Screen Shot: Jewelry Designs Made from Screen Mesh
The first thing you’ll think when you see Dennis Nahabetian’s work is: “How the heck did he do that?” Did he use 3D computer-aided jewelry design and printing? Did he spend hours and hours making these lyrical webs out of tiny pieces of wire? Perhaps he engaged the services of spiders to weave his magical ideas?
ABOVE: Spring Lotus basket by Dennis Nahabetian. Photos courtesy of the artist.
No. The answer is far more humble. Dennis makes airy sculptures and jewelry designs out of plain old ordinary fly screen mesh. You know, that bronzy metal cloth grid that keeps bugs out of the summer camps and lakeside cottages of your memories. Using ordinary metal fly screen from the hardware store, Dennis creates a cylinder and then waits to see where his pushing and prodding fingers take him as he squeezes the metal fabric into shape.
“Bronze fly screen is on the lower end of the totem pole as far as meshes go,” the 54-year-old says. “But here’s the real kicker. It keeps its grid. I understand the material well enough that I can push it further, like a conversation.”
He’s not talking about idle chat. This conversation can take days and weeks and is sometimes painful. (He occasionally pokes his fingers on the raw edges of the mesh.)
Basically, Dennis forms the fly screen into a cylinder. “It’s your blank sheet of paper. From there I say, ‘What can I do with this now?’
“Then do I want to have a rhythm? It’s rather big. Do I want to have 16 points? A soft rhythm, a second beat to it. Compressing, expanding. You can see through it and see the forms behind it.
“The fun is in seeing where it will take me. To get lost in it. It’s a deep meditative process.”
While Dennis likes that the screen keeps its grid, the material also comes with imperfections, which he has turned into an asset. “I can encourage it to try going over here, going over there,” he says. “The conversation is: ‘What haven’t we explored? What further ideas can I explore? What can I do with the material, removing wires, adding wires, double weaving?’”
Screen Mesh Jewelry Designs and Inspiration
“The Spring Lotus Basket took about two weeks to fold and shape,” he says, and involved counting the wires, pinching, pulling, and bisecting it into its final shape. “It’s sort of a dance, compressing and expanding.”
Dance and music colored Nahabetian’s upbringing. Growing up in Michigan, he played violin and base and won a music scholarship. He studied textile making at the age of 10 or 11 at the Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village, a repository of Americana. He also studied at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit while in high school. Later, he earned a BFA in jewelry and metalsmithing at Eastern Michigan University and a graduate degree in 1996 at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. In addition to exhibiting at the Smithsonian Crafts Show, he has won numerous awards, including a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship.
His screen work literally solidified when metals professor Tom Madden, now at Bowling Green State University, suggested he try electroforming his finished pieces. Developing this process involved a lot of failure, Nahabetian says. First, he had to anneal a formed piece in a kiln, then pickle it–two processes that made it as fragile as a spider’s web.
“I lost a lot of pieces that way,” he says. But he stuck with it. And unlike most work spaces, his home studio in Orchard Park, NY, is equipped with a 30-gallon electroforming tank and a 50-gallon polypropylene tank to complete the process. He plates the bronze screen very slowly, growing the metal, he says. “It creates almost a crystalline surface instead of a uniformity.” It also adds strength.
What is the Creative Takeaway?
Whether you do beading, wire wrapping, silversmithing, or resin work, you might want to try some of these steps to push your own jewelry designs further.
- What can you do differently with your materials?
- Is there someone else you can brainstorm with?
- Are you willing to take risks?
- Can you find inspiration in subjects unrelated to jewelry design?
- Start a positive conversation with your work. What does it want you to do?
- Do a couple of projects without any preconceived notion of what they will look like when done. See if this creative play teaches you something.
- Play with some screen mesh from a hardware store or a sewing shop. What can you do with it?
Betsy Lehndorff has been writing for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 2010. You can reach her at email@example.com.