The age-old question: Where do you get your ideas?

Posted on Mar 15, 2016

It’s not just authors who get the question “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s one of the questions anyone in any creative endeavor is likely to receive a hundred (or a thousand!) times over. It’s also a question that, for many who may not have pursued a creative life vigorously, produces less-than-satisfying answers. There’s a reason for that, I think, but first, let’s explore my own answer to this age-old question.

Where do I get my ideas? Well, I can’t always say precisely, but I can tell you the wells I visit again and again because they provide a sweet drink whenever I feel a bit parched in the inspiration or motivation departments.

The first source for me is nature. We have pretty amazing shapes and forms all around us, and most beauty that has ever existed has not been crafted. I look closely at leaves, at shells, at rock cliffs and mossy mounds. Brilliant symmetries emerge from these places that inform and inspire many of my designs, some more obviously than others. Even sitting for a quarter hour with Google image search can provide all the ideas I need for a day, a week, or longer.

I also turn to architecture at times. This should be obvious if you’ve looked at many of my metal lace and striated pendant designs. For me, gothic architecture — and gothic churches in particular — provide a never-ending rush of inspiration. A single church window, for instance, can suggest seemingly infinite new ways to combine basic geometric elements into something fresh, new and exciting. But beyond windows, architectural embellishments are ambrosia for the creative mind. New York City is a treasure trove of unexpected adornments, tucked in unlikely places and, by and large, ignored by the masses of people walking by. Just looking up from time to time, paying attention to the buildings around me, can provide more ideas than I could ever possibly act upon.

My medium, metal, is another of my most rich sources for ideas. Understanding how metal works — how it responds to heat, to the hammer, to a forming jig — can inspire a limitless number of designs. Much of my early fold-formed work came to be through experimentation and eventually understanding of how the material moved under thousands of precise blows of a hammer. Once I began to think of metal through the lens of its material properties and how I could manipulate it, ideas bloomed before me.

It’s impossible not to also mention my fellow colleagues. Craftspeople and artists of all kinds can provide astonishing numbers of ideas. I particularly love encountering some aspect of design employed in a craft that is unlike my own — furniture design, for instance — that I can interpret and apply to my own chosen medium. Of course, keeping the pulse of my own industry is certainly important, and a great number of creative ideas have come to me simply by browsing the collections of my peers. (Please note that I don’t condone copying. I think that’s boring and largely unethical unless you do it solely to further your own craft and understanding. However, there’s no replacement for that moment of “That’s gorgeous, but I would do it totally differently!” that can happen when checking out your fellow artisans.)

There are so many other sources of ideas that it’s folly for me to try to list even those which influence me on a weekly basis. But there’s something that so many people forget when they discuss ideas: they are the easy part. Really. The idea for a piece or ensemble or even an entire collection is such a small part of bringing it into existence that at times it seems beside the point. This is, I think, the reason that people who don’t regularly pursue creative endeavors are inevitably disappointed by answers to the “From where come the ideas?” question.

Many articles have been written about good ideas and bad ideas, poor execution and perfect execution, and they basically all apply as much to the jewelry industry as much as they do to any other. The wisdom to take to heart is simple: A mediocre idea well executed is almost always more successful than a brilliant idea with mediocre execution. What does that mean? It means that where my ideas come from doesn’t really matter that much. What matters is that I spend the hours and days at my bench transforming them from ideas into reality. What matters is that I learn new techniques to allow me to realize more complex ideas. What matters is that I make, make, make so that when I do get those amazing ideas, I can couple them with equally amazing execution.

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