Natalie Barela is the designer and maker of the line of jewelry called NEW REFINED BASICS. All pieces are handcrafted at her studio located in Portland, Oregon. Natalie’s background is in art and design and in the past she has explored different mediums and fabrication processes. The past few years her focus has been primarily working with metals and developing a business based on the work that she creates.
Carrie: Welcome to Artist Strong Natalie, when did you first call yourself an artist?
Thank you for the opportunity Carrie!
Well, I still do not often refer to myself as an artist, I usually use the term designer or craftsperson. There are moments when I feel like an artist, which is when I am making one of a kind pieces or having more free time for creative exploration, but this is not the majority of the time. The last few years I have been learning how to manage and grow my small business while creating collections that I can reproduce for small and large orders. I am hoping to find ways in the future to shift my business so I can go back to feeling more like an artist, creating one of a kind pieces and exploring different processes.
Carrie: Can you please describe your work?
My work has some common themes. Stylistically it has a minimalist look with lots of geometric shapes and angles. The jewelry I make is cold forged, which means no heat is used in the process. Many of the pieces are hammered so the metal becomes springy and hard with subtle textures. Since I do not solder or cast metal right now, creative solutions have to be found to make connections between components and separate pieces like rivets or looped hinges. The pieces are designed to be simple, wearable, with small details that show the handcrafted process. Recently I have experimented with lapidary (cutting rocks) which I hope to further incorporate into jewelry in the future.
Carrie: How did you realize your unique style of design?
Over the years it has developed and become more clear and focused. In general I am more attracted to certain forms and shapes which then are translated into my work. A lot of what I make feels inherent. I have to give the ideas space to come out and then they can be further developed. I enjoy the outdoors and nature which provides an organic feel to my work. In general I think less is more, so working with limited materials and processes allows for some structure that informs the style of design.
Carrie: Can you describe your process to us? How do you move from idea to finished artwork?
Typically with any new idea I make little rough sketches of what is in my head. I would then make a prototype to see if the idea works and all the pieces fit together right. Usually the first time they do not or adjustments need to be made. After this another prototype would be made, this process continuing until the piece is right. Another way I approach creating something is to just go for it. If there is no need to get it just right, then it is more fun to experiment and see what happens. This feels more playful and often times it will inspire ideas for future work.
Carrie: How does your life experience and emotional state feed into your art?
I feel grateful that I was always allowed and encouraged to explore the arts and have had the opportunity over the years to build experience through education and related jobs. I have also had the privilege of knowing and working closely with artists and creative people that allowed me to see it was possible to make a career out of a creative pursuit.
In terms of my emotional state, I work better when I feel better. Learning balance and and maintaining a healthy lifestyle helps me do better work and stay focused.
Carrie: Do you ever feel stuck? How do you handle it?
Yes of course. It can be hard to maintain motivation and find a balance between being creative and making a living from it. When there is a lot of production to do, that can really feel stifling and tedious and being creative takes a back seat. During these times I try to stay motivated with audio books, podcasts, shows, anything that will engage my mind and keep me interested until I complete the project and can go back to the fun creative design times again.
Carrie: What does your workspace look like?
I have a studio space inside a building that I share with five other designers/ makers who do woodworking and welding. The space that I use is a big desk that has storage space above and below. I do not need much space to make the jewelry and my most frequently used tools are the anvil, hammers, pliers, dremel, rolling mill, all of which take up little space. Postcards that friends have sent from their travels and photos from outdoor adventures are tacked on the wall which are motivating and keep me feeling connected since I am usually working alone.
Carrie: What do you hope viewers/wearers take from your artwork?
I would like individuals to feel at ease, comfortable, and confident wearing my work. I make pieces with the intention and hope that they will be worn often. The collection of work has variety so there are very simple pieces and more complex pieces depending on what works for the individual. All the jewelry is handcrafted which I believe makes it more interesting and beautiful because every piece is inherently unique.
Carrie: What is one creative resource you can’t live without?
I really enjoy cooking and making food. It is sort of like creative meditation for me. I can experiment with textures, flavors, colors and just fall into the process. The experience of taking time to make a meal for myself or others is gratifying and engaging on many levels.
Carrie: Who/what inspires you?
I get a lot of inspiration from friends, watching them develop and succeed with their own ventures and careers helps me find motivation to move forward with my own. I also enjoy travel and outdoor adventures. Getting away from normal everyday life allows for space and other ideas to develop.
Carrie: How do you define Creativity?
Creativity is a willingness to explore and engage with your imagination and then take the steps to experiment with ideas. Accepting that successes and failures are both good outcomes allows for more creative freedom.
Be Courageously Creative: Tell me about a creative “failure” that led to creative freedom for you in the comments below.
Additional Contact Info:
Join the Artist Strong Community
Meet wonderful, like-minded creatives and unleash your inner artist. Access free online workshops, share in behind the scenes stories from practicing creatives, and uncover strategies to enhance your artist practice.
(All of these bonuses and activities are part of what you receive when you join Artist Strong's newsletter.)
We honor your privacy - read more here.