Monday, December 31, 2007

Sales and silver

I was very gratified in the lead-up to Christmas at all the sales both on and off etsy. I had one pair of earrings -- completely hand crafted sterling -- sell as soon as I listed them in my shop. They were so much fun to make, and I love working with heavier gauges of sterling silver wire, which I order from Rio Grande. I love the shape, and the texture both.

I also struck up a warm relationship with another buyer, who was interested in my Garnet Flower pendant, which she wanted to buy for a friend's January birthday. Although one might think that internet selling is a very cold and impersonal matter, my friendship with Elizabeth certainly proves otherwise! Below at left is a photo of the pendant she bought:

She brought up one point that is, however, the bane of internet selling, and that is taking photos that do justice. I have been selling online now for nearly a year and a half, and my photos have improved immensely. Yet almost everyone who sees my jewelry says that they are so much more beautiful in person. Of course, nothing beats being able to see and touch a piece of jewelry to get a good sense of it, but I will continue to explore ways in which to give a better sense of the piece to potential customers.

One photo which, I think, does justice to my jewelry is this one:
Labradorite can be very difficult to photograph, as the beautiful blue and green and yellow flashes of light aren't always visible, and then one is left with a rather dirty-looking grey stone. The photo clearly worked, as these earrings sold a day later to a new customer in the Netherlands.

I also had success, in making, photographing, and then selling two pairs of earrings which I called Winter Branches. Since they were completely hand crafted from sterling wire, each pair has its own unique characteristics, although both are inspired by the same piece of fabric:

In the new year, I am going to continue to explore silversmithing, as there is something so gratifying about making all the silver components by hand. Who knows: if enough people buy the silver, I can then turn my attention to gold as well! Happy New Year everyone!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


My son's birthday is in mid-October. From that point on, life seems to speed up, whipping past Halloween and Thanksgiving, and then heading full tilt into Christmas. This fall has been exceptionally busy, with lots of relatives visiting, and other events and parties to put on and attend.

In spite of all the activities and preparations I've been involved in, I've managed to do some painting (never enough time!) and a lot of jewelry. What I love most is working with metals, and my goal is to take another class that will take me to another level. Here are two pairs of earrings I've done recently, with all the silverwork done by hand. I learn a lot each time I sit down to work with the metal, but I'm sure I'm reinventing the wheel many times over, in that, what I learn slowly through trial and error, I could learn very quickly with a good instructor. But, perhaps I learn best that way. Whatever the case, I love to learn! And I love to create!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Too Busy to Blog

It is not that I am procrastinating. Nor have I fallen off the edge of the earth. I just have been terrible busy with custom orders, singlehandedly hosting a birthday party/sleepover for my son and four of his friends, raking leaves, walking, and creating new designs for my etsy shop. Please stay tuned for more blogging....any day now!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Black Flower Earrings -- Oxidized Sterling Silver

I have been itching to try out my Liver of Sulphur ever since it arrived a few weeks ago. Liver of Sulphur, which smells as bad as its name, is used to oxidize silver. To tarnish it, in other words. Why would you want to deliberately tarnish silver, I hear some of you asking. It seems oxidized silver is quite popular these days in the jewelry world and, I have to admit, it has a very interesting effect.

With some 18 gauge sterling silver wire, I hand-formed two flower petal designs. I hammered them for strength, and then soldered into the center of each a flower-shaped bead cap, followed by a flower-shaped bali bead spacer. I like the way these draw the eye into the center of the flower. I pickled them, then tumbled them until hard and polished. I was tempted to leave them that way, all bright and shiny, but decided instead to use my Liver of Sulphur. It takes a little getting used to, as either the solution or the silver has to be hot, but it finally came out to a uniform, dull black. I then took the flowers back to my studio, where I hand-polished them to a rich gleam. I'm very happy with my rare and exotic flower earrings!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Fuschia Flamengo, Ghost Deer, and Other Distractions

I find these days that it is very difficult to stay indoors. The blue sky and changing colors beckon. And yet, when I am outside walking, I find my mind half in my studio, working on a design, or thinking about what I'm going to make next. I enjoy the walk, the feel of the warm sun, the sound of acorns crunching underfoot, the crash and thud of falling black walnuts and apples from the trees above, the sight of a leaf floating gently from the sky like a snowflake presaging a blizzard. And always, always, when I'm walking, I keep my eye out for a white deer which comes to nibble on a neighbor's garden some evenings. I saw this photo, which my neighbor happened to snap, and it took my breath away. The deer doesn't look real. It looks like a photographic negative or, perhaps, a ghost. How does it stay hidden in the forest, I wonder? Do other deer attack it for being different as, I was told, horses often bite others that are white?

I realized today as I was walking and pondering the last thought, that there is a connection there with the necklace I'm making. The connection has nothing to do with the colors in nature, as this necklace has much more in common with a tropical garden than a temperate forest. Rather, the connection is with the girl for whom I am designing the necklace and a white horse.

A number of years ago, when I was living in Peru, I met the girl and became very close to her mother and her family. My son was the same age, and they used to take riding lessons together. One day, the horse her sister was riding reached out to bite the white horse upon which the girl was mounted. Horrifyingly, the horse missed and, instead, bit down on the girl's thigh with such force that it lifted her up out of the saddle. Understandably, the poor girl was very reluctant to get back up on a horse again.

But, I digress: I got distracted. Back to the walk, back to the thoughts of the ghost deer, back to the thoughts of the girl and her necklace. The necklace is called Fuschia Flamengo. It is spectacular, it sparkles, it has a star's big personality....pretty much like the girl herself! Happy Birthday and enjoy your homecoming!

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Dress

Stay tuned for the necklace I am designing to go with this beautiful dress, which will be worn by the lovely daughter of a dear friend, to her first high school Homecoming Dance!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Whiskey on the Rocks Necklace

After fighting off viruses and staunching wounds in the first half of the week, I finally managed to sit down today in my studio (okay, well, stand up, as I have to do most of my hammering on the window sill of the nearby laundry room) and complete a necklace I've been dreaming of since I purchased a strand of gorgeous facetted whiskey quartz beads.

I haven't had much time lately to do a lot of silver work, plus I've been working with a lot more gold due to the autumn colors I've been using, but I really wanted to forge a beautiful sterling chain that would highlight the spectacular beauty of the whiskey quartz pendant. Although it goes beautifully with gold (see my previous blog entitled "Whiskey and Pearls by Firelight"), I thought the purity of silver was needed for this necklace.

Working with silver is a source of great pleasure for me. I love forming links by hand and eyeball, I love soldering, I love hammering (especially hammering!). There is something immensely satisfying in making something as solid as a chain from something as simple as wire.

I wanted the main links of the chain to mimic the shape of the pendant, or perhaps to mimic the shape of ice cubes floating in a crystal glass full of whiskey. I joined the larger links with smaller ones, which I hammered to give a texture distinct from the smoothly hammered larger links, and then twisted slightly for additional visual interest. I finished it off with a handforged s-hook clasp which enables the wearer to extend the necklace from 16-18 inches.

I am thinking of trotting out my Liver of Sulphur (I know: what a name! And an even worse smell!) and making a similar necklace with oxidized silver. I like the idea of dark grey silver next to the warm tawny gold of the whiskey quartz.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Road Rash...and Other Viruses

So, my husband leaves for a trip to Latin America on Sunday afternoon. All is quiet on the home front until I hear the backdoor open and turn to see my son, covered in blood from the knees down. He caught a terrible road rash, it would seem, while playing the street....while wearing shorts. Hmmmm, funny how those viruses can sneak up on you in the midst of playing. So, instead of a nice quiet dinner together, I spent the next hour discovering and bathing and bandaging his wounds. His knees took the brunt of it, but his elbow was nicely skinned as well. He was being very brave about it, while I was trying hard not to hyperventilate at all the blood and missing skin.

So, Monday morning, which is typically a difficult morning with the three of us sleepily bumping into each other and tripping on cats, was made even more interesting by the subtraction of one adult to deal with breakfast, etc, and with the additional need to remove sterile pads (ouch! Don't do it so fast, Mom!) slooooooowly, cleanse wounds, reassure child that the antiseptic states in clear red letters on the bottle that it is a "no-sting" formula while he is whimpering in pain, replace sterile pads, try to find an area where there is actual skin onto which I can put tape, then wrapping it all in Ace bandages to prevent the sterile pads from falling off during the day at school.

He made it through the day with Ace bandages intact, but arrived home with another virus: a cold. Tuesday morning, the ritual was repeated, sans help from far-away hubby, and, looking from the pulpy knees to the dripping nose, I decided to keep him home. Wednesday morning, his knees had swelled up like balloons, but I said he should go to school anyway (after all, high school counts, I told him). He slowly limped toward the door, saying it hurt to put weight on one leg, came back to blow his nose, looking so miserable that I relented and kept him home again. Took him to the doctor as well, as my husband and I didn't believe him when he came in that same back door, almost a year ago now, and said he thought he broke his leg....playing the dark....on Friday the 13th....which happened to be his 13th birthday. Lucky for us that, this time, the doctor thought the swelling was just due to the extensive bruising and subsequent swelling, exacerbated, perhaps, by the cold virus which causes joints to ache.

Long story short: I've been working on a necklace I love, featuring a handforged sterling silver chain and another one of those gorgeous facetted whiskey quartz nuggets, but... well, viruses have intervened and I haven't had a chance to finish it. Maybe I should develop a taste for whiskey after all: I heard it has marvelous antiseptic properties!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Whiskey and Pearls by Firelight

Long ago, when I was first married, I bought my husband a burgundy velvet smoking jacket at a thrift store. It was so elegant (I thought then; I wonder what I'd think now?), and I had visions of us in front of a fire in a cozy, book-filled library, crystal glasses full of whiskey in hand and some beautiful music in the background. The jacket is long gone (I wonder what happened to it?), we have a cozy book-filled room, but it is a dining room rather than a library, and there is no fireplace there. Plus, I never developed a taste for whiskey.

Yet, the other day when I went to my second favorite bead store, I saw some gorgeous facetted whiskey quartz nuggets. They were big, they were beautiful, they were very expensive. I fell in love. As luck had it (or fate?), I had to go to the mall where this bead store is located again this weekend, to provide fashion advice for my husband as he bought some shoes and pants he needed for a trip to Latin America. Well, the pants needed to be hemmed, the shoes were I had time on my hands and a husband feeling guilty for spending so much money on shoes. I said I wanted to go to the bead store while we waited for the tailor to finish and, lo and behold, that strand of whiskey quartz stones was still there, beckoning. Did you buy it, you ask? Of course I did! I know that two wrongs don't make a balanced household budget, but he felt guilty: I knew he would be relieved that he wasn't the only one spending too much money. The way I see it is that, by buying that glorious strand, I alleviated his feelings of guilt. Now, isn't that a perfect wifely thing to do?

So, they are now mine! All mine! I carefully examined them, found the most perfect of all these perfect stones, and set to work. The whiskey quartz is so gorgeous that I decided to pull out all the stops: nothing less than crystal and pearls. I found some beautiful, facetted potato pearls whose lustre encompasses the gorgeous warm, tawny color of the whiskey quartz. I had a stash of Swarovski bicones of a perfect, neutral, light topaz color that provided just the right sparkle, like firelight reflecting off a cut-crystal glass. I finished it off with a handmade clasp with a spiral shape that echoed the spiral lines on some additional pearls I added, and a chain that makes this necklace adjustable from 16-20 inches (42-52 cm). In this necklace, I recreated that long ago vision of an elegant evening with crystal and whiskey and pearls in front of a fire. Now, how perfect is that?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Golden Days and Dreams of Amber

A short drive from where I live in Northern Virginia, is a parkland situated along the banks of the Potomac River. A trail winds along the edge of the river, enticing one to take a lovely long walk. A few miles downriver are the thundering Great Falls, which stopped Captain John Smith in his journey up the Potomac centuries ago. In this park, the river itself is wide and shallow and slow, dotted here and there with rocks and rills and a few deep pools in which gaggles of geese and rafts of ducks eat and play in the clear water. What was to have been a short stroll, turned into a nearly three hour walk because I couldn't bear to turn back. Strolling along the shaded path, with no sounds other than birds in the surrounding forest and waterfowl in the river, with the Potomac sparkling in the sun, was heaven. The weather was perfect; the park was perfect: I fell in love.

I also fell in love with a strand of large Baltic amber beads which I found in a nearby shop recently. These beads look like drops of warm sun that encapsulate the golden and reddish colors of fall. I lived in Poland many years ago, and I have regretted ever since that I didn't buy trunkfulls of amber then. I do remember walking along the Baltic sea and finding delicate drops of amber on the sand. Amber is wondrous: It is so ancient that the trees that gave off the resin that became amber no longer exist. The resin formed 25 to 50 million years ago and enfolds within itself the world that existed at the time. Homer speaks of amber as a gift fit for royalty in the Odyssey, and an amber room was indeed given to Peter the Great of Russia by the Prussians. It is said to bring luck to its bearer, whether royal or not. And this amber strand was big, it was golden and full of red and yellow inclusions as if it is reflecting a fall day millions of years ago. I couldn't wait to make a necklace with it.

I began with a beautiful, large center bead. That bead is surrounded by tiny Czech glass seed beads, and two facetted Czech crystal rondelles of a hue the color of yellow-green leaves in autumn. From that gorgeous center bead, graduated sizes of more amber beads continue, separated by small Czech glass rondelles and cathedral beads -- also showing the gradual onset of autumn in their sparkling green and yellow depths. To reduce the weight and the cost of the necklace, I added beads of amber and citrine glass whose golden color perfectly mimics the beautiful amber. Finished off with an adjustable 14-karat gold-filled chain and a handmade 14-karat gold-filled clasp, the lucky person who ends up with this necklace will indeed feel like royalty. Look for it in my etsy shop soon.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The First Signs of Autumn

It is easy sometimes, when walking in my neighborhood, to forget that I live in a suburb of a major metropolitan area. A short stroll away lies a stream valley park where, as often as not, I see or hear some form of wildlife. It might be a cluster of deer, startled into statues by my coming. Occasionally, I'll spy the tawny red coat and spindly legs of a fox. Rarer still, but not uncommon, is when I catch sight of a beaver, either sliding down the riverbank with some tasty tangle of leaves in his mouth, or gliding through the water towards his dam. Always, I am surrounded by birdsong, the chatter and scramble of squirrels, sometimes the cry of a hawk as he sails overhead, and the mesmerizing song of the cicadas.

I lived overseas for many years in countries where there were only two seasons: the hot season and the cool season; or the rainy season and the dry season. Coming back to witness again the four seasons of a temperate climate has been thrilling for me. As I walk now, despite the persistent summer heat and humidity, I see leaves fluttering down onto the path. The trees themselves are just beginning to show hints of gold or red or brown. The combination of colors in a temperate forest in the autumn is always both soothing and exhilarating to me, exciting my artist's eye and promising more changes to come.

I love designing jewelry that showcases those changes. I just finished a necklace called Smoke and Sparkle, which has hints of the beginning of autumn. Starting with a lovely smoky quartz nugget, which looks as if it has been caressed over time by wind and water, I surrounded it with the sparkling facets of smoky quartz briolettes. Nestled in between these, I added chips of peridot and small Czech facetted cathedral beads, with lovely transparent green barrels tipped with gold like the leaves in autumn. I love how the green sparkles amongst the brownish grey quartz like sunlight on the leaves in a forest. The necklace has a wonderful combination of textures and colors, that are both subtle and eye-catching. It is now available in my etsy shop, along with additional photos.

Friday, August 31, 2007

High School and Sicily

This morning, my husband and I attended a long orientation at our son's new high school. My baby is about to enter 9th grade at the tender age of 13! A whole new era of puberty and independence and lots of homework and girlfriends is about to open for our family, and I must say that sometimes I find it hard not to hyperventilate!

At the orientation, I sat next to the sister of a dear friend of mine from Costa Rica. When we moved to Virginia from CR, it was great to have a contact, a warm human being, to whom I could turn with all my questions. It was even better that her son was in the same school and grade as mine.

As we sat and waited for the orientation to get underway, talk turned to what they were up to. Well, she said, they were planning a trip through Sicily. Have you ever been to Sicily, she asked? Hah! Have I ever been to Sicily: we lived there for four wonderful years! She and her family have a woefully short time there, but I've been on the computer for the past hour, sending suggestions of places, hotels, and food to her. I haven't immersed myself this deep in thinking about Sicily in a long time, and I must say it makes my heart ache a bit. We left pieces of our hearts in so many countries, with so many wonderful people we met there.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Forests of the Night

I made a beautiful necklace today featuring a variety of shapes and sizes of Tiger's Eye. I love the mysterious, elusive quality of the bands of gold and brown that shift and shimmer like the eye of a tiger caught by firelight. As is often the case when I work with this stone, the wonderful poem by William Blake plays through my mind like a refrain.

TIGER, tiger, burning bright In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

In a interesting coincidence, while I was working on the necklace, I was listening to a program on a local npr station on the emergence of uncontacted tribes. I say "coincidence" because here I was thinking about the forests of the night, which led me to think about my time in Costa Rica and, while I was thinking about that, the discussion of uncontacted tribes came up.

Whenever we used to drive around Costa Rica, my mind would drift off into the beautiful forested landscapes stretching as far as the eye could see, with no sign of human existence. How can that be, I would ask myself? How can there be all this beautiful land and no indigenous people to live on it? My mind began to dream up tribes that hadn't been contacted by man. Now I know that such people don't exist in Costa Rica, so I decided to invent them on canvas. I painted a series which I called "Lost Tribesmen". Imagining their existence, what resources from the world around them they would wear, made my time in Costa Rica much richer.

The whole issue of previously uncontacted tribes is much less romantic than my imagining such people into existence. To learn more about the plight of these people, check out these links:

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Something a friend said the other day made me reflect on the idea of "home". This friend had just moved here from another country with her husband, found an apartment and was busy unpacking and trying to fit her past life into her new space. As new as she was, with boxes still unpacked, furniture still unbought, she said in an email that she and her husband got "home" about midnight one night. Even being in a new city, which she had previously only visited upon occasion, with no other family in the country, she called her new apartment "home".

I think a lot about the whole notion of home, and what it means to different people. What makes a place "home"? When do you feel "at home"? Is home truly where the heart is? I grew up in one place: Denver, Colorado. I didn't leave, other than for vacations, until I went away to college. Since graduating, I have lived in thirteen different homes. Those thirteen homes were in seven different countries. My son, who is now thirteen, lived in eight different homes, in five different countries, before he became a teenager.

Very often, in my peregrinations, I have felt very alien, out-of-place, whatever the opposite of "feeling at home" is. And then one day I realize that, when I wasn't paying attention, this strange new world -- whether it was Warsaw, Palermo, Rangoon, Havana, Lima, or San Jose -- had somehow become home. That transition from feeling like a stranger in a strange land to someone who belongs can come from showing a visiting friend or relative around and realizing you know what you're talking about and where you're going. It can come from finding a pediatrician, a dentist, a car mechanic, a new group of friends...from forging a support structure in an increasingly familiar environment.

Feeling at home, well, at home, is easier. I unpack boxes -- often knowing from the smell as I open them what country the contents are from -- uncovering all the treasures and memories from my previous "homes", then create a new home by combining all those treasures in new ways, on new walls, in different rooms, constructing a new life. I have become very adept at this process, particularly if I have seen photos of my new house in advance; I daydream a lot and figure out where a lot of our things belong, and then it is just a matter of unpacking them and putting them in "their place". I own no home but, in a very short time, can turn an empty, rented house into a place where my family has lived, perhaps, for generations.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Pearls Pearls Pearls

I love pearls. Diamonds may be some girl's best friend, but not mine. Where diamonds are flashy, pearls are more subtle. Their beauty comes from their shape and their iridescence, which can reflect a world of hues. I love the plethora of pearl shapes and colors. I love how they feel in the fingers, whether they are smooth and perfect and round, or bumpy and organic, or long and lean. I love using them when designing necklaces.

My latest necklace took as its inspiration a beautiful leopardskin shell. Shells and pearls certainly have an affinity, and I wanted to bring that out by using pearls which echo the iridescent hues of the shell. The two main colors of the shell are highlighted by lovely, top-drilled teardrop pearls in champagne and bronze. The shell's iridescence captures pink and green hues, which are also echoed in the pearls. Tiny seed beads with a golden glow, together with small champagne and bronze pearls, and lovely Czech crystal and glass beads, whose facetted surface twinkles and catches the eye with every movement, separate and emphasize the larger teardrop pearls. To finish off this necklace, I have added a 14-karat goldfilled chain, and a hand-formed and hammered 14-karat gold-filled clasp, which allows the wearer to adjust the necklace to match the neckline of a variety of outfits.

This necklace has been sold since I wrote this blog entry.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Caribbean Captured

The last time I went to my local Afghan bead merchant, I was mesmerized by some aqua chalcedony beads that had been clearly facetted by hand. Each was unique in size and shape, but each held me spellbound with the color. When I held them in my hands, I felt as if I were holding opalized drops of warm sea water.

I lived for a time in Cuba, and a longer time in Costa Rica. In both countries, the Caribbean sea was a source of great pleasure for me and my family. The beach beckoned us frequently and, whenever we could, we would pack the car and head to the shore, the Buena Vista Social Club and other Cuban cds accompanying us the whole way. Knowing that, at the end of a long drive, lay a palm-fringed beach of white sand and crystalline waters, made our hearts soar along with the music.

When I saw these aqua chalcedony beads, I was immediately transported back in my mind to the wonderful hours I spent floating in those warm waters, with nothing more pressing to do than to contemplate the colors of sand, sea, and sky. I have taken these droplets of pleasure and combined them with the earthy and smoky hues of glistening bronze pearls and facetted smoky quartz beads. Interspersed among them are Czech glass beads that look as though sediment formed around aqua water, encapsulating that color for eternity. It is finished off with a handmade s-hook clasp and chain, both 14-karat gold-filled.

The necklace is now available in my etsy shop.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Foible-full computers

I made a gorgeous necklace today, weaving together the aqua of some beautifully facetted chalcedony with some bronze pearls and lovely smoky quartz. It has been ruminating in my mind now for over a month, lying on my worktable in its incipient stage, and I finally devoted enough time to complete the design. I love it. I took lots of photos of this wonderful design with my faithful digital camera, then sat down to upload them to my usual computer. No go. No idea why not. So I went to another computer. Sat down, downloaded them just fine, then realized that the photo editing program is on the first computer and there is no way I can now transfer them.....or is there? I refuse to surrender to my computer!

*trots off to see if she can email them to herself*

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Pearls and Perils

I did return from vacation as planned, but was felled by a terrible summer cold that wiped me out for a couple of weeks. Happily, the wonderful memories of my vacation remained with me to cheer me up as I recovered. Additionally, I bought a number of strands of gorgeous pearls of various sizes, shapes, and hues, which I fondled and played with and daydreamed about even when I didn't have the strength to produce any finished products.

One recent afternoon, I was idling picking through some loose beads I had in my inventory, and the light caught a beautiful bronzite oval. The golden inclusions and rich brown hues brought to my mind the colors of a lioness. Before I knew it, my mind had created an entire necklace starring that bronzite oval and some wonderful golden teardrop pearls. I knew what I wanted it to look like, and it was just a matter of fiddling a bit with the more peripheral stones which, although not the stars themselves, play a very important supporting role.

I loved the bronze colors of a variety of facetted Czech crystal beads I happened to have, which catch the light with every movement like the glint of a lioness' eyes. Additionally, their deep hues highlight the lighter gold of the pearls, and echo the chocolate brown of the bronzite. With the addition of two beautiful smoky quartz facetted rounds, the necklace was nearly complete.

As I like to provide options for friends and customers who wear my jewelry, I wanted to make this necklace adjustable. I bought a length of 14-karat goldfilled chain, with delicate, hammered links, and made a 14-karat goldfilled s-hook clasp to finish off the necklace. Additional images of this lovely necklace are in my etsy shop.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

On Vacation

I am going to Colorado and New Mexico and will be back and blogging around August 6. Please check back then.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Custom Orders

I love custom orders. I love making something special for a specific person (see my mother-in-law post). Happily, I've been busy the last few days with some custom orders AND special designs for special people. If that isn't enough good news, I actually cleaned my studio as well!

My custom orders included making something for a friend of a customer, based on a necklace called Rhumba Rhythms which this customer bought a while back from my Etsy shop. She says that, every time she wears it, she gets a lot of compliments from friends and strangers, men and women. She wanted something similar, with one strand, for a friend who loves red and wears lots of black. Happily, I had enough beads to start with, and produced the single strand necklace above, which I have named Tango, for the rhythm created by the black, red, and gold beads, as well as the passionate feelings evoked by those three colors together.

My special design for a specific person included making a birthday present for my lovely niece, a wee sprite of a girl who is on the cusp on teenagehood. Now, I've known Emily all her life, was in Singapore for her birth, but only see her once a year, more or less. As everyone knows who knows children, a child can change a lot in a year. Especially when that child is on the cusp of turning that magic teenage number. My sister told me that her current favorite color was in the turquoise/blue range. I sat down with the beads I had, but I needed focal beads to play a starring role. A quick trip to a nearby bead store netted me some gorgeous turquoise beads, with retro-swirly pink and white accents. Ooooh, perfect (I hoped) sophisticated turquoise with a little punch of pink. Below, is her necklace, which she will receive in August on her thirteenth birthday. Happy Birthday, my lovely niece!

In the midst of all these orders, I was thrilled to wake up on Sunday morning and see an order for my Mother Nature necklace from a new customer in Australia! One thing I love about Etsy and my blog is the world-wide connection. And I have a clean studio!!! Can life get any better?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Sunlit Sea

One year ago yesterday, I sold a necklace called Sunlit Sea. Today, in an odd but happy coincidence, I was commissioned to do something similar. Happily, I still had enough of the beads playing the starring role, as well as a good supply of supporting cast members. The colors on the glass beads that I used remind me of the sun shining on the waves, with hints of the cool depths underneath.

Sadly, this will be the first summer in many years when I won't have the opportunity to see the sun shining on real waves. I lived with my family for several years in Costa Rica, where we would brave the terrible roads as often as possible to go to our favorite beach on the Caribbean side. We saw that beach many different times of year when it had many different moods. The best memory I have was one October when we went there to celebrate our son's birthday. The sea was completely calm, soothingly warm, and one could float to one's heart's content, staring up at the blue sky, or turning one's head to the side to see the long line of the palm-lined coast. The worst memory was being there shortly after the terrible tsunami in Asia. This time, a terrible storm knocked out electricity and washed out the road back home. As my son said in a quavering voice, in the pitch dark of the hotel room, with the sound of the waves roaring loud in the utter stillness: "The air is a little too thick with adventure!"

Last summer, we had the privilege and pleasure of spending an idyllic vacation with wonderful friends on the Isle of Palms in South Carolina. Before the tide would go out and leave miles of sand exposed, the water would calm down and, again, one could float, lifted and caressed and gently rocked by the waves. The bonnet-headed sharks swimming around gave just the right note of danger.

So, this year, my sea memories will have to be created by the colors of the beads and stones in my studio. I have some gorgeous chalcedony the color of a warm, shallow sea that I hope to turn to next. All of you who have access to a beautiful beach, I wish you gentle waves and warm breezes!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Turquoise Celebration Necklace

The other day at the Afghan shop in nearby Annandale, Virginia, I couldn't resist buying some gorgeous turquoise rondelles. Turquoise has a strong appeal for me, in part due to its color, and in part to its significance to the Native Americans of the southwest where I spent a lot of time growing up. It was the beautiful color and the substantial size of these turquoise rondelles that really caught my eye. Months before, I bought some deep red coral drums from this same merchant, and I've only been able to use them in one or two necklaces; their bold color and shape require something that will really stand up to them. So, perhaps, I thought, purchasing the turquoise, this will be the perfect marriage, and couldn't wait to take them home to consummate the relationship!

Today, at last, I was able to sit down and introduce the two. They hit it off immediately! Wondrously, I had four sterling silver rondelles left from a stash I had bought in Peru, and they fit in like a dream, weaving in and out of the turquoise, which is flanked by two smooth coral beads, and centered by one perfectly carved one.

The rest of the necklace consists of lighter materials to offset the substantial heft of the turquoise and coral. Smaller turquoise drums, and antique red heart glass beads provided the perfect finish, marching from the large coral around to a beautiful and substantial sterling silver clasp, which had been waiting for just such a union.

The result is bold, clean, and eye-catching. It looks like a party waiting to happen!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Fascinating, facetted onyx

Even the name is exotic: onyx. It is a stone that has been mentioned since biblical times, and has long fascinated me. As with other onyx, black color is often enhanced through heating. Unlike other onyx, one can also deepen the color by combining sugar and an acid. Who figured that out and how? Were they examining it one day over a glass of sweetened tamarind water and it fell in, the bands magically disappearing as the color deepened?

The beautiful many-facetted onyx ovals that I bought the other day on my Afghan adventure have been whispering to me, enticing me to highlight their beauty in a piece of jewelry. I love their deep black mystery, and really wanted to make something special. Today, I sat down with them at my ever-messy work table and, as I always do, just started to play, putting them with this bead or that bead. They immediately showed an affinity with my other facetted onyx beads: the different shapes and sizes and types of facets added a nice contrast. To really make the facetted onyx stand out, I added in some lovely simple sterling silver beads I bought in Peru several years ago. I have had a hard time parting with the last of those Peruvian beads, but the smooth silver surface is such a perfect foil for the complex facets and deep black of the onyx.

I feared the necklace would be too heavy if I continued with the larger beads, so I started adding in smooth round onyx beads and smaller black horn drums. Finally, to finish it off, I used the beautiful, textured hilltribe silver beads I bought from the Afghan merchant. An adjustable sterling silver chain, a handmade sterling silver clasp, and a tiny sparkling Swarovski crystal bicone complete the look.

Dramatic in its contrasts, I think my design does justice to these lovely beads. And I love that its components came together from all over the world in this necklace.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Creative Outlets

I am a firm believer in having a creative outlet. Whenever any of my friends talks about pursuing an artistic hobby or taking a crafting class, I am their biggest cheerleader. I refuse to believe it when people say they can't draw; I think they just have to be taught how to "see" things better.

I am very lucky in that I have three creative outlets: painting; sculpting; and jewelry design. For me, painting came first. It comes first in my soul, I think. I walk into someone's studio and smell the oils and turps and feel like I am imbibing ambrosia. But I haven't really painted in nearly two years, since I moved back to the States from Costa Rica. The reasons for that, I suppose, would fill a whole other blog.

Jewelry design came next. Other than a jewelry course in high school, and gathering beads from country to country, I didn't really begin seriously until I lived in Peru and took another course. That set me off on the journey I am still on, a journey which provides a necessary creative outlet and some income.

And then there is sculpting. I played around with clay in a ceramics workshop many years ago while living in Sicily, then thought no more about it for probably 15 years or so, when I moved to Costa Rica. There, I convinced a group of friends to join me in a series of workshops at a local studio, where the plan was to cycle through a number of media and techniques taught by local artists. Sculpture came first. I never went on to anything else. I fell totally in love with the medium.

Sculpting suits my personality. I love to start with a vision in my head, turn on some appropriate music, then take a hunk of clay, and let my imagination and the music bring something to life. I almost did a workshop with a very wonderful, well-known Costa Rican sculptor, until I discovered he required that all projects begin with numerous drawings. Now, I have nothing against drawing, but that is antithetical to how I created in clay. I didn't want to be limited by something concrete on paper, but rather to let my ideas flow with the music into my hands and into the clay.

The woman above began as a sleeping mother enfolding her baby. Since I was such a rank beginner at sculpting, I didn't realize that the way I made the figure would create complex casting difficulties. No problem, I thought. I'll just wake the woman up and have her holding her child that way. But, as the music and my ideas flowed, the child I guess grew up and left home, and she morphed into a woman with an empty hand. I don't know why that happened, but I make sure that every week I place in her hand a different shell from the Caribbean or an interesting bead from my vast collection for her to ponder.

I miss sculpting.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Tribal Loot

Every now and again, one needs a little adventure and a little exotic sustenance to keep the creative juices flowing. I have a friend who was intrigued by my tale of a local Afghan merchant, whose shop is overflowing with beautiful and enticing things. Happily, his shop is also located in a nexus of Asian restaurants, and my friend is as game as I to try some new, inexpensive Asian food. I invited another friend, to whom I had taught beading, to come along. The three of us set out on a hot, steamy day to begin our adventure.

It had been a while since I'd been at the Tribal Rugs and Jewelry shop in Annandale, Virginia. But, rather than the having-packed-the-tents-and-fled scenario that I feared finding, I found that the shop had overflowed its banks and spilled into several more rooms in the little antiques mall that houses it. The experience begins at the entrance, where there are displayed numerous ready-made necklaces, with huge coral and silver beads, delicate mother-of-pearl, and all manner of jewels designed to draw one in.

The quantity of ready-made necklaces had expanded enormously since my last visit. Many of them are "tribal" necklaces from the mountains of Afghanistan, Tibet, Nepal, and India, featuring large, beautifully fashioned silver beads. Others are more modern, with facetted briolettes gleaming in the cases. There are huge silver bracelets and breastplates and items of jewelry for which one can't quite imagine the appropriate body part. In between are beautiful antique vases and robes and wall hangings. The center of the main room is piled high with carpets from Afghanistan and Iran, providing a plush surface on which to recline should one feel overwhelmed by the bounty on the walls of the room.

And then there was what I had come for: display case after display case of beads. An entire case of coral, another of sponge coral. There was onyx in every shape and size imaginable, chalcedony in more colors than nature had dreamed of, piles of freshwater pearls, turquoise, agate, jaspar, labradorite, buckets of hilltribe silver, acres of pewter and vermeil findings... And, in the "inner sanctum", lies the real treaure: beautifully facetted tourmaline, rubies, emeralds, jade, lemon quartz, all shining and gleaming and leaving one feeling wistful. The photo above is the "loot" I happily left with, featuring chalcedony the color of a warm, shallow sea, beautifully facetted onyx ovals, gorgeous turquoise rondelles, and two kinds of hilltribe silver spacer beads. I couldn't wait to get them home to my studio!

To recover from this surfeit of beauty, we drove a half mile to a Korean restaurant and indulged our appetites for spicy and tasty and filling foods. Seafood pancake, kimchi, barbecued pork belly, vegetables, soy sprouts, bean starch.... We left in a downpour, replete in all senses.

If you find yourself in the wilds of Annandale (if you pronounce it the way my Latino acquaintances do, it sounds quite exotic!), Tribal Rugs and Jewelry is located at 7120 Little River Turnpike. If you have a hankering for good Korean food, the Gom Ba Woo restaurant is a mere half mile away.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Earth and Sky Necklace

A friend sent me the other day a link to a video that features faces of women painted throughout the ages, each face morphing into the next ( It is beautifully and lovingly done, each face almost caressing the one that replaces it. It made me think back on my studies of art history at Wellesley, where I saw those same faces parade through my books and on the screens of darkened auditoriums. But it also brought to my mind something that made me laugh, and that is how, with the best of intentions, what one sets out to make sometimes morphs into something completely different.

The necklace I made today was a perfect example of how that happens. I have these beautifully facetted little smoky quartz briolettes (even the name is lovely!) that I have been wanting for a long time to use in a necklace. I decided I would put them together with some lovely golden brown potato pearls. I added in a large smoky quartz nugget as a centerpiece. Hmmmm.... Needs something..... I know: I'll add in some turquoise nuggets which echoed the shape of the smoky quartz briolettes. I also brought in some facetted smoky quartz rondelles and some turquoise drums which echoed their shape. Oh, those drums looked lovely with the pearls and crystal and glass beads in between! But, hmmmm....I don't really think the smoky quartz briolettes belong in this necklace anymore. So, what started me on this designing adventure ended up back in the box, to await their debut another time.

I love how the necklace turned out. I love all the different textures and colors and shapes. I love how the facetted beads twinkle and draw the eye. The color of the earth and the color of the sky, joined together in a myriad of materials. What fun this is to work on a necklace which ends up dictating its own outcome! To see more photos, check out my etsy shop or my flickr.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Rock Crystal Columns

Several years ago when I was living in Peru, I happened upon a cache of beautiful, transparent rock crystal columns. Each one was enticingly different. Until now, only I wore these crystal beads in a couple of necklaces I made for myself. I have been very reluctant to part with the few I had left as I know I won't be able to find them again easily. But they are so much fun to work with, and I wanted to experiment with a necklace that both emphasized and contrasted their smooth shape and transparent essence.

I took some sterling wire and handformed some links that echoed the shapes of the crystal. I made some small jumprings to connect these links, and realized how much I liked the contrast of circular and columnar, so I made some larger circular links as well. I found some sterling silver pumpkin beads in two different sizes, and then started playing with it all. I decided the crystal beads needed something to emphasize them more, as their transparency gives them a tendency to dissolve from view. I happened to have some simple bead caps and, for some real contrast in texture, I added some granulated sterling silver spacer beads, which incorporate the columnar shape of the rock crystal, as well as the round links and beads. All that was left was to weave it all together in the most visually pleasing way possible.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Silken Sea Necklace

For me, designing a necklace is like working with the pieces of a puzzle that you yourself create. I bought some gorgeous large peacock coin pearls with a fabulous lustre a few months ago, and they have been in the back of my mind since then. I knew I had to make a spectacular necklace to highlight their gorgeous qualities.

Since I had a lot of errands to do today and didn't really have time to get into a lot of metalwork, I pulled the peacock pearls out and began to play with the puzzle. Besides these large, gorgeous, smooth ones, I had some medium sized peacock coin pearls as well. I decided I wanted to use some of those, in part to lower the overall cost of the necklace and, in part because I liked the contrast their crinkly surface provided with the larger coins.

My necklaces tend to have seed beads of some sort between the main beads, because I like the fact that they are therefore visually separated and therefore each is highlighted more. I, happily, had some small amethyst beads, as well as some glass seed beads that I knew would be perfect. Same for the lovely, delicate, translucent amethyst coin beads I had. But the necklace lacked something: a piece of the puzzle was missing....

If you read yesterday's post, you know by now that I'm not one who keeps a really neat studio. In this case, that was a lucky thing, as my eye fell on a strand of aquamarine rondelles lying nearby. If I had put that strand away, I might not have seized on it as the perfect thing. I grabbed for it and -- yes: the missing piece! I loved how the pool of watery bluish-green highlighted and complemented the intense color of the peacock pearls. The aquamarine looks like it is a drop of water from a warm and shallow sea, and the peacock pearls have the deep, reflective colors of an ocean in the moonlight.

The rest of the necklace was easy to put together once the main puzzle pieces were in place. All that lacked was the name.... I chose Silken Sea Necklace because the large peacock pearls remind me of a beautiful silken taffeta shot through with wondrous hues, and the aquamarine inspired the "Sea." So, all done, photographed, listed on etsy AND I even got a lot of errands done as well!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Forest and Sea Necklace

I freely admit it: I am not a neat jeweler. My studio tends to get pretty wild with boxes of beads of various colors, mailing supplies, wire, tools, photography equipment, etc. Every now and then I have to take some time and clean it up. After several days of silversmithing, I decided that the time had come. As I was putting things in their proper place, I unearthed a beautiful spiral hilltribe silver bead that I had also used in my Pearl Swirl necklace (which can be viewed in my etsy shop at Aha! I said to myself, as visions of a new necklace started dancing in my head!

As in my Pearl Swirl necklace, I decided to use some of my champagne pearls because their swirly shape is so reminiscent of the spiral bead. But rather than throw in a lot of other pearls, I decided to raid my box of wooden beads. I immediately fixated on the large, torqued spiral ones, which I felt would help offset the size of the spiral bead. Then, for interest in terms of color and texture and shape, I started weaving in other wooden beads: square, round, and triangular. Then, to separate the silver bead from the wood (as wood has a tendency to cause silver to tarnish more quickly), I used two beautifully polished horn beads on either side of the silver. Rather in the manner of silk knots between pearls, which swerves to highlight each shape as well as to protect each pearl, I employed a variety of czech glass seed beads.

Last but not least, I used a handmade sterling silver clasp and a 4 inch sterling silver chain, whose links reminded me of the torqued spiral of the large wooden beads. I realized recently that I really prefer adjustable necklaces, so I can vary them according to the neckline of the shirt I'm wearing, so I've started offering most necklaces that way. This necklace, therefore, can be transformed from a 16 inch choker length, to a 20 inch necklace. The photos below show how the necklace hangs at those two lengths.

Is my studio clean now? Of course not, because, as soon as I stumbled upon the spiral silver bead, out came the boxes, the clasps, the chains, etc. Do I care? No, because out of chaos, came this beautiful necklace!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Celestial Sphere Earrings

Circles are popular these days. Earrings with circles are really popular. Earrings with sterling silver circles are really truly popular. So how to make yours stand out, I asked myself. Never one to spend much advance time plotting how to corner the market on sterling silver circle earrings, I just picked up some wire and began.

First, I made two large circles of 20 gauge sterling silver wire. I formed them with a pole I had that seemed about right for truly popular earring size, then soldered them. Next, I took a sharpie pen, which was lying close to hand, and seemed just the thing for the second circle, formed two more circles -- this time out of 18 gauge wire, and soldered them. Finally, after a quick reconnoiter of nearby rooms, I found a flagpole from a toy flag in my son's room, and made two more circles out of heavier 16 gauge wire, then soldered them.

Then, everything went in the pickle solution, while I pondered how I was going to join them all together. Hanging them all from an earwire, even if it was handmade, seemed a bit obvious and certainly wasn't going to help in my bid to corner the really most truly popular sterling silver circle earring market. So, I began playing around with some 16 gauge wire, which I hammered flat. I liked how its long, rectangular shape looked, and thought it would provide a nice contrast with the circle theme I had going. But I felt it needed a jumpring to which it could tether the circles I had made. So I made two jumprings using a pencil.

So, out of the pickle, and under my hammer. Hammering is really one of the most fun parts of silversmithing, and don't believe anyone who tells you otherwise. Unless you are a carpenter, how often can you just bang away at something and transform it into something, well, a little different. When you are hammering circles, though, or anything else for that matter, you just have to be careful not to bang them out of shape. These were very well-behaved little circles, clearly eager to be part of this great takeover of the world of circular earrings.

Then, I laid the circles down, bent the flattened, heavy gauge wire (with some difficulty, I admit, and even a teeny tiny bit of breakage) so that it linked the circles while keeping them flat and in their order of largest to smallest. I soldered the joint of the flattened wire, pickled everything again, then put the earrings and the earwires in the tumbler for a good long time. Once they were all bright and shiny, I carefully filed the smallest and largest circles to create some difference in texture.

While they may not win the title of really, truly, most incredibly popular sterling silver circle earrings on the planet, I'm very proud of them and, when I have time, I'm going to make a pair for myself. But probably a little bit different:... I'll oxidize the middle circle, and maybe the tether for contrast, and then.....well, the possibilities are endless!