Personal Journey with the Illuminated Letter Series

Technique


I've been working away on a new series that I'm quite excited about. I have been experimenting a lot with enamel these days. I recently found out that I could paint with enamel and I set out to do an exercise where I'd be forced to work on improving this new technique, while also pushing myself outside of my normal boundaries.

To the left is a work-in-progress shot I took to show you how the enamel paint is applied. This is much like normal painting, except when you apply heat to the piece, the paint fuses to the metal and they become one. What I wanted out of this exercise was to see how small I could paint, I wanted to get better at my details. I also wanted to see if I could add shading, or thin a paint color to make it less intense. You can see in the example to the left that some of the red lines are darker and others are lighter. When this piece is finished, I'll take notes as to what worked and what didn't.


Artist vs Artisan


The other exercise I wanted to get out of this was more personal. I wanted to see if I could stay with a theme for longer than a week, and really sit down and focus. I'm creating an entire alphabet, and each pendant takes one day to complete. The creativity comes out with the design of each piece as each letter has its own unique background. I have some days where I'm exhausted, but this has kept me steady and I don't feel like the weekday is complete unless I've worked on a letter.


This idea to do something 'steady' stemmed from a thought I had about what the difference is between an artist and an artisan. The definitions you find on the internet paint the artist as a hero, and the artisan as someone basic, but I don't think that way. These are the arguments that I've been journaling about artist vs artisan.


The artist sets out to make a statement. They might express their political opinion, or bring up a social issue, and in some way that informs their work. Their opinions and their creativity are closely tied to one another. They make us question our own opinions, even something as simple as, "what is art, really?" Art from an artist doesn't necessarily need to be beautiful, nor does it need to be functional, it can even be questionable workmanship if that's the statement they want to make.


The artisan, on the other hand, creates pieces that are functional, they are all about beauty, and usually the design is well thought-out. The artisan works steadily, maybe even on the same design over and over, but there will always be ways of tweaking and improving on a design. They strive everyday for quality craftsmanship, and somehow it gets slightly better. Their message is simple: do good work.


Stepping into the mentality of an artisan has been meditative in a sense. There's a lot of concentration that is required of each piece so oftentimes I work either in silence, or I watch reruns of something that I already know and don't need to think about (my go-to show is Arrested Development). But I also have gotten into this routine of tidying up my space after each task, doing things slowly, not rushing, cleaning everything properly, and I get things done. Some days I'll have learned something new, and other days was just the same as the previous but something about these tasks is reinforcing.


Social Media


I'm also creating a dialogue in my head about how I want to present these pieces. I'm simultaneously trying to stay off of social media so that my creative flow isn't disturbed, but that leaves this question of, "how do I present my work? What will this type of challenge bring?" I've learned a lot about patience with myself by staying off social media. You get so accustomed to the fast pace of social media, and all the noise, and the opinions, it's hard to think clearly and to understand your own voice. If I'm honest, some days are tough, I want a sense of knowing whether I'm doing something right, but I also really want to start listening to my inner voice.


So this series is much deeper than just hand-painted letters. It's an exercise in the technical part of jewelry-making, but also something where I'm trying to find my voice. Letters seemed like an appropriate metaphor, and it's also triggered my interest in those beautiful medieval books with all of those decorated letters/pages. Soon, I will be putting out an article that covers the history of medieval illuminated manuscripts, but I wanted to make sure to give you a personal blog post first. Below are a few examples of the letters:


Thanks so much for reading!

Caitlin

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