As an artisan, it’s important to me to continue to grow and develop my skills.  And so I work at it and play at it.  When I returned from Penland School of Craft this past summer, I knew I wanted to expand the type of jewelry I was making to fully capitalize on what I learned in the class.

In the car on the way back from Penland, I started making a list of those things that if I did them would further cement and expand upon what I learned in the class.  When I got home, I typed it up, posted it in a prominent place, and here it is.

Everything on the list is definite and concrete – something that is either done or not done.  There is nothing like – improve sawing skills – which you can never really finish because you can always improve.  Instead I have something like – cut out the details from one coin.

The bright pink marks are things I’ve completed.  Here and there I get pulled by other things a realize I haven’t looked at the list in a while.  When I realize it, I go back to the list and check it.  Sometimes I see that I’ve completed an item or two while doing other things.  Other times, I pick an item and get going.

What I especially like are those things that started out on the list but have now become ingrained in my arsenal of techniques.

Here are some of the things that I still need to do:

  • Make four folded, cut, and hammered leaves
  • Make two pieces with hinges
  • Select a historical piece of jewelry and create a design inspired by it using fragmentation and abstraction

I will get there.  I will.

Glenda DSCF79311

I’m a lefty, and we lefties know we live in a right-handed world.  Growing up, at least at home, that was not the case.  In addition to me, my mother and three of my siblings were left-handed.  Only my father and oldest sister were right-handed.  So, our household leaned a little towards favoring left-handedness in how things were set up.

When it comes to jewelry, I try to keep my left-handedness in mind.  When making a necklace like this green garnet and pearl necklace, it is a factor.  If a necklace has a distinct front and back, then it matters which side I put the clasp on when making it.  Unless I am making a piece for myself (or someone who I know is left-handed), I make it for right-handed people.

Recently, at a jewelry show, a lady wanted to try on one of my necklaces.  She had her hands behind her neck, trying to get it on and said – this is awkward, I can’t work the clasp.  I then realized – oops – I let a left-handed necklace get through.  It doesn’t happen often and I modified the necklace.

The very first bead weaving stitch I learned was brick stitch and left-handedness was a factor.  I tried to learn it by reading an article in a book or magazine.  I remember seeing paragraph after paragraph that talked about doing this with your right hand and that with your left hand – pages of it.  I tried more than once to get through it, and gave up in frustration.  A while later I found a class in the technique and was able to easily learn from the instructor who was right-handed.  Since then, I’ve become better at translating written instructions mentally and don’t have a problem with them.  Thank goodness, since there’s always something new I want to learn.

Bookmark and Share

Today was a tough day in the studio.  I had problems, things didn’t work out, I hit the wall here and there.  I left tired, frustrated, but still determined.   For each problem or mistake, I was able to understand what I did wrong and what to do differently next time.

Tough days in the studio are just that – tough.  Whether it’s broken saw blades, stuff melted at the torch, pieces worked to fit together that just don’t, ideas that seem brilliant at the time and just don’t pan out.  No matter what medium you work in, there are days like this.  Truth is, maybe if they don’t happen here and there, one is not spending enough time at the boundaries.  Today I did, stuff broke and messed up all day.  I learned from it.  I will show up at the bench again tomorrow.

Seashell in SterlingIn the past year, I’ve spent a lot of time working on prong settings, truthfully somewhat tense in getting the prongs done.  I would make the prongs, prepare the base, and use my center punch to make a little indentations for each prong.  Then I would solder each prong on – one by one.  It got tricky because as I went to solder each one on, I needed to avoid melting or unsoldering the ones I already put on.  And once I had a few of them on, I had more to lose and would try to stay calm, but…

When I went to Penland I asked our studio assistant, Marlene True, about it.  I explained what I had been doing.  She smiled and said – let me show you another way.  She approached it by drilling holes in the base making sure to select a drill bit where the prongs would fit very snugly in the hole.  Then she suspended the piece on a tripod, put a little bit of flux and a snippet of solder right beside each prong, heated it from below, and got them all done at once.  Sweet.  The beauty of this approach is two-fold.  First, you are done so much quicker.  I was having to pickle the piece in between each soldering.  Secondly, because the torch is underneath the base, you don’t have the same worries about melting the prongs.  This piece was made the new way.  I am now soldering prongs angst-free.

Thank you, Marlene True.

RaisedBracelet

When I studied at Penland in 2008, I saw people creating bowls, bracelets, chokers, and other items from a flat piece of sheet metal in a process called raising.  The results are beautiful and have a special feel to them that is not possible to replicate with mass-produced items, I don’t think.  I knew I wanted to try it but just did not have the time.  It’s such a challenge in classes to absorb all the material presented and try all that you can.

This year, I was determined to give it a try and this is my first attempt.   This bracelet was made from a sheet of 20 gauge copper in a process called anticlastic raising.  What this means is the metal is being shaped in two different directions – it is being shaped downward into a bracelet form and the edges are being shaped upward to form the curve at the edges.  Sounds simple enough, right?

The concept is simple, the execution – a different story.  The difficulty is that the two directions you are trying to take the metal want to fight with each other.  As you work to shape the bracelet downward, the curve at the edges starts to open up.  As you then work to curl up the edges, the bracelet shape starts to open up.   So you go back and forth, coaxing the metal to do what you want.   And you have to anneal the metal – a lot.

I am thrilled with the results of my first attempt and want to try it again.  I could not have made this without the guidance of and instruction from my classmate Andrea, a lovely young lady very skilled at raising.  Thank you, Andrea.

Bookmark and Share

2910065When we are reaching, stretching, pushing our limits, we make mistakes, have problems, and stuff happens.  I don’t like this anymore than anyone else, but I know that if I never experience problems and mistakes then I am playing it way too safe, relying far too much on what I already know.  And so, I push ahead.

This necklace is an example.  The small black glass cab with a bit of red was the smallest thing I had bezel set at the time.  And I wanted to do it.  I saw the complete pendant in my mind – the wire-wrapped porcelain drop, the black and red cab set properly, and I wanted to do it.

So, I set out to make the bezel setting for the small black and red piece and ran into trouble.  I made rings out of bezel wire, tried to solder them closed, and either solder would run up one side or I toasted the bezel with too much heat and part of it melted.  After destroying a few of them, I stepped back to analyze the situation.  Solder running to one side was a symptom of uneven heating.  This bezel was small so there wasn’t much mass.  I was using the pick to hold the solder beside the seam.  Maybe the pick was drawing too much heat for this small bezel??  I tried it without the pick, and success.  The photo below – the toasted and melted pieces created while learning.  And isn’t learning what it is all about?

BezelPieces 

One of Bob’s favorite answers to some of our questions in class was the phrase – just enough.  Someone would ask “How much solder should I use?”  And Bob would answer “Well, you need just enough.”  Or the question would be raised “How long should the tab be?”  The answer – “Well, it needs to be just long enough.”

And we would all laugh/groan.  We knew what it meant.  It meant no one can give you a number, a formula.  It meant you need to try, gain experience, work with the materials, understand them, and you will come to learn how much is just enough.