SparkleSwap is pleased to introduce our featured Artist of the Month for May, 2021: Laura Bracken
Laura Bracken was an Air Force brat and thinks maybe moving around every three years as a kid gave her an inability to sit still and focus (most likely not true, but it’s fun to blame something!)
She is now settled in a tiny, rural town in northern California. And she has sowed enough wild oats in her youth that she’s perfectly happy not going anywhere now… ever. 😊
I stumbled upon Laura on Facebook earlier this year and was quickly impressed with her beautiful creations as well as her fabulous crackle enamel tutorials and recipe books. (Trust me, if you decide to try them, you will become addicted; they are SO much fun and a little bit magical.)
Thank you, Laura, for sharing yourself so generously with our SparkleSwap community!
SparkleSwap: Please describe your artistic style and medium?
Laura: My artistic style is rather all over the place because I want to do so many things that my hands can’t keep up with my thoughts. I’m actually more of an experimentalist than a jewelry artist or technician. Experimenting is where I derive the most fun.
That being said, I know that doing one thing over and over and over is the best way to learn and improve. So I try to balance my studio time between working on technical skills at times and playing the “what if” game and experimenting like crazy at other times.
Blue Nautilus Cloisonne
SparkleSwap: How did you get started in your craft?
Laura: I was a single mom to two kids who played ice hockey, so when I wasn’t at my day job I was at an ice rink. In order to supplement my income, I turned to something that was enjoyable while still being profitable. I started making beaded jewelry.
That led to expanding a bit with Viking knit, chain maille, wire wrapping, and anything else I could get away with working on at an ice rink.
When I retired from my day job and both my kids moved, I started learning metalsmithing skills… which recently led me to cloisonné (started that last January).
SparkleSwap: From where do you draw your inspiration?
Laura: There are definitely certain subjects and styles that grab me. Of course, what I see in my mind’s eye as “my style” and what is created by my hands… well, I’m still trying to get those things to be a little closer in reality.
SparkleSwap: What is your favorite tool right now?
Laura: The new tool I use the most these days is the JoolTool. I have a couple Flexshafts and obviously use those on a daily basis, but I also love the things the JoolTool can do that are different. And I’ve only been using it for about a year so it’s still like playing with a “new toy” whereas I’ve been using my flexshafts for decades so they aren’t as exciting. Ha!
SparkleSwap: Who doesn’t love a new toy!?! We hear the enamel attachments are amazing!
SparkleSwap: What is one of your biggest challenges as an artist and how do you overcome this?
Laura: Time. Not enough hours in the day. But I’m not sure that has a remedy so instead I’ll say that lack of confidence is something I see in a lot of artists and it’s something I struggle with too.
You’re constantly being “judged” on your artistic creations, and it seems natural to equate “sales or lack of sales” with “worth”. But ew! No, you can’t do that. It’s important to learn to be unapologetic about your creations. You don’t need to defend them or even explain them. Just create… and accept that individual humans have individual tastes.
If your work isn’t selling and you need to make money to pay the bills, continue to make what you enjoy making but maybe also consider adding a production line… something that will pay the bills and afford you the opportunity to work on more artistic projects.
SparkleSwap: What are some of your go-to places to learn new techniques?
Laura: I’m learning cloisonné from Merry-Lee Rae, Sandra McEwen, and Ricky Frank (if I can find the time to go through any of the online workshops I’ve purchased). I think Lucy Walker is an amazing teacher for metalsmith. There’s also a local place (https://metalartsacademy.com/) with phenomenal metal instruction.
SparkleSwap: There are so many great instructors and classes available. One, ahem, upside of COVID has been that many instructors have made their courses available virtually, so you can learn at your own pace from the comfort of your home. We just need a few more hours in the day – there is so much to see and learn!
SparkleSwap: Do you have any tips or recommendations for new and aspiring artists?
Laura: Be grateful you are learning in a time of so many virtual resources. While the importance of in-person help can’t be underestimated, there’s so much self-learning that can be done online these days. Take classes and workshops and talk to as many people as you can… in person, online, in social media, etc.
Also, don’t accept that there’s ONE WAY to do anything. I learned how to solder from a dozen different sources and they all had differences (some major, some minor). So learn from as many sources as you can and then develop YOUR technique by deciding what works for you and what doesn’t. Listen to your intuition and be willing to change. I am constantly changing how I do things.
SparkleSwap: What are you working on these days?
Laura: Cloisonné. I wish I’d tried this when I had younger eyes and hands, but I remind myself not to compare. The point is to enjoy what I’m doing.
SparkleSwap: How can we contact you if we are interested in purchasing your products or would like additional information?
Laura: My website is www.BrackenDesigns.com. I have tutorials there on a few metalsmithing projects as well as a series of tutorials for my crackle enamel techniques and recipes. I take a very hand-holding approach to teaching and really enjoy talking with students. I’m grateful for every connection.
Because my work is in three local art galleries, I really don’t have any jewelry available online, but I hope to remedy that later this year.
SparkleSwap: I highly recommend checking out Laura’s fabulous tutorials. I’ve been playing with the Crackle Enamel tutorials for a couple of months. Laura takes the guesswork out of combining colors and heating temperatures; she also provides excellent written and video instructions for this fun and exciting technique. (Warning: it’s extremely addictive!) She has also started a Facebook page for her students, which is a great place to come for support and inspiration. Here is one of my favorites so far: