The Zen of the Process

As I go around the country teaching jewelry making workshops, the students are astounded when I push certain techniques like hand filing and burnishing.  To my full time students at Baum School of Art in Pennsylvania, and at the different colleges I have taught, it’s just part of a natural process.  In fact, in Pennsylvania, it was joked that if you took my classes, you would learn to make Amish jewelry….that is, I use no electricity, and expected my students to do the same thing.  Yes, it has paid off, like the night that I had my pieces due for a gallery show the next morning, and one of those severe Pennsylvania thunderstorms struck, and I was without any electricity all night   So I finished the pieces with hand sanding and by the light of 4 candles and my cell phone!  They looked just fine.

While teaching a week-end workshop a few months ago, a student from the third semester class left the room, and I asked where she was going.  She said  innocently, “Over to the belt  sander to  sand my piece.”  “Oh NO NO NO!” , was my horrified expression as I handed her an #0 Grobet.  “Here. Learn the old fashioned way.” She grumbled a bit, and sat back down at her bench,  tried to sweetly glare at me, and a few moments later  was learning to work a file.  I was shocked that she had ALWAYS just put her work on the belt sander, and had never really held a file, much less a #6  finishing file (Oh be still my heart–such a delight to hold and fondle–such a magnificent little file!  But I digress.) But, 15 minutes later she said she was really enjoying putting her “spirit”  into the piece.  And she was humming and smiling.

Last week, Kathleen Krucoff, my sister, student and best friend, wrote a post on her Talking Tools blog about files.  While she was really writing about files, if you read between the lines, what she was really blogging about was The Joy of Filing, kind of like “The Joy of Cooking” and that other more infamous “Joy of”  book.  (blush). But anyway, as my student,  she has learned to sit at her bench and simply file.  We recently participated in the Boettcher Mansion Arts & Crafts festival, which celebrates the joy of the Art & Crafts period.  Yes, there was electricity back then, and even a treadle buffing wheel or two around.  But part of the the Arts and Crafts philosophy was the rejection of the industrialization of goods,  furniture, pottery, jewelry, etc.  and the lack of fine craftsmanship as everything was made by a machine.    However,  the joy that came to Kathleen as she sat there and simply filed one of her elegant  pieces was a thing of beauty.  She smiled, no, she beamed, as she looked at her handiwork, and I know her blood pressure dropped.

So as I think about it, yes, as I get ready for 3 large upcoming shows,  I do find myself panicking and wanting to whip out 5 pieces this afternoon.  But life is full of compromises.  I don’t make my living through doing shows, so I admit I’m a bit spoiled. But I do have a hectic teaching schedule, so  I only make about 150 pieces a year.  While I’m not saying this will work for you, give it a try some afternoon when you are not so rushed.  Cut your pieces out by hand, and go from a #0 file  to a #2, then a #4 and finally, if you have one, a #6 ( pattter-patter-patter goes my heart again).  And then hand sand, (YES!)  using the 3M finishing film, no buffing wheel or flex shaft.  AND THEN…..use a burnisher and hand burnish your edges.  (horrors!  No one uses a hand burnisher any more, do they?!)  Hey, I even have a set of Thrumming strings…. I’m really antiquated!  But by doing this, and when I hand my piece to someone at a show, they usually say  “WoW!  This piece feels powerful” , or  “This has a great feeling to it.” It makes me smile.

So what I’m saying is, enjoy the “Zen of the Process”.  Maybe you already do this, but if not, try it.  It’s not for everyone, but give it a try.  My mentor and good friend Harold O’Connor says “If you don’t enjoy the process of making jewelry, why are you doing it?”  He has given me so much good advice over the years.  My “Conversations With Harold” series is dedicated to him and  his years of sage wisdom.

And  if you are in a dry spell right now, with no new ideas coming to you, don’t dispair.  Know that as you were full of creativity  and ideas 2 months ago, now you will need to plant new seeds to germinate for your new ideas.  Its a simple yin/yang thing… involution and evolution …yin…spiraling inward to darkness,the esoteric, the involution,  and contemplative self examination,  growth. Then, sometimes, and even without warning,  here comes the yang, the evolution, as you spiral outward,  and you create and manifest your new project. It’s something I believe in strongly, partially because I grew up in the American Southwest. The people of Taos Pueblo celebrate “The Quiet Time,” as Mother Earth sleeps and prepares for Spring,  when her greatness bursts forth in all it’s glory.  But it’s a natural process, and its all around us with Mother Nature, with the dark seasons and the light seasons, the dark of night and the brightness of day.  So enjoy the entire Zen of the Process….the involution and evolution, the contemplating and the creating. And know that when your evolution comes, the sun will shine brighter than ever before.   Enjoy the blessed Zen of the Process.  End of lecture.

Crying may endure for the night, but joy commeth in the morning.  Psalms 30:5

Love and peace to you all–


12 Responses

  1. Ah yes, the Zen of the Process. I know it well thanks to you and I do embrace it. For me there is nothing quite so peaceful and tranquil as working with my hands.

    If I may share the quote you shared with me in our first workshop:

    “Work always from the heart. Love the hammer, let every blow gently kneed the metal…listen to the metal and do not make it cry. Love the metal, and it will love you back” ~~ Hirotoshi Ito

    Thank you for this post; it comes at a good time for all of us I think.

    Love you Lex. 🙂

    Your little sister, Kathleen

  2. I love you.

  3. Yes those Grobet files felt wonderful in hand. I am ordering those this week! Thanks for a wonderful day.

    • Hi Beth–You lealrned a lot about files last week. I cam by your son’s house several times last week end and always missed you. I left a message, Guess what I found. Wold you like me to send it to you.
      I enjoyed your visit so much, you are such a great lady. I’v ben working on kittie ideas.
      much love,

  4. Great post, Lexi!

    • Thanks John. I always appreciate it when you like something I do. I means a lot to me.

  5. Thank you for the timely and inspiring piece. My most beloved creations have been finished by hand, as my most patient teacher has instructed me to do. Now, with arm in sling as I recover from shoulder surgery, I can refocus my energies on the lowly file and sanding stick. I will enjoy the zen of process and reap the reward of knowing the result is truly borne of me.

    • Ouch Jennifer…I hope that shoulder heals quickly! Your comment is truly beautiful and thoughtful. Yes, you put so much of yourself into a piece with all the handling of it. It’s a beautiful process. Good luck with your shoulder, and keep in touch.
      Healing Hugs,

  6. Hi Lexi,

    I recently read your article in the Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist. I am so glad to find someone who is passionate about teaching the art of making jewelry au naturel! I strive to use the least amount of electricity when smithing, including making my own findings and stones. The reward, knowing you have mastered a skill and have learned a more traditional and maybe even authentic way to create wearable art is amazing. I am still far from being electricity free, but I’m determined to get there! I’m glad I found your blog


    • Hi Grace–thank you so much. I hadn’t considered the term “au natural, but I like the term. 🙂 I was just going from an Arts & Crafts furniture place this afternoon,and was thinking about using no electricity. I just like the process. I enjoy the “Zen of the Process”, and I just released a DVD for Interweave Press on hand finishing, if you are interested. I love being in my studio, some soft music playing, and just being with my tools, stones and “stuff”.
      Anytime you want to come work with my in my studio, let me know. We will work smoothing out! Its great to find a kindred spirit.
      Sorry to be late in answering your post to me. I had had some computer problems, and your post, and several others, just showed up.
      Thank you for following my work in Lapidary Journal–

  7. Lexi,
    I am unable to find the approximately 1/8″ thick 3M micron grit finishing pads that you show in your videos. I can find the finishing papers (very thin), and I can find thick sanding pads but only in higher number sanding grits like 600, not in micron. Please help!
    Thank you,

    • Hi Khara–I get my 3M sanding sponges from Allcraft tools, and their number is 1-800-645-7124, and speak with Tevel. They are thin, but they may be the same ones you find, I don’t think 3M makes a variety of them, but mine are not very thick. Good luck.

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