These jewelry pieces have been 3D printed! The front row features surprisingly lightweight rings.
If you’ve seen someone wearing imaginative jewelry that made you wonder, How was that made? you may have spotted one of Melissa Borrell’s creations. Through jewelry design, installation commissions, public art projects and home goods, Borrell has curated a world of carefully-placed, intricate artwork lines.
I met with Borrell to learn how she has developed such a large body of visually-eloquent work.
A Bit of Melissa Borrell’s Story
An organically-shaped gold ring pairs nicely with an architecturally-inspired pendant
Borrell attended the Rhode Island School of Design for her graduate studies in jewelry design and lived in New York for a year after graduation. In order to figure out her next steps artistically, she moved back to her hometown, Houston. After getting her bearings, Borrell wanted to relocate to Austin to embrace the smaller city feel and outdoorsy Austinite lifestyle.
While attending an artist residency in Denver, Borrell opened an email announcing that the East Austin artist studios at Canopy would be opening soon. She jumped at the chance to reserve a space. She’s still a resident and part of the large community of artists there, right off of Springdale Road.
Where Jewelry and Technology Collide
During graduate school, Borrell became interested in the jewelry manufacturing process. She was accustomed to making everything by hand, but she recognized the potential in using laser cutters and 3D printers to produce multiples. At the time, 3D printing materials weren’t quite durable enough for jewelry, which needs to be tough enough for daily use, so she turned her focus to laser cutting.
Laser cutters use laser optics to slice through industrial grade materials. Through this tool, Borrell developed “pop out jewelry,” which allows customers to purchase a sheet of metal with a design that can be pushed out and attached to earwires or necklace chains.
The interactive element, and the fact they’re super lightweight, make these items very appealing. Since they’re directly created from her drawings, Borrell notes that they’re affordable art pieces that “still have the hand work in them.” The designs can even be layered to evoke a moving art piece.
The “pop out” jewelry designs show Borrell’s skill working with both organic flowing shapes and structured straight lines. “I play with materials and come up with forms…the way my mind works is definitely though geometry and architecture…I think a lot about kinetics, movement and how things fit together.”
Even her 3D printed jewelry either has physically moving elements or causes the eye to take a visual journey though twists and turns. Borrell draws the designs on the computer and sends them off to be printed by high-end 3D printers. There are red and black nylon or gold and silver-plated steel versions available. The metal pieces are formed from a metal powder, which must be fired to fuse together.
Working on a Larger Scale
A peek at Borrell’s work table and studio wall of experimentation
Borrell has been thinking big since graduate school. A visit to her studio proves she isn’t afraid of experimenting with different materials in jewelry or other art forms. A large, undulating design of Mylar plastic flows along one wall, while the next wall displays glitter drawings that appear to be laser cut but are actually hand-drawn.
Borrell’s large-scale pieces and installations are so varied and interesting that it’s difficult to sum them up. During the Downtown Holiday Stroll in 2014, Borrell filled a dome tent with delicate chains that created dancing shadows when visitors used flashlights to “play” with the space. This idea was adapted from one of her intricately-connected and curvy chain necklace jewelry pieces. Borrell is skilled at transforming smaller scale projects to a large scale and vice versa.
Recently at the Lawndale Art Center in Houston, she showed an interactive installation of acrylic. Visitors could walk around and experience a change in colors though the rectangular panels. It’s been a big shift for Borrell to start working with color, so she’s still experimenting with shape and how the colors of acrylic grow richer with layering. Her work table and a wall of her studio are currently dedicated to developing new ideas, as Borrell prefers to make models and take notes, rather than merely sketch out designs.
Get in Touch With Melissa Borrell
Shadowbox wall hangings display Borrell’s love for experimenting across different mediums
It’s clear that Melissa Borrell will never experience a lack of ideas. She sees infinite potential even with simple straight lines, and her ingenuity and appreciation for materials will continue to propel her forward.
To keep up with this Austinite’s artwork, follow her on Instagram and Facebook. Check out her website for ordering information or to set up an appointment to see her jewelry in person.