Inlaying It All Out | Mingei International Museum

"Whether I'm using my tools in a new way or incorporating a new stone, I try to think outside the box of traditional design and techniques."

Fati Genese truly does it all. From metalsmithing to marketing, Fati cuts and carves each inlay jewelry piece by hand from raw vintage stone and then photographs her work to share on social media. We’re thrilled to have her jewelry available at Shop Mingei and to be able to ask her a few questions about her work.

How did you get into jewelry making?

In high school, I took an elective jewelry-making class and loved it. I ended up taking it all four years in high school and continued my art education at the College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State University, where I learned metalsmithing and sculpture. I went into fashion for a little while but soon realized my passion was jewelry.

In 2011, I started my jewelry business, Sea Pony Couture. I apprenticed under a goldsmith in the Bay Area who helped me work with precious metals, high-end jewelry, and faceted stones. While working in a studio of about 70 artists, I was eager to find a way to stand out, and that’s when a friend tipped me off about an inlay class. From there, I went to Ghost Ranch in New Mexico and learned a ton about inlay, which I’ve been doing for about six years now.

What is inlay?

Generally speaking, inlay is the filling of space with a different material, bringing both surfaces down to one even plane, appearing as if the piece is one continuous material. You can see gold inlay in vintage furniture or mother of pearl in an electric guitar.

What inspires you?

Many different things inspire me! Light traveling through glass at dusk or a specific color palette I see around me. For example, I recently took sunset photos while driving down the I-5 from Oakland to Los Angeles. The sunset’s peach and orange tones mixed with the high gray sky and the mountain’s dark mustard color all looked beautiful against the dark gray pavement. To me, it was a perfect color palette. When I think about my inspiration, it’s often a feeling I get from a certain experience like this.

The stories of other artists also inspire me. It's their journey as creative people – the masters they learned from, the schools they went to, the cities they lived in, the books they read, the music they listen to—rather than their final creations that I find moving. I believe it’s up to each artist to find their own inspiration.

You travel and work from a lot of different places. Would you say your surroundings influence your jewelry designs?

Yes and no. Some of my designs come from what I see in my immediate surroundings, but they’re also informed by the resources available to me. Resources such as stones or even the machines and studio time I have available. Every place is a totally different situation.

For instance, when I went to New York, I was super inspired by the graffiti I saw walking to the studio every day. I just loved it. It was beautiful. I didn't anticipate the graffiti being an inspiration for me. And honestly, I may not have noticed it if my studio hours weren’t later in the evening and I was walking around during the day.

Then, working in Wyoming, I had access to some great stones, which were highly influential for the jewelry collection I made there. In the area I lived, there was this excellent rock shop with a vast inventory. I bought stones from there that I hadn't been able to find for years!

Are the names of your pieces connected to these experiences?

This question is funny because the names are generally a bit of an afterthought. Typically I pull from the experiences surrounding the process of creating the piece because my work evolves as I make it. Other times, it's a reference to a recognizable object for people to connect with—like Arch Pendant is named for its arch. For me naming is more of an experience over time, not just one singular vision for an end product. It's a specific time in my life that brings together an amalgam of feelings— a collection of emotions inspires my work.

How would you describe your work and creative process?

Experimental. Every collection I create has an element of experimentation. Whether I'm using my tools in a new way or incorporating a new stone, I try to think outside the box of traditional design and techniques. And, it’s funny, people will ask me, "How do you make it like that?" and I'm like, “well, don't tell your teacher this, but use this machine in this way.” Then everyone realizes I break the rules—but if you own the machine, there's no such thing as breaking the rules!

How do people know what jewelry you have available and where you’ll have your next pop-up shop?

Instagram and my website are the best way for people to hear about what I’m up to. On Instagram, I post the collection releases of my jewelry, which have been popular. I take a personal approach to my social media, often highlighting different aspects of life as an artist or sharing personal anecdotes about the trip or the people I'm working with.

I’m also always having conversations in my DMs, so don’t be shy about reaching out! It’s really me behind the account. There’s no liaison or go-between. I buy all the material, make the jewelry by hand, photograph it, and post it on social media.

Any tips for jewelry makers who are just starting out?

Find people who teach the technique you want to learn and fully take the time to learn it. Learn from as many masters as possible. Never settle on one way of doing things. Success in a jewelry career requires being able to reinvent yourself periodically to stay relevant.

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