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.

January 2019

 

  • Chrystal Sunshine
  •  
  • Chrystal Sunshine

Chrystal Sunshine

Website: chrystalsunshinejewelry.com
Instagram: chrystalsunshinejewelry

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m drawn to the often unseen intersections of things, people and places and to the poetics that unfold when we use materials like metal to explore those meeting points. I live in the North Bay with my six year old son, where I make and sell my jewelry locally and at juried fine art shows. I teach metalsmithing classes at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and also just launched an exciting new business- SHIFT Book Box, a subscription box, featuring children’s picture books and accompanying discussion guides based on a monthly theme relating to social justice and representative diversity for ages 3-8. You can find more about that project here: www.shiftbookbox.com. Otherwise, I can be found writing, playing the ukulele, getting lost in the woods, and finding creative ways to parent my magical, however wild child.

What is your favorite tool and why?

A close competition between: the snap-on Moore’s sanding discs for the flex shaft, because there really isn’t a better cleanup tool that can evenly and gently reshape specific areas and quickly remove scratches, solder and other inconsistencies– with these tasks I’m certain they save me thousands of hours. And, my chasing, repoussé tools and pitch pot, because I love being able to specifically and directly shape any piece of metal using this method- it reminds me of how malleable metal really is and the whole process makes me feel connected the ancient roots of metalsmithing and also somewhat like a wizard.

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

I really love the look of mixed metals, and also knowing the specific nature and properties of each material. I use gold, silver, bronze, copper and brass, sometimes separately, but often together. Each metal has its own tensile strength, annealing and melting temperature, visual tone and feeling. I also use a variety of high quality gemstones- from sparkling faceted to rough and raw- I love using a combination of materials to evoke specific feelings or to conceptually and visually exemplify particular environments.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

All around me. Sometimes I begin with a stone, and if I meditate on it- it will eventually reveal a relationship to me that I feel compelled to narrate using the conceptual and literal support of metal. I am drawn to repetitive processes and certain imagery as well- so I tend to work in series. I’ve made wearable pieces that explored the 5 elements, the experience of breath, a series on landscapes, butterfly wings and currently on my bench you’ll find a series relating to rural landscapes.

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

I began studying metal art at the Academy of Art University in 2000, and honestly loathed the craft and wasn’t very good at it either. The process itself is my personal contradiction. I like to get messy, run amok and be spontaneous. Jewelry making requires precision, focus and planning. I’m also quite stubborn and for whatever reason sought to hone these skills, as an act of discipline. Eventually, I fell in love with the structure of metal- I love how it it moves from annealed state to hardened state and that its structure can be literally transformed through process. I finished my degree in Sculpture with an emphasis on metals and installation art and continued to work in the field after graduation- picking up additional skills here and there working as a production metalsmith and assistant to a caster and eventually launched my own business- Chrystal Sunshine Jewelry.

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

 Learning this craft can be challenging and emotional for lots of people. This might sound hokey- but in the beginning- I always found that whatever I was dealing with emotionally, became mirrored in the problems that arose in my work. I still remember these really intense moments when I was first learning that seem wildly silly now- like one time when I got so frustrated I broke down in tears because I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to make a perfect square- and that was the first step in my process of making a ball clasp. It didn’t occur to my instructors to teach me how to draw a perfect square. And it seemed insurmountable at the time for me to figure it out. Now I can see- simply, the right tool for the job and the proper technique for accomplishing your goals are very likely already out there. So don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you’re learning- you’re learning. That’s a vulnerable place to be and that’s OK. Do the research, talk to other jewelers, scour YouTube, take classes, don’t hesitate to invent your own tools and methods if the ones that serve your purpose aren’t already out there are or are things you can’t afford and lastly- it will all come in time.

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 biggest struggle with making jewelry has been to find meaning in the work. For a long time- I thought that making jewelry was an act of egoism- and that without a deep, conceptual meaning and usable function (other than wearing the piece), jewelry didn’t serve a high enough purpose in the world to dedicate ones time to it fully. Pulled by the political climate and world issues, I really struggled with this for a long time.

One day, my switches all flipped, when I began thinking about how people have long used jewelry, clothing and body paint/makeup to assert their own identities. I began thinking of a book I read in my 20’s called, “Fresh Lipstick” that pointed out how whenever there is an oppressor and a group that is oppressed- one of the first things that will happen is that the oppressor will remove the clothing and jewelry of the oppressed group, shave their heads or confiscate combs, and disable any ability for self expression. I think this is a remarkable thing to think about- it reminded me of how important these wearable articles are for so many people- they help us externally identify who we are. The other thing that came into my consciousness was a woman who recalled to me– in the case of an emergency when a person knows they will possibly or likely never be able to return to their home again, what do they take with them? Important paperwork. And jewelry. I began to see the power of fine jewelry for it’s position in the lineage of families and associations with identity. Those realizations really reframed my understanding of what jewelers do- we’re creating things that people connect to in ways which we might not ever totally understand and I think that’s really cool.

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

I like to buy recycled gold from Hoover and Strong, and gemstones direct from my favorite dealers!