Saturday, June 22, 2013

Tell Me A Story - The Art of Personal Adornment by Karen McGovern

If you are reading and following this blog, I'm guessing you love to create.  Art is such an amazing form of expression, whatever the medium.  For many of us who create art jewelry, the process is so much more than a desire to make something pretty.  Staci just wrote a great post about the use of symbolism in jewelry design, which resonated with me because almost everything I create has a story or some sort of symbolism associated with it.  I love creating designs that tell a "tale", and in fact often include a short story or poem with the design.  I created a series called "Sacred  Salvage".  Necklaces and rings inspired by a poems and stories I wrote.  They incorporate vintage photos, antiques and odd bits and pieces.  I even put them all together in a book.  Take a peek, I'm donating all the book sales proceeds to the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation in support of wildlife conservation.
Anyway, whenever I teach a class, I always encourage my students to include something personal in their designs.  This is especially wonderful in mixed media work.  You can create AMAZING, personal and expressive works incorporating photos, buttons, bits of broken jewelry, ticket stubs, love notes, postcards, it's ENDLESS!  Tell a story, your story, in your designs.  What a wonderful way to create lasting memory...I have worked with clients incorporating family photos, notes and buttons into beautiful lockets, and even once incorporated opossum teeth into a ring for a woman who spent her life working in a wildlife rehab center!

For this post, I'm going to show you one of my favorite "Sacred Salvage" designs using brass or copper sheet, an optic lens, and a vintage photograph.   It's a surprisingly easy design to make, all cold connected.
This photo is of my Grandfather holding my Father when he was a baby. 
I treasure this...
First, choose a photo that will look nice behind the optic lens.  Optic lenses are readily available online, Etsy is a great source for them.  I scour my local antique shops and monthly local antique fair for vintage photos and tintypes.  I LOVE THEM.  I also have a great collection of family photos dating back a few generations.  You can also find spectacular photos online.  Just Google "vintage tintypes" and make sure the images aren't copyright protected.  Also, if you don't want to use the original photos, print a good hi res copy on high quality photo paper that won't fade.

Lay the lens on a sheet of 24 or 26 gauge brass or copper sheet and mark a pleasing shape around the lens with a Sharpie.  I like a shape that is sort of shield-like.  Leave enough space for elements that will be used to hold the lens in place, and allow you to drill holes for your chain, etc.  Cut out the shape with metal shears (or a saw) and file the edges smooth.  You may want to texture the edges (hammer, file, etc.), do whatever pleases you including adding patina, color, etc.  Next, cut the photo/image to fit the lens.  Center the image where you plan the lens to lay, and glue it in place with Modge Podge or some other simple craft glue.  I do not glue the image to the lens itself.  The lenses are sometimes concave, and the glue may show when it dries.  If your image is on thin paper (like magazine paper or parchment) you should seal it before glueing with a coat of Modge Podge.  After drying, place the lens over the image with the lens handle facing down.  Mark a drill spot through the handle of the lens to the brass/copper base with a fine Sharpie.  If your handle doesn't have a hole, drill or punch one!  This will be the first set point for the lens.  Drill or punch a 1/16th hole, place the lens on and use a micro screw, nut and decorative bead to hold the lens in place.  For my "Familia" pendant shown above, I used a sterling gear layered with a copper gear, lightly dapped.  You need at least two more set points to hold the lens, one on either side near the top (so the lens cannot move side to side or shift).  I chose tiny base metal coin charms for my pendant, drilled through and placed so the edges of the coins overlapped the edge of the lens, effectively wedging it in place.  Again, mark your drill spots, drill or punch, and use micro-screws and nuts to secure.  Drill or punch two holes for hanging on a chain, and you're basically done.  As you can see from the included photos below, you can add so much to these pendants to tell your story.  Add elements above and below the image, add text to the image, layer transparency images, add dried/pressed flowers,  insect wings, whatever you can find!  AND, don't forget the pendant back!  Prior to glueing your photo down you can flat rivet metal bits, gears, period coins, buttons, stamp text, etch...the ideas are only limited by your imagination!  Dont be scared to write your story down, and include it with the piece.  It is so much more meaningful, and a lovely way to preserve your tale while creating a real heirloom design.  FYI, these make FANTASTIC gifts!

I have included here a few images of some "storybook" designs...some are incredibly personal to me and were wonderfully cathartic to create.  Who needs therapy when we have ART, amiright???

I love the slightly "creepy" aspect to using very old photos and tintypes.
My imagination runs wild wondering about the lives of the subjects...
The designs above are called (clockwise) "Age of Innocence",
"Field Notes", "Odd Girl", and "Take Flight"

Please share your stories and design inspirations, and by all means, EXPRESS YOURSELF!


Artisan Beads Plus said...

Thanks for the tutorial. That would be something really special to make for my sister. We have a bond that is like no other. We had lost both of our parents.... my Dad when we were in our teens and Mom when we were in our early 20's. Then my brother died young due to his alcoholism. That and a mother who made sure we grew up close has made our bond strong. I have pictures from when we were little. I am first wondering how I will be able to shrink one that I have so that I could get it on a pendant. I will have to keep pondering that one.

Karen McGovern said...

Hi MaryAnn,

You can take your picture to Walgreens, Kinkos, ir just about any Office Supply store and ask them to reduce it for you. They can print it right there, it give it to you on a disc or jump drive to print at home. These pendants are so fun to make. If you do, please share an image of the finished work, I love see other folks "stories".

Erika said...

Thanks for the tutorial, Karen! I really like your Familia pendant. It's very sweet.
Where do you find micro screws and nuts?

Karen McGovern said...

Hi Erika! You can find the micro screws at and They come in brass and steel, in different lengths. Very fun to work with!

ciaolucia said...

Karen, I love your style and deep connection with your beautiful pieces, it gives us something to really think about. Thanks for the tutorial!

stacilouise said...

Your designs always do tell a story! I love that about them. thanks for sharing!

PyxeeStyx said...

Great post. I already use a lot of personal stuff in my work, and always try to share my inspiration. I try to make it a multi-sensational experience, by including poetry, story, music, etc. You've given me some fun new things to try and incorporate. Thanks :)

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