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!