Below is a longer version of an interview that appeared in the Jan./Feb. issue of Walker magazine; it was conducted by Walker editor Kathleen McLean as jewelry designers Tia, Amy, and Alice were preparing for the Walker Shop’s Jewelry Mart last fall. And we’re quickly coming up on the spring Mart on May 9, which will feature all local designers. In the meantime, browse the online Walker Shop to see jewelry by this trio and other designers you might wish to meet at the Mart — or better yet, come by the brick-and-mortar Shop.
Bling? No. Good design? Yes. Custom jewelry you both want to wear and can afford? Yes. Three designers whose work is currently featured in the Walker Shop — Tia Salmela Keobounpheng, based in Minneapolis, daughter of architect David Salmela; Alice Roche, based in San Francisco, daughter of architect Kevin Roche; and Amy Torello, based in Mexico City — talked briefly about their designs and creative processes.
Who do you design jewelry for-who do you see wearing it as you create it?
Tia Keobounpheng: Throughout my life I’ve made jewelry for myself-I would whip something up with the materials I had around the house. When I first started making this line of jewelry, I suppose I continued to design for myself, but it also became an exploration of form, material, and technology, translating concepts from my environment into wearable forms. . . so I don’t necessarily “see” anyone specific wearing it while I create it. Ultimately, I want my pieces to be practical, easy to wear, and provocatively simple so that they can be everyday pieces and/or worn for special occasions.
Amy Torello: Basically, I design for myself and my friends. That is to say, young or young-at-heart gorgeous women who are dynamic, individual, hard-working, and in love with their lives and want to show it off to the world.
Alice Roche: The person I make jewelry for is someone who appreciates and wants jewelry that is well-designed and contemporary-something that stands out because it is unusual. I try to make a range of work that maintains my design aesthetic but pushes the boundaries at one end and is quite simple at the other end. This way, those who are drawn to the jewelry can find a piece that is within their own comfort zone.
If you couldn’t make jewelry, what would your creative outlet be?
TK: Over the course of 15 years, I have found outlets in photography, drawing, weaving, book-making, and block-printing. I currently supplement my creativity with knitting, sewing, pastel drawings, digital artwork, and graphic/promotional materials for my jewelry, in addition to working in the architecture/interior design world.
AT: If I couldn’t make jewelry, I would dance. Maybe salsa, or flamenco . . .
AR: In my spare time, I draw, paint, and take photos. I find that these things constantly feed my jewelry design process, whether I intend them to or not. My favorite outlet that isn’t directly tied to jewelry design is cooking (though the process seems so similar). When I was younger, I thought I would become a chef, but decided I wanted cooking to become a pastime I could share with family and friends.
What is your process like?
TK: I work part-time for my father doing architectural-based work and also a bit with my husband. I am also the mother of a three-year-old boy, and while we maintain a regular schedule of Grandma day-care that sets a “workday” routine, I find myself working at all hours of the day. Inspiration can hit while I’m out on a run or just before I fall asleep or while I’m sitting at my work table in the middle of the making process.
AT: I definitely don’t have a work week. When it comes to developing new ideas, my brain is always mulling things over: concepts, colors, shapes, textures. I will take a trip, maybe to the beach, maybe to a new and foreign place, or just go on lockdown in my house, during which time I will just sketch and make notes, getting the preliminary ideas onto the paper. Seeing things in the solid form of the silver really allow my mind to run with a concept, bringing many elements together for the final product. The sketches always feel a bit one-dimensional until I can actually hold the piece in my hand.
AR: I do have a workday, like a regular 9-6 job, only I suspect much more fun! The first four years I was making jewelry, I was also working 30 hours a week for an architect, so I was forced to be very efficient when I was in my studio. For the past year I have been making jewelry full-time. As with most creative people, running the business is the hardest part, but I have to run the business, too, so I try to split my time between design development, production, and business development. I think I am always designing in my head; ideas can come at any time-so I jot them down when they do. Sometimes my design process will happen inadvertently when I am making a piece of jewelry, and it will just morph into something else. This is a great way for me to get ideas and to branch out a line.
When you’ve finished a piece, how do you know it’s “done”?
TK: I know a design is done when it feels balanced with just enough “action” and “calm” to be intriguing, when it physically works from the construction end of it, and after I have felt good wearing it for at least three days. I suppose a specific piece (in a particular color or material combination) is done when it is purchased and worn-but the design itself is always flexible and open for reinterpretation or adaptation.
AT: Mainly, I know a piece is done when I achieve the overall quality that I am looking for, and when there is a sense of harmony and movement amongst the various elements involved in the design, i.e., texture, color, movement, shape. How do I know when this has been achieved? I think it is something very subjective, a feeling. When I look at something and it makes me smile from deep inside, that’s when I know it’s done. Usually there is this feeling that I didn’t create the piece, but that it exists and has existed in its own right and that I just sort of facilitated its manifestation.
AR: I’m not sure a piece is ever really done. I think that’s what deadlines are for! Even so, when something feels right, I stop messing with it.
What question(s) do you wish you’d been asked?
TK: Perhaps what designers/people inspired us. I am a huge fan of Hella Jongerious from the Netherlands, who masterfully balances art, design, and craft without ever losing the edge or the refinement. Her work ultimately addresses the notion of “craft” pushing the boundaries of being a woman, and being “crafty” while also being high-design. It is so exciting! I find myself straddling the lines between art and design and craft in my own work-particularly because I need to work with my hands to feel truly satisfied. But I have been surrounded by architecture and products that have also revealed the magnificent results of an idea being worked through thoroughly before actually becoming a reality.
AT: Maybe you could have asked why I have chosen to work in the materials I have chosen, which for me specifically would be enamel, and more generally, color. The answer would be that there is something so ancient about enamel, and so counter to this rapid, modern world. I really love this feeling of dedicating myself to a relatively dying craft, something very “old world” and unpredictable and a bit hard to manage on the large, commercial scale. Each piece needs to be painted and fired individually, and there is always a margin of error that can not be foreseen. Also, I find the quality and luminescence of the enamels over the silver to be mesmerizing. Color is sort of the package that life is wrapped up in, and each separate hue defines a mood or conveys an emotion..
AR: I guess you could have asked how we got started making jewelry. For me, I needed to take some sort of class to balance my AutoCAD heavy days when I was working as an architect. I wanted to do something very hands-on to counterbalance sitting at a computer all day. So I took a jewelry class and was hooked form the start. I loved the relation to architecture, and the best part was that I could complete a project in a matter of hours rather than years. I think the process of building something with my hands is the easiest way to explore and ultimately express my ideas.
Amy Torello (Mexico City)
Alice Roche (San Francisco)
Tia Keobounpheng (Minneapolis)