When do you stop?

        " Excellence is the mortal enemy of Good Enough" Made me

Thank you Deb, I’ve always like that one. Here’s another one of my

“Only the worst artists are always at their best.”

David L. Huffman (not as bad -or- as good as they say I am)

Here is a great quotation I learned at school:  You can get away
with a poor design with great craftsmanship, but you can't get
away with a great design and poor craftsmanship. 

Okay folks I am going to try to ask a question if I can figure out
how to word it and hopefully not be offensive. I recently received
my MFA in Metal/Jewelry. In art school one often sees great design
with poor craftsmanship…in fact something that was difficult for me
to deal with in Art School was that some artists would use"Art" as an
excuse for not needing to refine their skills or work.
Unfortunately, this seemed to be acceptable and as an art student I
found it difficult to find training in the proper jewelry
practices/skills/techniques (I know I am not articulating this as
well as I wish to). I am not saying this is the case in all art
schools this is just my experience. Don’t get me wrong either, my
art education is extremely valuable to me. The creative freedom I
have achieved is important but so too is having work that holds up to
inspection when being viewed from a photograph. I am very technically
minded and possess that certain retentiveness David refers to I love
to learn and will read and study myself to death and like Alan will
sit at my bench forever but how, how do I learn the skills I am
missing - proper stone setting for example and how am I to know if my
pieces are well-crafted if I don’t know the standard? On the other
hand I possess allot of self-taught skills and have learned much by
having to develop/refine my own processes. I have done quite allot
of work with core casting and am still pushing that technique. But
with the above comments I would be afraid for any of you to see my

I hope I have not said anything offensive I am just struggling with
wanting to learn learn learn and this is sometimes difficult from a

Verna Holland
DeKalb, IL

Just a brief comment. Many years ago I was training under a crusty
old Estonian jeweler, sweating over some final little
"imperfection," worrying it to death, you might say…He looked over
at me and said, “Don’t fall in love with it, mister…” I’ve always
remembered that… -BK in AK

Verna, Over the years, here on Orchid and also on other sites, there
have been lengthy discussions about the craft of jewelry. I have
seen disdain from both camps, those whose skills came via academia
vs those that came from seat of the pants apprentice, or simply
doing it.

Yours is not an unusual happenstance. Nothing will replace
practicing diligently the skills you wish to perfect. Books are
excellent for technical data as well as techniques. Try to get into
a situation where you can apprentice a bit. You have plenty to offer
and can possibly do an energy exchange, your academic knowledge for
another’s bench skills.

There are several week long lesser expensive intensives offered
across the country. Many sponsored by a Federation group. Best place
to begin to seek these out is the ABMs Web site, there you will find
links to the Federation and clubs in your specific geographical

Next there are classes offered by Revere Academy, or Elaine Luis New
Approach School, as well as others across the country. Look to
Lapidary Journal for a listing.

I know you will receive other responses from both camps. This is a
very giving list.

Good luck,

But with the above comments I would be afraid for any of you to see
my work. 

Verna, One thing to keep in mind is that although you’ve spent a
number of years on the MFA, and others on the bachelors, if you add
the actual total hours spent learning and doing jewelry, rather than
other classes needed for the degrees, and figure how many years that
equals of 40 hours a week full time work, you’ll be surprised how
little time you’ve actually spent doing jewelry work so far. It’s
normal then, to not have spend as many hours practicing and doing,
over and over, some of the manual skills needed for this rather
complex craft. What you’ve been given, in contrast to what many
who’ve not been through the art schools and expect the degree should
mean actual total mastery of the craft, is a very thorough and broad
ranging grounding in the craft, and especially, in the creative
thought process. Far too many people who learn jewelry through the
industry, and become excellent craftspeople, never actually learn
how to work creatively. Even many of those working as designers do
so by pretty much copying what seems to have worked for others. As
they spend years doing this, gradually they branch out into doing
their own thing, but it can take quite some time before they’re
really doing original work. What your degree has done is to show you
a broad range of technical possibilities, some of which you’ve honed
well, and others which will have to wait till you’ve the time and
interest. And, most importantly, it’s taught you creative and
critical thinking about your design work and the craft. You’ve
still got a long way to go before you’re truly a master of the craft,
but this is no different from other fields. A newly minted PhD in the
Sciences may be proud of that degree, but when they get into the work
place, they’re now competing with peers who earned the same degree
quite some time ago, and have gone way beyond that initial
experience. You too, have a great deal to learn, but unlike many who
don’t learn the critical thinking and creative process, and who’ve
not made a study of what’s been already done (so they often spend
years reinventing the wheel) you KNOW what you don’t know, and where
you need to go. That, believe it or not, is a great advantage. But
this doesn’t change the fact that at this point, you’re still a newly
minted MFA grad, looking for her place in the world and the field,
and wondering just where it will lead, and all that jazz. It’s not
easy, nor handed to you on a silver platter. But with the grounding
you’ve got in judgment of the craft and design, you can go a lot
farther. Sure, you’ve much to practice and learn in the traditions,
which in the old world were taught over a seven year apprenticeship
that, unlike your degree program, was truly full time immersion in
the craft. But you’ll get there, and with a bit of time and work,
you’ll find soon enough that the gaps in your skills can be filled
in, and while it may seem like forever to get there, by the time you
find you don’t feel embarrassed to show your efforts to this crowd,
it won’t seem like it’s taken you all that long after all. When
you’re running into trouble, ask your old friends from school, or ask
here, or other resources as you can find them. But the main thing it
will simply take is practice and time. not much way around that.
But it WILL happen.

good luck Peter Rowe (bs art ed, '74, U.W. madison, MFA metals/jewelry,
'89, Tyler ) and moderator of the rec.crafts.jewelry newsgroup (a
usenet newsgroup discussion, somewhat parallel to the purposes of
Orchid, but slower paced, perhaps)

    ...but how, how do I learn the skills I am missing - proper
stone setting for example and how am I to know if my pieces are
well-crafted if I don't know the standard? 

Verna, there are a variety of ways to increase your technical
skills. Your initiative and the drive for perfection are your most
important tools available to you. Join a guild so you can take
advantage of the knowledge of others in your field. Some guilds also
have videos available for renting. Take the workshops offered by the
metals guilds that are in your area.

Start checking out rock shops and jewelry stores in your area. Many
rockers make their own settings for their stones. You want a working
jeweler, not one of those mall shops. Look for the little
hole-in-the-wall places rather than the glitzy places. Look at their
work. Tell them up-front you’re an aspiring student looking to make
this field as your living. Usually they don’t mind spending 20-30
min. of their time in shop talk, once or twice a month. Take your own
crafted jewelry in for a technical, rather than artistic, critique
from them. Often they’ll offer solutions.

Look for jewelers and rockers that have beat up hands. You don’t
want the sales person with perfectly manicured hands; you want the
ones that actually work with their hands on a constant basis, and
those hands will have the signs of hard work. After you find someone
you get along well with, and whose work you admire, start angling for
an unpaid apprenticeship. Even if it’s only for a few days per week,
and your biggest challenge is going to be polishing.

A successful jeweler doesn’t have time to teach you everything, but
you can pick up an amazing amount of on techniques and
bench tricks just by observing between polishing jobs. By handling
the jewelry on a personal level, you learn what is well made and what
isn’t. You’ll learn which tools work best for particular jobs, which
ones you really need, and which that are just gadgets. You’ll learn
to balance perfection with productivity and cost-effectiveness.

And after working your fingers to the bone in a shop, you will have
a more realistic view of doing this as a business, with designing the
jewelry as only one small component of a larger picture. You may find
out you don’t like dealing with difficult customers, doing the books,
dealing with a difficult supplier, having a commission fall through
after 20 hours was put into it, learning to tell a customer than the
valuable and precious babies that Aunt Matilda willed to them is
actually junk and will cost more to repair than what it’s worth
(which sometimes doesn’t matter because of the sentimental value),
finding out which stones are junk, which ones cause problems and
why–and so much more. But you’ll have had the benefit of experience
without jumping in with both feet and finding out after several
years’ investment of time and money that you don’t want to be the
entrepreneur, but you’re perfectly happy being the shop flunkie.
You’ll find what your strengths and weaknesses are; whether or not
you recognize them, they will be pointed out to you.

I hope this gives you some good ideas. Good luck!

     Here is a great quotation I learned at school:  You can get
away with a poor design with great craftsmanship, but you can't get
away with a great design and poor craftsmanship. 

Hi Verna; I’m afraid I can’t agree with that. I’m going to apologize
ahead of time if I offend anyone, but some of the awards given out in
our industry have been for the most elegantly executed but wretched
designs since Cellini’s monstrosities. I suspect the judges of these
competitions are all industry people with little formal training in
design. On the other hand, when I was making large steel sculpture
in graduate school, I was in the metals department. I invited the
MFA sculpture people in to critique my work. One of them complained
that my welds were too good and stated that “my technical virtuosity
was getting in the way of my image”. This from someone who couldn’t
have run a bead with an arc welder if his life depended on it. But
back to that topic of “when is it finished”. Without going into my
theory on “erasure” and the artists choice of a degree of anonymity
(compare Vermeer with Rembrandt, is one better that the other?) let’s
just say that “finished” is irrelevant. What matters is that
everything was chosen to be the way it is . . . and don’t give me any
of that “I meant for it to be that way”. You have to have been
actually able to make the choice between “good as it gets” and “it
came out that way”. Evidence of the act of making is important in
the right place and in the right measure, otherwise, the watchmakers
have put us all to shame and we all might as well wear printed
circuit boards, since they are so perfect. On the other hand, once
you have mastered technique, you should be able to make it any dang
way you please and say so with authority. When I want it really
tight, I slow way down and ramp up the magnification. I also polish
my gravers to a mirror finish and start using really tiny burs. Yep,
I can pour it on, but I’m never fond of those pieces in the end. I
like the marks of hammer and files, and I even like some kinds of
wear, but my customer’s expect that stone to be set straight and the
polished surfaces to be free of ripples, etc. And also, Verna, if
you want better technique, try the short courses with Blaine Lewis,
Kate Wolf, Alan Revere, and our other friends here on Orchid. These
folks are not only experts in technique, they are in many ways more
effective instructors that the art school metals faculty (I can say
that, I was one of academia as well as a 30 year veteran of the
retail trade).

David L. Huffman

We were in a gallery lately, and (AGAIN!!!) there was an exhibit with
computer monitors showing, essentially, pretty colors and patterns.
But they were just stuck on a board, and there were wires an plugs
sticking out all over - I saw the same things before at MOMA, here in
SF. It’s like “I don’t have to worry about finishing it off, because
it’s ART”. Much as I love DuChamp, the day he leaned a snow shovel up
against the wall is the day that art died. There seems to be an
attitude that someone can stick a bunch of junk together with a hot
glue gun, and it is great art. That’s my rant, related to Mr.
Huffman’s reply.

As far as the original question, I have two comments. Students of
jewelry, and especially, I think, academics, often have a
preoccupation with “tricks” _"I need more tricks, or “tips”. As I
pointed out to a visiting class, looking at a huge piece of work,
“This was made with hammers, files, pliers, and a torch”. Most work
doesn’t need tricks, it needs skill (trained hands and eyes). You’re
going to gain that by practice, practice practice, and then some more
practice Finally, think of great work as something to attain,
not something that is better than you—

 Elaine Luis New Approach School, 

I’m sure this was just a typo, but that should be Blaine Lewis…

All the best,
Dave Sebaste

Ok, I’m wading in…

Art and craft are two related but separate concepts. Some great art
is constructed badly (bad craftsmanship) Leonardo’s “Last Supper” is
an example. Some wonderful craftsmanship is very bad art - a lot of
the material from the high end jewelers for instance (what we used to
call “traffic light jewelry”)

Just because something is well constructed and finished does not
make it art - is an Aston Martin car art? Duchamp’s shovel and urinal
were an expressions of art as the artists INTENTION! After we’ve
agreed about that - if we can - we then go on to talk about whether
it is good or bad art.

Someone once said that there are only two forms of art. Painting and
decorative cake making, of which architecture - and I guess jewelry
too - is a subset. Tony Konrath

Key West Florida 33040

Further to the subject of ‘knowing when to stop’; Being of a somewhat
anally retentive nature, I find it very difficult to stop working on
a piece and it’s never quite as good as I would like it. The problem
is, in order to bring it to the proper state of perfection, it would
be necessary in most cases to start over. In effect, I could end up
working on the same piece for the rest of my life. My personal
jewellery, for example, is so simple as to be impossible to improve,
otherwise I would constantly be tempted to touch it up. Best that my
pieces go away when they’re done as my customers want their stuff, so
I’m forced to relinquish it at the 'absolutely best I could do’

Concerning the standards of quality, I like imagine customer number
eleven. Nine out of ten customers will accept anything marginally
sparkly (otherwise, how could discount stores sell jewellery), but
the tenth will look very closely at the finished piece and have a
clue as to what to look for. These are my favorite customers as they
can appreciate the care that was taken.

Customer number eleven, however, is the one that has probably been
burned before and is bound and determined not to be fooled again. If
there is ANYTHING wrong with this thing, it will be found. (They
invariably ask for a loupe.) With this in mind, you can go crazy
trying to achieve perfection. In the end, you can always fall back on
the tradition of the Persian carpet weavers and admit that the one
flaw that was found was intentional. “To be perfect is to be God, and
I am not God. Therefore, I could not make it perfect.”

Ken Paulson.