Artisans to Note ~Kirsten Skiles
Tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you to work with metal?
When I was a senior in college in anthropology, I decided to take a jewelry class. I thought it would be a casual class, beads, macrame, fun stuff. Little did I know, I was getting into a hard-core art class. I loved it. I got hooked.
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Did you take classes or are you self-taught?
I finished up my anthropology degree (1996) and stuck around town to take jewelry classes non-degree. I also took 2 blacksmithing workshops at Penland in North Carolina. I developed a portfolio and was accepted to graduated school at San Diego State University. I received my MFA in 1996.
As all artists learn, in order to keep growing as artists, we eventually have to become self taught. So while I learned the fundamentals in a University program, I had to learn my own artistic style on my own. I also taught myself chasing and repoussé, the technique that I specialize in now.
I see you hand-forge large pieces as well as small pieces of jewelry..Do you have a preference?
I like both and often go back and forth. For the past ten years I've done much more large work. I am now at a point where I am more interested in small pieces, both smaller works of art (under 1 foot in any direction) and jewelry work. I can finish my work more quickly and do much more creative and technical exploration.
Every passion includes a nasty job..(for me, it’s cleaning the bead release from the beads..) what part of your work will you delegate when you make it big!
Grinding and finishing are my least favorite steps in the metalwork processes.
I learned long ago that it is often more efficient to subcontract the elements that are just not my strength. I try to pick the right people for the job, so that no one person is getting stuck with a lot of nasty work. I have my steel leaf blanks cut by a local blacksmith who has a CNC plasma cutting set-up. For much of my railing work, if I needed multiples of a forged piece, I would often subcontract to one of several highly skilled regional blacksmiths. The hardest part is finding the right artists to work with and developing the rapport that makes it easy to communicate my design needs.
What is it that you enjoy most about the process?
Hammering in form and texture!
What are your biggest obstacles regarding your art and what have you done to overcome them (it).
I think that for myself and for many others, my biggest obstacle is my own self-critical voice. I've learned to put one foot in front of the other (so to speak) and keep working, no matter what that little inner devil is saying.
These days, the rising cost of fuel gas (propane) and metal is becoming an obstacle. It costs a lot of money for me to run my propane forge, so I have to decide if I can raise prices on my existing ironwork designs or if I need to work on some other ideas that use less propane.
It can be difficult to work at home. Do you have a separate studio that you can go to or do you designate part of your home to your work.
We have a separate studio next to our home. It's nice to have it so close, but sometimes I'd rather be working within a greater community of artists. I'd love to have a workspace in a small downtown area near a coffee shop where artists gather for afternoon tea.
Is there anything else about yourself or your work that you feel you would like us to know?.
My blog is at
My shop is at http://knitsteel.com
My portfolio is on flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/knitsteel/collections/
I do teach workshops nationally. This summer I'm teaching at Haystack in June and at Peters Valley in August
Thanks Kirsten for being part of 'Artisans to Note'!If you're interested in reading past 'Artisan to Note' interviews with the whimsical illustrator 'MarmeeCraft' or viewing the wonderful hand thrown creations of 'Mudstuffing' please click on the respective links.