Hi there!

I'm Eni Oken, artist and author of hundreds of articles, tutorials and books in print and online. For over 30 years I've explored art, color theory, fantasy and ornamental design.

Certified Zentangle® Teacher

Certified Zentangle® Teacher

The Underlying Design Structure

This is email has such an interesting question that I thought it worth to post in its entirety. I've been waiting for someone to ask me this one...

Hello Eni -
I fell in love with your site and your jewelry a few months ago. I've made jewelry for years, but your design and your technique speaks so deeply to my sense of beauty and ornament.So, of course, I got to work and ordered lots of your tutorials (and eagerly await some more). In the meantime, I spend too much time staring at some pieces and wondering just where to begin to make something similar?

I think I'm talking first principles here. I want to know how to build the piece or, at least, how to think about it.For instance. The Marine Relic Pendants. I see 2 or 3 stones of slightly different sizes and cuts. They seem to be drilled. How do you combine (or unite them) to create a unified design? Or, with 5 stones, how to do you first think of putting them together? Is there some way to think about this? Do you ornament them first or do you first unify them and then consider other design elements? Do you know how the stones/gems will be supported/unified/connected before you begin?

I'm not asking whether you know how the piece will be before you make it. This is more concrete. Am I talking about armiture? (Not entirely familiar with that word in the jewelry context.)If I have 5 stones, all drilled lengthways, and I want to put them together in a pendant or something even more impressive like the pink paella necklace, then where/how do I begin the design process?

I want to provide support for the stones and decorative accents, but I need to know my stones are in a solid construction.I'd love a tutorial on the thinking and the development that goes in to making different pieces. What do you think of first? How do you make a unified, supported design of disparate elements. How much do you consider if something is "workable" before you begin?

I would love an answer, but this is a long note and I can wait for another tutorial. I'd love to see the whole Pink Paela series explained to me, along with the Marine Relic Pendants and the green tourmaline pendant.

It's such a pleasure to just look at your work and to know you have a commitment to share is like a godsend. I'll keep looking and puzzling and being excited by each new thing you show.The very, very best to you,Sincerely,

A long question requires a long answer, so bear with me. As a person who studied ornament design extensively and with an architectural background, the underlying structure of a design is always a major consideration. How will the stones be held in place, and how do I make it so that the piece looks designed and unified.

In design, (any type of design, graphics, urban, industrial), there are a few types of underlying structures to choose from. A piece can have any of the following structures:
1) Radial -- that is, radiating from a center point into various directions),
2) Linear -- following a line or track (sometimes with multiple parallels and sometimes not straight)
3) Circular -- following a round circular system (slightly different from radial)
4) Chaotic or cluster -- without any apparent center or structure
5) Spiral -- forms a spiral (also similar to radial and circular)
6) Shape -- follows a geometric shape, like a square, rectangle, pentagon, etc.
This list by no means is comprehensive.

Then, there are also the multiple combinations. You can combine a structure that has two major centers, forming a double radial. Or a linear which mixes with chaotic. Or a linear with radial. There are so many possibilities!

If you analise most pieces of jewelry, they follow one or more of these design structures. My bangles, for example, are obviously linear. They start with a linear core, and the elements are added parallel to that core.

My pendants are usually radial or circular -- they start with one or two larger stones, around which the other smaller elements gather and cluster. What seems to be very chaotic to you would appear extraordinarily simple seen from the back.

For the marine relic which you mentioned, there are two stones connected and then elements are added around and over.

So in fact, it always starts like this:
1) Choosing one or more types of underlying structures.
2) Selecting the stones which will form that structure -- usually (but not always) larger and more beautiful, important stones.
3) Connecting those important stones using an armature or frame to follow the structure(s) selected. If the stones are drilled, then wire goes inside, if the stones are not drilled, then wire is used under with some sort of method to setting to secure -- netting, prongs, etc.
4) Adding smaller stones and ornamentation around, over and in between the more important stones. This is usually done with the much thinner wire, with fiber techniques, but could be done in any other way.
The last step is what in fact, makes the design look more or less chaotic. If you add elements in an organized way, following the structure, then the work looks cleaner and neater. If the elements are added in a chaotic and irregular way, then the piece turns out more organic.

First put your big stones, then your medium ones, then your small ones.
It's easier to use one type of structure at first, then try to combine them later on.
That's it!
One day maybe I will make a tutorial on this, but what you have here is the essence of how it works. It helps to draw a very simple sketch of the structure -- not the final piece -- to serve as a guide.

Thanks again for asking this -- the teacher in me has been longing to answer this one!
---Eni Oken

Aquastar Pendant

FSOJ 2008 Week 15: Starburst Pendant