Metals for Mixed Media by a "Fabricationista"

I am an art school graduate, educated as a metalsmith via the “academic track” rather than the “hobbyist track” and have spent countless off-the-clock hours pursuing my passion for making 3D objects. Professionally, I’ve worked in many media, and was formally trained as a visual artist; earning my salary for many years as an award-winning professional illustrator and graphics director for several major metro newspapers. Over the years, I've painted and drawn anything and everything–from cutaways of nuclear reactors to Manolo Blahnik party shoes. These days, I’m a metalsmith-jeweler and lapidary artisan who happens to work in publishing–which is an ideal mix for my particular skillset. I’m very happy to have found my niche, and I get great pleasure out of teaching other artists how to use metalwork techniques for their own particular object-making interests.

How to make resin jewelry | Beadfest
Currently, I'm working on a necklace for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist magazine for the August Issue that includes hand-fabricated bezels, vintage book illustrations, found metal, and resin. Photo credit: Helen Driggs

Because I have been educated via that “academic track” I tend to be a stickler for doing things properly, professionally, and with the goal of creating well-crafted, lasting artworks that will stand the test of time. I love it when the craftsmanship of something is so good that you don’t notice it. Because, really, when somebody picks up your work, you want them to see what you are trying to show first–rather than wonder how the heck you did it. To me, good craftsmanship is a given–it’s the message of the work that should be noticed first, so if your workmanship is shoddy, people will get stuck on that, rather than on what you are trying to say. Because of this, I truly have earned my nickname and Twitter handle: “fabricationista.”

Why take my metal art classes at Beadfest?

This year at BeadFest, I’m teaching a nice mix of technique classes well suited to the mixed-media artist who wants to add some metalwork to their palette. My favorite class is one I have revived from several years ago and expanded into a two-day workshop: Metals 101: Jewelry Making Tools and Techniques for Beginners on August 19 and August 20 from 8:30 am – 4:00 pm. Why take it? All you need do is walk in with a notebook and pen. I’ll provide you with a toolbox of your own basic jewelry making tools: saw, blades, ring clamp, pliers, etc. – which I have chosen because they’re well-made and great for beginners. I will teach you how to use every tool in the kit, and you’ll take them home with you at the end of the workshop, so you can keep going. We’ll measure, saw, file, sand, and polish using exercises that’ll help you learn about your tools. You’ll learn to prepare and texture metal, rivet, create a metal cuff bracelet on a mandrel, and even solder a ring band. I’ll help you get confident about different jewelry metals, tell you where to get them, which kind to use for what, but most important, teach you how to use your tools the right way and how to make things the right way so you can start on the road to making well-crafted jewelry that will last for a very long time, without glue. And, we will have fun doing it, too, because after all, that’s the whole point!

Mixed-media jewelry techniques | Beadfest
Another in my latest body of work; copper, reclaimed steel, fiber, carnelian and serpentine. Hand fabricated, cold-connected and formed. Photo credit: Helen Driggs

For those of you who might want to add custom cut stones to your work, I’ll be offering the full-day Beginning Lapidary: Create your First Cabochon class on August 21 from 8:30 am – 4:00 pm. This class was nearly full in my BeadFest Spring session and we had a blast, even over the roar of the equipment! If you’re interested in seeing what it takes to cut your own stones, try it. Again, just walk in with a towel and a bucket or basin and your notebook. I’ll bring several full-scale lapidary grinding machines, saws, and diamond accessories for the flex shaft and everything you’ll need to give the exciting world of lapidary a try. And, if you’re like me, you’ll get hooked.

Then, I will offer my three different Rotary Tool Demystified classes on August 22: Dremels Only! from 8:30 am – 11:30 am; Flex Shaft Only! from 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm, and for those of you who have taken one of the two morning classes, we’ll have Advanced Techniques from 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm the same day so you can learn even more. These classes are very popular, and I promise you – If you have a Dremel tool or Flex Shaft still sitting in the box and you’ve never tried to use it, or tried to use it and gave up, then sign up. You’ll go home knowing how to use your tool by the end of class. We’ll drill all kinds of mixed materials: plastics, metals, wood, and in the advanced class, stone, ceramic, and glass. So you’ll be able to drill, rivet, or connect your own varied materials, and also know what all the little attachments in your box do. Best of all? You’ll never fear using your rotary tool ever again!

So, what are you waiting for? Come spend some time with me in a class. We have fun, I have billions of little bench tips and tricks to share, and your brain will be full and your heart will be excited to get to work and make something cool by the end of the weekend. Plus, you’ll get to meet my baby sister, too. Hope to see you there!

HELEN DRIGGS is Senior Editor for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and an experienced metalsmith and teacher.
Instagram: hdriggs_fabricationista
Twitter: @fabricationista
Book: The Jewelry Maker's Field Guide  
Related Videos: Metalsmith Essentials: Basic Fabrication 
Metalsmith Essentials: Riveting and Cold Connections 


3D Art and Assemblage, Art to Wear, Blog, Mixed-Media Jewelry, Mixed-Media Techniques

About helen driggs

HELEN DRIGGS is the Managing Editor for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and an experienced metalsmith. Her jewelrymaking focus is fabrication, metal forming and forging, in addition to traditional painting and drawing. A BFA graduate of Moore College of Art, she has worked as an information graphics artist, art director, illustrator, writer and editor. Helen prefers capturing a subject in line, paint, photography or in writing, and would rather be behind the camera than in front of it. Her primary scientific pursuit is exploring the forms of plants and invertebrate animals, and she is an enthusiastic student of relationships in the natural world.

Helen teaches regular workshops and classes, and will soon exhibit her metalwork on She is a member of Pennsylvania Society of Goldsmiths, the Colorado Metalsmithing Association and the Society of North American Goldsmiths.


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