Let’s Talk SHOP: Jan McCune

Abby Leon, Paradigm Gallery Director

Something that is truly inspiring is an artist’s ability to evolve and their drive for continued discovery. Jan McCune checks both those boxes! Previously a painter and printmaker, she recently developed a passion for a very different medium: jewelry metalsmithing. And while her prior training influences her jewelry, she has also worked hard to “polish” her skills and learn new techniques. Her wearable art never fails to impress, especially when you know what went into making each piece! From cutting and polishing her own stones to adding every last detail, today’s post will give you an in-depth look into Jan’s journey and her creative process.

Portrait of the artist. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hi, I’m Jan McCune of Sun Valley Studio in Muncie, shown here in my studio with my latest pendants, which are close to completion. My jewelry career began 13 years ago when I retired from teaching art at Marion High School and converted our fourth bedroom into a metalworking studio. Since I was trained as a painter and printmaker rather than a metalsmith, I took week-long workshops, read books, and experimented on my own to learn the traditional techniques and processes involved in jewelry making. I applied for and received three project grants from the Indiana Arts Commission to teach myself bracelet making, silver casting, and chase repousse. In 2012, I was juried into Indiana Artisan in recognition of my work.

My one-of-a-kind pendants are known for their strong sense of design and superior craftsmanship. I learned to etch as a printmaker and use that technique to create patterned brass and copper, which adds texture and dimension to my work. Painting taught me a love of color, which is expressed in my combinations of stone and metal. My design process is jazz-like: right-brained and organic. Rather than start with sketches, I lay out my stash of metals and stones and start playing around until I find combinations that excite me. Technically, my design work for my new pendants began months earlier when I cut, shaped, sanded, and polished the stones into flat-backed cabochons on my lapidary machine, and etched and textured metals. The images show a selection of cabochons and metals: my raw materials and inspiration!

MAKING PENDANTS: When I first started making jewelry, I would make one pendant at a time from start to finish. Over time, I realized that I go through a distinct repertoire of processes for any pendant and that it is more efficient to make multiple pieces at the same time. I’d like to take you through the steps I use to create an etched brass pendant with three stones and the five other pendants I made at the same time.
DESIGN: CHOOSE, SAW, AND FILE (2 studio days): This step requires the most thinking and experimenting. For each pendant, I chose the textured metal and stone/s that complemented one another and then decided on a shape to bring it all together. I loved the etched brass African textile pattern and chose a red jasper, a tigers eye with streaks of red and gold, and a reddish agate that contrasted with the brass. The chevron shape played off the etched design. I then cut out the brass shape with a jeweler’s saw and filed the edges with a variety of files, sand paper, and Dremel attachments. The image on the bottom right shows the basic designs for all six pendants.

BEZEL AND BEZEL PLATE (1 studio day): Each stone required a silver band, called a bezel, which I cut to size, soldered, and sanded till smooth. I then soldered the bezel to a silver backing which I also sawed, filed, and sanded until the soldering seam was invisible from the outside.

ASSEMBLING THE COMPONENTS (2 studio days): My design process is very fluid, and I make decisions as I go along before permanently soldering the pieces together. Decisions such as: How will the pendant hang and what type of bail works best with the shapes? Should I embellish the design with rivets? For the brass pendant, I changed to a smaller red stone at the top and backed it with a circle of etched copper. I also changed the shape of the bail to make it consistent with the chevron shape of the pendant. The image below shows three of the six pendants completely soldered and ready for polishing in the tumbler. On the first, I added a square silver tube as a bail and riveted brass tacks to emphasize the shape of the copper. Rather than a bail, I drilled holes at the top of the second pendant where I will attach a chain. For the third piece, I designed a bail from the same etched metal as the body of the pendant. As usual, the assembly process came with its challenges of technical issues which required problem solving and time.

MACHINE POLISHING: I polished all the finished pieces in a Lortone jewelry tumbler for about 20-30 minutes, which cleaned and shined the pendants. All are now ready for their stones!

FINISHING STEPS: SETTING CABACHONS (1/2 day for all finishing steps): For this task, I used a flat edged bezel pusher, a pointed burnisher, and LocTite Super Glue. I applied a drizzle of glue, pushed the stone in by hand, and used a bezel pusher to secure the bezel neatly to the cabochon. I then used a burnisher to further smooth the bezel and erase any small scratches on the silver.

FINISHING STEPS: COLORING AND/OR SPRAYING THE METAL WITH SPRAY LACQUER: I painted the copper pendant on the left with liver of sulphur which darkened the metal to accentuate its texture and create more contrast with the stones. The rest I left their natural metal color. I then taped all the areas that I did not want to cover with lacquer and sprayed both the front and back. The lacquer keeps the metal from darkening over time. On the copper cutwork pendant, I used Renaissance wax instead to protect the metal because it produced a warm, smooth sheen that I couldn’t get from the lacquer. Finally, I removed the tape and added chains.

Below are the finished pieces which are all in the Paradigm Gallery:

Top left to right: Etched copper, sterling tubing, with polka dot jasper and banded jasper on antiqued copper chain- $175, Etched copper with two jaspers on bright copper chain – $175, Etched brass, brass tubing with red jasper, tigers eye and red agate on antiqued brass chain – $185, Copper cutwork with New Zealand jade, copper chain – $110, Purple rainbow agate and amethyst geode on thick sterling chain – $275, Textured silver, silver tubing, etched copper, brass rivets with lapis on sterling chain – $200

Jan also creates a variety of earrings and bracelets. To see the featured pendants, or more of Jan McCune’s jewelry, come visit us at the Paradigm Gallery: Tuesday-Saturday 10am-6pm; Thursday 10am-8pm; Sunday 12pm-5pm.

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