Friday, August 23, 2013

Whirlwind Summer

It's the middle (actually a bit past that) of August and my summer is nearly over...and I don't have much to show for it. I was trying to figure out why I'm feeling behind on both work and personal things, and when I look back at the last three months, I actually had a total of 22 days that I worked (or partially worked) in the studio. 22 days out of a potential 55 (looking at June, July, and August).

Um...that's not a lot. It's also not enough.

Why so few working days? Here's a brief synopsis of what took up the rest of my time:

Festival, Festival/travel, Travel, Family Visit, Travel, Festival/Travel, Travel, Family Visit.

The in-between days were working days (I try to not work weekends, but with a schedule like that, I did work part of some), but not all in between days were work-able. Even a local festival usually requires a recovery day. Travel festivals require (sometimes, like my big drive to NM and back) a bit more than that. I had two travel festivals in that time frame (NM was a huge time suck), plus two family visits. My sister- and brother-in-law stayed with us for seven days. My mother was just here for six. Do you know how difficult it is to work FROM HOME when people are staying in your home?? Trust me on this. Visits are nice, but they're not...productive.

And then there was some personal travel thrown in too - four days in Arizona, for my father's memorial service / family time. Five days in San Francisco with my husband  (gotta get a vacation in somewhere!). A long weekend to Charleston for a bachelorette party.

What it all adds up to is my being behind...again. Or maybe I never really caught up. Fabricating designs from scratch requires a pretty long lead time. Design time can't really be rushed; it's like the customers *know* which designs you didn't put your heart and soul into...and they won't buy those.

Once the fabrication work is done, cleanup also takes a lot of time. Stone setting takes time. And it's all very physical labor, so I can't just hit it hard for three days in a row or my body will rebel. So there needs to be time, and kind of spaced out time, to create. Not to mention the whole rhythm of creating, which takes a little bit to get into and out of...every bit of travel or family visits disrupts that, and sometimes it's very hard to get back in the mindset.

So I am going to have to restructure for next year. I'm hoping to restructure for THIS year, but I'm already behind and suspect that it won't change too much in the last four months of 2013...I *am* looking at a potentially slower October and November, but things always come up - especially later into the holiday season. Last minute orders, short-window custom orders, weird things that's not typically a good quiet time for a retail jewelry business.

So next year is going to involve more planning. Some of that I won't be able to control, because of the show deadlines, the potential for acceptance / rejection, the physical ability I'm only in charge of part of the planning...and I have to account for the Fibromyalgia, which takes a wicked delight in being consistently inconsistent.

And yeah, I said "I can't hit it hard for three days in a row" but that's what I've been doing. And that means pain. Fibromyalgia flare ups. More delays because I push and push my body and it eventually pushes back...hard. However, necessity is the mother of...ah, screw that. Necessity is the mother of overworking. ~wry smile~

So here's what I did with my last two days of "hittin' it hard" before leaving town again:

Mmm-hmm. Bezels. And backs (which are all hammer textured, then the bezels are soldered to the backing, then the excess backing is filed away...*then* I get to start working on the embellishments. So for this week (two days of work!) I have 40 stones bezeled, and 21 of those have soldered backs, ready for the next step. It's all I could manage, and I suspect my left arm (hell, left side) is going to be complaining for the next two days or so...but the work has to get done sometime!

It's quite gratifying that the colorful stone pieces are steadily selling. Which is nice. I love to "have" to buy replacement stones.  :)  But I have to watch myself - I tend to get lost in making these and over-achieve, as it were. I'm actually supposed to be working on some new mosaic pieces. And there IS one in progress, and several sketches waiting, but I wasn't ready to tackle soldering on mosaics this week. They're finicky. They take a lot of patience to get them lined up right. And they drop on the floor - usually just when I've found the mostexactlyright piece - and are never found again. So I did bezels and backs instead.  :)

Next week I have a WHOLE week in the studio...can't wait!! And it will include working on some other artist-y pieces. Deadlines are quickly approaching and fall is on its way! Stay tuned...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Searching for The One (It's Not What You Think)

Are you constantly looking for The One? The *one* item that will fill a space / wardrobe / accessory need in your life? 

I am. I like what I like. And I could care less about the rest. This applies to everything in my life - food, clothing, shoes, home decor, get the idea. When I like something, I really, really like it. Otherwise I have no interest in it whatsoever. And the older I get, the more choosy I become. It feels like I only have so much time...I want to put it to its best use and kick the clutter to the curb.

It drives people crazy (mostly my husband, especially when he's gift shopping), but yes, I am very, very particular. I prefer the word discerning, of course.  :)

And I think it's good to be particular. To be exceptionally choosy about what you spend your hard-earned money on, to select with great care the things that surround and adorn you.The problem is, I'm the kind of girl who would rather wait for just the "right" thing, rather than purchase some specious "interim" thing...this explains why, after nearly ten years, our house is what you might call "minimally" furnished...also, what I like tends to be, er...not inexpensive. So it's a slow process...

I don't find that much of the public shops this way...many people are seemingly quite un-discerning. I suppose this shouldn't surprise me, but I always expect a little different perspective from art show shoppers. I'd like to think that people who make the choice to buy art / furniture / jewelry (!) from an art festival, rather than a mall, for example, would be more discerning...but I think many people, no matter where they shop, want throwaway items (at a low price) that are easy, I-don't-have-to-think-about purchases...and when something breaks or is "out of style" or isn't needed anymore, it can be tossed (and possibly replaced) without much thought to the replacement purchase. And that's kind of the art fair expectation too, sometimes.

I'm not really sure what drives this. Americans *are* known for "bigger", for "quantity over quality"; we like abundance. Clearly money (or lack thereof) can be an issue. Which I totally understand. But for me, longevity has always been part of my purchasing. I don't spend often, but when I do, I will spend a bit more to get something I really love, rather than having something that "sort of" works. Or "sort of" fits. But sometimes things just aren't in the budget. On a trip to New Orleans, several years ago, my husband and I fell in love with some lamps. We oohed and aahed and thought long and hard about the right place in our house for one of these gorgeous, hand-painted lamps...and then the salesperson came over. And the price of the lamps was in the low five figures. Eep! That's just never going to be in our household budget. So I get that for some folks, $135 on a necklace won't ever be in the budget...but what about the rest of us?

I sold the above earrings at an art show recently. They were not prominently displayed, yet I can safely say that they were one of the most-looked-at items in my booth. People picked them up, oohed and aahed at the beautiful stones, and asked the price...which was $138.  Most of those people put them back down again and either looked at something less expensive, or simply walked away. Until late Saturday afternoon, when a woman came into the booth and went through the same motions...except she never let go of them. Not even when I told her the price. She said, "I think I just *have* to have these". And you know what she told me? That she doesn't buy often...but she buys "for keeps". So the items she chooses to spend on are loved/used/worn constantly and for her, worth a little more investment up front.

Now, I know that $138 for earrings, even handmade, stone-set ones with GORGEOUS stones, is not in some budgets. But for others... could it be? If, say, one was buying less throwaway items at $40 a pop? Or $15? If one had a desire to have fewer items, but items that were truly standouts, truly loved, and beautifully adorned one's ears (home, feet...etc)? 

The earrings above sold before I could even list them in my Etsy shop or on my web site. I had posted them on Facebook, and the woman who bought them told me to not bother listing them and just PayPal her an invoice. She knew they were something special, and she knew she'd get years of enjoyment out of them.

Interestingly, this has been how I buy personally, but not necessarily for my business. I have always looked for the best quality stones I could afford for my jewelry designs, and I know my regular customers recognize and appreciate that. But it wasn't until very recently that I considered spending a bit more for some really stellar stones, like the Royston Turquoise earrings shown above. I think I was a little afraid that the general public wouldn't appreciate - or buy - I am in business, after all - the more unusual, pricier stones. But these two recent earring sales, and a few other transactions, have made me rethink my stance.

With this in mind, I splurged a little on my most recent stone buying trip. The photos turned out a little blurry, but I think you'll get the (gorgeous) idea.  :)

Boulder turquoise, from Asia. Stunning! Now, the interesting thing is that usually I can pay a good bit less for Asian turquoise than for American turquoise, but the prices for the Asian stones have been creeping up in the last year or so. I asked my supplier about it. He said the mine in China has been closed - apparently it has been closed for a few years now, and for a while they were getting fewer stones, and now they are getting almost none. But the supplier still has a big demand for it - so the prices are going up. 

Peruvian opal. Bigger (and yes, a bit pricier) than I usually buy.

Glorious Kingman turquoise from Arizona. As I mentioned above, the price for Asian turquoise is coming closer to what I'm paying for American turquoise (though I hunt like crazy to try and find really good deals on American turquoise whenever I can). I sell primarily in the Eastern part of the U.S., and out here no one much cares about the origin of the stones. But out West, I constantly get asked where the turquoise is from. And Westerners don't often want the Asian turquoise. They want the Kingman, Morenci, Fox, Carico Lake, etc. (Most turquoises are named after the mines where they're found). It's quite an interesting distinction.

Anyhoo, time will tell if my spendy-er stones are worth the purchase. I think they will the discerning shopper. Otherwise I'll have some GORGEOUS earrings of my own design to wear.  :)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Gratifying Results (the Obstacles Are the Path).

That post I wrote last week on pushing myself and learning new tricks? I didn't have the pieces I made quite finished when I wrote it. But they are I'd like to show them to you.   :)

The first piece, that gave me SO much grief, is this one:

It's wide, nearly an inch wide, and thick gauge sterling. And I shaped and soldered those swirls...or THOUGHT I'd soldered them...but they kept. falling. off.

Now, I have struggled with soldering "not taking" before...primarily with joining two items side by side, which is why I made quite a few of these designs:

because all the pieces on the top get soldered side to side. So now I'm fairly proficient at that.  :)  Struggling with something? Try making fifty pieces that use the technique you're struggling with. That'll make you improve.  :) 

So. Usually soldering something on top of something else is not a problem. But...joining on a curved surface is *so* not the same as joining on a flat surface...I forgot one of the Basic Rules of Fabrication:

You Need A Good Join. Solder Will Not Flow to Fill A Gap.

(Actually, solder *will* flow to fill a gap...but a very small gap). In the case of this ring, I wasn't getting very good joins. Chalk it up to impatience, inexperience, just generally being clueless that day, but for some reason I thought that if I just had *part* of the swirls touching the ring base, the solder would take care of the rest. I'd sort of "tack" down the swirls and then go back and hit the parts that hadn't soldered.


What ultimately had to happen was that I went back and re-shaped the swirls (which took more time, but it would have been less time overall if I hadn't done it wrong to begin with) so that all parts of them laid flat on the curved surface. It wasn't easy. And now I can see why some handmade rings are made...well, let's say differently.  :)

The other piece I made, which also presented a challenge, was this ring:

I've been wanting to make rings with the mosaic designs for a while, but soldering all those pieces onto a curved surface isn't easy either! But it's not all about easy in the studio; otherwise everyone would be doing it.  :)   I helped myself a little by Euro-square-ing the ring base before starting to solder the embellishments on top of it:

This ring mandrel is squared, as the photo shows. Most ring mandrels are round, but sometimes, especially with a wider band, a squared ring shape will be more comfortable on the finger. Also, if you're making a ring with a heavy top or a big stone set on top, a square shape will help keep the top of the ring upright, rather than the shank sliding around the finger. 

So I squared the mosaic ring. Which at least gave me a partially flat surface to solder the silver pieces on to. Though they're not quite ALL on the square part...since I did three "stations" of mosaics, each station drifts off to the side a bit. But the overall ring is balanced.  :)

AND comfortable. Always important in jewelry design.   :)

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Glimpse of the Bigger Picture

I try to keep this blog mostly jewelry focused. But this resonated with me:

"may you always remember that obstacles in the path are not obstacles, they ARE the path."

Wise words, from a someone who apparently had many wise words to share. The quote is from a Seattle woman who recently wrote her own obituary. She died from cancer on July 18th. But before she did, she shared herself, one last time, and quite beautifully, with the world.

The rest of the obit is HERE. It brought tears to my eyes.

What would we say, if we were to write our own goodbye, I wonder?  

What a shame that she is gone too soon. But what wonderful love and memories she must have left with those fortunate enough to know her...I think of my friend Kathleen, who died suddenly earlier this year, and of how she meant so much to everyone she encountered. And I strive to do better myself. The obstacles are the path. The path is the journey. We make our choices every day.

Thank you, Jane Lotter, for being an example. And condolences to all who must be missing you so dearly right now.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Back in the Saddle (Old Horse, New Tricks)

One of the things they tell people who have never been on a horse before, is that you have to maintain control. If you don't, the horse will sense that and take every possible advantage of you. Sounds...sound, right? But if it's your first time (no matter what age) on the back of a horse, it's not quite that easy to put into practice...

It took me much longer than I expected to recover from the Ruidoso art festival in New Mexico. Last week my energy was nearly zero, and then I spent a busy weekend (my only "down" weekend this month) housecleaning and catching up on things. And I'm still trying to regain some equilibrium.

I think part of the issue was not just the physical tiredness and pain, but the mental side. I'm in an ego business - we artists have to be "approved" / "accepted" into art festivals, we have to pay for the privilege to just be looked over, with no guarantee of being granted permission to show up, then if we do get to show up (and pay for that privilege as well), we spend several days having our egos (and wallets, hopefully) either stroked or ignored by the public. And if you're not making the money you hope / need to make, you're going to (at least occasionally), feel a little bad about least some of the time.

I know the rational reasons why I had a tough show. But the emotions are not so easily managed. At most festivals, I have what I would consider realistic expectations. But for whatever reason, I really let my expectations rise for this festival: I got called off the wait list! I won a blue ribbon! I have a great corner booth! I am doing some of the best work of my career so far! etc, etc...I felt like everything was sort of converging in my favor. So what do I know...apparently not. ~wry smile~

So. What does a sensitive artiste do when she's feeling low? She tackles something new, something she has no practice in, something that is a bit beyond her reach., most people would work on something simple and easy...stepping slowly into the harder stuff. Not moi. I went into the studio on Monday and decided that it was time to make rings. Big rings. With lots of soldered pieces on them. Soldering to CURVED surfaces...ha! Because when you're feeling down, you should set yourself what seems to be an insurmountable task! I can sort of laugh about it now, but on Monday night I was ready to toss my entire workbench in the trash. Head, meet wall. Banging ensues. Repeat ad nauseum.

But I DID learn. It's coming together. Two big ol' rings are to the clean up stage, and today I'm working on some easier things (finally). Making a bunch of bezels:

Mmm...yummy. Larimar, boulder turquoise(s), more turquoise, variscite, Kingman turquoise.

And more:

Peruvian opal(s), Eudyialite, sonoran cactus, boulder turquoise.

And MORE (I can't help it, I sort of get a rhythm going when I'm bezel-ing):

Larimars, Peruvian opals, Eudyalite.

What am I going to do with them? Not sure yet. But they need bezels no matter what. And when I am ready to design with these, I'm always happier when the bezels are done and I can get straight on to designing, rather than having to make the bezel. Design. Make the bezel. Design. What can I say? I'm a batcher.  :)

Which is why I did THESE, too:

Turquoise, petrified wood (I think), boulder turquoise, Peruvian opal, Eudyalite, boulder turquoise. And then I had to stop myself. Also, I ran out of 4mm bezel wire. Pfft. And I needed to work on finishing the big rings from earlier in the I guess that was enough bezel making for one day. It gets out of hand quite easily.  :)

Now I'm planning my next big project, for next week...and maybe another big ring. With a stone, this time? I'm not sure yet...but the saddle leather is getting comfortable. The horse is a challenge but you can't let the horse be in control...the rider has to maintain control. Sometimes easier said than done...but I'm getting there.  :)