I received an email today, with some questions about my thoughts on the balance between technique, creativity, and expression. My students come from all types of backgrounds; sometimes they are painters who want to learn about glass on metal, retirees who want to learn a new hobby, jewelers who want to add some color into their work, and more. Some have extensive art backgrounds and some have none.
My Own Experience and Early Years
I became serious about enameling when I was 23 years old, fresh out of college, and having never taken an art class, except for the few times in high school I couldn't get out of taking it. No interest, no skills, no sense of wanting to express myself. Nothing. And then I discovered enameling and somehow came to the conclusion that this is what I would devote much of my life doing. Confidence or ignorance, I don't know which was stronger, but I suffered through many years of believing that "I can't draw!" before I began to trust my artistic ability.
I started learning technique, since that's what I was excited about and could actually do. I was able to work with small tools easily and could sit and focus on small objects for long periods of time. I had somewhat of an analytical mind (I attended Emory University, home of many doctors, dentists, and lawyers) and I easily understood how to apply the scientific method of problem solving to the task of teaching myself to enamel and how to create studies to learn new ways of working with light, texture, and color. I've never been afraid to ask questions, and this has allowed me to push my enamel layering techniques past the conventional methods of making cloisonné enamels.
So after a little bit of quality instruction from a jewelry/enameling school in NYC back in the early 1970's, and lots of trial and error afterwards, I was on my way towards being an enamelist, but an enamelist who didn't have a voice or sense of design. I quickly realized that although technique came very easily to me, I didn't know what I was doing with the material to make "good" art, whatever that was. I took design classes, watercolor classes, painting classes, and drawing classes (life drawing was the worst. I felt like the biggest loser ever in those classes).
Luckily, my technique was so good that I could get by just on that. My enamels looked so bright and clear with smooth, flowing wirework that I received some reinforcement and positive feedback. I actually had a piece accepted into a major enameling show at Aaron Faber Gallery in NYC. But I knew something was missing.
All through those early years I struggled with "who I am" questions. I enjoyed enameling and the "art lifestyle", but also loved sports, and in particular soccer. I was lucky to be mentored by an incredibly successful soccer coach, Lou Gallo, who had been my high school coach. I was his junior varsity coach while he coached the varsity team in Rye, NY. I lived in my parents basement and set up a studio there, and did this for three years as i went back and forth between enameling and soccer. I loved both, but knew that to be successful at anything I would have to make a commitment to it. And I didn't know which path to take.
The pieces below were made around 1978. I had only been enameling for a few years, and these were my first attempts at making enamels which addressed my feelings! The piece on the top is one of my first cloisonné pieces. My heart was always in the mountains of upstate NY: The Adiirondacks, where I spent most of my childhood summers attending an 8 week long summer camp for boys on beautiful Lake George. Those mountains still haunt my imagery.
Part 2 Coming Soon:
Thoughts on Expression, Creativity, and Learning