Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Charming Tennyson

A few years ago, I bought a collection of charms.
I was told that they were 'very old' which I don't believe unless the seller's definition of 'very old' is anything dating earlier than 2010.
It's easy to imagine that these charms are replicas of something from an earlier era, but that is fairly irrelevant to me.
If I can't verify with confidence the backstory of an item I'm selling, I describe it as honestly as I can...something lovely that I found to be irresistible.
Wherever and whenever these charms came from, I appreciated the appearance of age and the subtle texture of the featured figure.
I assumed I would eventually use the charms as pendants, but I of course had to consider the options for several years. 
Last week, I had a plan and the charms came out.
The back side of the charms have no texture, and I thought that presented an opportunity to do something poetic. 
I pulled out one of my thrift store finds, a 1919 book of Tennyson poems, and searched for passages that I could set in resin.
The size of the charms presented a challenge.
I had to find complete thoughts expressed with a minimal number of words, and each word had to be limited to 6 or 7 letters in order to fit within the confines of the charm bezel.
Each word was secured with a dab of glue.
Once the glue was completely dried, I mixed a two-part resin and coated the back of each charm.

Two days later, the resin was set and necklaces were made, ready to be delivered tomorrow to Woodmere Art Museum gift shop.
(and yes....Bertha is being put to use even though she is still in need of a more thorough makeover) 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Channeling My Inner MacGyver

I decided that it was time for me to try plein air painting, or painting in the open air.
Painting outdoors is the best way to capture the true essence of a landscape.
You witness the lighting and sense the atmosphere in a way that a photograph of the same scene cannot communicate.
The typical studio easel is not suited for use in the outdoors, so I began to research the options.
I spoke with artists I know, read plein air art message boards and looked at different setups in plein air videos on YouTube.
(Alla Prima Pochade)
A small selection of easels kept appearing as artist's favorites, and from that small list, the one that seemed most appealing to me is the Alla Prima Pochade.
This is a beautifully designed easel, crafted by a plein air artist who knew exactly what features should be included.
Every Alla Prima review I that I found raved about the craftsmanship.
I have no doubt that one of these easels would be a great investment, but at around $350.00, that's an investment that I can't make right now.
Time to become MacGyver.
I'm always looking for repurposed items to improve my holiday show jewelry displays and I buy interesting cigar boxes when I find them at thrift stores. 
The boxes are used to add some needed elevation to make my display more visually appealing
Cigar boxes are also used by some artists as portable easels, so I went through my stash and chose the most likely candidate.
I had already purchased a lightweight tripod with a quick release connection.
The center of the cigar box bottom was located and I drilled a hole to bolt on the tripod connector plate.
I was nervous about stressing the wood with the central bolt and nut, so a large washer sits below the nut to help spread the pressure.
I normally use a pad of disposable palette sheets but knew I would never find a pad to match the dimensions of my box, so I went to the local glass supply place and had them cut a piece of thick glass to match the box dimensions.
Then I realized I needed to support the glass at the four corners to keep it level and to avoid a tension point at the central nut.
I spent time at four local hardware stores, wandering through the hardware sections as I tried to figure out the details of my paint box.
The four corner support was done with rubber gaskets that weren't quite high enough to clear the nut, so two washers sit under each gasket.
The string?...the simplest solution to easily set down/lift up the glass palette.
Solving the issue of securing the top in an open position stymied me for a little while.
The ideal solution would have been a piece of hardware allowing me to change the lid angle.
Apparently, just because I can see a piece of hardware in my brain does not mean that I'll find it in any hardware store. 
In place of my fantasy fixture, I bought a pre-drilled metal plate.
Holes were drilled into the top and the bottom of the box.
Bolts with wing nuts secure the plate in place, keeping the lid open at a good, working angle.

My cigar box had hinges connecting the top and bottom, but I didn't trust that they would last for long.
Two new hinges, with four screws each, were added.
Copper pipe clamps were screwed on to the front of the box so that I would be able to hang my container of medium.
I plan to also have a container for my brushes and palette knife, but that detail is not yet solved.
One important detail that kept me confounded was the issue of securing a painting panel.
The plein air easels available for purchase have great methods of securing panels and canvases which I could not figure out how to replicate with my humble cigar box.
I kept plowing ahead, knowing that I would somehow figure out a solution.
I did figure it out....I talked to the talented Martin Campos.
He had already figured out that problem with a box that he had made for a friend.
He suggested setting magnets in a board and gluing metal washers on to the backs of my panels.
I drilled a grid of holes into a top board, glued it to a solid bottom board and filled nine of the holes with small magnets.
Metal washers set on the same dimensioned grid were glued to the backs of my prepared gessoed boards, and
I was ready to paint.
Everything easily fits into my backpack which I hang from the easel with a carabiner to hopefully keep the whole setup secure and steady.
Is this as good as the Alla Prima Pochade?
Absolutely not, but my cigar box paint box is definitely more than good enough to get me started in plein air painting.
Plus, my MacGyver skills are honed and the price was awesome:
cigar box: $1.00
glass: $9.00
gaskets: $4.50
hardware: $6.00
magnets: $3.50
panels for magnets: $3.70

Friday, June 12, 2015

No Place for Misogyny

Life has kept me away from my workbench for a while.
Preparing for my son's college graduation kept some of my jewelry and painting projects on the back burner.
With his degree in hand and delivered to his summer research job in Knoxville, I can focus on other things that have been waiting for my attention.
And then I allowed myself to be distracted by the windstorm created by the comments of Nobel Laureate, Tim Hunt.
Did you happen to miss that?
You could go here at the New York Times to read the story.
His dismissive attitude towards women in scientific research (actually, he refers to these women as 'girls', a sad display of Tim's misogynistic view of the world), touched a nerve in me.
Oh so long ago, as I left grad school and entered the world of landscape architecture, the profession was unquestionably male-dominated.
I was part of an evolving dynamic of increasing numbers of females graduating with degrees in landscape architecture, but as I began my job search, there were very few firms headed by female landscape architects.
Carol R Johnson had one of those rare firms, and she remains a major design voice, a voice that is now accompanied by other accomplished female landscape architects like Sandy Clinton.
My initial job search led me to a Cambridge firm where, at the time of my hiring, I was the only female landscape architect.
The firm then consisted of the President, two Vice-Presidents, two Associates, three Designers and the Secretary/Receptionist (the only other female in the office).
I knew that I had much to learn, but resolved to prove my value.
I was usually the first one to arrive in the morning.
I readily offered to do the things that the others didn't want to do (grading plans, drawing details, editing specifications) and I stayed late to meet deadlines.
I was the only one who could get the local printers to do our jobs on rush order because I'm pretty sure that I was the only one in the office who treated them with respect.
As I saw the two male Designers getting to take part in client meetings and get their own projects, I thought, "Why not me?"
I began my personal campaign to get more responsibility, but when my actions alone yielded no results, I made my intentions verbal.
Almost daily, I asked if I could go to a meeting or go to a job site or manage my own project.
"Not yet." was always the answer.
Two additional female landscape architects were hired and I began to understand just how chauvinistic our little office family was.
We three females were kept in very subordinate roles while our male counterparts were given opportunities for professional advancement.
I stubbornly kept pushing until I was told that I would be the manager for a new park project in east Cambridge.
The contract had just been awarded, so I had to be patient and wait while the details were negotiated.
I was feeling pretty pleased that my persistence was paying off until the day that a new landscape architect (male) joined the firm.
When new people started, I always made sure that they had the essential supplies at their work station.
Setting supplies on New Guy's drafting table (yes...we actually drafted in those days), I saw the contract information for my promised project with a note from our boss indicating that this would be New Guy's project.
I was furious and let it be known that I didn't appreciate how I was being treated.
I don't remember what, if anything, was said to placate me, but by the end of the week, I had my resume updated.
A Virginia firm flew me down for an interview and offered me a job which I accepted.
A few years later, I was back in the Boston/Cambridge area working as an Associate at one of the top landscape architecture firms in the region.
I thought it was ironic when my old boss contacted me, trying to steal me away.
He made a surprisingly generous offer which I politely declined.
I had no doubt that he and his office atmosphere had evolved in a positive direction, but I had also evolved and knew that I was where I needed to be.
It saddens and infuriates me to hear contemporary people like Tim Hunt say things suggesting that women in professional settings are merely romantic fodder for the apparently frustrated men in their vicinity.
I think it's fair to expect more from someone who is presumably in a position of influence.
Boys like Tim should embrace (and Tim....I don't mean that in a physical sense) and encourage the talent that surrounds them,
male and female.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Necklace of Summer

Part of my recycled copper stash has been on my workbench.
Years ago, I bought copper by the pound at one of the local metal recycling facilities.
I was surprised that I was allowed to look through the huge bins and gather what I wanted, so I grabbed as much as I could.
That was a great investment!
I had ideas for several necklaces and used one of recycled copper wire bundles to cut segments for links to be used in those necklaces.
Some of the links were simply hammered flat at each end and then drilled for connections.
Others were formed at each end with my favorite round nose pliers.
Some of the wire segments were shaped into clasps with one of my bail-forming clasps.
The first necklace included some blue agate beads that I've been itching to use.
The blue makes me think of cool water on a hot summer day which is good because we're due for our first heat wave of the season later this week.
Yikes....and it's not even summer.
Anyway...also included in the necklace are some of my new copper links and a new clasp, a faceted honey jade feature pendant, disc pearls and aquamarine.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Jewelry Community

Each year I take part in a few juried art/craft shows and each of those shows invariably includes an abundance of jewelry designers.
For security reasons, the various jewelry displays are often grouped together.
After one of these shows, a friend asked if I was frustrated by so much jewelry competition.
I said that I never feel like I'm competing with my fellow jewelry makers and explained that I think of our small community like a town that has a variety of good restaurants.
Much like each restaurant has unique menu focus, each jeweler has a unique design voice.
I am convinced that everyone benefits from each other's success.
I meet some of the nicest people when I start talking with my craft show jewelry neighbors.
I met Andrea Abrams-Herbert when we both took part in a holiday show at Main Line Art Center.
Getting to know the inspired designer of the jewelry that I was already familiar with made the show much more enjoyable for me.
Andrea's jewelry is beautifully crafted with sterling and wonderful bezel set gems.
Everything Andrea makes is one-of-a-kind...
and each piece captures her kind hearted spirit.
Andrea's work can be found at Woodmere Art Museum, Mount Airy Garage, Michener Art Museum and Langman Gallery.
I met Barbara Hanselman when our displays were adjacent to each other at the Wallingford Community Arts Center Holiday Show.
As with Andrea, I had already been familiar with Barbara's work and appreciated the opportunity to meet her.
Barbara is the creative force behind BH Claysmith.
She regularly teaches at Wallingford Community Arts Center where I'm told she has a devoted following of BH Claysmith groupies.
Using her handmade ceramic pieces,
Barbara creates jewelry that is soulful and richly textured.
When I realized that Barbara also sold some of her handmade beads and components,
I knew that I wanted to bring some home to my workbench.
I purchased these large ceramic beads...
and planned to make them featured pendants in necklaces.
The large slider bead was wrapped with sterling wire
 and features etched brass bead caps and dangles of aquamarine, citrine and prehnite.
The bead pendant is the highlight of a handmade chain made with sterling, aquamarine, citrine, prehnite and etched brass.

The cone shaped bead was wrapped with recycled copper wire and features dangles of yellow jasper and carnelian.
The chain consists of wire wrapped yellow jasper, honey jade, carnelian, vintage glass beads, hand forged copper links and a handmade clasp.
Both necklaces were recently delivered to Woodmere Art Museum.
I'm looking forward to working with the other treats
that I purchased from Barbara.
I'm already imagining how these wonderful slider beads will look in future necklaces.
You can also purchase Barbara's clay beads and components at her etsy shop and at Blue Santa Beads in Media, PA.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Back from Bead Fest...Back to Work

Bead Fest is in town this weekend, and with a very specific shopping list in hand, I made my visit yesterday.
Deciding beforehand what my purchase needs to be helps to keep me from being unnecessarily distracted and helps to keep my bank account intact.
The operative word in that statement is 'helps'.
In my earlier years of jewelry making, it was a struggle to contain myself when surrounded by over 100 vendors, each with a tempting variety of supplies that I was convinced I needed at my workbench.
I'm older and wiserer now.
My plan is to continually evolve, and as I define my 'design voice', I have a better understanding of what I might want to become
and of what I don't want to be.
I'm more discriminating than I was a number of years ago and prefer to do business with a small selection of vendors who I like and trust.
Loyalty matters.
I also know which vendors to avoid.
Honesty matters.
 Unfortunately, not all vendors are completely honest about their products.
First stop was Jewelry Tools.
I handed them my shopping list...
liver of sulfur, solder cutting pliers, bead reamer, diamond tweezers, wooden forming blocks, brass brush....
and in a few minutes an order was placed that will be shipped on Monday.
Next stop, and one of my favorites, Metalliferous.
They always come to Bead Fest with lots of wonderfully curious items that don't show up on their web site.
I regularly order some of my metal supplies from Metalliferous, and the items arrive clean and shiny, ready to be transformed.
But what caught my attention was something that I've never seen in their online store.
In their bins of patterned and embossed strips of brass and copper was a bundle of extremely grungy brass strips.
When presented with a choice between clean and shiny or dirty and grungy,
I will almost always go for the dirty and grungy. 
A patina suggests that there's some history and maybe some kind of interesting story.
I thought that a bit of selective cleaning would reveal beautiful details.
Some work with a medium grit sanding block confirmed my suspicions.
What to make.....
With my jeweler's saw, I cut a few sections from the pattern.
All edges were filed smooth
and holes were drilled for connections.
Sterling wire wrapped crystals dangle from the bottom
and mini tornado wraps of annealed steel make the connection to sterling silver ear wires.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Ceramic Bead Inspires Necklace

A small collection of large ceramic beads has been sitting on my workbench for years.
Occasionally, I would pull the beads out, look at them and think,
and then put them away.
Maybe it was the recent bombardment of Easter egg images that motivated me to revisit these beads yesterday,
but I decided that the time to do something had finally arrived.
I chose to make one of the ceramic beads the featured pendant in a new necklace.
Heavy gauge wire was used to make wrapped connections at both the top and bottom.
To help the bead sit nicely, I made brass bead caps that were textured with one of my old chisels.
Before getting to work on fabricating the chain, I perused my supplies, selecting a variety of components that would complement the featured pendant.
Small ceramic beads with a similar glaze help to connect the appearance of the chain to the pendant.
I liked the bright contrast that yellow jasper beads offered.
Tiny flecks of blue/green within the jasper help to make a good visual connection to the pendant.
Hand forged  and chisel textured copper rings also offer contrast with their negative space.
Creamy white, faceted honey jade beads were added because I appreciated the difference in both shape and surface texture.
A handmade clasp ties in with the wire used for the wire wrapped connections
and large copper links allow for some variation in the wearing length of the necklace.
These different materials that have been living separate lives at my workbench
come together nicely as one coordinated piece.
This necklace will hopefully be in one of the local galleries before week's end.