I recently completed a 6-week course with Bronwen Gwillim, a lovely Welsh jewelry maker who calls her work plasticsmithing. She runs her workshops multiple times through the year if you’re interested. I have not made a big foray into working with my waste plastic yet but am eager to get started.
I’ve always been a collector of bits and bobs, especially what I find on beaches. I like the design challenge of incorporating found objects into my work. You can cede control and let the material do the deciding, much like writers often say their characters write themselves. And who doesn’t love the thrill of the hunt? Getting out in fresh air? Read more
Did time seem to expand and contract in 2020? It did to me. Some days I had surges of positivity and energy, emboldened by a studio full of art supplies, the promise of a new creation, only to settle in and binge watch a Neflix series.
When the pandemic started, I subscribed to MasterClass.com, a website where you can take courses from famous chefs, writers and directors. I was determined to become a genius in something by the end of the year. I made it part way through a writing course with David Sedaris, sort of learned to make a few cocktails, and I now know how to make an Italian-inspired hamburger so long as I can find wild boar somewhere. Read more
I wrote this a few days before the election, then headed off to a fellow jeweler friend’s for a little distraction. My intention was to post this before the election but realized soon enough that the delivery date didn’t matter. It didn’t matter who won the election. It just matters that you follow where the path leads and make lemonade from lemons.
Four years ago, a few days after the election, I got shingles. I won’t say where.
I also started a monotype printing class the day after election day. I recall walking through the parking lot, my brain in a fog, and, admittedly, hungover. I felt a lot of things, but creative was not one of them. Read more
This August I was fortunate enough to be one of 38 artists participating in the 11th Annual Frogwood Collaborative. Frogwood started in 2007 as a small gathering of woodworkers wanting to get out of creative ruts and stretch the artistic possibilities of their work. It has morphed into a community of artists working in a variety of mediums—paint, fiber, wood, metal. And within those mediums there are coppersmiths, blacksmiths, jewelers, weavers, printmakers and painters. The idea is to spend a week collaborating on projects.
Given that most of us work alone, the idea of collaborating can be a challenge. Even if you crave an exchange of ideas and diving into a new medium, knowing how to start a project with someone you don’t know isn’t easy. One place most of us started was a huge table piled with donated items from participants. Fine wood scraps, project boo-boos, plastic, animal bones, glass, you name it. It was all there for the taking.
Veterans came with ideas. Newbies like myself wondered how to start a project. Not to mention the pressure (self-imposed) of creating a piece worthy of sale at a silent auction that took place at the end of the week in Portland. On this Frogwood auction information page, you’ll find photos of all the completed projects at the bottom.
Like most experiences that involve people, it’s the people that make it memorable. I don’t know if every gathering of a few dozen artists and craftsmen always yields good results. But I have a pretty good idea that it does. One thing that kept coming back to me during the week was this feeling of relief, of being understood. While there was little time for much in-depth conversation, I took comfort knowing I was surrounded by people who obsessively absorb their surroundings, wondering “what if,” dreaming up that next creation. Check out the 2018 participants.
We were in the beautiful wooded setting of Camp Colton in Oregon. Even being in cell phone range, it felt like the middle of nowhere. Time was divided into clear chunks—breakfast, work, lunch, work, dinner, work, sleep. I never slept so well in a tent as I did at Frogwood. Working 12-hour days helped. I kept thinking I’d want to wander the woods, sit and read a book or sketch. But all I wanted was to return to my bench and keep working every day.
I didn’t expect such a professional set up. The big modern barn, with concrete floor surrounded by enormous patio space, was filled with every tool imaginable. Nothing like this comes together with ease. Thanks to woodworker Tom Willing at the helm and his trusty board, there wasn’t a single thing lacking in this space. Well, except for nails when it came to securing hanging devices on the backs of finished pieces. All those tools and not a single nail!
I went with a goal, despite not knowing how the collaborations would work, that I wanted to work with wood. I’d been craving working with a more gentle material than metal. Most of my collaborations involved self-generated projects, getting inspiration from materials I found on the table and getting invaluable help from others. Without exception, someone would drop what they were doing to show you how to use a tool, hammer a copper head for a spoon or help figure out how to connect materials. My go-to wood guy was instrument maker Adam Mendel of Joyner Instruments. Having been a teacher, he would sprinkle each interaction with invaluable tips that I know I’l tap into if I get more serious about wood. Below are a few projects I worked on with his help on the wood parts.
In all, it was a truly memorable experience that I recommend to any artist if you can find a collaboration near you. Or better yet, start one in your community. The rewards of having three dozen new artists/craftsmen/makers/friends in my circle who I know I can reach out to is invaluable. I’m inspired to keep experimenting and being open to new materials and processes, not to mention collaborations when we’re not at Frogwood. Once a year isn’t nearly enough!
I’ve always been an avid photographer, and with my graphic design background I use photography a lot in my client work. So I was excited to discover I could marry some of my images with jewelry in the form of decals on enamel. I also see decals as a way to finally incorporate some typography into my jewelry. Ideas are brewing.
I connected with enamel artist Anne Dinan who offers an online class. It’s self directed and she creates a Facebook page for students to share work and ask questions. I got a slow start because I was unable to locate a laser printer suitable for printing images on decal paper (all the information is available with class purchase). Anne was nice enough to print my images, but I’ve since found a friend with the right printer if I want to explore more.
The process is simple but has multiple steps. You do have to carve out time for this. It’s a bit of work to get the right results and I am just scratching the surface. As in most of my work, I have to embrace the failures and beautiful mistakes! Essentially you’re transferring the decal to a prepared enameled surface and firing it (either in a kiln or with a torch.) The decal substrate burns off and the toner reacts to the enamel and bonds to it. You can leave as is or play a bit more, with transparent enamels, watercolor enamel, graphite and enamel crayons. I also tried starting with a color instead of right (bottom left image) in order to get a more black image. The decal turns a rust color once it’s fired. I was looking for a black image and the orange background worked.
Although, curiously, the spore print image (bottom right) is black on white and I can’t recall now how I did that. Take notes!
Here are a few images from the process.
I’m also very excited to be taking an enameling workshop with the very talented Canadian artist Jan Smith up in Seattle this summer. The journey continues!
It was a good thing that a printmaking class started the day after election day. What would I have done with myself otherwise? Nothing good. Despite feeling a little hungover, a lot depressed and not terribly creative, I couldn’t have imagined a better place to be on that day with those people. A group of nine women in a fog similar to my own. We talked very little. We gave each other knowing glances. We understood we were all in a state of confusion and words were unnecessary.
“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.”
Jewelry photography is a vexing issue for people who want good images of their work for show applications and their website but aren’t ready to hire a professional. There are plenty of good tutorials such as this one also about using natural light, or this one with many jewelry photography tips, not necessarily using natural light.
I wanted to share my setup that uses inexpensive, accessible materials and natural light. In a future post, I’ll address some simple (sort of) retouching techniques for those who have access to Photoshop or similar, but for whom the idea of retouching images is intimidating. (Stay tuned.)
DIY or Professional? Some considerations
You’ll often hear that you must have professional photography, especially if you are applying to juried shows. That advice makes sense because it has to take into account the broad spectrum of applicants, which includes people who place their jewelry under a lamp with an incandescent bulb and submit a photo with harsh shadows and a yellowy cast.
But that isn’t you, right? There’s a whole swath of people in between that scenario and those hiring a pro who believe that a decent photo is within their reach if they just had the right set up. Read more
Does the world need more jewelry, I’ve been asking myself. Knowing that many of our thoughts are of the devil-on-the-shoulder variety, I know not to take all of them seriously.
But as I embark on making jewelry, I fall into a familiar pattern of wondering if I’m doing any real good. I’ve volunteered steadily since my early twenties but this idea of feeling useful is so engrained in me, the source of which is not entirely healthy. As in, do I deserve to just do something that I enjoy doing? For those who can’t relate to this question, lucky you! Read more
I have only done a few shows in my past. Well, a couple more if you count pottery back in the 90s where I draped a table and put pots on it. The others were fairly easy to set up, but that didn’t stop me from turning the display into a project itself.
Like this one (below) for a two small jewelry shows where I painted paper maché boxes and lids with chalkboard paint (a nice matte finish). I also painted a big piece of MDF board (lighter weight and cleaner finish than plywood) for a surface for the display, which I raised up using Ikea’s Capita legs. These are great and come in three sizes (2, 4 and 6 inch) in packs of four. Read more
I admit to having a certain proclivity towards process in and of itself even though I also fret over unfinished business, the half-written story or one without a good ending, the half-finished painting. Yes, it’s good to finish what you start, but if finishing is always your goal, you’re missing out on the delights of the process. If you linger too much in process, there’s that uncomfortable nagging inside about what’s left undone.
Sometimes process and output are inextricably linked. A project can have its own unique forward momentum. At other times, the doing IS the thing. Read more
In the span of two days, I had conversations with two friends who shared similar experiences. E described her elation and zoning out while organizing a piles of collage material. This coincided with clearing out years of work-related papers. But she said something else, that all that effort seemed unimportant or irrelevant, that she should have been doing something more important.
Important, according to what, I wondered? To the ideal we all have (without question) about what is considered productive or useful? Who is making these rules, if not us? Read more