Melissa J. Lee

Fire Mountain Gems and Beads' 2010
Metal Clay, Metal Beads, Wirework and Chain Contest
Grand Prize Gold Medal Winner

"I can't tell you how happy I am! I didn't expect this at all. Thank you! I've never been in this position, I'm just thrilled…you really made my day, no, year!"

Melissa J. Lee

I think, Therefore I am 2.0
2010 Fire Mountain Gems and Beads' Metal Clay, Metal Beads, Wirework and Chain Contest
Grand Prize Gold Medal Winner

Meet the Designer-Artist

Where do you live?
Highland Park, Illinois

Describe your artistic style.
Eclectic. My style is very theme-driven. My pieces tend to tell a story--and the story always centers on whatever topic I happen to be interested in at the time.

What inspires you as a designer-artist?
My young son, what I'm reading, the places I visit--really, any life experience, even those that seem perfectly mundane on the outside, can be a great source of inspiration.

What materials do you most enjoy working with?
Metal clay and all types of stone.

Have you ever entered any of Fire Mountain Gems and Beads' Jewelry-Making Contests? If yes, which ones?
Yes, the 2010 Metal Clay, Metal Beads, Wirework and Chain Contest.
(You'll have to imagine me doing my happy Snoopy dance, here!)

What is the name of the piece you submitted with your success story?
I think, Therefore I Am 2.0

What inspired this design?
I was inspired to create this piece by my love of science fiction and, in particular, cyberpunk. Graphically, I think binary code can make an attractive, clean design. The use of the quote "I think, therefore I am," which I translated partially into binary on the front of the pendant, comes from Descartes. It's my little joke and a reference to cyberpunk themes of artificial intelligence or "thinking machines."

How did it come together? For example, did you plan it out or did it define itself once you began working?
I had the initial concept--the Cartesian quote in binary code sitting inside a box pendant--in my design book for over a year. However, the pendant design really didn't coalesce for me until I decided to give the design a slight twist by framing the box within a structure similar to a Japanese Shinto gate. Cyberpunk is heavily influenced by Western perceptions of Japanese culture, and I felt it would be appropriate to incorporate this reference into the final design. Similarly, I selected the stone to string with the pendant after I had started working. I had initially intended to use faceted peridot with the design but felt that it didn't create quite the right impact. I found the beautifully cut black tourmaline right before the contest deadline and knew it would be perfect for the piece.

The button closure contains part of the code for the word "love" with the image of a heart replacing a zero. The overall code design is rough to suggest graffiti and the patina is intended to give the piece the look of old machinery.

Technically, the piece was created in stages. I made the main floating box by dry assembly--cutting out the pieces of the boxes and assembling them once they were bone dry. I created the graffiti style of the binary code by using a hand-cut stamp. I hand-rolled and shaped the bar of the pendant, created and attached the chain on either side to suggest a gate. After patinaing the pendant, I sanded the surfaces to give the piece a worn look. I left the interior of the box quite dark to highlight the binary code design.

Share Your Background

When and how did you begin making jewelry/beading?
Believe it or not, I completed my first necklace using metal clay and pearls on May 31, 2007, so it's been almost three years to the day since I started working with metal clay and designing jewelry. Although I had a vague interest in trying out metal clay for several years before I started, my job as an intellectual property lawyer really didn't leave me with a lot of free time. It wasn't until I left my job to stay home with my son that I finally had the opportunity to work with the material.

Who introduced you to beading?
Ultimately, I came to beading by way of my love for knitting. I remember that I attended the Bead and Button Show in Milwaukee for the first time, because I was looking for unusual buttons to use on my sweaters. Naturally, while there, I ended up gravitating towards the truly wonderful selection of beads and started learning more about art beads and speaking with the artists about the process of making beads and jewelry. While I had previously read the odd beading magazine and even taken an introductory stringing course at my local bead shop, that first show was the catalyst for focusing my interest in making beads and actually designing my own pieces. Over the next year, I was very fortunate to meet several interesting and very generous bead-makers who encouraged my first experiments with making my own pieces. Had it not been for this early support, I doubt I would be doing the kind of work I am today.

Do you have an artistic background?
I have no formal training. I am self-taught (from books--"self-taught" always strikes me as a bit of a misnomer, since there are so many excellent instructional books available) in metal clay.

How did you discover Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®?
I discovered Fire Mountain Gems and Beads through the beading magazines, particularly through the projects of magazine designers whose work I admired. Fire Mountain Gems and Beads was always listed as a source, multiple times, in each magazine, and rightly so.

What other hobbies do you have?
Beading has taken over the bulk of my time, but I do still enjoy knitting for my son, and I am an avid reader.

Do you belong to any beading societies or beading groups?
I do not belong to any metal clay societies or groups. When I started working with metal clay, my son was quite young, and I never found the time to seek out my local chapters. I do belong to an online bead and jewelry blogging group, composed of a variety of jewelry designers and bead-makers.

Beading Success

What role does jewelry-making play in your life?
I came to jewelry-making as a way to carve out a little personal time for myself, after my son went to sleep at night. I find it relaxing to express myself creatively through new designs. It is a part-time career for me.

If you used jewelry-making as a way to bring in income, how are you selling yourself and your jewelry?
I maintain a jewelry and beading blog and sell pieces online. I do enter contests as a way to market my work, but also because I find that a contest forces me to challenge myself and test my technical and creative boundaries, which I enjoy.

Do you participate in any charity fundraisers?
No, I haven't yet.

Any advice for aspiring jewelry-artists?
Don't be afraid to deviate from what is trendy, popular, or well-known. Investing your designs with what personally and passionately interests you will make your work more interesting to others.

Melissa's design, I think, Therefore I Am 2.0, won the Grand Prize Gold Medal in the 2010 Fire Mountain Gems and Beads' Metal Clay, Metal Beads, Wirework and Chain Jewelry-Making Contest.

View all of Melissa's designs, in the Gallery of Designs.