Jewelry-Making Inspiration in Architectural Details

Wander around outside and you’ll always find inspiration for your jewelry designs. Many people find inspiration in nature — flowers, butterflies, trees. Me? I like architecture. I find “outside” inspiration — or “outspiration” — in the lines and colors and details of the buildings around me. My small town in Pennsylvania has some beautiful old homes, churches, and stores, which, very often inspire my designs.

My View

I took a walk the other day and took photos of the architecture around me with an eye toward possible jewelry designs. The first thing I saw was actually not exactly outside. It was the rooftops and chimneys and trees and clouds I could see through my third-floor office window. I love this view and get inspired by it every day.

The first “outside” inspiration I found was in my own backyard–the belfry of a church looming over my hedge. I may have a vivid imagination because, to me, it looks like eyes peering down. (And it freaks me out just a bit.) It makes me think of the faces I like to incorporate in my designs.

I found another outspiration in my backyard. It wasn’t a building but it was an architectural element–the seat of my wrought iron café chair. It’s my favorite color and very flowerlike. It’s not that comfortable to sit on frankly, but it is pretty.

I then saw an old brick shed just down the alley from my house. It’s falling apart (the notices in the window tell me that it’s condemned), but the bricks, the vines on the chain link fence in front of it, and two buildings in the background–a stucco house and a modern school–provide a fascinating contrast of colors and textures.

Outspiration from the Past

If I had to pick a period in history that inspires me, it would be the Victorian/Edwardian era in the very early 20th century. That’s probably why I was drawn to my house. It was built in 1910 and is a row house with a very Victorian flavor. My whole neighborhood consists of Victorian and Edwardian row houses. I only have to walk out my front door to find inspiration. A series of row house spires on my block makes me think of repetitious, symmetrical designs.

I particularly love the blue-and-cream spire of my own house against the blue of a spring sky.

I can find more outspiration looking at the front of my house. I love the big wooden knob on the post at the stop of my front stairs. The cream color against the blue and gray of the post is just a heavenly combination. (I wish I could take credit for the colors, but I can’t. The house came that way.) And my retro blue metal chairs behind it add a great contrast. Yes, they represent different eras. But even that slightly “off” note provides inspiration. Some of the best jewelry designs use mediums, colors, and techniques that might not necessarily go together.

Perhaps my favorite house in my neighborhood (the largest house around) is very “traditionally” Victorian. The octagonal turret and the “pointy” spire put me in mind of classic Victorian jewelry. And at night with the lights in the turret lit, it has the most haunting feel. I can see it from my bedroom, and I find myself staring at it every night!

Bring the Outside In

The great thing about the images I take of buildings and architectural details is that they can serve as general inspiration for my jewelry making–or I can take a much more literal route! I’ve started creating my own picture cabochons for mounting in pendants. And that’s exactly what I decided to do with two of these images–the turret and spire of the Victorian house and the spire of my own house.

It’s really very simple. With your photo manipulation software (I’m a Photoshop freak), crop the image tight on the part you want to feature and reduce it. Then print it out on sturdy paper. Seal the image with your favorite sealant/glue (I like matte Mod Podge) and let it dry thoroughly.

Then take a 30mm round clear glass cabochon and center it over the part of the photo you want to use. Trace around the cab and carefully cut out the image just inside the circle you drew. Paint a thin layer of the sealant/glue on the flat side of the cab and on your image. (Make sure your layers are VERY thin!) Place the image on the flat side of the cab, and with your fingers, slide it carefully and press down.

Remove all of the air and any extra glue/sealant. (Don’t worry if any leaks out. You’ll clean it off later.) Let the cab dry completely (domed side down – you don’t want the cab to stick to your work surface). Then add a final layer of sealant/glue to the flat side of your cab and let it dry. With a clean, lint-free cloth and warm water, gently clean off any extra sealant.

So what do you do with it? You could just attach a magnet to the flat side of the cab and make a really cool refrigerator magnet. I do that a lot–my fridge is covered with them! Or you could take another step.

From Cab to Jewelry-Making Designs

Since I’m a fool for riveting and cold connections, I like to turn my picture cabs into “envelope” pendants. Cut out two 2″x2″ squares of anodized aluminum. Find the center of one of the squares, and with your disk cutter, cut out a 1″ circle. Use a dapping block to lightly dome around the hole to accommodate your cab. File around the hole to smooth it out. Also file the edges of your square and round the corners. Trim the second square to match the exact size and shape of the one with the hole. (The shape will have changed a bit when you domed it.)

File the edges of the second square and round the corners. Place your cab in the hole and “sandwich” the two aluminum squares together. Punch holes in three of the corners of the squares and rivet them together. In the fourth corner (which will be the top of your pendant, so watch the positioning of your picture cab), punch a larger hole and hammer in a pre-made eyelet. Put a jump ring or bail in the eyelet, and then string the whole thing on a chain or leather cord.

That’s a pretty simple way to turn your outspiration into a real piece. I made one using an image of a church spire across the street from my favorite bar. (What? It’s a cool spire.)

To explore other ways to use riveting and other cold connections make your inspirations come to life, check out Tracy Stanley’s book, Exploring Metal Jewelry: Wire Wrap, Rivet, Stamp & Forge Your Way to Beautiful Jewelry. It’s one of my favorite resources!

So how do you find inspiration in the outside world around you? Show us! Use the hashtag #Outspiration on Jewelry Making Daily’s Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram page.

Get outspired!

Karla Rosenbusch

Find your #outspiration then learn something new from one of the great resources in our store!


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