Talking with Jennifer Chin

Episode #170

Today’s guest is jewelry artist and author of Hot Connections Jewelry, Ms. Jennifer Chin. We talk all about soldering, creating, and everything in between.

Make sure and check out the Jennifer's LIVE online class
Learn to Solder and Create Chains.

Transcription on Interview with Jennifer Chin

Alison Lee:Well, I know all of you metalsmiths out there, and people who been wondering about the art of soldering are going to love my guest today, Ms. Jennifer Chin. She’s a metalsmith and an author. She currently lives and works in Boston's Fort Point Channel neighborhood where she enjoys a supportive community of artists and friends. Boy, we all love that. Her work can be seen at some of the country’s most prestigious craft shows, Gallery’s and museum shops and she is the author of a relatively new book that I totally love called "Hot connections that complete sourcebook of soldering techniques and her website is lushmetals.com. Ms. Jennifer Chin welcome to Craftcast.

Jennifer Chin: Thank you Alison. Thanks for having me.

Alison:So first lest talk about how you got into metalsmithing because I always love to hear what brought someone to a certain medium.

Jennifer: Well, I went to art school, I went to the museum school in Boston and I always created art my whole life. My parents were both artists. But in our school, I did a lot of work with mixed media and photography. I was all over the place.

Alison:As you should be at that age, come on.

Jennifer: Yes. But metal was always something that intrigued me, that I never worked with before. So, I actually took a welding class in school and it was really scary but I forced myself to do it because I was just really interested in this material that was you know seemed kind of dangerous and took all these complicated tools to work with.

Alison:Wait what part was scary? The big flame, heat?

Jennifer: You know working with a torch and the tools just seemed on a different level than anything that I've worked you know (inaudible) and clay and wood. It was just the next level. So, I really got into the steel welding and doing sculpture and then sort of towards the end of art school I started taking jewelry making classes and I really fell in love with light metals, just working with silver and copper and just being able to take my sculptural welded pieces and do them on a tinier level. Really exciting for me. But that's how I started. I also worked for a jeweler as well, sort of (inaudible) and I got sort of the business end of it as well, so.

Alison:Oh well that's pretty fabulous if you got that too.

Jennifer: Yes. It was a great experience to see how this jeweler, she works with silver and glass and I was able to see the business end of it like, oh this could be not only something I would love to do but as job as well. So learnt at a lot of production jewelry.

Alison:Gosh that's a whole separate topic and that's not really covered at school, you know.

Jennifer: No, not at all and some schools I think it’s (inaudible) in Boston they actually, they are about the only school I have ever heard of talks about what happens after graduation and what to do with your art degree basically and not be able to be successful artists. The real thing.

Alison:The reality and like. Hey as a quick off subject how you seen on TV that show Project Accessory where they actually have jewelers on?

Jennifer: I haven’t seen in but I heard all about it. I love Project Runway and I really wanted to watch it. We got rid of our television.

Alison:You did?

Jennifer: Recently. We did. Yes.

Alison:Wait I want to hear about this. It wasn’t because it was broken right? You got rid of it because why?

Jennifer: You get cable and there's just nothing to watch and it wasn’t worth it and if we want to watch something we download it. We just figured why have a TV? What has this big ugly thing in the living room.

Alison:My son did the same thing. He kept the TV, but he is just downloading when he wants to watch something. He said there's nothing on anymore. I think it’s a very interesting trend.

Jennifer: Yes. it is. I think like my husband would like to get one of those Apple TV’s.

Alison:Yes. That's it. Now did you find that you have more time to think design and spend time in the studio getting rid of your TV?

Jennifer: Yes. And I (inaudible) more time reading.

Alison:No.

Jennifer: I love to read, and I have more time to do it now (inaudible) kind of being a zombie in front of the TV which I think we definitely did. I mean we weren’t even watching anything that was worth our time. But now we can be selective and watch you know whatever we. We never had HBO or anything like that but now we can download the good stuff, what you see on HBO we couldn’t see before. So, we have that. We're not totally out of touch.

Alison:You know it’s a good inspiration because it does take away time from thought, design, reading. We're getting away from it and it just becomes like a drug. I'm doing it. I've turned it off before but it’s like you just put it on, so you don’t have to think anymore.

Jennifer: You feel your brain drain to mush. It's true.

Alison:It's not good Jen. It’s not good. How long have you been doing it?

Jennifer: Probably about a year now.

Alison:Oh, you're an old (inaudible)

Jennifer: I don’t miss it. I really don’t miss it. I thought oh what am I going to do? We don’t have TVs. But yes, it's fine. I think it’s better for me and we just have a whole new schedule. You know have dinner and then we read a book, or it isn’t sitting in front of the TV. It's better.

Alison:Well, you know what? You're totally inspiring me. I'm a little scared because I also want to give up sugar. It’s my last holdout. It’s the sugar at night with the TV watching.

Jennifer: Yes. I can't do that. You try to give up you know carbs for a little bit two and I couldn’t do it. It lasted five days and that was it.

Alison:No. There are certain things, can't. But I'm sort of liking this combo because of the result you just said which is reading and you get back to you know making your brain active again and not mushing out. So, you've inspired me. That's very interesting. Now see I was going to shows like Project Runway, but it was accessories because it was actually showing people, at least it was interesting to me because they were doing design projects and so dealing with really runway stuff not production but it was interesting at least from that point of view. But I've seen your work gets described as delicate, industrial. I love that sort of combination there and that’s a good way to put it. Now, what influenced you to sort of take that look? What's your influences that get you that way?

Jennifer: I think, I grew up in New Hampshire, sort of out in the country. When I moved to Boston, I was sort of taken aback by the city. The city really was overwhelming to me, it was sort of cold, industrial, you know not to many trees. Just living in Boston, I kind of felt like a flower in the city surrounded by barbwire. My husband said that city really affected me but at the same time the beauty, I love the beauty of industrial architecture and just the small details. I think working in metal which to me is sort of hard (inaudible) material can be. It comes from the earth and it just this material that sort of associated with industry but to make it delicate and beauty and feminine was something that not only was just like jewelry work, a lot of my earlier work, my mixed media work, sculpture, sort of had the same theme. Sort of material, the irony of the material or taking this material and changing it to the opposite meaning basically. It's hard to describe.

Alison:No. I understand. It’s like taking something cold and metal and making it feel feminine and light and fluid.

Jennifer: Yes. Yes. And the fact that you know when you are doing metalsmithing and forging, the metal goes through all these different processes because (inaudible) in this raw material, hard, dirty. It's dirty and you know and hot while you are working with it. And then, in the end, you come up with this beautiful finish or you can make it really different from what you started with basically.

Alison:Yes. I know. It definitely is a metamorphosis of things that can go through. It’s pretty fascinating.

Jennifer: Yes.

Alison:Now is silver your choice of metal to work with or what's your? Do you have a favorite or one you always go to?

Jennifer: I love working with silver. I mean I would love to work in gold as well but it’s just so expensive.

Alison:I know.

Jennifer: Yes. Copper, I'm not crazy about working with copper. If I'm going to do, I'll work with copper if I need to do some, a first step or

Alison:Try it?

Jennifer: Yes. Exactly. And I don’t want to waste any expensive silver. Silver at this point is definitely my go-to metal, absolutely.

Alison:Oh, so you don’t. That's interesting because being forced to, well because the cost of silver I mean, remember we bought silver and you use that. I mean I started with gold; you use silver before you tried it in gold. You didn’t even think about the cost of silver. Now it’s not the case so we started playing around with copper as well but now I learned to love copper.

Jennifer: Maybe it’s just, copper to me it’s just, its gets so dirty so quickly. I get frustrated with it. It is soft and it is great for shaping and things like that. I just, and I always use it. It’s just I really love silver. I have an (inaudible) in soldering.

Alison:That's true. It definitely is. Now when you, how does your creative process start? Do you think something up and see something at the end in your mind's eye and draw it out and go for it? Or do you just say let me work with these shapes and see where this takes me? What's your creative process?

Jennifer: A little of both. I'm not one to draw things out. I definitely, I would see a finished piece in my mind, definitely and rarely does it actually come out that way but it’s OK. I mean I'll come up with something that's possibly even better than where I started with. But yes. I work with a lot of tubing and wire and I'll just have my materials there and instead if drawing it out, I'll put things together, you know not soldering it. But I like to work that way instead of drawing something out. It's always too disappointing because it never comes out exactly the way I had in mind.

Alison:Well, I see you work with a lot of shapes and patterns. So, do you start making your basic shapes and playing with them?

Jennifer: Yes, exactly. I'll just have a lot of shapes and I just the way certain shapes will fit together, and ideas will come from that. Absolutely.

Alison:Did you have the high? And I teach soldering here in my own studio. Did you have the high? Which I love. I know someone is addicted when I'm showing them soldering and they gasp when they see the solder flow. Another addict was just born.

Jennifer: Magic. That's true.

Alison:When they see the solder flow and when they see a granule made by just melting a piece of solder and (makes sound) into a ball and spins. Both of those if they elicit little joys of glee, I know another addict has been born.

Jennifer: Yes. Absolutely. I love the whole process.

Alison:Yes. I do too. It's great fun. Now, do you also work in series or do you sort of jump around? Let’s say you play with a shape; you are working with it. You love. Do you then say let me create a full line?

Jennifer: You mean like a?

Alison:Earrings, necklace, bracelet that type of thing?

Jennifer: I do. I try to. Yes. Because you know, well if I am making it for my line, for sale I definitely like to you know create multiples and definitely have pieces that go with you know and then make a necklace. I'd definitely make a pair of earrings and a bracelet to go with it. Absolutely. Unless the piece is, you know. I have definitely made a lot of stand-alone necklaces, sort of need nothing else.

Alison:Yes. Well, do you find when you see to galleries or museum shops that they want to have it? Do they want to have more one stand-alone or do they want things that work together?

Jennifer: They have to have things that work together. Absolutely. A lot of my customers, (inaudible) men who are buying for their wives they always want to buy the whole set. Absolutely.

Alison:That's interesting.

Jennifer: Yes. So, you just want to have that available. Definitely. I always encourage buying the whole set of course.

Alison:Yes. Sure. And what women doesn’t want to receive the whole set given the opportunity even if they don’t wear them together.

Jennifer: Right. And even, I mean I don’t encourage matchy matchy sets but a lot of my work they are also (inaudible) the same family so you can mix and match and it will still definitely be great together.

Alison:Right, that's even better I love that. Well now let's talk about your book. I'm going to rave about your book for a minute I think it's wonderful again, 'Hot Connections Jewelry'. I've had it on the site already once, 'A complete sourcebook of soldering techniques. I'm going to tell you why I really love it, you're welcome. You really did some fresh approaches and a lot of times you know I don't see that so it was really enjoyable to see fresh design approaches and great fun ideas. I forgot and I'm going to tell you this right now I made. Oh, shoot now I just lost my place, I did two things out of your book.

Jennifer: Oh, you did?

Alison:I did. One total inspiration actually one of your pictures in the gallery but I did your earrings the domed paddle earrings.

Jennifer: Oh great, great.

Alison:And I soldered jump rings.

Jennifer: Oh my gosh good. Good for you.

Alison:Because it didn't stay together, I was nervous it would pop open, I said just go for it Sauder every one of those little babies together yeah without melting anything you know I was like I love them.

Jennifer: Oh, good job.

Alison:Yes so, I think that was fabulous I mean some really great little design. So now let's talk about especially people who are thinking about they'd like to do a book as well, what was your book making process? How did that whole thing come? Was that something you wanted to do?

Jennifer: It actually wasn't, it was I was very lucky. I just had a publisher call me from Random House who was a big fan of my work and she asked you know would, should be interested in writing a book about jewelry making techniques and specifically soldering and I think she actually didn't realize that the whole process was you can’t just start with soldering and you have to there this is always a process that you do beforehand. So, it was basically each one write a book about soldering and they asked me to write a sample chapter which you know process (inaudible) photography and everything just to see that I could actually write a book. I was a good writer and so I did that me and they accepted it. So, they it was very good luck. I really had never thought oh I (inaudible) to write a book about techniques. Yes, I never thought that I would be an authority on it but it was a great experience and it was challenging.

Alison:I was going to say were you thrilled or overwhelmed? You were like yay and then (makes sound)?

Jennifer: It was overwhelming you know towards the end when your deadlines coming up it's definitely overwhelming because I do a lot. You know I don't just, I do shows and I do a lot of other things and so it's hard to kind of chuckle finishing the book but it gave me about a year and a half I think, (inaudible) amount of time actually. But it was good, it was a great experience It was actually the same month as the final, the book was due was the same month as my wedding.

Alison:No.

Jennifer: I had to plan a wedding, yes and finish this book and do shows and oh my gosh it was challenging.

Alison:But isn’t it amazing sometimes you get more done than you ever think possible because of that?

Jennifer: Yes. You get into a groove.

Alison:Get in a groove. You wrote a book, you got married. I’m surprised you didn’t have a baby and something else too. It’s like do you get it all. Us women we can do it all. Well, it is. It’s totally beautiful. Well let’s talk about, let’s give some people ideas on soldering. Give them your best tips because we know that soldering when it works it's fabulous and when it’s not working, what’s the best tips you give people there?

Jennifer: It’s not working. Possibly what you are trying to solder together is dirty.

Alison:Number one, right?

Jennifer: It would be really clean, yes. Make sure that you are balancing where your heat is going, you are focusing more heat, if you are soldering as opposed to an earring you are going to want to put more heat on the earing than the post. You know the larger object is going to need more heat than the smaller object.

Alison:Yes. That's a huge thing too. Avoid the meltdown of the post. Now when you work do you use a settling torch?

Jennifer: I do. I have a settling torch. It's one of those torches that uses ambient air. I live in that yeah Co-op building so we can't have text tanks with oxygen, unfortunately. But my torch is great.

Alison:Right and do you find that you use smaller tips or bigger tips?

Jennifer: I use the absolute smallest one I have.

Alison:You do?

Jennifer: Yes, but it actually puts a good amount of heat. If I'm doing something large like a you know a bangle bracelet or a cuff bracelet, I'll used to be the next one up but in general, for my small stuff, I use just the smallest tip.

Alison:Yes, I've been playing around the smallest tip lately and I'm seeing how genius it works and I just had start forgotten about that. Now you don't use do you ever use stones or is it looks like you mostly don't.

Jennifer: I do actually I do I did rings which have stones in them but I didn't. I don't have them on my website or in a book but I do for my shows I usually have springs; I usually just have a full set faceted stones and cabochons like you actually truly cool rings I call them a cosmic ring and they have some (inaudible) band and they have all these special stepstones that kind of stick out at different angles counts like a planet or something. So, it was sort of spacey. So, it's why I call them cosmic rings. And I do different, yes. They are a lot of fun. I don’t have them on the website just because rings are always trouble with sizing online so I like to be able to be in person if I'm going to do a ring for a person.

Alison:And I also really like all the artists that you show in your book as well. you have a nice piece about the color and I love all the resin work that you show as well.

Jennifer: Yes. Yes, they're great they’re all my friends who are you know they also do shows, you know little jewelry travel club.

Alison:Is that what its called? OK I was wondering. But that's great. That's a great supportive community feeling then.

Jennifer: Absolutely, absolutely you can all lament together or celebrate or (laughs).

Alison:Or even if you need a fast supply of someone to call instead of freaking out to.

Jennifer: Yes. Yes. Exactly

Alison:It’s all a good thing. Well now what are you working on in your bench right now? What what's your new shape or design that you're experimenting with?

Jennifer: I, right now it’s nice because it’s my sort of down time. January is good and I can work on new designs. I'm newly interested in oxidation but not doing sort of partial oxidation of pieces like, sort of making a stripe oxidation here and there. Yes. I'm just trying to actually work with.

Alison:So actually, doing a pattern of oxidation?

Jennifer: Yes. And working with a lot of oxidizing snake chain is really, I'm really into that at the moment. Snake chain looks just gorgeous if you oxidize and sort of, I put it in a tumbler and get it all nice and shiny with some steel shot but it just looks really gorgeous.

Alison:Wait. Explain which one is the snake chain? I know it moves like a snake but is it woven with jump rings?

Jennifer: It's a tiny singe. It looks like a rope.

Alison:OK. that you make yourself.

Jennifer: No. I don’t make it myself but I do incorporate it with everything else, but usually, I'll add some oxidized snake chains onto another fabricated piece. But that's what I really like at the moment. I also am really into texture, doing more hammered texture on pieces because a lot of my stuff its very sort of clean and you know smooth looking and I would like to move to more of a textured.

Alison:Isn’t it funny how we go through those kinds of moods where like, I remember where everything had to be shiny and then it was now everything had to be (inaudible)? No more shiny.

Jennifer: Yes. I remember my stuff was way too shiny at one point. It didn’t occur to me till it was all laying out on my cases at a show where I thought oh my god what am I doing? This is so shiny.

Alison:Isn’t it funny? It’s so funny how those things happen and then it was like oh my gosh if it wasn’t mat, rub comet, or (inaudible) on everything. OK. That's better, you know. Now I'm into like make it shiny.

Jennifer: Right. Well, that's fashion. It's all.

Alison:That's true.

Jennifer: It's all what inspires you to, what you see people wearing and you know I think it all relates definitely.

Alison:I think it’s also emotional too because I, right now my feeling is we love to see shiny if you know there are things going in the world and life's hard enough, something shiny I know from the women I'm around, something shiny is a fabulous thing.

Jennifer: Yes, a little joy. That's true.

Alison:Yes. It just gets us going. It’s one of those wonderful things. Well, what's your go-to tool on your workbench? Is there one tool that you like can’t live without that's your tool?

Jennifer: Oh, my tube cutter, probably. I love my tube cutter.

Alison:See I knew you have one. That's so funny you should say that I'm because looking at your book as we're talking and on page 33 it’s your tube cutting jig. And is that the one you use?

Jennifer: Yes. That's it. I love it. I use it probably daily. Absolutely.

Alison:I'm going to want to cut some tube after I finish talking with you. I can tell.

Jennifer: Well, it’s great for cutting wire you know. It’s just good for because you know I do a lot of repeating patterns and I love getting everything all the same size so it’s really good for that for getting the exact sizes. I still go through lots of (inaudible). What can you do?

Alison:Exactly. It’s all fine. It’s a good thing. So. Well now do you work in your studio? Like how many hours a day just give, some people think that when you're a designer, jewelry designer whatever, you're making things just making all day long. but there is the business side. So how in a week do you have a percentage of time that you're at the bench actually making jewelry?

Jennifer: As opposed to sitting at my computer doing other stuff?

Alison:Yes.

Jennifer: Oh God yes not enough not enough maybe 30%. you know it's really.

Alison:No that's the average that's really it.

Jennifer: Yes. I mean at least this time of the year after the holidays are over and you know this is the time when I can sit down and work on my new design, you know this is a good time but yet during the other times it's all this other yes. All this other stuff.

Alison:It’s all the other stuff and I also applaud you on I think your site lushmetals.com it's also branded that's the other thing you have a really nice branding of the look of all of your work.

Jennifer: Oh, thank you.

Alison:And I'm sure that was you know conscious and important to you as well.

Jennifer: Absolutely, yes. My husband actually did this site and he's a graphic designer and he's got.

Alison:See there's the trick. Marry a designer so you can have someone do everything for you.

Jennifer: Absolutely. I know a lot of Jewelers who are married to graphic designers as well.

Alison:It's a good combo.

Jennifer: (Inaudible) connection or something yes absolutely and he is a photographer as well so it all works.

Alison:Oh, see you have it all there. It's all a very good thing. Well, I really enjoy your book and as I’m looking through it again, I know other people we inspired too. It's a great, I think it's always a great compliment to copy a project but it's a great way to say now I want to make it my own and play with it.

Jennifer: Yes. Absolutely. That's what I want people to do. This is just starting point then you know go with it to do what do you want and make it your own.

Alison:Exactly. So again, everyone it's 'Hot Connections Jewelry' by Miss Jennifer Chen. I want to thank you so much for coming on and spending some time chatting with me about my favorite things too.

Jennifer: Thank you so much for having me.

Alison:My pleasure. I'll talk to you again soon. Bye Bye.

Jennifer: Ok bye.

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