Brenda Smith and the Art of Storied Design
Brenda Smith considers herself, first and foremost, an artist. Her specialty is telling visual stories by utilizing diamonds and other gemstones within noble metals, creating heirlooms and personal treasures. Here, she shares how she found a way to feed her starving creative juices after retirement with jewelry design—a new passion and talent.
In a few words how do you describe yourself and your jewelry work?
I am an artist first and foremost. That is reflected in my jewelry designs with concept, contrast, motion, and dimension.
Did your passion for jewelry design start when you were very young, or is it something you developed later in life?
I did not come from a jewelry family or background, so I was never exposed to the industry. After I retired as a creative director for advertising and subsequently a manufacturing company, my creative juices were starved for more stimulation. A jewelry store owner and gemologist friend encouraged me to experiment with different methods of fabrication. I was hooked. The tactile hands-on, creating beautiful things from raw materials are so fulfilling. I took every class I could to get a well-rounded bench education.
Can you talk about your time teaching and working in advertising? Do you think this experience gives you an edge in the jewelry industry?
Right out of college with my degree in Fine and Professional Arts from Kent State University, specializing in graphic design, I was asked by the department to teach beginning design skills at the university. I found that in teaching, I had to know design principles inside out and I had to be able to communicate them to others. My degree was before computer-aided design. All was done by hand with ruling pens, Rapidograph®, and color markers.
Transferring these skills as a creative director in advertising was natural. Concept, concept, concept was my driving force. If the advertising was simply clever without a message, it wasn’t successful.
I absolutely know this experience has given me an edge in jewelry design. My pieces will never be one of the masses.
Your collections are incredibly beautiful and unique. Can you talk about the process of starting or envisioning a collection?
I consider it as two things: envisioning and the process of starting. A collection begins in my head. Inspiration can come from many sources; shapes, experiences, architecture, nature, a word, textures, or a stone. For instance, my Celebration Collection began while watching the Fourth of July fireworks. I said to my husband after each sparkling celestial burst, “I see earrings.” He said, “Really?” I went home and started sketching, first in black and white, then in color to get the relationships correct. While in Rome and visiting the many museums full of marble sculptures bedecked in flowing robes and fabrics, I said to myself, “If marble can be made to look like fabric, why can’t I do that with metals?” Hence the “Ribbons Collection.”
Sketching not only works through design relationship issues, but it also helps work through fabrication issues. Sketching is a must. When teaching jewelry design, the majority of students just want to start fabricating. This leads to monotony in their designs. Working out your creative ideas on paper is first.
Is there a collection or single piece that is your favorite or most memorable?
I have two. First, it is my Celebration Collection, mentioned above. I love the dimension, motion, and visual impact. A single memorable piece is Cecelia, a dragonfly brooch inspired by the ammolite that reminded me of a dragonfly wing. This piece is truly a 3-D work of art from every side, measuring 4” x 3.5,” embellished with sapphire, tourmaline, citrine, fire agate, and single cut diamonds, hand fabricated in 18kyg.
You offer the service of “storied designs,” can you talk about the feelings and process of creating works so personal to the client?
For custom work, talking with the client is a must to understand what they want to achieve with the piece. It is so much easier to get the desired results when we understand the client and their wishes. This is information gathering is the process of understanding the concept needed for a successful and beautiful piece of jewelry. Often, the client needs to be guided to discover the real message that they desire. The final design brings it all to culmination.
Is there a story told to you that is your favorite?
Again, I can think of two that immediately come to mind. One is a pearl necklace commission. I was given the largest, freshwater, perfectly round pearls in existence and asked to make an 18” necklace from 23 pearls that measured from 15-21mm. If strung together, the necklace would have been over 23” long. Not only that, but the culturing seed bead was from the giant sea clams, and drilling these extremely large and hard pearls was proven to be challenging. I solved the design problem by clustering the pearls to create a beautiful nature-inspired neckpiece accented with multicolored sapphires and diamonds in 18k yellow gold, entitled “In The Garden”.
The second that comes to mind is a necklace for a cancer survivor. The client was a breast cancer survivor whose surgeon was a female. My client asked me to create something in pink, reflecting the breast cancer symbol. She wanted to gift this to her surgeon as a token of her appreciation. The sterling silver piece featured a rhodochrosite. Both client and doctor were extremely happy with the result.
How would you like or recommend buyers to wear your jewelry, and is there a specific aesthetic in your mind?
I would recommend wearing my jewelry whenever you can. As someone once said, “Life is too short to wear boring jewelry.”
Describe your relationship with your materials. What are you most drawn to working with? What has inspired your most recent collection, or piece?
That is a multi-faceted question! Pun intended. I really like working with yellow gold at the moment. I’m happy to see the resurgence of the yellow, especially in high carat yellows. As far as gemstones, I am drawn to non-calibrated stones. This instantly sets off creative juices for me. I’m also drawn to carved stones. One of my most recent pieces are my earrings featuring spheres of conch shell. I bought the orbs several years ago; knowing that they were “out of the box” so to speak and just recently completed the earrings for the AGTA Tucson show. Again, I was drawn to the unusual beauty and shape of the gem.
Another new brooch piece features a carved quartz flower with the contrasting center, featuring a GoldSheen™ star sapphire orb. Maybe this is my “sphere” design period!
One of the collections that caught my eye is the Lace Collection. Can you talk about your inspirations and work process to create this beautiful collection? How do you blacken gold?
A doily crocheted by my grandmother in the 1940’s inspired My Lace Collection. I wanted to preserve her legacy with this 9” circular, pineapple pattern. I scanned it on my computer, printed out many different sizes, cut them out painstakingly with an Exacto® knife, shaped them dimensionally, and played with the shapes until I found what worked for me. Here again, I was making metal reflect fabric or lace. Black lace is such a feminine visual, so I plated the 18k white gold rings with black ruthenium, giving them an edgy, contemporary look. The rings feature different 14mm round gems. Second-generation lace rings feature 18k yellow gold with 9mm center stones.
I’ve also used the lace concept as bezels as seen on these Manganite earrings. I think grandma is smiling at this legacy.
Are there any specific pieces or collection launches in the near future that our readers can be on the lookout for?
I have a new collection called “Stix” featuring stick figures of families and events that represent them. The idea came from sitting in Atlanta traffic looking at the stick figure decals on rear car windows. These feminine little charms are endearing and meaningful for the wearer. Each is accented with a gemstone and is available in yellow gold and rhodium-plated sterling silver.
A brand new and really special piece that I am working on features Lightning Ridge opal beads acquired from the miner John Ternus, from Lightning Ridge Opal Company. This project is going to be an artist’s dream and a labor of love for some special recipient. Stay tuned.
To find out more about Brenda Smith’s extraordinary work, visit http://www.brendasmithjewelry.com/. There, you will be able to see how she creates art and jewelry of fine design.