Monday, November 17, 2008

Bye, Buddy

1988 - 2008

Thursday, November 6, 2008

No fear of scurvy here

I've developed quite the fondness for margaritas. Not those horrid green, frothy, corn-syrupy, chemical-filled things from a mix, but a beverage made from actual fruit. A bit of lime juice, agave nectar, orange liqueur and a decent reposado and you are on your way to fighting scurvy.

I recently acquired this snazzy Breville 800CPXL Die-Cast Citrus Press Juice Extractor. I was hoping to find an easier way to liberate the juice from limes. This machine is fantastic! Easy to use, a snap to clean. I can make a maragrita in seconds. seems to have the best price and shipping is free. Get one. Now. Go.

Recent Project -- Kingman Turquoise Ring

Not for the faint of heart, this is a bold, shiny statement featuring a gorgeous piece of Kingman turquoise from Arizona. I picked up this beautiful stone a couple years ago in Santa Fe, and it was just waiting for me to find it the right setting.

In sterling silver, the ring top is surrounded by beaded wire and set up on a platform to give it some dimension. I love the heft of this ring. The band has two silver balls on each side of the split shank.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Recent Project -- Fire Agate Ring

I had never seen fire agate until a trip out west about a year and a half ago. I became mesmerized by their bright colors and bubbly, blurby patterns. I've picked up a few since then, but have always been a bit intimidated by their uneven surface. Fear of setting them kept me from using them.

This ring was not only my first project with that stone, but with argentium sterling as well. Argentium sterling alloys germanium with the pure silver instead of copper. Because there are no copper oxides, there is no firescale. In addition, the germanium on the surface of the metal resists tarnish.

The mokume gane ring band is an agate pattern in copper and argentium. Argentium square wire is place on the top and bottom of the ring band.

My attempt at faux granulation with the 22k gold balls failed a bit due to repeated firing under the torch. I would attempt to affix all the granules at one time moving forward instead of risking melting as happened a bit here.

As an aside, this web site is worth checking out for it's very 1996 web-tastic graphics and layout.

Recent Project -- Ruby Pendant

It feels like I have been working on this pendant since the beginning of time. I posted about it in April, when i suffered a little set-back and broke the setting while attempting to set the stone.

Five months later I have finally re-crafted the setting, and completed the piece. A four carat lab grown* ruby is set in a sterling dome. The dome is covered in layers of fused sterling and 22k gold shavings and tidbits. Liver of silver gives the dome its color.

A piece of square wire runs across the back of the opening and holds the setting in place.

* Lab created stones are not imitations of real gems, but the actual formation by artificial means of the real precious stone, so that the product is identical, chemically, physically and optically, with the one found in nature.

Again with the Focus, Focus, Focus

Not the most attentive (or consistent) blogger am I? I just saw that it has been three months since my last post. We can blame a condition I refer to as "hobby ADD" -- I tend to wander off into new interests.
But hopefully with a little renewed focus, I can continue to finish up the projects littering my bench.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

New Gadget, Day One

The new camera has arrived -- a giant mass of buttons, dials, menus, and switches. I wasn't prepared for the size of this monster. If my old film SLR was a Honda Civic, this thing feels like a Suburban in my hand. Not as heavy as it looks, but bulky as can be.

I took it to a baseball game last night to began to get my feet wet learning the new gadget. Getting to capture a stadium with a fisheye lens was too much to resist. I have wanted a fisheye lens for more than 25 years -- I'm thrilled to finally have one in hand.

How did it go? Fair. I still have a lot to learn. I had read that on the "auto" settings this camera will overexpose shots -- I found that to be true. But if set on Aperture Priority it seemed to do much better. Many of my shots were blue, but who knows what light setting my camera is set on by default. I have yet to make it that far in the manual!

The telephoto performed better than I thought it would. I can't get over how fast the shutter release (80ms) and autofocus are. I was able to capture the ball still in fame after a hit. I never could have accomplished that with my pocket-sized point & shoot digital cameras.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I've missed "that person"

Anyone who has known me for a long while knows that I used to be an avid photographer. I never went anywhere without my trusty Minolta x-body camera in hand. I probably saw my friends more often through my viewfinder with my camera between us than without. I was "that person" -- the one never in the photos, but always taking them of everyone else.

Apparently, this trait is hereditary; my father was a similar shutter bug. As we were trying to pull together photos for his funeral service, it was almost comical how few photos he was in compared to the thousands of shots he had taken.

As film became less popular, and the world was going digital, I was just never quite ready to invest in a digital SLR. I stopped shooting film about seven years ago, and made do with an assortment of small digital cameras. On a sunny day in a pretty place, those small cameras could capture some decent images -- and I have been (occasionally) selling those shots over the past few years.

About a year ago, I took a trip to the southwest. I love, love, love the desert and hadn't been there in more than 10 years. The desert sun was more than the little cameras could take; my photos were overexposed, and the colors were just horrid. I knew I could capture stunning photos of the desert on film -- an earlier trip to Sedona had proven that -- but this trip was a photographic disaster.

Six months later: a return trip to New Mexico. More lousy photos. I resolved then to get myself a decent camera before I took another vacation.

Well, it's on its way. A mid-level digital SLR of my own. I look forward to being "that person" again.

Ahhh, Space

I recently splurged and added a "real" jeweler's bench to my work space. By "real" I mean the least expensive hardwood (no particle board) bench I could find. It seems surprisingly sturdy for the price, and it is nice to have the drawers and shelves within arm's reach as I work.
Yes, it looks clean now, but that's only because most of my tools are still packed up from a weekend workshop. Give it another couple days and it will be covered in more customary clutter.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Broken Hearts

I made this sculpture almost 15 years ago. It was a rough month.

The sculpture is crafted from japanese paper clay, and is studded with assorted nails, screws, springs and other odds and ends. I have painted the nail heads pink, white and gold; the heart is a ruby red. The heart shape has a crack carved into it. This piece still sits in my living room all these years later.

Today I ran across this stabbed heart pin by Apatico (the same etsy seller i mentioned in my last post). I was just struck by how similar the pieces look.

I love her version in black and silver as well. Check them out!

Affordable Art

Through the years I've picked up some unusual odds and ends while traveling or at art shows -- from feather-trimmed Inuit hand puppets to Georgia folk art. I love finding beautiful or unusual pieces that may not have been initially sold as traditional "fine art" but are beautiful and engaging nonetheless. Not only are these pieces interesting, but they tend to be much more affordable than fine art.

I've come across two finds lately that must be shared. The first is a local artist, Craig Bennett, who creates his work under the name of Guh Guh and Phangs. He had a booth last fall at a local art show I participated in, and I fell in love with the work. I had run across his work once or twice since, and the last time some of the little guys simply had to come home with me. They are large paintings on plywood painted with acrylics. While these seem to be intended for Halloween decorating, I find them a welcome addition to my walls all year round. This is Guh Guh -- isn't he adorable? Be sure to check out his friend Phang on their website, or at an art show around Atlanta. My only "complaint" -- if you can call it that -- is that the work is too affordable! Considering how much time it must take with the jigsaw alone to cut these guys out (not to mention the actual painting!), I would be happy to hand over more of my hard earned dollars to have more of these guys around.

My more recent find was on etsy, the "online marketplace for buying & selling all things handmade". The seller Apatico has a collection of gothic/industrial stainless steel crowns adorned with spikes, chains, bolts, fur, flowers, gems, etc. How could I resist? Actually, there were so many great choices, I had trouble choosing just one. Will I wear my spiked mini-crown? Rarely -- but won't it look great adorning my wall or cluttering a shelf?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Ooooo, Sparkly!

There was one more goal I omitted from my list in January. I want to be using better quality stones in my work. The kind of stones that make you stop in your tracks and say "Wooo."

Okay, okay, so perhaps it's really just an excuse to horde more stones, but I have made some good headway in the past two weeks. Look for these and other delicious opals to be appearing in work in the next year. I can't wait to find them homes.

Recent Projects -- Fletch* Earrings

Yesterday I completed my favorite pair of earrings yet. They are two simple curved discs, covered with fine silver and copper balls that have been sanded flat. Initially, I had started them to match this ball bearing ring; however, some errant solder made me decide to sand them flat instead of leaving the balls round. The extremely long earwires allow them to have a great deal of movement, and the brushed finish seems to suit their industrial look.

The hook on the back to catch the earwires worked out extremely well. Sometimes it is a challenge to get the idea that works so well in your head to work equally well in the real world. This time everything worked as I had imagined.

Next up: similar cuff links and a pendant already underway.

*"It's all ball bearings nowadays." -- Fletch

When good times go bad

I used to describe my knitting as moving from one debacle to another. I very much enjoyed the time I spent knitting, but things frequently would go awry. I learned a great deal about patience -- and problem solving -- through the amount of time I spent up to my elbows in yarn. I also learned to give myself a break, and learned that making mistakes was very much a part of the learning process.

Fortunately, the debacles have been much fewer and far between in my jewelry endeavors -- and that brings us to Sunday.

I had put seemingly endless hours into this pendant: fusing silver and 22K gold, building up layers, feeding them through the rolling mill, adding to the layers, piercing, soldering, finishing. I spent more than an hour on the patina alone. Once it was complete, I started to set the stone -- a large beautiful ruby. In short, a bad solder join gave way, and the entire setting worked its way loose. (You can see one side of the join in the photo; it is on the bottom of the center hole.)

The most surprising thing to me was my "no problem" reaction. I'll have to rebuild the setting and reattach it (it floats in the center of the pendant and is comprised of four elements), and I will end up removing my carefully applied patina -- but I am still amazed that my level of frustration stayed well in check.

Probably thanks to those hours and hours of knitting . . .

Monday, March 10, 2008

Recent Projects - Orbiting Bangle Bracelet

I'm not normally a bangle bracelet person -- but I really like the organic look of this piece. While I haven't succeeded in finishing much work lately, I did manage to complete this project for a class I was taking.

Four bangle bracelets were formed from 14 gauge square wire. After shaping each ring on a round mandrel, I then 'warped' each piece slightly so that each was no longer flat. The four bracelets were soldered together, and then the patterned silver discs were soldered on to cover the joins. The bracelet features three blue topaz and three iolite cabochons.

Fun! And because each ring is soldered to the others, you have the look of multiple bangles, but without the normal clanking and clinking.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Recent Projects - Egyptian Spiral Necklace

I've been spending a lot of my time lately making items to fill web site orders. The only downside to that? I am most often recreating items that I have made before -- and doing so isn't particularly creative or stimulating.

Yesterday, however, I finally finished a new piece that I had been working on for the past couple months. It is a simple Egyptian spiral necklace with a pietersite clasp. The necklace is just under 20" long, and each link is shaped from 18 gauge sterling wire. Each link has been soldered for durability.

The clasp, which features a beautiful petal-shaped piece of pietersite, can be worn in the front or the back. The recessed areas of the silver chain have been patinated to a dark blue/grey to match the blues in the stone.

I had attempted to make the Egyptian Spiral chain twice before -- with less than impressive results. It is critical that the links be identical in order for the chain to remain evenly spaced. This type of chain is (unfortunately) extremely unforgiving in that way. The couple years additional experience that I have under my belt this time made a difference. I finally have an Egyptian spiral chain that is wearable!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Quick Change Handpiece

"Nice to Haves" turn out to be "Must Haves"
I once bought a pair of digital calipers thinking I would rarely use them; strangely, I seem to use them all the time. Same thing with a laser printer that was to be used only when printing resist sheets for etching metal; I use that printer every day. It's a nice surprise when that happens -- offsetting some of the other tools that may be sitting somewhere neglected (see the kiln sitting under my bench as an example).

A quick change hand piece for my flexshaft turned out to be the biggest surprise. I got one as a Christmas gift (a nicer version than I had asked for, I should add), and I can't believe what a difference it has made. No more searching for chuck keys, or avoiding that last finishing task because of the effort needed to change out mandrels.

A simple swing of a lever, and you can effortlessly switch out the buff, sanding tool, rotary file or whatever else you have been using. The duplex spring model allows you greater flexibility than the standard handpieces. Not only is it easier to use, it is far more comfortable.

Try using one if you every have the chance. You too might become a convert.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Protecting your metal

Quick tip:
As silver prices continue to rise, I don't need to remind you that your metal is an investment.
To protect sterling sheet from scratches, I cover each side of any new metal with low-tack masking tape. Now, as I cart the sheet to and from a workshop, or drag it across my dirty bench, I'm not generating additional scratches that I will need to remove later.

Easy sanding tools

Quick tip:
Use nail files from a beauty supply store to sand your small pieces. The emery boards that have the four assorted grits on one file are perfect to move your pieces through the various finishing stages.

Non-marring pliers for jewelry making

Last night I saw a print ad for "Wubbers" in a jewelry making magazine. Wubbers are positioned as pliers that "won't mar your wire the way other pliers do."

This was one of those little reminders that there are some tips and tricks that become second nature to experienced artists, but aren't always shared with folks new to the craft. I had taken classes for a couple quarters before an instructor mentioned in passing that the edges of any new hand tool need to be softened (or "dressed") so that you do not leave marks in your metal.

Eureka! That was quite an epiphany. Once I dressed the edges on my bezel pusher and bezel rocker, I no longer had chewed up looking bezels. Once I polished the edges or my pliers, I could do wire working and sheet fabrication without marring everything I touched. So much better!

Now when I get new pliers, I sand the sharp edges with a sanding stick (or nail file), and then polish the metal with the flexshaft & steel polish to a smooth finish. No more marks!

My assumption is that the Wubbers just do that finishing work for you.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Focus. Focus. Focus.

I don't make resolutions -- as in the kind normally made to accompany the new year.

I do, however, think a fresh start to the new year is a good time to regain focus on goals and next steps. And while I didn't make lofty resolutions I probably wouldn't maintain, I did write down a roadmap for 2008 that contains some very achievable milestones. I've been procrastinating on some specific tasks that will allow me to become more successful. In an effort to keep those front of mind, I have written down the following on a white board (silver board??) by my bench:

  • Post new photos (and items) online
  • Have some components cast - so that I am not having to saw out every little piece for signet rings and cuff links. Casting would allow me to fill more orders & lower my prices. The assembly and finishing for each piece would still be done by hand.
  • Create better marketing collateral -- this includes getting better photography of my work. I think it may be time to bring in a professional.
  • Place a targeted ad -- a friend-of-a-friend generated more orders than they ever dreamed possible from a single well-placed magazine ad.
  • Approach galleries about carrying my work -- especially those that have already expressed interest.
I've already been able to tick the first one off the list. I had a significant number of pieces that I had never listed for sale online. This weekend I listed some additional items in my inventory online, and reorganized my etsy store-- resulting in an immediate sale!
(Okay, okay, I haven't added those items to yet -- all in good time.)

My last focus is completing any languishing projects. It seems the bigger the project, the more likely it is to be set aside on my bench -- only to end up in the vat of unfinished projects. Oh yes, there really is such a thing. That whiteboard also lists some projects that I simply MUST finish. So far, so good -- I am making a dent.