A Designer's Process and A Reinvention Story

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Recently I traveled to Seattle where I had the good fortune of meeting a number of designers: both fashion and jewelry. I was introduced to the very inspiring Joanna Morgan, a local jewelry designer. She graciously invited me to her studio and also agreed to an interview. She has a reinvention story and is quite articulate about her creative process, what inspires her and who her customers are.  To see Joanna's designs click on this link.

Where do you draw inspiration? How do your inspirations appear in the jewelry?  

Inspiration can come from anywhere - a shadow on a wall, a spider web, a reflection on the water, a beautiful work of art.  I am very affected by my surroundings.  I'm inspired by imperfections, contrasts and juxtapositions.  Museums, traveling, art, ancient objects - along with the natural world, are constant sources of inspiration. 

From the inspiration comes creation.  The inspiration must evolve into an object that is not only esthetically pleasing, but also functional, wearable, and hopefully timeless.  I do not appreciate when designs look overworked; functionality, and comfort, are very important to me.  

Everything I create needs to be something I would add to my own wardrobe. It is extremely important to me that my designs are easy to wear. I try the pieces on, walk around in them, make adjustments – to the length of necklaces, weight of earrings, thickness of rings. I have to love it and want it first, and I want to make sure that a person who chooses to purchase my jewelry is not only satisfied with how pleasing to the eye it is, but also feels good wearing it. 

Who are your favorite designers (jewelry or otherwise)? 

My idols in the jewelry design world are Michele Oka Doner, Patricia Von Musulin, and the Scandinavian designer, Torun. I am fascinated by the magical world of Francois-Xavier and Claude Lalanne.  Alexander Calder’s work reminds me not to take anything too seriously.  

Barbara Hepworth, Georgia O’Keeffe are the artists that I am always in awe of.

In fashion I swoon over Dries van Noten (those prints and colors!), A Detacher, and my idol, Jil Sander (the precision of cut, and architecture of design).

On a more local level, I am so lucky to know Suk Chai, whose label SCHAI is what dreams are made of.

How has your love of painting influenced your designs?

I came to jewelry relatively recently.  Before, even when I was very young, drawing and painting where the creative outlets.  I have recently started painting again (after over 20 years) - in addition to satisfying my craving for color, painting gives me one more release so to speak.  Also, I am a person who is easily bored - mixing up various disciplines keeps things more interesting for me.  Jewelry making requires tools, investment of time and materials, painting and drawing can be done anywhere, in almost any scale, with just a piece of paper and a pencil.  Painting is an element that can fill a creative void so to speak, and inspire me, so I can come back to jewelry refreshed, ready to work on new ideas.

How do you balance timeless design while maintaining relevant style?

I believe in timeless pieces in design with some personality, and originality.  I like hearing- "I immediately recognized this is your work when I saw it" and “I’ve never seen anything like it before”.  It means that I succeeded in making something that is unique, and has my specific "print" on it. 

Women (and men) who come to my studio to shop for jewelry are not guided by latest fashion "trends".  It does not mean that my customer is not fashionable, or is not interested in style.  But for them I offer something that they cannot find in a department store - something that is not mass produced, that shows a hand of its maker.  People who like my jewelry are independent, openminded, adventurous.  Some of them come from creative field, they're of various ages, nationalities, backgrounds.  They don't want a cookie cutter adornment.  They want to make a statement with their accessories, but without "raising a voice".  Also, many of them are conscious of where their purchases come from, care how they were made, appreciate my esthetic, attention to detail, my commitment to eco-friendly production, and that I work independently. 

I think that nowadays originality is so hard to come by - staying true to yourself, your ideas, your vision, and rejecting the noise, is so important.  As a designer one can experience a lot of criticism, and negativity, a lot of rejection.  Believing in yourself and your unique voice is essential. 

What made you decide to leave the world of finance to pursue design?

I feel I have always been creative, but I started making jewelry only about 12 years ago. At the time I was living in New York and still had a full-time job. I would see things in stores that I liked, but either couldn’t afford, or wanted to “tweak” the design - since I was in New York I could go to the fashion district, pick up materials, and make what I wanted myself. It was a bit crazy. I would work my job all day, then create the jewelry pieces at night and bring them back to work the next morning to sell to my friends.  My dining room table was covered with stones, supplies, tools, constantly!

Then about 10 years ago my husband and I moved to Seattle; 7 years ago I decided to work on my jewelry full time, quit my job, rolled up my sleeves, and embarked on the insane journey of being self-employed.  3 years later I opened my studio. Since then I've started to become more interested in metal work and have become entrenched now in working mostly in silver and brass.

What draws you to metalwork with silver and brass?

I love working in metal.  The designs in my collections (Talisman, Scavenger, and Huntress) are 99% metal, brass and sterling silver.  The metals I use in production are eco-friendly - what it means, they are either recycled, or come from sources that are certified members of Responsible Jewelry Council.  (members of Responsible Jewelry Council undergo regular third-party audits to certify that the metals they sell are either recycled or sourced from mines that adhere to responsible practices. ) The entire production process of my jewelry is completed locally, in the USA.

Working in metal allows me to make my ideas a reality.  I especially love carving in wax, fleshing out shapes that later become rings, bracelets, etc, or components for them.  

It is a thrill to see how your imagination can transform a piece of hard substance into something beautiful - I think it’s alchemy.  

How do sustainable ideals interweave into your designs and mission?

“Sustainable” can mean many things - to me it’s important to know where my materials come from, using recycled metals as much as possible, keeping the production small, and local.

I do not like waste.  The notion that something beautiful is made and can exist and be relevant for only a few months is absurd to me.  This idea applies to my personal way of living as well.  Who said it, I think Vivienne Westwood - “Buy less, choose well”.  

Fashion is expensive - even if the price tag may not not reflect it, the cost of production can be steep, both monetary and economical.  The idea that someone made a design of mine part of their life, that that particular piece is something they reach for over and over, that they can feel comfort that they have this piece, that it might remind them of a special moment or a period of time, and one day, possibly, gift it to the next generation - this idea pleases me very much. 

I feel privileged my jewelry can mean this much for people.

As I mentioned, I do not like waste.  It may come from growing up with very little.  I grew up in communist Poland, and there was literally nothing available in stores that you could call fashionable, or even passably appropriate for a young girl, a teenager, or a young woman.  So if you wanted something, you learned how to make it yourself - we knitted, crocheted, sewed, and made our own accessories - growing up with so little taught me to be creative, and also to invest in quality.  The result of this upbringing is being inventive, self-sufficient, and resourceful, and not wasteful.  

These beginnings influenced my attitude towards consumerism - it may seem counter intuitive to be anti consumerism in my profession, but I do believe that it's essential to invest in the best, and make better choices in what and how we buy.  When I design, I think of jewelry that will withstand the test of time, and delight its wearer for years, hopefully to be passed to a future generation.  I think it's a more joyful way to live, and a more fulfilling way to create, knowing that your work will be valued.

Interview questions: Michaela Brennan

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