Making Pain Pretty

My latest project has involved soda cans. I passingly saw something on Pinterest about cutting up soda cans for pendants. Being insanely broke and in no shortage of empty soda cans, this sounded like an excellent idea for materials. I collected a few cans to experiment on, picked up a pair of shears from Menard’s, and went to work.

I’d been wanting to teach myself to rivet for awhile, but the opportunity had never really presented itself. Since I figured I’d want to tuck the edges of my aluminum pendant over to avoid creating a razor pendant of death, rivets would probably feature heavily in the piece. I practiced a few on some pieces of aluminum I’d cut up to test the new shears. When I was satisfied that I could make a passable rivet, I sketched my design.

I listen to music that matches my mood when I sketch. Both are forms of catharsis, and the design reflected it. Jagged edges and trailing triangular cutouts. A negative mood, one I’d purposely decided to channel into a design.

Being bipolar, it’s become easy to tell when I’m sinking into a chronic negative mood–depression. For myriad reasons, I am not currently taking medication. This means I get the full brunt of the hopelessness, paranoia, fatigue, aches, and assorted anguish that accompanies depression. I have not fared well in past battles with the beast. Lately, I’ve been trying to find mentally and physically healthy ways to cope. I’m still not consistent with it. It, like everything else in my life at the moment, is a work in progress. But one I can use to benefit another–my jewelry.

I sketched a few ideas inside the design, scribbled some others next to it with random arrows and questionable legibility, then outlined the basic shape I would need for the aluminum in fine-tipped Sharpie and traced it onto a clean sheet of paper. I cut the outline out, adding triangular flaps at the straight edges I could fold over, then rubber cemented it to a rectangular sheet from a pop can. I cut the design out of the aluminum with my shears and tapped divots into the larger ends of the triangles with my ‘.’ metal stamp. I drilled them and started to make the cuts with my jeweler’s saw. The sound a jeweler’s saw blade makes on thin aluminum sheet is roughly the same as shaking a metal jar full of nails. By the end of the cutouts, my hand was numb and my ears wished they were.


I didn’t decide on what I wanted behind the cutouts right away. I played with different ideas before deciding on poetry. Then I had to find materials–perfect excuse to rummage through my city for a good used book store. I’d remembered the library often having carts of used books for a dollar and under, so I started there. Instead of finding a small cart of nothing interesting, I found out the library had opened up a whole section of cheap used books. What should have been smash-and-grab material hunting turned into a shopping spree. I found a book of poetry with lovely yellowed pages and about five other things I didn’t need, reassured my boyfriend that yes I was coming home this century, and headed out to prep everything.


The texturing on the copper triangles was achieved with a utilitarian hammer and a jeweler’s screwdriver. I noticed some of it flattened when I riveted the pieces to the design, so I had to go back and re-texture some areas. The triangles were cut from copper scraps that had begun to tarnish, so I took my roughest sandpaper to them to take the finish off and rough them up pretty. I wanted something interesting for the top rivet, so I grabbed a random brass bead and tried to rivet it and some more copper scraps to the top. I gripped it too hard with the pliers and squished half of it. Instead of scrapping it, I decided to see what happened when I hammered it the rest of the way flat. It looked like a nautilus shell, but the hole was too big now. I cut a small star from a brass scrap, drilled it, and used it to help rivet the bead to the piece.

A couple more places needed rivets to hold the pieces of aluminum together better. Then came the lacquer. Dear god the lacquer. Four straight days I spent applying, re-applying, checking, and applying some more lacquer. I wanted that scrap of poetry completely sealed in. Finally, I sprayed the last coat and prepared to wait yet another day before I could do anything else.

I wasn’t sure what to do for the chain. I considered throwing a jump ring bail on it and calling it a day, but it deserved better. I’d almost scrapped it three times–this pendant was a survivor. I had an idea for a chain with hammered wrapped loops, but it would have been several more hours of labor for a result I wasn’t really sure about. My third idea was a mixed chain. I wanted chaos–all kinds of chains going every which way. I found a pair of earrings with thick dangles of chain and a headband with shot elastic made of braided leather and chain. I cannibalized a chainmaille experiment for some jump rings and voila–a necklace made 100% from recycled materials.

And now a sketch I drew in a drowning bog of a mood is a piece of jewelry that survived many mishaps and was recreated from items slated for the dump. If that isn’t a statement…

See the finished piece here.


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