Jewelry Design: Taking Cues from the Ultimate Designer, Mother Nature

Ask any jewelry designer (or designer of most anything, for that matter) what inspires them, and I bet more often than not, they'll say nature. I find myself picking up random things in the wild everywhere I go because they have a neat pattern or texture on them. I bought a particular apple at the produce market yesterday because it had grown such a neat yellow design amongst all its redness, and no oddly shaped twig, acorn cap, clump of lichen, or patterned seashell is safe from my pocket. (You, too? Thought so!)

Applying patterns and textures like these is one of the easiest ways to take a jewelry design from in-progress to incredible. They add interest, but I believe on a deeper level, they add connectivity, familiarity. Some jewelry makers would argue that texturing is certainly the most fun jewelry-design technique–who doesn't love to whack things with a hammer?–and the possibilities for texture seem to be limitless.

the creative apple a bowl of coral, shells, and flowers

Once in a while, when I'm in the mood to design metal jewelry, I dig out the boxes of seashells I've collected and pick through the bowls and jars of twigs, rocks, and such I've borrowed from nature through the years and snap photos or start sketching what I see. The swirly lines of coral (or barnacles?) on seashells, the striations in rocks, the wild hairy-ness of moss and lichen, the orderly lines in wood and bark–it all inspires me to create jewelry. Prickly seed pods, bumpy blackberries, orderly rows of corn kernels . . . I could go on and on.

Wild and curly dried hyacinth flowers . . . . . . contrast nicely with orderly foliage.
The beloved live oak just outside my studio window . . . …under which I found this odd frilly pine cone, ruffly lychen, and acorn cap trio.

There are many ways to incorporate inspiration taken from nature in your jewelry designs. You can capture it literally, by making molds from the pieces and using them to cast resin, polymer clay, or metal clay, or even more literally by electroforming (electroplating) the very pieces you collect. You can sketch your interpretations of it, later turning those drawings into wire or metal designs; etched or scribed, hammered, and imprinted textures on metal; or even bead weaves.

I love the frilly and orderly near-symmetry of roses. A bounty of natural pattern and texture like these found on the seashore are inspiring and double as great molds.
Curvy, wormy growths on a seashell inspire wirework. An inspiring bowl of shells, rocks, and wood prompts color and pattern ideas.

And then there's color. I can't think of a color combination that has had its turn as a hot color combo in fashion that I can't locate in nature. The popular brown-and-robin's-egg-blue combo is probably the most obvious, spotted where a rocky coast meets the sea, where the sky peeks between the trees in a woody forest, or literally where the bird's egg is nestled in the twiggy nest.

the hot robin's-egg-blue-and-brown combo Who isn't drawn to the iridescence and color of peacock feathers?

Bright bluish-red and ruby-red roses against springy-green foliage is a favorite of mine, and seeing all the bright cheerful shades of green bunched together on a mountainside just waking up for spring gets me and my mom both giddy. The yellows, pinks, and reds on a peach look so pretty together. In autumn, the purples, berry reds, oranges, peaches, and creamy yellows of tree leaves inspire me to mix colors I never would have otherwise. (Have you ever seen mookaite? It was surely designed for autumn jewelry.) In addition to flowers and fruit, nature shows off her talent at color mixing in fish and all kinds of sea creatures, bird feathers, rocks, shells and sand, leaves, and dozens of other places. And don't even get me started on the pastel layer-cake of a sunset.

I've had these two shimmery onion skins on my memo board for months. I love their colors and finish. segments of two of my favorite color-palette inspiring sunset photos

I can't write about nature inspiring jewelry design without including gemstones. The endless variety of color and phenomena to be found in gems is surely proof that Mother Nature is a fan of jewelry, don't you think? And just look at a pearl or piece of coral under a microscope!

If you're a fan of the patterns, colors and textures found in nature, you'll enjoy Elements of Style. Through 17 projects, you'll learn to create some of those unique design elements in wire, knitting, crocheting, and felting jewelry. If you're more of a fan of metalworking jewelry (it's the hammering, isn't it?), The Workbench Guide to Jewelry Techniques will teach you all you need to know to turn the inspiring natural world into wearable art jewelry. And here's the best news: They're both on sale 40-60% off in THE April Sale going on now in the Jewelry Making Daily Shop!

I had fun roaming around my house taking photos of inspiring bits of nature. What inspires you to make jewelry? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below! Ripples in water, leaf shapes, scraggly tree branches . . . ?

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