With dozens of small drawers filled with antlers, walrus teeth and fossilized sand dollars, you know that when Tempe artist Ashley Weber says she's drawn to the natural look, she truly means it.
Tucked into a corner of her home, the jewelry maker's studio is a treasury for her one-of-a-kind handmade earrings, rings, bracelets and necklaces.
Jumbled compartments of materials, tools, and perfectly irregular pieces surround the backless seat Weber sits at to craft her intricate jewelry. Sifting through the crevice-filled drawers feels a lot like eyeing the envy-worthy cluttered jewelry box of a friend with great taste.
Though the compact space becomes a little frustrating for Weber, she says she's ended up appreciating the space that she thought she never would.
"I've worked really hard on fitting the most I can into this itty-bitty spot," she says. "I call my space organized chaos, and when I do clean up, I can't find anything. It works, and I like feeling I have this little tight space where all my stuff is. I kind of learned to work with the small space because now I can just spin in my chair, pull open drawers, pick out what I need and spin back."
A collection of pictures, trinkets, signs and newspaper clippings decorate the wall directly to the left of her workspace.
Also on the wall is the plaque describing her work in the exhibit Crucible at the Mesa Arts Center, which recently showcased current and former faculty, resident artists and guest artists who work in metals.
"It's mostly things I love," she says about the wall decorations. "There're photos of my grandmother and my grandfather, my dog, a little picture of my sister. My grandfather is my biggest hero in life, and it's just something to look at when I'm frustrated. I can just turn around and stare off into my treasure space."
Among her jewelry-making supplies in the garage is a welding torch, ring sizer, drill press, jump ring maker and an arbor press that the artist uses to cut out holes.
To create leaf and fabric textures on metal, Weber uses a rolling mill, but her belt sander proves to be her most used tool besides her hammers and saw: "I use it to get resin down really fast and clean pieces up fast because I don't have patience for that kind of stuff. I don't like to sit there and file and sand forever."
Weber's favorite part of jewelry making happens to also be the most challenging, precise and technical: adhering metal together with a torch. "Soldering is something that tests my abilities and my limits. I've learned so much from it, and it's just one of those skills where you're constantly getting better at it everyday."
When soldering, Weber works over a charcoal block that absorbs heat. The bigger the piece, the bigger the torch is so that the solder is hot enough to flow
When Weber sees other people soldering for the first time at the Mesa Arts Center, she maintains a (very literal) baptism by fire philosophy.
"When I see people learning how to use it, I'm like, 'Get in there!'," she says. "And of course they're terrified. I mean, I think I just burned myself so much in the beginning that I kind of realized this is what it is."
As the metal Weber works with heats up, the color changes from silver to a dull ruby and then a near black. In its melted state, Weber attentively forms neat, clean lines into the blob.
Weber says she finds that a lot of her unique visual inspiration comes from observing plant shapes. Since the artist's mother is a flight attendant, Weber often asks her to bring back leaves. Along with the more unusual materials she uses, the jewelry maker also incorporates garnets, resin, dried flowers and seeds into her small pieces.
"It's hard not to fall in love with all of these little, tiny, crazy pieces of nature," Weber says. "I really love the beauty of nature and how everything is so perfectly made, but always has those flaws. I like creating those flaws in my work, and I do a lot of hammering just to get that and a lot of oxidation to show it off. I call them flaws, but they're not really flaws because they're intentional."
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Her work will also be presented at Artfest of Scottsdale on November 17 and 18.