Sunday, November 28, 2010

Design Philosophy

It's been a busy couple of weeks. This post isn't very long but it is one I think very important. It's about design. I may have talked about this before, but it bears re-iterating.  How does one go about designing? How does one pick the best design for the idea/ stone/ etc?  Well, here's how I go about it. This technique goes back to my undergraduate days. My metals professor, Thelma Coles (she's had the most profound influence on how I go about making art than anyone else), required us to keep a sketchbook of our designs, which was graded at the end of every semester. Thelma required that I do at least 10 alternative sketches of every single design/ concept I came up with. I don't know if she required this of every one else but I really think she tailored her requirements to best serve her students.  At the time I thought this was an impossible task. I couldn't possibly come up with 10 designs per idea, but being a dutiful student, I started trying. And to my astonishment, I came to really like it. I had to sit and really think and focus and then really explore every concept and record that exploration.  I will tell you now design #1 was rarely the design that proved the best.  So I challenge all you artists out there if you aren't doing it already, make at least 5-10 variations on any design you do for a month at least and see where it leads.  I still use this approach for 99% of every thing I make and it has served me better than I could have possibly imagined.  So here's an example of what I'm talking about:

So here's the piece in progress- main soldering done (stone is just sitting in place- not set) and the general sanding/ shaping is done but that's it. You can see how white the metal is- that's the unpolished fine silver surface coming up.

This was the first page

Second page
As you can see, the designs are pretty similar but there are subtle differences and this is really where one can make or break a piece.  The devil is in the details, as they say :-)  After looking over the designs and construction considerations, I picked the upper right design, which of course was one of the last. I've opted to use some kum-boo on the textured background to play off the yellow in the stone and that's not on the piece yet. I still have to solder my maker's mark plaque and the findings on the back and then the soldering will be done. Once the piece is sufficiently sanded and then depletion gilded, I'll do the kumboo (stay tuned for that how-to post soon) then tumble the piece to burnish the surface and work harden the metal again (another post waiting in the wings).

Occasionally I just wing it and don't start out with a design at all, I just pick a stone and play around with scrap and shapes that look interesting and work intuitively.  I've been doing this metals thing for over 20 years now so I've had a lot of practice being 'intuitive', keep in mind. I know my material and I know my style. But it takes me 3 times longer to create a piece that way than it would if I'd just sat down for 20 minutes and worked all that stuff out on paper. Undoing something in metal is waaaayyy harder than scrubbing the last paint layer off your canvas, so whenever you can plan out your construction strategy, let's just say it makes for a lot less stress in the studio and way less scrapped metal.


  1. Great post! Thanks for sharing this with us. As a "hobbyist," I usually approach the design phase intuitively. I'm always telling myself I need to take a more structured approach to my design. I think I'll make myself do it on my next project.

  2. Thanks so much, Erik! It's so nice to see someone is actually reading this and finding it useful!!!