My Muse is in the Metal (and My Other Stuff)  
Using One’s Materials As the Source of Inspiration

Today, the group Aspiring Metalsmiths is blogging about finding one's muse. 

When I'm at work in my home studio, inspiration is not hard to come by.  My workbench is angled towards a wall of floor to  ceiling high windows, with  a northern exposure and really Ab(solutely)-(Fab(ulous)  light!  My jewelry books, catalogs and tutes are in a dedicated bookcase to my left.  My forging bench is over my left shoulder just behind me.  A 24/7/365 ceiling fan overhead keeps the air around me  in constant motion.   My trusty flex-shaft is attached to the right side of my workbench and my materials' stash is shelved to my right as well.   From my workbench, I look out on a glen of young and not so young hardwoods and a two acre pond.  I often find it hard to believe that I'm in the middle of suburbia.  Although it’s very cool to watch the seasons unfold beyond the deck, I can’t really say that nature is the inspiration for my work. 

On the other hand, sitting down with my materials' stash is likely to generate productive questions directly related to my designs.  How can I use this?  Will these two elements, or this group of elements, “work” together?  Which metal or metals are right for which chainmaille weave or forging project?  Which colors or shapes for any embellishments?  What findings?  Which clasp?  What visual “flavor” will this combination produce?  What matches or contrasts will these materials allow me to achieve?  Which blends for harmony?  What juxtapositions for surprise? 

But, let’s back up a step or two.  My materials didn’t just appear out of thin air like something from a Star Trek replicator.  At one point or another, I bought all the stuff in my stash.  All my materials are reflections of me – what I enjoy working with, and what I liked the look of.  Or, maybe some of my materials are left-overs from projects past or never weres. 

So, what did come first – the having or the inspiration?  Neither?  Both?  When I swoon over all the brass thingies at the local, un “big-box” hardware store, or see a potential clasp in a small, stainless steel shackle, or just have to buy some of those pretties from Ornamentea (even though I use very few beads or embellishments), what IS going on?  Is my Muse already sitting on my shoulder? 

Looking back at the title of this Post, I evidently thought I knew the answer to this question when I started writing.  But clearly the question is much more complicated than I thought.  I guess that’s the nature of art – always more questions and very, very few answers.

See what other Aspiring Metalsmiths have to say about their sources of inspiration by visiting the blogs below:

[An addendum and further food for thought:  My friend Lisa Barth, wire-worker and metal clay artist extraordinaire, just published a book Designing From The Stone: Design Techniques for Bezel Setting in Metal Clay Using the Stone as Inspiration (ISBN-10: 1463576471)
I think her approach to design has applications beyond metal clay.  Check it out.]


Leap of Faith

With Silver prices flunctuating wildly, but staying up in the stratosphere (I'm currently paying more than twice per troy ounce as I paid this time last year), I have found myself running into resistance from customers, re pricing.  I love the look of sterling silver, but it's difficult to offer true silver jewelry at a reasonable price point. 

So, I decided to look into Silver Fill as an alternative to sterling silver, at least in chainmaille where forging is not an issue.  I had heard from several of my trusted jump ring suppliers that Silver Fill is a viable alternative to sterling silver and is hands down superior to silver plated in terms of durability.  Plating is merely a very (VERY) thin coating of silver over a base metal.  On the other hand, Silver Fill starts with a thin tube of silver which is then filled with copper.  The ammount of silver in Silver Fill is 10% of total weight -- this compares favorably to the ammount of 14k gold in Gold Fill which is only 5% of total weight.

I tried Silver Fill on a small scale, using a ringpack from Chainweavers,  ( ) for use in weaving their beautiful "Waterfall" earrings.   I found the jump rings  beautiful and easy to work with.  It seemed to me that the Silver Fill jumps rings have less "spring-back" than the Argentium  sterling silver jump rings I am used to working with.  So closures tend to stay  closed which I think is a very good thing.

I certainly will consider using more Silver Fill jump rings in my chainmaille.   There will be some transition issues.  For instance,  Silver Fill and sterling silver jump rings must not be used together in a piece -- but I already segregate Argentium sterling and regular sterling jump rings.  Also, the Silver Fill must be be tagged as such, so that customers know what they are getting.  However, I already mark Gold Fill as such (not that I have any pieces that are gold. LOL)  But, I think it's worth sorting these things out.

Nagging Annoyance -- Drastic Measures

My favorite pliers are the Lindstroms with the padded handles and black plastic "springs."  I love how they feel in my hands  as they give me great control.  BUTTTTTTT, the plastic springs were always either falling out or seemed to be on the verge of falling out.  This drove me absolutely crazy.  I found myself being tentative as I grasped any pair I had set down, fearing the spring would go flying.  I seemed to spend an inordinate ammount of time looking for and/or reattaching these springs.  So, I decided to use super glue to permanently attach the  springs to the pliers, and d- - - the consequences.  WOW! I can't believe how my chain-work has speeded up.  No worries -- no wasted time or motions.  Of course, I may have a problem down the road when the springs break in the middle, but I'll cross that bridge, etc.


Measure of Success

The measures of success are not always monetary.  Didn't even make my booth fee on Friday, BUT -- designed a new set-up geared to an indoor show, and I now have some thoughts on lighting needs and solutions, etc.  So, I consider the show a success!