Design of the Times: So Young Park Studio & M. Spalten

JCK Tucson is almost here! In addition to gems of the mineral kind, it offers discovery and connection with gems of a different kind: the artists and other people of the industry. It’s powerful when we get together IRL (in real life) to explore new aesthetics, find new talent, and reconnect with old friends. There is a real community at JCK Tucson waiting to be discovered!

So Young Park Studio

I have been an admirer of So Young Park’s jewelry work for a long time. She has a way of challenging your perception of what fine jewelry looks like. Her jewelry is truly sculpture, small textural landscapes of unexpected color and finishes. It’s intriguing enough when you see the intricate forms and surfaces, but then you realize it moves. Her jewelry expresses the beauty of stages of life, and you can see inspiration from the sea and plant life in her work. This is jewelry you truly have to see and feel to believe.

How has your art, started in an academic setting, translated to a studio business? Has that transition been challenging?
I studied art and metalsmithing in an academic setting for nearly nine years, earning a BFA and two MFAs. I learned many things about art theory and techniques, and developed a variety of skills. In the academic setting, there was always the constant feedback from peers and critiques of my work, which kept me in touch with how others perceived my art. I’ve always known from a young age I wanted to be an artist; but experiences, particularly growing up in South Korea, led me to believe there was no way I could be an artist full time and survive. Hence, I would need to compensate and teach art in academia part time and do my work part time.

However, after coming to the U.S. to study, I realized that being a full-time artist was a possibility. After finishing my formal education at RIT [Rochester Institute of Technology], I started looking for a path to becoming a full-time artist. I still was not sure about the possibility of this, so I started teaching as an adjunct professor in metalsmithing at RIT and Syracuse University to build up teaching experience. At the same time, I worked part time at Barbara Heinrich Studio to gain experience in studio artwork, learning from Heinrich, a very accomplished artist, what it takes to run an art studio. Mind you, I was also trying to do my own work when time allowed.

For a period of three years I worked like this, part time at the universities, as a bench jeweler, and doing my own work. During this time I began to realize that if I became a full-time professor of art, I would be limiting myself on how much time I could devote to my work. In addition, I don’t think I would have had the drive to continue to develop myself as aggressively, both technically and artistically. Working at Barbara’s, I learned the skills to turn my work into a successful business and be an independent artist, something I’m extremely thankful for. This gave me the confidence to finally make the decision to walk away from teaching in academia and go off on my own to live my dream and support myself as an artist. If I had jumped right in, it would have been much more difficult to leave academia and do my own work. However, the transition to being my own studio artist was not difficult as I had a plan to get to this position, and help from many wonderful people along the way.

Is everything you make one-of-a-kind, or do you have some production pieces?
Most of my big pieces are one-of-a-kind, but some of the smaller works are limited-edition series.

When I first talked to you several years ago, you had a newborn. How does being a mom inform your jewelry and approach to work now?
Now I have two children—my first son is 4 years old and my daughter is a year old. Time goes too fast with children! I should work much more aggressively during the day while they spend time at day care. My mornings and evening are now devoted to them and not completely to my artwork and hobbies.

However, being a mom is amazing and I experience the world differently. The change in my working schedule is a minor thing. Being a mom has opened my heart wider, and my point of view about life has changed a lot—in a good way. It makes me want to be a better person and gives me more tolerance in relationships with people. This absolutely affects my art and jewelry. After having children, I have more inspiration and new ideas about my jewelry and work.

What would you say about balancing art and business to designers just starting their journey?
Balancing art and business is a challenge, and people need to figure out the correct level for themselves. Many people lean either way to the art side or way to the business side. I would like to say follow your heart. If you really want to focus on art and fabrication, find support to help with the business side of the studio. Many times I questioned myself: Do I need to create more artistic jewelry or make production jewelry to survive and grow my business?

I believe if you create your own style, be sure it’s distinguishable from others’. Even if it is very artistic in nature, collectors will find you at some point. I think the uniqueness of one’s own style of art will bring success in the way of business. It may take time, so one needs to have patience. In my case, I create artistic jewelry or conceptual work first, then branch out the idea or concept to create production jewelry as I learn what people like or don’t like through galleries and shows I attend.

After a number of years working as a metalsmith in academia and now the design world, how would you say your design aesthetic has evolved?
These days I always have function in the back of my mind. While I still make work that is purely artistic, it’s much easier to sell work that is functional—that is, that people can wear. Typically, I may start making a conceptual work and refine it until the blend of art and function is perfect for that piece or style. So the biggest change is always keeping that element of function in consideration for my new work.

What material, concept, or design idea gets you excited right now?
Right now, using more colors in my work is most exciting these days. For years, I focused heavily on fabrication and form. Now I try to use more stones, enamels, or nonmetal materials to put more colors on my work. I think my kids help inspire this.

Your colors are very exciting! What kind of gallery or retailer is a good fit for your jewelry?
In general, galleries and businesses that have customers that collect one-of-a-kind work or limited-edition handmade jewelry are a good fit with my work. I have good success working with these people and businesses. Galleries that both appreciate and can discuss the art and technical side of my work fit very well, and we are very successful together.

What are you most looking forward to about JCK Tucson?
I’m looking forward to meeting new galleries and retail customers, along with the possibility of expanding my business as a jewelry artist. I hope to meet and have wonderful discussions with other artists and jewelry-makers as well.

M. Spalten

Melissa Spalten, the designer behind M. Spalten fine jewelry, found her passion for the arts at an early age. Sculpture, painting, and making beaded jewelry were everyday activities throughout her childhood. Working with an array of precious and semiprecious gemstones, Melissa uses sterling silver and 14K and 18K gold to create pieces that are elegant and wearable. She is clearly inspired by the beauty of the individual gemstones she carefully selects by hand and then creates around. I’m looking forward to seeing her collection in Tucson.

You feature a lot of gemstones in your work. How important are the gemstones in determining your ultimate design?
The gemstones are the most important part to me! I love to find unique gemstones and design pieces around them or by combining them. My favorite shapes to work with are tumbled, free-form stones and irregularly shaped stones. Any phenomenal stone is sure to get my attention and inspire design.

Since Tucson is all about gems, will you be looking for anything special?
Definitely! The Tucson shows are my favorite for buying unusual gems and gem materials. This year I am on the hunt for boulder opals, Mexican fire opals, bicolor tourmaline, ametrine, spinel, and garnets in shades of green, purple, pink, and orange.

What does your design process look like?
Lots of sketching! Occasionally I like to design with no specific stone in mind, but for the most part my designs begin with the gemstones. My drawing skills are much better than my computer skills, so everything is sketched by hand. I’ll photograph the gemstones, then print out several copies of each. I then sketch over the photos, thinking of what would best accentuate the stone’s shape, colors, and mood of the collection. Sometimes the first design is it; however, most of the time each gemstone will have several designs and I’ll eventually choose a favorite.

If you have any downtime in Tucson, what would you like to do?
I hope to find time to do some crystal shopping for my friends and my house, go hiking, and just enjoy the beautiful scenery.

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