Behind-the-Scenes with Kate Richbourg: How to Develop Your Metalsmithing Designs from Scribbles to Book

Kate Richbourg’s much-anticipated new jewelry making book, Metalsmithing Made Easy: A Practical Guide to Cold Connections, Simple Soldering, Stone Setting, and More, is finally available! She’s our special guest today, sharing a bit of the behind-the-scenes details on how she turns those inspirational scribbles we all have into a metalsmithing book.

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Developing and Documenting Your Metalsmithing Designs and Ideas

By Kate Richbourg

So many ideas and so little time! That’s where writing a book begins. Expanding on a glimmer of inspiration and turning it into a full-fledged idea for a metalsmithing book, class or article. I wanted to share some of my methods for developing and documenting ideas for your own work.

A question I often get from my students and readers is, “Kate, how did you even start writing a book? How do you get a handle on compiling all of that information?”

Well let me tell you, the process is not always easy, but over time I have developed a few tips and tricks and standards that I use to keep me on task. I thought you might enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at my process.

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One of my favorite projects in my new metalsmithing book is this hook-and-eye clasp using coins, metals and leather. Here is how that piece came to light.

I start by documenting ideas in my notebook. I actually have a couple. One lives in my bag and one stays by my bed (for those 1 AM inspirations). Don’t fret if you think you can’t draw. These notes and scribblings are only for you! They don’t need to make sense for anyone else. I have quite a few of these books that I have filled over the years. I like to refer to them anytime I feel the need for some inspiration. This clasp had been kicking around for years. I wanted to merge my love of coins, cold connections and fancy clasps. This was just the project.

As I am gathering metalsmithing project ideas, I consult my notebooks and transfer my notes to index cards, one for each project. I arrange and rearrange these cards and mark them with the project type (C for clasp, P for pendant, E for earrings, and so on). That helps me visualize the order and mix of the metalsmithing projects. After I have them sorted and divided into project type, I make a project sheet for each one. I make notes on this project sheet as I make the first sample piece including tools, materials, measurements, and any other important information. I also briefly describe the process for each step. I use this sheet to write my first draft of project instructions.

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As I make the piece, I toss all the extra materials in a baggie with my notes, so I’ll have all the materials at hand when I need them. (Ask me about the time I searched and searched and searched for the exact cabochon I needed . . . that was a lesson learned the hard way.) I keep all of these baggies in a white bin on my worktable so they won’t wander off.

After all the metalsmithing projects have been imagined, made, and documented, it’s time to involve my tester team. Over the course of a weekend, students join me at my studio and receive a packet with the first draft of instructions, materials, and photos, and they make the book projects. All of the stuff is already in the baggies, so it takes just a bit of work for each project to get it ready for testing.

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This is a vital part of the process, as this is where the kinks get worked out in the design. Each tester has a page to document notes on changes. Not only does a second piece get made in this process, multiple pieces in various stages of completion are also made for the photo shoot and placed in baggies by step. This allows me to start creating my ideas for the shot list and have everything prepared ahead of time, so when the photo shoot arrives, I’ll be mostly prepared.

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After the photos are taken and the metalsmithing book is complete, I keep all of these sample baggies together to archive my process. I can quickly refer to these pieces if I ever need to, and looking them over is like a walk down memory lane. I urge you to start recording, photographing, and documenting your jewelry design and metalsmithing processes. It’s a great way to monitor your progress and improvement, and who knows? Maybe there is a class, article, or even a book in those scribblings! —Kate

Lucky for us, there was a book in Kate’s most recent batch of scribblings, and it’s available now! You can order Metalsmithing Made Easy: A Practical Guide to Cold Connections, Simple Soldering, Stone Setting, and More–or instantly download the digital version so you don’t have to wait another minute to start learning with Kate!

Bonus: Download Kate’s project sheet to organize your jewelry designs and metalsmithing steps like she does.

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