I read your post with interest.
Like you, I also travel to colleges to give demos and presentations.
My most recent one was at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia
and it was on the flexshaft.
While there are many accessories with the flex-shaft which speed up
your work, it is the hand which is celebrated in the metals
department. They have an impressive array of equipment, a very fancy
CAD system combined with a model scanner which builds the models in
resin, casting equipment, etc. A student was watching my demo
stating, “ooh, I could clean this up much faster with a Radial
Bristle disc, or grind a curve better with a knife edge wheel.” True
you could, but in order to understand how to use flex-shaft
accessories, you must first know what your hands are capable of
doing. The student was filing and filing, sanding and sanding, all by
hand. For this I completely and whole heartedly agree, that learning
by hand is the right way.
Now, if you are commissioned to make one hundred of these, and you
need to clean them all by yourself, than absolutely, the flex-shaft
is the way to go.
Two years ago at the MJSA Expo in NYC, I came across a machine which
had Tiffany style prong rings lined up on a little conveyer belt. The
ring moved along assembly style and a hart bur carved out a seat in
the prong. The next was a stone which was plopped into the prong and
finally a little tool that pushed the prongs over one by one. When
finished it was dropped into a small vibratory polisher and in 15
minutes, voila! You had your finished ring. Understandingly, the
machine drew quite a crowd. One attendee said, "wow, with this
machine, I could fire two of my employees. This machine doesn’t need
unemployment insurance, workers comp, health insurance, paid
holidays, vacations, sick time and will work any shift I ask it to."
Needless to say, all the rings looked exactly the same. These rings
went from CAD to wax, casted, cleaned and placed in the machine.
Almost every step of the way was automated.
Automation is not new. What we do with automation, how we treat the
process, etc., is up to us, the artists. Can you imagine how
expensive automobiles would be if each one was hand made? Or how
about appliances, computers, or even music? Does an electric piano
sound better than a hand built Steinway. What if you strive to make
the electric piano sound and act like the Steinway, and you
absolutely loved music and played often. Which would you buy?
I think jewelry is like this, and education is the key. I like
computer aided design for some things. I’m not very mechanically
inclined and when I see a CAD demo of the inner workings of a car, it
educates me in discussions of why my mechanic is charging me a huge
bill. Otherwise, I would simply sputter and cry over the decision to
pay the charge or pay my mortgage that month.
I think for some things, CAD in jewelry is great. If you can’t carve
or draw, having the tools to render the work is very helpful. But CAD
is a tool, just like the flex shaft, or just like your file.
Innovation is what humans do. If we spend the time making something
by hand, then it is up to us to make sure that we bring everything we
can to the hand made piece. - historical reference, passion,
enthusiasm, metaphor and craftsmanship.
What CAD won’t do for me is create the quality and weight of a
simple line. One of the best skills I learned in school was drawing.
I still don’t do it well, but I practice. The weight of a line, the
thickness, the imprint in the paper, the subtle changes in the weight
of my pencil and the mark it creates is not the same when I see a CAD
drawing. They look monochromatic to me. For this, I resort to a piece
of wire and a hammer, or wax and a file. This makes my line, the
connection between my hand and my heart, the weight of the hammer, or
my file. If, above all things automated, this simple precept of
making by hand is made clear to students, then they will have a life
making their heart’s work, choosing the appropriate tool, rather than
Which by the way, a hand crafted burger is much tastier than one
that is made on an assembly line.
M E T A L W E R X
50 Guinan St.
Waltham, MA 02451
Ph. 781/891-3854 Fax 3857
Jewelry/Metalarts School & Cooperative Studio