Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Review

This has been a big year of ups and downs for Blue Piranha, and I'm looking to make next year even bigger and better. But though 2012 fell short of many of my expectations, it was a bit of a landmark in my career, so I thought I'd do a little recap of the highlights.

I started fabrication class again in January with one goal: bezels. Making them. Soldering them. Setting stones in them. The first few were a mess, but the learning curve was softer than I expected, and I went crazy making bezels for nearly every stone I owned.  :)

First stone-set piece sold: February. It was a pretty simple piece, with a stunning stone. A stone that taught me a big lesson: always, always, always double-check your fit once you've soldered the bezel to the back plate. Once I got this stone ready to set, I realized that the bezel somehow ended up too small and it wouldn't fit. A whole slew of shenanigans ensued to make this necklace happen. And some choice words were bandied about the studio...

I suspect it was the stone, and not my very simple setting, that sold the customer. But it will remain one of my fondest selling memories.

I teared up a little after the customer left (wearing her new pendant proudly, bless her), because I finally felt like I had arrived. It was as if I'd sold my first "real" jewelry creation.  :)

The next notable piece was this one:

A gorgeous Morgan Hill poppy jasper that I almost didn't part with. Something about how the whole design came together made me want to hoard it. Fortunately it was purchased by a good friend and I can see it often.  :)

I spent most of the year working my "clean and simple" designs. They sold regularly, but I felt like there wasn't quite enough to them. I experimented with a dark, oxidized contrast:

Which looks great in the photos, but was ultimately unsatisfactory to my eye. I haven't found an oxidizing chemical I'm completely happy with yet. The problem with these pieces lies in getting to that dark, consistent finish. It takes layers and layers of blackener applied to the piece to make this happen. Achieving this takes lots of time that could be better spent. I just don't have that kind of time (or patience).

I also like the idea of using the bail as a design element, and want to pursue that going forward. But I got sidetracked by another design development.  :)

In August, this happened:

Serendipity struck with using these tiny silver mosaics as accents, a design path I'm still happily exploring.

And then I went BIG:

Which was a whole other learning experience. I learned nearly as much about what not to do as what to do...but it making this piece sort of addicted me to the feel and heft of heavier pieces. Lately I've had no time to pursue any other major designs, but I am itching to sit down and start creating more!

And then, my first seriously irregular setting, Brett's shark tooth pendant:

Which made me feel like I'd never set a stone before. It was quite a battle for control, but finally I wrestled that tooth into submission. And the end result was well worth it.  :)

On task for 2013:

- more irregular stone setting

- making curved bezels for rings and bracelets

- making rings and cuff bracelets

- more statement designs (I have pages and pages in the sketchbook that are ready to jump out and be created)

2012 has been a great year of moving forard, and I can't wait to see what 2013 brings! I hope it's magical for the rest of you as well!  :)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

VSP is Done!!

and just in time for Brett's birthday:

This was more work than I anticipated. I really wanted the back plate to mimic the shape of the shark tooth, but I had to be careful on my saw cuts so that it didn't end up to curvy  / girly or too fierce.

You can see that I re-cut the left side (your left, as you look at the photo) from the original design( link) . It was a little too softly curved and I wanted a bit more jagged-ness.

The mosaic pieces also gave me a hard time on this pendant (well, they always give me a hard time! But for some reason the ends of the mosaic sides were tough). I just couldn't get the silhouette right for the longest time. Finally, finally, the pendant looked balanced. I soldered on the back bail and then started tackling the bezel.

Since the stone was so uneven, I had to sand down the bezel quite a bit. And I had to sand it down unevenly so that there wouldn't be too much bezel over the top of the stone in some areas once it was set. I'd never done that before, and it was a bit precarious - making sure I sanded the right parts without taking out too much of the parts that were already at the appropriate height.

Setting the stone was just as challenging as I anticipated. It's like I was setting my first few stones earlier this year - back to being a beginner all over again! I started at the bottom, the sharpest point of the tooth, and then went up to the two top sides, and worked that bezel like crazy. I spent a ton of time with all of my stone setting tools, especially the pusher and the burnisher. Because of the tight corners at the top of the tooth, I struggled to get traction with the burnisher and make a nice "lip" on the setting.

And of course this was one of those settings where the set piece won't stay still. It's a big no-no in the world of jewelry making to have your bezel-set stones rattle around in their settings. And after the first couple of times 'round the stone with the tools, I had some movement. The stone was still loose. So now what??

Hammer, anyone?  It's not your traditional stone-setting tool, but a very experienced stone-setter taught me about using a hammer (only as a last resort; it's quite possible that you'll shatter the stone!) if I have movement within a setting that I just can't correct any other way. After a few taps, that tooth is not going anywhere.  :)

I also spent a lot of time smoothing those angled upper corners. Whenever I show Brett a new stone-set piece of jewelry, he always runs his fingers over the top of the stone and checks the smoothness of my settings. That's right - I didn't marry the guy who just takes a look and says, "that's great, honey.". I married the guy who wants to be sure I'm doing my very best possible work. Luckily for both of us, the bezel rims are as smooth as satin.  :)

look at those rims!  :)

And I've managed to add something else to next year's to-do list: more irregular stones. I've been pretty intimidated by them, but I did enjoy the challenge of setting this tooth and I'm looking forward to working on some more unusual things to set in 2013. And my big buying trip is only two months away! Can't wait!

Sneak Peek

My life is about to change...I have No. Firm. Deadlines. least, for a while.

My last show of the year was December 15th. My last holiday order went out the door December 18th. And I don't have an art festival looming for three full months. Yay! and also...Yikes!

But more on that shortly. Today I want to show you a sneak peak of a VSP - Very Special Project. Someone in the Blue Piranha household *might* be getting a piece of custom, handmade jewelry...and since I'm not keeping secrets from myself, that leaves my husband.  :)  His birthday is tomorrow and I am just going to make it under the wire to get this done!

The good thing is that he doesn't read the blog, so I can share the details here:


It's a fossil tooth from (what we believe to be) a Mako shark, found while beach combing on Sullivan's Island, S.C. Brett and I went on a vacation to Charleston in late September, and one of our outings was to Morris Island - which I highly recommend if you're the beach comber type and also like a little history. The captain of the boat / beach hunting tour is FANTASTIC. Lots of history of and around Charleston and the island(s), shared in a fun, completely un-dull manner. If you're interested, here's the link:

Adventure Harbor Tours

Anyhoo, we found some teeth during our hunt, and this was the largest / nicest of the bunch. Brett has been wanting a Blue Piranha necklace for some time now, so I thought I'd surprise him and set the tooth. It's also a learning experience for me, since everything I've set has been flat-backed and mostly symmetrical with soft corners...uneven height, asymmetrical shape, and sharp corners all make a bezel set more difficult. I did say that I wanted to push myself, so this will be interesting!

Here it is without the setting:

It's just about an inch and a quarter long. Pretty cool, huh? Okay...some of you might find it weird. But my husband is still a little boy at heart, and I'm the girl who wanted to grow up and be an archaeologist, so we're both fascinated by this kind of stuff.  :)

So far the bezel-making went well. It took quite a bit of sanding to get it to fit onto the back plate, but it soldered up nicely and now I'm ready to start getting creative with the mosaic pieces. I think I've done the easy parts so far...the actual stone setting will be a challenge.

Stay tuned...

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Backward Glance (and a New Idea)

Back in the summer of 2010, when I was really starting to use the torch on a semi-regular basis, I set myself a goal: learn to solder small jump rings. I had fount it relatively easy to solder larger pieces and thicker jump rings, but most of my "joining" rings were 18 gauge silver and I melted nearly as many as I soldered. Or I ended up with a big solder blob and would have to sand it off later (trust me, soldering blobs off of eentsy rings is not a fun job. There's no room to hold anything and you end up sanding your fingers half of the time).

For reference, 18 gauge is about 1mm thick. 1 MM, not 1 cm. It's pretty darned small. A stack of 18 gauge jump rings should give you a good visual:

So I started trying to solder them closed..I .must have soldered a hundred or so. And I still wasn't very consistent. So I decided to give myself a break and jump up to 16 gauge rings instead. 16 gauge is only one size larger but it makes a difference (or at least, it did for me). I had some scraps of wire lying around, and I laid them out with the jump rings in different patterns to see what would happen (at this point in my soldering skill set *I* was not in control of what would happen, so I spent a lot of time "winging it").

And after a lot of putting shapes together, taking them apart, and moving them around, I ended up with this:

and this:

They had this sort of watery, cascading effect, and in fact, that's what they ended up being called: the Cascade series. I went to my casting company and had the designs (nine in all) cast for me. And thus began a whole new problem...clean up. Cleaning up these castings was a long, tedious, drawn-out affair. And I was relatively new to cleaning up castings, so I didn't know what I was doing, so they were just a mess for me. They turned out all right, and sold moderately well, but I learned a big lesson from the experience. I haven't made anything like them since.  :)

But now it's late 2012!  I've been at the fabrication process pretty steadily for almost three years, instead of eight months, and I receive a request for a custom order: a big circular necklace based on one of the Cascade designs. I received the request around the 8th of December, and I hesitated. Busiest time of the year, and a custom order for something that had caused me a lot of grief in the past...I wasn't sure I wanted to tackle it. I well remembered the days (yes, days) spent moving little bits of sterling around to create a balanced design with the original pieces. I wasn't sure if I could actually make the piece work in the time allotted (holiday shipping and all). But I went ahead and accepted the offer. And you know what? It was...well, not easy...but much easier than the original pieces had been - both the design and the fabrication work. And the clean up was quicker! (though that might have been because I only cleaned up one piece this time...doing twenty in a row might have made me think it was just as bad as before). 

I really am thrilled at how the finished piece turned out, and it's given me a design idea as well (I'll share more about that later):

It's circular yet the inside is asymmetrical, and I feel like the dots add a bit more "oomph" to the overall design. There's no bail to connect it to a chain or anything, because the customer will supply her own, so I only had to make the pendant itself.  It's fabricated with thicker wire than my original designs because of the size, and I'm telling you - bigger is better. It's a bit under two inches across, has a nice heft to it.

And it's nice to see some real progression in my work - almost everything I'm doing right now is coming pretty easily to me, which tells me it's time to tackle some new projects, some more advanced techniques, and some more intricate designs. I'm ready for a whole new year to learn, grow, and improve my skills.  :)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Blue Piranha 2.0 (or 3.0). I Know, it's Hard to Keep Up

I began my business in 2003. And now, nearly ten years later, I am beginning it again.

Okay, that's not entirely accurate. I've been beginning it again now for a couple of years. It's seen more revamps and changes than...well, let's just say it's seen a *lot* of changes.  :)

Back in 2003, I was stringing beads, as I had been for most of the eight years prior (my love of jewelry design was a hobby before it was my livelihood). My first show - it did not come close to qualifying as an "art festival" - was in Woodstock, Georgia. A bit off the beaten path. It was, as you may suspect, rather sparsely attended. Hell, it was sparsely populated with artists - I think there were a total of thirty of us. We mostly sat quietly in our booths, wondering, waiting, and hoping. It was a long weekend. Oh, and it rained. My business was off to quite a start!

My first display was rented tables and cloths. Shiny satin-like cloths, in what were supposed to be a nice, neutral cream color, but turned out more like a light yellow. Do I have to tell you that it was not good? It was not. I had shells out on the tables for display stands. Why shells? I had some vague idea of piranha = fish = water = shells. The shells *did* look fact, they looked so good that people kept asking to buy them. Oh, they bought a little jewelry too, but they really liked the shells.

In hindsight, maybe I started selling the wrong product?  :)

Anyhoo, one of my best sellers at these early shows was the Harmony bracelet. I'll show you the last remaining one, from my personal stash:

So now you know...I did have the humblest of humble beginnings! When I talk about "starting from where you are" I really mean it. I began with the basics. There was really nowhere to go but up.  :)

When I did research at juried art festivals, I realized just how much beaded jewelry was out there. Seeing that made me think about how I was going to differentiate, how I would compete, what I would offer that was unique and unusual. And I didn't have any happy answers. I knew I loved color; that's been a constant since I can remember (note that the bracelet above is chock-full of color), but other than that, I was so not unique.

I knew I wanted to play around with metal, so I started messing with wire. I shaped it, I bent it, I curled it...and eventually I had some designs I thought were pretty good. Around 2005-2008, I had a booth of mostly wire and bead designs. Shows were crowded, customers were happy, and I was making some decent money. I even had people occasionally say things like, "Where did you go to school for this?" and "You've really done something different!" (the ne plus ultra of design, at least for me). I was pretty pleased with myself. Pleased enough to try and ignore the nagging question of....what's next? 

 mid-Aughts bracelet design

Because I didn't know what was next. I felt like I had no ideas. I was frozen, paralyzed. I had a lot of sketches in my sketchbook but no way to make them happen. way to make them happen in the clean, modern style that is part of my design aesthetic. And so began the long, long, looooooong journey into fabrication. You may have read about it on this blog.  :)

from the bracelets this...I could not be happier. Charoite pendant

Jumping ahead to 2012:  I had a bit of a design breakthrough earlier this year with the mosaic pieces. And I'm still working through what direction I'm going to take those designs. So far the direction looks like bigger, more intricate jewelry. Also maybe bigger mosaic metal pieces. Those tiny buggers are so labor-intensive and hard to handle with my hand tremors. And I just designed that B-I-G necklace and really liked the feel and size of it...I'd like to make a B-I-G mosaic necklace... bracelets...rings...there's so much more to come!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Be The Light

I had a very different blog post planned for this morning, but after last Friday's school shooting it just didn't seem appropriate...

I found myself angry, appalled, and withdrawn this weekend, as the horror of what happened in Connecticut settled in. I feel for those families who have lost so much for no good reason, whose future holiday seasons will always hold more than a tinge of sadness. It's way, way too early, but I hope that someday they can find a measure of peace in their hearts and lives.

I was at a trunk show on Saturday, the last event of my working year, and I found it hard not to feel somewhat ridiculous:  my jewelry does nothing to prevent this kind of anguish. It cannot help in times of crisis. It does nothing to make the world better: it merely adorns. It felt frivolous and callous to be selling my creations that day. But I found some comfort in the quote above, and I thank all of the customers who came in and supported your local arts in Dunwoody. It meant (and means) a great deal to all of us who make our living with our art.

I hope to be stepping forward next year in many different ways, and that's primarily due to all of you lovely people who purchase my designs, root for me, check up on me, ask all those lovely questions about the work, wish good things for me, and support me and this crazy business in so many ways since 2003. Next year will mark ten years in business and there's still nothing else I'd rather be doing. Heartfelt thanks to every one of you!! As this year winds down and the new one approaches, please hug your loved ones a little closer. Be gentle with them. Share with them. Light your candles, take them out into the world and make your difference...because you do make a difference. Big or small, we *all* make a difference.

Balance pendant

Be good to yourselves, while you're at it. We've all had a hard few years and we need some time to breathe. To rest. To balance...don't forget to be the light for yourself, too. 

Happy - and safe - holidays!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Write What You Know...Design What You Know?

Aspiring writers are often told to "write what you know". This lends authenticity to the writing. It seems pretty straightforward and makes sense. 

But does this translate to other creative endeavors?

It seems that one of the buzzwords these days is authenticity, especially related to business. Google authenticity+marketing to spend your day reading hundreds of articles about it. I read two books recently, Be Your Own Brand and Everyone Communicates, Few Connect. The overwhelming message I took away from both was to be your authentic self, both in personal interactions and in branding your company.

They started me thinking about what I, personally bring to the table in my designs. What makes my work mine? What makes it different from any other jewelry artist's? For a while, I thought...nothing. And for a while there probably was nothing. I'd been told my creations looked a lot like what was being made by many other students at the Spruill Center. I'd been told they looked like other artisans' work. Probably all true. But over time, I think they are becoming more individual and recognizable. 

Why? Because of my authentic self. Some aspects of it are:

- I was born in the late 1960's and my formative years were in the early- to mid-seventies. There was a lot of spillover from the mid-century mod look, and design and this applied to furniture, jewelry, clothing - clean lines. No unnecessary fussiness. Bold color.

Hm. What do I aspire to in EVERY jewelry design? Or in my own home and wardrobe?  :)

I could easily live here.  :)

Though born in New York state, I spent twenty-five years in Arizona. Spare landscapes. Adobe-style houses (again, no unnecessary fussiness). Ranch homes. Surrounded by arid, ragged-edged mountains (very unlike the lush hillsides of my current state).

NOT the green countryside where I now live. This is the land of my childhood!
Well. I love making jaggedy, asymmetrical shapes that remind me of the mountains. I use embellishments sparingly in my creations.

I like a lot of open space in my life. And I like a lot of open space in my jewelry. I feel no need to cover every bit of metal with extras and adornments. I don't usually put two design elements right next to each other - I leave a little room. Maybe because I grew up with a vast amount of space? Arizona in the 1970s and into the 1980s was a lot of wide open land. I could drive ten miles from my house and be in the middle of the desert, seeing a million stars in the utterly dark sky and gazing off for into the distance for miles and miles.

That's Phoenix in the foreground. But it's the mountains in the background that I'm looking at.  :)

What do you think? Do we subconsciously (or deliberately) design what we know? 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Upward. Always.

A little over a year ago, I was at a small local show. I'd just finished setting up the booth, and was giving it a once-over. I wasn't very happy. I felt ashamed of my work. I know I go on all the time about, "Begin where you are" and I talk about the process, but I am an impatient soul. I wanted to BE there already. I felt like my current work didn't represent who I was, or who I was becoming. And I wasn't sure I'd GET to who I was wanting to become. What if I couldn't "do" it? Good design, sale-able design, is not easy. I always want my first design to be *brilliant*...and like most processes, it takes several iterations before any "brilliance" shows through.  :)

So there I was, feeling down on myself. Remember how I've talked and talked about the life of a creative? This was a trough. Eventually, I started chatting with the man in the booth across from me, who was also selling jewelry. Most of our discussion was casual, immemorable, but he said something that stuck with me. "Don't go backwards. Look up. Look forward. Always."

At the time, I felt frustrated by this advice. Looking forward was like staring into an abyss! Nothing was working. I wasn't creating what I wanted to create, and I was unsure that I could create anything worth the effort.

Well, eighteen months or so, lots of hair-pulling, teeth-gnashing, and sailor-like language later, and I might be getting there. I realized this week that my "cold work" table, where I do things like wrap beads, make wire shapes, and do other non-torch-related work, has been very neglected lately. Why? Because I am creating at the other table. The fabrication table. Where I do the metal work with the torch. And I've started to shift from colored stones being the focus of my designs, to being accents. Which means that the metal work is slowly coming to the forefront.


I've mentioned in an earlier post that when I went to Sedona for a festival a few weeks ago, I felt like  my work was too small. And I think that subconsciously, that's been an issue for me for some time now. I've always worn the largest-scaled of my own designs. And most other jewelry I own is not for the shy or subtle. So why haven't I pursued that in my own creations?

 green aventurine

Several factors, I guess, the biggest one being fear. Fear of putting too much materials cost and labor into something that might not sell. Fear of taking a big risk and losing. But you know...the way *I* shop is kind of pricey. I don't shop often, but when I do, I'm not a cheap date.  :)   I buy big, and big costs more. But I don't mind paying more because I like a statement bag. Shoe. Bracelet. You get the drift.

So I decided to take a design leap and create a design that is physically larger and more statement-y than my normal work. I started sketching a necklace which would be three pieces, separate to one another but related in their design elements. I went through my stone stash for the right sizes (note for next year's buying trip: more smaller stones!) and found three that would complement each other. And then I got to work with the torch.

I hand fabricated even the chain - in fact, everything but the clasp - and made a custom tag for the back. I used over an ounce of sterling silver in the construction of this necklace and you can feel the weight.

Peruvian blue opal
The photo above shows how thick the sterling silver border is. It's hard to see in most of the photos (best seen in the first two shots) but I cut the insides out to leave some open space, and then added additional wire and sheet elements to frame the stones. 
Here's the whole piece:

The back plate is heavily oxidized for contrast against the shiny wire and sheet metal elements, and the stones really jump out, especially that gorgeous opal. The green aventurine has the softest color, so I added more silver around it to brighten things up.

It feels good. It looks good on. The day I test-wore it, it definitely got noticed. And I learned so much while making this piece. While not everything I design will be this substantial, I think I'm addicted to making some larger designs. I'm looking, and moving, and creating, forward. Upward. Always.  :)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Taking the Hack Out

Last week I had the sweetest email from a customer. It said, in part:

"Your jewelry is so exceptional - very quality made - you can tell.  Thanks again for shipping so quickly - can't wait to wear them both to work tomorrow.  Look forward to seeing you at
another show again soon."

I can't tell you what that meant to me. I work from home more than two-thirds of the year. So I'm in the studio most days. Alone. And while I love being alone, sometimes that much isolated time can warp a girl a bit. You start getting a bit to much into your own mind, and the mind can be a treacherous thing when it's not reined in. 

To design and create seems to mean a regular ride of highs and lows. The highs of doing something new, getting over the next bump, to the next rung on the ladder, jumping for joy when something you've put your heart (and your hands) and soul into and it turns out better than you even imagined.

But the lows are unavoidable. Or at least, I haven't found a way to keep them from happening. The voice in your head, which usually is an insidious whisper, a constant stream of sentiments like, "You're not good enough." "Someone else has already done that, and done it better, so why even bother?". "You're just a hack. Everything you do is not worth the effort."...that voice occasionally kicks up to a nearly deafening din in your mind and it's enough to make you give in. Or give up.

Sound a bit dramatic? Ask any creative. We're as filled with doubt, at times, as much as we're filled with joy at other times. When the doubts come, I like to remind myself of this quote:

“The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.” Robert Hughes

I hope so!  :)

As I write this, there are only two months left out of the year. And it's had some definite highs...and some serious lows. Right now I feel like I've got one foot on either side of that fence. But lately the Hack Voice (that's its most common refrain, so that's what I call it) seems to be pretty dominant. I *have* noticed that it kicks up a few notches whenever I'm trying something new. Last week I began the work on a bigger, bolder, more "YOWZA" piece of jewelry than I've ever attempted before. And that voice is running at full bore. But what I've learned over the years is that if you can't silence the voice completely (and so far I can't), the best response is something like, "Bite me, I'm going to do it anyway".

just the back of the necklace...for now.  :)

Which is exactly what I'm doing. Working through. This new piece is teaching me quite a lot and even the mistakes are helpful - because they mean fewer mistakes next time.  It's all part of building a relationship with the metal. Learning how and where to heat with the torch. When and where to place the solder. How to minimize the dreaded clean up time. Everything counts...even the pieces that end up in the scrap jar.  :)

The best way to defeat that inner voice is to create. And continue creating. And know that it's all part of the ride. Ups and downs. Top to bottom. The bottom sucks, but the top is ah-mazing, and the low parts are worth it because there will be another high. It's on the way...I'm ready for it.

And if you're just starting out in your creative life, this got me through a lot of doubt at the beginning:

It's been out and about on the 'net a lot, but I don't think it can be shared enough. Read it, remember it, and apply liberally as needed. We're fighting the good fight.  :)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Oh, What A Month!

October, one of my favorite months of the year...most years, that is. My last post was on the first day of the month, and I've not had a chance to blog since. I've barely even had time to catch my breath!

Last  weekend's art festival in Brookhaven was my third in a row. And the last one was in Arizona, which meant I spent five days away for a two-day art show. Travel, set up, show, show, travel...sometimes that's how it works. And then I got sick, so I kind of lost two and a half days this week. Great timing...but I suppose not really surprising.

I'm at Chastain in two weeks, and I could use a little regrouping time...which I have a bit of this week and next, and I'm making the most of it.   :)

In the meantime, I managed to make this:

Gorgeous, no? I love it. But I didn't get to enjoy it has already gone to a good home.  :)

I made a few other goodies too, that I'll show you shortly. And I had a bit of an epiphany at my last festival, in Sedona. If you've never been to Arizona, and you expect it to be all palm trees, cactus, and dry desert, you'd only be partially right. The Northern part of the state has mountains, forests, and skiing. Yep, that's right - Northern Arizona looks a lot like parts of Colorado, Montana, etc. As shown:

Anyhoo, Sedona has these gorgeous red rocks and a very southwestern flavor. It reminds me a lot of Santa Fe. There's the usual tourist-y stuff, but there's also a lot of Native American and southwestern jewelry on nearly everyone who lives there. I saw everything from fetish necklaces to squash blossom necklaces  to stunningly beautiful NA rings, belt buckles, bracelets...and the Sedona folks like their jewelry on the large side. 

Living in the southeast for so long, I'd kind of gotten used to the standard style here. Southern ladies like their jewelry dainty and feminine, as a rule. But southwestern women are quite comfortable wearing jewelry that could almost be considered unisex. I loved it! And it made ME want to design bigger, bolder jewelry. It's funny - I wear big jewelry. And many times, I feel that the jewelry I create is too small for my OWN taste...but I think that's going to be changing.  :)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Good Times

How fortunate can one girl get? Don't's been a long time coming. But I am loving, if not everything in my life, most of my career right now. It's not all smooth sailing - jewelry design is hard! - but I am really trying to squeeze the most FUN out of it all that I can.  :)

So we know (because I've told you, right? Somewhere along the line, the peeps who know me know that color makes me HAPPY). And I *know* I've told you relentlessly how much I love turquoise. So I guess it's no surprise that three of my early pieces in the mosaic line have turquoise as a focal point...

I've shown you this one, which sadly has been lost.  :(  I'm trying not to be too broken up about it, but I do not think it will return to me and so I'm working on some others. I have so many ideas for this collection! But as I've mentioned, the original designs are very labor-intenstive and there's only one of me. So they're coming out a little more slowly than I'd like.

However...I did finish this one late last week:

Hel-lo, gorgeous! This stunning stone has everything I like in a turquoise: the soft, western-sky blue, the slight brown and green matrix (a bit more iron than copper adding to its coloring), and...well, okay,  I *don't* love square / rectangular shapes all the time. But I do love this one. It was a bit of a challenge because my design preferences tend toward round and curvy shapes, but I am really thrilled with how it turned out.

I was originally going to go all out on this and surround it with mosaics like the piece above, but when I laid out more pieces it started to look a bit overwhelmed. And this is a pretty big stone, with a fair bit of sheet backing, and it would have gotten rather heavy. So I decided to just frame the opposing corners instead. I think it's *just* enough.

Plus there's a bonus:

I can't believe I spent most of the year *not* sawing out windows in the backs of my pendants. Because I'm really loving the effect. I've mentioned before that not all stones are suitable for this, but on the ones that are, I really feel like it's a little extra treat.  :)

* Don't think I've forgotten that I said "three" of my early pieces in this line...the third isn't finished yet. But I'll show it to you when it is. :) 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

It Sneaks Up on You

I recently made a stone-set pendant, after not making any for almost three months (!!). It involved crafting two bezels, two back plates, soldering them together, soldering on three jump rings, cleanup, and stone setting. This seemed like a quite a bit of work  when I started it...

...but I worked steadily on it in the studio, and when I was getting ready to set the stones, I glanced at the clock. And thought, "Wow!" Apparently I've gotten a bit faster at this type of work! I was a little amazed. Especially after not making any stone-set pieces for a while. I've spent all year feeling like I'm so slooooow at this kind of work. Sometimes the learning curve sneaks up on you though.  :)

Stone setting, for me, has been a bit of the ne plus ultra of jewelry fabrication. For those of you wondering what the heck a "ne plus ultra" is, it's defined as:

1. The highest point, as of excellence or achievement; the ultimate.
2. The most profound degree, as of a condition or quality.
I felt like stone setting was THE mountain. Well...the most PROFOUND mountain. And from where I was standing, at the utter bottom, it seemed nearly insurmountable. Remember this post? I couldn't even make bezels at the beginning of this year. But I'll bet I've made over 100 of them by now. And yes...they've gotten much, much easier (and thus faster) for me. 

So I don't think I'm at the top of the mountain yet, but I've at least notched a couple of steps toward it. Now I'm starting to think about faceted stones (yes!!). But one thing at a time. I still want to make stone rings, bracelets, different types of necklaces and pendants....the list never ends.  :)
I'm also trying to figure out a way to be faster at stone setting, but I think that's just one of those things that really can't be rushed. (Or maybe I just haven't figured it out yet). Stone setting is nearly the last step of the process and it would be devastating to rush that and ruin the stone after putting in all the work on a one of a kind creation! 

So are you ready to see this happy new necklace?   

When I found this labradorite, I knew that it was going to be my next creation (despite the absolute slew of labs I bought at the same time). Something about it just spoke to me and I felt like I imagined this pendant, in its entirety, on the spot. That never happens. But I sat down to make it and it really felt like it came together so quickly!

The top back plate behind the garnet is softly textured with a satin finish, and the bottom plate has a light line texture, polished to a high shine. I'm loving the contrast. 

The back:
The top has an open back, so you can see the color of the garnet more clearly. The last garnet I set was gorgeous but without the light coming in it almost looked black against the metal backing. The customer who bought it loved it, but it bothered me. So I made a change for this one.  :)

Here's the previous garnet:

You can see the color in photos, but it was harder to tell what stone it was in real life. So the new one got a window in the back.

Not bad, eh? I'm pretty in love with it. Of course Blue Piranha loyalists know that garnet and lab is quite possibly my favorite stone combination. I've been using them together for years. 

But let me just say....wait until you see the *next* pendant I's really, really good fun.  :)

Monday, September 24, 2012

They're Back! And They're Great!

My samples came back from the casting company this weekend. I was a little afraid to open the box because I was so worried that they didn't come out the way I wanted them to...but all is good. They look fabulous! Even the back textures came out really well. I'm so, so pleased.  :)

I'm shipping the additional pieces off today and hoping to have them back by early next week. My next festival is the first weekend of October and it would be great to have the new pieces on show there. I had showed a couple of the samples to customers at my most recent festival and they're excited to see the finished products. 

I'd also stopped designing the rest of the collection because I needed to know what, if anything, had to be tweaked when the samples came back. Fortunately so far, it looks like no real tweaks are necessary, so I can move ahead with the additional designs. The rest of this week I'm on vacation, but I'll be working on those extra designs next week.

In the meantime, here are the designs I've made:

I'm pressed for time today so I didn't edit these at all, but you can see the difference in this piece from my earlier I Am the Bomb post. This is now cleaned up and polished.

This design is both a pendant and (hopefully) a bracelet link. I'll cut off the extra jump ring to make it a pendant, and I'm estimating that it will take three of these (plus the in-between links) to make a bracelet.

And I showed you the oval earring earlier too. Here's the cleaned up version:

It's still hard to see the satin finish in these in the photos. Probably if I'd edited them...but this is a short work week for me so I'm being as efficient as possible.  :)

I still have to design an earring that will go with the rectangular necklace / bracelet piece - I tried once but it ended up in the scrap jar. And I want to make a nugget-y sort of piece that will serve as a single pendant or a multi-piece necklace. In the meantime, I'm sending these out today to have molds made:

Please note that this piece above and the three below were photographed when they were still unfinished (not cleaned up or polished) but you get the idea. I think this will serve nicely as a smaller pendant and earring (same piece for both).

I've also made a mate to the oval earring:

Which I'm quite excited about. I love that it's oval horizontally rather than vertically but it will still work with the earrings.  :)

And you saw this already:

But it has a mate as well:

Probably the matchiest set in the collection, but  the pendant came out so nicely (and is the most symmetrical piece I've made, which is unusual for me. So I convinced myself that it was okay to do something more matchy.

But these nearly killed me. It's really difficult to put these mosaic bits into a circular shape. And the earring piece was so unforgiving that I struggled with getting the pieces to fit - there was so little room within the circle to make them work! I almost re-thought these, because they definitely made for some frustrating moments. But now that they're done I really like the end result (and am glad I don't have to make them over and over again).   :)

Getting the collection to this point took longer than I'd have liked, and with having to allow for molding, casting, and cleanup time, I'm not sure they'll all be ready for early October. But it took time because I struggled at first with how to use the mosaic bits without a center stone as the focal point (story of my life! I love to design around gemstones; designing *just* in metal is harder for me). Though some pieces didn't work, some pieces that had to be remade (the oval pieces were trouble and both the earring *and* the necklace prototype had to be entirely re-done), I'm really excited about the end result so far.

I've also got some new stone pieces to share as well, but I don't think I'll get them posted before I head to South Carolina for a few days. Look for them early next week...

Have a wonderful week!

Friday, September 21, 2012

When it Counts

Practice, as the old saying goes, makes perfect. And in jewelry fabrication, just like anything else, practice is necessary to get consistently good. Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 Hour Rule indicates that it takes about a decade to become great. Great, not just consistently good.

That means that I'm a little less than a third of the way, on my path to achieving greatness (and of course "greatness", like prosperity, wealth, happiness, is personally subjective). I wish I'd started earlier (don't we always) but it's really amazing to me how much my skill set has changed even in roughly 30 months.

This? Could. Not. Have. done this when I first began to fabricate:

What used to happen when I turned on the torch was that I'd stick some solder where I thought it should be, heat up the metal and...hope for the best. I'd had the classes, listened to the instruction, written copious notes, but all of that was no substitute for actually *doing* the task.

So sometimes the solder would go where I wanted it to. Sometimes it wouldn't. Sometimes it flowed the wrong way and I had to file it off. Sometimes it flowed the wrong way and I couldn't clean it off without ruining the piece. A good friend of mine told me, "You can clean up or you can cover up". Sometimes covering up is the better option, but sometimes covering up doesn't work. And you can't really clean up a textured surface without losing the texture. 

Sometimes I thought the solder flowed, but I couldn't really tell. And when I picked up the item from the soldering brick, the join wasn't actually joined. Or the two pieces that were supposed to be soldered together...weren't. I spent a LOT of time working on joining two separate pieces of metal together. My own personal mountain, that.  :)

I couldn't tell when the metal was ready, heat-wise, for the solder to flow and overheated a number of pieces. I melted some, too. I ruined some designs because of solder flowing in the wrong direction and had to remake them. The scrap jar was full of wasted metal.

But little by little, I began to notice that things...worked. And they were working on the first try (um...usually). The designs got smarter - and by this I don't mean that I am making such brilliant designs, but that I designed to incorporate less clean up (thus less labor cost) and figured out what worked and what didn't. What I could do more efficiently. How to make fabrication work for me. Because everyone has their own issues, their own preferences, their own ways of fabricating. The basics remain the same, but the ways we do them are individual to each of us.

And now, with these more complex pieces, these new designs that make me finally feel like I am doing something new and different in the jewelry world, these pieces that are so far from the simple pieces I first made, I feel like I am peeking over the wall and catching a glimpse of the view on the other side. And that feels SO good. Especially for a girl who was fairly convinced that she'd never get there.

So when it counts, as it does when I'm making these pieces:

I'm glad that I've put the time in and had all of that physical learning, all of the the trials and errors, because otherwise I wouldn't have been able to execute these. It would have been an exercise in frustration and I think I would have felt like such a loser. But now I'm able to design and create things that are so much cooler than I ever thought I could. And that's worth ALL the time and effort it took to get here.  :)