Nancy Caten is the designer and jeweler behind NCbis. A bay area native, Nancy creates her unique pieces in her San Francisco studio. Known for combining precious metals, rare and semi-precious stones, her work is influenced by the Arts & Crafts movement of the late 19th century, marked as “a reaction against the industrial revolution and the mass production of goods”. Her work is unconventional - incorporating vintage materials with a decisively modern edge.
1. In college, an Art professor once told me “the creative part of being an Artist is making a living”. As a professional artist, what has been your recipe for success?
I consider myself a craftsperson, rather than an artist. What interests me most is the process of creation. The journey one takes to make the piece is what drives me, not always the end product. To be successful it’s necessary to take note of the ever changing fashion trends but not allow yourself to be overwhelmed by those constant shifts. You still need to find a place where your ideas and passions fit into the market.
2. Take us through your design process. Where do you find your inspiration when approaching a new design or collection?
I’m inspired by many diverse things. travel, music, nature and I also spend a lot of time in museums which are spiritual places for me. When it comes to designing a new collection I don’t do drawings. Instead I use more of a collage method, assembling different elements like a puzzle and discovering what fits organically.
3. On your website it says your designs are influenced by the “Arts & Crafts movement of the early 20th century”, can you elaborate?
The arts & crafts movement began in the late nineteenth century as a reaction against the industrial revolution and the mass production of goods. It honored quality craftsmanship of everyday products. My own goal is that each individual piece be designed and well crafted by hand. A personal touch invests the work with a human spirit that’s pleasing to me and hopefully to the wearer as well.
"The journey one takes to make the piece is what drives me, not always the end product."
4. Many of your pieces include vintage materials while maintaining a modern edge. How do the vintage materials tie into your designs? What do they signify?
Sometimes I use vintage french metal stampings from the late 1800’s or vintage Japanese and Czech beads but I assemble them using a contemporary silhouette and color palate. Repurposing and recycling materials is important to me. Each piece should have character and a life, and not be throw away adornment.
5. What has been your biggest obstacle and boon as a designer?
When you have a small design business the multitude of daily responsibilities can sometimes get in the way of the creative process. That’s when I know it’s time to visit an art gallery or take a trip to a new destination to refresh my vision.