SUBMITTED BY PAULETTA BROOKS
o be an artist, imagination is one of the obvious essentials, along with vision, talent, wonder at the possibility of elements and environments that perhaps no one else would consider. Such is my intrepid spirit. With two artists for parents, it’s no wonder I emerged as a creature whose imagination and curiosity towards textural elements led me to experiment with jewelry as an art form.
In my early years as an artist, I was drawn to fashion, which lead to a career in the industry. This naturally inspired me to experiment with accessories, fabric, paint, and other elements. I started playing with the idea of creating unlikely juxtapositions of materials in order to produce unexpected and unique pieces. What would it be like to put together anomalous elements that spoke more of art and the individual rather than a commercially acceptable design? What would it be like to play with textures and patinas in order to further enhance my developing vision and thus inspire a new way of looking at ornament and accessory?
My curiosity took me to many odd places to find materials, not the least of which were highway construction sites. I was first attracted to the rubber mesh used to protect highway surfaces. Buying strips of this seemingly uninteresting material, I would sew the mesh closed and place gemstones inside, creating pod-like forms for earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and corsets.
Wanting to create a more ‘organic’ earthy bed for the gemstones and desiring a more worn and ‘ancient’ look, I widened my investigations and came upon a family of thermoplastic materials used in the medical industry. Available in various weights, strengths and resiliencies, Varaform, is one of several thermoplastic materials. Used in the medical industry for casts and molded as a way to constrain one’s head while taking scans, it was later utilized by the theatre industry for props and armatures. The foundation of this material is a natural mesh cotton impregnated with a thermoplastic resin. The thermoplastic nature of the resin causes the material to become malleable when heated allowing it to be shaped and molded as desired.
I first layer the material with a metallic coating then cut it to the general shape I want with scissors. It is then immersed in a bath of hot water, approximately 150 degree F, where it becomes soft and flexible. Shaping and molding it with my hands, and welding the material to itself and around the stones and minerals, I continue to sculpt the shape. The mesh can be compacted or stretched as needed. Once the piece takes the form I like, I paint, patina, trim, and sew it until I’ve designed the piece I envision. Only the most basic of tools join me in this process: scissors, tweezers, spoon, old cook pot, paint, brush, etc.
It has been a long journey of trial and error and the experimentation continues as with every creative process. Yet, through experimenting with thermoplastic mesh, I have been able to marry a 21st C man-made material to my unique aesthetic vision, crafting wearable art pieces that are rustic, organic and appear to be unearthed from an ancient magical world!