Aug 10, 2009


John “Jack” Jellies

Location: SW Michigan

Where you hail from:

Born in Maryland, my Dad (an electrical engineer) was in the Army at Aberdeen Proving Grounds at height of Cold War, but I grew up in Chicago area where the families were mostly from.

Photo of Jack:

When I’m not playing with sharp objects or flame-throwing torches and hot metal I do enjoy a Killian’s or a Guinness.

Art Training/Education:

I had an art class in 7th grade. Does that count? I got a B- …I refused to do the abstract that was popular back then and was instead drawing realistic portraits of all the pretty girls in class. The B was a bummer, but the drawings helped me stay reasonably popular amongst the young ladies.

Eclectic would describe my so-called Art training. My Mom was a wonderful painter and musician and I learned quite a bit from her (painting that is, I can’t play a note). In my formal education I concentrated in philosophy, writing, physical and biological sciences and am a practicing Neurobiologist/Professor. My professional work has mostly involved electrophysiology, imaging, using fluorescent molecules, and a great deal of micro surgical and dissecting work. Great for developing strong 3-D visualization skills and hand-eye coordination. I have dabbled semi-seriously in creative writing, electronics, sculpting, carving, painting, and drawing. I believe strongly in life-long learning.

When was the first time you tried your hand at metalsmithing and what prompted you to give it a shot?

Well…my first real piece of jewelry was made in January of 2008. It remains my favorite for sentimental reasons. I had been making jewelry in my head and reading about it for long before that, call it latent learning. I had made metal sculptures as a young man and loved beating on metal but I was finally driven to make adornment because I wanted to bring to life all the pretties floating around in my brain and make gifts for my wife, friends and many nieces and nephews.

Creatively, what do you consider to be your first artist success and why?

Truly, when I was about 10-11. I spent a great deal of time in my room reading and trying to imagine what it would be like to actually be Batman. Well, I took a box of toothpicks from the cupboard and a little bottle of Elmer’s glue from my Mom’s junk drawer. I just started making a sleigh. Why? I have no idea but I do remember loving the Bing Crosby Christmas movies and scenes from those were happy thoughts. Somehow, the thing went from my brain to my hands and I made an elaborate sleigh. I clearly remember bringing it to the table at dinner and being worried that Mom would be upset that I had taken the toothpicks, or my younger brother and sister would make fun of me. I don’t remember the details, but I sure remember the hugs and compliments. I think that was when I realized I could really be a maker. All on my own. What a rush! I also try to remember that as a lesson to me about how powerful the emotional connections to creativity are and how important is encouragement of talent and potential in others.

Creatively, what was your biggest disaster and what did you learn from it?

In college, I would salvage metal parts from anything I could get my hands on, radios, clocks, old roofs, old cigarette lighters etc. I would use hammers and pliers to shape, and a soft-soldering iron to turn this assorted junk into sculptures. I did angels, dragons, trees, birds, faces, robots, etc. One of the guys had their parents down for a visit and the dad went ga-ga over my work and offered to pay me to make a dragon for him. We agreed on a price and I made a spectacular dragon. About a year went by and my buddy told me, with some trepidation, that his dad was kind-of disappointed. My dragon had, over time, developed all manner of crystal growth and verdigris that, while didn’t really look too bad, for him it ruined the sculpture. If I had done it with intent I might have thought it a success. BUT, I did it in ignorance, not realizing the effects of mixed metals, lead-based solder, acid flux mixed with humid air and time. That made me realize the importance of trying to understand my materials as well as possible and while I still love to experiment, I work hard to fight my own ignorance of technique and materials.

What are your favorite materials and techniques to work with?

Silver, copper, gems and stones…in that order. I have a great respect for PMC as well and try to use it for accent pieces and sculptural elements. What little I have worked with gold, I do love it, but ‘tis a bit expensive for me yet. I love to solder! I actually get a kick out of using hard solder and bringing the piece just to the edge of having the whole thing melt (without holding it there and causing firescale of course). I also enjoy fabrication…I love the putting together of hand-formed components, sometimes 8, 9, 10 separate solder operations. Once in awhile I goof it up, but it is a great challenge and loads of fun.

Share your workbench:

I seem to be one of those people who is incredibly organized in my mind, Yet, to all external appearances I might seem to be a bit discombobulated. Well, it is a mess, but it seems to work for me.

What inspires you most in your creative process and why?

Nature and my heritage. I am really drawn to simple relatively ancient forms. The curvatures of leaves, the fractal growth of tree limbs or veins in the wings of dragonflies. I also have an affinity for Art Deco and Art Nouveau styles and Mission Arts & Crafts furniture. As the unofficial family genealogist I also have a strong connection to my cultural heritage. When I got old enough to explore it myself I realized what a rich history there was in my heritage and I love exploring that in my metalwork.

Is there one Metalsmith/Artist that you really admire whose work inspires you?

Tim McCreight. Hands-down, no comparison for me. It is from his books that I learned enough to attempt metalwork myself and I am a great admirer of his skill and his ability to figure a thing out and convey it in a way I can understand.

Show us your favorite pieces:

The first fave is my first piece, a large crystal opal with bright blue fire. I set it as a tie tac for myself. This stone was a gift from a great aunt and uncle who traveled the US and one day when I was 8 they showed up unexpectedly. They gave to me this stone that they had collected and hand polished and I carried it around with me for decades. The second picture is a recent gift I made for one of my nieces, Meghan. It combines all of my favorite elements; forging, fabrication, texturing, design and my Celtic identity.

Show us your recent work:

This is a piece I am working on for the store. I’ll be making more of these Penannular Celtic brooches and am awaiting some rose cut gems to incorporate, making them a bit more classical and authentic to what is in my brain.

What are your ten year goals in terms of your metal work?

First and foremost I seek to hone my skills through practice and experiment. Right now I design in my head, my affinity for drawing and painting hasn’t played out linearly in my jewelry. Instead, I treat the stones and metals as if they were my paints and I lay them out, manipulate them, and design mostly on the fly from visions in my brain. Mix and match until I get the effect I want. While that works for me (I think) I hope to become more intentional in my designs, thinking them through and drawing them first. I might reduce the number of missteps if I get better at that. Of course, maybe not. When I carve or sculpt I never use a model either, which many claim is essential, so perhaps it is just the way my brain works. I don’t know yet, but I aspire to be a better designer.

Here are some more of Jack's designs:

To see more of Jellie's designs, you can visit his Etsy Store here:

Thank you Jack!


Kelli Sincock said...

Jack, your penanulars rock!

Talented AND handsome! ;-)

ArcadianDreams said...

Eee, what a good interview! He does amazing work and I admire it from afar, often.

Thank you both for doing this. It's awesome to peek inside the head of such an authentic artist. :D

nova by tess said...

Hi Jack!
Good looking, talented AND good taste in beer :o) Nice interview, I always enjoy getting a sneak peak in others metal smiths studios :o)


Cyndie Smith Designs said...

Love your work! Very cool!!!
I'm an Army brat, lived in Edgewood about the same time, I think!

ayawedding said...

wow amazing:)
great and talented Jack
nice share

Dana/WiredDesign said...

Go Jack!

Tricia said...

Your workbench clean to me! Mine is worse. Thank God I got rid of my torch. Great work!

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