Sunday, April 28, 2019

05.06.19 A little precision goes a long way. Kinetic Jewelry 2.0, Part 2

It had been a minute (ok, more like three years) since my last attempt at making hollow form pieces, and those were in sterling silver, not argentium. 

This might not sound like a big deal, but it is; if you want to understand the difference between the two metals, you can read my post on the magic of argentium (which is 93.5% pure silver, and 6.5% germanium - not copper).

Making hollow forms with argentium silver is great - because there is no solder required - the metal can be fused together...but...this requires precision both in the fabrication of the parts and in the application of heat and flame.

I measured (twice) and cut (once) my frame pieces, formed them into teardrop shapes and drilled them before I fused them down onto sheet metal on the first side.

Fusing the first side is relatively straightforward - you have to be careful about directing your torch, so you don't melt the frames, but it's not unlike putting down a bezel for a pendant.  

The first fuse went beautifully, and once it was done I was ready to cut away the excess metal, clean up the exteriors, and fuse the second side...which is the part of the process that's really tricky.

If you over heat the metal during the process of fusing the second side to the form, it will slump, and instead of having a "hollow" form, you will end up with a "sunken" form...definitely not the look I was going for.

It was fine to fuse both the frames down to the first side at the same time, but to finish the hollow forms, I did them separately.  The more metal you are working with, the more difficult it becomes to control your heat - so the trick is to have enough back plate that it won't shrink away from the sides, but not so much that it makes heating difficult, or that you waste metal.

With De at my side, I successfully fused both forms together! 

The next task was to repeat the process of trimming away the excess metal, then sanding and polishing the forms to a finished state.  This wasn't the last step - because there was still gold to add to the pieces, but the surfaces had to be completely finished before I went any further.

Come back in a couple of weeks for the third installment in this series of posts - and learn about the excitement of fusing gold!

Until next time.

Monday, April 22, 2019

04.22.19 Ellipsis... Kinetic Jewelry 2.0, Part 1

Three dots, why on earth would I write a blog post based on ...?

I promise, it will make sense, bear with me.

This is six inches of 18 karat gold wire (24 karat gold is 99%, 18 is 75% - alloyed with other metals) - I paid almost $60 for it. Now, that may not sound like a lot of money - but for $60 I can buy ALMOST 100 FEET of the same size argentium silver wire.

That's because the price of an ounce of pure silver hovers around $15-16 right now, and an ounce of pure gold will set you back around $1,300.

So, why did I buy six inches of gold wire, and what does it have to do with dots?

Well - I bought it because I signed up to take another advanced concepts and mechanisms (kinetic jewelry) class with one of my favorite teachers, De Pastel, and I told her I wanted to try using gold...making small granules (essentially dots) to fuse on to pieces of silver jewelry.

However, before I start describing this year's class, I feel like I need to review a little history.

De and Hannah Wilson were my instructors for Fabrication 201 at Creative Side, which I took three years ago! One of the projects was making hollow form jewelry, and I made what are maybe my favorite pair of class earrings (it's a tough call, but I wear these a lot) - teardrops with tube set black spinels.

Then, last year for my birthday I took De's kinetic jewelry class. I learned a lot...including that there was so much more to learn, so when signed up for the class again this year, I approached it a little differently.

Previously, I made a pair of gyroscope-like earrings that had a rivet through a tube that allowed them to spin.  This year - I wanted to put a tube inside of a hollow form, so the whole thing would spin...and I wanted to embellish the pieces with gold granules.

I started sketching my ideas, which included making fused hollow forms with argentium (something I had not done before) and putting a group of three dots on the earrings. I sent my sketches to De, and was delighted when I received an enthusiastic response!


I ordered six inches of gold wire from Rio and got ready to start class, which I will write about in detail in upcoming posts.

Until next time.

Monday, April 8, 2019

04.08.19 Wahoowa!

I was a student at the University of Virginia in the early 1980s, when basketball was THE sport, and Ralph Sampson was (literally) the big man on campus.  I was a four year student season ticket holder, and I never missed a home game.

Those were great years for UVa hoops, and I remember March Madness in the spring of 1984, when our beloved Hoos made it to the Final Four, only to have Guy Lewis and Phi Slamma Jamma - from the University of Houston - advance while our team went home.

In the intervening 35 years, I have watched a lot of UVa basketball.

Last year, 2018, Virginia went into the tournament as the overall Number 1 seed.  I was thrilled...and in anticipation of lots of tournament watch parties, I went into the studio and made myself a blue, orange and white pendant and put a Virginia "V" on the back of it.

Then came the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. For the first time ever, a Number 16 seed knocked off not just a Number 1 regional seed, but THE Number 1 seed.  A few days later, as if to add insult to injury, it was announced the commencement speaker at my daughter's college graduation would be none other than the president of UMBC - Freeman A. Hrabowski III.

Honestly, by May I had moved on to baseball. Dr. Hrabowski turned out to be a fabulous, inspirational speaker and graduation weekend was wonderful.

The boys of summer came and went, and so did football season.  Finally, college basketball season rolled around again - and as I do every year - I started following my Hoos.  We won the ACC championship, and punched our ticket for the the big dance. We played hard and didn't go home; not in the first round, not after making it to the Sweet Sixteen and then the Elite Eight.  No - we made it back to the Final Four, and another shot at a national title.

Now, we don't call them the "Heartattack Hoos" for nothing.  In every round, at every game, we held our breaths until the final buzzer.  We beat Oregon, and then Purdue (in overtime) by 5 points - and we thought those were close games - but then came Auburn.

I put on my fused glass earrings, my pendant and my class ring and headed out to cheer on my Hoos. As it happened, a group of my classmates - some of whom I hadn't seen in 35 years - were in town for the weekend, so we gathered with the local alumni club where we watched the game and clutched our chests.

With a buzzer beating foul and three amazing buckets from Kyle Guy at the stripe - they did it! All season this team had fought hard, and now they earned the right to play for the national championship.

As difficult as this might be to believe, I won't be watching tonight's game...we have tickets to see Lucinda Williams at Austin City Limits - on her 20th anniversary tour for Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. But - fear not - I am still wearing my orange and blue and will be checking my phone - discreetly, of course - from time to time.

I won't say that it doesn't matter whether we win or lose this evening - because IT DOES MATTER - but, not as much as you might think.

It's been a really rough couple of years for the town - and institution - I love so much, and this season has been more than about just winning games.  It has been about community, about overcoming anxiety and adversity, and remembering that you should never, ever give up.

Until next time.

Monday, March 11, 2019

03 25.19 Downsizing

...if you are one of my kids, or friends, don't worry - we're not selling the house - I'm talking about pendants, and experimenting with working smaller.

Smaller is not easier...bezels are thinner, corners are tighter and backplates have less space for cut out designs.  That said, after working for a couple of years now on what I would call mostly "medium sized" (30-40 mm stones - which translates into one to one and a half inches tall), I decided I would try some smaller pieces.

The smallest piece I've done so far was the triangular aquamarine I set (for the first time) in my 201 class - not realizing that I was creating extra challenges for myself by choosing a tiny stone for my first project with corners.

The stone is only about five-eighths of an inch long on each side.  I fabricated a pendant in class, but wasn't really happy with it because it didn't have a cut out - so some months later I reworked it.

I'm happier with it - and wear it now - but after that I pretty much stopped working with anything small and focused on improving my skills - and stocking my shop - with somewhat larger stones.

I had purchased a few stones over time that were smaller than I realized, and had some others that had been included as gifts by some of my lapidary end of last year I started playing around with them.

The first two I worked with were fluorite and striped glass cabs each only a little larger than a dime. I was pleased, and listed them - they are smallest pieces currently in my Etsy shop.

This year, after finishing several custom orders and putting a few new pieces in the shop, I decided I would spend some time working not only on smaller stones, but with techniques that I had not used much over the past year.

If you take a careful look at the photo of the first aquamarine pendant, you will see it has a straight bezel...but neither of the other two pieces shown do. 

I like the look of the decorative bezels (also called gallery wire), especially with the twisted wire around it - but, it's also much easier to work with than the straight edge.

After pulling out and wearing my Heimlich pendant, which I made in my kinetics class - and does have a straight bezel - I decided I'd spend some time on small stones, straight bezels and riveted bails.

It's been fun; I have another bug, and two lovely long narrow pendants that I'm keeping...but look for some smaller selections to start appearing in the shop as well.

Until next time.

03.11.19 The third time's the charm

Photo credit: Creative Side
This little black onyx cabochon was one of the first stones I ever bought - and it's finally found its happy place.

The first time I used it was in my Fabrication 201 class, because it seemed to be a perfect compliment  to the teardrop shaped hollow form earrings I made.

I love the earrings - and I wear them a lot - but the hinge on the original pendant didn't work, and I just wasn't happy with it.

So, I popped the stone out, recycled the silver and put it into a different necklace.  The second time, I paired it with a larger piece of petrified palm in the first two stone necklace I made. 

I was definitely getting there, because that time I put a hamsa on the back of the pendant - which I have retained in the third iteration of the piece.

While the concept was good - after a while, I realized I still wasn't happy (I've made other two stone necklaces that I like much better). 

Aesthetically, the look fell flat, and it didn't hang particularly well when it was worn.  This is the benefit of practice - your work continues to improve, and working with sustainable, recyclable materials means you can remake a piece.

So recently, I popped it out of the setting - again - and I set it a third time. 

This was the charm!  

My work is better, and the stone is complemented by the patina on the setting (it just didn't pop in the plain setting). I kept the hamsa, this time with addition of an evil eye.

I'm calling it "These Dark Times". The world we live in is turbulent and unsettling, and I wanted something that felt like an amulet...and it looks great with the earrings.

This isn't the first time I've remade a piece - and it won't be the last - and that doesn't bother me.  My goals with metalsmithing have always been to make things I want to wear - and to keep learning.  

Until next time.

Monday, February 25, 2019

02.25.19 Once in a Blue Moon(stone)

I had coveted a pair of these dangle drop earrings from Metalsgirl for a long time, and when I saw them at Blue Genie, last December I snapped 'em up. Then I posted them on Instagram, and my sister in law loved them, so I snagged a bright colored pair for her, too (which made her very happy).

As my new earrings went into heavy rotation (as in they never really got put away) I started thinking, "I need a faceted moonstone pendant to go with these"

Not too long after having that thought, one of the lapidary artists I follow on Instagram, posted a lovely faceted moonstone cabochon, and I ordered it.

Once the stone arrived, I had some time to think about what to put on the back, because I was still almost a month from returning to the bench.  I decided to put a "D" on the reverse, and call it..."Facets of Myself".

When I finally went back to the studio, late in January, my friend and wonderful instructor, Rita Marie Ross, said "that's a pretty stone - and look at how the blue comes out when you put it on a black background".

This kind of interaction is why I love working in a communal studio. In that moment of serendipity, I learned a new trick - and it makes the stone look AMAZING!  On my own, I never would have thought to put the stone on something black (in this case, it was a dark phone screen).  To achieve this effect, I decided to darken the inside of the setting with Black Max (my favorite patina).  

I love the end result - and as always, I'm excited to have learned something new.  I imagine I'll be wearing these pieces a lot, and using this technique in the future.

Until next time. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

02.11.19 Duck, Duck, Goose

This is me - with my friend Dorsey. We've been friends a long, long time. We met as undergraduates at the University of Virginia, where we were both studying religion (she as a major, me as a minor).  When we graduated, we went our separate ways - or so we thought - until one evening just a couple of years later, we discovered that we had both moved to Austin, at almost exactly the same time.

Dorsey spotted me first, I was having dinner with my Dad - she walked across the restaurant and said "Deb, what are you doing here!?"

One of many wonderful meals with friends at Eastside
Photo credit: Betty Weed
I had come to attend graduate school at UT, and she had come to open Eastside Cafe (which closed at the end of January after a fabulous 31 year run) - one of the first eateries to base their menu on locally grown and sustainable agriculture.

After years of running the garden at the restaurant, Dorsey left Eastside to establish HausBar Farm - where she and her wife Susan run a sustainable urban farm and a darling guest house.......which brings me to the ducks, and a very special goose, named Gustavo.

Photo credit: HausBar Farm

As Dorsey tells it, when Gustavo arrived at the farm as a gosling, it was clear he was no ordinary goose.  He is a charming and gregarious bird - he talks to people and other animals, he likes to be held and loved on, and he has become HausBar's official ambassador.  Whenever there are visitors, it is Gustavo leading the tour.

He is such a special goose, that he, Dorsey, and her mom Barbara, have written a book - On Gustavo's Farm.  

It tells the story of his life on the farm - helping to raise ducklings, hanging out with his pals the donkeys and rabbits, how everyone gets along, despite being so different.

I was lucky enough to attend the launch party for the book, and I thought my speckled hen pendant would be the perfect piece of jewelry to wear.

Dorsey liked my pendant so much, that I offered to make one for her with a goose on the back.

We chose a lovely moss agate for her piece - the colors echo the white and gray in Gustavo's feathers and the verdant greens of all the things that grow on the farm.

It is always a joy to make a custom piece, especially for someone who has been my friend for my entire adult life. I say that every piece of jewelry has a story - but I think this is the first time that the story comes from a book by and about a friend.

Photo credit: Gustavo's Farm
If you have a child in your life, I encourage you to follow the link above to Gustavo's page and buy a copy (or two or three) of his delightful book.

Until next time.