Monday, July 30, 2012

Natural Wonders: Azurite Malachite

Blues are greens are some of my all-time favorite colors. And when you put them together in one stone - Wha-bam! I can't help but fall in love.

I don't love malachite all on it's own, but I sure do love it mixed with azurite. And like most of my favorite stones, they get their rich colors from copper. It's found in the Southwestern United States, France, Chile, Mexico, and parts of Africa.

My first azurite-malachite purchase was earlier this year. A sweet little triangle that I set simply:

It's a deep navy blue with just the faintest touch of malachite showing in the bottom corner. It was sold to me by a U.S. stone cutter living in Arizona.

And I'm not sure if it's me, or if it's more plentiful this year, but suddenly I'm seeing it more than I used to. But what I'm finding at gem shows is gorgeous. See for yourself:

I really like the contrast of the deep, almost lapis-colored blue next to the bright green. And it looks fantastic set in sterling silver!  :)

Here's another:

This one has very little malachite in it; just varying shades of blue. I really fell in love with the shape too.

Another shot:

This might just be the very next stone I design around.  :)

And finally: *this* one might be the next stone I design for. It's just beautiful.

These are all small stones and I didn't buy too many (though I wanted to...) because they are a bit out of the usual price range I try to keep within. The material is lovely and I would have liked to have some bigger pieces, but right now I'm using smaller stones (and less metal) to keep prices reasonable.

But when I sell another one, maybe I'll treat myself to a larger cab.  :)


Friday, July 27, 2012

Natural Wonders: Morgan Hill Poppy Jasper

Morgan Hill poppy jasper is similar to ocean jasper, but it's not found in Madagascar. It is found in Morgan Hill, California. And unfortunately whatever of it is floating around in the universe, that's pretty much all that is available currently. Disputes over public / private lands, hostile ranchers, etc plague this stone. I don't know the real answer to why no more can be obtained, but I hoard it when I can and it's on my "watch list" of stones to look for whenever I'm gem shopping.

It's impossible to mistake for anything else except ocean jasper, as they share similar orbs or "blooms" on the stone surface. But the Morgan Hill jasper has very distinctive and bright coloring, while ocean jasper tends to be softer and more pastel-y colored. Here's an example of some Morgan Hill jasper that I recently purchased:

a gorgeous cab with the typical "orbs" or "blooms" on the surface and the rich red color saturation.

Another view:

There's a bit of green on the right side of the photo but this cab is mostly red.

Here's one I set that will show you more of a color range:

This was an outstanding cab, thick and with really great coloring.The detail on the stone is amazing!

Here's another one I recently bought:

More green background and lovely red blooms.

And one more:

This one has much a brighter pinkish color. The stone dealer I purchased from had thousands of cabochons but only one tray of about thirty Morgan Hill stones. I picked out what I considered the best three of the bunch.  :)

And just for comparison, here's some ocean jasper with typical coloring:

The one on the upper left is a standout! And the one one the lower right is nice too, but you'd never mistake either of them for Morgan Hill jaspers.   :)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Mantras : Fake it 'til you Make it

Warning: This is a text heavy post. If you just want jewelry photos or info, please check back in a few days...  :)

source: Google images

I recently found Rosie Molinary's excellent blog, and I've been reading it nonstop. When I find a new blog, I am voracious - I read the newest post (or whatever post brought me there from a link) and I go back to the beginning of the blog's time. I read it all. Thank goodness I have an iPad or I'd be trapped in front of the computer for weeks on end.  :)

Anyway, in one of her posts (which of course I can't find now, or I'd link to it) she briefly talks about mantras. And it made me think about my own mantras. I've had one or more over the years since I was about fourteen. I thought sharing them with you might be inspiring.

As far back as I can remember, I was a very, very, very shy girl. I don't know exactly where this came from but I can't remember a time in my young life - I mean as far back as say, age five - when I wasn't shy. Human interaction was frightening to me. I didn't want anyone to look at me or talk to me. I tried to be invisible. And being thrown into situations (such as a new high school - I didn't attend the same high school that my grade school classmates did, so I began high school not knowing a single person) was highly traumatic. My first year of high school was nearly intolerable. I crept around like a shadow. I would stare only at the ground as I walked to and from class, to and from lunch, to and from my get the idea.

For some reason, another freshman girl took pity on me and made it her personal campaign to tell me to "Raise your head, Jill" every time she saw me in the hallways. This girl was beautiful, popular, smart - and I don't know why, but something made her notice me. By the end of my freshman year I was at least looking up on a regular basis, though it would be years before I could walk around and look people in the eye. I developed a survival (though likely quite off-putting) method of staring right past people so I didn't have to make eye contact. You can imagine how few friends I made that year!

Fast-forward to the end of my sophomore year. I did develop some friendships during that time,
and I cherished them. But I was still isolated and felt left out of the "fun" parts of high school. During summer break, I told myself that if I wanted things to change, I would have to change them. *I* would have to be the one to approach others, try new things, and be more open. It was, at the time, the scariest decision I'd ever made. But also the most rewarding. Though I didn't articulate it to myself then, this was the beginning of the first mantra:  "Fake it 'til you make it". That phrase carried me through the next twenty-five years or so.

"Fake it 'til you make it" meant nothing about being fake in the sense of lying to other people. It meant pretending a confidence that I wasn't even close to feeling - I was still so terribly scared of interacting with others. But something in me longed for more contact, more emotional sustenance, more humanity in my life. So I reached out to others, I worked on being a more open person, I joined new clubs and interacted more than I ever had before. And by the time I graduated two years later, the rewards were substantial. I would never say that I was popular, and that wasn't even my goal, but I had a solid circle of friends and a much bigger and deeper connection with the outside world.

And it continued to work after high school, of course. It powered me through parties, new jobs, interviews, happy hours, travel, life decisions - any situation that involved meeting and interacting with new people - for a really long time. It's only been in recent years that I've not felt a need for it anymore. It's like I've built a muscle memory and now when what used to be an emotionally scary situation looms, I can plunge forward with it and not feel the pit of worry in my stomach. I actually enjoy those situations I used to dread (good thing, for a girl who now meets new people at art show on a regular basis!).

*One caveat - Fake it 'til you make it only works if you really, truly want to become what you are faking. I am not talking about pretending to be something / someone you're not to impress others...this is all about *you* and not a damn bit about what anyone else thinks. Otherwise it's a mantra that isn't authentically true and will ultimately won't help you change what you want to change.

Once I finally felt comfortable being more outgoing, I developed a new mantra for my life. I'll tell you all about it in another post...

Saturday, July 14, 2012


I just found out that I have been accepted into my third art festival for the month of October. This all by itself would be cause for celebration. And I am's what the fall schedule is looking like:

September- festival Labor Day Weekewnd. Weekend off. Festival mid-September. Weekend off...which includes traveling to Paris, France (I PROMISE I'm not complaining!) because my husband has to go there for work (poor guy). Which means I won't get home until the 29th. That knocks out September.

October - Festival the first weekend. Festival (out of town, which means travel time, of course) the second weekend. Festival (the one I just found out about) the third weekend. Wait listed for a festival on the last weekend.

November - Festival (not guaranteed, but likely) the first weekend.  Three weeks off and then travel for a festival (not guaranteed, but likely) the first weekend of December.

And what has to happen in the mean time is making, making, making. I am a bit concerned about how I will handle the production. I'm still designing s-l-o-w-l-y...I guess I'd better pull it together and hit the ground running!

I'm getting ready to leave Monday for a 4 day festival, which really means seven day (it's a 12 hour drive), set up day, four days of festival, travel day. Whew. And then we turn around and head to Arizona in early's a trip I'm torn about. I want to see my father but I really could use a month of down time / design time...but the airfare is free (long story) and I won't be back to Arizona to work / see the folks until December (assuming I get back into the festival then).

Just thinking about it all makes me tired...but this is the upside and the downside of my life as an artist. Festivals are great - I love the customers, I love the crowds, I love sharing my jewelry with the world. But the prep work is enormous and they can be very physically and mentally draining.

However...I'm in it now! So I'll sign off and get to work. I try not to work weekends (unless it's a festival weekend) but I've been under the gun for this upcoming show and that means this weekend is a working one.

I'll leave you with a happy shot of some bezeled goodies waiting on the work table:

Top row, left to right: red creek jasper, peruvian opal, turquoise. Middle: biggs jasper. Bottom: mookaite.

They won't be finished for the Ann Arbor festival, but they'll be ready to go when I get home.  :)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

On Striving

Any creative soul - no, scratch that - ANY endeavoring soul is creative, right? It has to be - is plauged by what most of us consider demons. The voice(s) that tells you you're nothing, everyone else is better, you're a hack, you'll never make anything worthwhile...those are demons. Or are they?

Here's another way of looking at our demons:

The Subtle & Abiding Sense of Failure

I've just recently discovered Danielle LaPorte's blog and it is knocking me all over the place. I can't remember which other blog led me to her but WHAM! She knows of what she speaks and she isn't afraid to speak it loud and true.

Danielle says that the Subtle & Abiding Sense of Failure ANGEL invites us to do more, to strive for more. To keep our hearts open. To use the angel's voice to make more, make better, keep reaching.

It reminds me a bit of Neil Gaiman's speech at Philadelphia's University of the Arts (which I consider second only to Steve Jobs' commencement speech at Stanford in 2005) in which he reiterates, Make Good Art.

Art and life are not so separate, though, right? Our art springs from within, and it's affected by who we are, how we live, how we *have* lived, what we believe. Our totally real, totally authentic selves. Make what would not exist without you. And let that angel guide you to making it ever and ever better. What are you going to make today?   :)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Rolling With It

This week has been SO up and down for me. I had some great productive days, and some craziness just recently. Yesterday I went to jewelry fabrication class at the Spruill Center, and soldered some gallery wire and a bezel cup to a wide band ring. It went well, in fact, that I left class early as that was our whole session: demo by the teacher and then we got the ring to the step of having all the bits soldered together. Cleanup and stone setting aren't until next Friday. So I left early...which I've kind of been doing in classes for a while.

I feel a bit bad, but the instructor knows me well and says she doesn't mind. And it was good that I left, because I had a long day of errands on my plate anyway: trip to the jewelry supply to spend a small fortune on supplies, trip to the Merchandise Mart to spend *more* money on *more* supplies, and a trip to get the oil changed on the car (which ended up being over $100 because it needed additional services...and I didn't even get all the services done because I am waiting to do the more expensive services next month after the big Michigan festival). Also the car needs tires's starting to feel quite tight again.

So I got home around 4 pm yesterday and did some work. But it's a bad idea (for me, at least) to start work late in the day when I'm tired, hot, and stressing about finances. Work did not go well. So I went outside to read and it was just too, too hot. How can anyone enjoy the summer when it's so freakin' hot outside? You can't DO my husband and I went to dinner and a movie. And I got food poisoning.

Apparently yesterday the Universe just was not on my side. ~wry smile~

However, today's a new day (though I slept in after the food poisoning issues and now the day feels late) I'll show you some good fun from earlier in the week.  :)

The Dare Boldness necklace. So named because it's got a VERY green chrysoprase as its center stone Not a shade for the color-sensitive.  :)


The Underbrush earrings. Sweet ocean jaspers with unusual coloring, making me think of the cool summer morning underbrush, damp earth, and some sort of respite from the summer heat.

Both are currently listed on my web site  and on Etsy if you'd like further details.  :)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Anatomy of Fabrication

Ever wonder what goes into a piece of handmade jewelry? I thought I'd document a piece in action and show you. Of course the steps / processes will vary depending on what's being made...but here's what goes into a fairly " basic" cabochon design for me.

First, the stone needs a bezel. Stones, like anything natural, vary widely Some are quite tall (high), others can be very low. Bezel wire comes in various heights to accommodate the different stone heights.

This is a Peruvian opal getting its bezel made:

The bezel wire gets wrapped around the stone and measured to fit. Then the wire is shaped to the stone and the ends are soldered together:

I didn't take a picture of the bezel right after soldering, but the above shot is after it's soldered (if you look closely you can see the solder seam just in the front, toward the "bottom" of the photo). The next step is sanding the bezel to fit the back plate. The two pieces must join evenly for the solder to flow and hold them both together.

But hang on, I'm getting ahead of myself.  :)

Before the bezel can be soldered to the back plate, there must BE a back plate. So:

The back of the settting is made from  sheet metal, meaning literally that - it comes in the form of a sheet. This is a rimless design, meaning that the back plate and the bezel will meet each other with no extra back plate to be seen around the stone. I trace on the metal with a Sharpie, tracing around the bezel and stone, then use a saw to cut out the shape.

Here's the cut out piece from the sheet. I've marked the top and the next step will be to texture the back and add my maker's mark and the metal content:


I have textured the backs but not yet added the blue piranha and .925 (sterling silver) stamps.

Now that the sheet is ready (cut out, textured, stamped) and the bezel is ready (shaped, soldered, sanded), it's time to put them together:

This is the back plate and bezel ready for soldering. The small pieces inside the bezel are the solder bits. I will heat this up and flow the solder all around the bezel and sheet to join them.

But before I do that, I will have checked and double-checked and triple-checked my bezel to be sure it still fits my stone! All the sanding can get the bezel out of shape, so it's crucial to check and re-check that the stone still fits in it before it's soldered down to the sheet. I did *not* remember to do this on one of my very first pieces. and let me tell you...I won't forget it ever again. Nothing like doing all the work and then getting to the last step - the stone setting - and realizing you can't put your stone into your bezel...some choice words MAY have been used in the studio that day.  :)

Checking the fit:

Looks good so far. So I went ahead and soldered.  :)


The next step is cutting away the excess back plate (there's always a bit of overlap since I Sharpie-traced around both the stone and bezel. Better too much than too little! Too little means that you have to start over. I didn't take a photo of cutting away the excess sheet because it's just filing until the edges of sheet and bezel are smoothed out.

Once the excess sheet is gone, this earring needs to hang somehow, so I soldered on a jump ring:

And now it's ready for clean up and then the final step, setting the stone.

No photos of the stone setting process because my hands were busy setting (stone setting is a very phyisical process - you have to use a LOT of pressure to close that bezel around the stone) but these are the tools I use:

This is the pusher. It's used to push the bezel wall in toward the stone.

This is the rocker. The little T-shaped part on the front gets rocked around the bezel once the pushing work is done. While the pusher is used in small incremental steps around the bezel, the rocker is used in a continuous motion.

And finally, the burnisher. I love burnishing but it is SO hard on my hands! It requires a LOT of pressure when you use it. This tool is in a smoothing motion around the bezel too. It gives a shine to the bezel metal and also a nice "lip" around the stone. It has a curved tip so you can really get an angle on the bezel:

And the final result:

See how the bezel curves over the top of the stone? That's the "lip" I'm talking about.

So that's the basics of fabricating a bezel setting. It's fairly time consuming to set stones (not including the design time involved before any metal gets touched) so now you know what keeps me working those long studio hours. I don't mind though. The results are worth it.  :)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Love the One You're With

I still love this country. It's got some serious problems, and needs a good smack in the ass and a major wake-up call to make changes. But I am not defecting to Canada anytime soon (nothing personal, big. northern neighbor!). I love what the U.S.A. means to me: a freewheeling style and attitude, a big independent streak and a dedication to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We get a lot of things wrong but I'm still proud to be an American (even if I'm not always proud of all my fellow Americans...but that's a whole other discussion). Happy Birthday, America! Founded by strong, brave people who wanted bolder, better lives. And risked everything to pursue those dreams. I salute you!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Busily Building

I'm trying to update the blog more often. I don't keep a journal, and the blog is slowly becoming more journal-like for me. I'm on Facebook, of course, but it seems really odd to post some of my more mundane life stuff there. So I'm sort of journaling here instead. :)

I slept straight through my alarm this morning - I had a horrible dream. It comes in variations over the years, but it's always the same theme. I have to get somewhere and I can't, for various reasons (depending on the dream). Once it was that I had to be at a festival to set up and it was a nearly impossible drive through the mountains and I had to set up on the edge of a cliff. Once it was the same thing - show set up - and I ended up in a warehouse all by myself...I was in the wrong location. This time I was in New York City and I missed my flight home. My luggage went, but I had to catch a MARTA bus to the airport (funny, there's no MARTA in NYC). And a bunch of situations kept me from doing so...first I hadn't packed up my jewelry inventory (though I was not in NYC for a festival) and I missed the bus. Then someone wanted  to buy a piece of jewelry and there were all sorts of issues around that. Then I caught the next bus but they wanted to charge me $10 and somehow I'd packed my purse in my luggage...

This has gone on in different variations for years. The dreams are incredibly stressful and I'm not sure what drives them. I have stresses in my life like everyone, but I aim to minimize them when possible and I didn't feel stressed when I went to bed last night. I actually felt good about the productive day I'd had.

So anyhoo, I started off late this morning. Which really, really doesn't matter because I set my own schedule, y'know? But I really don't like starting my day late, it seems to throw my productivity off. But I got myself on the (hot, so, so hot) skate path and worked out. I pushed my legs as hard as I could (and they're tired, this is the third day in a row on the path) and got a good workout, though my time doesn't indicate it. I think that has to do with those tired legs. But tired in a good way. I am trying to get myself up to regularly exercising four to five times a week instead of my previous three-day-a-week schedule. And it hasn't been easy. My fortyish body is tired. But I'm a stubborn old girl, so I keep on keepin' on.

And now I'll show you new goodies:

The Storm Cloud necklace. The labradorite in the pendant looks to me like a big storm cloud lingering over the land and I designed this pendant around that idea, sawing a cloud shape and adding a dark patina. The back has a raindrop texture.

Change means growing pains, turmoil, and sometimes heartbreak. No one ever wants it, but the restless soul always strives for growth, and growth cannot occur without change. When the clouds gather and the days are dark, know that the low points will give way to peace as the new and reborn self emerges into a place of respite after weathering the storms that mark it. Evolution and wisdom are worth the darkest days it takes to get there.

This is such a glorious labradorite and I am enjoying working with "labs" in my designs. When I used mostly beads, it was a struggle to find several beads on a strand that had enough of that beautiful flash. Mostly they were dull gray. I love these cabs and can (and do!) spend hours at gem shows picking out just the right stones.  :)

Here's the back:
The pendant hangs from a hidden bail so the top of it lifts off the skin slightly and slides freely on a rolo chain. When I first started designing I used the tube bail a lot and then went away from it for a while. But I love the look and now it's back.

Wishing you a happy and productive Tuesday! Tomorrow's the Fourth...are you getting ready to celebrate?   :)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Having a Day + Stone Preview

Woke up at 4:30 this morning, tried for thirty minutes to get back to sleep. No go - finally fell asleep again around 7 (which is when I was supposed to be getting up). So now I'm a little behind today's schedule...but I have goodies to share, hopefully by the day's end. I've set most of my stone pieces from last week and they just need a final polish (and chains / ear wires, and pricing...yada yada yada).

Here's the money shot:

Hoo boy! All that riotous color together makes me happilicious. :)  In generally un-random order, top to bottomish:

Pietersite, labradorite, amazonite, labradorite

Ocean jasper, turquoise, peru opal, turquoise

Chrysoprase, larimar, ocean jasper, labradorite, amazonite, peruvian opal.

I plan to make a few more pendants before the festival but I'm pretty much out of earring stone stock and won't have access to any more until after the festival, so if these sell in the meantime, so be it. But at least they're made.

It seems like it shouldn't have taken almost two weeks to get all these done, but as I've mentioned previously, not every day has been fully spent in the studio. But this week and next are pretty open so hopefully I can really crank up. And stone pieces take me waaaaay longer than almost anything else I make, so the rest of the work should go a little faster (at least, that's the plan).

I'll be individually listing these on etsy and on my web site throughout the week.

Now time for lunch and then more creative time.  :)