I survived three days of classes with Thomas Mann. And that’s not a small accomplishment from where I’m sitting.
Some people call him “The Rock Star” – he sort of looks like one, doesn’t he? Tom is extremely well-known in the art jewelry world, at least as much for his amazing business model (which has stayed ahead of the curve for 40 years) as for his stunning work. He is possibly best known for his “techno romantic” style, which looks to my untrained eye like a more elegant precursor to steampunk and – in some instances – goth styles of design.
Tom has also written perhaps the only definitive book on the proper use of the jeweler’s saw, a book I highly, highly recommend – it contains all the information he shares in his “Learn to Saw” workshop, which I also highly recommend.
That said, I still managed to win the award for breaking the most saw blades in a single evening. (I think at the end it was like 8 or 9. Seriously.)
Just from the sound of the saw blades working, Tom could tell who needed help. And clearly I did. “Are you taking the other class this weekend?” he asked me. Yes. “You have homework,” he said and ran off to get me some supplies. I’ll be honest and say that I was so tired when I got home, I seriously considered skipping the homework, but then I thought about how much trouble I was having and made myself go upstairs to work. The homework was to complete sawing out these teeny-tiny pieces from a sheet of 22ga brass, so that the panel could be put back together again like a puzzle.
OMG. I’ll just say that my panel will never be put back together again and the next time I looked up it was 2:00 in the morning, but darn it, I’d learned how to saw and over the rest of the entire weekend I only broke two saw blades. That felt like a huge leap forward for me. And I was so excited by the prospect of the upcoming class that I literally couldn’t sleep (which made Saturday a little tough).
Bright and early, we started on our first project. More demos and an introduction to how we would be applying our newly-learned sawing skills, plus a new fastening system which meant some new tools to get acquainted with as we dug into our materials kits.
The project involved taking copies of our own photos and creating a metal and acrylic sandwich that enhanced aspects of the photo – and then embellishing it. This was (1) way more complicated than it sounds, and (2) completely outside my usual design aesthetic. Some of the students got really creative and used photos and drawings from cut-up calendars, or combined things using their photos and other drawings. As I was feeling a little overwhelmed by the technical aspects of the projects, I stuck to a less ambitious design approach. As it was, I didn’t get that first piece finished until Sunday morning.
That sweet, happy couple is my in-laws and it’s one of my favorite pictures of them. I never knew my mother-in-law, since she died before Nick and I met, but I see Nick in both their faces and it makes my heart smile to look at them. The expression on his dad’s face is a very “Nick” look – my dear husband is fairly shy and more reserved that this with most people, but that fun, sly, open expression is one I see a lot.
The second piece went together a lot faster than the first, and included a dimensional piece of frosted acrylic on the front.
That sweet face is my mother, at the beach. She died in 1989, and I miss her still.
I realized as I was putting this post together that the number of “in progress” shots dropped dramatically as the weekend went on, and I don’t have a photo of the finished second piece. It’s clear I was really stretched by this class, in mostly very good ways, but I also didn’t get as experimental as I might have because rather than being in a creative groove, I was far more focused on not becoming overwhelmed by the technical aspects of the project. Tom is an excellent if very demanding teacher, and my sense is that he doesn’t have a lot of patience for people who need to ask the same question more than once. I think this has nothing to do with whether he’s a nice guy or not and everything to do with being accustomed to teaching more advanced students than we were, so I tried hard to be focused on what needed to be done as opposed to expressing myself through the project. That kind of focus can be exhausting, and it was for me – I was in a post-class coma for two days after, and I slept A LOT! But in the end, although I am not sure the “metal sandwich” itself is something I’ll add to my own work, the individual techniques involving layering, piercing, sawing, and dimensional design are things that I look forward to practicing in other ways.
So if you ever have an opportunity to take a class with a highly-experienced national-level instructor, I highly recommend it – with one caveat: make sure you understand and possess the technical skills necessary to participate. Wired Designs offered the “Learn to Saw” class so that people who didn’t know how could still participate in the class – and I am eternally grateful that Tom singled me out as someone who was struggling and gave me directed homework to do before the next day. It was hard, but it was worth it – and I wouldn’t have missed this class experience for the world! I’m hoping that Tom will come back to Wired Designs – or perhaps we should be organizing a trip to New Orleans to take a class in his studio! What about you? Who’s in??