Why it's important to leave your comfort zone

By leaving your comfort zone you learn new skills and find out about yourself, says designer Val Head.

Lately, I've been trying my hand at both laser cutting wooden jewellery and making metal jewellery. Applying my design skills to the two completely different mediums has been both exciting and frustrating.

My biggest motivation has been to get away from the computer – it starts to feel a little strange when you realise nothing you make exists beyond a screen.

Challenge your mindset

Val Head Jewellery

Making metal jewellery has been a steep learning curve for Val

Laser cutting was the first thing I tried. It's only a small step away from the familiar, in that I still create the designs in Illustrator. The laser essentially traces the vector shapes while it burns through the wood. It's so addictive to watch, and it smells like a campfire!

Designing objects to be cut instead of shapes to display on screen completely changes my mindset. Instead of worrying about breakpoints and screen sizes I'm concerned with cut depth and order.

I contributed a lot to the shop's scrap pile before I reached a point where I was creating pieces I was happy with, but now I'm completely hooked.

Appreciation is humbling

Val Head

After a lot of trial and error, Val is now hooked on jewellery-making

Metal smithing has been a bigger challenge. It's incredibly humbling when you step into a new discipline in which you have zero existing skills. I have a new appreciation for every piece of jewellery I own now!

Heating, melting and hammering metal is hugely addictive. In my very first class I made an adjustable ring out of a piece of scrap printing plate. I sketched out pages and pages of ring ideas when I got home – I had huge plans. On my next trip to the studio, the reality of how much I still had to learn really sunk in.

My friend, Melissa Frost (who is an actual jewellery designer) offered to teach me how to solder rings, which I was really excited about. After a whole evening of trying my hardest at prepping and soldering metal wire I only had two rather flawed rings to show for it.

Freedom to learn

Jewellery making equipment

Val has had to learn how to use new skills and equipment

The gap between my skills at metal work and what I wanted to create was hugely evident. On one hand that's incredibly frustrating, but on the other it's liberating. With no clients or deadlines for this work I have the freedom to spend time learning and improving.

As hard as it can be to admit, I don't have to be amazing at this yet. Plus, since I have so much to learn, I see huge improvements in my skills with each new project.

That's what keeps me coming back. I wear that first ring I ever soldered as a reminder to myself that making something less than perfect is the first step towards making something I'll love.

Words: Val Head

Designer Val Head is known for her work with web animation. She teaches interface animation and wrote the CSS Animations pocket guide. This article first appeared in net magazine issue 267.

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