Principles of Design

I doubt that one of the people with the biggest influences on me would even remember my name.

Study the basic concepts of figure, ground, line, contrast, pattern, proportion, color, symmetry, movement, unity, and balance. Students learn the principles of two- and three-dimensional design and develop language to analyze product design, plate presentations, decoration, and packaging on visual, tactile, and conceptual levels.

In 2004, I was quite young, yet already three years into my culinary career, and already terribly jaded. I had an associates degree in culinary arts, and had worked in several restaurants of varying quality, back of the house, front of the house, a little bit of everything. And I was accepted to what is probably still considered “the Harvard of culinary schools” into the baking and pastry program.

I had started out my culinary career as wanting to pursue the savory side, and that the sweet side was all wedding cakes, bread, and bakeries – nothing I was interested in. It was midway through my associates degree that I fell in love with pastry. With pastry, you could make anything you wanted utilizing several fundamental ingredients – namely sugar, butter, eggs, flour. And suddenly it was like my world opened. With savory food, you were tied to ingredients and keeping those ingredients recognizable. Who would want to eat a chicken thigh that looks like a flower? Baking did not have aesthetic limits.

Boom.

Which is how I found my way to The Culinary Institute of America, and specifically to Bruce Ostwald’s Principles of Design class, the first college level art class I ever took. Sure, the curriculum was based around food, creating plates that would have interesting textures and colors, as well as incorporating different complementary flavors and temperatures. But at the heart of this class was design – art. Visuals. Contrast. Texture. Negative space. Color. Movement. So while I was trying my hardest to continue cramming knowledge about food into my brain, my heart was learning something else – creativity. Expressing myself through a variety of mediums.

 

The problem was, sugar and chocolate couldn’t hold my interest. I was too interested in people, and when you make food, you have essentially no contact with the people you’re making it for.

Less than two years later that I returned to school, and this time I was aiming for art history. I had picked up some culinary French, and I had always had an interest in architecture, so art history made sense.

Until it didn’t.

At 22, I had just spent five years working towards a career that I really enjoyed, but that felt somewhat lacking in the practicality department – the restaurant world is very difficult to have a family in, and making a living wage seemed downright impossible – I had the best culinary school in the country on my resume and was only able to command $9/hour with no benefits. What sort of career could a bachelor’s degree in art history give me? On top of that, I felt like an anomaly – my peers were just graduating with their four year degrees, and I was already well on my way to being career changer.

So while the practical side of me chose something that was somewhat more useful – a bachelor’s in psychology is applicable in a variety in positions, though not exactly a career jump starter – I used everything in the rest of my background’s arsenal, including my interest in my father’s long time career, to gain enough momentum to create another career for myself. Which, over the years, I have turned into my day job.

And then there is the creative side, which you see here, where the spark that was discovered through Mr. Ostwald’s design class has been a glowing ember and has turned into a bonfire. Only, it’s in jewelry, rather than food. Because I can work one on one with my clients, and hopefully create something that they hold dear for years, or even generations, to come.

My most memorable piece in my principles of design class was mixed media on blue background, with diamonds cut from magazine ads exploding outwards. I should have known.

 

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Remembering Stephen

This week, the gemstone world lost someone important, who touched me profoundly, though he may not have known it. A year or so ago, I took custody of an amazing amethyst that has been posted here before. Of course it’s huge size (just under 28cts) was the first thing I noticed, but it was the polish and the cut that stood out among the rest of the parcel it had journeyed with.

Stephen Kotlowski will be sincerely missed by so many and I am honored to be a guardian of a piece of his work, the finest cut amethyst I have ever seen.

The following are his images, that he posted to my Facebook page months ago.

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And my pictures:

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I will take a long time to decide how to frame his already beautiful work of art. I just hope that I do it justice.

Overthinking

I have one particular client-friend who will tell you just how much I overthink pieces. She has listened to me, more than once, go on and on and on about how much time I put into designs, and how ridiculous all of the thought I put in before I even start sketching out what is going through my mind. Of course, once I start sketching is when the pieces all fall into place and I can see, granted in a 2D representation, how everything fits and flows together, what works and what doesn’t. I feel like a lot of jewelry out there doesn’t take every angle and every single element into consideration, which is so sad to me.

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For instance, why is the basket so enclosed?

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Two reasons, it’s highly polished to reflect the stone’s color back at the wearer and in a stone that isn’t cut perfectly, it helps camouflage any windowing.

I have just spent the morning and early afternoon rough sketching a design that has been plaguing me for weeks. Part of the reason it’s been plaguing me for so long is the fact that I was writing descriptions, taking photos and actually doing the legwork myself to get my collection onto the site, but also, I’ve been seriously stuck with where I wanted to go with the design. Today I finally had a bit of a breakthrough, and I finally put the pieces together. The structure of what needs to be there to hold the stones down has been holding me down, but I finally feel like I got it today. The pieces started to finally come together.

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Basket detail? Not just pretty, it also provides structure and support for the halo.

So much of jewelry design is holding stones. Lately I’ve been taking note of designers who don’t use prongs. Polly Wales, for instance, just casts the stones directly into her items. It is a really cool look. Bezeling is popular too. But I feel like most people work around prongs, and don’t incorporate them into the design. I think it was in my beloved architecture book, a quote about how a design element should have at least two uses, otherwise it shouldn’t be there. I will have to go look it up. My point there is that I think and think and think about those design elements.

It’s not just a prong. It should never be considered just a prong. What ELSE can the prong be? What else does the prong WANT to be?

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It wants to be a mermaid, but will settle for being part of the split shank.

And with that, I’m starting to sound like a slightly deranged philosopher. But these are the things I think of when I design a piece of jewelry. It’s not just something to be worn – it’s wearable sculpture. Each element should be practical AND beautiful. Otherwise, what is it doing there?

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Ok, well, sometimes I add things that are just pretty…like that design element on the end of the stone.

Art of Any Medium

Sometimes you lose your drive and your inspiration. I’ve been so stressed out with everything, moving and selling our house that I’ve just been blah in every aspect of my life, except for sleeping. Yesterday my husband and daughter went to work and gave me some peace and quiet. I told myself that I wouldn’t do any chores and forced myself to try to relax and get with the program. Let me deviate for a bit.

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About a week ago, I won a print of a beautiful asscher cut diamond painting done by Angie Crabtree. Part of winning that particular contest was that she would name it after me. You can check out “Elle” here: Angie Crabtree

 

Now, I’d been following Angie around instagram for a bit, admiring her diamond painting work. She has recently gotten several inquiries asking if she would do a gemstone photograph, and she replied that she would. But she wanted a straight on high resolution photo to paint from. So I decided today was the day to challenge myself to try to get a straight on photo of a gem that was high resolution and good enough to paint from. Short story, I did not achieve my goal, but did get some nice photos anyway.

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Still feeling rather blah, I sat down on my couch and turned on Netflix. I’ve mentioned before that I was a pastry chef, and I was incredibly serious about it. I went to culinary school with the mindset that I would be a savory chef, and leave that sissy pastry stuff to people who couldn’t hack it in a real kitchen. Then I started baking and pastry classes, and it was all over. I was entranced by the artistry of pastry and the fact that I felt as though I was completely unencumbered by the mediums, after all, I could take flour, sugar and butter and transform it into anything, rather than trying to mold a chicken breast into something else that didn’t make sense. Later, I would learn that that wasn’t exactly the case, but I was already too in love with the art and specific science of pastry. So I flicked through several suggested shows, and I see something called “Chef’s Table”, and figure “Why the hell not?”

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I want to thank Massimo Bottura for lifting me out of my funk and reminding me of my passion for the beautiful, for pushing boundaries, and questioning traditions. And making me remember that some of the best creations come from accidents.

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I feel better now.