Lately I've been exploring the world of Mixed Media Jewelry, a fascinating field -- and one rich with talented folks like Leila Nicole West, featured in today's post. As a bit of background for those who don't work with mixed media, a simple explanation is that it is the practice of altering an object by reworking it, repurposing it or giving it a renewed life. Also known as "altered art", this style has grown wildly in the last several years. Creative scrapbookers, sculptors, collage artists, painters and jewelry designers are energetically applying this unique aesthetic to their work in constantly fresh and inventive ways.
One of the main reasons for the increased popularity of altered art is that many artists ambitiously accumulate mass amounts of supplies and odd bits that catch their fancy. They constantly add to a this-could-be-used-for-something-someday hoard because they see artistic potential in out-of-the-ordinary objects. This can include vintage pieces and unusual objects that can be used to give art jewelry a special meaning. Mixed media artists think outside the (jewelry) box as they create complex masterpieces with things like oxidized wire, filigree metal, odd typography bits, old keys, watch gears, charms, buttons, pictures and coins.
Rarely do you find someone SO perfect for the Mixed Media Life as Leila West. Growing up, her parents were poor, but they scrimped and saved to provide the children with not only necessities, but also with classes and crafts to keep them busy. Some of Leila's favorite memories are the various crafts they would do, whether they were painting shirts, painting ceramics, or making beaded trees. Her grandma was a teacher and she would take the kids to the coast to draw the lighthouses and seals, or would have them join her on nature walks. One of 'Grandma's' hobbies was jewelry making; she created some beautiful pieces. Leila started her own professional art journey with digital collage challenges. Over time, her interests evolved into mixed media, art journaling, and finally into jewelry.
Now she loves to alter metal and add patinas to create unique one of a kind jewelry. She uses a torch to solder metal, breaks out the paints to add some color, and includes cold (and hot!) connect metals to create her unique pieces. Just to give you a sneak peek into the exciting life of a mixed media artist, I'm going to include a transcript of my interview with Leila -- a truly inspiring artist.
1. What does Mixed Media mean to you? Why/How did you select this as your area of focus for your art/jewelry?
I love doing Mixed Media jewelry! I don’t have to follow traditional jewelry making in any sense of the word. My thought process is that rules are meant to be broken anyway, so this style of jewelry just works for me. I can mix and match whatever I want, whether it’s mixing metals or mixing vintage and new, or mixing lace with copper. You name it, the sky is the limit. As long as it’s aesthetically pleasing as I’m creating it, I go for it. I truly enjoy mixed media because there are no rules.
2. What is your specialty, and what are your favorite materials to work with?
I tend to jump around in my jewelry making. Literally. I swear I have undiagnosed ADD when it comes to being creative so I don’t know that I have a particular specialty. I can be so focused on a piece, and then I’ll see a how to video and suddenly I’m itching to start that style. I bounce around between styles wanting to do them all at once, so I’m pretty all over the place when I’m in creative mode. I think I have around 30 in progress pieces because I start one and then get sidetracked with another project. Right now my favorite materials to work with are brass stampings, and any and all patinas. Lumiere paint is my favorite for the simple fact that it’s shiny. I really love shiny things and I have a habit of adding "bling" to a lot of my pieces.
4. How did you learn to do what you do?
Once I hit high school and then college I let my art go for a time and moved on down the career driven path I was guided towards. Around the time I met my now husband in my late 20’s, I felt the burning passion spark again, and slowly I made my way back into the art world. I had a basic understanding of Photoshop from college classes and I came across a blogger who offered digital collage elements for sale. I purchased some and then began to strengthen my Photoshoping skills using digital collages, and then jumped into online challenges. I truly enjoyed the camaraderie as I joined the challenges, posted my creations, and had positive comments and feedback. Eventually my self-diagnosed art ADD kicked in and I got a little bored with digital collage, so I meandered into the world of painting. I really got a kick out of mixed media collaging, took some online classes and had fun with those for a little bit, until I came across someone who created Tree of Life Pendants. Then I found her youtube channel where she had a tutorial to create them. Now I was really intrigued with these, because during my childhood my mom helped me learn how to make actual wire trees. I made them a variety of sizes and then secured them to medium sized rocks. I even sold a few! Now I could visually see a new approach to a similar idea. So I bought some supplies and followed the instructions for creating Tree of Life pendants. Suddenly I was hooked. I made a couple more in the style I had learned to get the wrapping down, and then I started to think how I could change it up. That’s when I came up with my tag line "Something old with a new twist" which I included in my listings when I opened a shop on Etsy. I did about 20 of those pendants, sold a few, but started to get bored again, so I began surfing youtube for any learning videos to see if there was something else I would like. That’s when I came across Brenda Sue Lansdowne’s youtube channel – B’Sue Boutiques. I remember the first video I watched was about applying decoupage tissue paper to metal and thinking to myself, "well that looks easy." I now eagerly await Brenda’s sometimes Friday videos. I look forward to learning techniques and then making them my own. Between her videos and some of the paid courses I’ve taken, I’ve learned the majority of my skills from online videos.
Earlier this year, I took Brenda's course for learning how to build a line. This helped me focus my creative energy and figure out the best methods to create various lines and price points. I had a general idea of how to create a group of jewelry items quickly, but the course helped me understand what was involved in creating a line, narrowing down what to include in my lines, how to watch trends and how to find that information, and a little bit on how to go after my target market and go after those sales.
5. What really inspires you when you're making jewelry?
Nothing and everything inspires me. I am a VERY visual person. Someone will post their designs in Brenda Sue's Facebook group, which will trigger something in me and I’ll bounce off their idea into a whole new idea, and next thing you know I have 10 different designs in my head. I especially love Brenda’s videos because she’s the "idea" gal. I’ll be watching her videos and then as she’s creating I’m thinking "no do this" "wait, use those beads over there" "seriously, patina that piece and add it here". I get a lot of inspiration from her videos and will sometimes finish watching and then order from her site because I thought of a new idea off her idea. I typically have to write it down so I don’t forget what the idea was by the time the parts arrive because I don’t have the best memory. Sometimes I will wake up inspired from a dream I can’t remember but somehow have jewelry designs on the brain. I swear my brain designs jewelry in the background because I will have to stop in the middle of my day job, or while cooking, or waking up from sleep to jot notes down of a jewelry design that randomly pops into my mind. I keep a list of jewelry designs in notepad on my phone because the most random thing will inspire me and if I don’t jot it down I will forget it. I was showing my mom the list the other day and I was scrolling and scrolling. I probably have over 100 different designs where I jotted down notes describing what I had in mind so that when I can sit down and actually create I will have a reference for the general idea that I had -- and from there I can let my creativity kick in to complete the piece.
6. Tell us a little more about YOU.
I live in California with three of my favorite people - my husband and two boys. I love my friends, both in real life and online, enjoy the company of animals, and absolutely adore ART and JEWELRY! I work full time at a desk job, which in all honesty can be mind numbingly boring for a creative type such as myself. So when I get home and the boys are asleep - it's time for me to play.
Being a mom, wife, and working a full time job while also having a side jewelry business has certainly been a challenging balancing act. Thankfully I have a husband who understands my need to create. It calms my nerves. So if I’m in the zone and our boys (who are 7 and 3) are getting rowdy, he’ll handle them so I can create undisturbed. But it’s a give and take really, when he has a rough day at work and all he wants to do is play video games to wind down, then I’ll get our boys to calm down. It’s a delicate balance, but we have each others' help as well as grandparents to raise and nurture our boys, while maintaining our home, our lives, and our sanity. Somehow we make it work, and in the end, I also have pretty jewelry to show!
You can find Leila Nicole at these locations:
Facebook Fan Page:
Also, if you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy The Art Jewelers Guild
Until Next Time,