Category Archives: inspiration

Seeds of inspiration

Winter is almost here. The November rains have washed out the last bits of colour from the garden. The view from the kitchen window is a quiet composition in a muted palette of greys and browns, perked up, but only slightly, by the dark outline of the bare trees. Under this drab exterior there are countless small treasures waiting to be found; just what a weary metalsmith suffering from craft fair fatigue needs! Armed with a sketchbook and a camera, I am ready to go.

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Drawing helps me focus on the various components of a pod or a dried flower; to analyze and deconstruct it. Sometimes I am more interested in textures, sometimes in the mechanics of a structure. Sketches are a visual reference, and they will also contribute to the design process at a later stage.

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The leaves have fallen, and with the perennials gone to seed, many forms and shapes that were previously hidden are now there to be examined and recorded – at least by the curious jewellery designer.  Seed pods, Nature’s containers, are a great source of inspiration for making boxes and lockets…or your own seed pod-shaped jewellery (made-up botanical names are optional):

D. Bréchault  - Seed Pod (Pisum regalis) - Pendant. Silver, 24k & 18k gold. Fabricated, etched, Keum-Boo.

D. Bréchault – Seed Pod (Pisum regalis) – Pendant. Silver, 24k & 18k gold. Fabricated, etched, Keum-Boo.

D. Bréchault - Seed Pod (Phaseolum sativum) - Brooch. Silver, 14k gold. Fabricated, roll-printed.

D. Bréchault – Seed Pod (Phaseolum sativum) – Brooch. Silver, 14k gold. Fabricated, roll-printed.

There are many processes and techniques available. Some seeds can be cast. Cuttlebone casting will work for things that are hard enough to withstand pressure (acorns, for instance); for the more delicate ones, organic casting is another option. Here is an example:

D.Bréchault - 13 Cherry Tree Branches - Necklace. Silver, patina. Fabricated, cast.

D.Bréchault – 13 Cherry Tree Branches – Necklace. Silver, patina. Fabricated, cast.

1759 13 cherry branches DETAIL - Copy (2)

13 Cherry Tree Branches – Detail

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Natural textures can be reproduced on metal in a variety of ways. Bark translates quite well, thanks to the reticulation technique:

D. Bréchault - Bark - Ring.    Sterling silver, reticulation silver, patina, moonstone. Fabricated, reticulated.

D. Bréchault – Bark – Ring. Sterling silver, reticulation silver, patina, moonstone. Fabricated, reticulated.

Bark - Ring. Detail.

Bark – Ring. Detail.

The intricate network of veins on lacy skeleton leaves can be transferred onto annealed metal with the roll-printing technique (Remember to use only dried leaves so as not to damage the rollers). My favourite are magnolia leaves.

Leaf roll-printed on silver.

Leaf roll-printed on silver.

These small treasures will find their place on the walls of my studio – seeds of inspiration – long after winter sets in and the garden goes dormant.

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Birch bark, magnolia skeleton leaves, Japanese anemone seeds, Japanese lanterns, etc.

So, what are you waiting for? Put on your rubber boots, and go exploring!

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Stuck for an idea?

Frottage is a useful technique for finding inspiration when you have “designer’s block”. I learnt about this technique when I was studying jewellery many years ago, and I have been sharing it with my own students ever since.

This technique was developed by the Surrealist painter Max Ernst in 1925. One day, tired of staring at his blank canvas, he was looking at the wooden floor and daydreaming, and the lines and the marks on the floor started morphing into various images. He decided then to lay sheets of paper on the floor and to rub (frottage comes from the French frotter – to rub) the paper over the textured surface with a pencil. From these, Ernst was inspired to create a series of drawings, called Histoire naturelle.

Max Ernst, from “Histoire Naturelle”, 1926.
MoMA, New York

Here is how I channel my inner Max Ernst:

I walk around my studio, or I go outside and “collect” textures. I just rub the surfaces through sheets of paper, randomly. The key is to work fast, without thinking too hard. It does not matter if the patterns overlap.

Rubbings can be found anywhere: on a concrete walkway, a crate, a brick wall, a metal grate, etc. Natural materials (i.e., leaves, bark, etc.) work well too. Tools, kitchen utensils, lettering, anything goes!

Here is my favourite pencil for this, a very fat and very soft pencil (6B):

I use the frottage technique in different ways. Sometimes, I simply look at the patterns on the sheet, until images emerge; this can serve as a point of departure for some ideas or sketches for future jewellery pieces.

Or, if I want to focus more specifically on textures or surface ornamentation – which I love to incorporate in my work – I pick out areas of the rubbings that appeal to me. Almost any pattern can be translated into metal, using various stamping tools, or techniques like etching, roll-printing, cuttlebone casting, etc. So I grab pieces of scrap metal, stamping tools, hammers, and start experimenting. Or some other times, I cut and paste various areas of the sheets and start assembling them to form necklaces, brooches, rings, whatever inspires me. You could also scan the sheets, and manipulate the shapes further with your computer. Again, the key it not to think too much or to worry about how it can actually be made.

This really works. Thank you Max Ernst! Start experimenting, and have fun. And you’ll probably come up with more ways of using the frottage technique.

D. Bréchault : Brooch “Poppies on the Meseta” – Silver, poppy jasper.
Textures made using various techniques: roll-printing, reticulation, stamping.