It is all the rage these days to recycle, reclaim, reuse and remake everything in sight, and I for one am all for it. But many DIY show would have us all believing that all this means making great thing for free and selling them for a premium simply because it's the latest craze. Well guess what folks, it just ain't true in most cases. I create many wonderful items out of found, reclaimed and recycled pieces, and let me tell you it isn't for a huge profit. Let me explain.
I began making recycled items like most people, as a hobby. To do something with my old items that I didn't use anymore, or to update things that had lost their appeal. This kind of up cycling is perfect and usually can save you money. I began making jewelry out of recycled and reclaimed copper electrical wire and plumbing pipes about ten or so years ago for my business. All the materials were left over from house projects, so essentially they were free. Then the hard work began. If you have ever seen electrical wire you know that it comes very well wrapped in plastic coating and this has to be removed, with minimal damage to the wires of course. It becomes work hardened while you unwrapped it and a bit kinked, up so you have to heat it up with a torch to soften it and smooth it out, which requires you to descale the wire from the torching and finally polishing it and removing any remaining dings or scratches. The same is true of the pipes with the added possibility of water scale, adhesive removal and possibly crushing to fix. So it may have been essentially free in dollars, but the time you spend on material could be up to a few hours of time, cleaning materials and expertise to make it like new and workable. Not so free any more. In fact it's probably more expensive than a new roll of wire or a new pipe.
Some of the pieces I make are from shell, stones, sea glass that I pick up off the beach. Totally free right? Yes, well sort off, unless the piece need to be cleaned, or polished. Don't get me wrong many of the stones and shell I find can be perfect just as is and that is a true treasure for sure. But many of them need cleaning, resin sealing, drilling or polishing to bring out their beauty or to make them ready to use. Polishing can take up to five weeks in a tumbler and although it does most of the work for me, it runs the entire time 24 hours a day using my electricity. The polish compound and the tumbler weren't free either. The good thing is I can do a large quantity at one time so that helps a bit in the cost break down for sure. Drilling has it's own dangers for me as well as the shell. It might break in the process and it requires me to use a special mask to protect my lungs. Sealing in Resin is to help with a more delicate piece so it makes it stronger and more durable. It takes time and precision to get all the air bubbles out, and 24 hrs to harden.
I also make items from other people old jewelry into new item. Now this you say is absolutely free and these are ready made items so they can't possibly take much to be ready to use. Well, yes they are free and no they are not easy to work with. Items someone gives me from their own treasures are even more special. Many times they are pieces that have a heartfelt meaning behind them. That means I have to be extra careful to not ruin them. Removing a stone from a setting can be quite tricky to do without scratching it. Sometimes they have adhesive that which need to be removed as well. All in all it can be nerve racking and a long process to get it ready to be turned into something new.
Now I want you to know I am not complaining about any of this, I am merely stating what happens behind the recycling scene so you understand the amount of time, and energy that actually goes into an item before the creating process begins when an artist uses recycled or reclaimed materials. I love all these steps, I actually enjoy every one of them and the challenge to me is exhilarating. But is it free? Not by a long shot. Would I give up doing it for all new materials? Never. No artist makes recycled or reclaimed items because it is cost effective, they do it for the love of it. To see something old, set aside or thought no longer useful become something fabulous and ability to let their creative selves run wild in the process.
So the next time you see a piece of work made with recycled,or reclaimed materials, just remember the materials were far from free and the items being sold are priced according not only to what the artist created with them, but the amount of time and love they gave to the material to give it a new life and to bring you an extra special item.
I may go back to a bead or stone many times before I am ready to see it's true design, but I wait till the time is right for every one in my collection. I had a wonderful experiencea couple of months ago, you may have read about in my blog a Gem Called Hope, where I had a stone for many years before it spoke to me. It was inspired by a friend, and the stone just seemed ready for that perfect moment, so I just went with it.
Some times a customer can be the reason for when the time has come to wrap a piece, whether it is because they have a special request or that they just happen to see it in my collection and have a connection to it. I have had a few people of all ages browsing my art booth, see my stash of gems and suddenly say "oh, isn't that one beautiful?" That is an opportunity for me to ask why this stone or gem caught their attention and what they see it as in finished form. They usually end up being an inspiration of something quite unexpected and wonderful.
So although you can look at stones, shells and beads with a very technical side of which one is the perfect one to wrap, the most satisfying way for me to decide, is to let the stone talk to me or my customer. As long as I don't start hearing tiny voices, that requires a medical professional or a priest.
Happy gem collecting!
To see what some of the stones and shells are saying to me, have a look in my shop gallery!
I get asked quite often, "how do you come up with your design ideas?" Well that can be a very complicated question, since I get them from so many places. You can get design ideas just from getting out and seeing the world around you with a different perspective, visit a museum of any sort and look at the natural world with a quiet mind. You will be amazed at how suddenly you see how the vine of a grape trellis gently winds around the frame, how the colors of a birds feathers combined into something magnificent, and how the sound of a child's laughter creates a chime like music. All these things can be somehow incorporate into your own designs.
Of course you can also look at other artist's work to be inspired. Never to duplicate, but to be inspired by their creative visions. I especially like to look at work that is not even jewelry, it makes me think in a different way about my own process and how I can use other techniques. Surrounding yourself with other artist of many mediums is a wonderful inspiration. I am lucky enough to have a large group of artist friends and I belong to a couple different groups in and out of my field or art.
Now if we are talking about the knitty gritty of the design itself, that is a process I do in three different ways. Yes three, because each one has it's own pro's and cons. What may work for one wire wrap design may not work at all for another. I also try to keep an open mind if none of these processes works for me.
If a stone/shell is very unique, I may see right away in my head how I want to wrapped it. The longer I have been doing my art the more often this happens to me. Some people explain this by saying "the stone speaks to me." In a way I suppose that is true and it certainly sounds beautiful. I do admit there has been a few times were this process surprised me with such a sudden design idea popping into my head upon picking up a stone, that it felt somehow mystical. But really I think your eye and brain become trained after so many years of working that you just see the best design quickly in some instances, especially if you know the person you are creating it for personally.
Other times it may take me a very long time to see how to wrap a stone. In this case, I will trace the stone on paper in many different angles and then doodle till I get something I find pleasing. This is usually the style I use for custom orders simply because the customer then can choose the design they prefer and it make us both happy in the end. It also opens up my creativity to try different angles of positioning the stone. I may end up with something completely different then what I was originally thinking. I always keep these sketches too, because you never know if a design will work even better for a different stone in the future. I also like to use them more as a reference while creating the actual design, because once you get started you may find that a design looks somewhat different in reality than on the paper. Bumps and variations in a stone are hard to incorporate until you begin actual wrapping of the piece.
Another process is to sometimes just pick a stone and some wire up and let my hands do what ever they feel. It is a more free type of work and can be quite liberating, as long as I am in the best mood for it. It can bring about a truly unique design. But on the other hand it can produce a real frustration and headache if my brain isn't free enough that particular day. It makes me work outside my comfort zone, and that is a good thing to do once in a while to expand your art and your mind.
I am a self taught jewelry artist and designer. My blog is the door to all the new things I learn, the stones I use and love, the pieces I created and the events I participate in as well as my thoughts and ramblings along this journey. I hope you enjoy the ride with me.