Making, Metalsmithing

Heart of the Maker

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a real-time, virtual class called Heart of the Maker, with Lesley McKeown and Francesca Watson of The Makery. The premise of the class is to help intermediate-level students move beyond simple construction, find their own creative voice and style. It’s been a wonderful experience – one I am hoping to repeat – that has both expanded my technical skills and helped me think differently about the design of jewelry.

The group meets three times a week for six weeks, with sessions on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Wednesday and Friday were for lessons in design, new construction techniques, creating and/or dressing tools, and more. Fridays were for office hours, which is an optional time where students can bring projects for feedback, design guidance, troubleshooting. In parallel to the instruction, students begin to design with the new knowledge and skills, as well as get guidance on design, order of operations, and more. It was really exciting and energizing, but I have definitely been drinking from the firehose!

As far as I could tell from the introductions, most of the other students have 10-15 years of experience, so I was definitely the novice in the group. As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time mastering the use of new materials (such as square wire for bezels) basic construction techniques (really fast prong soldering, the use of ochre, etc.). I had also just re-opened my workshop after a long and cold Chicago winter, so I had to get my workshop cleaned up, order new materials, buy and practice using new tools, and more. Needless to say, combined with my fast-paced day job, it’s been a lot.

BUT, I have gotten so much out of it, too.

The first class was a review of other artists’ work, and a break down of the elements that make for a successful design – color, balance, negative space, and so on. Lesley walked through a wide variety of pieces on Pinterest, and reviewed what makes them work, like this:

For the first class, Lesley also planned a project that allowed her to demonstrate many of the techniques that the students wanted to learn to incorporate in their own projects. In addition to the demo, she also explained her design process, how she draws out her designs, and how she uses that to aid her construction process.

Later in the course she explained that when she is designing a new collection, she might draw 75+ pairs of earrings (inspired by the stones she has available), and then she begins constructing them all.

While there is some structure to the class, one of the things I really enjoyed it is that the topics emerge organically from students’ projects and questions. Lesley uses those inputs to plan her various demos on teaching days. We covered basic fabrication, hollow forms, kinetic elements (hinges and more), polishing and finishing, setting stones, keum boo, basket settings and step bezels, hammer setting, and more. All in six weeks! This just-in-time approach to the demos also means you could take the course multiple times, and have a different experience each time.

Using square wire (instead of silver sheet) I have learned how to make a simple, sturdy, and beautiful open-backed stone setting, and I’m able to put it together much faster and more cleanly than in the past:

These pieces will make an appearance in one of my summer collections, if they don’t find their forever homes first.

Once I grasped where the course was headed and what I needed to do, I attempted to make some more complex designs, and I learned firsthand why the documented designs and thoughtful order of operations are so critical. I had what I felt were some relatively simple ideas, but I was very focused on how the design appeared from above, not necessarily thinking through how it would look from the side, or how I would attach a chain.

With everything that I’ve learned in the past few weeks, I will likely rebuild all of these so I can get all the details just right. In a punchy, late-night studio moment yesterday, I was thinking that I should call this the ‘long and lean’ or ‘string bean’ collection, or something like that – all the pieces are tall and narrow. If I have the chance to take the class again, I would want to push myself to get past the basics and really focus on the design aspect. For me, that would mean paying attention to variety in form / shape.

The last week of this class is a series of critiques, with five students presenting in each one. I am looking forward to seeing more of what the other students have done, the challenges they’ve faced, and what they learned. However, I feel like the end of the course snuck up on me, and I’m not as far along in my production work as I would have liked. Still, I’m confident I’ll still learn a lot from the other students, as well as Lesley’s feedback and guidance to them.

Perhaps one of the things I enjoyed the most was just watching Lesley work. She’s been a professional jeweler for 35 (!) years, so there is a ton to learn just by watching her, and hear her talk through her process. And Francesca is also a wonderful emcee, fielding questions, explaining things Lesley may forget to describe, and generally ensuring smooth sailing for all the students.

Anyways, I don’t think this brief summary can begin to do the course justice, but I hope it will pique your interest and that you’ll see these new learnings in future collections.

7 thoughts on “Heart of the Maker”

  1. I really enjoyed reading about your take of Heart of the Maker. You are a perfectionist and it shows in your work. Beautifully executed.

    This experience has led me back to work on some of the basics that I would like to refine with the ultimate goal of catapulting into another Heart of the Maker odyssey! My creativity has been piqued and all the techniques learned during this class…..just priceless:-)

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I enjoyed observing and learning from your creative process. I agree there was so much to learn … I am looking forward to taking it again so I can absorb and practice that next level of detail.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing<3 I hope to take a virtual “Heart of the Maker” course later this year if one is offered. I am so grateful for OpenStudio, Francesca Watson, Leslie Ann McKeown, and all the other beautiful makers who contribute to my learning, including you =) Be well & Keep Creating!!!

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