About a year and half ago, I began the process to design and create a jewelry piece and collection that represents the ancient chinese practice of Qigong. If you are not familiar with Qigong and I wasn’t when I started, it is a physical practice of breathe work and movement that focuses and strengthens the body’s vital energy. Qi, pronounced chi, means “life force” and “gong” means “to cultivate”: Qigong is designed to gently cultivate the body’s vital energy.
My partner on this project and I wanted to create a piece that would represent the energy of Qigong and that would be cherished as much as the Ohm sign is to the practitioner of yoga. The process started with research into the practice, its history and how the phrase qigong is written in chinese.
As our research continued, it was decided that I would design two pieces, one would be the actual chinese characters, authentic in their strokes and the other, a symbolic cutout. The style would be reflective of Asian brush stroke calligraphy and the best medium for experimentation would be fine silver metal clay.
Before I could start working with the silver clay, I wanted to practice writing the characters. I thought it important to the integrity of the piece to follow the correct layering of the pen strokes and the corresponding thicks and thins. Once I could render it backwards and forwards (this came in quite handy) I carved the Qigong characters in baked polymer clay with a linoleum block print chisel. Now comes the “handy part” at this point I realized that I needed to carve the mirror image of the characters in order to use this as the negative for my positive in fine silver clay.
The cutout required several tries with different tools to cut, carve, stamp and manipulate the clay. The result was somewhat successful but very time consuming and it wasn’t as refined as I had envisioned it. So I decided to “draw” from my lifetime career as a graphic designer and treat it first as a two dimensional symbol and work out all the curves and negative spaces on paper. Once I was satisfied with my sketch, I scanned it in and used Adobe Illustrator to finish the symbol. Because I knew I couldn’t carve out the fine curves and points I enlisted the help and expertise of a wonderful jeweler team to help create a mold using the lost wax casting method.
There was a lot of sanding and polishing at this point to finish them but I knew that I had captured the essence of Qigong in each piece. The next step, one of my favorite aspects of a design, was to select semiprecious stones for each necklace whose energetic properties reflect the mood each necklace was to convey. We had decided early on to individually knot the stones on silk for its shimmer and elegance but also for strength and durability. If the necklace were to snap and break each stone is flanked by silk knots and will not spill to the floor, never to be found. For the pendants alone, I chose greek black leather to contrast the silver and to offer a more casual look.
I am thrilled to say that the first phase of the collection is complete and the process was a successful journey. Practicing qigong to feel the intensity of the body’s energy was essential to the integrity of the piece: as was mastering the art forms of the chinese characters for their grace and beauty. I’m ready to begin the next phase of the collection and the drawings in my sketchbook are impatient to be realized.