Inspiring Words for Aspiring Metalsmiths and a Special Way to Learn Metalwork

I've had some great conversations with friends recently about metalsmithing, about how fun it is to dap and dome metal, to hammer textures into it, to anneal and bend and fold it, even to solder it. I'm not going to stop until I convince my metal-shy jewelry-making friends that they can learn metalsmithing, and that includes some of you! These five tips from the JMD archives, courtesy of master metalsmith Helen Driggs, are a great starting point for taking the leap from any other jewelry-making technique to metalsmithing. Read on, be inspired, and then check out a very special offer at the end to get you started. -Tammy


1. DON'T buy every tool just because it is there. Buy what you need, as you need it, or as you learn how to use it. Buy it if you are certain you need that tool at least once a week. It's really better to have lots of metal than lots of tools! Although I seem to have lots and lots of tools . . .

2. DO take every class or workshop you possibly can, according to your interests. Being a good metalworker is based on skill building: each thing you learn builds on what you have already learned. Even if you don't want to go in the specific direction the class is focused on, be open to learning what that teacher can show you. Pay attention and commit to making the object you are learning to make to the best of your ability. Do it the way the teacher shows you. Take a lot of notes and ask the teacher for more information. Then, you can freelance later at home.


3. DON'T work too far above your skill level, because you will only become frustrated. Sure, everybody wants to make complex, well-designed, interesting, and beautiful pieces with gold and precious metal. But first you need to be a competent fabricator, be able to solder well, use your tools like an expert, know how to set stones, and work in several metals to do that. The best thing to do is practice a technique without a thought of making a piece of jewelry. Work in copper or brass. Get good at sawing, forming, and soldering. When you perform a specific task over and over, you'll eventually have what it takes to make nice jewelry. Make twenty bezels just for the sake of learning. It's worth it. "Go slow and get them all" is my motto.

4. DO read everything you can to learn about techniques. There are literally millions of ways you can go with metal. It's your job as an artist to find your way. Once you find a technique you like, try making 5 or 10 pieces using that technique to build a body of work with a logical progression. Eventually, you'll figure out where to go next.

5. DON'T give up. If a piece stonewalls you, set it aside for a while and start something else. Eventually, through good work and practice, an idea to solve the problem on the set-aside piece will spring up. All artists have blocks-it is a natural part of the cycle of creativity. I always have four or five works running at once. Breaking away to do something different is often just what I need to help me go back to address a problem in another work.


6. DO try something spontaneous once in a while. Creativity is really just play. Just take out a hammer and a sheet of copper and see what happens. Or, find a project in Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and give it a whirl. If you don't have the exact materials, do the best you can with what you have. Remember-you are learning, so no effort is wasted. —Helen

I especially like that last bit of Helen's advice–no effort is wasted if you learned something while doing it, so find a project and just try it! And now's the perfect time to do just that, because 30% from any jewelry-making book, DVD, project, eBook, or anything else you purchase from the Jewelry Making Daily Shop will go to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, now through October 5, 2012. So you can grab a little something for yourself and be part of a really big something for millions of others. We've built some great bundles that work so well together to help you do just that, like this popular combo featuring Lexi Erickson's Setting Stones with Bezels and Bill Fretz's Expert Bezel Forming DVDs.

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