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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What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name?

I get a lot of questions about why I name jewelry what I do, so I thought I should explain a bit more as to how I came to the defining theme in the names of my collection.

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Vivant – Vivacious

I feel like so many designers out there have chosen names that are ladies given names, and I really wanted to express concepts that would mean something to me, that represented something that I felt, or something that inspired me while I was working on a piece, whether that be something descriptive of the actual piece itself (there could not be another name for Feuilles Dorées) or a name that had some quality that I felt the piece represented. I also try to keep each item upbeat, often thinking of qualities I would like my daughter to possess, or traits that inspirational women in my life embody. Every once in a while I even let a client name a piece themselves.

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Résistance – Strength

I actually put a lot of time into picking a name for each piece, taking into account every element of the item and every thought, word and feeling that ended up becoming that item. Unless inspiration hits and I fully flesh out an item within a few minutes, many hours of brainstorming, writing down words, drawing, thinking and sometimes staring at a blank piece of paper goes into each item. Often the name for a piece shows up somewhere from the beginning, as one of the defining concepts or an errant thought I have while trying to put a vision into words.

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Aurore – Dawn

Now, I chose French because of my background in pastry and culinary arts. French is basically the unofficial language of fine dining restaurants (though it could be debated that it should be Spanish) and as a result, I have a decent repertoire of French vocabulary terms floating around in my brain, though they are mostly related to cooking and food! No, I am not French (as far as I know), but I have two close friends that speak it fluently, and when I have questions about correct and accurate language usage, I have people to ask. Besides, French is the language of love, and while it may sound somewhat cliche, I love what I do.

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Papillon – Butterfly

French is not a super popular language within the United States, I realize that people may struggle with pronunciation, which is why I added what the English translation alongside the French on each piece’s page.  Please don’t feel bad about not being able to pronounce the names – I have struggled with languages my entire life (lets not talk about how I have had years and years of formal Spanish education and can barely speak any of it) and still mangle words at times!

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Voeu – Wish

So if you have ever wondered, that’s why I have a bunch of French words as the names of my jewelry!

As is par for the course, renovations are not done yet, though there is light at the end of the tunnel! Painting is getting closer and closer to being done, and I should have a new studio by March 1!

In the meantime, I’m working on some custom projects, including some more pear shapes, one of the most challenging but interesting shapes, in my humble opinion. Also included in that is a large project, or parcel of projects that has so many stones, I have been having a hard time figuring out where to start!

I’ve received requests for a new page to be added to my website, one page that has all of my custom work and designs together. Hopefully soon I can put some time into adding that. I will also put another jewelry item to the site in the next couple weeks – the Espoir ring.

New items were added to the etsy shop this past week – a yellow diamond ring and a red spinel and diamond ring among them!

Musings, Mise En Place, Pastry

Back when I used to be a pastry chef, I struggled with cake decorating quite a bit. I felt like there was often too much empty space to fill up. I think that it’s one of the reasons I loved creating composed dessert plates so much, I could create the dessert items and they turned into the decoration for the plate, rather than covering the dessert in decorations. I have always struggled with creating something completely from scratch – having a huge blank canvas to fill, rather than having at least a starting point to grow from. You can’t grow a plant without a seed.

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I remember with finding inspiration for a composed dessert, considering flavor profiles, and utilizing the colors that naturally came with those flavors as my starting points, and building from there. The dish that comes to mind is one made with cherry mousse and white peach mousse with a pistachio cake – using a barely there peach, a bright pink-red and the muted pistachio green to bring interest and brightness to the dessert, while also standing out among all of the chocolate/vanilla colors. The dessert in it’s entirety was beautiful, with wonderful colors that are organic to the item itself. Those flavors came from items that had interesting colors to begin with. Perhaps this is why I have such a hard time with filling space just to fill space – if the design element doesn’t make sense, if it doesn’t come from an organic place, why add it? And that is likely why I had (and have) such a hard time with decorating cakes. My own wedding cake had no decorations but chocolate covered strawberries and fresh berries on it.

Much like the beaten to death line from every traditionally trained chef I’ve ever met, “If it’s not edible, it doesn’t belong on the plate.” Period.

And in bringing up my pastry background, I think I’ve finally come to the realization that this is the place where I get my overthinking from. Mise en place is the French phrase that means “everything in it’s place” and it’s the very first thing that every cook is taught – before service, every item you will need for service must be ready. Preparation is absolutely everything in cooking, without preparation, you’d immediately be thrown in the weeds when service starts and you need something you don’t have at the ready.

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So I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m much happier starting out with a smaller canvas to fill, the item of jewelry, typically with a built in starting point, rather than with the huge blank canvas of something such as a wedding cake, or even a birthday cake. It’s much easier to fill the space, to add just a little, and have that small element mean a lot more.

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So along those lines, I have two more ring designs coming up that will be added to The Elle Collection, a true solitaire (no accent stones) named for one of my mentors, as well as a ring that will have some small diamond accented elements, but will be mostly a solitaire as well. I think that these will be added before the end of the year and I’m so excited about them!

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I’ve been a bit all over the place this week, with some family stuff going on, and preparing for Halloween with a little kid and her activities to contend with, so I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with things outside, but also I will be debuting two new bands in November (rather than the end of October, as I had originally planned) because I’d been getting so much interest in one, and I’m just in love with the lines of the other.

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There are less than 8 weeks left until Christmas, and while I will still be selling ready-made items until the week before, custom items are already going to be difficult to complete and have delivered by Christmas, if they aren’t already in the planning stages. I would recommend requesting any stock items from the Elle Collection to be ordered before Thanksgiving to arrive by Christmas, to allow for production time with the holiday rush.

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I also wanted to mention that I do have a coupon on etsy running right now for 20% off orders over $100 running through November 7th (this coming Saturday!) so take advantage of it before it’s gone! The coupon code for that is “BURMESERUBY” (no quotes) and you can visit my Facebook page for the story behind the coupon.