Take one look at John Sartin’s résumé and it’s clear that he is a person who thrives on challenges. (The severely abridged version, prior to landing on metalsmith/jewelry artist: Navy jet mechanic, locksmith, biologist, potter.) The self-described “gypsy of the show circuits” has spent the last 15 years teaching himself metals from the inside-out. His recently released The Complete Photo Guide to Making Metal Jewelry is exhaustive, with more than 700 photos illustrating the beguiling process of turning metal into visual music.
Yet Sartin’s most daunting feat may have more to do with what’s in his mind than what’s on his bench. After all this time, Sartin still doesn’t have a ready definition of his personal style. It’s “something that I have been asked a multitude of times and have struggled to answer,” he confesses to Rio’s Blog. “The simplest way to describe it is ‘wearable sculpture that is inspired by nature and crafted by hand.'”
Of course, there’s more to Sartin’s necklaces, pendants, and cuffs than that. His hallmark is a push-pull of polar elements. Raw and refined, exposed and concealed, frozen and molten, East and West. It’s this play of balance and tension that makes Sartin’s pieces unmistakably his—and his adroit use of texture and color tells much of that story.
Laura Marrich: Looking at your pieces, I keep thinking, “How did he DO that?” Can you walk me through your process?
John Sartin: My pieces start on paper as a rough sketch. Some find their way directly into a finished piece and others will be made as a test model in an inexpensive metal (copper or brass) before they are committed to precious metals. Each piece is made from multiple pieces, which are each formed and finished before assembly. I experiment all the time, learning new techniques or a better way of preforming the techniques I have used in the past.
LM: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
JS: My pieces are influenced by the natural world. For example, the Erosion Series are physically influenced by erosion and volcanic activity. Conceptually they are a metaphor that represents a new beginning.
LM: Do you see any aspects of your aesthetic or technical capabilities that strike you as unique from others in your field, because of the background you have?
JS: As far as technical capabilities, the only thing would be that I find the act of hand-forming metal less challenging than some might. Aesthetically, I would say my work is a direct reflection of my background. If you look at my pieces, they are cohesive; but the multitude of techniques I use speaks to the jack-of-all-trades life that I have lived.
LM: Can you talk about your shop setup? What are your go-to tools and pieces of equipment?
JS: I just recently finished a renovation of my studio including building a proper jeweler’s bench. The studio has dedicated areas for specific processes like a station for kiln and torch work, and a forming area. Really, my go-to tools are the ones that I started with, the basics: torch, saw, hammers, files, flex shaft.
LM: What are your favorite materials and techniques to work with?
JS: This is a question that I don’t have a clear-cut answer for. My favorite materials are those that, when finished, present a contrast, like mokume gane, patinated copper or oxidized silver and high-karat gold. As far as techniques, I have yet to find one that I do not like.
LM: Are there any materials or techniques that you find especially daunting or challenging to work with–things you’re still working on mastering?
JS: Every day I work in the studio, I’m working on mastering my medium and craftsmanship—that is the challenge that drives me. The day that I feel I have completely mastered something, and there is no longer anything to learn from it, will be the day I put down my tools.