Ashley Weber of against the grain: 2014 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Design (VIDEO)

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You submitted nominations for awards given to the Valley's emerging creatives, and the results are in. Introducing our 2014 Big Brain finalists.

Leading up to the Big Brain Award announcement and Artopia on April 25, Jackalope Ranch and Chow Bella will introduce the finalists. Up today: Ashley Weber.

Disembodied dragonfly wings, gemstones by the handful, teeth, and a variety of flora top the tables and fill the many tiny drawers in designer Ashley Weber's home studio.

The small space is jam-packed with baubles in various stages of completion and tools including dowels and a variety of colorful pliers that would look at home next to a dentist chair.

Despite the methodical laboratory vibe, the jewelry she makes for her company, against the grain, is inspired by the outdoors.

See also: "Urban Legend" Award Celebrates Creative Phoenix Pioneers in Honor of New Times' Fifth Big Brain Awards

"Nature has always been the muse behind my work," says 28-year-old Weber, an avid hiker, camper, and backpacker who collects leaves during her exploits. "Every adventure I go on, every trip somewhere new leaves an impression, sparks a thought, inspires me to push my work in new directions and use my tools and materials in different, unexplored ways."

Lately, she's experimented with rolled organics to create rings and necklaces. It's a method that involves creating an imprint of a leaf or one of those dragonfly wings on metal. Once the imprint is created, the specimen is rendered crushed. So there are no repeats if something goes wrong.

"You're either devastated or you're like, 'Ah, that's amazing,'" she says.

The process is a challenge for Weber, who studied product design at ASU and found jewelry making as an outlet for her creativity in a major that was more technical than she expected.

Weber has worked for another local jeweler (whom she'd prefer not to name) for nearly a decade, learning the business side of design and gradually taking on less and less hours there so that Weber can spend more time working on her own business.

Very soon, she says, she hopes to devote all her working hours to against the grain.

Video by Evie Carpenter.

She admits that the transition to being her own boss full time is terrifying. But the self-taught metalsmith says that this year she wants to challenge herself to see what she can really do.

"Against the grain is about me turning in the direction of my dreams, grabbing my courage by the horns, and diving in against all odds," Weber says. "It's about taking the road less traveled."

That means paying "crazy attention to detail" with every handmade item to ensure that she's making jewelry as well as she can.

This level of craftsmanship has earned Weber fans both locally and in the online space.

Her Instagram account, @ashleyweberdesigns, features her photography and early looks at new pieces and trial runs: a ceramic bowl that Weber made in a pottery class, a walrus tooth necklace, and scenes from her outdoorsy excursions. The platform has been great for business, she says.

And she's found a network of Phoenix fans, too, thanks to boutiques Bunky and Frances carrying her wares, as well as the store at ASU Art Museum.

Of course, the business-minded bottom line matters, but that's not what it's ultimately about.

"When there's a torch in my hand, I just feel right," Weber says. "I understand it. And I'm moved by my own love and passion. I am inspired by my own past accomplishments, by my failures, and I am driven by what can be.

"That's how I know that I'm exactly where I need to be."

Artopia will take place from 8 p.m. to midnight Friday, April 25, at Bentley Projects in downtown Phoenix. Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 the day of the event. See more at www.phoenixnewtimes.com/bigbrainawards.

Follow Jackalope Ranch on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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