The Art of Mixed Media Jewelry

by Jamie Smedley, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

The Art of Mixed Media Jewelry
The practice of altering an object by reworking it, repurposing it or giving it a renewed life is redefining traditional jewelry. This extraordinary art form, known simply as ''altered art,'' has grown wildly in the last ten years. Creative scrapbookers, sculptors, collage artists, painters and jewelry designers are energetically applying the unique aesthetic to their work in constantly fresh and inventive ways.

One of the main reasons for the increased popularity of altered art is that many artists ambitiously accumulate mass amounts of supplies and odd bits that catch their fancy. They constantly add to a this-could-be-used-for-something-someday hoard because they see artistic potential in out-of-the-ordinary objects. This life-long collection can include vintage-like pieces and unusual objects that can be used to give altered art jewelry special meaning.

This unconventional approach to jewelry making has many jewelry designers and artists thinking outside of the jewelry box as they create sprawling, layered masterpieces with oxidized wire, filigree metal, odd typography bits, old keys, tiny watch gears, charms, metal buttons, pictures and coins.

The Discovery of Materials

Gathering supplies for altered art is surprisingly easy, and starting your own collection of supplies is half the fun of altered art. Hunting through yard sales, flea markets and secondhand stores can be like discovering buried treasures. As you search for your treasures, stretch your imagination and imagine the possibilities in everything.

When looking for unconventional materials, pay attention to eye-catching bits such as computer parts, interesting paper, photographs, small pieces of plastic, tiny cake decorations, small toys, microscope slides, dollhouse miniatures, game pieces, playing cards and cereal box prizes.

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The Art of Mixed Media Jewelry The Art of Mixed Media Jewelry

Kato Polyclay™ is also exciting to use in a similar fashion as Art Clay®. You can also do image transfers with Kato Polyclay to incorporate meaningful and colorful images into your art jewelry. You can mix your own colors, make detailed canes or coat the clay with luminous mica powders for an iridescent surface.

Precious metal Art Clay is great to use because you can make your own trinkets and treasures such as frames, small boxes and charms. Art Clay can be stamped and molded with virtually anything you have. For example, embossed paper, lace fabric, rubber stamps or press molds can be used to make unique and quirky patterns. Once the Art Clay has been fired, it can be given a much-desired patina of age by oxidizing it with liver of sulfur.

Metal filigree components are wonderfully diverse. They are available in a wide range of shapes, sizes, colors and finishes. These components can be twisted, linked, curved or curled. They can also be folded around gems and beaded onto just like fabric. They also look great when used in scrapbooking and altered art journals as photo corners and three-dimensional embellishments.

Staple findings are undergoing a transformation as new and innovative ways to incorporate them into designs that fall outside of their intended use are being applied. A few experimental uses that push the creative boundaries include bead caps used as bells and flower petals, cabochon settings filled with small beads or fabric and tiny bottles used as keepsake holders. The all-important clasp can also be seen playing the role of links, earrings and charms.

Add up-close interest with findings and hardware such as screw-on Scrimps™, toggle clasps, metal bails or links. More elements of texture can be added with a few felted beads or Crystal Passions® focal components. The imagination is the largest part of what makes altered art so intriguing because everyone thinks of different things to do with the same materials.

The list of creative finding uses could go on forever, as there is no limit to what purpose your imagination can dream up for materials. If you later find yourself looking at something in your hoard and wondering ''What was I thinking?'' It's safe to toss it or give it away.

Capturing a Memory

Inspiration can come from anywhere. For instance, the other day it came to me as I was looking at the tread of an old truck tire. It helped me recall a special day, so I made a necklace with a model car tire, a tiny glass bottle full of copper B-Bs, a few apple charms and a miniature plastic six-shooter. I strung it all together with mixed metal chains and added mismatched colorful beads. To add a personal touch, I made a tiny Kato Polyclay pendant with a transferred picture of my grandpa's old truck.

The memory I was trying to capture with that altered art necklace was of a summer day I spent with my grandpa in 1986. He took me out to his small fruit orchard and taught me to load and shoot a B-B gun. I remember how I could smell a metallic scent on my hands from loading the B-Bs while I was holding the gun. I aimed for old soda cans propped up against his faded barn. My poorly aimed B-Bs never hit any cans, and I soon lost interest and went flower picking instead. Later that day, we hopped into his old truck to get the mail in town. Along the way, he stopped at a little gas station to treat me to an orange Crush soda. That was a great summer day, and I recall the memory every time I wear that necklace.
The Art of Mixed Media Jewelry
The coolest thing about wearing altered art jewelry is that, unlike a scrapbook or home decoration, you can easily take it out into the world with you. Wearing these little curiosities is a wonderful conversation starter.

What special memory do you have that could be interpreted into altered art jewelry? Perhaps it is a feeling for a special object or an emotion like love or happiness. There is no wrong way to apply the touches of mixed media to your altered art jewelry. Fire Mountain Gems and Beads' online gallery of designs is a great source for inspiration and materials that can be used in altered jewelry. Browse the web or flip through the pages of a catalog to find a treasure trove of findings, beads and supplies to set you on the happy path of altering.

The Art of Mixed Media Jewelry

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