04 April 2011

Simple Wisdom, Finding Joy and a Tale of Two Custom Orders

"i thank you God for this most amazing day, 
 for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the
blue dream of sky and for everything
which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes."

e.e. cummings
Susan is one of my best customers. And yet I have never met her.

Last summer during the opening days of my exhibit, Susan was in my small town in Wisconsin all the way from Maine. She was visiting with a friend who was attending the Aber Suzuki music conferences that happen here each summer.

My show had just gone live, when Susan happened upon our little Gallery Q. And she was smitten with so many of the pieces that I made they left the gallery before the opening night of the show! But I am glad that Susan found her way to Stevens Point, WI and to our little Gallery Q on Main Street. I am mostly glad that the pieces I created found a wonderful home on the other side of the country, and that I have made a connection with a patron from afar.

I don't believe that you need to meet the person that you are designing for. I have had wonderful success making jewelry for scores of people that I have never met, who live far away from me. So I was delighted that Susan thought of me when seeking something special as a gift for her mother and her best friend. I asked if she would allow me to create my new 'simple truths' pendants for the pieces and she agreed. I am humbled that she has that level of trust with me. That is usually the last question I ask in a custom consultation: Do you trust me? Sometimes the client really wants to control every last detail, but more often than not, my clients believe that I will deliver something special for them and tell me that they trust me. I am pleased that Susan felt that way!

{This is where I started... translating Susan's descriptions into pendants}
When I work with a client, whether near or far away, I start by asking questions. I want to know about colors and lengths and style, of course. But I also want to know about what makes that person tick, what rocks their world, what consumes their passion. From there I can put together an image in my mind of the wearer and develop a piece attuned to her unique personality.

Susan told me that her mother was very much into ocean colors and is quite a character who appreciates one of a kind work (sounds like my kind of mother!). Susan told me that a word for her mother would be 'wisdom.' So 'simple wisdom' was born!

I created this piece with a starfish on the front as if it were floating in the bright blue sea. Complementing the ocean colors is a disk bead from Humblebeads hugged by two verdigris patinaed bead caps from MissFickle. I found some of my favorite picasso finish czech glass beads a while ago that meshed perfectly with the sea and sand color palette.

I wanted the other side to be lighter (in terms of the size of the beads), so I went with seed beads in a dark bronze color for one strand and the other strand a soft silver sheen to play up the silver plated bezel and the tiny twisted silver jump rings I added inside the etched brass jump rings. But it just wasn't enough to have those two seed bead strands as I designed it originally. There needed to be more visual weight to the piece. So I added a length of Vintaj etched brass chain that I wove the seeded strands through. It still wasn't enough. I realized that the lovely sea color was not represented on this side. So I went back and removed sets of two links along the chain and replaced them at various intervals with a wire wrapped Swarovski crystal in my very favorite color (I think it is called gray tabac and it is incredibly hard to find!) for a subtle flash of  color and sparkle. I like that the woven seed beads and chain remind me of seaweed washing up on the shores.

For the clasp I painstakingly wired tiny turquoise seed beads on a Vintaj hook clasp and ring. And I found a cute tiny starfish charm that ties it all together.
{'simple wisdom' - click to view larger}

For her friend, Susan told me that she loves nature in all its forms and is an outdoor person who walks every day and is an 'air' sign. She is also a mixed media artist and loves color, art and design. I hope that this friend appreciates my mixed media attempts and my color and design choices!

I call this piece 'find joy in nature' and it features a 'simple truths' pendant with those words on the back of a bird soaring high into a blue sky. In keeping with the bird theme, I found this special shibuichi bird toggle from Green Girl Studios. I have been saving that one for a very long time.

I started with two copper branches holding up a copper wire nest with a granite egg. That wire nest gave me all sorts of trouble. I think I ripped it apart three times before I figured out what I wanted to do. Specifically, I wanted to be sure that the necklace could be reversible on each so that the wearer can choose the image or the words to face front. That is a challenge in and of itself!

To represent the air that these two birds are soaring high in, I used gray opal Swarovski crystals and some amazing faceted labradorite heishi (which I have also been hoarding for about 6 years!). Labradorite is one of my very favorite stones. I love the subtle sheen of these beads and how substantial they look when they are all together. And the flash of blue is electric, like the hint of sky between the clouds.

Finishing off the back are two different copper chains and some sweet czech glass flowers dangling here and there.

Would you like to know a little bit about my process? I use a few tricks to make sure that the asymmetry works in a piece. I don't just launch into my stash and start throwing things together. There is a lot of trial and error in order to make it look cohesive and not random. Here are my favorite tricks:
  • Similar shapes: The toggle, the branches and the egg all mimic the same oval shape and these pieces give your eye a place to travel through the necklace. 
  • Repeated elements: Often I will repeat an element on opposite sides of the necklace, like the little czech glass flowers to tie it together. Sometimes I use color, like the silver seed beads and the silver twisted rings to tie both sides together. And both of these pieces are pretty monochromatic, but if I were to throw in an accent color,  I would balance it by repeating it elsewhere.
  • Mix pattern with random: While these designs are asymmetrical, there is a distinct pattern to the beaded part in both designs. That helps ground the standalone elements.
  • Pay attention to weight: Balancing the visual weight is key. When I started with the first necklace and only had two strands of seed beads, it felt a little lopsided. Now it has weight but also texture with the weaving.
  • Numbers matter: Whether working with patterns or asymmetry, I like the numbers 1-3-5-7. I will use items in odd numbers to create a pattern, or to balance design elements, either repeating or solo.
I love to make custom pieces for people. It is like opening a puzzle and seeing all the pieces laid out before you. You have to find the corners and the outer edges to start to see the puzzle take shape. Then you start to fill in the gaps, focusing on color and shadow, as well as shape to find the perfect fit. And when you are all done, when you have found that last perfect piece, you have a beautiful image that you have brought into focus.

I am grateful for the chance to work with clients, whether they are around the corner or across the country from me. I hope that Susan is happy that she chose to trust me with interpreting her love for these special women in her life. Thank you, Susan, for putting your trust in me!

Have you ever put your trust in a custom order with a person that you have never met? 
What was that experience like for you? 
Do you like to have custom things made for you? Have you always been pleased with the outcome? Do you put your whole trust in someone creating a custom order for you? Or are you one who likes to manage every detail?
If you make something, do you like to accept custom orders? 
What challenges have you faced with custom orders? 
What triumphs have you had? 
Do tell!

Enjoy the day!


steufel said...

Erin, both necklaces are to die for! And thanks for sharing your thoughts and letting us be part of your design process. That was very interesting. xo Stefanie

mairedodd said...

i really enjoyed how you shared your design process... the pieces are beautiful - and how nice that you now have your own work integrated into a finished piece...

Alice said...

Wish I had more time to write my thoughts. These pieces are just gorgeous. Your customer will be thrilled with them, and so will her mother.

Gardanne said...

Thanks for the tips Erin, I love asymmetry but I am intimidated by the process, so thank you for the tips.
I do custom orders all the time for my glass and enamel jewelry components. Fortunately my customers understand with anything handmade, especially in the flame, I can never make an exact replica.

somethingunique said...

Hi Erin, both necklaces are abso fabu, i like your odd numbers pattern i too only usr odd number patterns in my designs i don't even know why i have alway's been an odd numbers person like sitting in a certain # seat at a hockey game or concert. and i love to do custom orders, when i am at my festvals in the summer i make custon anklet's right on the spot, i have made some women very happy that have a very small ankle or a larger ankle and have never been able to find an anklet that fit's the smile on there face as they are walking away looking down at there first ever anklet makes me smile ear to ear, and i alway's have my tools and extra components to ajust anything someone might want a differnt size and unrelated to your blog post my son's team won the championship for there divsion of hockey last night against a team we have not won against one time all season we won the one that counted the most!!! his team mates carried him onto the ice to recieve his metal and the semi final game b4 last night we also won against a team that beat us all season the boy's were very motivated by Jack's injury he is very well admired by them and they felt bad about him being hurt and played with a great deal of passion it was a sight to see ttfn L:)

Cristi Baxter Clothier said...

One word, Erin...Gorgeous! Both of those pieces are just fabulous. Your attention to details and the little goodies that you had here and there to your pieces really make them beautiful. You have SO inspired me today!Thanks, I needed it :-)

My Life Under the Bus said...

Oh I LOVE the focals - the colors and the subjects ( but especially the bird!) and the clasp is to die for. So funny I just picked someone on Etsy to help me rejuvenate my blog and store banners and I feel like we have always been friends - we just hit it off right away and she got what I wanted - a great experience!

Have an awesome Monday!!!

Kristen said...

Wow Wow and Wow. Not only for the gorgeous and heartmade necklaces but your process is awesome. I have known since starting to read your blog that you put alot into your creations and that I believe that you leave a piece of you in every one of them but I will say I think you leave even more than I originally thought and that receiving a gift of this magnitude insures the wearer true blessings. You are a Treasure!

Orion Designs said...

Those pieces are absolutely lovely. You do have a knack for balancing your asymmetry perfectly.

Jenni C said...

Erin, both those pieces are really beautiful, very special and so thoughtfully put together. They will love them. I am in awe of your design process and thank you most sincerely for sharing it with us. Your work is SO inspirational.

Malin de Koning said...

Erin, both necklaces are simply gorgeous!

I like both to ask for custom orders and to get them.

Brandi said...

Gorgeous, Erin! I love how much of YOU goes into each piece you make - the thoughts, the skills - just lovely.

Designs by Dawn Marie said...

Erin, these are stunning! They are so elegantly designed... balancing the asymmetry (if that makes sense) and the colors are just yummy! I know Susan will be over the moon with excitement over these pieces!

Anybody that wants a custom design needs to trust the artisan! It's what allows you as an artisan to be creative and let the beauty of the beads convey the message!


Craftymoose Crafts said...

Both necklaces are striking and gorgeous--I am sure they will be treasured. I always learn so much when I stop by your blog with regard to design--thanks!

I have been fortunate to do quite a few custom french beaded order. Most notable with to design 3 beaded floral headpieces for flower girls in the client's wedding. Without seeing the "heads" I devised a way to make them adjustable so the bride could fit them herself. She was thrilled.

Greer said...

Two absolutely stunning pieces!
I love a design where the more you look the more you find - just like nature itself.

Anonymous said...

These came out beautifully and I love love the colors!

Erin Fickert-Rowland said...

Those necklaces are both knockouts, Erin! Quite possibly my two favorite pieces of yours (though I like quite a lot of your work!) Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the custom orders- how wonderful to have such a great experience transpire between artist and client. It makes the pieces even more special!
Erin (the other LOL!)

rosebud101 said...

Wow! Great pieces, Erin! Lovely work, too!

Marsha of Marsha Neal Studio said...

Ok - hands down - You Are Amazing!!! Those pieces are stunning. And the design tips are much appreciated by those of us that have beads, but need a jumping point to get inspiration from in order to put them together in a way that works. Next time I sit down to design, I am going to read back through this post for inspiration...

Jennifer Cameron said...

You are such an incredibly talented woman with a knack for breaking it down for the simple folks like me. I loved reading about your process and how you break it down into scientific steps to design asymmetrical pieces. It sounds like you have attracted the perfect client for you...one that loves your work and trusts you to create the perfect piece.

Cameron said...

Erin, these pieces are gorgeous!! So special...you make these creations seem so effortless and natural, though I know they represent careful thought and numerous hours of work! You are gifted! These ladies are so fortunate to be calling these their own...I'm positive they will wear them with pride!

JeannieK said...

Erin, great post and so much great information as always. I can't find words to express my thoughts for some reason today. You always give so much of yourself and leave us with so much to think about.
Like everyone else here I'm blown away your designs and craftsmanship. Outstanding.

I do a lot more custom orders than I have sales on my website. I prefer to do a custom piece. It humbles me to have the privileged to make something that already has been claimed. I usually run into trouble when the recipient has absolutely no idea what they want. How do you start with no information?

I have never had a custom piece of jewelry made for me because I don't wear jewelry.

Sally Anderson said...

I love seeing what you make and reading about how you do it. It's all very inspirational! Thanks.

Cindy said...

Erin, both of your necklaces are simply stunning...full of your signature touches. Thank you for sharing the behind-the-scenes on how you created them. I just know your customers will love their necklaces, especially knowing you created each one just for them!

Michelle said...

I love both of these necklaces. I'm not a "blue" person--except when it comes to ocean hues. LOVE LOVE them both!
I really like to do custom pieces. The customer feels so much more invested in it when they have a say in what is created and what they are wearing.

lunedreams said...

Absolutely love them both!! I love those multiple strands of seed beads and chain, that's such a great look! Your pendants are wonderful, love the earthy texture combined with the more sparkly beads. Your pieces always do have such great balance.

The only things I've ever ordered custom were beads, and I'm usually interested in a specific color or size. I've never ordered custom finished jewelry, mostly b/c I don't really wear it anymore. But I think I'd be OK with doing that with only loose guidelines. I can think of one artist offhand that I wouldn't have a problem doing that with. It would have to be someone who does work that I don't/can't do.

I've made piles of custom jewelry, mainly for people I've never met, never even spoken to. They've been almost all great experiences (with only one exception), although I frankly don't look forward to custom work. My time is so limited, it's hard to be taken away from creating the things I want to do. Although I have to say my customers' ideas about what they want often inspire me and I end up repeating the design later.

EB Bead and Metal Works said...

Both necklaces are absolutely stunning! They will treasure them forever.
I usually put my trust in Juls and let her go to town when I have asked for beads, that girl always sends me lovely goodies. I have also done a bead swap with Kristen (My Bead Journey) and was not disappointed! Both times was an awesome experience for me.
Mom and I usually don't like taking custom orders because of working with the enamels, we are never sure the colors the people want will turn out the way they ask. We have done several custom orders and they have turned out where the customer loved the piece, but mom and I held our breath the whole time the customer looked over the pieces.
I hope you are doing great and had a wonderful week!

Softflexgirl said...

This is a terrific post, Erin!

Kristen (Creative Stash) said...

So lovely! Your designs always inspire me. I really love the turquoise wire wrapped clasp you made. It is such a great touch. The recipients of these necklaces are going to be so happy!

GlassBeadArt said...

Both necklaces are wonderful! I could look at them allday.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts about designing asymetrical jewelry. It was veryx interesting...I never understand how people can design something this way; I love the look but my brain gets nervous when I try to break from my symetrical routines ;-))

Pretty Things said...

I love how you capped Heather's bead in that one picture - it looked like a seashell to me at first glance!

Rembrandt Charms said...

Beautiful pieces in aqua also a favorite of many as they look very relaxing and subtle.The birds etched on the pendant make it so beautiful and unique too.Love the pieces.

Marie Cramp said...

Absolutely Gorgeous piece!! I am almost speechless! :)


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