On the Road with Lexi: Inspiration, Design and Making Jewelry in California

Greetings from Sausalito! As my husband and I drive through northern California for some teaching and a "working vacation," I give a lot of thought to the metalsmithing class I'm teaching. I suppose the most asked question is, "How do you come up with your ideas for jewelry?"

As you all know, I have been teaching college/university-level metal jewelry making, archaeology and anthropology classes for longer than I want to admit. Some people think that's an unusual combination, but it's really not. Both archaeological excavations and cultural anthropology contain a lot of jewelry, so to me, there's my inspiration. But a staple in all my classes has always been a huge supply of back issues of Lapidary Journal magazines, going way back to before it was known as Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. My students find such inspiration in the plethora of articles on different artists, techniques and materials. As we all pour through the old articles, we see how artists used history, geology, and archaeology of other cultures and, most importantly, nature, as inspiration for design. Nature is a most compelling theme on this trip.

My current "vacation" is giving me the opportunity to get up close and personal with Mother Nature. Not that I don't get enough of that living in my beautiful Rocky Mountains, but the Sierra Nevadas are just different enough for me to yell "STOP!!!" to my very patient husband every few miles. (Okay, sometimes it's "STOP! BACK UP!")

There are several good bail designs and shapes that can be found in this old church door handle (turned sideways) in Virginia City, Nevada. The craftsmanship of the 1800s is so inspiring.

Everywhere I look is texture, so I'm collecting a stack of leaves, which I carefully preserve in travel brochures from hotels. These leaves will be rolled with silver or copper through my rolling mill when I get home.

I capture color (as best I can since I'm color blind) with my camera, and I will find beads to match. So when I do a piece named "An Afternoon in the Redwoods," I can be true to everything I remember and the piece becomes a treasured memory of my trip.

I THINK it may be purple, or it may be blue, but whatever, its a soft and feminine combination to replicate with beads.

Texture is everywhere on this trip. The bark of the redwoods reminds me of the earthy textures of one of my good friends and favorite jewelry artists, Marne Ryan from Southern California. The golden hills of northern California remind me of another favorite, Nebraska artist Sydney Lynch and the way she has captured the blowing grasslands of the wide, open plains. Both have observed nature and the world around them, and their inspirations are portrayed in precious metals. (And both are featured in back issues of Lapidary Journal.)

But if communing with Mother Nature isn't your thing ('cause I'm not fond of mosquitoes, spiders, and no-seeums, either), you don't have to tromp through the woods. Look around you indoors.

The carpet of our hotel is just overflowing with cool designs. Several hotels on this trip have had such great carpet designs that I just had to share them.

The usually insipid hotel paintings have some great color ideas, too, and one gave me a cool etching idea.

The headboard of our bed just screamed "MAKE A BRACELET OUT OF ME!" A hotel lobby lamp, a trip under the Golden Gate Bridge, and a photo taken in a tunnel have turned out to spawn fabulous ideas.

Truly the tunnel photo was a surprise, but what an awesome, contemporary pendant it could be, with cutouts and a uniquely shaped stone hanging from the bottom.

Remember this: Artists become artists by seeing things differently. It's not enough to look everywhere. You must learn to see. Now admittedly, my engineer husband sees things differently than I do, even while looking at the same object. It's all a matter of how you look at things, your particular perspective. So think about what inspires you to make jewelry. For me, I love texture and shapes, so my photos are consumed with "boring" pictures of tree bark–which to me, speak volumes, such as "How do I replicate this cool texture? With the rolling mill? With my growing collection of Fretz hammers? Reticulation?" My husband sees . . . a tree. That's it. Just a tree. I feel so sorry for him sometimes. (One time I called him an apprentice human being–but he's such a brilliant engineer. I didn't mean to hurt his feelings.) In spite of it all, he is so patient as he stops the car suddenly so I can snap a picture to share with you . . . so maybe that's worth more than getting all mushy about tree bark.

A trip through the redwood forest was just sensory overload I see this as a pendant with gorgeous textures. That's on my list to make.

Take the time to really see what you look at, for inspiration is everywhere. Read back issues of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, venture outside, look to Mother Nature, take lots of photos. (Digital photography has it all over film in this case–if it doesn't work out, just delete it!) Learn to see, not just look. You may have to train yourself to see, but it will be worth it. Your designs will take a huge leap forward.

What do you think? I'd love to see your inspirations and your final pieces.

Happy Trails To You!


Speaking of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist back issues . . . You can get the entire 2012 year of LJJA back issues on a convenient 2012 Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist Collection CD or instant download.

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