6 Tips and Solutions for Making Artistic Jewelry from Jen Cushman and "Making Metal Jewelry"

My favorite kind of metalsmithing projects and designs are the ones created by artists–not only jewelry artists but “traditional” or mixed-media artists who bring their artistic techniques into their metalsmithing designs using paint and other pigments, paper, fibers, various forms of color, and more. So naturally, Jen Cushman is one of my favorites!

Photos by Jen Cushman.

Jen’s book Making Metal Jewelry is packed with jewelry-making projects that pair metal and metalsmithing techniques with artistic materials like pigments, paper, resin, ribbon and fibers, “metal fibers” (more on that below), and more. They’re artistic jewelry projects with an emphasis on the metalwork we love–creating an ideal mix of techniques and materials.

I learned some clever tips for using wire and found objects to make my jewelry easier to fabricate, more interesting, and more artistic. Most of them begin with the idea of making ball-end wires, which Jen calls “metal fibers.”

“I actually got that term from Susan (Lenart Kazmer), who was the first person to use this term,” Jen says. “Basically a metal fiber is drawing a bead on a piece of wire at both ends. This metal can then be used for lashing or coiling or wire wrapping.”

It’s so easy to ball up the end of wire–just hold it in the torch flame until the wire melts and the ball starts to form. Then “push” the wire down through the flame, allowing the ball to grow up the wire, taking in more wire as it goes. Remove when the ball is formed, being careful not to get the flame between the ball and the wire or it will cause the ball to drop off.

1. Coil-Friendly Ball-End Wires: Once you’ve got ball-end wires or “metal fibers,” you can use them to make perfect coiled-wire design elements in your designs. Because you don’t have to fuss with trying to tuck in the raw or sharp wire ends like you would with standard coils, these coils are super quick and easy to work with and will add texture and interest wherever you place them.

2. Balled-End Wires as Design Elements: Just like with wire coils, ball-end wires are ideal for wire wrapping and adding other wire elements to your projects, because you don’t have to figure out how to hide or secure the ends so they don’t snag. Whereas the coiled wires in #1 are best for smaller gauge wires, use larger gauge wires for artistic elements or wraps (and cold connections–see #3).

I love how the balled ends look–especially the red ones that you can form on copper or copper-core silverplated wire. Experiment with quenching the balled wire quickly vs letting it air cool to see what colors and effects (very shiny and smooth or darker and textured) you can achieve.

3. Unique Chain “Links”: When making a chain or necklace, every link doesn’t have to be some form of a wire loop. Jen uses vintage metal keys, loops of beads, even garter clips (shown on the right) as great once-in-awhile “links” and to make the whole piece more interesting overall. This is a great way to work found objects into necklaces without them being the focal piece or pendant. It’s also a one-of-a-kind way to stretch your work when you’re making a gazillion loops for handmade chain.

4. Paddle-End Stoppers and Connectors: Flattened/flared wire ends, as well as flattened/flared (or not) ball-end wires, make great “stoppers” and cold connections for holding elements together. Drill or punch a hole into metal, flattened wire, or other elements, insert regular or balled-end wire through the hole, hammer the end of that wire to flatten and flare it until it is larger than the hole, and voila! You’ve created a cold connection. You can make charm holders, earring hoops, and more this way.

5. Create Organic Loops: Until I read Jen’s book, I was never ever happy with my wire-wrapped loops. Though I had admired the “messy” (let’s say “artistic”) wire wraps I’d seen in Jen’s work as well as Susan Lenart Kazmer’s and that of other artists, somehow it never clicked with me that they were best for my jewelry. Wire wraps don’t have to be perfectly neat; I think Jen’s “organic’ wraps are much more interesting–and certainly easier to achieve. Set yourself free from having to make perfect wire wraps!

“In the beginning, when I was learning how to do organic wire wrapping, it took me a little bit of time to get the hang of exactly how much wire I needed to have a nice little freeform ball,” Jen says. “I was using too little, which means that my wraps looked more ‘messy’ than organic.” That sounds familiar!

6. Wrap Mistakes to Conceal Them: “I decided to make extra metal fibers to cover up my early mistakes,” Jen says. “When I teach my workshops, I now have my students make metal fibers and keep them in their toolbox as metal boo-boo bandages. There’s not a lot in wire wrapping that a little metal fiber can’t fix visually.” Another great tip!

That’s just a small bit of the goodness to see and learn in Jen’s book, Making Metal Jewelry. You’ll see how to turn forks and leather belts into cool upcycled cuff bracelets, as well as using other found objects to create truly original jewelry. Plus you’ll learn 17 metalsmithing and jewelry-making techniques, including riveting and other cold connections, sawing and filing, annealing and work hardening, soldering, dapping and doming discs, texturing, fold forming, wire wrapping, etching, resin and making custom bezels for resin designs, cold enameling, metal stamping, and more.

Get all of that technique instruction along with 21 mixed-media metal jewelry projects from a true artist when you get Jen Cushman’s five-star-rated book, Making Metal Jewelry

P.S. You’ll love all the bonus project video links throughout the book, which you can view online to watch Jen make design variations and new projects.

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