Monday, June 27, 2016

06.27.16 Out and About

At the end of last year, I said I hoped that 2016 would be the year that I sold my first piece of jewelry - and I am pleased to report that I've actually sold more than one!  It's one thing to wear my own work, or even to have my daughter or sister in law wearing it...but the idea that other people want me to make jewelry for them is really a dream come true!

Chem Lab 2.0

I wasn't at all surprised when my daughter - who inspired my very first tab set pendant, dubbed the "chem lab" - said she wanted one of her own.  So, I made a second one - and learned (although I should have realized) - that you can never replicate a handmade piece exactly!  She's very pleased with it - and likes telling folks her mom made it for her.  I've now made versions 3.0 and 4.0 - it is far and away my most popular design (to date)!

Lapis and Sterling

Not too long after I finished my Fabrication 101 class and started working in open studio, I was out with one of my dearest friends, wearing my first non-class project, this Lapis pendant. She admired it and asked, could I make one for her.  I said of course, and set about finding a blue stone for my very first commissioned piece!

It didn't take too long to find a lovely sodalite. Because I had continued to work every week in open studio, my skills had  improved, so her piece is a little more refined than my original.  Done in argentium rather than sterling, with a smaller backplate and more embellished bail.

Sodalite and Argentium
Around the same time I was finishing the sodalite piece, I was contacted on Facebook by a friend who had been following the blog - and she said she wanted to buy my amethyst pendant as a birthday present to herself!  I was delighted - and realized that my jewelry was really going to be out there - being seen by people outside my circle of family and friends.
Amethyst and Sterling

Since then I have delivered three commissioned pieces - and have more in the queue!

Labradorite and Argentium.

For this beautiful labradorite, I sat down with the buyer and talked about what she wanted.  I had a selection of stones, and she chose one, then I drew sketches for her.  After a discussion about bezel styles and embellishments, she decided that sometimes less is more, and the result is this simple pendant.

Sterling and Citrine hollow form
Most recently I completed and delivered this pair of earrings.  After seeing photos of the hollow form earrings I made in my Fabrication 201 class - a friend asked if I could make them with a different colored stone.  We discussed what she wanted - she chose yellow citrine - so that's what I did.  It was fun to revisit the skills I learned in that class - I made these earrings in sterling, but my plan is to move to argentium, so my next pair will be a somewhat new experience.

I'm so excited - and humbled - that people have asked me to make jewelry for them, or someone important to them. I look forward to putting more of my work, and myself, out there one piece at a time.

Until next time.

Monday, June 20, 2016

06.20.16 Fathers and daughters...and granddaughters

Sharing a love of learning early on
Not a day goes by that I don't think about my dad - this was our 4th Father's Day without him.  He didn't wear much jewelry - and what little he did, I've written about before.  He had a college ring, and some academic award keys - which he never wore, but I still have - and that seems like enough for this post-holiday blog entry.

Dad's Lamar ring

My father had degrees in electrical engineering, applied mathematics and a PhD in particle physics.  He acknowledged he would have stayed in school forever, except he and my mother had started a family - so he had to get a job! I know that he was proud of me - because he told me so.

Honor Keys
Sigma Pi Sigma physics honor society
Phi Kappa Phi honor society
I know he loved all of his grandchildren - he traveled to dance performances, baseball games, swim meets and birthday parties - and would tell anyone who would listen about their accomplishments. But oh, how I wish he could see his granddaughter now...because in so many more ways than I ever was, she is his child. He spent his career in academia and research, and while he went into physics, and my daughter is pursuing her degrees in biochemistry, they were kindred spirits in their love of science for science's sake.

1st Grade Science Project

One of my dad's mantras was always "it's not where you study, but what you learn." He didn't attend a large prestigious institution for his undergraduate degree - he got his start in Beaumont, Texas at what was then Lamar State Technical College (it is now Lamar University).

In June 1957 he received two Bachelor of Science degrees - in electrical engineering and mathematics; in August of that year he married my mother, and by September they had moved to Baton Rouge where he began working on his PhD in physics.

5th Grade Science Project
I asked him why he decided to study physics rather than going on in engineering - and he told me that studying how things work made him want to understand WHY they work...and that is, in a nutshell, what physics is all about.  He graduated - with honors - in 1963 and went on to have a long and distinguished career in particle physics - starting as a faculty member at the University of Houston, and retiring after serving as the Chief Scientist for the Superconducting Supercollider (as well as holding many other positions within the US Department of Energy along the way).

6th Grade Science Project
My daughter's love of science came early as well - encouraged by my dad, her dad and some really incredible teachers at her elementary school.  Unlike some kids (and families) who saw annual science fair projects as a chore - she loved them - and looked forward to them each year.

With Granddad
before her first Nutcracker
To be clear - my daughter, who now spends her summers in a biochemistry lab, working towards her own BS/MS degree with an eye to a PhD in the future - has earned every award, accolade and grade on her transcript...but she had a lot of encouragement along the way from Granddad.  Not only in her pursuit of science, but in everything she did.

Lab selfie

I only wish he were here to see her now.

Until next time.

Monday, June 13, 2016

06.13.16 Back in Time

I know it's a little out of the ordinary to write about a May birthstone halfway through June - but I'm going to do it anyway.

My wonderful sister in law celebrated a big birthday in May - and in the time leading up to that event, I decided I wanted to make her a really special gift.  The thing was...I couldn't write about it in advance (it would have spoiled the surprise)...and then I had so much to write about my two most recent classes in fabrication and argentium, it's taken until now to fit it into the schedule.

May's traditional birthstone is an emerald, and as special as she is, a precious stone was beyond both my financial limits and jewelry making skills.  So, I opted for chrysoprase, a gemstone variety of chalcedony with a beautiful apple green color, which is an alternate birthstone for May.

I had already decided I wanted to create a pendant, and put a book cut out on the reverse, because she is a middle school librarian. I searched the internet for book icons that I could use for the design, and practiced by cutting them out of construction paper, to make sure the end result would make me happy.

Through a wonderful Facebook group called CABS AND SLABS, where lapidary artists share and sell stones, I found a beautiful chrysoprase heart cabochon.  From there - I was off and running.

Learning to create a bezel for a stone with corners in my Fabrication 201 class turned out to be really helpful in making a heart shape.  Even though I had not yet taken Ronda Coryell's classes, I had begun working with argentium silver - and used it for this piece.  I fused down the bezel and twisted wire before sawing the design out of the backplate.

All the work on this pendant was done during open studio at Creative Side, and my instructor, Rita suggested creating a scallop pattern in the bezel.  Using a file then a sanding disk, I was able to shape the bezel before setting the stone. I have to admit, I was pretty proud of myself.

The result was a beautiful pendant that I am pleased to report came as a complete surprise to my sister in law - and she loved it!    She even found the perfect outfit to go with it!

For me, being able to create something special and personal has turned out to be one of the most satisfying aspects of my metalsmithing adventure.

I've got some more special projects on the bench - and I look forward to sharing more stories with you.

Until next time.

Monday, June 6, 2016

06.06.16 The Magic of Argentium - It's a Snap!

Mom's vintage hoops - snap bars added
As you will recall, I love hoop earrings - and my favorites have snap bar closures.  I don't like hoops on posts because when I'm on the phone, they cut into the back of my ears.  I'm okay with hoops that have a wire or loop closure - but the best by far are the snaps.

Ronda's argentium curriculum is a full six weeks (I encourage to you check her website and find a place to take it, or order her videos) - but I could only afford to take the time off for one - and I chose the earring class because I was bound and determined to learn how to make my own snap bars (especially after having several pairs converted by a jeweler).

Days 4 and 5 were devoted to a project described by Ronda - correctly - as the most complex thing we would do, and frankly a bit of a leap from the previous projects.  The first steps included using a pattern to make four uniformly shaped pieces of rectangular wire (square wire that had been flattened in the rolling mill), then fusing those pieces to form the frames for our earrings.

After making the frames - the next step, and learning exercise - involved using masking mud (which you will soon be able to buy from Ronda) to isolate areas for fusing decorative wire into the middle of the frames.

This is a tricky task, even with the mud - and mine didn't turn out so well - I melted one of the center wires.  Fortunately, because it was an just an exercise, I sawed those pieces out later (with Ronda's blessing). If I'd wanted to I could have gone in an fused new decorative wire...because as long as you haven't put any solder on your piece, you can re-fuse it.

After assembling our earrings - we got to the good stuff - making our own snap bars!

In addition to the detailed instructions she provided us, she drew a great diagram explaining how to form and attach the components of the mechanism.  Once you get the hang of it - she told us - it would be easy...

Well, it certainly wasn't easy the first time - but it was a very satisfying thing to accomplish.

To create the hinge, you fabricate an exterior frame and an ear wire on a "paddle".  The frame is fused on to the earring, you then align, shape and drill through the pieces so that they can be riveted together.

The "U" shaped catch is formed out of narrow (20 gauge) wire and soldered to the opposite side of the earring.

...and then we were done...a week had flown by, and I had four pairs of new earrings, gained knowledge than I can begin to articulate, and a made some wonderful friendships to boot.

If you aren't fortunate enough to find yourself someplace where Ronda is teaching,  you can purchase her courses - and all the materials we used in class - at Rio Grande Jewelry Supply.

Until next time.

PS. The next time I went to open studio, I converted the twisted hoop earrings from posts to snap bars - and it was a lot easier the second time!