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Foundations in Metalsmithing: Statement Earrings

Lesson 3 of 21

Designing Your Statement Earrings


Foundations in Metalsmithing: Statement Earrings

Lesson 3 of 21

Designing Your Statement Earrings


Lesson Info

Designing Your Statement Earrings

Let's start by talking about design. I know for some people, you come in and you're like, "This would be so awesome if Megan just gave me a thing "and said make it." But that's not fun. I want you guys to make your own thing. So what we're gonna do is we're gonna talk a little bit about some of the design considerations, I'm gonna walk you through the design process so that by the end of this segment you're like, "I know exactly what my statement earrings "are gonna look like, this is what I'm gonna make." So there are a few design considerations when it comes to statement earrings. So I'm not gonna give you guys a full on design primer but I think there are a few things we want to talk about. We're gonna look at shape, we're gonna look at positive and negative space, we're gonna talk about weight, we're gonna talk about movement, and we're gonna talk about balance. So let's start by talking about shape. And I think this is a really good place to start because once you learn how to use...

a jeweler's saw there is no shape that is off limits to you. If you can envision it you can cut it out of a piece of metal, which is really, really cool. So I think the easiest place to start when you're designing your statement earrings is to ask yourself what shapes are you naturally drawn towards. We all have things that we tend to like. And if you're not sure, the easiest place to start is just to look at the space around you. So obviously our in studio audience has no control over what's happening in the space around them, but if you're sitting at home right now, maybe you're in your studio, or maybe you're in your living room, or at your desk, wherever that is, start to look around you and look at the shapes that you see, because you probably bought them and put them in your space, whatever those shapes are, which means you're already naturally drawn to them. So I want to show you guys literally how this translates in real life. So this is just a picture of my studio, it's just one little corner of my work space. And when I sat down to design the samples for this class I came up with a whole bunch of different designs literally based on what I saw in this image here. So I'm gonna show you guys a couple of examples and maybe you can pick them out. That top image there, the more geometric one, did you guys spot that one? That was our design on those little Ikea baskets there. Then that leaf shape was pretty obvious as well. I have a black thumb, I cannot keep any house plant alive so I have a slight faux plant addiction and I just so happened to buy that nice little green fake monstera plant and thought, "Those would be great as earrings." And then actually the lower image there is that same monstera shape really abstracted, and if you were really paying close attention you may have noticed a Calder Jewelry book there, so that was my kind of little ode to Calder and his kind of connect to jewelry but starting with that same monstera leaf shape. So you can see how you can go from really literal translation of shapes to something that's much more abstract. And that top image there, that was inspired by Matisse's paper cut out, so you may have caught that book in the pile as well. So right there, just from that one little spot in my space I came up with all of these different design ideas. Now the other thing that you're gonna want to think about is sort of what your temperament is. I have to tell you guys that making those geometric earrings, I made one geometric sample and that was all I could do because that precision geometry, not my jam. But it might be yours. So also start to think about kind of how you like to work. Do you like to be a little more free, a little more organic, or do you like to kind of have some precision? I had a friend in graduate school who he had to go out and buy a new ruler because his did not go small enough, he needed like half millimeters on his ruler. He was all about the precision. Not my style. So just another example of thinking about shape and how you can use that. I actually bought that pillow at Target because it reminded me of these shapes that I had used in a painting years before, and I thought, "Oh that's so funny." That shape just spoke to me so I bought the pillow, and then I started thinking about how I could turn that one simple shape into a number of design ideas. So starting with one, adding it kind of in the same pattern that you can see in the pillow, where it had that kind of layers effect, or flipping one over and putting them together. So the other thing that you can think about as you're designing is taking simple shapes and combining them to create more complex shapes. So if you're feeling a little overwhelmed by this and you're like, "Megan, "I don't know what shape I want to cut out. "I have no idea." I think you guys are all pretty creative but some of you at home might be like, "I don't know, I don't have ideas, I'm not sure." Just start with something simple. So I literally went into Keynote as I was building this keynote and just started putting together circles. What happens if I put them together in this configuration? What happens if I put them vertically? What happens if I put them together? And then what happens if I make them round, what happens if I make them in this shape? I gotta tell you, I probably could have done this for hours. I was like, "Stop, they get the point." So you can start to think about and just play around with really basic shapes, combining them, putting them together in different elements. The other option that you have is you can think about repeating a single shape, but you can also use a variety of shapes. So there's no rule here that says you have to use one shape over and over again. You can really do pretty much anything. I told you guys, I was having way too much fun in Keynote. Thinking about how can I put together different shapes. And one of the things that we're going to be doing in this class throughout is I'm gonna talk about actually how to create jump rings and how to make these linked shapes. So we can maybe take a look at some of our linked shapes down here. I want you guys to think about it does not have to be one solid piece of metal. So the earrings that I'm wearing right now, they're one solid piece of metal, but there's no rule for that in designing your earrings. You can have as many different components as you want. Then beyond shape we want to think about positive and negative space. Positive and negative space is really simply positive is what's there in the metal, negative is what's not. And positive and negative space can happen through a couple of different things. So it can actually happen through piercing. So in our example here of our little monstera leaf earrings we've got some negative shape that is cut out from the earrings. And the same thing in this guy here. I chose to just take a solid sheet and cut it out. So that's the first way that we can create negative space, but you can also create negative space by combining different elements. We can see here this is the same idea but now our negative space is created by the two components coming together instead of piercing it out. And this is kind of just a personal preference choice as we talk about some of the next things, but negative space is important in our design consideration for two reasons. One, visually you just sometimes need to break it up. If I had just big circle earrings they could look cool, or they could look like you're just wearing a giant chunk of metal. So visually when we add in negative space then you start to see things like the wearer's hair come through, or the space behind them, so that's really important. But the other reason that negative space is actually important in our earring designs is for weight, which is our next consideration. The one challenge, or the biggest challenge when it comes to statement earrings is that they need to be comfortable to wear. We've all known people who did like the '80s big earrings that like weighed your ears down. I have no interest in making those kinds of design. If you follow me as a designer you know that making things wearable is really, really important to me. So we want to think about weight when we're designing our statement earrings. And there are a couple of different impacts on weight. So the first one is of course just the size of the earrings. The bigger the earrings, the heavier they're going to be. Now I personally am a fan of really big earrings so I'm willing to kind of let that one slide, but if you're know you're designing for someone who maybe has more sensitive ears, you may want to stick to something that's a smaller statement earring. The next consideration on weight is our gauge of metal, and we're going to talk more about choosing your metal gauge in just a few minutes, but what we want to do in terms of designing our earrings is use the thinnest gauge metal we can that still gives us structural integrity, meaning we don't want it to be so thin that you or your customer, whoever is wearing it, can just crunch their earring into a ball. But we do want to stick with as thin a gauge as possible so that we can make sure we're not weighing people down. But then the third impact is that amount of negative space. So if you want to do an earring that's really big and takes up a lot of space, but isn't so heavy, you can add more piercing into the center of your earring, or more components that give you more negative space and that's gonna help reduce the weight. So that's something that you're gonna kind of just figure out by trial and error, but when you're looking at your designs, ask yourself, is there a place where I could take out material, is there a place where I could create some negative space in order to make it weigh less. All right, now our next design consideration is movement. And this is what actually makes statement earrings so fun, this is really why I picked this as a project, is because when you're wearing earrings they have the potential to move with the wearer. So we really get to play with this kind of movement, and fluidity, and all of those things that are a little harder to do, say if you're making a cuff bracelet. Or even sometimes when you're making a necklace because it's sitting against the body. With earrings we have this ability to move. So when you're designing your earrings you want to think about if it's going to be made from a single piece, or from multiple elements connected with jump rings. And so you can see in this kind of piece here, this is really the same shape, but one is done as a solid piece and one is done with jump rings. And we've got, if I pick these up here, you can see we've got a very different sense of movement. I'll hold them up here a little bit. You can see how this one is gonna move a little bit more, this one is gonna kind of stay flat. I personally just gravitate towards this. I think it's more fun, and it also, what happens is it's gonna be less likely to stick to things. Like if you've got this big solid sheet and then you like turn your arm and you're like, "I can't move," because now this didn't flex whereas this comes to your shoulder, it has a little bit of flex to it. So while you certainly don't have to do this, I think it's a nice option. The other thing that you will find is that while I'm going to teach you guys how to pierce out from the center, and it's really not that hard, this is actually easier to cut because we don't have to cut out from the center, we can just cut out these positive shapes and go from there. So you want to think about how your earring is gonna move if you're gonna use those multiple sheets. But then the other thing with movement that we have to think about is how will your earring hang from the ear? Later on I'm gonna show you guys how to make ear wires. You can certainly buy premade ear wires, but I'm a huge fan of making you own because it lets you use that as a design decision. So maybe you want your earrings to hang very close to the ear, but maybe you want them to hang further down. You might want to bring the volume down a little bit lower. So you can play with the ear wires and play with how they're going to hang, and get some movement that way as well. And then even though I promised you guys that this is a torchless class, and it is, in our final segment of the class I am gonna give you guys a little demo on how to solder a post onto an earring. So if you have a torch, if you have access to that and you want another option we're gonna look at soldering a post, which also changes the movement because now it's not hanging from the ear, it's actually sitting over the ear. You don't have to do that to complete the project but it's gonna be a fun little thing that we'll do towards the end of the day. And then our final design consideration is balance. And balance actually plays out in two different ways in terms of earring design. The first one is literally visual balance. If I look at something, does it visually feel weighted evenly on both sides. And so visual balance can be symmetrical or it can be asymmetrical. If we look at our little Calder inspired pieces here these are pretty well visually balanced even though they are not perfectly symmetrical. But they still have that kinda same weight. The same thing with our monstera guys here. So they're not perfect, but they still feel visually balanced. But the other consideration that we have is literally physical balance because something is hanging. So in this example here we have to think about what happens if these actually hang. Are they going to stay level and even? And what happens if we go a little bit crazier. So you can see here I added this point down here at the end and it changes the way that these balance. So we want to think about that too if you've got something that's not symmetrical, or you're hanging off one side but not the other, how does that change the way that it's gonna hang. And you can of course use that to your advantage. We did this version of these little guys that hang pretty well balanced. But if I just change the point where I put the ear wire in now I have a totally different look, and that's just playing with how they're balanced and how they hang. Now, the other thing that you can think about is symmetrical versus asymmetrical balance. So do you want it to be even on both sides, or do you not care if it's totally even as long as it sort of has the effective balance. So in this example, these two bottom pieces are not identical. I drew them freehand, I decided I didn't want them to be perfect, so I just went ahead and made sure that they were pretty close. My earring has got some nice balance to it, but it's not perfectly symmetrical. So you can think about that as well if you're the kind of person who is like, "I need it to be perfectly symmetrical," or if you're like, "It's okay if it's a little freehand "as long as it still balances." We'll talk about how to actually get it perfectly symmetrical if that's what you want. Now that we've talked about these designs, let's actually do a little bit of sketching, and drawing, and thinking about there. I always just start in a sketchbook or even a blank piece of paper, and you're just gonna start by sketching out ideas. And actually, I am gonna steal our sketchbook from the spot here just to kind of show you guys some examples of what I did. I might start here by literally just drawing something out. And a lot of times when I'm sketching, I don't worry so much about size at the beginning. So you can see this, I believe is larger than our finished earring. So I just kind of worry about sketching and working on what I think is gonna work best because then I'll go over to-- I have a copy machine that's got reduce, enlarge, you know, on my printer, and I'll just go ahead and do that. So start by just sketching out what you want. And you may want to do-- Let's see here. I have some more-- like multiple sketches, playing with different shapes. So these are all ideas that I was playing with looking at architecture from a recent trip to India. So just playing with different shapes, getting a lot of ideas. I always used to tell my students when I taught, 50 sketches was the bare minimum. I knew they were never gonna get to 50, but if I told them 50 they might get to 10, whereas if I told them 10 they might do two. So spend a little bit of time sketching and drawing. And here's the thing. If you are not a strong drawer, there is no harm in tracing. There are no rules against that here, so if you're like, "Oh I have this basket "that I liked from Ikea and I want to use that pattern," take it down, grab your tracing paper, but it on there and just trace it. There's no rules against it. So I usually work back and forth between my sketchbook and some tracing paper. So this is actually that, I think I used it on a photocopy and not this but this is actually I took, I made that Calder inspired sketch by literally putting a piece of tracing paper on top of my sketch book and redrawing it until I got what I liked. Now, I want to talk about what you should do if you actually want a symmetrical design, because there's a little trick that will make your life easier. If you freehand a design-- So let's look at say this guy here. So I freehanded this. Actually let's use this one because it doesn't have a cheat already. So I freehanded this. Clearly I intended it to be symmetrical, and it's not. So what you can actually do is grab a piece of tracing paper. Tracing paper is gonna be your best friend both in your design process and then when we go to put our piece on metal. I like to start by just taking a ruler onto my sketch and trying to give myself-- If I can pick up my ruler-- an approximate center line here. You can see this clearly didn't quite work so we'll cheat our center line this way a little bit. I'm just gonna give myself a center line, and I'm gonna come in with my tracing paper. Oh, lose my pencil. I like mechanical pencils because I don't ever remember to sharpen them. And now I'm just gonna go ahead and retrace my design on here really quickly, but I'm only gonna trace one half. I break a lot of pencils. So I've got that half traced, so you can see I've got that. Now all I'm gonna do is just fold my tracing paper right on my center line. Jump over to my piece now. And now I'm gonna just go ahead and draw it on our other side. And so this is gonna give us a perfectly symmetrical design, or pretty close to perfectly symmetrical. Much better than the freehand one that I sketched, right? So that's a little trick if you want to actually have a symmetrical design. The other thing that you can do is if you want to have something that's really precise, use your ruler and make marks. Let me show you guys that example of that geometric one. I'm not gonna draw it again, because as we have established, geometry not my strong suit. But I went ahead and-- We'll go ahead and put this guy back here. You can see with this example here, I actually went ahead and I measured and I drew my lines and I was very precise about it, so you can go ahead and do that if you are doing something that's much more geometric and precise. And again, totally do that if it's your jam. If it's not, it's okay if it's a little wonky. Once you've done that, you've done your initial designs, you may need to resize. My favorite thing is just literally to take my sketches to my copy machine and I will just make a lot of different copies. I always make notes on them, like this one was 70%, this one was 60%, because 10 minutes later you're not gonna remember what you did. So this is kind of how I do this. If you don't have something in your house you can go to Kinkos. You can of course redraw it as well, but once you get the drawing right it's just so much easier to resize on your computer. But then from there you can also go ahead and think about making paper models to get a feel for the scale. In this example here where I was working on this guy I wasn't quite sure how big I wanted it to be so I took my design to my computer, I enlarged it, and then I went ahead and I actually cut it out with-- Put those down there. I cut it out at two different sizes, threw some ear wires in there really quick and I was able to play around and see what I wanted. And so then I could actually put them in my ears, I could look at them. And I know you're thinking, 90% to 100% is not a huge difference but it can actually make a big difference in the design. So it's important to kind of take that time, play around with that. Because even if you're working kind of quickly, this is still gonna be so much faster to cut out than cutting it out in your metal and realizing, "Oh, I really wish that was a little bit bigger," or, "Oh I really wish that was a little bit smaller." That's a really good time to kind of do that. So any questions about the design process? Let's take a look and see if the Internet has any questions out here. Yeah, let's do it. You had mentioned when you talked to your students you had them do 50. About how long do you, when you're sketching, are you sitting around drinking coffee, watching TV, just doing sort of sketching? Do you do it for an hour, half an hour? What's your expectation? I usually would say I sit and sketch for maybe like half an hour, something like that, like in the morning. I like to sketch in my studio because I like to work at my table, and clearly because my studio is a wealth of design inspiration just by the way I set it up. So I'll go in the studio, I'll grab my cup of tea, I'll just sit down, and I'll just sketch and play and kind of see what I like. So I like to set aside some specific design time because otherwise it never really happens. Yeah, that's a great question. Yeah, setting aside even just half an hour. And again, if you don't have that spare time I have the luxury of, this is my job, it's my job to sit down and design jewelry everyday. If you don't have that and all you have is like 15 minutes after the kids get on the bus, or like you're sitting in your car waiting to pick them up, bring your sketchbook, sketch designs. And the other thing is, start to look at people. I love being here in San Francisco and just out walking around the street because I'm like, "What are people wearing, what's going on." Look at people and see like, "That's a cool earring." I was out to dinner last night. The waitress has really cool statement earrings. I was like, "Those could work in our class!" So pay attention to what people are doing too, but you can sneak in a little sketch time as well. And can you give us a basic, for the newbies out there, definition of when you say statement. (laughs) That is a good question. When I say statement earring I would say probably anything that's bigger than like an inch or an inch and a half long. I think most of what I did is in the kind of two to three inch range, but I realize for many people, that's a little big. So I would say just for the sake of not having to cut out tiny, tiny little things, I would stick to at least an inch, inch and a half, which is like two and a half, three centimeters. So kind of stay in that range. There's no real official definition of statement jewelry, it's just sort of a term that came on. In fact my husband was like, "Statement earrings, did you make that up?" And I was like, "No honey, that's a thing. "That's actually a term." So there's no real hard and fast rule here, it's just you don't want to go too too tiny because it's gonna be harder to cut out. You might want to go tiny eventually, there's definitely some skill in that as well and I know some people do some really great tiny stuff, but for your first practice I would say at least like inch and a half, two inches is a really good range to be in in terms of size. And really, you know, what I want to kind of say about this is that there are no specific rules. There is no right or wrong at the end of the day so if you're like, "I really want to make tiny, Megan," make tiny. If you really want to make four-inch earrings, make four-inch earrings. There's really not any kind of hard and fast rule about this.

Class Description

Learn the basics of metalsmithing to make stunning statement earrings (and more!) - no torch required!

Getting started in metalsmithing doesn’t have to be scary. In Foundations in Metalsmithing: Statement Earrings, you’ll learn the basic skills you need to start making metal jewelry, as well as the design principles to create your own unique pair of statement earrings, all with less than $100 in tools! (And, you’ll be able to apply those tools and new-found skills to expand your ideas into a full line of jewelry!)

In this class, jewelry designer and metalsmith Megan Auman will show anyone how to get started making one of a kind metal jewelry.

You will learn how to:

  • Choose the right tools and materials for your metal jewelry projects.
  • Design incredible (and comfortable to wear) statement earrings with balance and movement.
  • Saw and pierce to create any shape from sheet metal.
  • File and finish your metal pieces so they look professional.
  • Create your own ear wires to finish off your unique design.

Whether you’re looking to grow your existing jewelry making knowledge or for a new creative outlet that you can proudly wear (and show off!), you’ll leave this class with your own pair of stunning statement earrings - and the skills and design chops to expand your ideas into a complete line of jewelry!  


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One of the most special things about Megan, is that though she is a creative, she is extremely good at business. Her organized way of thinking and presenting material, and her genuine joy when empowering her students with the tools needed to be successful, is charming and so much fun. Somehow there is such seamlessness and flow to her class structure and explanations, that I can absorb what she says and easily retain it. I really can start a jewelry line just with this class. She is amazing and LOVE her style!!!


I really enjoyed this class! Megan provides a great foundation for using metal sheets to design/make jewelry and using wire to make unique findings. This was a great class for learning the fundamentals and sparking inspiration for new projects

Vernell Bevelander

I LOVED this class! Megan is such a detailed teacher. She leaves no stone unturned. So much fun! Can't wait for my next class!