Gem Lore: Garnet    Monday, January 8, 2018

The very first gemstone I could name when I was little was garnet. My family lived at the end of a long gravel drive, and if you were willing to search through piles of random pebbles, you could find little grains of garnet. I spent a fair number of summer afternoons squatting at the side of the drive, sifting through the gravel for garnets. When I got older, Iearned that garnets come in many varieties and colors, but my favorite will always be the deep, glowing red variety I searched for. They hold a pretty special place in my heart, and I love using them in jewelry.

Humans have been using garnet in jewelry and decoration since at least 3000 B.C.; the Egyptians buried their dead with garnet amulets and talismans, and garnet was widely popular in Rome in the 3rd and 4th centuries. We know that the Anglo-Saxons used garnets extensively; the Sutton-Hoo and Staffordshire hoards from the 6th and 7th centuries are filled with garnet warriors' decorations. 


Gold and garnet strip from the Staffordshire Hoard

As long and rich as the history of garnet is, so are the mythology, lore, and stories surrounding it. There's a natural association between garnet and the Greek goddess of both Spring and the Underworld, Persephone. Clusters of garnets look very much like the pomegranate seeds Persephone ate, dooming her to spend half of every year in the Land of the Dead. Tradition holds that Noah lit the ark with a large garnet, and that garnet is one of the twelve gemstones on Aaron's breatplate in Exodus. In ancient Asia, garnets were sometimes used as stones in sling weapons, as the deep red color was thought to give them a special attraction to blood and would cause more grievous wounds. Medieval warriors in Europe wore garnet for protection from wounds and to help ensure victory, and some believed garnet could protect a user from being poisoned. It was even used by King Louis XIV as a remedy for impotence. Today, crystal enthusiast believe that garnet can help its user create success and confidence. It's also believed to be a stone of protection of both body and spirit.

All the history and lore aside, garnet is one of my favorite stones to work with. It lends an air of richness and dignity to nearly any piece; but most of all, it's a treasure trove to the kid I was once, sorting through pebbles to find those tiny red stones. 


Recognizing Progress    Friday, October 13, 2017

I spend a lot of time on line. I mean, A LOT. I do a lot of my business in Facebook auction groups, and most of my marketing is done through social media, which means I interact with many, many talented jewelry artists, and I see some absolutely jaw-dropping work. It's really easy to look at my own work and feel that it doesn't measure up, that my skills aren't progressing, that I'll never, ever be as good as many of the artists that I see. 

I was in a funk about my skills one day, and an unrelated conversation with a friend led me to look through some old jewelry photos. I don't have pictures of the very beginning of my wire-working journey, but I do have some from fairly early on, when I first started trying to sell online. Pictures like these: 

Now, these aren't bad pieces, exactly, but they're very, very simple. But they represented the very best work I could do at the time.

Fast forward a little bit in time (maybe about a year):

A little more complex, a little more creative. I was learning without the aid of tutorials or classes, just experimenting and figuring out on my own what I could do with wire, very slowly. Baby steps.

After another year: 

I'd made my first hesitant attempt at something really unique. Something just my own. I was really timid about trying new things and getting really creative with wire work; I had an idea in my head there was a "right way" to do these things, and I didn't know what that "right way" was. 

Then I discovered online jewelry communities. I started looking around at all the gorgeous work out there, and I saw some of the amazing things people were doing with wire. I realized I could do so much more than I was doing. I was, at that point, letting others' work inspire me to try new things, rather than intimidate me or discourage me from pushing forward.

In looking through the photos, I can tell the moment I really started to step out of my comfort zone and play with the wire, where I started figuring out what I liked and what I didn't, and where I started to develop my own style. 

Fast forward to now: 

I've come quite a long way from those first wrapped-link pieces and hesitant squiggles. I still have so much to learn. But I think it's important to look back every now and then and see where you've been. To remind yourself of the leaps you took, so that you're not afraid to take more leaps. I'm excited to see where the future leaps take me. 

Working when life interferes    Saturday, September 23, 2017

Everybody's life gets messy. You get sick, or someone you love does. Or maybe it's as simple as trying to finish a commission while planning your kid's birthday party, and your friend wants you to sing at her wedding, and it's all supposed to happen the same week. How are you supposed to prioritize? How can you accomplish all of it while making sure you're holding up your responsibilites with customers, family and loved ones?

I don't have answers to this conundrum.  I really don't. It's something I've struggled with since the beginning. When I worked outside my home business, it was always clear where my boundaries lay. Obviously, I had to fulfill job requirements to keep my job and keep that money coming in for my family. And of course loved ones came before making pretty things; the creative work was easy to move to the back burner.

But it's much harder to move it to the back when it's your job. Your work no longer fits in a neat 8-hour (or 10-hour, or 12-hour) box. Working for yourself full-time often means working the majority of the time you're awake, because it's pretty darned hard to keep a regular income otherwise. So taking time to plan a party, to visit a sick loved one, to participate in big life events--all these mean work hours lost, which means money lost. There is no PTO when you work for yourself in a microbusiness. So you might find yourself forced to choose between real financial difficulties, or missing out on really Big Things--the very things you may have quit your dayjob to make time for in the first place. As I said at the outset, I don't have an answer to this. The last couple of months, I have sacrificed quite a lot of sleep to make up for the hours I missed due to a Big Thing (an illness in the family; I needed to be there to help take care of loved ones). I know there has to be a better way, but I haven't found it yet.

Another problem for a lot of home artisans is constant distractions. If you're lucky enough to live in a space with a room you can escape to, it's a little easier to minimize those distractions.  But if you're like me, you don't have enough space to create a bolt-hole. My work area is in the kitchen/dining room, in an open-plan apartment. My computer desk is at the edge of my living room. There simply is no other space for me to work, so I have to minimize the distractions any way I can. My waking/sleeping hours run counter to my family's; I sleep while they're away at work and school. I wake up in time to make dinner and have a little family time, and then I work while they sleep. It works pretty well, but it does make daytime events difficult to attend, and I do encounter quite a bit of judgment from some people in my life (it's weird to me how staying up at night to work=immoral/lazy to some, but there it is). 

When I get super, super frustrated with being pulled in seventeen directions at once, I remind myself how utterly miserable I was when I answered phones and listened to people complain all day, every day, for my paycheck. I really am very fortunate to be able to pursue a creative life, no matter how stressful it can be at times. I guess the long and the short of it is that trying to make a living following your passion ain't easy. It never has been, and maybe it shouldn't be. Regardless, it's worth it, if you really love what you're doing.



The Tool I Can't Work Without    Tuesday, May 16, 2017

When you work with your hands, whether it’s in mechanics, woodworking, metal, or anything else, your tools become incredibly important to you; even when I was writing a lot, I had favorite a couple of favorite pens, and if I had to use a different one, things just didn’t go as well.  The tools we use are like an extension of our arms and hands.  And sometimes, of our whole selves.

This humble little bench vise is my favorite tool.  It’s battered and banged-up, and that hammering surface desperately needs some help. But of all the various items I use every day, this is the one that would break my heart if I lost it.

This vise belonged to my brother.  He was 10 years older than I, and he passed away from cancer when I was 20. He was the only boy, the middle child with sisters on all sides, and he was very much a “man’s man.” He worked as a logger, and loved working on cars and motorcycles and woodwork projects, and generally getting his hands (and face and clothes and everything else) dirty and greasy. Those dirty hands were his badge of honor for whatever he’d accomplished at the end of the day.

Not too long after his illness was diagnosed, he moved back in with our parents, bringing many of his belongings with him. The tools he’d accumulated made their way into our dad’s garage, to be used and loved. I had no personal use for the tools at the time, so I didn’t give them much thought. I started doing wire work about 10 years or so after that.  And so one year at Christmas with my parents, after most of the gifts were unwrapped, there was one left for me, without a “from” tag on it. And inside was the bench vise; my parents had found it amongst my brother’s things, and thought that maybe now, it might be useful to me. So they wrapped it up, as one last gift from my big brother.

So now it sits next to me every single day. I use it for hammering, for holding wire ends, and for all sorts of wire-work tasks that it most certainly wasn’t designed for (but works very well regardless). Every time I do, I see my brother’s face and his goofy smirk at the end of a long day, proud of his dirty hands.


The Simple Things    Wednesday, November 2, 2016

I've been finding myself a little stymied lately.  I have plenty of ideas. But somewhere between concept and execution, the idea gets out of control.  How can I make it bigger, more intricate, more impressive? It's not competition, exactly -- at least, not with anybody but myself. I'm not trying to impress any particular person or audience, or outdo any artist or group of artists.  But I get into an "expansion" rut, where everything has to be somehow bigger or better, more complex, more difficult to make, than the last piece was.

So in and amongst the "biggerbetter" pieces where I really challenge myself, I've started consciously making simple pieces.  It's kind of a challenge.  When you commit to simple, you don't leave yourself room to hide flaws; your craftsmanship has to be good, because simple designs will really let you know when it isn't.

This was one of the first of my recent "consciously simple" pieces.  It's basically the filigree design that I use behind stones and overlays in some of my pendants.  But without the stones and the extra flourishes, the wirework has to be fairly precise, or it just doesn't look right: 

Garden Gate Pendant
The wrapping up at the top of the square could be neater, cleaner.  But otherwise, I'm pretty satisfied overall with this piece.  It doesn't yell "WOW!" But it challenged me, in a good way, with the knowledge that I couldn't hide the messy bits with extra fru-fru.
And simple doesn't have to mean "blah."  I came across a lovely, unusal bloodstone cab with lots of yellow, smeared like daubs of paint, over the more common green. I didn't want to cover the stone at all, so I used a very basic woven bezel with no flourishes at all.  But I did indulge myself with a pretty bail:
And then there's my favorite "simplicity" piece.  This little labradorite was so pretty; it just needed something to hold it in place without distraction.  So a simple bezel and a simple bail: 
I'm still working on big, elaborate pieces, but it's just good to pare down now and again and make something simple and clean.  What's a simple piece that you've made that you're proud of?  Feel free to share links or photos in the comments below!

Blog-o-wrimo?    Monday, October 31, 2016

For a long, long time, as I might have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I concentrated my creative energy on words and writing.  So it's a little ironic that I'm SO BAD about neglecting my blog.  Seriously, every time I sit down to write a blog post, I get nervous and I clam up, and I start sounding like some fusty academic. It's because it's a different kind of writing than I used to do; blogging is its own animal entirely, and it's a lot different than writing stories. There's the challenge of being informative while entertaining, and most of all, of sounding like you know what you're doing.

One thing I loved when I was writing ficton was a thing called NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month.  It's a lot bigger now than national, though.  It's a crazy, world-wide writing frenzy, where writers commit to putting down 50,000 words of a novel in one month.  The emphasis is on quantity, rather than quality, the idea being that you can go back to edit and polish later, once the frenzy is over. 

November's a busy time in the crafting and selling world, though, so I can't participate in NaNo the way I used to.  But I thought it might make as good a prompt as any to make blogging more of a habit for me, less of a hand-wringing, "that's-not-good-enough" exercise in insecurity.  

So for November, I'll be committing to posting an average of 5 blog posts a week.  They might not be great blog posts, but by golly, they'll be posted. 

Wanna join me?  Post the URL to your blog in the comments below so I can check yours out, too!

Creative Prompt: Doors    Monday, September 5, 2016

Sometimes I find myself doing the same thing in my work over and over, like minor variations on a theme. And while browsing gorgeous art jewelry on Pinterest and Etsy and the like can sometimes spur my mind into some fun new directions, I always worry that what I'll make from those inspirations will be derivative of somebody else's work.  So instead of looking at art jewelry for inspiration, I like to look to other sources.

Something I've always found fascinating is doors.  They're functional as entrances to buildings, and they're a very cool symbol in and of themselves.  They're associated with transitions, with beginnings and endings, birth and death, and rites of passage. And from the jewelry artist's perspective, they're a visual feast of shapes, colors, decoration -- a perfect melding of form and function.

This beauty right here: the graceful sweep of the metalwork, the way it joins and separates. And that arch shape the metalwork is lying on top of!  I can totally see a pendant made using those elements.


Or this!  I want to make a bracelet with the shapes from the windows.


This one speaks for itself!  I don't know if I can work this intricately, but it certainly gives me ideas!


I love how the stone work around this door draws the eye right to that pop of color.  And speaking of color--I'm feeling an urge to play with patinas after looking at this one.


And this one is so inpiring to me it's almost overwhelming. The shapes of the windows, the sculpting around the door, the metalwork -- so many ideas from this one photo!

So many gorgeous things!  For more beautiful doors, take a look online -- there's thousands of them!  Pinterest is a geat place to find beautiful door pictures, and there's a number of photo collections on Flickr dedicated just to gorgeous entryways.  

I hope these pictures and ideas inspire you as much as they do me. Where else do you like to find inspiration? Please let me know in the comments below!

I love podcasts!    Sunday, July 17, 2016

I'm a person who can't seem to do just one thing at at a time.  When I'm watching TV or movie with friends or family, I've got something in my hands all the time--a bit of wire, a pen and notebook filled with doodles.  When I'm doing laundry or washing dishes, I've usually got music blaring and I'm singing along (loudly. Sorry, neighbors!). And when I'm working in my little studio, I've always got something happening besides the project in my hands.

Lots of craftsy types I know are the same way. Some wire-working friends watch TV while they weave, and just about everybody I know makes music a part of their work.  For me, it depends on the type of work I'm doing at the moment.  If it's something mindless and repetetive, like making chain or weaving some Viking knit, I like to have something visual happening, Netflix or Youtube videos.  If it's something more involved, I need something I can just listen to, without having to glance up to see what's happening.  Being a giant book nerd, I love audio books.  A lot.  And lately, I've fallen in love with podcasts.

There's a new trend in podcasts recently: the serial narrative podcast.  These are like TV shows for your ears. Until not too long ago, most podcasts involved a bunch of people sitting around talking about a given topic; personally, even if I'm really interested in the topic, that's not my cuppa.  But in 2014, Serial was created; it follows one story, told one week at a time. Serial is non-fiction; the first season follows an investigative journalist as she explores a murder, its circumstances, and the fate of the young man convicted of the crime.  The format makes it feel relevant and immediate, and It's freaking addictive!

The show won awards, and lots of listeners. And other podcasters started to take notice.  And since podcasting is a wildly democratic form of entertainment--you don't need a whole studio of equipment, a cast of name-recognized actors, or corporate sponsorship to get started--lots of them have been popping up.  And it's wonderful.  

Quality of production and writing varies quite a bit, but the ones that are good are SO GOOD!  Here are a few of my favorites (be warned: I'm a sci fi, fantasy and horror junkie, so you're about to enter a Nerd Zone).

Welcome to Night Vale

This show actually predates Serial by quite a bit.  It's positively venerable, by podcast standards: it's been running now for four years, and has spawned live performances of the show, and one book so far.  From the show's website:  "WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE is a twice-monthly podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff's Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events.

Turn on your radio and hide."  

It's surreal and funny, and completely delightful. 

Alice Isn't Dead

Alice Isn't Dead is brought to you by the same folks who make Night Vale, and there's some of the same surreal feeling.  But where Night Vale is funny, Alice is creepy.

The description from the show's website: "A truck driver searches across America for the wife she had long assumed was dead. In the course of her search, she will encounter not-quite-human serial murderers, towns literally lost in time, and a conspiracy that goes way beyond one missing woman."

It's beautifully written and narrated. I mean, serious beauty happens in the words of this show. I can't recommend it enough--but if you're easily creeped out, this one might not be for you.

The Black Tapes

The Black Tapes takes the fomat that worked so well for Serial and applies it to fictional characters and events--ghosts, demons, and the dark things that haunt the night, in this case.  This show follows an investigative journalist as she explores paranormal mysteries.  There are some very creepy moments, and the characters are excellent.  I binged the whole first season within a couple of days.  This show has a very X-Files feel, and from a die-hard X-Files fan, that's serious praise. 


Tanis is made by the same folks who make The Black Tapes, and there's some crossover of characters, though the story lines are entirely separate. This show follows the main character as he investigates an obscure bit of mythology, which becomes less mythical more immediately dangerous as the show progresses. Conspiracies, hidden signs and clues, a magic cabin that appears and disappears in the woods--I still haven't figured out exactly what's going on, but I'm definitely enjoying getting there.


Limetown follows (yet another) investigative journalist as she tries to solve the mystery of 300 men and women who vanished from a small town in Tennessee. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say this one leans more toward science fiction than toward paranormal or horror.  There's only one season so far, and while the creator says he's planning to make more, there's no word yet on when.

Archive 81

Archive 81 takes a different approach from the "investigative journalist" point of view that's so popular. Instead, the narrator of the show is a young man who has disappeared, and what you're hearing are the tapes he sent his friend just before he went missing. It's intriguing, and often funny, and quite creepy.

There are lots more excellent podcasts out there, but these are the ones I keep returning to. 

And as always, I want to know: what about you?  Have you listened to any of these?  Any others I should know about?  What do you like to do  while you're working? 

Meet the help!    Monday, July 11, 2016

Is this the picture of an internship, an apprenticeship, or some cruel form of slave labor?  The answer probably depends on when and whom you ask, I suppose. The person in question, a day when the boss is particularly busy and frazzled, will likely tell you it's the last of those.

This is my 14-year-old son.  His dad and I thought it would be a Good Thing for him to take on some of the responsibilities of a job this summer, but those are hard to come by for kids his age in our area. So we decided he could spend the summer working for his mom.

Poor kid. His boss isn't always easy to get along with.  Plus, the boss lady is kind of a perfectionist.

But he's doing great!  He's starting out making chain, and next he'll be finishing cords, making earwires, and making bead link chains.  

It's been a lot of fun (for me, at least) so far; we set up something we both want to listen to, and sit sort of back-to-back (that's the only way it works, the way the room is set up), and laugh and crack jokes while we shape and twist and bend the projects in our hands.

Valuable experience?  Well, thus far, it certainly has been for me.  And I hope that he sees it that way too.

 In any case, we're making lots of memories, and those last lots longer than any chain. 


Is it copying, or. . .    Monday, July 4, 2016

If you ever join an art (any art!) or craft forum, you'll find that one of the most frequently discussed topics is copyright infringement.  The discussions range from highly technical, informative posts, to angry rants--often within the same conversation.  But it’s for good reason we talk about it so often.  Copyright infringement is a real problem.  Artists and crafters have been sued and had shops shut down over using copyrighted designs, and other artists have seen copies of their work strewn about the internet without permission or compensation, which can greatly affect their profits, especially if the stolen work is used in a tutorial.  But something I’ve seen happening more and more recently is accusations of theft, when there’s very little to suggest that anything was actually stolen.  Sometimes what might look like theft really isn’t.  It can come down to similar tastes, similar influences, and sometimes just plain coincidence.

For instance, Not long ago, the very talented Corienne Bruner of Wired Whymsy posted her Viking Shield pendant design.  At that moment, I had a very similar design ready to be antiqued and polished.

     Corienne's pendant   My pendant

They're not exactly the same, of course--but they're put together with the same basic construction; mine just has an additional overlay over the top of the swirly shapes.  I know I didn’t copy Corienne’s work--I hadn’t seen that piece before I made mine.  In fact, I was doing a variation on a previous piece of my own:

And I know that Corienne didn’t copy me.  Her work is good enough and original enough that she doesn’t need to.  Her work is always very much her own, but we definitely share a similar aesthetic (which is one of the reasons I’m so drawn to what she makes; it’s very much my own taste).

Accusations of intellectual theft shouldn’t be made lightly.  It can lead to a lot of conflict between friends and colleagues, and just as copyright infringement can cause an artist to lose their livelihood, in some cases, false accusations can potentially land the accuser in court, having to defend themselves from charges of libel and/or slander.  So some things to consider, should you suspect that your work might have been copied:

1. Is it copying, or are you both inspired by the same things? Sometimes people are inspired by the same sources.  In the case of Corienne and me, we just have lot in common.  We’re both deeply inspired by literature, and both of us studied English language and literature in college. We both tend to work quite a lot with mythic themes and symbols.  And we both enjoy working in filigree styles.  It’s inevitable, really, that the two of us would come up with similar designs, completely independently of each other.  Another example of Corienne and I making similar pieces due to similar inspiration is our respective versions of the Triskele symbol:

Corienne's Triskele My Triskele

The two pieces look quite a lot alike, but nobody gets to own the rights to an ancient, well-known symbol.  And besides that, if you look closely, you can see they’re constructed quite differently. Zero copying happening here, no matter how similar the pieces may look.

2. Is it copying, or is it a case of influence? Sometimes one artist influences another -- and while that can lead to outright copying, influence and copying are NOT the same thing.  And really, it’s a desirable thing. The lines of influence leading from one artist to another and another keep the art dynamic and lively, changing to suit current fashions and tastes. A variety of influences keeps an art form from becoming stale.  It’s also inevitable.  If you make your work public, and other artists like your work, your work will unavoidably impact some of the decisions they make when making their own pieces.  Maybe they love your flowing lines, or the neatness of your bail, or the way you combine colors.  They will, consciously or unconsciously, incorporate some of those elements into their work.  But this IS NOT the same thing as copying. Taking a single element, or even an overall style,  and working it into a different design is influence, but it isn’t copying.  And influence needn’t be a conscious thing, either. If you’re like most jewelry artists, chances are you spend quite a lot of time scrolling through Pinterest or Etsy or online forums, looking at all the different ways that different artists make those pieces.  Your brain stores each and every one of those images, and whether you’re aware of it or not, delivers them up when you’re working, solving problems of construction or design.  And sometimes, those influences are apparent. But that doesn’t mean an artist is outright copying another.

3. Is it copying, or is it a similar overall “look?”  This is, to my mind, one of the grayer areas of influence/copying/inspiration.  Sometimes somebody sees a piece and wants to create a similar visual aesthetic, but does so using different methods and different details. And very frequently, this isn’t a conscious decision on the part of the “copier” (see the previous paragraph). This is one area that has caused quite a lot of conflict in online communities -- one artist accusing another of copying the overall appearance of their pieces.  But the fact is, none of us gets to own a “look”; we only get to own our individual designs. Consciously imitating a general style may or may not be ethical; that’s a decision that each individual has to make for themselves (I tend to feel that imitating a style is not unethical, so long as the artist is trying bring their unique vision to it).  Most artists, even when reaching for a similar aesthetic, do indeed make that “look” uniquely their own when behaving ethically.

4. And finally, if you’ve determined there is indeed copying going on, ask yourself how much this copying hurts you as an artist.  Sometimes it’s not at all.  As somebody who writes tutorials, I expect those pieces to be copied.  In the terms and rights included with each of my tutorials, I ask that every artist who makes that particular design mentions the tutorial where the pieces are displayed.  Sometimes somebody forgets to mention the tutorial, and while I feel that crosses the line of ethical/unethical, it doesn’t usually hurt me enough to pursue it (unless the same artist “forgets” repeatedly).  But there are some artists out there who will take the tutorials others put out, and make them free to the public, or sell them in competition with the very artists they've stolen from.  That absolutely needs to be pursued; it’s beyond the line of what I can tolerate as an artist.  And that’s a question that every artist might answer differently, and needs to answer for themselves.  But always, always keep in mind that accusations of theft involve lots of conflict and stress, and if taken far enough, can involve lots of money and time as well.  So if you’re not very, very sure that you’ve been copied, it may be best to hold off on those accusations.

So these are some--just a few--of my thoughts on a very contentious issue, and it may be revisited here from a different angle in the future..  Remember that all of this is just my opinion, and should not be construed as anything like legal advice.  What are your thoughts?  Let me know in the comments!

Big thanks to Corienne Bruner of Wired Whymsy for allowing me to use pictures of her work here.  You can find more of her work at,, and  Go check out her stuff, because it’s beautiful!

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