Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Path is Never Straight

I keep saying that I want to challenge myself. And boy...I am challenged. I've been working on fabricating the most complex piece of jewelry I've ever done, and for quite a while, it hated me as much as I hated it. We were not in love at all.

It started a bit like this piece:

But that's part of the problem: it started like the piece in the photo above. Part of the way through, the design turned into something very different, which can sometimes cause difficulties. In this case, I'd already gotten to a point where I was using easy solder. And then I made some changes and found myself a little stuck.

Next it looked like this:

See, when you're soldering silver, you have essentially three choices: hard, medium, and easy solder. (there's an extra-easy, but most people I know never use it).

Essentially all solder flows (becomes liquid) at a lower temperature than sterling silver. Each solder has a bit more alloy in it, and thus flows at a lower temperature rate:

Easy solder: flows at 1325 degrees Fahrenheit
Medium solder: flows at 1360 degrees Fahrenheit

Hard solder: flows at 1450 degrees Fahrenheit
Sterling Silver: flows at 1640 degrees Fahrenheit

Since each solder will melt / flow at a lower temperature than the silver itself, ideally this means you should always be able to flow your solder before you melt your silver! AND it also means that you have three options for complex projects. You start with hard solder, then as you keep adding embellishements or additional joins, you switch to medium, and finally easy. Thus the next step has solder flowing at a lower temperature so you (supposedly) don't unjoin what you already soldered.

Sounds...sound, right?  :)  And it is. The difficulty lies in changing your design, and having already gone up the chain to easy solder for some joins...then when you have to join something else to your piece, you run a very high risk of re-flowing your prior join. And that happened to me several times on this piece. Very, very frustrating!

But it's part of the learning process. And I learned, learned, learned. I did several new things on this piece:

- Soldered big, flat pieces to a the big, wide bar (lots and lots of heat!).

- Soldered tubing to the edges of square wire for the chain (can't let them get crooked; tubing likes to roll around). Tubing and I really don't get along (yet). It tends to have a mind of its own.

- Cut out a matching top from sheet metal for the bottom of my piece (had I planned this initally, it would have been a lot easier to match). But I really, really like the effect:

- Hand set an apatite...when I got to the stone-setting step, I realized that for this design, I'd chosen an apatite. Pretty blue stone, yes, but a 5 on the Mohs scale, and also prone to fracture. So I held my breath all the way through the stone setting proces...but it didn't crack or chip. Hurrah! 

...and this bad boy is ALL hand fabricated. The pendant, the bar chain, the extender, the clasp.  While there are some parts I would do much differently, I am now starting to fall in love with it again...

 Plus, I think I'm starting to get a handle on the finishing / polishing, so I can get the look(s) I want for the metal. You'd have to be a metalsmith to understand how important that is to us geeks...just trust me on this one. It's a happy, happy day in the studio. :)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Tucson 2013: Part III

One more post of fabulous new finds...then back to some jewelry photos next week.  :)

Freeform crazy lace agate from Guadalajara, Mexico. Remember when I posted here about wanting to challenge myself with setting more irregular stones? I found some beauties! They happen to *all* be crazy lace agate, but they're all strikingly different and beautiful. I bought directly from the cutter (this actually happened several times this year) and it was a fantastic experience.

Here's another:

A very different cut! I'm thinking of setting it just the way it's photographed - maybe with only a bezel on the top of the stone so you can see the full effect of the crystals on the bottom. Or these might be the stones that finally push me into doing some sort of prong setting. They're just as lovely on both sides and I want to expose as much of the stone as possible.

My personal favorite of the ten or so I purchased:

It's hard to see here but there's a line of open crystals across the top of this stone. And the coloring is just lovely. Here's a closer shot with the crystals on the bottom so you can see better:

That whole dark gray area on the bottom is a crystal bed. 

I have collected crazy lace agate in a small way for several years, and like many stones, it's become harder and harder to find. It comes only from Guadalajara, and the pieces I'm seeing now often don't have the lovely color that I've seen in the past. Many are simply gray and white, which is also pretty, but I love the rich colors. So coming across these was a happy surprise.

I mentioned that I bought these directly from the stone cutter. And that was wonderful.  I was fortunate enough to have that experience three different times while shopping the gem show this year. One booth was outside and had the cutting machine going in the back (the couple's son was cutting) while I browsed. These folks were great - I bought my first piece of variscite from them - and some other choice stones - and learned so much from their knowledge and experience. Then I bought these funky agate pieces from the cutter, who was so easy to work with. And the Royston pieces I posted previously were directly from the family who cuts the stones and sells them. There were two generations of cowboy cutters there (hats, big belt buckles, and boots included) and we had a blast.  :)

In the past, I have purchased from foreign dealers who manage to act like my paltry $500 (or more) purchase is barely worth their time (and I put paltry in italics because, hey! for most people, $500 is a chunk of money. I realize that for some of these dealers it's a tiny amount, but I still find it rude to treat your customers like they're not worth your time - no matter what amount they're spending). I've spent in the four figures with certain stone dealers and they just act like it's an annoyance to weigh the stones, give me a total, or write a receipt. This is not true of all foreign dealers, of course, but some of them make me feel a little dirty for doing business with them.

This year, it was such a pleasure to at least occasionally purchase from American dealers who took the time to share their knowledge with me, and to enjoy the interaction with someone who loves stones as much as they do. American-made is more expensive, no doubt about it. But it's really nice to support others who are working to create the best product they can, and to know who's doing the work and how it's being done. A very welcome bonus to my shopping this year.  :)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Tucson 2013: Part II

As promised, today I'm sharing some of the other goodies from the most recent shopping trip:

Turquoise...gorgeous turquoise. I found the above, and these:

I LOVE the striking blue color against the dark host rock. They're so different from the turquoise I usually see and buy. But don't worry, turquoise lovers, I bought a LOT of other turquoise too:

Though I bought quite a bit of the traditionally blue turquoise, I found myself gravitating to greens as well. I love the bold bright blues, but these subtle greens really caught my eye. 

This is how a lot of the stones are sold - taped or glued to cardboard. Which is fine...unless you don't want ALL the stones on each piece of cardboard. Then you have to either purchase them all anyway, or ask the seller to allow you to cut out the stones you want...sometimes they're nice about it and sometimes they're not. In this grouping, I loved them all and am thinking of making a big necklace with them, so I bought the whole card. Same for the stones below:

I had a hard time finding good earring stones this year - a lot of them were cut weirdly. I wish I could explain it better, but they just were off and I knew it would take extra work on my part to make them hang right. So I put tons of not-good-enough stones back into the bins and didn't bring home as many as I'd like. But these above are all so wonderfully matched, and I like the coloring of each one, so they came home with me. I am thinking the ones third from the right will be great with the first pendant posted above.  :)

I bought a lot more turquoise...a LOT more. I think I should be stocked up for a while now...

And while we're looking at turquoise, check out THESE beauties:

Royston / ribbon / boulder turquoise. Incredibly hard to find. And often very pricey when you do find it. This is turquoise that is not cut out of the host rock (the boulder). Instead, the stone cutter plans his or her cutting so that the "ribbon" of turquoise is the highlight. Thus the term "ribbon turquoise". Also known as boulder turquoise and Royston turquoise because most of this type of turquoise comes from the Royston mine in Nevada.

I liked the thought of them as earrings...but:

I think they may be even better as pendants.  :)

Another gorgeous pair. These may be the prettiest of all the ones I found.

A slightly more subtle pair. I should point out that though I only found Royston / boulder turquoise at three stone sellers in all of Tucson. Now, I can't possibly go to every show that takes place, but I went to six or seven shows, with hundreds or thousands of sellers. This stuff just isn't easy to come by. And it's definitely more expensive than most of the other turquoise I buy.

But they're so gorgeous...and you get what you pay for. These may have to be set into some very special pieces...

More goodies in the next post, and then back to business as usual.  :)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Tucson 2013 : Part I

The only quick snap I got of my beloved mountains....from the JOGS show parking lot. There just wasn't any time for photos...

I'm just home from a very whirlwind trip to Tucson last week! My shortest trip ever - just 2.5 days. And while you may think that shopping for gemstones is easily done in that amount of time, it really isn't. And why not?

- All the people. Though Tucson show visitor numbers haven't returned to pre-recession levels (no official data, just my impressions from a decade of attending), there are still a LOT of people shopping. And many of them want what YOU want. So you wait in fact, you wait in many lines (the parking line, the shuttle line, the opening line, the line at the stone dealer's booth, etc.). And all that line-waiting takes up precious minutes of time.

- All the locations. "The Tucson Gem Show" is actually comprised of about 40 shows, spread over two weeks. Some shows are open for the whole two weeks, some a week, some for just a few days. So planning to shop from certain dealers (who may or may not all be at the same show, or in the same location) is tricky. And you can drive from show location to show location, but don't forget all the other people who are doing the same. Parking can be difficult (and expensive - $10 to park all day might be reasonable...but sometimes you're going to three shows in a day. Now we're talking $30 extra to park). Shuttle buses are available, but you'll be waiting in line...again...and they're not always the fastest way to get to another show. Especially once it's after 3 p.m. and rush hour traffic starts.

- All the options. Every year I visit Tucson with a very specific list of items. And every year it's difficult to find the right items, at the right price. Millions of stones. Thousands of sellers. In different locations throughout Tucson. It's madness. By the end of the day, your eyes are glazed over and you can barely stand to look at another stone, no matter how rare / beautiful / perfect-for-you it may be. And what you're looking for might not be there this year. Or it might not be there in the quality / price you want. So you'd better have a Plan B (or think quickly on the fly) to figure out what else to buy. These are natural stones, and many of them only occur in one area of the world (or a few areas). So sometimes there just isn't any supply that year...sometimes there's no supply at all because there's none left.  :(

So yeah, it's crazy. But it's *so* exciting when you find something that speaks to you (and fits your budget)! I"m a rock lover from a very young age, and being around all those stones and gems and rocks is exhilarating. And I am exceptionally choosy about the stones I purchase and use in my designs, so for me, there's no substitute for hand selecting my choices each year.

Let me get you to the money shots.  :)

Red creek jasper. I'll do a full "Natural Wonders" post on it in the future, but it's a fairly new stone to the gem market and it's gorgeous. These are matched up (pretty well; the stone never looks the same twice) for earrings.

I bought several pendant-sized stones. The one on the left is new and the one on the right is from last year. I keep talking about going bigger with my designs and these stones are going to force that to happen.  :)

I love the shape of these. And while I try to not purchase stones with sharp corners - they're more difficult to bezel and set - I could not resist these.

Eudialyte (yoo-die-ah-lite). Another stone that needs a Natural Wonders post. For now I'll tell you that it's fairly rare. And fairly expensive. I have a hard time finding it and when I do, it's usually a good bit out of budget. This year I came home with three small pieces, and consider that lucky. Love the funky shape of the piece above...

A very thin cab, but the gorgeous garnet-y red is what sold me.

Similar to the one above it, but thicker and with a deeper color saturation.

I'll share even more amazing goodies in the next post.  :)

Monday, February 4, 2013

January Overview

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
-Theodore Roosevelt

For the last few years, I've felt like I've lost myself. I was drifting, both personally and professionally, and it seemed like my life was headed toward mediocrity. But I also felt trapped, frozen, unable to do anything much about it. I just couldn't get myself together. I knew neither victory nor defeat; I was stuck in the long flatline between either.

Through a series of "things" - changes, events, occurrances, for lack of better terms, I have pursued emotional and spiritual growth. and pursued it hard through the last year-ish, 18 months or so, and though it's been a long journey (good lord, aren't they all...there's no quick path as far as I can tell!), I'm feeling empowered and making changes in my life. I wanted to chronicle them here on the blog, since I'm not much of a journaler or record-keeper otherwise. I tend to rely on memory, and we all know how unreliable it can be. At least this will keep me honest.


January was an up and down month. I often felt like the "cold and timid soul" who knows neither victory or defeat...despite starting an excellent series of jewelry fabrication classes at Amalgam Arts I found myself nervous, worried about finances, worried about festival deadlines, worried that I really couldn't do the job of making the kind of jewelry that would expand what I wanted to achieve this year, that would help me get to the next rung on the ladder. I spent more time on my Etsy supply shop than on my jewelry. 

As I've mentioned, my father died on the 13th, and while I'd been as ready as I could be for that to happen, it still affected me and my work. I guess when you're processing a loss, it's hard to have the focus necessary for design. I'd also given up drinking (yes, I know this is the first many of you have heard about it!) for the month of January, and for the first two weeks, I felt like my body was not struggling with wanting alcohol, but it was craving more sugar than I normally eat (and I eat a fair amount). I'm a moderate drinker, but I wanted to take a break to see if it would affect my weight - you hear SO much about alcohol being detrimental to diet and weight gain - and I've been using wine for years to help manage my Fibromyalgia pain. I thought I should see what life was really like without my additional "medication". Apparently, life is about managing one's sugar addiction. ~wry smile~

About the wine and Fibromyalgia - I take prescription pain meds for the Fibro, but they don't eliminate the pain. Wine goes a long way to filling the gap between the meds and bedtime. So I did have a lot more pain to manage...but I managed, though not always well. I'm not sure I want to drink as little as I did this past month, but I do think being an even more moderate drinker is a good thing for my mind and my body.

I felt tired for most of the month. I would get up in the morning later than usual, and feel like I really needed a nap around three or four p.m., and then feel ready to go to bed around 8 or 9 p.m. I don't know how much of that was leftover exhaustion and stress from the last four months (or the last twelve...), but I felt exhausted almost all month. It's only been in the last few days that I've started to feel somewhat more energized.

I went back to exercising after about a three-month hiatus, and found that relatively easy to pick first. I'm up to 35 minutes of running, three days a week, and my legs are sore, sore, sore. I don't know of anyone else who gets so sore after exercise. I suppose that's the Fibro...but I like how I look and feel (aside from the muscle soreness) when I do it, so I'm not stopping. 

I added in some CoQ10 in with my vitamin supplements / pain pills. I'm not sure if it's really doing anything (mostly I wanted it for energy), as taking it's coincided with no wine and more exercise, both of which could contribute to higher energy levels by month-end. I have another month's supply though, and will see what happens once I've added the wine back in.

One month into 2013, and I feel...okay. January has been a workhorse month (paperwork, catch-up work, organizing work) and the cold, gray, wet winter days haven't made me feel especially motivated, but I slogged through it anyway - even sans wine - and now I'm ready for February. Well, sort of. I'm having a "no extraneous sugar" month. Which might be harder than giving up my alcohol. Scratch that - it WILL be harder. No extra sugar means no afternoon candy bars, no hot cider, no after-dinner snacks (which I don't have every night, but when I do, they're sweet/sugary based). It's not going to be easy, but at least I picked the shortest month of the year to try it.  :)
I've also declared this the year of trying new things, of being more open to change, to almost forcing change. I am eager to taste the newness, to sample more of life, to stretch myself out and *hope* I don't fall, but the fear of falling has (pardon the pun) fallen by the wayside quite a bit. I still worry and stress, but I feel that those low times are part of the process and the journey, to pushing out some new design, to evolving personally, to reaching out to whatever else life has to offer. 

What? An actual jewelry photo?? I *have* been working, in the midst of all this other stuff going on. Sometimes it's just a slower process than I'd like...
All this might not be "daring greatly", but I haven't liked a lot of where my life's been at for some time. Better to try, fail, and try again, than to simply not try.  :)

Friday, February 1, 2013

Studio Set Up, Part II

In my last post I showed you what wasn't working in the studio, and what I did about it. This time I'll give you a look at what HAS been working for me, and maybe it will work for you, too.  :)

This is a simple wire bin that stores hanging file folders. I use it to store my metal. Each folder is labeled (except for the front two) and each gauge (I stock from 10 gauge down to 26 gauge) and type (round, square, half round, etc) gets its own folder. The wire itself is stored in a big ziploc baggie to prevent tarnishing and also I put the most recent price I paid on the bag, so I know immediately what the cost is when I'm pricing my work.

Sheet metal is in separate bags to prevent scratching, and sits in the front pink folder. Bezel wire, in individual baggies by size, sit in the folder behind the sheet metal. And there are two folders in the back that (separately) hold sandpaper grits and templates for cutting shapes in sheet.

The bin itself is on a small rolling stand so that I can roll it under the work table when it's not needed, and roll it out when it is. It's perfect and I never have to guess which wire is what or where it goes.  :)

My stump (salvaged from when the neighborhood church had a tree-cutting bonanza!) is about nineteen inches high and gets used constantly. I stripped the bark, let it dry out for what seemed like forever, and then nailed a strip of copper around it to hold my hammers. It's not the prettiest hammering job - the copper is all wonky, but I don't really care how it looks; it's utterly functional. I just care that my main hammers (I have fourteen, but nine are in major rotation and seven of them hang on the stump) are easily accessible.

My plastic storage bin that sits under the soldering station (you can see the red line of the tank / torch hose to the left of it). This is also on casters so that I can pull it out for my needs and then push it back out of the way when I'm soldering. It holds lots of useful things like gray wheels, sanding discs, my jig cutter, solder, all the rags I use for the studio, my respirator, etc.

My white board. Oversized. The first one I had was magnetic, which was nice, but it was too small. And this one was free, so I'm not complainin'.  :)  It hangs on the wall just to the right of my computer desk, where I can glance up at it easily. And it holds a TON of information. I use it as a visual reminder of what I'm running low on, so I know what to order, things that need to get done in the coming month / year, etc. I don't know what I'd do without it.

My see-it-all wall calendar. I buy a new one of these every year, and it's incredibly helpful when planning out show schedules, personal travel, etc. The post-its have the name of the show, how many days of the show, and the deadline for applying, and they're posted on the calendar on the appropriate weekend. I can't plan my travel and festivals without it - sometimes I have to apply six months in advance for art festivals, and then I forget what I've applied for, and I don't want to plan something that conflicts with the this helps me stay organized.

This is an after photo, but it only had some minor changes. One of the best things I did when I set up the studio was spend on shelving. Nearly two full walls of it, and it's all full. But what I want you to focus on is the set of white binders on the lower right of the photo. They're right above the computer for very easy access, and they have names like, "processes", "tech", "design reference", "biz info", "metal info" and so on. And the last two on the right (that I reach for more than almost anything else), hold my cabochons. :)

These binders are invaluable. If I need to know how many feet of wire in an ounce of 18 gauge, I can look it up easily. If I need to reference an older design (with notes about what gauge of metal was used, how I made the design, etc), it's all there. If I haven't done a process in a while (mostly related to paperwork or data entry), I can refresh myself on it before hosing it all up.  :)

Hopefully some of this helps some of you design (or re-design) your own studios. It was a lot of work to get it back to a useful state, but so worth it. Now I smile (instead of cringing) when I walk into it every morning!

And the jewelry's coming...I promise...stay tuned.  :)