Monday, March 17, 2014

Asymmetry—The Good, the Bad and the Ugly by Karen McGovern

Asymmetry is defined as follows:  "Lack of equality or equivalence between parts or aspects of something; lack of symmetry."  Wow, that sounds AWFUL. And, when it comes to jewelry design, I'm not sure I agree with the definition....

When I began creating jewelry long, long ago, the idea of working with asymmetrical design was completely foreign to me.  Every bead had to match, every design had to have perfect, 100% balance or I would go crazy.  Oh, and all the beads had to be ROUND.  I was all about ROUND BEADS THAT MATCHED.  So basically, I created extraordinarily BORING JEWELRY.  But I learned technique and honed my skills, paying excruciating attention to detail.  When I look back at those snooze-worthy designs, I hardly recognize myself in them.  Yes, I used lovely beads and was surrounded at the time by glass bead makers who kept me flush with beautiful ROUND beads, but I had not found my creative voice yet and basically just strung pretty things on SoftFlex.  I remember my first CRAZY IDEA…to use bead caps singly, acting as a cup on a bead.  OUTRAGEOUS, I KNOW!!!!  Even then, I had to create a matched set.  Center focal bead flanked on either side by matching beads that had a bead cap on each end.   Talk about RISK TAKING!

One of my early attempts at asymmetric
design.  I don't TOTALLY hate it...
My discovery of and love for asymmetrical designs was developed about the same time that wonderful jewelry designers began appearing all over the Internet.  In the BF (before Facebook) days.  I found them while searching for gemstone beads online.  My first foray into asymmetry was, in typical “me” fashion, to dive in head first.  I attempted elaborate, intricate designs dripping with a lot of offset sterling silver chain and weird wire wraps.  Some, when finished, were basically unwearable.  So offset and unbalanced that giant stones would flip upside down or get caught up in all the loopy chain.  Not pretty.  One client attempted, for like an hour, to get one of these beast necklaces to actually lay correctly on her neck.  They looked cool flat, but were completely unwearable on an actual human being.  JEWELRY FAIL, teachable moment.

But, I love experimenting, and as we all know, what is created can be torn apart, and believe me I have torn apart a TON OF STUFF—still do every now and again.

Now, I cannot imagine creating any other way than with a certain asymmetric aesthetic.  Nature is my muse, and nothing in nature is ever perfect or matched.  The beauty is in the CHAOS, my friends.  I’ve said this many times, but my biggest influence in jewelry design is Susan Lenart Kazmer.  Discovering her work was like having blinders pulled off my eyes.  Suddenly HEIGHT was an option in design, DEPTH, mixed media….oh man did she ever get my creative juices boiling and I can finally say that I truly believe I have my own unique style and design flow, born in great part because of SLK.  I've included a little slideshow of some of my wonky work.

That being said, working “unbalanced” has its own set of challenges, because you must find the balance amongst the imbalance.  Yes, I sound like Yoda, but stick with me you must.

Every design has to flow, has to please the eye and also make sense on the human form.  Every point has a counter point of sorts.  Staci Louise has perfected asymmetrical necklaces in my opinion.  She has a great eye for design, creates amazing forms in polymer and metal, and lays them out in such a way that even though there are many different elements in the design, they all work in concert.  They all flow and achieve a certain undeniable symmetry, which belies the classic definition of the term asymmetry. CONUNDRUM ALERT!   Achieving this takes a lot of time, patience, and a fair amount of risk taking.  One large element offset is balance by a bundle of smaller elements opposite.  Colors are balanced and harmonious.  Her works have a wonderful “feeling” to them expressed in unusual shapes and beautiful, complimentary colors.  Basically she ROCKS and I should end this post right here
Staci's GORGEOUS work.  I mean, LOOK AT IT!!!!
But I won’t because I am nothing if not wordy, and I want to talk about another aspect of design.  I just went to one of my favorite art shows of the season, the Fine Craft Show held in Palm Beach. Here I saw some of the country’s best designers in all forms.  Clothing, textile, art, design and JEWELRY TO KILL FOR.  SO MANY AMAZING THINGS MY HEAD ALMOST EXPLODED.  And, there were a fair amount of jewelry designers creating incredible asymmetric works.  Some that were so avant-garde as to be unwearable, yet YOU SO WANTED TO TRY.  Which brings me to my point.  Some of the works shown were simply celebrations of form and design.  One designer comes to mind, who created stunning rings and brooches from thin, spikey bundles of sterling silver.  Explosions of tiny strips of metal that resembled super-cool tumbleweeds, sort of.  Some of the rings had bundles that stood 4 or 5 inches off the band, with pointy ends everywhere.  First I thought, "MAN, that is BEAUTIFUL and INSPIRING."  Then I thought, "MAN, you could totally put someone's eye out with that thing."  Yes, it was amazing, no I don’t think of that as wearable jewelry.  CAN YOU SAY SNAG CITY?  I, for one, would immediately get that thing caught in my hair and have to have my head shaved to save the AMAZING RING.  Priorities, people.  But I loved the artistic exploration and I encourage everyone to make a few pieces every now and then that may or may not ever be worn.  Make ART while you also make jewelry, and asymmetry is definitely an art form unto itself.  Stunning and simple (one beautiful accent bead hanging to the side of a simple chain) or crazy over the top like these two beautiful designs below, balancing the unbalanced can be satisfying and fun.
Works by Bongsang Cho and Liaung-Chung Yen.
Fabulous examples of contemporary art jewelry!
Finally, as you explore asymmetry, give yourself permission to sometimes fail spectacularly.  Sure, solder those four inch sterling silver wire wiggles to one side of that pendant and don’t freak out when you totally stab yourself in the boob the first time you wear it.  IT LOOKS SO COOL!   Yes, you shredded your favorite cashmere sweater with said wire wiggles, but you can always CUT THOSE THINGS OFF and rework the design.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, sorry about the sweater…


stacilouise said...

I have my share of odd, eye hurting early designs too! you have to play grow...and with that comes some crash and burn moments. I do like your ruby necklace though!!!

I love your style as well Karen. you do great asymmetrical work. I love the risks you take, and how you make art jewelry, but it is still wearable (I often want to go nuts and create "art" jewelry that's not quite wearable, but I just can't allow myself to do

thanks for a great in depth post. someday, we should get together. id love to go to the museum with you and then come home and make stuff!

Lynn said...

You are not alone in the "that would put an eye out" comment on some things. I described my work to people a few weeks ago as asymmetrical yet balanced... with a flow and purpose but organic in how they are created.

Stacey is a constant source of inspiration for me in that she shows me nothing I try is wrong as long as I like it.

And yes.. I remember counting every bead and making sure each side is even.. and to this day I have to often explain my work to those who just can't deal with not matching.. lol

Erika said...

Lol! Love this post, Karen. Yes, Staci Louise has totally nailed assymetry, and I wish I could manage it the way she does it. Her pieces really do have a nice visual flow, while at the same time the eye is drawn to each component.

I can never wear spiky jewelry, especially rings. If anyone could manage to snag a sweater, or tear up the ring, it would be me! Apparently I'm a huge clutz :)

supere67 said...

Well, I should'a scrolled through your slideshow before I made my comment. Karen, I love those asymmetrical earrings and also the silver jellyfish necklace!

Gigi Harlan said...

What a wonderful and informative post. I love your sense of humor which brings your spirit into your words! I enjoyed the slideshow and your beautiful work. I really love the rings you made!

Gigi @ Old World Patina

Ann Schroeder said...

I love your enthusiasm and encouragement to snag and regroup.

stregajewellry said...

I so enjoyed this post. My very first asymmetrical design came about by accident. My very first jewelry was wire wrapping. I wrapped a stone only to find that the bale was off-center at the top making the bale farther to the right. Rather than totally unwrap the design and "waste" 14KGF wire, I used my tail wires to make a swirl that swung left and drew the eye back. Wow! It looked like I did that on purpose! My biggest struggle now is asymmetrical color. I used to work totally monochromatically. Now I tend to stick within the same color groups and my challenge is to let go and splash another oddball color in the piece. IE: Using plum, wine, mauve and a misty gray, I literally cringe before I can drop a lime green bead into the pile. I admit, my work is more interesting when I do add oddball colors, but wow, do I struggle with my initial instincts. Maybe others out there have the same problem.

Breezy said...

Another great post thanks for making me think I am currently trying to move away from the graduated symmetrical beads on a string thing its so hard to let go!

Shaiha said...

What a great post! I love the look of asymmetrical but the only person I really have to show off my jewelry too is the hubby. And said hubby is OCD about symmetry. Sometimes I manage to sneak a little in.

Sharyl said...

What a delightful post! I wish I had read this before creating my design. I would have been much braver! :-) I love Staci's work too!

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