Friday, December 5, 2008


The idea of "change" has been big this year, especially with the election. In my own personal life, I have experienced a lot of changes over the past 27 years, living in seven different countries on four different continents, and inhabiting fifteen different houses in the course of those moves. My latest move happened last August, when our landlords -- who themselves have morphed into friends of ours -- needed to reclaim their wonderful house.

This move didn't involve many big changes: I didn't have to learn a new language; adapt to a new climate; get acquainted with exotic fruits and vegetables. In fact, we moved only a half mile or so away from our last house. The biggest change is that this is the smallest house we've lived in for years. Surprisingly, and thankfully, I am happy with this aspect of the change. Although many of our beautiful memories are still packed away in boxes and stored in our little attic or our little bomb shelter (yes indeedy, we have a bomb shelter: this house was built during the Cuban missile crisis, which shows how paranoid average Americans were back then...and how clueless about what kind of shelter would protect them from Soviet missiles!), I find a small house both cozy and comforting. And certainly a lot less work to clean!

The subject of "change" comes up a lot in conversation with my friends. We talk a lot about the importance of being open -- not resistant -- to change. Many of us can't help it: change happens around us and we have to adapt. And many of us take these changes and find in them all sorts of opportunities for learning and growing. One friend in particular has been hugely responsible for a lot of my changes, in a good sense. She was the first to convince me to sell my paintings; she followed by convincing me to open an online shop on etsy for my jewelry. Recently, she did the impossible: talked me into hauling my jewelry to her home for a sale she was hosting with numerous vendors.

It is not as if she hasn't tried in the past to get me out of my studio and my computer and into the real world. She has long experience in attending craft fairs with her magnificent purses, and has built up a large, very loyal, clientele. My one attempt to sell things we no longer needed or wanted in my household at a community garage sale ended in lots of money, but wiped me out so much that I felt like I'd come down with the flu. She had an uphill battle convincing me to get out and sell at craft fairs after that experience.

This friend, however, is not the kind to give up. She decided to host the sale in her house and sent me an invitation to participate as one of the vendors. As I was panicking internally and wondering how I was going to get out of it without offending my very dear friend, I noticed her clever "escape clause": I could deliver my jewelry to her home, set it up, then scamper off. For a percentage of the proceeds, she would take care of the credit cards, taxes, shmoozing, and all the rest: ahhhhh, perfect.

So, I agreed. But, as everyone knows who has sold at craft fairs or home sales, one has to come up with a display. I've been keeping a keen eye on display ideas, both on the internet and in craft fairs where others boldly sold their wares. I wanted something that stood out, that offered my goods to the public while also protecting them from potential thievery, that represented me and my shop. While I am a living breathing human being, I wouldn't be there to represent myself, so the idea of representing my shop became more important. But how do I represent in reality what is basically only a virtual shop, existing in boxes in my studio and photos on my online shop? Plus, I had to do it as inexpensively and flexibly as possible.

Inspired by a picture I saw on the web, I focused on some old Ikea toy crates that no longer served their original purpose. I painted them, framed them with some stock molding from Home Depot, attached under cabinet lighting, then made necklace displays, earring cards, and tags for all necklaces, sets, and bracelets. It was a lengthy and involved project, but I am very happy with the outcome. How would I describe it? Practical and versatile, with an elegant and organic feeling....just as I'd like to project my online shop! Here are pictures of my "real" shop...

You can check out the website of my fabulous friend and her marvelous purses and totes:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Circles of Support

Some time ago, I was contacted by a customer who had previously custom-ordered a little star pendant with a dangling garnet for a charm bracelet. This time, she wanted the same thing....only multiplied! She was part of an online weight loss support group, and decided to lead a weight loss challenge. The reward for participating in the challenge was to be one of my little star charms. I told her immediately that I loved the idea. I loved being part of something so positive.

I, myself, was involved at the time with my local Curves. Although walking is my preferred exercise, I found it hard to work up the motivation when it was very cold out, or when rain or snow threatened. I knew I needed to supplement my exercise in some way, and a flyer coincidentally arrived in the mail from Curves, offering a one-month exercise challenge. Perfect, I thought! And it was. Although the workout itself didn't necessarily challenge me, what I got out of it had more to do with all the interesting women I met there. It was a wonderful combination of conviviality and exercise -- a wonderful circle of support in many ways. But then, something strange happened: the owner disappeared. We all knew she had come down with pneumonia, and we heard that she had entered a hospital in another state where family members lived. But then, well, nothing.... She stopped answering emails from the staff. Her phone was shut off. There was no way to get in touch with her. No one knew if she had died....or run off to Mexico with money from her franchise. Sadly, the Curves had to close. It has reopened, and many of the same people are there, but I've become too busy with getting organized for a move, so I've sadly let that circle of support go.

Recent studies show that smoking cessation is aided tremendously by one's circle of friends and acquaintances. We all know that many people benefit from Alcoholics Anonymous and Weight Watchers. With the internet, now, even people who live far away from such traditional circles of support, can participate in online support groups, such as the one my customer was in. I ended up sending her 25 star charms for her fellow participants. It was an honor for me to play a "starring" role in such an endeavor. Viva all the circles of support, from small groups of friends, to online groups of strangers!

Monday, March 3, 2008

A Creative Mind and a Cluttered Studio

Why is it that creativity and chaos often seem to go hand in hand? In my case, in my jewelry studio, chaos usually reigns supreme. As I've noted in earlier posts, this often leads to serendipitous combinations that might not occur if everything had been in its place. On the rare mornings when I enter a clean studio, I dive in and start taking out trays and beads and silver and gold and, by lunch, chaos has returned. I wouldn't have even bothered cleaning my studio last week if it were not for a very aggravating and potentially very dangerous problem.

You see, my jewelry studio has a large, west-facing window. This is usually a source of pleasure for me as we tend to keep the temperature very low in our house and my studio warms up nicely on sunny days. I sometimes feel like curling up there and purring in the sun like a lazy cat. But the sun's deleterious effects include nearly blinding me. This is particularly a problem when I am working with metal and using my torch. In bright sunlight, it is difficult to tell if a torch is lit, or if the gas is just hissing out. This is not a good thing, and this is what propelled me into a major reorganization of my studio. Why don't you just get some curtains and block out the sun, you ask? Ah, you've forgotten the pleasure I get from feeling the sun!

It took me the better part of the weekend to clean up and reorganize, and now I can proudly state that my studio is clean and much much safer. I solved the problem of the sun dissolving the flame of the torch by putting my body between the two, sort of like a human eclipse. I now have three distinct working areas, two for works in progress, and one for my metalworking. I can swivel in a chair from station to station, and work much more quickly and efficiently. Safe? Quick? Efficient? That sounds more like a government-funded study on workplace methods than a creative artist's studio, but I also find that my creativity is still going full steam ahead, that is, when my cat doesn't decide to take advantage of the clean space to take a nap in the bright sun....right on top of my work in progress. See if you can spot the cat about to settle down on top of my necklace. See also the photo of the necklace set which I just finished after managing to snag it out from under a warm and furry belly. The necklace set is now available -- without cat hairs -- in my etsy shop.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sacred River Necklace

Designing a necklace can be a long and wandering process. I had a necklace lying around that I had made several years ago, in the days before I began making most necklaces adjustable. This particular necklace, I finally decided after wearing it for a year or two, was too short, so I hung it up in my studio and basically forgot about it, even though it was hanging in plain view. One day, a visitor to my studio saw it, and liked it, and asked if it were for sale. Why yes, I said, with some surprise, as I had forgotten all about it, but it was too short for me and it will be too short for you. I'll have to restring it and make it longer, I told her. So, I moved the forgotten necklace to my jewelry table...and completely forgot about it once again.

I realized one day when I couldn't ignore it anymore as it was right there, constantly getting in the way, that I was not happy with the design. I couldn't quite put my finger on the reason. All the components of the necklace were quite lovely: flat ovals and cubes of chrysocolla; beautiful faceted lapis lazuli beads and smaller heishe beads; gorgeous rounds of Peruvian opal that I had bought in Lima; and silver pumpkin beads from Burma. They were all lovely components, but they no longer excited each other. Or is it that, in the years since I had made that necklace, I had progressed in terms of my own ability to create an exciting and beautiful composition in a jewelry design?

Whatever the reason, I felt dreadful that I hadn't restrung the necklace for my visitor, so I decided to bite the bullet and sit down and work on it and see what happened. As I began playing with the beads, I realized that I had overlooked an important element: the beautiful faceted lapis beads looked like a midnight sky with golden stars twinkling down. Oho! Not silver, I thought to myself: that was one of the problems with the necklace. I was going for my gold findings, when my eye fell upon a large chrysocolla bead in my stash, and the design immediately fell into place in my mind's eye. It was perfect: it provided a focus; it tied together the green and turquoise and blue of the chrysocolla and lapis; and, what was best, it introduced a contrasting color that made the rest come to life. It even provided me with the name, which was inspired by the dark blue diagonal line which bisects the bead like a river cutting through a landscape so far away that it must be viewed from the heavens: Sacred River!

So, vision and title firmly in mind, the excitement of putting it all together kicked into high gear. Within a very short amount of time, I had the completed work. What I left out was the Burmese silver and the Peruvian opal. What I added were horn beads and hand-carved horn cones, into which the multiple strands disappeared, and copper -- lots of copper! The necklace went from uninspiring to sparkling, from forgotten to heavenly! I also made sure to add that most useful of elements -- an extender chain, which enables the wearer to adjust the length from 17-20 inches. As you can see from the photos, that makes it very versatile.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Making gifts for friends

I love making jewelry for a friend's birthday. Recently, I had the occasion to make two new designs for two wonderful friends. One of them was a little problemmatic as she is not so much into the habit of putting on a necklace or bracelet, so I had to think hard to come up with the "hook", that would entice her to wear whatever necklace I gave her. The other was problematic in that she already has lots of beautiful necklaces and earrings to wear, so I wanted to make something that both suited her and really stood out.

For friend number 1 -- she of the non-jewelry habit -- I went to one of my favorite jewelry stores to ponder. I looked and looked and then spotted the perfect stone: blue kyanite. I had shopped with her enough in Costa Rica (where we originally met) to remember that she was particularly drawn to blue glazes on pottery, and this kyanite was of a particularly appealing shade of blue. I originally combined it with sterling silver beads, but it just seemed a little lacking in imagination that way. I ended up making two necklaces, one combining amber and kyanite, and the other combining the kyanite with lovely shades of lilac. After making the two, I ended up putting the amber/kyanite combination up for sale in my etsy shop, and putting the blue and lilac in a silver box for my friend.

For friend number 2, whose jewelry collection I had to compete with, I found the perfect Venetian glass beads at another local bead store: copper shading into gold with bold black stripes and a hint of beautiful green at the edges. This friend has gorgeous green eyes and brown hair with a hint of copper, so I knew these beads were a good start. I ended up weaving in multiple strands of bronze and black hex-cut Czech seed beads -- which have such a lovely sparkle -- with green seed beads and beautifully faceted and sparkling rondelles of carnelian and peridot. I made a little pair of earrings to match, using more of the carnelian and peridot.

I hope both of them wear these necklaces in good health, and the knowledge that a lot of thought and love went into the making of them!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Combining Silver and Stone

I love silver. I love semi-precious stones. I love precious stones, but I can't afford them. I love combining silver and semi-precious stones in the same design. One of my favorite shapes to create from silver wire is a teardrop. I find it to be such a graceful shape, and so much fun to make. I also find that it combines beautifully with stones, whether round or oval or other.

I recently came across some beautiful strands of kyanite, which I'd never worked with before. I was surprised when I read that one of the places that kyanite is mined is Burma. When I lived in Burma, I don't recall ever encountering the stone, although it is quite possible my attention was more riveted by rubies and sapphires. Kyanite comes in several different colors, but the blue that I found is by far my favorite. It reminds me of mica, with its silvery striations, but it is the color of a favorite pair of blue jeans. I've combined it in necklaces with beads of a lavender or lilac hue, and it comes out looking like the color of a beautiful hydrangea. I've combined it with amber, and it looks like a deep blue autumn sky shimmering over a stand of golden aspen trees. But I love the simplicity of combining it with sterling silver.

I made two teardrop shapes out of 16 gauge sterling silver wire, soldered on a loop on top, and then hammered the base to create a contrast with the thinner silver wire. I hammered it for additional texture and lightly oxidized the teardrops to emphasize the texture. Handcrafted earwires and headpins joined the teardrops in my tumbler, which strengthened and polished the lot. A final polishing by hand to bring out a rich gleam in the silver, and they were ready to pair up with the kyanite. I love how they turned out.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Winter Branches Earrings -- Handcrafted Sterling Silver

Several months ago, I came across a photo of a piece of fabric that instantly appealed to me. It brought to my mind an image of bare branches in the wintertime. Inspired by that image in my mind, I decided to sit down with some sterling silver wire to see what I could create. Yesterday, I finished my third pair. Each pair has taken its inspiration from that piece of fabric and the image that came to my mind. Each pair is unique. I have loved making each pair.

I take the sterling silver wire and start cutting branches, being careful to cut each branch twice, so that each earring in a pair turns out to be the same size. I hammer the ends to get a pleasing shape and then I sit down and start putting them together in such a way that they mimic the branches of a tree. Once I have them in the right place, I start soldering the branches together, stopping now and then to pickle them as I continue to solder. When all the branches are soldered and the earrings are out of the pickle pot, I start working on the details. I hammer a texture in the end of the branches, clean up any excess solder with my trusty dremel, then I add texture to the limbs with another dremel attachment.

The next step is to shape the branches carefully again, and put them in the tumbler for several hours to harden. When they are fully hardened, I pass them quickly through some liver of sulphur to oxidize them slightly, and polish them by hand to a rich gleam.

Making these earrings is incredibly time consuming. If I were to charge my full rate for the amount of time I spend on them, they would be beyond most people's budget. Truth be told, I love making them so much that I don't mind "wasting" my time in such a wonderfully creative and satisfying way. An image inspired by a photo, some silver wire, and lots of time: in the end, they are absolutely worth it to me.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Craftsman Earrings

I have always loved the craftsman style. My dream would be to find a craftsman bungalow, and be able to restore it to its original glory. I love how the craftsmen of that time took simple elements -- wood, copper, glass -- and turned them into works of art without artifice.

These sterling teardrop earrings are my homage to that wonderful era. For one thing, they were entirely and lovingly made by hand. I took simple 16 gauge sterling silver wire and formed two equal teardrop shapes, which I then soldered and further shaped into an even more graceful shape. I hammered the base to give it a weight that contrasts with the more delicate wire above. I then hammered a texture into that base to heighten the contrast further. The finishing touch was a brief oxidizing bath, and a final polish which gives them a rich, antique gleam. Handmade sterling silver ear wires finish off these lovely, simple, and graceful earrings.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Sea Goddess

This necklace began with a strand of pearls that I wasn't even searching for. In a sense, it found me and I was completely captivated. Whatever thoughts I might have had of working on something else completely vanished. I have never seen such a beautiful strand of coin pearls. The closest I can come to describing their color is that it is the color of sea foam at sunrise, shot through with hues of pink and gold. Beautiful aquamarine briolettes are like drops of crystalized sea water. Interspersed are small Swarovski crystal bicones, with a depth and sparkle that both catches the eye and highlights the paler hues of the pearls and aquamarines. To make this necklace really special, I hand formed, soldered, hammered, and tumbled a beautiful teardrop shape out of sterling silver wire as a pendant, whose materials encapsulate the materials used in the necklace itself. I went through the same process to make two more pendants, a little smaller, for matching earrings. All silver used in this piece, with the exception of two tiny Thai silver beads and the crimp bead covers by the wonderful, organic, spiral shaped clasp, was made by me. I can just imagine Venus, the Sea Goddess, the goddess of love and laughter, as painted above by Sandro Botticelli, rising from the bosom of the waves and wearing this necklace with pride.