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!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Tender little *&%$ blossoms

Silver melts. I knew that, in theory, and it had even happened to me once or twice. But today, it seemed to be melting with very little provocation. Or heat. Must've been gremlins, or the heat index, since it clearly couldn't have been MY fault!

Much like the flower I formed the other day, I took up some wire this morning and formed beautiful, delicate little five-petalled blossoms. Once I got a pair with a similar size and shape, I carefully soldered them closed. So far so good.

Then I pickled them, hammered them, and got ready to solder on a bead cap I had. Instead of the solder melting, the petal melted onto the bead cap and created an unsightly mess. Hmmmm... and grrrr....

Second try: formed another, went through the same process, started to solder....and this time the bead cap melted. Okay, okay, clearly I have to try a different tactic.

So, formed yet another *&%$# little blossom, soldered, pickled, hammered and, before it knew what was happening, I soldered a nice little spacer bead right in the center, right where it was supposed to go. Aha, she thought to herself in triumph: one down, one to go! Somehow, this next earring went off without a hitch, probably having witnessed the whole procedure and deciding it was in its best interests to behave.

All that was left was making some earwires and headpins for the glass beads that I thought went nicely, pickled those, tumbled them along with the blossoms, and then carefully wired the glass beads onto the blossom. The end result was lovely, even though the process felt grim at times! And, as with all experiments, I learned a lot! I would have provided pictures of the little metal carcasses, but they were really pitiful, plus I forgot, so you'll have to settle for the finished product!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

My Father

My father is one of the most wonderful men I have ever known. This is his story. He was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1926 to a working class family. He lost his mother when he was a toddler, after she gave birth to his little sister. His father died from tuberculosis not long after. He and his little sister were raised by his grandmother, in a converted chicken coop on the property of relatives. His grandmother was a hard woman not averse to taking a *switch* from the peach tree outside to give these *no 'count young'uns* a good thrashing.

This harsh environment forged a young man with a good brain, a big heart, and great strength of character. The first in his family to go to college, there he fell in love with the beautiful, dark-eyed classics professor, who would later become his wife and my mother. From college he went on to Yale Law School, an unimaginable accomplishment given his background.

He went on to work as a lawyer in Denver, but never forgot those who were less fortunate. Walking to work, he would encounter someone begging for money to *buy food*. Knowing what the money would probably go for, but seeing the need for nourishment, my father would instead take the time to buy some food for the unfortunate individual. He also turned his talents and good will to help the community at large, by serving on the school board, by volunteering his time and efforts for organizations aimed at ensuring our nation lived up to its promise to all citizens.

Several years ago, his dark-eyed bride was diagnosed with Alzheimers'. His wife/my mother is very frail now, thoughts of Homer long vanished, incontinent at times, and often not recognizing the man she wed over 50 years ago. He is her sole caregiver since my sister and I live far away. He tends to her with enormous patience, keeping the photo of her as a beautiful young woman at hand to keep in mind always his love and commitment during these tremendously difficult times. Although my sister and I aren't there, he is surrounded by friends and neighbors who cherish his friendship, admire his fortitude, and enjoy his company.

My wonderful father: devoted husband, cherished friend, talented orator, generous spirit, committed, strong, funny, remarkable. I love you, dad, and feel tremendously fortunate to be your daughter!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Dancing Stars

These earrings were a lot of fun to make. I took 20 gauge sterling silver wire and formed each star by hand, varying the sizes a bit for interest, using my flatnose pliers. Once formed, I soldered them, then hammered them carefully to ensure their strength and light reflective quality. I then measured three pieces of sterling silver wire, formed the ends with round nose pliers, inserted the stars in one end, and soldered both ends closed. Everything went in the pickle while I formed the earwires, also using 20 gauge wire. Once the pickle finished doing its magic, everything went round and round in the tumbler for a good long time. The result is fun and fanciful, and I just listed them in my etsy shop.

Reading back over this, I hope I made it sound easy, but all the time it took to do everything by hand really added up. This is not the line of work for you if you don't enjoy it. I love the handwork!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Fairy Flower Pendant

Today was a productive day in my studio, despite the fact that I am bruised and aching all over from my fall the other day. I worked from the moment I finished my coffee and the paper, until time to start dinner.

Although I am still working on some star-inspired designs, I managed to finish today something that I had started several days ago. I had hand-formed a flower shape, on which I superimposed another, small hand-formed flower shape. Those had to be hammered for strength and interest, and soldered, then pickled before I could go onto the next step.

What I tried next was an experiment, but I think it added the right touch to the emerging flower pendant. I took a silver bead cap that I have had for ages, and soldered that to the now double flower shape. The bead cap, with its granulated decorations, provided a nice contrast to the more simple petals created of sterling silver wire. I also added a handmade bail so that the flower pendant could be strung on a chain.

After soldering that and pickling the result, the next step for my flower was a long journey round and round in my tumbler. The tumbler's main purpose is to shine the silver, but it also helps to strengthen it. Once out of the tumbler, I wired on a beautiful glass bead I had with a lovely iridescent green/blue hue. I hung the pendant on an Italian sterling silver chain I had and took photos of my first pendant: voila!

Also, with Etsy's current problems, I'll have to wait until tomorrow to list it in my shop.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Stars and Stripes

Living overseas for as long as I did gave me a unique appreciation for the American flag, particularly given where I spent the past 25 years. When I lived in Warsaw, Poland, it was in the dark times of the Iron Curtain, and during a particularly difficult time in U.S./Polish relations. Every now and then, my husband and I would get into our bright red Volkswagen Golf, and head to West Berlin, where we could revel in all the blessings of capitalism, buying food supplies, eating at Italian or Japanese restaurants, seeing bright lights and well-stocked shops... To get there, however, we had to drive across Poland, on a two-lane highway, that was also the major local thoroughfare and, at times, village street. One had to compete with horses and carts, mothers and babies, old men, chickens, etc. for the road. During the winter when it was icy, the drive was particularly dangerous.

Crossing the border from Poland to East Germany was particularly unnerving. We spoke Polish, and the Polish guards seemed a bit lacksadaisical about their job. The East German guards, however, were another matter. They spoke no English or Polish, and we no German. They barked instead of speaking, and looked us, our car, and our documents over with great suspicion and thoroughness. We always breathed a sigh of relief after getting past those guards.

One time, due to highway construction, we had to take a long detour and eventually found ourselves quite lost in the middle of East Germany. Our documents only allowed us to transit the country, not sightsee or "spy" as I'm sure they would assume. As day passed into dusk, I felt that our red Volkswagen had turned into a neon target, with a big USA sticker on the back in case there were any doubt. Wherever we turned the car, we would come upon large signs reading in German, French, English, and Russian: "Entrance forbidden to members of foreign military liaison missions." Now, we weren't with any military liaison mission, foreign or otherwise, but we had the feeling there would be shooting first, followed, if necessary, by questions later. In fact, a U.S. colonel stationed in West Germany (probably with a military liaison mission, but that didn't make us feel any better) had been shot and killed in just such an area not long before.

Somehow, we managed to find the right highway, and headed into West Berlin via Checkpoint Bravo. The sight of the American flag fluttering over the gates was a particularly beautiful one that day, one we'll never forget. Yes, it is a symbol, and it is a symbol that is seen in different ways by different people. But I can tell you that, at least at that time in that part of the world, it was truly a symbol of freedom. It still gives me goosebumps all these years later when I think about seeing that flag that day.

This will only be the second 4th of July we will celebrate here in the U.S. for many years. In commemoration of all the good that this day means, and the freedoms that our flag is supposed to represent, I made a pair of earrings, perhaps my last for a while on the theme of stars. I call them Stars and Stripes or Simply Stars, because the little ruby, cobalt and white Swarovski bicones can be detached.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Falling Me

There I was on my morning walk through the nearby stream valley park: one moment upright; the next flat on my face. The intervening moment of flying through the air was quite breathtaking! The really stupid part was that I was actually watching the path in order not to fall. In any case, my knee is scraped and swollen, and my body wrenched all over: serves me right for thinking a walk would do me good!

So, I haven't been able to work as much today as I had planned. Still, I did manage to make headpins and earwires to complement the wonderful bali beads I used in an earlier necklace, and to photograph them for my etsy shop. Here they are in all their glory, simple and stunning:

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Falling Stars

I've spent the entire day in my studio (despite having been out both Friday and Saturday night) having a blast, playing around with my metalworking tools and materials, and honing my skills. I love taking sterling silver wire and turning it into something beautiful. I prefer eyeballing, rather than measuring, and hand-forming shapes, rather than using a jig. I love every aspect of it, from the shaping to the soldering to the hammering to the filing. I love having an idea in my head, and then bringing it to life, changing it as I go if the unfolding design dictates.

I am feeling inspired by so many things, but stars are still uppermost in my mind and, therefore on my workbench. I made a beautiful pair of earrings today, which I'll call "Falling Stars". I also made the earwires. I'm going to have a hard time parting with them!

Friday, June 8, 2007

For my mother-in-law

Okay, I know what you're thinking. Another rant against mothers-in-law! But, read on and you'll find quite a different tale. The fact is, I love my mother-in-law. I am very lucky to have acquired her through marriage to her son. Physically, she is tall, slim, dark-eyed, with wonderful salt-and-pepper hair, can practically out-yoga her daughter, who is considerably younger than she. As a person, she is intelligent, funny, alert, curious, warm, lovely, artistic... What's not to love?

The reason I am writing about her, and the reason for the title, is that her birthday is coming up on Bastille Day (I won't say which birthday it is, but I can tell you that she looks at least 20 years younger than that). Her husband, my wonderful father-in-law, asked me if I would be interested in designing a necklace for her birthday. Before his email finished settling down comfortably in my inbox, I had already responded with a resounding YES!

It is a very interesting exercise designing a necklace for a specific person. It is a very different process than designing something inspired by particular beads or stones, or nature, or dreams.... Designing a necklace for a real person means taking everything about that person into account. Knowing her as long as I have, and as well as I do, both simplifies and complicates the process.

She has lived in India (twice), in the former Czechoslovakia, in the former Soviet Union, in Nepal, in Romania, and in Chile. All that told me a lot. I didn't want to give her anything that would be too similar to things she might have encountered and purchased there (and maybe I've never seen because she keeps them tucked away in a box). She is very interested in the cultures of the countries in which she has lived, and, particularly, in the crafts she has seen being made. Her style, you might say, is "ethnic" in homage to the wonderful craftsmen she has come to know over the years.

One has to take into account, of course, how the person one is designing for tends to dress. My mother-in-law, who now lives in the Northeast Kingdom (for those who don't know, that is the far north eastern part of Vermont), wears jeans and turtlenecks around the house. Yet she travels a lot, to places like New York, Romania, to visit her daughter in Sarajevo, and dresses up more for various occasions. And, as I said, she is tall and, being tall, can carry off wearing "bigger" pieces that would like silly on someone shorter.

So, I was pondering all these things one day when I went to my local bead store for inspiration. I'm not the kind who can look through catalogs or online shops and order something special. I'm a very visual and tactile person, and I have to see and feel something before I can respond to it. So, there at the bead shop, I saw them: wonderful dark translucent smoky quartz nuggets that felt as good as they looked. Oh, and fabulous oval sterling silver bali beads (since she'd never lived in Indonesia, I figured they were a better bet than Indian silver beads). I knew right there I had a start. But I wanted a pendant. Hmmm, could be silver, but they had nothing that would go. They had nothing that wasn't silver that would go either. I bought the quartz and the silver, though, and headed home to my studio.

I began playing with the beads, adding in this or that bead from my own collection, when I realized it really needed something more. I was sure I'd know that something as soon as I saw it. So, armed with a smoky quarz nugget and one of the bali silver beads, I headed to another local bead store. There, I spotted some delicate little aquamarine rondelles that added just that right touch of complementary color. I also found some wonderful facetted smoky quartz rondelles and a mixture of Czech beads which contained both brown and greenish blue hues, and added the little bit of sparkle that draws the eye to the necklace. All of these would help round out the necklace without adding too much weight. So, all I needed was the pendant. I looked. I looked at all the walls, all the shelves, pulled out all the drawers...nothing. Just as I was beginning to despair, I spotted a bowl of large turquoise pieces that were sold by the gram. Out of the fifteen or so in the bowl, there was only one that was perfect. Just the right size, with inclusions of brown and aquamarine: it was just the thing to tie the whole necklace together.

Triumphant, I was, until I got home and realized that, of all the sterling silver clasps I have, none was just right. One was, well, it would do, but I really wanted something special. Happily, I had just taken a metalworking class and, when my own materials for working with silver arrived at home, one of the first things I made was the perfect clasp for the necklace (for story of clasp, see my earlier Giant Stride post). So, the clasp literally and figuratively tied the whole necklace together. And, to top it off, I made it adjustable because, as they say, women like to change their minds (and their outfits...!).

So, to all of you who don't have a wonderful mother-in-law: I'm truly sorry. To all of you who do: you know what a pleasure it is. To you, my mother-in-law, this necklace was designed for you with great love and care by your very lucky daughter-in-law. I see it as elegant, ethnic, bold, and beautiful, with strong lines and a bit of sparkle, well, pretty much the way I see you! Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Seeing Stars

I woke up last night at 3:00, and started thinking about stars. I don't know why stars popped into my head, but they, and a lot of other things, prevented me from going back to sleep. A little voice was telling me to get up and head into my studio, but another voice was saying: "what, are you crazy? It's three in the morning!" I ended up tossing and turning until 5 o'clock when I finally got up, put on my bathrobe and went into my studio (for those who have tried to convince me over the years that a studio outside the home is much better, try going there in your bathrobe! ;)). I'm sure I looked fabulous!

So, what did I produce today? Stars, of course. I have a beautiful little pair of earrings ready, completely handmade, featuring little stars dancing within bigger stars. Then, to make them even more enticing, I tethered little labradorite rounds in the very center to cast their Northern Lights' glow and twinkle. Even the earwires and delicate little headpins are formed completely by my own two hands. Obviously, I didn't make the sterling silver wire, but this is the closest I've come in jewelrymaking to a design that I dreamt of and executed without any raw materials other than sterling wire (and, of course, the labradorite rounds!).

Working with wire is a lot of fun. I made a large star out of 14 gauge wire, and tomorrow I hope to attach somehow a beautifully lustrous peacock coin pearl, which has a bit of the moon about it. Maybe I'll try to throw in the sun as well, just to keep the heavenly theme going. And, I've got some flower things in the gestation stage as well. So much to do; so little time!

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, hardboiled eggs work beautifully to oxidize silver if you don't have any liver of sulphur lying around!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A Giant Stride Forward

I made my first clasp today, designed to go with a specific necklace I created to highlight a most luscious translucent smoky quartz nugget. I knew I wanted an adjustable necklace -- because I love the convenience of going longer or shorter depending on the outfit -- so I knew it had to be an s-hook clasp. S-hooks, because of their versatility, and because they are used so widely by ancient silversmithing cultures, are my favorite kind of clasp.

The silversmithing class I took enabled me to figure out many things that had remained rather murky and mysterious despite how much I read about the process, in metalworking books, on the ever-helpful etsy forums, catalogs and the like. I enjoy tremendously the extra control I have over the ultimate design of my jewelry with the knowledge I've gained. I made another special clasp for a very special necklace I was commissioned to create (see photo below) and, right now in my tumbler upstairs, is the third clasp of the day, which is for a three-strand necklace.

My head is bursting with ideas for more jewelry design projects. I can't wait to see what I can do with my newfound skills!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Waiting, waiting: I'm not good at waiting!

Okay, so the supplies I ordered and wrote about in the last post did not arrive by Saturday night, so I knew I would spend Sunday without them. That's okay: I had lots to do with my family around. But, I was relieved on Monday morning, while checking the UPS locator service, that my little parcel had left Chantilly, VA, near Dulles Airport, therefore not far away at all, at 3:48 a.m. They were on their way!

So, I spent the morning eagerly anticipating the UPS truck. Well, I said to myself, I'll eat lunch and surely it will be here by then. Lunch made, eaten, dishes UPS truck. Okay, I'll go back up to my studio and take my mind off the whole thing and just work. Which I did.

I made three necklaces (one of which I cannot show as it is for someone who might see it!) but came to a screeching halt in finishing them as I would really like to make the clasps, using my newfound knowledge, and even perhaps the chain for making them adjustable lengths.

A clasp is an essential component for any necklace. It is much more than merely a means to fasten together the strands; it can tie the whole thing together visually as well. Taking a necklace to a bead store, or opening up a catalog, is a crapshoot. Occasionally, one finds that perfect clasp, that fits beautifully in with the design and artfully adds its own touch. Mostly, however, one has to settle for second best. I hope that my knowledge and skills will allow me to design the perfect clasp for my necklace, adding immensely to the beauty and value of the piece, not to mention my pride in it.

So, three materials for making clasps. Okay, it's 5:00, and I need to get started on dinner anyway, so I'll quit for the day. The minute I quit, well, you know what happens: the doorbell rings and the box is there. At least there is tomorrow!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Breathless Anticipation

I feel like a kid at Christmas, waiting for my packages to arrive. After taking a metalworking class a week ago, I ordered some supplies from two different companies. In this wonderful shopping world of ours, online ordering and UPS shipping make the whole process a breeze. You'd think I'd be satisfied with arrival within a week, but even so, I find myself listening impatiently for the roar of the UPS truck and the sharp honk that announces his arrival. I realized after receiving the order from one company that I made a stupid mistake: I now have only half of what I need to really begin work. Why didn't I order everything from the same company so that it would all arrive together?

I have a torch, but no sterling silver wire. I have solder, but no flux. I have pickling solution and went out and bought a used crockpot at Goodwill, but I have nothing to put in it. I have a tumbler, but no stainless steel shot. Grrrr, she says, leaping up once again to check outside the front door in case he came and went, unheard.

Still, I did have a few scraps of 20 gauge sterling silverwire, so I've been making headpins for some beautiful stones that require a stronger headpin than is available commercially, and that was so much fun. I figured out how to fill the torch with butane from the local hardware store, ignited it and - voila -- holding the wire up to the flame with my tweezers caused a little silver bead to form on the end, looking so exquisitely handmade. I suppose I could have cleaned the resulting oxidation by putting it in the pickling solution, but that seemed a little extreme for a couple of headpins, so I grabbed some steel wool (I always have some on hand, as it always seems to be needed for something) and scrubbed away, and there they were: shiny headpins made by me in my own studio. That was proud moment, to be sure! The photos above show the three phases, from wire, to oxidized headpin, to incorporation into a necklace I am designing called Smoke and Water, after the smoky quartz and aquamarine stones.

My first project when all the materials arrive will be an ambitious one, if I can pull it off: an intricate clasp that will match beads I am using in another necklace, and I can't wait to give it a try! But I have to wait, eagerly, anxiously, impatiently, for that brown truck to pull up.... Imagine what it was like in the days of the Pony Express, and the mail wagon delivering all those supplies you'd ordered months before from the Sears Roebuck catalog!