Featured Member

Each month a new Featured Member is chosen from the completed member profiles on our website. Their interview and work is highlighted on our blog and social media. Visit our archive of past Featured Members.

December 2018

 

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Sherry Cordova

Website: sherrycordova.com
Instagram: SherryCordovaJewelry

Tell us a little about yourself.

I love challenging myself, creating art and viewing nature. As a child I was always making something with my hands, but that stopped when I was too busy putting myself through university for a B.S. in Applied Mathematics and an M.S. in Electrical Engineering. Years later I felt the need to create art again to supplement the day to day creative problem solving of R&D work here in Silicon Valley. I began taking adult education classes in different mediums. In a beginning jewelry class at a now defunct local supply store, I knew metal was the medium I’d been subconsciously looking for all my life. As a bonus, many of my friends are people I’ve met through the metal arts. My friends share my love of creating wearable art, of problem solving, collecting hand tools, and playing with fire.  

What is your favorite tool and why?

The flex shaft because of the wide variety of tasks it can be used for depending on the hand piece, bits used and how it’s held: texturing, sanding, polishing, drilling, cutting, stone setting, making and modifying other tools, and more. I mounted a flex shaft sideways on my bench and use it as a mini grinder for stainless steel parts. When I need to round the end of an ear wire, I swap out the grinding stone for a cup bur.

Which materials do you create with most and what is your attraction to using them?

I create most often with low tarnish recycled sterling silver sheet and titanium sheet metal ‘scrap’ from the motorsports industry. I gravitate toward sheet metal because it’s so versatile. I can cut and form silver sheet into a 3D freeform bracelet that looks like kelp, or have sheet metal laser cut for the sea creatures I’m creating.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

My art is an expression of gratitude to the ocean and my way of giving it a voice. I love the sea and understand the desire for mementos and jewelry which evoke vivid memories of beautiful scenes and experiences. I have witnessed the fragility of marine ecosystems while SCUBA diving including spots that are decimated by coral and fish collecting, coral bleaching, overfishing and the effects of industrialization. On the bright side, I’ve also been to places that have been impacted very little by humankind. The difference is stunning. My designs evoke the marvels of marine life and my underwater memories while leaving sea creatures and the seaside untouched.

How long have you been working in metals and what brought you into this field?

I began working in metals in the late 90’s when I wished for contemporary bespoke jewelry that spoke to me. Decades earlier, my grandparents had brought me a filigree necklace from Cordoba, Spain where part of my family had come from centuries ago. I wanted to make some earrings that complemented the necklace, so I found and began taking classes at a local shop to learn soldering, stone setting, casting and lapidary. I was thrilled when I ran across a notice for a new workshop at the shop by Yemenite filigree master Yehuda Tassa. I took many of his workshops and learned a lot from Yehuda who is still a dear friend. During that time, I realized all my pieces were either based on sea creatures or ended up looking like them even when I started out to make something totally different.

What piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out in metals?

Pushing each new learned technique and tool to the limits will be helpful when an idea for a new piece comes into your head and you are thinking through the ways you could create the piece.  

What has been the biggest challenge for you as a metal artist and have you overcome it, or how are you working to overcome it?

My choice of materials and processes can either create a light environmental impact or a very harsh impact. Keeping this in mind causes me to spend more time on the upfront planning of pieces.  

For years I wanted to make a series based on Ernst Haeckel’s drawings of the tiny microscopic sea creatures called Radiolarians. I knew I wanted to avoid spending hours and hours sawing and drilling tiny features for every design because an active life has taken its toll and I need to minimize repetitive motion.

The first Radiolarian piece I made was via chemical breakthrough etch techniques in Carol Webb’s workshop. I wanted to avoid the traditional etching chemicals, so I researched how I could breakthrough etch tiny and large features in silver at the same time in a more environmentally friendly way. I built an electrolytic etching system to use a distilled water and cupric nitrate solution. The solution is endlessly renewable if I filter out the floating silver particles and only use it with certain metals. Effective, and low impact, yet still time intensive due to all the masking and post etch cleanup of the metal, so I began researching how I could use modern industrial techniques to accomplish the same results.

My husband’s contacts at a local laser machine vendor and sheet metal shops helped me to begin working with a local sheet metal shop and the laser tool manufacturer to determine if it was possible to laser cut tiny features in 30 gauge sheet silver. I lucked out because the owner of one sheet metal shop is a metal artist who was interested in cutting precious metals with a laser. I figured out how digitize my hand drawn designs, learned how to use my husband’s CAD software, and learned how to correctly format CAD files for the sheet metal shop and the laser tool maker’s research facility. Most industrial tools are built for low conductive and low reflective metals and cutting thin silver is a tricky ask. They determined it was possible using a certain type of laser tool. The shop I’d been working with didn’t have that tool, and my research unearthed that cutting silver on the tool they had was very risky to the health of their very expensive laser tool, so we stopped.  Finding a metal shop that had the right kind of laser cutting tool and was willing to take relatively small orders was the final step.

The whole process took much longer than a year. Happily, I can now spend my time drawing and tweaking designs, format the files for the laser cutter, and email the files to the laser shop. I drop-ship silver and titanium to the same shop, and I receive the cut pieces which are ready for me to texture, shape and finish. The final process is easier on my body and easier on the environment than the methods I first considered.

Favorite resource / vendor or website you’d like to share?

Website: Local Bay Area source for cupric nitrate labproinc.com

Vendor(s): Local independent artists in other media have offcuts that can add color, texture, and dimension