Friday, November 21, 2014

More Cicadas

Last year's cicada 'invasion' left me inspired to use the wings for unique pieces of jewelry.
Since the invasion on my property was an army of one, the wings that I keep in a jar at my workbench are from northern New Jersey cicadas which were collected by the 5 year old neighbor of one of my sister's clients.
How's that for team work?
I found it interesting that the northern New Jersey cicadas were very different from the cicada that expired on my patio.
I didn't have the opportunity to see the actual bugs, but based on the wings, the New Jersey variety is significantly smaller than the eastern Pennsylvania variety.
My workbench wings are very fragile and have minimal dimension to the veining that creates the beautiful stained glass appearance.
My first attempt at roll printing the wings was not very successful.
I sandwiched a few wings between two pieces of annealed copper and cranked the layers through my rolling mill.
The result was meh...the impression was a bit too subtle.
I was already using a relatively thin gauge of copper sheet, so the only adjustment I could make was with the rolling mill setting.
I set the rollers as close as I could and cranked that thing which was not easy.
I don't have one of those top-of-the-line rolling mills and cranking my cheapo mill at a close setting means two hands on the crank and feet braced.
The impression is still subtle, but this is as good as it's going to get.
To help guide me, I outlined each wing impression with a Sharpie and then cut them out with metal shears.
The wings were flattened with a plastic mallet...
then filed and sanded to smooth all edges.
My plan is to turn the wings into pendants, so they need more substance.
Each wing is getting riveted with segments of sterling wire to a base of metal that I previously etched.
They then get a treatment with liver of sulfur to highlight the veining...
and are now ready for drilling.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


When opportunity knocks,
you need to be ready to open the door and forget about being shy.
I saw an opportunity a few years ago when a large oak tree was being cut down one block away from my house. Finding a stump for one’s jewelry studio is a real coup, and I realized that after years of wanting one, this was my chance to snag my very own stump to have at my workbench…a perfect surface for my more aggressive hammering.  
It might help to clarify that it is not usually the actual ‘stump’ that makes it into metalworking studios…it’s usually a higher section of the tree that isn’t quite so behemoth as is bottom of the trunk, especially when the providing tree is a mature oak.

I got out of my car, approached one of the crew members and asked if it might be possible for me to get a section of the tree, explaining how I wanted it for metalworking. He was very nice and told me, “No problem. How tall do you want it?” I told him that a section around 3’ – 3 ½’ would be perfect. He asked where I lived, and I took off to get my handcart.

As I was opening my garage to pull out the handcart, the Bobcat skid-steer loader from the tree crew pulled in my driveway with a HUGE 3 ½ - 4’ long section of the tree. When the crew member deposited the trunk section at the end of my driveway, the ground shook. While I had no problem asking for a section of the tree, I did have a problem with complaining that this was a bit more tree than I was hoping for.

I gave my thanks and then stood there, staring at this hunk of wood that was more than I could handle. I’m no weakling, but I couldn’t budge this stump. I thought “What can I possibly do with this?”
As it turned out, there was nothing I could do with it for over two years. It sat at the end of my driveway until I finally had a few strong and industrious relatives visiting. They were able to wrangle the stump into my garage without crushing the door’s threshold, and it sits near my soldering station waiting for the mythical anvil.

Yesterday, I saw that a neighbor at the other end of my block had recent tree work done and a pile of wood sat in their front yard…..opportunity!

I knocked on their door and asked if I might be able to take a section of wood, and I now have the ‘stump’ that I originally wanted for my workbench.

I've learned that when opportunity knocks,
you need to be ready to open the door and be specific.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

I'm Just Not Flashy

Earlier this week, I tried some new rolling mill textures.
An empty cereal box was removed from the recycling pile, and I cut out a collection of sort-of-flower shapes.
Sandwiched between two pieces of annealed copper, I cranked the flowers through my rolling mill and then cut out discs.
I like how my flowery discs look like a fun kind of currency, but since I want them to make real currency for me, I had to stop admiring these little coins and turn them into something else. 
I sell a lot of earrings during the holiday season, so earrings they shall become.
For a little dimension, I shaped the discs in my wooden dapping block.
I then took some of my sterling silver scrap and melted it into balls using my acetylene torch.
The sterling balls were soldered onto the formed discs and holes were drilled.
Because these discs are on the diminutive side, the drilling was not especially easy.
I probably should have done the drilling before the shaping, but I chose to wait until the sterling was soldered in place so that I could understand and complement the balance of each disc.  
Thinking that a simple design was the way to go, I made simple dangles with sterling wrapped freshwater pearls.
For a few seconds I thought the earrings were done, but then that bright copper spoke to me in an annoying way.
The discs were a little too bright for my liking, so out came the liver of sulfur.
A quick soaking turned both the copper and sterling black....
and cleaning with a fine grit sanding block followed by radial bristle discs highlights the metals in a much more appealing way.....
for me.
When I was at the Media Fine Arts & Crafts Festival in September, a woman stopped by my booth and spent a fair amount of time looking at the earrings in my display.
She told me that I really needed to make my earrings bigger and brighter...
"They need to be flashy!"
She would totally hate these earrings.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Old Frames Become New Frames

Growing up in a family of eight that lived on my father's high school coach/teacher salary, I learned at a young age how to live a frugal life.
Like my mother was, I have developed into an accomplished thrift store shopper.
I am always searching for frames at thrift stores and church sales because framing does not come cheap if one chooses to go the traditional route of actually buying something new at a framing shop.
As I prepared for my October display of artwork at Sweet Mabel, I realized that I did not have a good framing option for my Manayunk Bridge painting.
Leaving the painting at home was not an option, and a frenzied search through my collection of thrift store frames yielded only one that was the correct size.
I fastened the painting, added the hanging wire and loaded my van.
Tracy, the owner of Sweet Mabel, told me that one of her customers really liked the Manayunk Bridge painting, but she didn't like the frame.
I can't blame her...I didn't like it either.
The grainy oak looked dated
(because it is)
and too dark
(because it is).
A frame should enhance a painting, and this one did not.
When I brought my unsold paintings home earlier this week, I decided Manayunk Bridge deserved something better.
Even though I didn't like the color of the frame, I did like the profile.
This was something I could work with.
I went to a local art supply store and bought some gold leaf wax.
So much better!
The frame now complements the warm colors that I used in the bridge and towpath.
I was so pleased with the transformation, I thought I could work a little magic on some frames that recently made their way to my studio at no cost to me.
Free is good, but some of the frames were not completely to my liking.
This frame is very well constructed,
but I was not fond of the faux wood finish.
A careful application of gold leaf wax....
and I now have a frame that I will definitely put to use.
Yes, free is very good.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Paintings Away From Home

Some of my paintings are currently away from home.
A selection is on display at Sweet Mabel in Narberth.
(but the sunflowers, the hydrangea and the pear that's underneath the marsh are gone, hopefully already hanging on walls in their new homes)
Also on display at Sweet Mabel....
the wonderful artwork of David Stehman.
I'm so excited that my 'Red Barn' was accepted into the current exhibit in the
Ethel Sergeant Clark Smith Gallery
juried by Richard Rosenfeld of The Rosenfeld Gallery in Philadelphia.
The show is pretty wonderful
and I'm very thankful to have my little painting
in the company of such beautiful pieces of artwork.
Also on display at the Art Center are works by the oh so talented faculty
a retrospective exhibition of paintings 
 His paintings fill the Davenport Gallery
and it's a fabulous show.
What a great time to visit

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Inherited With a Twist

I keep a couple of jewelry stashes on my workbench, waiting for inspiration.
One of those stashes is jewelry that I've inherited.
Anything that's inherited is often something other than the actual item.
Sometimes, there are memories and emotions that might have more value than the item itself.
And sometimes it is just an item that has been sitting on your workbench for years.
When my mother passed away several years ago,
my siblings and I each selected some of her jewelry as the estate was divided.
Some of the pieces that I now have are ones that I have no recollection of my mother ever wearing, like the significantly dented sterling locket and the wide band sterling ring.
I do remember my mother wearing the sterling and onyx bracelet once,
and I think it is beautiful.
It's also remarkably uncomfortable so there's a real possibility that my mother only wore it one time.
In addition to being uncomfortable, it was also broken.
The sterling disc earrings, however, were frequently worn by my mother.

As part of my ongoing effort of pretending to keep a degree of organization on my workbench, I decided that some of the inherited pieces that I would never wear had to find a new purpose.
The dented locket was sawn apart and hammered flat.
Discs were then cut for use in a bracelet that is mid-project.
The sterling/onyx bracelet was dismantled with minimal damage, and I already have a plan in mind for repurposing the pieces.
The 2 rings snuck their way into the photo....dented thrift store sterling silver finds that I bought for $1.00 and immediately fixed with my ring mandrel.
Because I can easily picture the earrings being worn by my mother, I decided to take them out of the stash and start wearing them.
But....I wanted to put my own touch on them.
First...the earwires were terrible.
The gauge of wire used for the original earrings was too lightweight, leaving the earwires misshapen.
Easy fix with new, 20 gauge wire.
I wanted the discs to have more interest, so I developed a subtle texture with one of my files.
They were then shaped in my wooden dapping block, creating a slightly curved surface.
I could have stopped there, but of course I didn't.
Thinking that a bit of color would be nice, I soldered a small bezel in the center of each disc and set serpentine cabochons.
The inherited earrings now have the memory of my mother with my personal imprint.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Loving Geology

Supply gathering visits to the annual beads shows typically results in my purchasing strands of faceted gemstones....aquamarine, citrine, amethyst, topaz, iolite and others.
It's hard not to love these incredible gems from the earth.
The rich colors and the alluring way light is reflected speak of luxury and refinement.
Those are the things that I've wanted my jewelry to communicate to whoever might listen.
Until recently.
A few weeks ago, I went to a bead show at the Oaks Expo Center, and it was jasper that caught my attention.
Jasper is a dense and opaque variety of quartz that can be found all over the world, in nearly every color. 
Oxides of iron create deep earthy tones of red, yellow, brown and green, sometimes in shades of blue or purple, often with beautiful contrasts in banding, inclusions and whirls of color.
I bought several strands of jasper, including this variety from Australia.
What I most responded to was the 'earthiness' of the beads.
Some of the offered strands were polished to a high gloss, an effect that I found plastic and unappealing.
I like the matte finish of these beads, the irregular shapes and the beautiful range of colors.
Each time I look at these beads, I'm reminded of the Geology class that I had my freshman year at Cook College of Rutgers University.
A new world opened up to me as I learned about the formation of bedrock.
Time and pressure and an interesting blend of minerals often yields beautiful results.

Even though I purchased jasper beads that are pre-drilled, I decided to treat the selected one like a cabochon.
To create a bezel, I cut a narrow strip of copper which was soldered and formed to the shape of the jasper bead.
The bezel was then soldered on to a piece of etched silver nickel.
Thinking that a 2 piece pendant with some movement might be the way to go, I drilled holes allowing me to make a jump ring connection to another piece of etched silver nickel.
As usual, I like to have design interest on the 'back'.
Links were made with heavy gauge, recycled copper wire, and I finally found a reason to use some brass beads that I've had hanging at my workbench for several years.
A handmade clasp...
fastens this Love-of-Geology necklace.