Select

Writing the Artisan's Statement    Saturday, July 11, 2015

When I went to college, I was planning on being a full-time fiction writer.  Yeah, that didn't work out for me.  But I learned a lot of useful stuff.  In one of my final writing classes, one of the things I was required to do was to come up with an artist's statement. It was an essay in which I described my writing process and analyzed my writing itself.  I had to examine why I wrote, how I wrote, and what I wanted my writing to become.  It seemed a kind of pointless exercise to me at the time, something that I did just to fulfil an academic requirement. But it turned out to be a Good Thing.  It forced me to look at my work objectively and to put into words my own aspirations and goals.  After I wrote that statement, I found myself becoming more conscious of my style choices, which gave me greater control over them.

Fast forward a decade or so (yeah, we won't get into how long it's been), and I find myself thinking that doing the same thing with my jewelry and wire art would also be a Good Thing, and for the same reasons.  To crystallize in words the choices I make and the choices I wish to make when it comes to my art.  

It's a useful, enlightening exercise, and I encourage anybody who makes any kind of art on a regular basis to do it!  It needn't be perfect.  It doesn't need to have perfect spelling or be in paragraph form, unless you plan to make it public. I promise, you won't be graded. It DOES need to be in words, because human beings think in language, and putting things in language makes things more real to us. 

Here are a few things to consider when you write your own artisan's or artist's statement:

  • Why do you make your art?
  • What inspires you to make your art?
  • What is unique or special about your art?
  • How would you describe your artistic style, in one sentence, to someone who's never seen it?
  • And finally, what goals do you have for your artistic future?  Not business goals, those are separate.  But in what direction(s) do you want your art to grow or improve?

And that's all there is to it.  If you polish it up, you can use it as a bio, because these are the things people want to know about your art.  It can help you to create a consistent "brand" for your business.  And in ten years,  you can look back on it and see how far you've come.

Have any of you written up an artist's statement?  Did you find that it affected your work? Let me know in the comments below!

Gem Lore: Amethyst    Sunday, June 28, 2015

Celtic Cross with amethyst
Celtic Cross in Copper with Amethyst

One of the stones I use most frequently in my jewelry is amethyst. Aside from being the birthstone for February, it’s very popular, being both beautiful and affordable. And the rich purples contrast beautifully with the antiqued copper I like to use.  But even outside of jewelry-making, I just love the stone.  And one reason for that is the stories and lore associated with it.

In one story, the Greek god Dionysus (the god of wine and revelry), is taken with a beautiful girl called Amethyst and pursues her (yes, lots of myths start

Lyonesse Wire Wrapped Key Pendant with Amethyst
Victorian-inspired Key Pendant with Amethyst

this way).  She wants nothing to do with him, wanting to stay chaste, but he chases after her anyway.  Amethyst calls out for the virgin goddess Artemis to help her, and Artemis changes her into a white crystal at Dionysus’ feet.  Dionysus, feeling somewhat chastised, pours out his wine cup over the stone as an offering, coloring the crystal purple.

In another story, Dionysus is insulted by a mortal, and in his drunken state, swears that he’ll slay the next mortal who crosses his path.  He creates two fierce tigers to do his bidding, but the next mortal who crosses his path is an innocent, beautiful girl, who is on her way to pay tribute to Artemis.  Artemis spares the girl from being torn to pieces by changing her into a crystal statue. Dionysus, feeling terrible remorse at his foolish actions, weeps tears of wine, staining the crystal of the statue.

Collectors' Amethyst GobletAnd in yet another story, the goddess Rhea gives Dionysus an amethyst stone to protect him from the wine-drinker’s madness--in other words, from drunkenness. It became a common practice to place an amethyst in a wine-cup to protect the drinker from becoming too drunk, and even to carve wine-cups from the stone.

The ancient Egyptians loved amethyst as well, and also believed it to be an antidote for drunkenness.  It’s been found in Egyptian tombs, and Cleopatra wore an amethyst ring that was rumored to have brought her the love of Mark Anthony. Egyptian soldiers wore amethyst for courage and protection in battle, and it was one of the stones that was said to decorate the Mesektet Boat, which Ra rode each night through the Underworld.

Theodora Copper Spiral Earrings with Amethyst Chips
Copper Spiral Earrings with Amethyst Chips

In Christianity, amethyst is mentioned in the Bible as one of the stones that decorates the breastplate of the high priest in Exodus, and it’s the foundation stone of New Jerusalem in Revelations.

Currently, amethyst is very popular among those who practice crystal healing.  It’s thought to be a purifying stone, and is used to encourage peace, calm and clarity.

Amethyst is a gemstone that’s been as popular throughout history as it is today.  It’s identified with so many stories and traditions; this is by no means an exhaustive listing of the stories that have sprung up around this beautiful gemstone.  

What qualities or stories do you associate with amethyst?

 

Self-care for the self employed artisan    Wednesday, June 17, 2015

If you work for yourself, you already know this: you have never before and never will again work harder than you do when you are self-employed. It’s illegal for an outside employer to require you to work the kind of hours you’ll likely find yourself pulling when you’re the C.E.O., the middle management and the worker bee all wrapped up in one carbon-based package. This is especially true when you are the sole proprietor of a creative microbusiness. You design the product, you make the product, you promote the product, you package the product, you make sure that the product gets into the hands of the customer. You handle the customer service. You’re probably tech support and webmaster and social media coordinator. Not to mention accountant and financial planner.

 

Needless to say, this is a stressful set of circumstances. It’s hard on a person, both physically and emotionally. It can take a toll. After a year of working on my own, I’d like to share what has been working for me to keep myself healthy.

 

This is pretty self-evident, but it’s really important to take care of your day-to-day physical well-being. When you work for someone else, you get scheduled breaks and lunches, and most workplaces provide at least some physical safety measures (ergonomic chairs, keyboards, what have you, depending on the type of workplace). It’s surprisingly easy to neglect yourself when you’re working on your own, though. In the first few months of working for myself, I lost a lot of weight very quickly, simply because I’d be so involved in what I was doing that I’d forget to stop for a meal. I developed chronic pain in my neck and shoulders because my workbench wasn’t arranged well, and I didn’t stop often enough or for long enough. I’ve also talked to people who gained a lot of weight when they started working for themselves because they could have a quick snack at their desks without taking time for a more healthy meal, and because working for yourself is often pretty sedentary, depending on what kind of work you’re doing.

 

What works for me is to schedule myself. I sometimes set timers to let me know when it’s time to stop and stretch, when it’s time to take a quick snack break, and when it’s time to take a longer break for a meal. While I don’t adhere to these religiously, the timers help me keep track of how long it’s been since a snack or a break.

 

It’s also important to take care of yourself when you’re not up to par. When you work for an outside company, you’re generally not allowed to take time off for something like the sniffles, but you do call in when you’ve got a fever or something more serious than a cold. You take a day or two off, sleep lot, and let yourself heal. Your work is elsewhere, so you don’t have to think about it, and you get better faster. But when you’re on your own, there’s the nagging thought that it’s going to be SO HARD to catch up if you take a sick day. So you stumble to the workbench or the desk and you keep going. And since you keep going, you don’t let yourself heal, and you’re sick for longer, or it might even develop into something serious.

 

Don’t do this. If you’re sick, rest. Heal. You’ll lose less work time in the long run if you allow yourself to become healthy.

 

It’s also important to remember that physical health isn’t the only aspect of health. I work long, long hours, and while I’m home with my family, when I’m working hard I’m not really WITH them. I’m in my little corner, absorbed by the project in my hands and not present to what’s happening around me. And while that’s fine during work time, it’s not fine during family time. So I built family time into my schedule. Unlike the little timers that tell me it’s time for a break that I may or may not put off, family time is sacred. It is not to be interfered with, no matter how many projects I have piling up on my table or how behind I am in my workload. Being with my family more is one of the reasons I began working for myself, and if I don’t treat that time as sacred, I lose some of my connection with them, and little conflicts crop up as a result, adding to my stress and to theirs.

 

Another time that I try to treat as sacred is “me” time. This is harder, because it feels selfish and unproductive, but if I don’t take a little time each day to do something that I enjoy for its own sake, I find myself becoming overwhelmed by all that I have to do for my business, and that’s the surest path to burning out. It doesn’t need to be a lot of time -- I love to read, so I work in a half hour or so a day where I can just sit and enjoy a book, usually before bed. Then I can go to sleep relaxed and satisfied, and wake up refreshed and ready for a new work day.

 

Social time has also become important to me since I’ve been working for myself. I’m kind of a homebody, and I’ve never liked going out to a party atmosphere, and even going out to a coffee shop sometimes requires that I muster up a kind of energy that doesn’t come easily to me. But my friends are important to me, and friendships need to be maintained. My friends provide a kind of support that is different from but no less important than the support my family gives me. I don’t spend a lot time with friends--maybe once a week--but going for coffee or to hang out on a couch with a buddy and watch a movie gets me out of my house, out of my workplace and helps me maintain those important emotional connections.

 

FInally, the most important thing that I’ve learned in the past year is that I need to be present. It’s very easy to become lost in the minutiae of my work and all that it entails. I have a real tendency to live inside my head and not pay enough attention to my body, my emotions, or the people around me. The kind of presence I mean isn’t exactly the spiritual/mystical sort that people mention when they’re talking about Buddhism or any other spiritual practice (though it might be related, I suppose). It just means to take a little time to assess how my body feels, how my mood is, and take steps to remedy anything that’s troubling me. A few quiet minutes in the morning, a few in the evening, just to touch base with myself, helps me to be more aware of trouble before it becomes a real problem.

 

In a nutshell, self-care for me means paying attention to my body, my mind and my emotional state. Being as healthy as I can be means that I can bring my whole self to my work, which helps me to be more successful, and feel happier and more fulfilled in what I’m doing.

 

And I’m curious. What do you do to stay healthy in your work? Leave a comment below and let me know! 

The Triple Spiral Symbol    Monday, June 1, 2015

Triskele symbol from Newgrange interiorIf ever you look up "Celtic symbols," along with the shamrock and the Celtic cross, one of the most common images you'll see is three spirals joined together.  It's called the "triple spiral" for obvious reasons, and also the triskelion, or the triskele.

The triskele is an old enough symbol that there's no written history of its first use, but the most famous example is probably the triple spiral design carved in the ancient passage tomb Newgrange in Ireland.  It's estimated to date back to around 3,200 BCE. 

Like most truly ancient images, the triskele has accumulated a lot of different associations Triskele Pendant Tutorialthrough the ages.  It has all of the meanings associated with the simple spiral (most importantly the movement of sun and seasons), but it's more than that.  Some scholars have suggested that the triple spiral at Newgrange represents the year, or the cycle of human pregnancy (even now we divide the stages of pregnancy into thirds, or trimesters).  It may also represent the cycle of the soul through life, death and afterlife or rebirth; what we know of the Celts suggests they tended to view the universe and time as cyclical altogether.

Later, the symbol came to be associated with other triads -- the Celtic elements of Land, Sea and Sky, and with the goddess Brighid, and it's used as well by modern Pagans to represent the Mother, the Maiden and the Crone. 

As Christianity became more popular in Ireland and the British Isles, it was natural to associate the three spirals with the Christian Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  It's still often used as a symbol by Celtic-affiliated Christians.

In a nutshell, the triskele represents the movement of the soul, whether from a stone-age viewpoint or a modern one. It's a special symbol, and its meaning can be very personal or universal. In my own life, I like to associate it with my family -- there's three of us, the Mother (me!), the Father (my husband), and the Child (my not-so-little son). Like any good symbol, what it means depends most of all on what's important to its wearer.

Tutorial: Woven Wire Bail    Tuesday, May 19, 2015

 

I've been working on a new tutorial!  No, this isn't it. Sorry! While I'm putting the finishing touches on the new one, I thought I'd share here an exerpt from one of the others in my store, the Queen of Hearts Key Pendant.  When I work from a tutorial that someone else has written, probably the most important aspect to me is whether I can apply the techniques I learn from that tutorial into my own designs.  I try to create tutorials with the same thing in mind: can someone use these techniques in their own, unique work?  

So I thought I'd share this with you today.  This is the bail from the Queen of Hearts Pendant; for a long time, this was my go-to bail; I used it with nearly every pendant that called for something pretty and decorative.  It's especially good for pendants that are fairly wide at the top, as it has three different points you can easily attach jump rings to.  I hope you enjoy it and find the bail as useful as I do!

A couple of notes before starting: this is written from a right-hander's point of view.  If you're left-handed, simply mirror the directions. Also, this uses imperial measurements. This was my first tutorial, and though I give both imperial and metric measurements in all my tutorials now,  I haven't gone back yet to add the metric conversions to this one (though that's coming soon). 

You'll need:

  • 6 inches 18 gauge wire (dead soft)
  • 32 inches 28 gauge wire (dead soft)
  • Round-nose pliers
  • Chain nose pliers
  • Wire cutters (flush are preferable)
  • Bail-making pliers or a mandrel about the size of a pencil
  • Graph paper is useful but not required.

When measuring your wire, keep in mind that too long is better than too short -- err on the side of caution your first time through!


 

 

Measure and cut 6 inches of 18 gauge wire. Grasp at the center point of the wire with your round-nose pliers.


 

Bend the wire into a “U” shape.


 

Continue the bend until you have a loop with the tails forming a “V”.

 

Bend the tails of the wire back so the loop is slightly open.


 

Grasp the top of the loop with the pliers and gently close the loop.


 

Your bail frame should look like the picture on the left.


 

Measure 1 inch from the loop and with round-nose or chain-nose pliers, bend the tails back toward the center of the frame.


 

At the point where the legs of the frame meet, bend once more so the legs are parallel. Your frame should look now like the picture on the left.

 

Cut and measure 32 inches of 28 gauge wire. Wrap around the point where the loop of the 18 gauge wire closes, leaving about a 1 inch tail. 


 

 

Wrap the 28 gauge wire around the frame 4 times. At the end of the 4th wrap, bring the 28 gauge wire between the legs of the frame.


 

Coil the 28 gauge once all the way around the bottom leg of the frame and bring it over the top leg.


 

Coil the 28 gauge once all the way around the top leg and bring back down over the bottom leg. This forms a Figure 8 patten with the weaving wire, with an extra coil on each leg.

 

Continue this weaving pattern. The weaving should be tight, but not so tight that the frame is overly distorted. 

 

It's helpful to push the wire back toward the starting point periodically so that the weave stays tight and even.

 

At the point where the legs of the frame meet and become parallel, begin wrapping the 28 gauge wire all the way around both legs, binding them together. Continue the binding for about ¼ inch.

Curl the bail around the large barrel of your bail-making pliers or dowel. The loop should almost touch the frame wires at the back, forming a teardrop shape.


 

With your chain-nose pliers, bend the loop forward.


 

Pinch the frame and the loop together, either with thumb and forefinger or with pliers. The loop should be flat against the back legs of the frame. If the 28 gauge wire binding the legs together doesn't quite reach the point where the loop meets the legs, continue the binding.


 

With the 1 inch tail that's still attached to the loop from the beginning of the weave, wrap 4 times around both the loop and the legs, binding the bail closed. Snip and tuck the ends of your 28 gauge wire.

The bail, including the legs, should be about 1.5 inches long. If it's a little longer or shorter, that's okay. This is a good time to make sure that the legs are still even. If they're not, snip until they're the same length.


 

Separate the legs into a “V” shape.


 

With the very end of your round-nose pliers, curl the leg into a loop.


 

Continue curling around in a scroll until the loop you've just made meets the main body of the bail. Do this on both legs of the bail.


 

This is what the finished bail should look like.


 

Attach each scroll to the top of a pendant with jump rings if the top of the pendant is wide enough.  If the pendant comes to more of a point at the top, you can use the central loop with a jump ring.

 

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial exerpt!  If you'd like to work through the whole pendant, just go to the Queen of Hearts Key Pendant Tutorial in my store, and use the coupon code BAILTUTE for $5 off the tutorial price! 

Mini-Blog: Workbench Hacks #2, Guest Post: Punk a Plate Rack    Monday, May 11, 2015

Guest Post: Punk a Plate Rack

By BriggidlyPunk

Today's Workbench Hacks post is brought to you by BriggidlyPunk. By reimagining found objects as jewelery and art BriggidlyPunk creates alternative narratives and stories of transformation in the genres of SteamPunk, CyberPunk, and NaturePunk.  She reads China Mieville, doesn't follow recipes, and most recently swooned over "Quadrophenia Live in London". You can find out more about her at https://briggidlypunk.wordpress.com

From this:

 

To this:

Do we not all have an unruly menagerie of tools that we want Right At Hand? We pick one up and put it down and then glue something and then pick up another tool and put it down, and then can’t find the first one. Pegboard is popular for pinning tools like butterflies, but un-portable, and my worktable is too deep to comfortably reach the wall anyway.

Enter the plate rack.  I had this one in my basement.

I turned it on its side and punked it out.

I found a cosmetics case insert that wedged perfectly between between two of the plate dividers. It holds the little fiddly things like tiny screw drivers, tweezers, and my fabulous Japanese tall box where I keep my small metal files. The double rail that used to be the bottom of the plate rack holds all the two-legged tools like snips and pliers. To secure the retractor which I find so useful, I secured a rubber band around one end of the double rail.

 

 

Voila – all my frequently used, frequently set down tools have a tidy, portable, organised place to live on my worktable. And most of the time I remember to put them there!

Mini-Blog: Workbench Hacks #1    Wednesday, May 6, 2015

While I was working at my bench tonight, I realized that I have some odd little eccentricities in my work habits (probably other places, too, but that's not the topic here. . .).  I think every crafter or artist probably does.  You know, those little rituals that help you to be more productive, more organized, to save time that you could be using to actually make stuff.  The tricks that make your work just a little easier.  So I thought it might be fun to run a little series, to be posted somewhat regularly (I hope), about my own and other artisans' workbench hacks.  Here's my first:  the graph paper hack.

I almost always work with a piece of graph paper beneath my project.  I start out with clean sheet of graph paper, and along one edge, I draw a line down the grid, and then mark little hashmarks at each inch or centimeter, depending on what kind of graph paper I'm using.  It gives me a handy and stable place to measure my wire without rooting around for a ruler or measuring tape.   If possible, I label the paper with the name of the piece I'm making, or a description.

 

The graph paper makes a very handy place to note measurements for individual lengths of wire for a part of a piece of jewelry, or for the dimensons of a formed shape.



 

I also use the grid throughout the whole process of a piece to check the symmetry of my shapes.
 
When a piece is finished, I save the notes so that I don't have to trial-and-error my way through the same or similar pieces.
 
And that, ladies and gents, is my very first workbench hack post.  What tricks do you use to make life easier when you're making?

The Sacred Spiral Symbol in Jewelry    Monday, May 4, 2015

When I first started making wire jewelry, one of the first shapes I learned to make was a simple spiral.  You can do so much with it--dangle beads or gems off the bottom for earrings or pendants, use them as links, as part of a clasp, and the list goes on.  It's such a basic part of wire jewelry design that it didn't really occur to me that it could hold a deeper significance for some. But a friend, visiting me and looking through my cache of necklaces and bracelets and earrings, commented on all the spirals I was using.  "That's my symbol!" she said.

Theodora Spiral Earrings

Almost of all of my jewelry at that point incorporated spirals in some way or another.  I started looking at my jewelry with new eyes. I've always loved studying and reading about symbols, but the meaning of that handy little jewelry element I'd been using had escaped me.

The spiral is one of the oldest symbols known to humankind.  It's been carved into stones, painted on cave walls, and, yes, incorporated into jewelry for longer than nearly any other image.  The original meanings are lost in the mists of time, but some scholars believe that it was first a solar symbol that represented the movement of the sun.  Others believe that it was meant to represent the movement of the stars and the heavens in general.  Our planet is situated, after all, on the arm of a spiral galaxy.  It's unlikely our early ancestors knew that, but who knows?  

Like most symbols that stick around for a while, the simple spiral began to accumulate other meanings as it was passed on.  It became associated with mother goddesses, the moon, and womanhood, and it became used in more complicated shapes, like the triskele.  

Today, the spiral has kept some of those ancient meanings. Because it's so very old, it's often associated with primal forces and with nature (the spiral is found naturally in shells, spiderwebs and other places).  It's still associated with the movement of the heavens, but also with the movement of the spirit.  It signifies the evolution of the soul, and the cycles of time and the universe.  As my friend who so loved my spiral shapes said, "It's about leaving, and it's about the return home."

When you wear or make a spiral, take a moment and think about the ancient weight, the universal significance of that simple little sign. That's what symbols do--they connect you with the rich history of all the people who've used them before, and with all the possible futures of the people who will use them again.

 

Related: Triskele Pendant Tutorial
  The Triple Spiral Symbol
   

   

Of Minks and Monkey Skulls: Creating when you don't know what you're doing    Friday, April 10, 2015

It's perverse, really, but it really is my favorite kind of project:  when someone asks me to do something I've never, ever done.  Never thought of doing.  And have no idea how to go about doing.  I love that moment when the idea comes like a flash, sort of a picture of how it all might fit together.

 

 

A few months ago, I was asked by a virtual stranger to wire wrap a couple of mink skulls.  We'd been having a casual conversation at a mutual friend's house, and I mentioned that I work with copper wire.  So he brought me two mink skulls and asked me to make small wall hangings from them.  I'd never worked with bone before, but I thought, "How hard could it be?"

 

The thing I didn't know is that tiny little skulls have all the tensile strength of tiny little eggshells in the thinner parts, depending on how they've been cleaned and handled.  My usual methods of wrapping stones usually put a fair amount of stress on the stone.  That obviously wouldn't work here. I tried--very gingerly--to start something like a cage wrap, but every time my pliers slipped a little, my heart stopped. 

 
 

Because the skulls weren't mine to start with, I didn't want to do anything that would damage them.  Aside from the obvious need to avoid breaking the skulls with my pliers, it meant no drilling (as I haven't used drills often and didn't want to shatter the bone) and no wrapping wire around the fragile spots.  Before I started this project, I had been playing with various kinds of weaves for texture.  I decided that a weave might be a good place to start; it would be pliable enough to cradle the skull without scarring it up. A wire netting across an oval frame made a sturdy backing to attach wires to, and two wires passed through the spinal opening and out the mouth held the skull in place while weaving.  A woven wire "bridle" further secured the skull without putting too much tension in any one place.

 

I was pretty pleased with myself.  The client was too; when I delivered the mink skulls, he was delighted. So delighted, in fact, that he handed me a monkey skull and a pile of feathers and told me he trusted my "artistic judgment."

 

 Right then, that monkey skull was the scariest thing I'd ever seen.  I sat it on my workbench, right where it looked me in the eyes every time I sat down.  I'd pick it up, turn it over, put it back down again.  Maybe shape some wire, sketch some ideas.  But there was no "aha!" moment where I knew just how I was going to put this beast together.

 

 In the end, it's easiest to build on what you already know.  That mink skull had taught me a bit about unusual structure.  I started with a variation on the same method that I used to build the mink's backing.  I would attach this to the skull with wires through the naturally existing holes; eye sockets, nostrils, mouth.  

 

For the rest of the piece, I decided to go with the first thing I usually think of when looking at feathers: a big fan.  Several of the feathers the client gave me to use were large parrot feathers; these would go behind and offset the smaller, bright blue feathers.  To hold everything together, I wove a fan-shaped frame and netting.

 

The hardest part was wrapping in the feathers.  I had never done anything with feathers at all.  Like, ever.  The quills split easily, and they don't just lie flat for you to wrap them neatly.  They have minds of their own.  I wrapped the feathers (all of them!) individually so one twisting or turning wouldn't disturb the others around it.

 

The last bit, and the most fun bit, was attaching the skull and its frame to the feathers and their frame.  Why fun?  Because this is where I got to decorate the monkey's face.

I wanted to make something that looked like tribal tattoos, but that kept the monkey snug against the frame.  I shaped the spirals and attached them to the mesh frame by threading them through the natural openings in the skull, and then wrapped the mesh frame to the wire of the feather fan.  Per the client's request, I added some wire braids as decoration.

 

 
 
 

And he loves it.  Every time I see him, he greets me as "The Artist," and tells whomever he's with about these amazing skulls he's got in his house.  These kinds of projects epitomize why I make things.  To discover new ways of doing things, and to create something that's more than the sum of its parts.  That's the point of it all, really.

 

So go do something new.  Pick up something strange, something you wouldn't ordinarily use, and see what you can make out of it.  When you set a challenge for yourself, you'll likely find yourself rising to it.

 

 
 
 
 

 

 
Syndicate content