When I opened back in 2011, Gayle Bird was one of the first local, handmade artisans I had in the shop. It's been great to see her craft evolve and grow over the years, and when I learned she was publishing her own book, I knew I had to read it and share it with you!
With a bit of freedom and plenty of solid techniques, you can learn to create your own style and begin making jewelry that is instantly recognizable as yours alone.
Her first book, Freeform Wire Art Jewelry: Techniques for Designing with Wire, Beads and Gems, shares new techniques and reveals secrets behind her signature jewelry designs. Gayle has a style that's all her own (customers would agree; they can immediately spot it in the shop!), so I eagerly looked forward to getting a peek at how she makes this magic happen.
The book is more like a textbook or class than a compilation of different projects. Not being a maker myself, I found this approach to be very useful, and I appreciated learning about the foundations of jewelry-making, like choosing the right materials, how to use and care for your tools, colour theory, and design principles, before actually diving into a project.
Many times projects go unfinished because you hit a bump in the road (like choosing the wrong materials, or not liking the design), but in Part 1 of the book, Gayle does a great job detailing everything you should consider before picking up your tools, which helps to prevent this from happening.
In Part 2 of the book you slowly start turning the wheels. Gayle walks you through the creation of your own jewelry design plan (choosing your focal piece, colour scheme, wire colour and design) and then you dive into the hands-on, practice stuff. In step-by-step photo and text tutorials, you learn basic wire techniques (using tools, recommended for beginners) and organic wire techniques (using thinner wire, working by hand, recommended for experienced workers). The steps are visually appealing and easy to understand for even the most inexperienced wire worker ;)
Part 3 is where you take everything you've learned and planned and make wire magic! Gayle lays out twenty projects to be made in progression, each project building on the skills learned in the previous. Working through earrings, then rings, then pendants, then finally necklaces, you end up with a beautiful repertoire of jewelry and a stable of techniques that you can use when making your own designs.
Closing the back cover of the book, I was inspired to connect with Gayle and learn more about her: What makes her tick, what steps she took to get where she is today, and what's next in her creative career.
Tell me, who is Gayle Bird?
I’m a self-representing Cape Breton artist. I work in wire, metal, glass and polymer clay to create necklaces, earrings, rings, and bracelets.
When did you begin to design jewelry? From who did you learn your craft? And, was starting a handmade business always the plan?
At least fifteen years ago is when I picked up my first wire. But I do remember a little Minnie Mouse tin full of seed beads that I loved to play with when I was tiny!
I taught myself with a bit of help from other artists and a book or two; but I hadn’t planned on it becoming a business. I just liked making new jewellery to match different outfits. It grew really slowly until I eventually HAD to start selling in order to afford my bead-buying habit. I got juried at the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design, then scouted for the Arts North gallery, and the rest is history.
Was publishing your own book something you always wanted to do? How did it come about?
Even though I have been writing tutorials for years – and I did intend to package them into an e-book – and, ok, MAYBE there’s a really crappy novel in a drawer from somewhere – publishing a full-on DIY book wasn’t really on my radar as something that was even possible.
And then one of the largest craft publishers in the world contacted me and said I should do it.
I’m still not sure it’s real.
For our readers, can you describe freeform wire art?
The kind of jewellery that appeals to me is asymmetrical, balanced, unique, and full of graceful lines. A lot of wire wrapping is precise, symmetrical, and requires a lot of measuring. But I’m a cook, not a baker, and measuring stuff doesn’t really work for me! So I just cut a bunch of wire (no specific length) and work with it organically, balancing the individual curls and decorations until it looks right.
The book gives you each of the techniques for making the decorations – mostly with just your hands, no tools – and a lot of instruction on freeforming a design based on colour, balance, and design principles.
Can you outline your creative process? From where, who, or what do you get inspiration when creating your products?
I’m not sure about my creative process – it’s not something I do on purpose. I will get a new kind of material maybe, or a focal piece that I really want to wrap, or more likely, I’ll just start playing.
There are a few wire artists whose work inspires me and seem to be a cut above the rest: Iza Malczyk and Wyrding Studios are two of my faves. I like to poke around on Pinterest and sometimes I find a new material, technique, or even just the shape or line of something – it doesn’t even have to be wire – and that will combine with whatever I’m working on in new ways I don’t even realize at a later date.
Colour though, is what drives me. Gemstones, polymer clay, glass beads, beach glass. I love picking and combining colours and textures. Sometimes I pull beads for a batch of earrings and have so much fun matching up colours that when I’m done pulling, I want someone else to come and make the earrings so I can pick out more colours! Colour is truly my biggest motivator – well, colour and graceful lines.
What materials do you use?
I use an excellent non-tarnish fine silver-plated wire and a solid copper wire from Parawire for all my work. I will often sculpt my own components to wrap out of polymer clay, or add my own patina to shiny brass stampings. I work a lot on circles, which I used to salvage but have started soldering my own with a micro torch.
I like gemstones a lot – opaque stones like jasper are good but more likely I’ll work with the translucent stones like amethyst or fluorite; and even better are those stones which are two-tone like labradorite. In fact I like two-tone glass beads, too. The shinier the better – so usually faceted, fire-polished Czech glass is my go-to.
There’s also a lamp-work bead artist in Vancouver whose work I can’t stop buying (Two Glassy Ladies). And, of course, there’s my huge stash of vintage, salvaged materials. Keys, watches, broken jewelry, washers, the list goes on. I call it Rusty Crap and I wish everyone would stop throwing it out so I can buy it – anything small, metal, and broken is like gold to me.
What does creating your products mean to you?
Beauty in the world is my favourite thing. It’s amazing to me that I can increase that beauty, even just a little bit.
Every time I make something new, I like to just sit and look at it for a while. Is that vain? :)
What has been your greatest challenge and success so far?
My greatest challenge is without a doubt finding enough time to do everything I want to do. I’ll often get a hit of inspiration while I’m at work and mostly can’t do anything about it until the weekend, and sometimes it takes months to get to those ideas at the bench. It’s frustrating because there’s SO much I want to do! But I also like paying the mortgage, so… full-time job it is ;)
My greatest success is clearly the launch of this book! Freeform Wire Art Jewelry is real, and it’s got my name on it, and it’s beautiful, and I’m super proud.
What was the best piece of advice you were given when you were starting out? What advice can you lend to those who will be creating their own wire art jewelry?
Oh, that was so long ago and my memory is so poor! I’m not sure. I asked for a lot of help from fellow artists, and from the Cape Breton Centre for Craft & Design, and they were all super helpful.
Advice to others? Loosen up – perfection doesn't exist.
I wish I knew! I’ve been so busy with the finishing details for the book’s launch, and for the upcoming summer tourist sale season, that I really haven’t thought much further ahead.
Although, I won’t say I haven’t got vague plans for my next book to be steam-punk-based… so I really hope this one sells like crazy and they ask me to do another! In the meantime, I do intend to increase my online tutorial offerings.
The official launch of Freeform Wire Art Jewelry takes place this Thursday, May 7th at 6 p.m. at the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design in Sydney.
Inspired to try it yourself? Pick up a copy of Freeform Wire Art Jewelry online at Amazon.ca.