If you love making jewelry and want to make a living with it, it is critical that you know how to design pieces that are distinctive! Many people have gotten started in this endeavor without formally learning standard jewelry making and beading techniques. Though you may have gotten started by following a set of instructions, the best way to go to the next level is to learn the art of creative jewelry design.
Of course you know how competitive this world is. Virtually everywhere you turn, people are selling jewelry. Then again, jewelry is one of the top-selling categories at craft shows and fairs -- so in that sense, you have an advantage. BUT, you must know how to make your work stand apart and be noticed (See our previous blog post on 'Getting Noticed: A Guide for Jewelry Designers').
Why do some pieces of jewelry draw your attention, and others don't? Knowing the fundamentals of design will help you underestand how the composition of a piece of jewelry affects our appreciation for it.
The elements of design include line, shape, space, texture, color and value. The principles of design are used to organize individual elements into a workable, aesthetic design concept. Understanding design will help you generate effective, pleasing and interesting ideas for arranging beads and/or other components in a piece. Principles include balance, emphasis, rhythm, movement, contrast, harmony, variety and unity.
Color is one of the most important elements of design -- and can be a powerful tool in creating mood and emotion. Colors have symbolism, can be complimentary or non-complimentary, and even overt 'meanings' to the viewer. You must keep in mind how particular colors affect the wearer/viewer psychologically -- and what emotions/meanings are associated with them. What colors go with each other? Which colors are "spring" and which are "fall"? There are also rules involving texture/pattern, shape, balance and harmony, distribution of sizes and colors, interplay of light and shadow, perspective, dimensionality, and the like.
The Art Tradition believes that you need to learn a set of rules that you can use to apply to any situation where you are making jewelry. Artistic expression is more than a series of steps. What is most important is the application of art theory to your project. There isn't one single theory -- but many. Fine jewelry designers are encouraged to learn more and more theories, and to experiment with many ways and strategies for applying them -- and especially -- to develop their own unique ways and strategies and materials that they are known for. Whatever path you take, the goal is to achieve 'Beauty'. (Throughout this post I've included a few pieces seen on Pinterest and Etsy that I think are especially beautiful -- and I'm including the links so you can learn more about them [or buy them!] if you like.)
Another important thing to remember is 'Function'. Have you ever seen a piece of jewelry that is stunning, but not really wearable? How about the bracelet with spikes so big you couldn't lift your wrist, or the 30 pound necklace that would drag the wearer down? Remember, you do not have to compromise beauty for functionality -- but functionality is critical!
The beauty of a piece involves its construction, its layout, its consistency with rules of art theory, and how it holds up (physically and aesthetically) as it is worn. The focus is on how you organize your construction, piece by piece. The jewelry designer needs to bring many talents to bear in order to achieve a successful outcome. Here the designer is similar to an architect or engineer.
Here are some key principles of composition, as discussed by Warren S. Feld of the Jewelry Design Center (see link on 'Land of Odds'/Jewelry Design Center below):
This is the degree to which the piece is not disorienting to the viewer, or particularly confusing in terms of what is up and what is down. People always need to orient themselves to their surroundings, so that they know what is up and what is down. They usually do this by recognizing the horizontal planes of the floor and the ceiling of a room (ground and sky outside), and the vertical planes of the walls of a room (buildings, trees and the like outside). Jewelry must assist, or at least not get in the way of, this natural orienting process. It accomplishes this in how its "lines" are arranged and organized. If a piece is very 3-dimensional, then how its "planes" are arranged and organized becomes important, as well. The goal here is to "see" the piece of jewelry, especially when worn, as something that is coherent, organized, and controlled.
Design elements we might use to achieve a satisfactory planar relationship within a piece:
- or, more difficult to achieve, a satisfying asymmetry
- a planar pattern in how each section of the piece relates to the other sections
- how sections of the piece interlock
- how we "draw and interrelate" parallel lines, perpendicular lines and curved lines within the piece
"Interest" means the degree to which the artist makes the ordinary EXTRAORDINARY.
Design elements might include:
- selection of materials and mix of materials
- selection of color combinations
- varying the sizes of things
- pushing the envelope on interrelating planar relationships among the sections of the jewelry
- playing with the rhythm
- clever use of a focal point
The degree to which, whether the piece is flat or 3-dimensional, the placement of objects (and their attributes) is satisfying, and does not compete or conflict with the dimensionality of the piece as a whole. Sometimes dimensionality is achieved through the positioning of masses of objects or planes of interconnected pieces. Other times, dimensionality is achieved through color/texture optical effects, such as the use of glossy and matte beads in the same piece.
When there is (or should be) movement in a piece, there should be clear evidence that the designer anticipated where the parts came from, and where they are going to. Jewelry is worn by people who move, so the design should be a natural extension to such movements, and the stress they put on the piece. The piece should move with the body. It should not put undue stress on any piece, component or section that would result in the jewelry breaking, bending or denting "before its time." The piece should drape well and feel good when worn -- no stratchy edges such as from exposed cable wire, or crushed crimp beads; no forced and too-stiff "circle" where a joint or hinge might be needed. Components of the piece should not get "stuck" out of place, or move inappropriately.
Parsimony (Definition: Economy in the use of means to an end)
There should be no nonessential elements. The designer should achieve the maximal effect with the least effort or excess. Many jewelry designers, when they like a particular bead, or a particular design, often over-do their pieces. The thinking here is that, if they have a beautiful part, adding many of these parts will make the whole even more beautiful. Often, it results in the finished product that is boring or uninteresting. The finished product loses a type of tension, power and energy. Good Parsimony shows that the designer has a good sense of the relationship of the parts to the whole.
Jewelry must withstand the forces that usage places on the piece. Design strategies must anticipate whether the piece will be worn daily or occasionally; is expected to last a year, more than a year, a lifetime; is to be worn in situations where there was little movement/activity by the wearer or a lot of movement/activity. The designer does not want the piece to pose any kind of problem of manipulation. The Design and Construction should be conditioned by anatomy and situation. You don't want to end up with a top-heavy brooch, or a bracelet that is too stiff around the wrist. You don't want a bracelet or necklace to shift position on the body. Wide necklaces must be tapered conically toward the neck to lie flat.
Jewelry has many uses, including meeting the individual's needs for self-esteem, self-actualization, sex and sexuality, a sense of oneness and uniqueness, a sense of being a part of a larger group or community, a sense of survival and protection, a re-affirmation of values and perspectives, a connection to a higher power or spirituality, fantasy, personal use-goals. Consider your target market and your own style and intention when addressing this principle.
It is important for the jewelry designer to think in terms of "parts", "forms", and the "piece as a whole". Forms are inter-related objects. For example, they might be sections of beads that seem to be thematically inter-related. Design-control over forms enables the designer to create a "whole" that is more than the sum of its "parts".
The choice of materials, particularly clasps and stringing materials, set the tone and chances of success for the piece. These choices involve such things as:
- Type of material(s)
- Thickness and other physical parameters of the parts, such as whether they have been stamped, fabricated or cast; interaction with sunlight, ultraviolet light, heat and cold; how the pieces have been finished off
- Cost of materials
- Durability of materials
- Compatibility of different types of materials
- Structural integrity and integration of materials, particularly in multi-media art jewelry or related pieces
For example, it is difficult to mix different materials, such as glass and gemstones, in the same piece. When your brain/eye interacts with most gemstones, it not only focuses on the surface of the bead, but is drawn into the bead at well, so there is a lot of cognitive interaction between person and bead, as she or he tries to make sense of the bead and its qualities. With most glass, the brain/eye focuses on the surface, and that's it. Most glass beads do not draw the eye deeper within them. What results is that more successful pairing of glass and gemstones would use glass that mimics the effect of gemstones. This might include glass that is frosted or translucent, of might have built up layers of transparent glass, each layer a different color.
To Recap, here are some basic things to keep in mind when designing a wonderful piece of jewelry.
a. Appeal/Beauty Factor
c. Anticipation of how a piece is to be worn
d. How the piece feels when worn
e. Anticipation of the effects of movement on the piece, how it is seen (no matter the position), and how it holds up to forces any movement imposes on the piece
f. Anticipation of the context in which the piece is to be worn
As you can see, artistic design and considerations are extremely complex. The issues presented here are just a general introduction to the concepts. If you'd like to know more, here are some experts and resources:
Until Next Time,
p.s. Notes on Photos --
Orange and Blue Necklace at Top: https://www.etsy.com/listing/87879333/desert-sunset-orange-copper-gold?ref=sr_gallery_36&ga_search_query=copper+beaded+necklaces&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_ship_to=US&ga_page=11&ga_search_type=all
Crochet/Religious Medal Necklace: https://www.etsy.com/listing/179736798/red-beaded-crochet-religious-medal?utm_source=Pinterest&utm_medium=PageTools&utm_campaign=Share
Moonstone and Ammonite Necklace: http://www.kristibowmandesign.com/product/magical-moonstone-faceted-moonstone-set-bronze-ammonite-focal
Seed Bead Necklace: http://beadsmagic.com/?p=4701