Zoa Art consists of the combined artistic efforts of husband and wife team Tony & Lisa Blackwell. Tony does glasswork and casting, while Lisa works with PMC, silver designs and completed jewelry. Lisa also teaches classes about her work. Newer work includes forays into Shibuichi, and thoughts of other metals are blooming.
Chocolate and Steel: I specialize in fine silver jewelry that uses reclaimed silver. Most of my pieces are created using PMC (precious metal clay). PMC uses silver that is reclaimed from film negatives and x-rays. That silver is ground to a powder and mixed with an organic binder that makes is malleable like clay. So, when I work with it it is in clay form.
After I have created something wonderful for you I fire the piece in a kiln and the organic binder burns away completely and what is left is just he pure silver. MAGIC – wha-la! The final piece is polished, oxidized, brushed, and so on and so forth.
With metal clay I am able to translate my organic inspirations onto an industrial material. So goes the name “Chocolate and Steel”…the combination of organic and industrial, soft and strong, sweet and solid.
Now an independent designer living in Los Angeles, I wake to discover new inspirations everyday. I will be forever grateful for this opportunity to do what I love. I have many hobby-like activities, but creating jewelry is my passion.
Understand that the right to choose your own path is a sacred privilege. Use it. Dwell in possibility.
– Oprah Winfrey
Once in a while, I come across handmade items that instantly grab my attention and compel me to learn more about the artist behind them. Discovering Barbe Beaty’s eco-friendly silver work was a highlight of my week; and even more so after hearing more about it and the work that Barbe does through her own social enterprise, the Promise Project. Not only does Barbe create lovely, hand-sculpted pieces which celebrate diversity, strength and self-awareness; she generously shares her passion and spirit with others, so that they, too, may discover the uniqueness within their own selves. I am so excited to share Barbe’s work with you and invite you to learn more about Njia Studios and The Promise Project in the artist’s own, eloquent words.
How did you get your start in Jewelry design?
I am a completely self-taught precious metals artisan. As a graphic artist, I first began by designing a line of angels as symbolic reminders for those touched by death (having volunteered with our area Hospice). I thought that they would make nice lapel pins but wasn’t sure how to go about creating them. Having attended an art show and admired the designs of a jeweler who specialized in Precious Metal Clay (PMC), was when I had my first aha moment! The rest was herstory!
What led you to using PMC?
Having stumbled across the medium at a local art show, I loved the idea of being able to create original pieces of jewelry/art without a large overhead. I was amazed that I could create beautiful pieces of jewelry by merely using a few inexpensive tools and my kitchen stove!! (I’ve since invested in a digital kiln)
What do you like about the medium?
I truly love the flexibility of the clay. It lends itself to being sculpted, rolled, overlayed, hollowed out, carved, imprinted–you name it! I love the eco-friendly nature of PMC. It is comprised of finely ground recycled silver particles, water and an organic binder. Once fired by kiln, torch, or stovetop, it becomes 99.9% fine silver!
Does it present any challenges?
The major challenge I’ve found is the limited amount of time in which to work the clay–it dries quicker than traditional clay. Additionally, the cost has skyrocketed since I first began using the medium five years ago.
How has your interest in the environment influenced your design and your business practices?
My family was eco-friendly long before it became “the thing to do”. I think some looked at our practices as pretty strange! We could often be found tagging alongside my Dad picking up roadside trash back in the 70’s! So, caring for our environment has always been a part of my being. I love knowing that I can build a business while not further compromising our environment. Whenever possible, I also use recycled materials for shipping and packaging.
Tell me about The Promise Project; how did it come about?
As an artist, I feel the importance of creating positive images of hope and encouragement. As a social entrepreneur, I felt a deeper need to empower our community. There are so many social issues that affect our society, but the loss of self compares to no other. It is so easy to be pulled from living our purposeful path–from being who we were born to be… our authentic self.
Who attends the workshops?
My workshops were initially designed for girls and women from all walks of life, through various community organizations, i.e.: hospices, girl scouts, schools, social service agencies. Although, at several of my contracted public schools, I’ve had wonderful young gentlemen in attendance!
What do your participants take from the workshops (besides their silver token)?
I stress the symbolism of each and every step in the process as they create their promise tokens. I present the idea that we are each artists–we are each co-creators of our world. We may not necessarily be able to choose every experience we encounter along our journey, but the choice to create joy is always ours. Participants take with them greater awareness, empowerment, and a tangible commitment to self.
What have you learned from the girls/women (and young men) who have attended?
That age and social economic status are illusions. We are one in the same. Hearing “You matter”, feels the same wherever you may happen to be along your road through life.
Barbe’s jewelry can be purchased through her shop. (Be sure to sign up for her shop feed to be kept abreast of new designs. )