Sunday, July 23, 2017

07.24.17 Everything's bigger in Texas

I love doing custom work - there is a special sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that comes from taking an idea or request from a client, and turning into a piece of jewelry that tells their story. When a request comes from a fellow artist - well, making that kind of piece is truly an honor.

I've purchased a number of wonderful cabochons from Chip and Deborah Allen, including this beautiful Kingman turquoise. They are wonderful folks.  I've gotten to know them through the Cabs and Slabs facebook group - and it turns out that they, too, are Texans.

Not too long ago, I had a message from Chip asking if he could send me another piece of Kingman so that I could make a custom pendant for Deborah.  I said "of course" and "thank you" because his request is an enormous complement.

When the stone arrived, I was not surprised by the quality - but I was amazed at the size - and excited to get started working on the pendant.

Deborah had seen some of my other pieces with Texas cut outs on the back, so she knew that was what she wanted. Because of the size of the stone, I made the cut out almost a full square inch - so lots of the color could show through on the back.

I used the same style as the other piece of Kingman - serrated bezel surrounded by twisted wire - to set this piece, but because of it's size, it needed a substantial bail rather than just a small wire loop.

This style of setting has become something of a signature for me - I love the look that I get when I put a patina on the twisted wire and then give the whole piece a high polish.

The last step before setting the stone is making sure there are no scratches or patina in the wrong places, then I hand polish, both the pendant and a chain that has been oxided to match, with a Sunshine cloth.

I'm really pleased with the finished piece, and delighted to have had the opportunity to make something so special for people I am glad to call my friends.

The Allens are among many of the wonderful folks I have met in my metalsmithing journey - hopefully we'll meet in person on one of their trips through Texas.

Until next time.

Monday, July 10, 2017

07.10.17 Can I see some ID?

Our daughter (and youngest child) turned 21 the end of last year, right before she took her finals - which meant no real celebrating.

When I asked her what she wanted for her birthday, she said "some Southwest drink coupons please, so I can have an adult beverage on the flight home".  I said "ok" and put some in her birthday card - and she toasted to the end of her semester at 30,000 feet.

Maybe it was that conversation that planted the seed in my brain that led to my series of "adult beverage" pendants...maybe not...but the theme has sort of taken on a life of its own...

First, there was the wine glass, which I liked so much I kept - and then decided to keep a pair of earrings because they match... came the margarita...

I bought this great amazonite heart, and to me it looked just like the color of that wonderful frozen concoction of lime and tequila - so I thought, that's what I'll put on the back!  It turned out great (and has since sold) - but I was definitely on a roll.

A few weeks later, while having dinner at Dai Due, one of our favorite spots in Austin, I had a fabulous summer shandy (beer mixed with orange juice, lemonade - or my favorite - grapefruit juice).  I'm not a huge beer drinker, but this was a wonderful grapefruit gose combined with fresh squeezed juice and it was amazing!  It was also inspiring - as I had been looking at some fossilized coral cabochons - which look like citrus slices.
I'm particularly proud of the Summer Shandy pendant because the saw work was tricky.  I wanted to leave just enough silver in the cut out to separate the glass and the fruit wedge - and I managed that - then I had to be very careful with torch to make sure I didn't melt it!

Next up a martini - using this great piece of rutilated quartz - because it turns out my daughter (who has become a student of cocktails) is a fan of a dry, dirty gin martini (as was Julia Child).

What ever your drink of choice - I hope you find time this summer to lift a glass, visit with friends, and enjoy.

Until next time.
Photo credit:

Sunday, June 25, 2017

06.26.17 The Shape of Things to Come

You would think, as much as I love earrings, that I would make a lot of them - right? Except, I haven' least not until now.

I mean, I have made some - mostly in classes - like the hollow forms I made in Fabrication 201, and the pairs I made in the week long argentium class with Ronda Coryell...

but until very recently I'd been making almost nothing but pendants.

I can think of several reasons for this - not the least of which is earrings are too small to put a cutout on the back, and to make a pair of bezel set earrings is almost twice as much work as making a pendant.  Not only do you have to do everything twice, the bezels are much smaller, and they are much easier to melt.

But then a friend told me she wanted a pair of earrings - and was pretty specific about what she was looking for...she wanted them to be stone, have both pink and purple, and be dangly.  Well, two out of three would have been pretty easy - but it took me quite a while to find something that filled the bill.

I looked and looked, and came upon a lovely pair of matched fluorite bars - but they were drilled - so instead of bezel setting them, I asked her if she would be ok if I just made some custom earwires? She said yes - and suddenly a whole new set of design ideas came into my head.

I realized that not every piece has to involve sheet and solder - but finding great stones and giving them elegant, hand formed earwires gives me the opportunity to make beautiful pieces that are not as expensive as my pendants (but do go with them very nicely) - because they don't require as much time, or metal.

In my bead box, I had some drilled sea glass, collected over year of trips to the bead store in the Outer Banks - and I thought - what the heck, I'll make earrings out of those, too.

Finally, I decided to create some simple silver earrings with small stones - which do involve a little bit of metalsmithing - and can be replicated because I can buy multiples of the 6 mm turquoise and coral cabochons.

I'm really pleased to be able to put some smaller pieces - at lower price points - in my shop...especially when it means I can still make beautiful things when I have a little less time to work with.

I hope you'll go check out the earrings - as there are more on the way.

Until next time.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

06.12.17 On Their Toes

Photo credit: performa/dance
"Think of the magic of the foot, comparatively small, upon which your whole weight rests. It's a miracle and the dance is a celebration of that miracle." -Martha Graham

I've written about the Austin dance community before - it is a subject near and dear to my heart.  We have been involved with Ballet Austin - as parents and patrons - for more than 15 years, and have had the joy and privilege of getting to know many of the dancers and choreographers.

Through these connections I was fortunate to become engaged with an emerging company - performa/dance - and I now serve on their board.

I can't overstate the respect and admiration I have for these people as individuals and as artists.

One of the things I have learned since I have started making jewelry is how little value some people place on the creation of art.  I don't know an artist who hasn't been asked if they have a "real job" or if they can offer a "better price"...implying that somehow making art isn't a worthy pursuit or profession.

Photo credit - Anne Marie Bloodgood
The creation of art not only involves vision - it takes time, training and skill; and the easier the artists make it look, the more difficult the result was to achieve.  I know this not only from my own growth as a jeweler, but because I have watched these choreographers and dancers spend countless hours working to create a piece that will be performed - and finished - in a matter of minutes.

Dance is particularly ephemeral - music and movement come together on the stage for an evening - and then they are gone.  The primary difference between the performing arts and visual or industrial arts (like metalsmithing) is that permanence.

When I saw this beautiful opal my first thought was that the color was "ballet pink"  - and I wanted to capture the fleeting moment of a dancer en pointe - on the back. This is probably the most intricate piercing I have done so far - the dancer suspended in time and space - and it is really satisfying.  It is also a small tribute to the artists whose work inspires me every time I watch.

If you are in Austin, you can join me and share in the experience - performa/dance has two shows the weekend of June 23 and 24 in the Austin Ventures Studio Theater at Ballet Austin.  Tickets are available at

If you aren't in Austin - I hope you will seek out and support the performing arts in your community.

Until next time.

Monday, May 29, 2017

5.29.17 The Official Start of Summer

#2 son - Oahu, North Shore 2012
In most places, today - Memorial Day - is the official start of summer, and although we had a really pleasant spring here in Austin, we have already hit 90 (more than once) and turned on the AC.

With summer comes iced tea, snow cones, flip flops...and the beach...which makes this a good time to write about surfite. I've mentioned it before, but I've worked with it quite a bit recently, and now seems like a good time to write a little more about it.

Photo credit: Nicole Conklin, Instagram

Surfite falls into the category of "one man's trash is another man's treasure" in the same vein as Fordite, or Detroit agate, in which layers of car enamel are cut into cabochons by lapidary artists as if they were stone.

I first spotted it on Instagram when Nicole Conklin of Arrok Metal Studio posted some pictures of raw surfite and the cabochons that her husband, Marty, had started to cut from it.

Surfite from Cape Fear Resin Works,
pendant available on Etsy
I've been fortunate to get some great pieces from both Nicole and Marty, and Jess Johnson of Cape Fear Resin Works (you should also check out his wife, Cameron, who does beautiful work with enamel and sea glass) to use in my jewelry making.

As you know, when I start a piece, it needs to have a story - so I decided I would put beach themed cut outs on the back of my first batch of surfite pieces.  I love the way the stripes came through on this angelfish, and because when ever we go to the beach we visit lighthouses, I had to cut out one of those.
Tybee Lighthouse, Savannah GA

Recently, I used raw surfite (polished but not smooth) from
Marty at Arroks, in two of my STATEment pendants.

Raw surfite from ArroksRocks

Surfite from Cape Fear Resin Works,
pendant available on Etsy

I love using natural stones, but there are so many materials available to work with, it's fun to branch out and try new things - especially when it someone has turned "trash" into something so beautiful.

Until next time.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

05.15.17 STATEment Jewelry

Texas is a big place. If you take a map of the continental US and fold it in half from California to the Carolinas, the Rio Grande Valley will reach into Canada.  If you fold the map in thirds, east and west of the state, one edge, or the other, will reach into the ocean on the opposite coast.

It is also full of proud people - even if we don't always see eye to eye on politics - there are LOTS of things we do agree on...including, but not limited to...

wildflowers (we love them), barbecue (it's all about the smoke and not the sauce), and chili (NO BEANS).

Because I love my adopted home state as much as the next Texan (hey, I've been here two-thirds of my life, and I'm married to a native) I decided to show some Lone Star love by using the shape in some of my jewelry.

I made little "Texas" charms out of PMC and fused them onto pendants.  Then, after I purchased my Green Lion saw, I started cutting the outline into the back of some pieces.  They were all a huge hit!

As it turns out, Texans are not alone in their state pride or their search for a piece of handcrafted jewelry to express it.

Recently, I've been thrilled to make pieces for friends from California and the state I grew up in, Virginia.

I love telling stories for friends and clients through custom pieces - please let me know if I can make a special piece to share your story.

Until next time.

Monday, May 1, 2017

05.01.17 Celebration

A very full fridge
Ostensibly, this is a blog about jewelry, but you (gentle reader) and I both know that sometimes I write about jewelry, and other times I use it as an excuse to write about something else.  This post is very much in the latter category.

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated Passover, which has (almost) always been my favorite holiday - although when I was growing up and my April birthday fell during that week - not so much (because the birthday cake was off the table, so to speak). As an adult, that's not really an issue, and there are so many things I love about Passover - the message of redemption, renewal and hope, the celebration at home with friends and family, and of course THE FOOD!

Chocolate-toffee matzo bark
Since our children were young we have shared the first night Seder with a core group of friends at their home.  Some years the crowd is bigger, some years smaller, but there is a sense of connection and community that moves me deeply, and I look forward to it every year.

So...about the jewelry...earlier this year I had a custom order for a piece with a purple stone, and one of the ones I bought (although the client didn't choose it) was this big, gemmy amethyst.  I love amethyst, and after looking at it for a while I was glad the client decided on something else, because I wanted to keep it. I just had to determine what to put on the back.

Photo credit: ShangriLa Gems

I was at the bench a couple of weeks before the holiday - working and thinking through my plans for shopping and cooking - when genius struck - I would put a wine glass on the back! Because we are commanded to drink four glasses of wine over the course of the Passover Seder, this would be the perfect piece of jewelry for both the gatherings we were attending (on the first and last nights).

In some years, we had attended the last night Seder hosted by our congregation - but this year we had the opportunity to do something new, different and wonderful!

A few months ago an Italian restaurant opened in our neighborhood, and it has become of our very favorite places. The amazing food and wonderful staff made it easy to become regulars. As it happens, L'oca D'oro is also owned by a member of the Jewish community, and they hosted a last night community Seder.

In some ways, it was very much like every other Seder I have attended since childhood.  The crowd gathered and was seated - some people I knew, some were new to me. The candles were lit to mark the separation between the day that was ending and the one that was beginning. The hosts, Adam Orman, the owner and Rabbi Rebecca Epstein of Congregation Beth Israel, identified the ritual items on the Seder plate and led us in prayer and song.

But...THE FOOD...did I mention I love Passover food (yes, yes I think I did).  Chef Fiore Tedesco prepared the most amazing Passover meal I have ever had! Traditionally, the first "course" of the meal is a green vegetable (usually parsley) dipped in saltwater - but we had fried snap peas in a salty dipping sauce that were divine!

Furthermore, by the last day I am generally doing everything I can do avoid eating another piece of matzo (they don't call it the bread of affliction for nothing).  Not so with Fiore's incredible house made unleavened bread.  Toasty and topped with sea salt, everyone at our table agreed we'd eat as much as was set in front of us.

Everything that followed - matzo ball soup, brisket, a grain free potato and tomato lasagna and flourless chocolate cake - were gastronomic works of (kosher) art...and now, every time I wear my wine glass pendant, it will remind me of the joy of celebrating with my community.


PS - with a busy summer ahead I'm going to drop back to posting every other week, so I'll see you next time - on May 15.