Go Wild with Freeform Wire Jewelry Design Steps

Sometimes we get so familiar with the tools and supplies of our trade, we miss new or unusual ways to work with them. I find that when I put away a technique for awhile, it’s fresh and interesting when I return to it months or years later. That happened with me, with wire jewelry making and Gayle Bird’s book, Freeform Wire Art Jewelry.

ABOVE: Statement Necklace by Gayle Bird, from Freeform Wire Art Jewelry.

Whether you’re brand-new to wire jewelry making or have been creating with wire for years, Freeform Wire Art Jewelry is a wealth of information and inspiration. It starts with wire basics and–surprisingly fresh for wire—color theory. See? Right off the bat, we’re talking about wire with something as un-wire-y as color. That kind of incongruity can lead your wire jewelry designs into a fun, creative new direction.

Speaking of jewelry design, try these design principles and wire jewelry design steps from Gayle, excerpted from Freeform Wire Art Jewelry.

wire jewelry design principles by Gayle Bird

Design Principles

In addition to color, there are a few things to keep in mind when planning the layout of a piece of jewelry. It may seem backwards to plan color before a design, but it’s often what drives your inspiration. Now that you understand color theory, let’s look at the rules that can help you create a balanced, intriguing design.

GESTALT

This word means “the whole,” and it refers to how the piece flows as a unit. The idea behind gestalt is to make sure that you have just the right amount of unity and variety. If your design is too unified, it can be boring; too varied, and it can be chaotic. There are several parts to this concept; let’s review them quickly:

wire jewelry design principles by Gayle Bird

Closure
Your brain is an amazing tool. If something is missing visually, your brain fills in what’s missing, allowing you to see the whole picture. This is called closure. Applied to jewelry design, a partial curve in a design can be construed as a full circle by the viewer. Leaving a gap in a piece will add interest without interrupting the design.

Continuance
The eye can be drawn along the length of a design, compelled to look in the direction you choose based on the lines and groupings you build. You can use this to point the eye towards your focal point(s).

Similarity
When objects look similar, they are grouped visually even if they’re not necessarily close together. By repeating elements throughout your design, you create cohesion. This can mean using the same beads, same colors, same wire color or same textures across the design. In addition, if you have many similar elements, you can use them to place focus on another, dissimilar element.

Proximity
When things are close together, they seem to belong together. If you scatter beads evenly throughout a design, for instance, they can seem disconnected; groupings are much more effective.

Curl Burst earrings by Gayle Bird, from Freeform Wire Art Jewelry

Curl Burst earrings by Gayle Bird, from Freeform Wire Art Jewelry

CONTRAST

To achieve gestalt, there are many concepts and principles you can apply, but most of them can be talked about in terms of contrast. We’ve already talked about color contrast, but you’ll want to keep an eye on contrast of size (balance), materials, texture and weight. Use differences in these qualities to deliberately move the eye and draw focus where you want it.

Proportion
Proportion is the visual division of elements; how much of one versus how much of another. A simpler term for proportion is balance. Balance is both visual and physical. Dangly earrings, for instance, need to physically balance when they hang. A neckpiece needs to balance on the neck and not fall off or overweight in one direction. But the way a piece looks should also be balanced. There are a few things to keep in mind when looking for balance:

wire jewelry design principles by Gayle Bird

Symmetrical vs Asymmetrical: Unless I’m working on a formal piece, I rarely make symmetrical designs. Though symmetry is soothing and solid, it’s also staid. Who wants staid jewelry? Visually, it can be boring. When I balance my pieces, I make sure they’re asymmetrically balanced, which means that the visual weight on both sides of the center line is equal, although not identical. For instance, I might make a giant triple curl bottom right, and three tiny curls opposite, top left, to balance it out.

In this book you’ll find asymmetrical designs almost exclusively. You should be able to identify and create both symmetrical and asymmetrical designs, and more often, a combination of the two. For instance, a neckpiece should be symmetrical in structure, but its decoration can be asymmetrical.

Rule of Thirds: Three is sort of a magic number. Even numbers don’t work well in jewelry design; they’re too solid. Almost all artists will work in threes by creating clusters of three beads, divisions of three pieces, or by putting the focus of a piece a third of the way down or a third of the way over.

Weight
If you’re using a really heavy focal piece, you will probably need heavy wire to support it both physically and visually. However, if you also add a fine wire to the mix, by coiling it around a piece of the heavy wire or working it alongside, you’ll add energy to the piece. If you have a piece that feels bland, try adding something with different weight. Contrast a grouping of tiny clusters against a single, chunky element.

Shape
Contrast round with sharp, square with curved, flat with volume. Balance the proportion of the shapes with one another.

Texture
Use different materials to create interest in your piece; contrast smooth with rough, ragged with curved. The proportion of textures you use should be balanced and in proportion with one another.

Tumbling Twists Bib Necklace by Gayle Bird, from Freeform Wire Art Jewelry

Steps to Creating a Jewelry Design

Now that you understand the concepts behind a great design, it’s time to pull it all together. I usually look through my bead stash for a focal piece, choose a style or theme for the piece, pick other materials to go with the focal piece (usually beads of a certain color scheme) and then play with the materials to find a layout I like. From there I move into working with wire and deciding how the elements will go together. Of course you can work any way you please but this is what I recommend:
1. Select a focal piece
2. Choose a color scheme
3. Pick supporting materials
4. Lay out your design
5. Build the piece

CHOOSE A FOCAL PIECE

Usually you’ll have a focal piece you want to work with: a piece of beach glass, a gorgeous lampworked bead, or something you’ve created out of clay. It should be something that inspires you; something intriguing, something that speaks to you for some reason. It doesn’t need to be flawless; it just needs to grab your attention, because that is its purpose in the piece.

Braided jewel pendant by Gayle Bird, from Freeform Wire Art Jewelry

Braided jewel pendant by Gayle Bird, from Freeform Wire Art Jewelry

Examine the Focal
Decide if you want a lot going on with color and texture throughout the piece, or if the focal piece is going to stand alone with the wire as its only support. If you decide to use accent colors, examine the focal piece and analyze its colors. Is it a single hue, variations on a hue, monochromatic, analogous, triadic or tetradic? Write down the colors if necessary.

Now, inspect the proportions of these colors. What is the balance? Maybe it’s 90 percent one color with tiny flecks of something you can pick up in your accent beads, or maybe the central color is hard to pick out because the colors are evenly proportioned. Is there one main color, one secondary color, and one smaller accent color, or is it more like a crazy quilt with all the colors equally represented? Look closely; sometimes the smallest vein of matrix in a stone can turn into a stunning focus on the piece simply by picking up the same color in your supporting materials.

Once you have a working concept of how the focal colors are represented, you can move on to choosing the supporting colors.

Confetti Curl earrings by Gayle Bird, from Freeform Wire Art Jewelry

Confetti Curl earrings by Gayle Bird, from Freeform Wire Art Jewelry

CHOOSE A COLOR SCHEME

Decide on your theme: Is the piece meant to be bold, adventurous, playful, romantic, earthy, subtle, airy, dense? Based on your gut feeling about the piece, pick a color scheme, realizing that those with colors closer to each other on the wheel (with fewer contrasts) are softer and simpler, while the ones from all over the wheel are more exciting and complex.

Find the main color you’ve identified from your focal piece on the color wheel. If you can’t find the exact color, look for the closest approximation. Use the color scheme you’ve chosen to pick accent colors by finding the related colors on the wheel.

CHOOSE A WIRE COLOR

Artistic wire comes in many colors. I use mainly silver and traditional antiqued metal colors rather than the whole rainbow of colors available. In my work, I like the wire to support the beads and components, not steal the show.

Based on color theory, I often pair silver with cool colors and antiqued metal with warmer colors. But you’d be surprised what can happen when you put brown wire on a blue stone! Experiment and see what you like.

LAY OUT THE DESIGN

Now comes the fun part! Open up your bead and component stash and with the focal piece in hand, start looking for the colors you’ve chosen. Be sure to compare the beads with the actual focal color; cyan is not cobalt and if you aren’t careful, you can pick clashing colors. Grab a handful of anything that might work.

Dump the beads onto your working surface and group the colors. Do you like the proportions of the colors? Move the groups around, break them up, and most especially, play with the beads by rearranging them around your focal piece until you arrive at a layout that is balanced and harmonious.

BUILD

Now that you have an actual plan, it’s time to pick up your tools and get to work. You need to think about both form and function—which simply means you can’t just think about how the piece looks, but how it works as well. Does it need a clasp, or a bail, or a pin back? How will you integrate these functional pieces? Plan it out. Visualize it in your head, or sketch out the functional pieces on paper. A plan will save you from tearing a piece apart and starting again because it isn’t stable or the clasp doesn’t work! The [book’s] techniques and projects are designed to ensure that you’re able to adapt them to nearly any situation. So play! Experiment. Create your own style.

–Gayle

Get started at freeform wire art jewelry making with a lesson in making organic wire loops with Gayle. Once you’re comfortable there, try your hand at this exclusive baroque pendant tutorial Gayle created just for our readers. Then go wild with Freeform Wire Art Jewelry for over 20 design projects!


Free your wire jewelry designs with Gayle Bird!

2 Comments

  1. Moogie B at 7:55 am March 6, 2019

    This article got me very excited to get back into wire work. It’s a nice introduction to lots of jewelry design that is new to me. And you accomplished at least one goal—I have to buy your book now!!

    • TammyJones at 10:39 am March 7, 2019

      Hi Moogie! I’m so happy to hear this! I hope you enjoy the book and will share your work with us. Have fun!

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