With a dramatically unique style, evocative of California’s coastal tidepools and the creatures within them, Johnny Ninos crafts amazing one of a kind miniature artworks out of gold and diamonds. I was able to chat with Johnny about the influences and processes that go into creating these incredible pieces.
Alexis: We love the amazing, elaborate wooden boxes you ship the jewelry in, perfectly custom made to house the items you are sending. Elevating something so humble as the packaging into a work of art, it feels like a very special luxury. I see that reflected in all of your work, the above and beyond attention to detail. Each piece is a unique little world. Can you tell me a bit about your design philosophy and approach to making jewelry?
Johnny: I’m so happy the boxes are appreciated. For me they have always felt like the last 10% of a finished piece. It provides a sense of closure and is a mechanism of letting go of the work I have grown attached to. It is also an excuse to work with wood, which is like a time machine of good memories; the smells transport me to places like working with my Papou in his workshop when I was younger.
A: You are also a teacher. How has that shaped your art and process? What do you love most about teaching?
J: Teaching is actually the reason I now focus primarily on jewelry. When I first started teaching I came in with a background in sculpture. I had previously worked with steel, wood, and clay to create life sized quasi-figurative statues and also complex kinetic pieces. While trying to blend my background into the classroom it quickly became apparent that the facilities were too small to accommodate sculpture at any significant scale. Students were stagnant, waiting for tools and space, and I was eager to find a solution. Before I had taken over the class, jewelry making was a prominent portion of the curriculum and so I began to re-incorporate it. I was reading, YouTubing and practicing, learning quickly in order to keep ahead of my students and troubleshooting along side them issues that neither of us had come across before. I was still teaching sculpture but at a much smaller scale. In fact, I felt I was teaching a much richer form of sculpture. Not only does form, composition, color, material, and texture need to be considered, but also functionality. My students were becoming more engaged, and over time I began finding my own voice as a jewelry maker.
A: The influence of your local environment, the picturesque central California coast, is obvious in your work. What inspiration do you find in nature? Do you have any favorite local spots to get out and explore with your family?
J: Our go-to spot is along the Montana De Oro State Park coastline. It’s a rough and rocky area that keeps the high surf back a bit, exposing some tide pools that offer the perfect adventure for our three year old, Finn.
Every time I get into nature I come back feeling inspired. When I’m on the coast I love the deep salty breaths and taste in the air. Looking into the pools you can observe so many layers of life. The interaction between creatures and their relationship to where they live always excites me and still feels new. While you’re knee deep you have the birds above, the waves coming in, and there are always surprises: washed up junk from a fishing vessel, seasonal changes in the wildlife, a skull or some other interesting remnant of a creature that once was. With my work I’m open to inspiration wherever it may come from, but currently I’m driven to create objects that in some way describe this experience. For example, with my barnacle rings I’m boiling down this view into the pools and giving each ring a unique composition that can stand alone or be part of a group.
A: How on earth do you make the Industrial Decay series?! Not having much knowledge of jewelry-making myself, I was not aware that it is so difficult (impossible?) to solder gold to steel. Inquiring minds on the ESQUELETO team want to know - that is, if you're willing to give up your secrets…
J: I love this question and happy to come out with the details, possibly during a visit sometime in the near future. However, in the meantime I would like to give the inquiring minds some clues as to how it came about (after all, I think it will be more satisfying to solve the riddle than to be given the answer)!
- There is no solder!
- I came across the process for this series as a mistake. I had a casting run in 18k rose gold that failed and left me with partial castings on a few of my rings. I decided to continue working and what I came up with is this [the photo of an early Industrial Decay series piece shown above].
- There are parts unseen that are doing all the work.