Earlier this year I started to feel as if I had a lot of ideas I was having trouble implementing… In searching for new ways of making, I started asking myself where my biggest strengths are as an artist, and how can I utilize those to make more interesting, adventurous work. I’ve always been more of a painting/drawing artist than sculptor, but outside of my 2010 collection of enameled work, this is not evident in my jewelr.. That realization was the first crumb in a trail of delicious bread crumbs. An old friend, Adam Neeley, had jump-started his career by going back to school at Li Arte Orafe in Florence Italy. I met Adam while studying at GIA when I was 18. He was 17 and already an incredibly gifted, successful jeweler. But when he got back from Florence he was literally a master goldsmith with a new skill called “iris gold,” a technique that only about 6 metal smiths in the world know how to implement… its a seamless transition in of pure gold to pure silver. When I first began my business, Adam gave me a lot of good tips on how to begin, and I thought it might be good to follow his lead yet again.I believe Adam was enrolled in Le Arti Orafe’s 1 or possibly even 2-year program. That was years ago and he currently has 2 stores devoted to his own original designs. If you are in San Francisco, stop by his swanky new showroom at 255 Grant Avenue!
Though it would be a dream, I can’t afford to totally abandon my business for a whole year (or 3!) But looking into their programs I saw that Le Arti Orafe offers short 1 and 3 month intensive courses. I was particularly taken with the idea of studying hand-engraving since I have always loved to draw. Engraving would be an excellent way to execute my meticulously detailed scientific illustrations, especially when combined with etching, chasing and repousse techniques, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I learned traditional (and non-traditional) techniques for scientific illustration from Peggy MacNamara who taught a wonderful class through The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (my alma mater) which took place at the field museum. Every Tuesday of my last semester, I spent the entire day playing in the collection, carefully stippling huge drawings of cicadas, frogs and peregrine falcons. Some of my best work at SAIC came out of that class. Following the trail of bread crumbs left by other artists I admire has lead me to make huge strides in my practice, and has given me the requisite guidance and permission to take the risks that are so important to artistic growth.
Fast-forward to now. At this moment I am blogging from my apartment in Florence, 8 days deep in a 1-month intensive engraving course! (Incisione is Italian for engraving.) It is absolutely a dream come true. There are only 4 other students in the class, and our instructor is Joseppe, or Bepe as we call him. He is a master-engraver who speaks no english. He is the sweetest most insanely-talented grandfatherly guy you could ever hope to meet, and I feel both nurtured and challenged in his class. There are a lot of incidental injuries that come with learning engraving. My fingers are currently covered with blisters and little cuts, which will hopefully turn to callouses soon. Earlier today when I cut myself, Bepe tenderly put a bandaid on my finger. (awwww!!) Besides the fringe-benefit of some good old fashioned grandfatherly nurturance, I immediately saw huge improvements in my skill, and am incredibly inspired! Each day when class is finished, I race home on my bicycle to make new design drawings…
I am working on intricate drawings of jellyfish, brain cacti, and swirling fields of DNA. With my new skill, I hope to make elaborate drawings on silver- some of which will become jewelry- chased, engraved cuffs, collar-pieces, necklaces; but also pieces of fine art intended for display. I am also thrilled to learn how to expertly write text- that is what I worked on all day today. So when I get back to Chicago I will finally be able to hand-engrave my customer’s bridal jewelry.
Over the next few weeks I will post photos of the new work I have been making, as well as relevant field trips I am taking, like a visit to the Museo di Storia Naturale where they are currently showing a huge exhibit of incredible crystals, in addition to the Specola wax anatomical models. Any of my fellow Anato-philes should stay-tuned!
Though I am trying to “Be here now” like Ram Das taught us, I can’t help but live in my drawings and in the future just a little bit. I was invited to do the One of a Kind Show this December, which presents the perfect opportunity to unveil my new one-of-a-kind, hand engraved designs. So queue Eye of the Tiger… as soon as I get home I will have to immediately put my bollino to the silver and continue to engrave like crazy. And in the mean time, I have only so much time for sight-seeing here, as I am busily practicing and creating the drawings and designs to implement in time for the holiday!
Here are some pics of my initial practice engravings, in the order they were completed. Over the coming weeks I plan to post pictures of my other practice pieces from class, as well my drawings and photos of interest from the museum. Stay tuned!