Kimberly Nogueira: Muse Personality

Date started working in metal clay:

In January of 2009, after saving for a year, I bought a kiln and some enamelling supplies. I also snuck in a starter kit of metal clay and relevant books, curious about the material from seeing the gorgeous projects in Lapidary Journal.

The enamel took a back seat to the pmc right away! I’ve scrapped my early work, but just thinking about that first piece (the too small bird ring with its too-thick band and crooked cz’s) brings to mind the flood of wonder and amazement at how lucky I felt (and still feel) to be creating with this newly-invented precious metal material.

Certified: (what clay, year and with whom)

I have no certifications in metal clay, nor have I taken any classes, but I’ve read everything I could get my hands on about metal clay—books, magazine articles, online searches.

Accomplished at what media in addition to metal clay:

I’ve been a production goldsmith (making other people’s designs—a very different thing than making your own) for about 12 years now, so I have a solid foundation at the bench and I am self taught in various metalsmithing and related techniques—enamelling, keum boo, stone-setting, forging, etching. But I can’t say that I’m one of those people who have been life-long artists, like so many metal clay artists have been. Maybe a life-long lover of beauty…

A dear friend taught me bookbinding and I taught her paper casting, but beyond that, well, if I’ve worked with watercolors, it was once–to make thank you cards for my son’s baby shower gifts.

I frequented Maho Bay Clayworks here for about a year so I could make some useful items for my kitchen but to be honest, my middle school son at the time was more prolific and talented at the pottery wheel than I was!

Website and short bio:

I was born and raised in Western Massachusetts, received my B.A there from Smith College, and came to St John, the smallest of the US Virgin Islands, for a vacation 18 years ago when I was young and fairly foolish–I’ve been here ever since.

I’ve got a home studio, and my husband and I are very energy-conscious so being able to run my kiln and tumbler from an outlet that is powered by solar panels is an awesome feeling, especially when the material being fired and tumbled is metal clay, made of reclaimed silver. Sustainability of natural resources is a priority for us, so we reuse, recyle and reclaim—our house was built this way (although it’s not quite finished yet), my studio was furnished this way, and everyone dumpster dives here. (You don’t really have to “dive”, people just leave the useful items beside the bin.) My original soldering “bench” was a tiny reclaimed child’s particle board table raised up on concrete blocks (happily it’s since been replaced by a large bench built by my husband of reclaimed greenheart). My secondhand polishing/grinding wheel is housed in a handmade suction unit built by my husband and I with a vacuum cleaner body/hose that was destined for the dumpster. While probably not up to HEPA standards, it’s better than nothing!

I took a lost wax casting class with Alan Burton Thompson at the New England School of Craft in 2011 (my first class), which was really fun, but for most of my pieces, I use metal clay when I need to “cast” something, especially now with the new sterling silver clay.

What is your inspiration now?

It’s amazing how quickly the things that inspire you change and transform! I’m looking to the turn of the century through the 1960’s these days with an emphasis on vintage vending machines, toys and mechanical devices from this era, especially tin lithographed toys and mechanical toys. A distinct focus of my work is childhood and I find some toys of yesteryear are often magical and others are profoundly disturbing. And often incredibly dangerous—does anyone remember the fully functioning lighters that you could find in the gumball machines of the 1960’s? I don’t have a mechanical background so learning how to achieve movement in my work has been an exciting challenge of trial and error, especially since there is little information out there about how the inside of mechanical devices work, so I am left to study the outside. My husband is a big help with interior mechanisms—that sort of knowledge is intuitive for him.

Do you have a muse?

At the moment, it’s my collection of vintage and antique ebay toy finds which are all over my studio—mechanical banks, mechanical dolls, old gumball charms, anything that moves. I’ve been reading Rumi’s poetic wisdom lately and his words are in my mind as I study these remnants from childhoods gone by.

What is currently on your bench/workspace?

I always have too many projects for the time I can devote to my bench. There are small boxes littering my work area—one has 5 beautiful oddly-shaped stones in it to be prong-set in a necklace, another has metal clay parts in it that I’ve made for a smaller version of my piece “threshold”, another has hand-forged “twigs” made by my son that need ear wires made. First in line is a friend’s silver hook-type bracelet (an ebay purchase) that needed lengthening. I had to take it apart first so I could add some metal. It just needs to be oxidized and polished. Far down on my work table is a collection of seashore finds that remind me that I need to go to the beach, as I haven’t been for months now, and it’s right down the road!

What project/direction are you working on now?

I have piles of notes for future pieces that are mechanical. At the back of my mind is a thought that I need to think about making this mechanical work more abstract. This is a huge challenge—my mind just doesn’t do that dream-like thing very well, which is what I equate the term “abstract” with (I don’t care for dream sequences in movies or books). But this is something I am thinking about because of the possibilities that would open up for ideas that I want to express.

How much time do you average at the bench per week?

I work almost full-time at jobs not related to my personal studio work, so I am very lucky to even have 10-15 hours a week in the studio, usually in the evenings/middle of the night. It’s far from ideal, but having a studio in my living room does makes this manageable. My current work takes an immense of amount of time to research, days and days, so I squeeze this in all throughout my regular day. 

Then when I have days off, I can concentrate on studio work, probably putting in 12 to 16 hours a day. This is why I never get to the beach!

What's the average time you spend on a piece?

This definitely varies. For instance, after making a mechanical piece that took several months, I treated myself to a day teaching myself fold forming techniques with Charles Lewton Brain’s book Foldforming. I could make a pair of pretty earrings or a cuff in a half an hour after this! Then I went back to my notebook and began work on 2 mechanical pieces which took a month to complete.

Do you sell your work?  and where?

I sell my work on etsy. The Anita London Memorial Display Case at the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, FL has several pieces of mine for sale too.

Where do you get your new ideas?

I use google images and ebay all of the time to look at old things. I have stacks of books everywhere. Also watching movies gives me ideas for issues that I want to address in my work, especially foreign dramas where the landscape is an unyielding force affecting everything the characters do. Human relationships and behavior are really magnified under these circumstances. Lyrics from songs and the feelings that songs evoke in me are incredible sources of new work too.

Often, the process itself of making one piece is what generates ideas and questions for new pieces to follow. So much of what I am doing with my mechanical work is new to me (and trial-and-error) so as I complete each piece, details/mechanisms that I eliminate from one piece often become foundations for new pieces.

Do you keep a sketchbook and how do you organize it?

I cannot depend on my memory for anything so I have notebooks everywhere! Small ones in my bag, larger ones with ideas, artists whose work I love, poems/words that I love, song lyrics that I hear, it all gets written down in whatever notebook or scrap of paper is closest. Now that you mention it, I’ve got to collect the random jottings that did not make it into the notebook most recently and that are scrawled on my clipboard around college information for my son! About twice a year I collect and look at the scraps of scrawled-on paper that are floating around on my work bench.

The only organization that takes place is when I start a piece. I work out what has to be assembled, the order of assembly, little details, etc. This ends up to be about 15-20 pages (all next to each other—no scraps!) in a notebook. It’s always more complex than I thought it would be and always more interconnected than I originally think it will be. And it always changes drastically—there is always an unforeseen issue, something I forgot to take into account, that makes my original idea unworkable.

After I completely finish a piece like this, I review my process: I write up a page of things that I would have done differently, processes that need tweeking, things that don’t work, mistakes made, things that I should remember to do or not to do for any future work. The “review” list gets longer with each piece I make and I often wonder how in the world I was able to make such a complicated piece in the first place and how will I ever be able to do it again!

Are there places or things you avoid that zap your creativity?

I’m surrounded by such intense beauty here where I live, between the environment and my wonderful family. This is a buffer that I am so grateful for– it allows me less time to dwell on negative thoughts simply because I am always practically assaulted with natural beauty on a minute-to-minute basis, but I guess this can be distracting as well. The pace here is slow, so this helps too.

I don’t know if others experience this: I have a strong desire for knowledge of what is going on in the world around me, since this informs my creative work, yet at the same time, I do not want to know of the sad details of what humans do to each other in the newspapers and online news, since I have a teenage son, and he will be going out into this world. This sort of inner conflict does interfere with my creativity. I have many friends who simply will not read the news or watch the news. I haven’t figured out a way to resolve this for myself.

Do you have a ritual before you begin to create?

I make a half-hearted attempt at clearing some space on my work tables and then I make a big pot of black tea , but if it’s after 6 pm or so, it’s peppermint or cinnamon. My 2 work tables are always messy, just covered with accumulations of I-don’t-want-to know-what-but-they-must-be-somewhat-useful-or-they-wouldn’t-be-there. My big bench on the other hand is always clean, simply because I have so few tools, just the basics for soldering, forging, piercing and riveting.

What do you collect?

Collecting and creating are both strong pulls for me, and I could easily spend all of my time collecting! I have had to make an effort to reign that impulse in but I do have a delightful collection of vintage gumball charms, stanhopes (old toys and little souvenirs with a tiny hidden peephole illustration or photo that you can look into) and antique and vintage mechanical toys. I also have a rolling cart with drawers of detritus from the seashore that I’ve been entranced by on my rare forays to the beach.

How do you rejuvenate your creativity?

This is usually very easy for me—simply a walk on the beach will do it or a hike or snorkel or kayak ride. Before I started making mechanical jewelry I would look at the blogs of artists I love or the websites of the galleries I love or I would check out The Lark 500 books have been helpful as well, if I felt really lackadaisical. Then I would sit at the bench, giving myself the simplest project I could think of, like maybe to make a pretty ring out of only this piece of 14 gauge silver wire, so I could connect again with the profound beauty of the metal.

What would your perfect creative day be like?

I would wake up early, have tea and walk to the beach for a moment of reflection on the amazingness, strangeness and sadness of being alive, then spend the entire day in my studio with no stopping to make food or go anywhere or do laundry and with nobody else home. Pots of yummy tea would miraculously appear as I needed them and there would be enough silver and gold metal clay, sheet and wire for me to make anything I wanted and a pitcher of my husband’s limeade would be in the refrigerator. I am so starved for studio time that the most important detail here is that this one-day would last for a whole month!

14 Responses to Kimberly Nogueira: Muse Personality

  1. What an inspiring bio. I love that once you're in your studio and able to commit to your creation that you don't bother with dinner, laundry, etc… I have to learn to give myself that permission which is difficult to do because of family responsibilities.

    I find your work magical and detailed. I just love it!!!

    • Hi Karin, thank you for reading this and for your nice words about my work!

      The family responsibility/studio time thing is so hard to balance. Only within the last year have I started to make my art a priority, and it's been a rocky year. I've read about this from others–that the transition period can be odd, sometimes with people in your life not understanding or resenting your new priority, or even worse, not liking your art and voicing this loudly–yikes. I'm also finding that I don't know myself any more–I'm saying and doing things and thinking in ways that I never have before. It sort of feels like I am growing into myself, like I am becoming more me :)

  2. I have always loved art that moves and yours are amazing. Thank you so much for the behind the scenes look. It really helps to see how others do it despite the set backs of reality (family, commitments, etc…). You are very inspiring. Here's to you getting that perfect day (month) of creating.

  3. what a wonderful interview! kim's work is so exquisite and finely detailed–it was wonderful to read the story behind it!

    • Debrah, you're so sweet, thank you for taking the time to read this! especially since i know how busy you are!

  4. What a great interview! I loved hearing all the details of how Kim gets her inspiration, researches, plans and executes the work, then reviews how she would do it differently next time. I'm trying to become much more introspective about my own work this year, as I transition to full time art, and this just resonated with me. Thanks for sharing!

    • i'm so happy that you read this Vickie, thank you, and i'm very excited for your transition to full time art; i will be thinking you, looking out for your new work! i hope someday to make that transition too…maybe a five year plan…

  5. I really enjoyed your interview, Kim. It's nice to hear that someone so talented has the same drives, dreams and struggles that I have. It was interesting to read about your inspiration from mechanical toys and your work process. I do have my level one metal clay, but I got in one afternoon. I hardly feel that was enough to get any "level" category. I'm learning from books, blogs and online metal clay groups as well. Love your idea of a perfect creative day. Sure wish I had your access to a beach!! (I'm in Alberta, Canada. No ocean to be seen. Sigh. Ironically, the ocean is my main inspiration…) You are so close to living that perfect creative day. Keep working toward it!

    • thank you Dawn! i'm glad everyone is reminding me that i am so close to attaining my perfect day in the studio–i hadn't realized that!

  6. An inspirational interview from an inspirational artist and designer, thank you Tonya for giving us an insight to Kim's creative journey and Kim, thank you for continuing to share your magic with us!

Don’t Miss a Thing - Sign Up For My Free Ezine Now