482-A 49th Street
Oakland, CA 94609

September Designer Spotlight : Luana Coonen

September’s Designer Spotlight features Luana Coonen, the imaginative designer behind some of Esqueleto’s most unique, one of a kind pieces.

Luana Coonen in her studio, Gypsum’s Love necklace

“I grew up in a very artistic household- my mother was a professional artist of many mediums, as well as an art instructor, so much of my childhood was surrounded with textile lessons, fabric dyes, printing and framing, handmade clothing and sewing machines, printing presses & more paper than anyone could imagine. I wanted to grow up to be like my mother, but I didn’t realize I wanted to be a jeweler. In my early college years at CCA I took a metalsmithing class, and it seemed as if my brain easily thought in metal, making the design process like second nature.”

sketching out designs

“Usually a design vision usually hits me like lightning, fast and clear. It can be at the strangest moments: mid conversation, sitting on a train in Europe, lying awake at night. I must draw it immediately - with as many details as I can, down to the color, materials, dimensions - as the idea can disappear as fast as it came to me. The design may sometimes live on paper for a long time, waiting for it’s turn at the workbench, or it can be created the next day if I’m very excited about it.”

“Other times, I am challenged by a design. I work with unusual natural materials, which I now have many bins of from years of collecting, so I’ll sit at my sunny drawing table and surround myself with lichens, seaweeds, and insect wings, until the right material jumps out at me. Then the design process seems to unfold.”

shopping for insects, lichen encasement earring in progress, at the bench

“From there I can get my hands on the metal at the jewelers bench. Once I settle into a rhythm my hands move through a process, where I witness years of training and practice unfold- working meditatively and peacefully in my studio. I abide by a few pillars of my business which helps keep my brain calm and the process moving along smoothly, including impeccable time and materials records, as well as maintaining a very organized studio. After the piece is created, there is a bit of non-studio work I need to do, including photography, pricing, and creating linesheets, which is actually a really nice time in which I get to look at the piece through a different lens before I release it into the world.”

Luana on her porch, the jeweler’s bench, studio interior

“I currently have the ridiculous luxury of living and working on my family property in Hawaii, so that dominates what my life looks like right now. I’m not much of a morning person, so I usually take that slow, enjoying yoga at home, catching up on computer work, or I’ll hit a pilates class. And there’s always a fresh bowl of fruit in there somewhere. When the air warms up I open up the studio for the day. I enjoy the ritual of uncovering all the tools, turning on NPR, opening the windows, and sliding open the skylights. Opening those is like opening the doorway to the creative spirit. I usually work for a few hours before breaking for lunch, which I always cook for myself. I enjoy my time in the kitchen as much as my time in the studio. My favorite part of my day is always sitting at the jewelry bench, often with a saw or file in my hand. When I have my hands on the metal, the rest of the world just melts away.”

Luana teaching, Luana outside her studio

“I go through the rhythms of what is on schedule for the day, trying to not get distracted by friends stopping by, the ocean or waterfall adventures, which is challenging! I also teach metalsmithing classes regularly, which inserts a wonderful and much needed social aspect to my studio practice.”

“I get exhausted by the thousand moving parts of a running a business. I’m not crazy about doing computer work, but I balance out that part of the business by being highly involved with my artistic and metalsmithing community. We help each other problem-solve, share ideas and opportunities, and most of all, create a sense of camaraderie. Wanting to foster more of that near home, some colleagues and I recently founded the Maui Metal Arts Guild, which I’m now the president of, so that keeps things exciting!”

Luana in Vietnam, National Geographic collection

“I started traveling internationally about 13 years ago now, and recently I’ve become a pretty hard-core addict. Last fall I took a four-month trip including Indonesia, Europe and the states, mostly by myself. After that I thought I’d be good, but then in the spring I jumped on another trip crossing North America, covering some 19 states and Canada. Traveling is the place where I am the clearest on who I am, and my perspective is so fresh that inspiration comes to me in the most interesting ways. I also enjoy the opportunity to connect with other craftspeople and visiting art centers & museums- viewing world class art collections which otherwise I would only glimpse through photographs.”

“I told myself that I need to get this ‘being away from home’ thing in control, to stay around and focus, but anytime time I see a photo from across the world my mind starts to wander and I find myself chomping at the bit…. that’s when I know it’s an obsession. Reading through my 50 year collection of National Geographic does not help. If it’s not an international trip, just being outdoors for the weekend will light me up: hiking, camping, backpacking, even just collecting new pieces of lichen for some jewelry.”

Golden Key and Heart necklace, Luana, snakeskin encasement earrings

“I’ve slowly been putting the pieces together to create new line of gauged jewelry inspired from lotuses, fractals, and ornamental organic patterns. I’ve also been included in an exhibition this winter in which I am invited to create a non-jewelry piece, which is very exciting. I often get so wrapped up in ornamenting the body I forget to make art for the wall!”

“My largest project on the horizon is to relocate my studio and business back to the Bay Area next year; I will be packing up several hundred pounds of jewelry tools and freighting them back to San Francisco! So my mind is often nibbling on thoughts of a new studio space, reconnecting with my community there, and watching the business grow.”

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