Tobias Designs’ jewelry is oxymoronic: simple, yet detailed. Structured, yet organic. Geometric, yet soft. It’s a dirty and intensive process that results in stunning jewelry. Learn more about what drives her and how she creates her work: Meet Your Maker, Britta McKee.
1| How do you describe your work to people who don’t know anything about crafting/art?
Being a jewelry designer is a little hard to explain I think because the first thing people say to me is, “Oh you do bead work.” I then explain a little more, that I’m a metalsmith jewelry designer. I use all sorts of metals such as silver, copper, gold, brass, and even aluminum. Sometimes I go into detail about having an art degree from the University of Kansas. It’s art to me, but others would say craft.
2| Why do you make/design things?
Body image is such a strong nation-wide topic. I try to work out and keep fit (little hard to jump back after my 2nd kiddo). I make jewelry to help others embrace their body and enhance their curvaceous or slender form; every part of their body. I want them to feel pretty, handsome, and that they’re looking sharp, and if a piece of my jewelry can help make that happen then I have done my job.
3| What do you love about your job?
I love to experiment with different patinas and textures. I don’t measure unless the costumer has requested specific measurements. I love the organic style, rare jewelry. I believe that everyone should have a piece that is truly one of a kind. Yes, I do make a bunch of the “same” pieces, but if you look closely you will not see the same pattern, etching, texture, color, or shape. I also love to have custom orders. I have had a few that made me cry because I was making and designing something in remembrance of a lost one. Those are what I want to make sure I take the time to get every detail perfect.
4| Was being a working artist always your plan or was there an “aha” moment?
I have always wanted to pursue art as a career. In 2nd grade I won an award for a “Stop, Drop, and Roll” drawing we did in class. That is what started my love and passion for art. In high school I was in a league art competition and even though I did participate in sports, my letter jacket was of art medals. I was never sure what style of art I wanted to make. I went to the University of Kansas (KU) and started out as a graphic designer, then switched to interior design, then I was a double major with interior design and metalsmithing. Finally my dad said not to think about the money, rather to think about what will make you happy and what you have the passion for in the work you will be doing. That was when I knew I needed to stay with the metals program.
5| How do you work, and where?
My studio is in my garage in Topeka, KS.
6| What are the inspirations for your designs? It looks like you have a lot of organic shapes.
Yes, I love organic. My inspiration is nature. I love how you can never find the same rock, leaf, bark, etc… everything is different and unique. When we go fishing, hiking, or geocaching I love to look and admire nature and it’s surroundings.
7| Tell us about your process. How do you manipulate the metal into jewelry?
I purchase my materials from various wholesale companies. I love RIO and Stuller. They are great to work with! I buy my materials in sheets and wire forms. When I am creating different pieces I use a variety of tools such as hammers, a jeweler’s saw, files, sandpaper, pliers, anvil, and acetylene torch to cut, bend, and forge my ideas. I solder each piece with an acetylene torch or if I’m doing a cold connection I use wire for jumping or silver tube for rivets. It’s a long process for most of my more complicated pieces, each piece takes a lot of tools and steps to make it work!
8| How do you transfer images onto metal, like the one you used for the Bison Necklace?
The Bison is my newest addition to my etching series. I use my computer photo app to enhance my images. I use a printer to print on PNP (press n’ peel) paper. It’s expensive and a one time though the printer sort of deal! Once it’s printed I cut it down to the size of the silver sheet I’m using and clean up the silver sheet really well. Then I use a grill (the kind you would toss some pancakes on) and an iron. I place the silver metal on the grill to heat it up for about 10-15 seconds, then place the PNP with the image onto it. Place the iron (cotton setting no steam) on top with a good amount of pressure for about 25-30 seconds. Lift it up and if I start to see dark blue (my image) then it’s working, if not, I put the iron back on with a little more pressure. Once I start to see the image through the back side of the PNP, I use a burnisher to do one last rub of the image on the silver. Then I take it off with the tweezers and put it right into a cup of water. Then I peel off the PNP and the image will appear. Depending on the level of detail, sometimes the image won’t completely take. If I don’t like it or it messed up, I just sand it off and clean it up and start over.
Once the image is to my liking on the silver, I use an etching solution in a glass bowl and watch it etch for about 1-3 minutes depending on how strong the etching solution is and how deep I want it. Then I clean it up and put a black mix or liver of sulfur on it and clean it up for the contrast of the image.
9| How often do you add a new design to your line?
Great question… I love to try new things. Sometimes this is bad because I get to work on a new line, then I get another idea and really want to try something new. It’s great because I love to experiment and try new things, but then it’s also a bad habit because I don’t want to overwhelm my customers, but I do want to give them a wide range of unique pieces. This year is a big one because I have added 3 new lines of work. A few of my series are coming back because they have been requested by shops, so it’s nice to re-make a few that I haven’t done in awhile.
10| If you could swap lives with another artist, who would that person be?
If swapping lives with another metalsmith, I would pick Debra Adelson. I met her my senior year at KU at the Kansas City Plaza Art Fair. She was so sweet in talking with us for a class project. Her advice to me was, “Keep doing art. If you have to work at a coffee shop then do it but you must keep drawing or doing something. Because once you stop it’s very hard to get back into it.” Besides our conversation, she has amazing art. She was using acrylic in her work and she just took the leap this year and sort of rebranded her style of work and it’s amazing. You can still tell it’s a Debra Adelson piece but she has really taken it a step further. It’s not easy to take the leap and re-do your style of work but sometimes you need to.
If swapping lives with an artist who is not a metalsmith, I would pick Wassily Kandinsky. I have admired his work for years. As for a living artist, I would pick Paul Flinders. I love the style of painting he does. He was a Kansas artist but moved to NY. I have the most adorable bird he painted and so many expressions run through my head when looking at it.
11| What makes a handmade object valuable?
It’s valuable because it’s not factory made. Your hands were all over that piece of work. I also believe seeing an artist’s/crafter’s flaws are cool too. I’m not perfect but I feel the more I work the better I get in my art. I like to see a stitch not straight, a print off center or smudged, and even a piece of jewelry with file marks not all the way sanded. Those marks let others know it is a one of a kind piece and that these are the markings of an artist/crafter.
12| Using that definition, what’s the most valuable object you own?
The most valuable object I own are my kids. They are more than my business/art… anything I own.
13| Tell us one true thing about yourself that people don’t believe when you tell them.
This is a tough question, but many don’t believe that my husband and I met when we played rugby. I played for KU and he played for Topeka. I might be short and not as fast as I was before having kids but I enjoyed it.
14| Give us three more non-crafting-related details about you or your life.
- I love to run! I will be turning 30 in December this year and my goal is to run my first half marathon. I have run 5k & 10Ks, it’s time for the next step up.
- I enjoy geocaching and I have been doing it since 2005. It’s aways fun to take my oldest out and find “treasure.”
- I enjoy a good horror film. I have seen some great ones and even “B” rated movies that are not too shabby. If you have any good ones, I’m all about watching!
If you’ve gotta get a Tobias Designs piece for yourself, come on over to Homespun and we’ll hook you up! You can also browse her products and learn more about her company on her website, Facebook Page, or Instagram.