Kenji Von Achen: Muse Personality

Date started working in metal clay:
I originally heard about metal clay by accident in 2006 while I was surfing on some American art websites. Having a background with traditional silversmithing techniques, this new material really intrigued me. I ordered my first packets from a website in the States to try it out. Metal clay wasn’t yet available here in France, and there were no publications either on the material. All I had to go by were the instructions that came with the packet, which wasn’t much. I tried to master it on my own, but the results were less than impressive. I finally decided to take a class in 2008. Once I learned the do’s and don’ts, I was on my own.
Certified: (what clay, year and with whom)
Certified Art Clay Senior Instructor in 2010 with Catherine Taut.
Accomplished at what media in addition to metal clay:
In 2002, I decided to take advantage of the many art classes that were available here in Paris and I started working with enamels on metal. I had always been attracted by the enamel works of arts that I had seen in the Parisian museums and artist studios. I continued with the classes for 9 years, enameling mostly on copper sheet. I had a desire to work more with enamels on silver, and metal clay gave me this possibility. I now incorporate my enameling skills with silver and copper metal clays.
Website and short bio:

I first started working in the 80’s as a fashion consultant for a men’s ready-to-wear design company while living in Los Angeles. This was really my first exposure to design and the arts, and I modestly feel that I was good at what I did. This was sort of my awakening to visual arts. After several years of working in the fashion industry, I started working as an interior designer in Beverly Hills. I was trained by a very talented designer and I was soon designing furniture and accessories for the firm. I had the chance to work on many exceptional homes in Malibu and Beverly Hills, and even had the chance to decorate the Malibu home of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver.
At present, I teach classes full-time in my home studio in Paris, France. My works have appeared in Bead Trends Magazine, Jewelry Artist magazine, Metal Clay Artist Magazine, Art Clay Society Quarterly, New Directions: Powder Metallurgy in a Sheet Metal World, (Susan Breen Silvy & Christine Norton), and a featured article in Making Jewellery Magazine. My beaded works won third prize in 2008 in the 1st Online Community Design Award sponsored by Swarovski Crystal and featured in Swarovski Vintage Design in 2007. I’ve also appeared as a Featured Artist on several online metal clay websites.

What is your inspiration now?
My inspiration always seems to come from nature and all that it has to offer: colors, textures, forms, etc. I think that in part this comes from my Japanese heritage and was instilled in me at a young age while watching my grandmother work on her floral arrangements (Ikebana) each morning. I was fascinated by the colors and the forms. More recently, I’ve been inspired by the subject of life and death and it’s never ending cycle. This was shown in my latest piece, a ring called Metamorphisis.
Do you have a muse?
I think my muses are my walks through the gardens here in Paris, my excursions down the backstreets in different districts where the architecture still inspires awe in me. I love reading all types of art books and magazines, fashion magazines and architectural magazines. That inspires me a lot. But mostly, I get most of my inspiration in just sitting back, anywhere, and being quiet, letting my thoughts take me where they want to go. There’s nothing better for revitalizing one’s artistic creativity.
What is currently on your bench/workspace?
Work mats for my students, a recent arrival of tools and materials from the States that I still haven’t unpacked and inventoried, a couple unfinished metal clay projects, some half finished beading projects that need to be finished, lots and lots of hand tools and my Foredom flexshaft.
What project/direction are you working on now?
I’d love to say something interesting and exciting was brewing on my table, but unfortunately everything is on hold since I had a stroke a month ago. I have a project that I’ve been working on in my head and in sketches, and I’m hoping to start on it as soon as possible.
How much time do you average at the bench per week?
Normally, about 25 hours a week, but that can go up quite a bit when I get started on something I’m really passionate about. As I’m somewhat of an insomniac, I often work in the middle of the night when it’s quiet and there are no distractions. It really depends though if something is inspiring me. Sometimes I can go weeks without doing anything before the “creative juices” start flowing again, but when it does, I really don’t count the hours too much.
What's the average time you spend on a piece?
Ah, that can really vary. I can spend a couple of hours on a small pendant or a pair of earrings or I can take a month or more to finish a project. I’m always trying to decide if a piece is done or not and sometimes that means putting it aside on my workbench while I work on other projects. Normally, it’ll suddenly jump out at me as to what I need to do to the piece and then I’ll finish it. A lot of pieces are done this way.
Do you sell your work?  and where?
Yes. I sell my work on my personal website and at expositions. I really don’t have enough time to keep up on my personal website as I’m very busy with my classes. Selling is kind of on hold for the moment as I’m finding a lot of pleasure in sharing with my students the possibilities of metal clay. I also have my pieces on a French website similar to Etsy, but even there the pieces aren’t renewed often. My partner takes care of the expositions so, that’s really the only place that gets the attention and sales.
Where do you get your new ideas?

Like I said previously, a little bit of everywhere. My walks throughout the city and gardens, museums and nature, nature, nature… I also get my ideas from doodling, even in restaurants on a napkin!
Do you keep a sketchbook and how do you organize it?
Yes, I have several. I use one for rings, one for pendants, one for bracelets and one for necklaces. I have to do it this way or else I end up searching everywhere when an idea finally pops in my head about a piece I had previously been working on. I used to keep one, but I wasted so much time looking for “that” piece that I just had to organize things better.
Are there places or things you avoid that zap your creativity?

Yes, negative people! I’m a pretty optimistic person and negativity, of any kind, just irks me to death and drains me. I’m certain that affects my creativity.
Do you have a ritual before you begin to create?
Yes. It always starts with cleaning up my workspace so I can start my work like on a blank canvas. I also set my unfinished projects somewhere in front of where I’m working because I’m often inspired about an unfinished piece while working on another. I put on the music that I’m in the mood to listen to and it’s off to work…
What do you collect?
What don’t I collect?! I collect tools, lots of them. I collect textures, beads, leaves… everything. Ever since I started working with metal clay, I see the world differently. Everywhere I go I’m always looking for found objects, something I can make a texture sheet from, something I can use in my next piece. You never know, I just might need it.
How do you rejuvenate your creativity?
I do anything that doesn’t have to do with metal clay art. I get involved with other projects in order to distract myself from metal clay .Make a void. The result is that I eventually come back around to the creative ideas. It’s sort of like a housecleaning where I can start off anew.
What would your perfect creative day be like?
After the usual java call and shower, a walk around the Seine river, just down the street, an espresso in a café with the newspaper and back to the studio and some good music. And then back to my unfinished work…

11 Responses to Kenji Von Achen: Muse Personality

  1. My inspiration comes from nature and everyday things. I started my blog to share those things and that has also inspired me.
    I think most of us artists soak up our inspiration that way. The interview with Kenji seems to underline that. I love her tip on keeping notebooks for each item.

    Thank you for doing these interesting interviews. They help us get to know the artist better.

  2. What a wonderful introspect into a truly gifted artist's life and work. Kenji's creations are exquisite to say the least. He has a unique style which I really admire. His attention to detail and quality set his creations apart from so many I have seen.

    Thank you for spotlighting him – it's so interesting to see "behind the screen" into an artist's world and their method of taking an idea to fruition.

  3. Always great to see an insight to an artists life and inspiration, and especially for me to see a French artist. Love Kenji's work which seems to have a real european aesthetic. Looking at what inspires him, seems to reflect an interest in everything and those stored images/memories pop up at odd time to inspire a new work. Like Kenji I seem to spend more time teaching and dont have enough bench time, but I find that students become a huge inspiration.

  4. Great interview, thank you for sharing! I love to see how other experiences in someone's life influences their jewelry designs. I have the same collecting obsession. My boyfriend thinks I am strange when I start looking at vintage spoons that have interesting patterns I could use in my jewelry. :)

  5. I actively search out inspiration in most everything I do, place I go, or colorful magazine I glance through….sooo many idea, not enough time!! When I find an image, or an idea that is in print, or I can photograph and print….I put it in my "Inspiration Book"…it began as a three ring binder but became so full I had to purchase a different type of book! Now my second one is actually a spiral sketchbook, so I can draw as well, then the thought or idea isn't "lost"….It's a place to keep all things that inspire me. When I "get stuck" or simply feeling blue or uncreative, I flip through my beautiful inspiration book, and I can feel the juices begin to flow…each time I look at it, I experience it differently!

  6. Such interesting work! I love the idea of having separate sketchbooks for better organization. I do hope Kenji recovers nicely from his stroke, and soon!

  7. Thank you for sharing the journey of an artist. It is so inspiring for me to hear how others create, what they do to get out of blocks, and sources of inspiration. I look forward to all of the Muse Personalitys. Keep up the great information.

  8. Thanks so much for this wonderful article. It is always interesting to see where other artists find their inspiration. I find it in nearly everything I see and do. Just recently I created a focal piece for a necklace using Art Clay and a twig I picked up in my yard. It turned out beautiful.

  9. Thanks for another inspiring muse article. I really appreciate you featuring artists outside of the U.S.

    • Hi Jessica,

      Yes 5 of the 19 have been from different countries. I don't select the Muses. They send me a short list. It's interesting how the list comes around. There were a few people I don't even know on the list! We are open to learning about artists from all countries.

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