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.  :)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Learnings from NY Fashion Week

I'm not a big devotee of fashion week(s). I'm not buying designer apparel; most days my life consists of a tank top and shorts underneath my work apron in the studio. Hardly glamorous. And when I'm working an art show, it would be ridiculous to wear high end clothing - it would be ruined, most likely, and also it doesn't exactly fit in with the aesthetic.

That said, I follow a few "style" blogs whose writers attend fashion weeks (most recently, NYFW) and I enjoy their updates because I *am* a big devotee of design. And I'm always pleased to see new and interesting designs, whether they're for apparel, home, jewelry, doesn't matter. It's all good.

Here are a few things that caught my eye this week:

Alexander Wang. source

Beautiful! The detail and ethereal lightness of these pieces is amazing. I love the sort of hide-and-seek effect with the nude panels against the white.


Marc Jacobs shows himself to be the color and pattern mixmaster of the country. Seriously, how good is this guy?? I don't mix patterns because I just can't get it right and this man is a pro. While you might not like all the individual items, or the colors, you've got to grant him the eye. And even I might be convinced to at least try on the second dress above if I saw it in a store.  :)

The proportions of the outfits might not suit every figure (some of these I don't even think flatter the models' figures) but the pattern play is absolutely sublime. Also, forget those shoes! Yikes! But I love the exuberance of this look and its slight ragamuffin chic.

I firmly believe that good design isn't limited to high end clothing (or jewelry, or furniture) though. It's more a question of space and proportion. And it can be found at any's just that sometimes you have to look a little harder for it.  :)

marc jacobs photos from the sartorialist

Monday, September 10, 2012

I Am The Bomb

Yes, it's a boastful title. But I so rarely feel like a design diva, and I've learned to savor the joy of the highs when they happen. Because soon enough I'll be back in the trough of "What Next?" "What Else?" "Do I even have anything else? Maybe that was my last good idea!"

Welcome to the life of a creative. It's full of doubt and insecurity. So if you're not tough enough for it, be sure to keep your day job.  :) 

I'm still very excited about the new design direction I'm taking. And it's great fun (mostly). Why mostly? I'll tell you...but first let me show you some of the other designs I've been working on.

I've mentioned before that I need to supplement my one of a kind pieces with cast items, both to keep costs affordable overall and frankly, to not want to slit my wrists when I can't keep up. Being a one-woman show means there's never enough time to get everything done...and these new pieces aren't helping in that regard.

First, an earring:

It's tough to see the detail in this shot, but obviously my tiny mosaic pieces make up part of the earring. The top will be satin-textured and the back is also textured. How the back texture will hold up during the casting process is unknown at this point. We'll see when I get some pieces back. I really like the elegance of this earring though! I think it will be pretty lightweight and comfortable to wear, but not so flimsy that it doesn't feel like quality jewelry.

Laying out the mosaic pieces on a curved edge proved pretty tricky, but I like the contrast of the jagged pieces with the curved earring shape and the open center.

Next up is a pendant:

Same thing as the earring - it will have a satin texture on the plain metal part and this time I added a bit of beaded wire. I was originally going to add mosaic pieces on the other side, but it either looked too heavy or not intentional. This one took quite a while to come toegether, but I'm so pleased with the end result. I like the earring, but I LOVE this. It's more me.  :)

BTW, neither of these is oxidized to bring out the contrast - it's not necessary for the casting company. Once I get the castings back, they'll be oxidized. Any unintentional oxidation look is simply because they're dirty. I'm still in the cleanup process with these.

So *why* are these designs "mostly" fun? Well....they're labor intensive. That's part of why I'm designing some of them for casting. Laying out the mosaic bits can get time consuming and sometimes frustrating. When I start to add heat and solder all these bad boys down, they tend to shift around. And with these designs, even a tiny shift will throw off the jigsaw effect, so I have to balance the heating and poking at the pieces with my tweezers all at once to keep them in line, as well as keep from melting the whole's not easy!

Also, I have tremors in my hands. I take medication for this, but it doesn't entirely eliminate the tremors. So imagine that you're playing that old game, Operation (remember it?):


For the youngsters who are reading, you use a pair of tweezers to dig out the bones / organs / whatnot from the patient on the game board. If you touch the sides of the holes while removing anything, a buzzer sounds. The first person to get the most pieces out won (or something like that). Anyhoo, laying out these puzzle pieces with shaky hands is a lot like playing that game. Except that I've substituted some choice words in place of the buzzing sound.  :)

So progress is slow. I also had two other prototypes that didn't work out and are sitting in the scrap jar, so that took up some time some, lose some.

But......WHEN the pieces all solder appropriately and they're not shifting and moving and occasionally dropping on the studio floor (and they are TINY and tend to bounce, so if one drops I can never find it again. And of course the only ones that drop are the *perfect* shape I was just getting ready to add to the mix...argh)...when it's all working out I am really enjoying my studio time with these pieces.  :)

I'm having a blast figuring out the design aspects, and once they're finished I'm really pleased with them. I'm itching to design a few more with stones, but I wanted to get the cast pieces done first, because it takes time to get the molds made and the samples back. Later this week though...