I catch a glimpse of
a wonderful piece while thumbing through a magazine. When I stop and
look the piece is not what I thought and mediocre, but I still have
the idea of the wonderful thing I thought I saw in my head.

Another way I get subconscious ideas is when drifting off to sleep.
These are usually solutions to design or mechanical problems I have
with a piece. Like how to arrange the stones I want to use for a
bracelet that looks better than the way I originally had them and was
not incredibly happy with. Or just how am I going to make a clasp
that will fit a certain piece. Out of nowhere while I am drifting
off the solution pops into my head. I have to get up and write it
down because if I go to sleep I’ll forget it in the morning.

So, if anyone reads this far, does anyone else use their
subconscious to design jewelry? I would be interested to hear how
you tap into it. Or any other unorthodox/freaky ways of coming up
with inspiration.


Hi Larry, thank you for a great post. I shared your revelation about
Betty Edwards’ book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”, and
the way it introduced you to understanding creativity and seeing. Did
you know the word “aesthetic” comes from the Greek: “to see with
understanding”? Kind regards Rex Steele Merten in Oz

    The other thing that really influenced me was my study of
bonsai, the art of growing miniature trees in shallow pots. 

Larry, it’s interesting that you used bonsai as your inspiration.
Bonsai is beautiful and lyrical but it’s born out of pain and
suffering. The plants are contorted, wired and pruned. They are
uprooted and the roots are cut back and stunted in small shallow
planters. I think a lot of art and creativity is born of hardship of
one sort or another and is therefore more precious and hard won.


Having had the fortunate experience in my youth to have worked with a
couple of talented modelmakers in Providence, RI, I plan out my work
in thought before I make it. White metal models are rather
unforgiving- soldering them has to be experienced- the difference in
flow temperature between the solders and alloy is about 30-50 degrees
at most, and even with a gas/air torch not much fun…

Though I mostly dislike sterling, it is a mostly superior model
making material compared to tin alloys.

My cad system is running now, cutting a file called triune5, a woven
cross of Celtic feeling. It is nice to have a concept, draw it with a
Wacom tablet in Corel Draw, and feed it into ArtCAM. Within a short
time-frame my concept is either “what ever was I thinking” or
hmmm… Never quite cross correlates with “Never underestimate the
taste of the American public”, but that’s life…

Rick Hamilton

Custom gold and platinum jewelry
CAD/CAM and conventional modelmaking

Hi Jill and Orchidians…

An explanation/theory of this I came across years ago in a
photography book called “Photographic Lighting-Learning to See” by
Ralph Hattersley.

His concept is that the brain, in daily existance, is bombarded with
from the senses, especially visual, and in order to
interpret an environment it automatically sets up filters to make
sense of the chaos, whilst it is processing other things as part of
existance…and the idea is to “stop” the filtering and processing
and try to really “look” at things, or a thing…

And sometimes we indadvertantly “stop” and “see”…and then the
interpretive filters come down again…and then it doesn’t look
what we “saw”…

Used to spend a lot more time looking through a camera, and when I
read this explanation I said…“Yeah! I’ve had this happen…” I
figured this is because when you look through a camera, you have
limited the field of visually to interpret, so you
eliminate some of the distracting input that normal conditions
enforce upon the brain, reducing the need for the “filters”…giving
the undermind a chance to make itself heard…

Gary W. Bourbonais

[Edited: Hanuman - add url]

    So, if anyone reads this far, does anyone else use their
subconscious to design jewelry?  I would be interested to hear how
you tap into it.  Or any other unorthodox/freaky ways of coming up
with inspiration. 

Jill, Don’t feel like your a ‘freak’. I too make things out of
something thats not what it seems… clouds, shadows, reflections, or
just the way paint was applied to a textured wall! Seems I’m always
seeing designs for jewelry projects. Art, sculpture, nature ,and
other artist work inspire me. And I get up excited to get in the shop
and create one of those ideas…it is truley a "high’ BUT, where I get
most of my better ideas or insirations is:…as I am waking up. In
that twighlight waking dream state, a number of times a week, I find
myself deep in a jewelry design… ‘experimenting’ with ways to do a
design , even procedures and tools I could use.It’s a very plastic
world, and some of the ideas that seemed so good,are simply dreams
and impossible to put in 3 dimentions. While on vacation recently, I
had this tumultuous dream concerning a trillion cut diamond that
somehow looked like it was spinning out of the design like a tornado,
In the dream it was really dramatic. I woke up and got my sketch pad
and stared scribling page after page,(my wife thought I was mad)
trying to get it on paper. I only got the gist of it tho, If I don’t
get up and draw them , when fully awake ,I loose them too.

These times are something I look forward to. It’s great impetus to
get up early and get in the shop before the ‘real’ day starts. Thomas

Hi Larry,

This is a great thread! I was just asked yesterday, about what
inspired me so it’s been on my mind too. Inspiration is so emotional
and not a conscious choice so I really had to get introspective and
slow down enough to think about it. Plus, it really appears to change
at different ages!

When I was in college, my inspiration was ancient work and things
that had been done by the great masters. I studied Art History along
with jewelry design and spent many hours staring into the emotive
faces captured by Rembrandt, Raphael, other masters of many ages.
They inspired me to let my own creativity come through, using the
medium I loved, metals. I remember one specific semester that I did
a series of pins made of acrylic and sterling interpreting the nude
through different artist’s styles…if Picasso was to make this pin,
what would it look like? It was a fun study and really stretched my
sense of design.

After I started doing shows, my custom work with my own clients (who
had their own vision) my inspirations dramatically change. I was
exposed to established jewelers and a wide variety of techniques that
inspired me. I would use the opportunity of a custom design client to
suggest new approaches that I’d seen and wanted to try and perfect
(or try and never try again like casting big bugs or setting human
teeth) For 20 years, this was my inspiration and my study of the past
was relegated to the occasional program on PBS. (gotta love that
Sister Wendy and her colorful art dialogues)

This year I realized that my inspiration sources have again
migrated. I did the JCK-Vegas and JA-NY International Jewelry Shows
for the first time and was exposed to a new field of jewelry
professionals. My neighbors in the IJDG area (International Jewelry
Design Guild) had found their ‘voice’ as artists and the environment
that was created was so confident. Fun technical shop talk about our
passions inspired me beyond belief. Not to change my own work but to
rise to the best that I can be in the techniques I love.

T Lee

I found, that although this isn’t the best way, that if I stay up
until real early around 3 - 4 am I get my best ideas.

It’s as though a light just comes on and things I had trouble
figuring out just come to me. My best designs just flood in and
usually have more than I could note or draw. Basically the
constraints of logical thinking is dominant which I call the waking
mind. Staying up, for me, a euphoric feeling comes in and the creative
side kicks in, the sleepy mind.

I’ve been reading The New Drawing On The Right Side of The Brain to
learn how to switch between two and get some sleep :D. In the sleeping
mind the only thing I’d do is draw or write notes about design or
solutions. I review and do the work in the my waking mind.

Also Google as a image search and just typing words that fit a mood
fill the screen with all kinds of thumbnail images.


does anyone else use their subconscious to design jewelry?  I
would be interested <\to hear how you tap into it.  Or any other
unorthodox/freaky ways of coming up with inspiration. 

Jill, I have only once been able to use an idea that I received by
way of dreams. Some of you may recall my questions concerning
making a watch crystal. I had been really concentrating on a
solution and it was keeping me up one night. During the sort of
in-between stages of consciousness and dream, I imagined that I had
taken one of my wife’s glass topped cooking pans and ground it down
for a crystal…she was exceptionally vocal in my dream about
destroying one of her best pots but it had just the right curve. Of
course in reality it wasn’t the right shape and would have been too
thick. But it did get me thinking in a different direction and I
did finally come up with a useful, available material…a 1000 ml
Pyrex beaker! It is a great solution and one I wouldn’t have
considered if I had not had that dream.

Most of the dreams I have are so totally not useful. I dreamt up a
design once that was so simple to make that I could make 10 a day
and in my dream I sold them for enough money that I never had to
work again if I didn’t want. I realized that I was dreaming while
still in the dream and my conscious brain got a chance to analyze
the piece. The design was so nonsensical and unworkable that I
actually laughed in my sleep so hard that I woke myself up and my
wife, too.

Perhaps other people have better results with their dreams than I
do. But I still practice lucid dreaming (the ability to consciously
realize you are dreaming while still in the dream and to consciously
manipulate the dream). But I am seldom ever to able to merge the
creative and conscious parts of my brain at the same time without
working so hard at it that I rouse myself out of the dream state.
If anyone is interested in the process a good book is “Exploring the
world of lucid dreaming” by authors LaBerge and Rheingold.

The best ways I have been able to merge the conscious and
subconscious is by drawing. One way is deliberate, the other a
byproduct of the process of drawing. The deliberate way is to just
doodle and scribble and watch what comes to the page without
analyzing it too much. I am surprised that many times I will have
actually created something interesting. In fact I even include
these doodles in my work now. Anyone who gets Metalsmith magazine
will see in the latest “exhibition in print” edition on page 54 the
result of such scribbling in an ad I am running (I sold the thing
too, which is the coolest thing ever and it has been the most
expensive single sale I have had at a craft show since I started
doing shows). The other, nondeliberate way is that while drawing a
very detailed drawing like a landscape or a face while totally
ingrossed in the process I will sometimes come up with an idea that
will be really useful and creative. Usually it is a solution to a
problem that I have been concentrating hard on in the recent past
but not at the present time. This just reinforces my conviction
that drawing exercises creativity and strengthens it.

Anyway, I hope this is useful or at least a little entertaining.


Wow, this is exactly what happens to me just as you describe it.
Sometimes as you say, I’ll be looking through a magazine. The thing
I glimpse may be on a piece of fabric, furniture, pottery, whatever,
but I’ll see it as a element or even a whole piece of jewelry. The
element may be a miniscule part of a sleeve and will suggest a
pendant chain and all in a cool shape I couldn’t have thought up
myself. Sometimes upon waking I’ll be staring without looking toward
the window and shapes will appear on what is really a vague floral
pattern on the curtain, possibly one petal and a smudge. Usually it
is a very small element of something.

Also as you say, when I look at a collection of jewelry photographed
in a case, like a photograph of a gallery or museum or exhibit,
where a vague image of jewelry in a case is seen what I imagine the
jewelry to look like blossoms into a whole detailed image of what I
want it to look like. I can turn the page of the magazine and an
actual close up of the jewelry is there but it won’t be at all what
I imagined. What I imagined was much cooler.

I always feel that what I see doesn’t have enough contrast or
texture or isn’t organic or rustic enough so I have to go off to
create what I wanted to see.

Anyway, Jill, you expressed it so well and I never thought of
putting this phenomonon into words. Annette

You said essentially the source of an idea or inspiration is often
not like the final creation. Maybe this is something akin to what
was said by Rex Merten in the next post: '.you know the word
"aesthetic" comes from the Greek: 'to see with Understanding"?'
Much of my inspiration is a similar process from the first thought,
scene or object. Then again, the item will “speak” to me in some
ethereal manner as if begging to be completed; so came a small
sculpture from a sliver of rosewood and a fluorite crystal begging
to get together into a complete unit.

As a jeweler, much work is technical in nature starting with a
planned design. The execution is the work, not the form. Then, when
a free time comes and I want to do something for me, something of
me, there is generally a quick inspiration of some kind I cannot
explain. Very little overt thinking is needed; yet the thinking is
happening somewhere! This will often combine forms and techniques
with which I am comfortable. If the design requires a new
technique…well, we go from there.

Perhaps a real problem to creativity is constraints. These might be
technical abilities or damaging constraints to a commissioned job,
planned to be original(well, one of a kind) Recently, a “should have
been simple” job filled my thoughts with constraints of price,
staying within a theme so as not to “lose the idea”, what would be
accepted and considered fine work… This brought me to total
creativity block, a blank canvas! The cure was recognizing what
was happening: Overworking the idea and going backwards.

Once a bit of time was given away from the work, I approached the
design with a freed sense of direction. I called this, “let it flow
then refine.” So, the creation is now on paper and remarkably
within the “theme” and other constraints.

Commissioned work can constrain and block the creative process.
Then again, a certain discipline is needed for this kind of work.
The easiest is when the purchaser has seen enough of my work to be
comfortable with however I might do it.

Jill, to provide a quick answer to you: Yes, most of my ideas come
from nature. The final item might have no obvious connection with
nature as viewed by someone else. Maybe the Greek aesthetic is
working or I just have blurred vision.


I have read the book “Drawing on the right side of the brain” and
done the stuff with tress and totally agree with you.

Betty has updated the book since I read it, but it changed the way I
looked at things and increased my drawing capabilities beyond belief.
I moved to Dubai around 5 years ago so I was unable to bring my few
remaining Bonsai with me (they are still at my Mums house in the UK)
but when I go home for a few weeks every summer I have a nice
relaxing (creative) time tending them.

I wonder what else we have in Common !!!
Cheers Paul Townsend

[Edited: Hanuman, add URL]

Jill, In my life, there are two ways to design. One deliberately,
on a theme, such as a commission related to a special idea. Then,
there is the ‘my’ design. It comes when i sit with paper and pencil
and just let my hand do what it wants to.

That, of course, brings about some very interesting things. I don’t
like to do earrings and rings don’t thrill me… not enough space on
them to design! Nor do I like to hassle the mirror imaging!

My greatest love in my studio is the designing! It’s the easy part,
and comes from a place in my spirit that has been ‘speaking thru my
hands’ since I was a little girl. I now do little sculptures that are
perfect for brooches or broad cuff bracelets.

When I decided to attend college to learn to make jewelry I had every
expectation of working with stones as the primary fucus with the
metal simply supporting the stones. As I went along, I lost interest
in stones, I have a complete lapidary set up, but the metal is my
love! I use stones as accent, if at all. This is not at all what I
had anticipated for my jewelry work, but listening to my spirit, in
a relaxed mood, it comes.

One exercise in school that I enjoyed was to take a basic idea for a
ring or whatever and do 10 variations on the theme, shape, or
particular design feature. I soon began to reach for 20, then 30,
(keeping a good scrapbook of all of them) and letting my imagination
run WILD to bring freshness to them.

It is interesting to note that we will do very different things on
any one day. That is why I began to reach for more designs on a
theme, I did them on successive days and found that I could bring
entirely new ideas after I had run ‘dry’ the previous day. Without
looking at the work of previous days, I would continue with a new set
of drawings until I had no more that were fresh. Of course, after the
project is done, and the evaluation processbegins, there are some
real dogs in themix, Haha, why not! But, sorting things out, I find
some really great stuff, worthy of putting into physical form, and
the rest saved for another day…

I will never live long enough to make all the things I design, but
so what! I love the journey, Boy, this is more fun than I ever had
as a kid!!!

Best regards,jeannie (frif)

Donna, it is a part of the lore and romance of bonsai that the
plants are tortured and under extreme hardship. I thought the same
thing when I started working with small trees. But, bonsai plants
are just about the most pampered plants in the garden or home.
Still, I think that an artist can still take a lot of inspiration
from the process and especially from the trees themselves. In fact
as you read, or reread the following put artist in place of Bonsai
tree/plant and in many of the sentences you essentially get a good
allegory about artists, too.

Bonsai trees must grow in order to survive; and a tortured tree just
won’t thrive enough to survive. It is one of those myths about the
plants that once in the pot the gardener does not want them to grow
or that they become static. Also, most trees can only stand a small
amount of contortion before they break; so, the plants must be bent
when they are young, green and more pliable; with a plan in mind as
to how the plant will look when mature, beautiful dramatic trees can
be grown…a gardener must just have patience. The remarkable thing
about trees is that they have such a great ability to adapt to
forces beyond their control. Also, the wire that supports the
branches is only on for a very short period of time before it is
removed or replaced, otherwise the bark would permanently scar when
it grows into the wire and possibly become strangled, destroying
it’s natural beauty.

Pruning is a natural and even necessary element for many plants.
All trees have evolved to live with the fact that they get eaten
(naturally pruned) both above and below the ground. Since gardeners
control what goes on above and below the ground it is necessary for
them to do the pruning. Trees regally accept the fact that they are
at the bottom of the food chain.

The most inspiring thing to me is how tough and adaptable trees are.
They must survive extremes of heat and cold that almost no other
living thing can. In fact most trees can’t live without great
amounts of stress being put on them. Take a drought resistant oak
tree; if taken out of the natural environment and placed in a house
where there are constant, even temperatures and given lots of water,
the tree would die in a matter of months. It wouldn’t even
germinate in conditions like that.

This is how, as an artist, I allow trees and bonsai to inspire me.


I have to say that to a large degree I disagree with the idea that
constraints are a problem to creativity. In fact I think they are
necessary. If someone came to me and said “make me a piece of
jewelry,” the first thing I would do is put constraints on it. Do
you want a ring or a brooch, do you want stones in it, do you want
it to cost $1,000 or $10,000? If someone told me to make anything I
don’t think I could do it. I need some idea where to go.

Is it harder to be creative if you have too many restraints or
parameters? Maybe, or maybe it is just going to take more time or
radical thinking. It reminds me of the student I once knew who was
watching me work. They said," I could never do that it is just too
hard to do." I told them that they were thinking the wrong way.
Nothing is any harder to do than anything else; It just takes longer
to do. At least that is my opinion.


As with many of us, nature seems to be the heavyweight in my
inspirations as well, though its interpretation is very seldom

It was years before I began to recognize that the curves and spatial
relationships of the metal elements in my work were born of my
beloved Arizona mountains, volcanic remnants and eroded rock
outcroppings. The “movement” in a piece recalls water currents,
arching grasses or a birds’ flight.

The materials I prefer are usually cabochons with some meteorite
fragments, fossils or ancient glass and an occasional faceted stone

I admit my stone combinations are mostly color-driven but I cannot
escape the emotional (unconscious, right-brained) response to the
shape, textures and visual “feel” (technical artist term?) as they
play off one another. This is when the stones “speak” of their
undeniable need to be together and I can see that the whole is much
greater than the sum of its parts. The funny thing is that I seem to
be merely an observer, not personally responsible when it happens!
Good topic Larry. Thanks.

Pam Chott

Thank you all for a wonderful thread!

Back in my corporate life I had over 100 magazines a month circulate
throug h my office (I didn’t read them all- just looked at the
pictures to get an idea of various trends). I also went to a lot of
craft and trade shows. Whe n I moved to Maine to start my own line I
went on a 2 year ‘input fast’. I didn’t read any magazines or go to
any shows. This was incredibly helpful. I often get my answers and
inspirations when I’m not actively seeking them AD leaving the door
open for them to come home. It’s important for me to be receptive-
some ways to evoke this state include: Good tunes. Music can
celebrate and enhance the current mood - or take a ba d mood and turn
it around. Getting out of my own way. Banish all limiting thoughts
as they sneak in and replace them with positive expansive thoughts.
Banish the word ‘can’t’ from the studio- instead I ‘choose to’ or
’choose not to’ do something- realizing that making mistakes is the
only way we push past limitations and learn something new (this has
been incredibly inspiring). Quincy Jones says when he sets out to
create he leaves some space for God in the room. Gratitude journal:
every day write down 5 things I am thankful for. This is incredibly
powerful- you start to look for little things to be happy about and
take the big stuff in stride. If I am really mad or distracted-
(this is when it is almost impossible to be creative or productive) I
will write a few pages- let whatever is eating me spill out on the
page. When I am done, I am often surprised at what I’ve written and
since it is on paper- I can let it go and get back to work. Dance,
dance, dance… Spin around- stretch out, loosen up. Crank up the
tunes in the studio and swoop around- returning all distracting items
to their rightful places. Dance around while doing a major clean up-
(How is it every horizontal surface in the studio begs to be
cluttered) - what a visua l relief to work in an ordered and tidy
studio. Get outside. Brisk walk. Meander with a buddy. Stand still-
take in the sounds, smells and subtle changes around us. Cross
country ski, snow shoe, rollerblade. Getting the circulation going
and lots of oxygen in my lungs almost always gets me unstuck. Plants
and flowers- I am inspired by them in all their forms- from the
seedling through all stages including decay. Laugh out loud. Often.
Have a great day, all! Thanks for being part of this amazing
community. Best Regards, Kate Wolf in Portland, Maine- hosting
quality workshops.