Metalsmithing: When Designing Jewelry, Think Outside the Box But Don’t Scribble
Jeff Fulkerson’s jewelry designs are recognizable and covetable. Jeff’s teaching skills bring an air of relaxation, creativity, and fun to a classroom. I recently had the pleasure of being one of his students during Bead Fest Philly and it was a day to remember. As were the quotes he dropped throughout the day.
Jeff on designing jewelry with uniquely shaped stones:
“Design with form and function in mind; function first; form second. Think outside the box but don’t scribble.”
He further explains, make something dynamic and unique, as well as something that works for what you’re intending — but don’t go too far! Keep in mind — if you’re making a brooch, make sure the design is awesome but also so the pin back works. If it’s a ring or bracelet — same thing.
In his natural prong pendant workshop, Jeff teaches design principles, how to create a bezel for a stone with an irregular or rough edge, making and placing prongs, drilling into stone to create a stone-on-stone (optional) treatment, embellishing the back plate, and finishing. This workshop promised so much and delivered!
Here are some of the finished results.
In addition to teaching how to make the pendant, Jeff offered expert advice as we made progress on our own. He stressed safety, offered tips and tricks learned in his many years of making, and shared a lot about himself.
A few things I learned about Jeff:
- Jeff has been making jewelry since he was 16!
- Jeff is a master with the jeweler’s saw. I mean, really a master!
- Jeff takes every part of the creating process in stride. Maybe it’s just me but I fuss and fuss over each phase of making a piece and Jeff just gets stuff done!
- Jeff’s work area is a treasure trove of tools.
My favorite quote of the day: “Oh. By the way, the Smithsonian called and they’re not looking for any work from us today.”
A great reminder to learn what you’re there to learn and don’t get hung up on making a museum-quality design!
In addition to these quotes, there were so many tips that Jeff shared and proved throughout class. Here are just a few:
Jeff prefers wire solder to solder sheet. In short “if you need flat solder, flatten wire solder and then you have flat solder.” Further explained — it’s easier to hide wire solder under or inside a bezel. The other point in favor of wire solder: Solder sucks up metal as it flows; wire solder has a smaller profile so impacts the metal less.
“Don’t set the teacher, your friend (or table mate), or the room on fire and we’ll be fine.” All kidding aside, Jeff covers all safety concerns, things to be aware of, and he kept a keen eye over the classroom at all times to ensure all of us really were being careful and so we had his sage advice to carry to our home studios.
“Douse the piece in flux. Flux is your friend and will help prevent firescale.” In practice, Jeff heats the piece, sprays the piece with flux, heats the piece, and reapplies flux. He repeats until the piece is well coated, on both sides. He applies the flux while the metal is on a solderite board then, in some cases, transfers the metal to a metal screen then places that onto a tripod.
On Preventing Your Solder From Flowing When You Don’t Want It To!
In class we used yellow ochre to prevent soldered joins from flowing when soldering on the last few elements of the design. Someone asked about using Wite Out, a common anti-flux solution. “This method works,” Jeff replied but cautioned, “when heated, Wite Out is toxic.”
One Last Note About Designing Jewelry
Don’t forget about the back of your piece. This is standard when designing jewelry but it’s so good to hear it and see it in practice.
Not only is this a point to make in class, keeping the “back” in mind is something Jeff takes to heart and in practice. Just look at the underside of this cuff, as seen in the February 2010 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist!
After taking Jeff’s class, I had a reignited passion and strong soldering muscles to flex, not to mention I wanted to make some new bracelets, so I sat down to watch Jeff’s One-Hour Bracelets video. Next up will be taking another one of Jeff’s classes at Bead Fest.
Enjoy working on what’s on your bench,
Editor and Web Producer, Interweave Bead & Jewelry Group
For more articles on Jeff and his great talents, please read these other posts:
- Metal and Gemstone Jewelry: Learn Beginning Inlay with Jeff Fulkerson
- In the Jewelry Studio with Jewelry Artist and Lapidary Jeff Fulkerson
- Learn to Prepare Stones and Create Gemstone Inlay Jewelry with Jeff Fulkerson
Learn from Jeff in these products found in the Interweave store: