Friday, June 29, 2007

And she's off...!

I'm not sure what the internet cafe scene is like in Greece, but if I can get access I'll be sure to post while I'm away. Otherwise, I'll be back here on July 21.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

How much is a necklace worth?

My friends have been telling me that my prices are too low. Over the past few months I've gradually raised my prices from the the $20-$30 range to the $40-$60, which I thought was pretty ballsy of me. Then I did some looking around and was startled to find pieces similar to mine going for hundreds of dollars. Not that the people charging those prices are out of line - it just made me wonder, where does the value in a piece of jewelry come from?

Right, this isn't neuroscience - there are standard formulas out there for pricing jewelry and all of them are some version of cost of the materials + overhead + hourly wage for the artist. So the difference between a $40 pendant, like the one on the right, and a $315 pendant should come down to things like the quality of the materials used, how long each took to make, differences in overhead, and the wage each artist pays herself.

Let's break it down for these two necklaces. Both are made of sterling silver and fine silver (PMC) - the prices for those materials are fixed by the silver market so the only really substantial variation is going to come from quantity. My pendant is smaller, about half the size of the other one. The freshwater pearl is definitely a less expensive embellishment than the fossilized wood - hard to tell by how much. Let's say the raw materials for the other necklace cost twice as much as the raw materials for mine.

Hourly wage for the artist is is much trickier - and not just because people work at different speeds or pay themselves differently wages. Do you count just the time you actually spend working on this very piece or do you count the hours you spent coming up with the design and refining it? What about time spent sketching? or buying materials? (or is that overhead?) It only took me about an hour to make my pendant - but there were many other hours spent trying to figure out how to work with PMC, trying out different shapes to get the curves I wanted, texturing and re-texturing, etc. I don't figure that into the selling price - maybe the other artist does. As for overhead, let's assume we both added in about 10% of the base price.

Working through this makes me think I did undercharge for my pendant - the price should've been more like $60. That's still a long way from $315. So where does the other $255 of value come from?

It could be quality of workmanship: I'm still a beginner and there are lots of things I do that could be improved. For example, the back of my pendant isn't finished very well - it's reasonably smooth, but that's it. I've seen pendants with lovely patterns, design elements, or artist marks on the back -- all of which make the jewelry look much more professional.

It could be that the other artist pays herself a significantly higher hourly wage. I could try doing that, but would anyone buy my jewelry then? Now we're getting to the real issue: what will the market bear? Do you have a product that people are willing to pay a premium for? Clearly the other artist does and, just as important, she's found the people who are willing to pay the premium. And you know what that means, don't you? Promotion, marketing - my twin nemeses. I can work on my jewelry-making chops all I want, but if no one knows about it, my prices are going to languish in the middle two figures. Is doubling, or even tripling, the price of my jewelry worth the extra marketing and promotion I'd have to do to make it salable at that price range? Does the extra income balance the time and mental anguish of getting out there and selling? Honestly, I don't know.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Vacation anxiety

For the past two days I've been working in a bit of a frenzy, trying to get all the pieces I've started at and since jewelry camp finished before Friday. That's when we leave on a 3-week trip we've had planned since December. At the moment I can't really believe that it's going to happen: there's so much that has to get done before Friday that it's easier to imagine that it won't happen than it is to imagine that I'll get it all done and leave. Also, the thought of leaving my tools behind for that long is causing mental hyperventilation ... well, that sounds like a hole in the head. Let's just say I'm having a constant low-grade anxiety attack.

Oh, and just so it's clear how totally nutso this reaction is, here's where we're going - that's right, Greece. This is a picture of Hydra, one of the three islands we'll be visiting. It's so freaking quaint that donkeys take your luggage up the hill to the hotels - but it's also supposed to be the most cosmopolitan, to take a word from their own website, of the Greek islands. It's also the preferred hideaway of famous folks like Leonard Cohen and Brice Marden and various Greek celebs I don't know. Here's the obligatory picture of the donkey taxis. We're also going to Paros and Santorini. Pretty great, right? So why am I so stressed?

First, big events are stressful, even when they're happy events - think about every wedding you've ever been to/participated in. I'd say three weeks in Greece is a big event for just about anybody. Second, at heart I'm a complete homebody. There's nothing I love more than waking up at home in my own fabulous bed with my own fabulous partner knowing that there are no external demands on my time for the entire day. I can amuse myself for weeks on end with jewelry-making, painting, reading, and just plain hanging out. Third, to paraphrase the MIL, who, at 76, is a gung-ho world traveler, going away is hard, being away is easy. Sardine-style flying, dragging overloaded suitcases hither and yon, figuring out train and bus and hydrofoil schedules... ok, now I'm starting to feel embarrassed about all this kvetching. We're going to Greece, after all!

So how do I deal with this tool-separation anxiety? I might take some thin silver wire and a couple of crochet hooks to work on crocheted wire pieces, though they kill my fingers. Mainly though, I'm trying to think of this trip as an inspiration workshop. I plan to fill up my eyes, mind, and camera with colors, textures, and shapes that I wouldn't normally see. I'll pack materials for sketching and painting, and I'm taking my computer, so there will be writing going on as well. (Truth be told, I have non-blog-related writing to do this summer and I'm hoping to get a start on it while we're away.) Along with the obligatory beach-reading, napping, walking, sightseeing, etc., I should be so busy that I hardly notice the absence of my pliers and my torches and my hammers and my kiln and....

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Of torches and lemonade

On the torch front, yesterday I went to Home Depot and bought a MAPP gas + oxygen torch, mostly because the tanks were in a handy package with the hose and torch and striker -- and it didn't cost too much. I've never heard of MAPP gas much less worked with it. The good news is that it's way hot enough for everything I wanted to do. Much silver has been reticulated this afternoon, to my great satisfaction. On the downside, it's a two-tank deal, which is a bit of a pain. Even more of a down-side, when the gas is burning without oxygen it produces this extremely sooty smoke. It stops once you add sufficient oxygen, but yech. All the spiderwebs on my kitchen ceiling, which had previously been invisible, are now black. I'm trying to think of it as the decorating equivalent of liver of sulfur.

Here are some other pieces I finished at Peters Valley. All the bracelets are sterling silver. The first two were run through a corrugator before being formed with a mold in a hydraulic press. Of the nine pieces I made at PV, I think these are my favorites. The corrugation makes the silver look like it's ruffled, especially in the white bracelet. The patina on the other one blew me away - I've never gotten that many colors from liver of sulfur. As far as I know, it was just LoS in water - but the teacher kept it pre-mixed in a brown glass jar and we brushed it on cold. I've read a bunch of books on jewelry-making in the past year and many of them had "recipes" for using LoS, but none of them recommended keeping it in liquid form. I haven't tried it since I got home, but if this is the kind of patina cold application gives, I'm for it.

For the third bracelet, I fused silver wire to the silver sheet and then ran it through the rolling mill to flatten the wire before molding. The patina on this one isn't as striking - I think it's because this wasn't polished to a high shine like the other one. Finally, this pendant is the last thing I finished at jewelry camp. The stone is a quartz doublet: two layers of quartz with a thin layer of rose gold between. This started out as a way to salvage a mistake. I had domed the pac-man shaped circle, then decided I didn't like it and hammered it flat, which erased most of the texture and made it slightly lopsided. I put it aside and made another one for the piece I was working on. Later I was looking at the pieces I had left over and started playing with some bits of wire and the lopsided pac-man. Something about the arrangement clicked and, with a little extra texturing using a chasing tool, I had a new pendant -- which I actually like better than the original piece I had been trying to make when I made the mistake.

So the lesson for today is "Carry a big torch and make lemonade." Or something like that.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Size does matter

This afternoon I gathered up the pieces for several soldering tasks and headed off to the kitchen to assemble my small soldering station. Got out the ceramic board, the charcoal brick, the crappy flux (source of many of my soldering woes - better stuff is on order), assorted tweezers and picks, and set up the pickle pot (a tiny slow cooker). Oh yeah, and I got out my little butane "torch". It worked fine for soldering ends onto chain and soldering bezel wire closed and even sweat soldering a tiny peach onto some textured silver I brought home with me. Then I tried to remove a part I had soldered onto some copper incorrectly and, because I used hard solder originally, it took ages. Only slightly daunted, I tried to ball the ends of some heavy wire... and tried and tried. Total failure. The ends of the wire look a little mushy, that's it. Finally, I pulled over a stool, sat down, and decided to finish texturing a piece of silver I'd started reticulating at PV. I held the torch on that sucker for a good three minutes and only managed to get the thinnest corner red-hot, which isn't hot enough. Feh.

You know what this means, right? I have to buy a bigger torch. Normally, I would celebrate the opportunity to buy more tools, but a torch presents some problems. My studio is on the third floor, but I solder in the kitchen (first floor) because I like the fact that there are fire-proof surfaces to work on and a killer vent over the stove to deal with fumes. That's where I run the kiln for PMC and enameling, too. I don't really like the idea of having a tank of acetylene or propane on the third floor in what is essentially a spare bedroom. (No bed anymore, just acres of jewelry-making supplies.) Rick Marshall said it's actually illegal to have acetylene in the house. So what do I do? The garage is a shell with no electricity, so that's not an option. The basement is damp, moldy, and stinky, so that's definitely not an option. Time for some research. In the meanwhile, it's little tiny bits of easy solder for me. Feh.

So you wanna go to jewelry camp....

Some folks have been asking how I found out about Peters Valley and if I know of any other jewelry camp opportunities. I read about PV on the ArtJewelry site. The link takes you straight to their page on schools and workshops. Here's a list of schools from Metalwerx, another very useful site:
Finally, you should call your local arts council or YMCA/YWCA - such places often give jewelry-making workshops in the summer, and even if they don't, they will often know of local resources. And don't forget to check your local bead store!

If anyone reading this knows of other places to find info on jewelry-making workshops, please add it in the comments. I'll try to set up a more visible location for the information.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Jewelry Camp, part two

For those of you who read yesterday's post to the end, yes, I saw a bear! It looked like a sort of pre-teen black bear, maybe 4 ft tall standing up. It was hanging out in the middle of the road to Thunder Mountain, where the workshop is located. The moment I saw it I realized why all the handouts they give you stress that (a) you shouldn't try to pet the young bears and (b) you shouldn't turn and run when you meet a bear. On seeing the bear my first two, almost simultaneous, thoughts were "So cute! Must pet!" and "Ohmigod, big mother bear - run!" It reminded me of the time I was on a whale-watching boat off Cape Cod. On the way out to the watching area the tour leader kept saying "When we see the whales, don't stand on the benches." Over and over. Then when we saw the first whale, everyone instantly jumped up on the benches, including me! It was like a reflex. Same with the bear. Fortunately, I was behind the wheel of my car and did neither. The bear scampered off and I drove on, feeling that I'd just had a rather surreal, maybe even mystical, experience. By the way, the picture is of some mosaic sculptures in the meadow outside the Fine Metals studio.

The students in the workshop were a pretty mixed group, though not so much in terms of gender. We were 11 women and one lone man. Professions were diverse: two professors, two graphic designers, a couple of students, a geologist, a sculptor, and some others I've forgotten. Most of us were middle-aged. All of us had enough disposable income to afford the tuition -- except the two students, who were there on the equivalent of work-study. (If you can't afford the tuition, this is a great deal.) I was about to say that I got to know a few of the other participants, but, oddly, that's not really true. Though I worked in the same rooms with them for five days and shared many meals with various combinations of them, our chit-chat was almost always about the workshop: what was working, what wasn't, what we liked, what we didn't like, how awful the accommodations were (after all, most of us were middle-aged, middle class ladies!), how annoyed we were with Rick, how much we adored his assistant, Aalia, etc. One of the participants was another Etsy seller, buttoncollective, who makes these fun storyboards for your button collections. (You don't have a button collection? Time to get started: stilettoheights, decayingindustries, belleandboo, and lots of other sellers on Etsy.)

By the time we'd finished with our hearts we'd learned how to saw (in spite of breaking saw blades every few minutes), how to use the rolling mill, how to make 3D forms using the hydraulic press, how to solder (sort of), and how to use the drill press. And we were only midway through day 2! I used some of my newfound skills on some brass that I'd brought with me and created this ring. The thing I like best about it is that the seam is soldered almost invisibly - proof that I've been bitten by the metalsmithing bug. It's no accident that it looks vaguely like Beth Piver's work - I own one of her rings and love it.

Around this time Rick did a demo using a flexshaft machine. (Can't wait till mine arrives!) While demonstrating the use of a separating disk (aka cutoff wheel), he ran it over the back of a piece of copper a couple of times in an arc shape and then easily bent the copper into a beautiful complex curve. I loved it - that kind of simple yet complicated geometric form is right up my alley. So I immediately tried the same thing on a piece of much heavier copper that I had already patterned and cut out. After bending it, which wasn't easy because I hadn't really cut deeply enough in some places, I ran a line of solder down the inside of the bend to support it. Then I drilled two angled holes and inserted a piece of very narrow sterling silver tubing. Much later, after I felt my soldering skills had improved enough, I added a jump ring to the end of the tubing. Eventually I'll put this on a silver chain and the tubing, which fits very snugly into the copper, will act as the clasp. (Thanks to Aalia for that suggestion.) This is the first piece I made at the workshop that I really like. I'm thinking of doing something similar using sterling silver for the body of the piece.

It was around the middle of the third day that I stopped flinching every time I had to light a torch. The torches in the soldering room were real ones, not the little butane-fueled creme brulee torch I have at home, which is basically an over-sized lighter. The flame on these babies was, at its smallest, about four times the size of the largest flame my little guy can muster. Most of us spent the first day completely flummoxed by Rick's repeated instruction to heat the piece, not the solder! since the flame seemed so huge it totally engulfed everything. We also spent the first day or two jumping like scared rabbits every time anyone lit a torch: hissss + loud pop + flame = flight response. Last night I realized I hadn't played with fire and hot metal for 36 hours and I missed it: missed the smell of burning flux, the over-heated, poorly lit soldering room, the hiss of the hydraulic press. But the things I miss most are having the time and mental space to focus intently on learning something new, the highly structured schedule within which our creativity was allowed (almost) free reign, and the experience of being pushed out of my comfort zone. How can I recreate that experience back home, with all the pressures and distractions of everyday life? Sadly, it's not just about buying a lot of new equipment -- it's about finding the discipline to focus and to push myself without the support of an externally imposed schedule and set of assignments. But that's what it's always been about, isn't it?

More to come. Here's a preview of some of the other work I did at jewelry camp.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Out of the jewelry bubble

Last night I returned home from five days at the Peters Valley Craft Center but it feels like I've been gone for much longer. It was a transformative experience, not least because, for five days, I was totally focused on one thing. I don't think I've experienced that kind of exhilarating all-consuming engagement since grad school. Here's how the days went: breakfast from 7-8:30, class from 9-12, lunch from 12-1, class from 1 or 1:30 to 5:30, dinner from 6-7:30, class from 7:30-10. Turns out that "jewelry camp" is exactly what it was.

The setting is incredibly beautiful and very isolated: the nearest Starbucks is 25 miles away. (Fortunately, the kitchen made excellent coffee.) The accommodations are, shall we say, somewhat rustic. It wasn't so much the yard sale collection of seen-better-days furniture that bothered me, or even the violently green velour bedspreads apparently made out of polyethylene, or the can of flying insect spray thoughtfully provided in each room. The worst thing was that the bathrooms had signs in them warning you not to drink the water, but saying that it was ok to use it to brush your teeth! Kinda creepy. However, the food was good, the people were interesting, and the workshop was, ultimately, thrilling.

The class started with a morning of technique demos performed by Rick Marshall, the workshop teacher and head of Fine Metals at Peters Valley. He then set us the task of making a two-sided puffed heart pendant out of copper with one small heart applied to the surface and another cut out. I think we all panicked at that point - it seemed like an impossible task. With lots of support from Rick and his fantastic assistant, Aalia, we all managed to finish our hearts (except for the one woman who bailed before lunch the first day). My first heart is on the left. About 30% of the front surface is actually covered with solder - patina hides a multitude of sins, including wayward solder. I also managed to smush a big thumbprint into the front of the heart while sanding it. The second heart I started right after finishing the first one - I was intent on making one that looked cleaner. It took much less time and only about 20% of the front is covered with solder. Progress!

The puffed hearts were made with a hydraulic press -- basically a powerful jack, like they have in garages, attached to a frame. An incredibly useful tool and one (among many) I now feel that I cannot live without. Here's the very press that I used in making these hearts and several other pieces of jewelry. And here's a picture of my workbench. Note that it's incredibly messy and that I've snagged one of the flex-shaft machines available for student use. I was determined to do three things at this workshop: learn to solder, learn how to set a cabochon stone, and figure out if it was worthwhile to replace my Dremel with a real flexshaft machine. The answer to that question is a resounding Yes! In fact, I ordered the economy model from Contenti today. According to Rick, this model is perfectly good for the beginning jeweler, especially if you splurge on a Lucas foot control to replace the control that comes with it - which, of course, I did.

Sorry for all the technical jargoneering -- part of the experience was a total immersion in the language and techniques of metalsmithing for jewelry and I haven't quite escaped the jewelry-making bubble. I took my laptop intending to keep a record for the blog while I was away, but the only time I wrote was after I arrived on the night before the workshop started. Once it began I pretty much didn't think of anything else for five days. Any free time I had was spent sketching, thinking about jewelry-making, looking at jewelry related books and magazines, or talking to other workshop participants, mostly about jewelry-making. Or taking quick cat-naps - the intensity of focus was exhausting. I ate three hearty meals a day, as if I were doing heavy physical labor (and, amazingly, didn't gain any weight). While there were a few things that required a significant amount of actual physical labor, most of the work was exhausting because it was so painstaking, and so damn little! (Note the jump ring soldered onto the first heart. It's only about 4mm wide. I attached it at some point later in the workshop and there's not a bit of extra solder around it - but it took ages to set up and execute.)

Clearly this is a story that's going to take a few days to tell. I'll close with a tally of wildlife sightings, since the wildlife, especially of the tick-ish variety, was one of my big concerns:

What I saw at Peters Valley:
Rabbits: 40-50 (I stopped counting around the mid-twenties, which was on the 3rd day)
Chipmunks: 12
Deer: 6
Wild turkeys: 2
Turtles: 1
Bears: 1
Ticks: 0

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Watch this space...

Here's where I'll be until June 19. I doubt that there's internet access at jewelry camp, but if there is, I'll post a play-by-play of my time there. If not, catch you on the flip side!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


(to the tune of Maria from West Side Story)
♬ Metalliferous, Metalliferous, ♫
I've just been to a store named Metalliferous, ♪
And suddenly that name
Will never be the same to meeeeee..... ♬

What a day it's been! I took the train the the enyce, as I like to call it, and walked from Penn Station to 34 W. 46th St. On the way I window-shopped, thought about stopping for an impromptu haircut, avoided the temptations of the bead shops and shoe shops I passed along the way (though I will admit to going into the Skechers store in search of a pair of sandal-like sneakers - but I resisted). I got to Metalliferous (such a great name) feeling totally virtuous for having gotten a little exercise. It's on the second floor and it's very small, with tall shelves and counters that make it feel even smaller. Every square inch, from ceiling to floor is covered wiht jewelry making stuff. Even though I ignored all the materials related to wax casting and all the colored copper wire, there was still so much to look at and desire.

One of the things on my Peters Valley list of supplies was "Needle file set: (12) inexpensive". I looked at a wall of files from teensy to large and wondered, "Why 12?" Ok, let's leave the files for later. I noticed a woman who works there helping another woman collect items on a list. Aha, I thought, that's how it works for us newbies. Then I noticed that all the chain and findings were behind the counter - how was I supposed to figure out what I wanted? Aha, customers can go behind the counter and finger the merchandise. Someone finally noticed me fondling the silver wire and came over to ask if I needed help. I showed her my list. "16 gauge silver sheet? That's really heavy - and expensive. Let me show you the price." Ouch. The list said to bring a minimum of 2" x 6". I decided to splurge and went for 3" x 6" which cost $99.19! Yowza.

She went off to cut the silver. I picked up the sheet of 18 gauge copper I also needed and then started looking at chains, which wasn't an item on the list but I always need more chain. When she brought back the silver I hadn't quite decided which chains I wanted so she went off. Big mistake on my part. Once I was ready with my chain choices I waited another 10 minutes, which of course felt like 30, for someone to help me. Finally happened. With the addition of the files (a set of 12 skinnies), some silver sheet solder, and 2 dozen 4/0 saw blades, I was ready to check out. With tax, the grand total was ... $215.75. It strikes me that I may not be charging enough for my jewelry...

With metal in hand I walked out and turned left into...the Metalliferous bead and gem store! It was a total surprise and they had some lovely things, including blue chalcedony briolettes that are really translucent, like the one I used in this piece. This one I bought as a single piece at our local bead shop. When I ordered chalcedony briolettes from one of my usual sources, they were pretty, but not this translucent. The almost look like blue lace agate, which is beautiful, but not what I wanted. Now I have a whole strand of briolettes like these. They'll be showing up in jewelry soon. I got out of there without doing too much more damage and hiked back to Penn Station, where I just managed to catch a train home.

And what did I find waiting for me on the front step? A nice big package of beads and stones that I'd ordered last week. It's like I won the lottery or hit the jackpot! Yesterday I was nervous about jewelry camp. Today I'm all, "bring it on!" Retail therapy is the best kind: not only do I end up feeling better, I have excellent stuff to play with afterwards. Excuse me while I go gloat over my new silver and beads.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Jewelry Camp

From Friday, June 15 through Tuesday, June 19 I will be away at....drumroll, camp! No, they don't call it that, but it's how I've been thinking of the jewelry-making workshop at Peters Valley Craft Center. This place is out in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, meaning it's out in the woods. Normally this would be enough to put me off - I'm not a woods kind of gal. At all. Famously, at least among my friends, I once said to a hiking enthusiast, "So this hiking business - the idea is that you walk up the hill and then you walk down? That's it?" What could she say? "Uh, yeah, that's it...but it's really worth it!" Uh-huh. If that's the case, why is it that the stories you hear from hikers and climbers are always disaster stories?
"We had the most awesome weekend! We went hiking on Mt. Pointless and about halfway to the campsite we realized we'd forgotten all the tarps, but we went on anyway. Then Emma tripped and sprained her ankle so she had to give her pack to Kim and I helped her walk. Just as we got near the site these huge black clouds rolled in and the wind started to blow so hard we couldn't even set up the tent! Oh my god, we were so cold and wet! It was great!"
Fortunately it doesn't look like there's any obligatory hiking at jewelry camp, even though the studio is a short two-miles from the living/eating area. I'm bringing my car.

As if the ruralitude of the locale weren't enough of a trial, the list of things to bring contained this disturbing entry, complete with bold font for emphasis:
Insect repellent This season we are experiencing a high than normal amount [sic] of ticks and we suggest everyone bring repellent with them.
It gets better. Three lines down I read: "Flashlight with batteries, there are no streetlights here." Ok, so I'm going to be out in the middle of nowhere stumbling around in the dark with my ankles covered in fat ticks incubating a nice case of Lyme disease. This guy Frederick Marshall better be one hell of a teacher.

So why do I want to go to jewelry camp? When it comes to making jewelry I like to say that I've been raised by wolves. I've never taken a class - everything I know came from books and lots of trial and error. I'm sure there are easier, faster, more elegant ways of doing half the things I do on an almost daily basis. (Actually, that's probably true of a lot more than making jewelry.) And then there's soldering, my attempts at which fail around 90% of the time. I'd like to get it down to around a 50% failure rate by the end of the class. According to the brochure, we'll also learn to use "die forms with texture hammers and roller printing for surface design." And we'll bezel-set some cabochons. All of which sounds like heaven on a bun.

Nevertheless, it struck me last night that the real reason I'm going to jewelry camp is that I want to take a painting class. I've also been raised by wolves when it comes to painting and I'm starting to feel that I need outside eyes to look at my work and push me in new directions. I've been wanting to take a painting class for a couple of years, but it's difficult with work and, also, I've been scared. It's one thing to paint in the privacy of your home and show your work to friends and colleagues. It's quite another to put myself into a class in front of strangers, most of whom will no doubt be decades younger than I am, who have no reason to believe that I'm an artist of any kind. I'm getting a little nauseated at the thought even as I type this. Clearly, some healthy part of my psyche got annoyed with my lily-livered ego and said, "ok, if you're too much of a wimp to jump right into a painting class, start with something artistic that you don't have so many hang-ups about - like, say, jewelry."

The reason all this became so clear last night was because, for the first time, I actually got nervous about jewelry camp. I don't mean I got nervous about the ticks and lack of civilization (i.e., no Starbucks within walking distance). I got nervous about being a beginner in front of strangers. It's been a while since I've gone out on that particular limb and that's not a good thing. So, thanks for the push, hidden healthy part of my psyche, just don't expect me to go hiking.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

e-friends 4-eva!

One of the best things about selling on Etsy is that I've made some amazing new friends. We chat every day, tell each other our intimate secrets, bitch about life's bumpy spots, give each other support in difficult times, and just generally keep each other in stitches laughing. We fix each other breakfast and are always ready to bring out the drink cart and mix a few mojitos or margaritas. We've never met in meatspace (yes, I know - it's a gross term, but I really like it), but in a short couple of months, we've become fast friends.

It's almost certain that in real life we would never have met. We live all over the country, on all three coasts. We range in age from mid-twenties to mid-fifties. Our non-Etsy jobs include teaching (everything from kindergarten to college), birthing, working in industry, free-lancing, sales, and full-time crafting. Some of us have children, some want children someday, others are happily child-free and intend to remain so. I couldn't even begin to guess at the differences in our income levels, but I suspect it's great. Some of us are straight, some are gay, but we're all attached to partners.

We met in the Etsy forums and bonded, at least partly, because most of us were new to the site at roughly the same time. We had similar questions and were feeling very much like the new kid at school: no one to sit with in the cafeteria, ignored by the cool kids, wondering what the heck we were doing there. In particular, we'd all had the experience of posting in threads and then having them die -- our presence in the thread apparently rendered it uninteresting, no matter how interesting it had been before! Thus, we dubbed ourselves "Thread Killers" and embraced our marginal status. Later we discovered another power: invisiposting. You post in a thread and it doesn't die, but there's no acknowledgment from anyone else that you've posted. We started a Support Group in the Etsy forums months ago and it's still going strong. Occasionally new folks wander in and we make them welcome. At the moment our virtual lair holds a rollerskating rink, disco ball, hot tub, slip'n'slide, bar, ficus tree, and deck with deck chairs.

We also chat privately and it's this private lair that's become such a haven. It's like being at home with your closest friends. We curse like sailors, make ridiculous puns, oooohhh and aaahhh like pre-pubescent girls over cute things, and trash-talk like pro soccer players. We also show each other our work and I, at least, find the comments of my e-friends literally inspiring.

Lately I've been thinking that it would be great fun to have a real-life meeting of the League of Extraordinary Threadkillers. Maybe we could all meet someplace in the middle, like Kansas, for a weekend. I doubt such a grand convocation will ever take place - too many commitments in too many places, too many complicated schedules. And, as much as I'd like to meet my e-friends for real, I worry that it might not be a good idea. What if we're not who/what we seem to be? A couple of months ago my partner said, "You don't know that these people are who they say they are. One of them could be a 14-year-old boy!" True enough, but I doubt that kind of deep impersonation is going on. No, I think my e-friends are who they say they are. But this kind of digital communication isn't broadband: only a narrow stream of information gets through. What if, once they see the whole package that is me, they found that they didn't like me? What if I found that I didn't like one of them? It would be devastating and would probably be the end of the group.

How long can e-friendships last if they remain e-friendships? Are e-friendships doomed if they materialize in meatspace? Stay tuned for further developments.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Pod Story

I'd like to introduce you to the Pod pendant. It's a new addition to my Etsy store and the story of its creation is quite a saga. It all started when I was browsing the website and found this stuff called Hattie's Bloom Mesh. It said that you could push a ball of pmc through it and fire it with the mesh in place to make these sort of bud-like protrusions. Always a sucker for a new product, I bought some and tried it out on two balls of pmc. The product worked as promised and now I had two lumps of silver protrusions.

What to do with them? I played around with them for days and they never seemed to fit anywhere. I decided that I should try to create a pmc base for the smaller lump. I put it on a flat oval pmc base -- again, the problem was how to make the two look like they belonged together. I added small balls of pmc, slightly smushed and then squeezed in a bezel cup. The result still looked incomplete, even after I set an iolite cabochon in the bezel cup. There were a couple of bare places in the lump that bothered me, so I glued in a Swarovski crystal (at the bottom) and the ends of some oxidized silver head pins (in the middle of the lump). Why did I glue instead of solder? I was in the "I can't make anything stick together with solder" phase and was sick of trying. Also, I had just used a dab of epoxy on the base of the cabochon, so the glue was handy.

Next phase in the life of the pod: I pried the crystal off and drilled a hole in the bottom, thinking I would dangle a pearl. Awful. After a few more days I thought, "It looks like the inside of something. It needs an outside." So I added the wire coil, which has its ends secured through the two drilled holes. Better! Then I decided to add a curved piece of heavy square wire to the other side to balance the coil. This time, I thought, I'm going to solder the sucker on.

With great care, I prepared the surface of the pod and the wire. With even more care, I used my two-clamp third hand to position the wire and pod tight against each other. I started up my little butane torch and very carefully started warming the metal around the pieces of solder. Suddenly the pod was engulfed in three inch high flames! I jumped back. I looked around to see if anyone had witnessed that olympic quality backward leap. I wondered if I should grab the fire extinguisher. By that time the flames had died down. The solder was gone, the clamps on the third hand were discolored, and the pod, oh my, the pod was black wherever the epoxy (the cause of the conflagration) had been. Not a nice patinated oxidized black, a greasy looking permanent horrible-looking black. And worst of all, the iolite was completely black.

After a suitable period of mourning had passed, I decided that soldering the wire onto the pod was still a good exercise, so I set it up again. This time I turned the pod upside down in the third hand, thinking it would let me see what was happening with the solder more clearly. I set everything up and applied the torch from underneath. After several tries the pod and wire remained unattached, so I decided it was time to call it a day. I took the pod out of the clamps and, lo and behold!, the nasty black gunk was all gone and the iolite was purple again. What heat taketh away, heat also giveth back. I decided it was a sign that the pod was just fine without any additional wire on the side and oxidized it on the spot.

There ends the story of the pod.

Out of the kiln, into the pickle pot

I've now enameled just about everything in sight. I even enameled a piece made from sterling silver wire, which meant going through the rigmarole of bringing the fine silver to the surface by heating, quenching, pickling, repeat 6 more times. Not a problem - just did it in between switching various things in and out of the kiln. You could practically hear the swish as I moved from the soldering station to the kiln. Heat, quench, dump in pickle, swish, open kiln and remove red hot items, put in waiting items, close kiln, swish, heat, quench, dump in pickle, swish....get the picture? (Yes, we see...) Can you tell how much I love being able to say that I have a soldering station and kiln? Yes, they're both temporarily set up in my kitchen and I have to break them down after each use, but working with hot metal is a complete thrill.

All but one of the adinkra pieces I made are now covered in enamel. The green circles in the upper left is the one made of sterling silver. The only one that isn't covered with enamel is now hanging in front of an enamel copper oval. I like the idea of an enamel piece showing through the silver wire, but I'm not sure if this is the right piece. (I worry that it makes the adinkra look a little like a cockroach.) There's a second shot that shows the copper pendant better. It was made using a very cool enameling pen that writes with what looks like black paint. For this pendant I doodled on the bare copper, then covered the whole thing with flux, which is basically transparent uncolored enamel. It keeps the copper from getting covered with firescale and turning dark brown, so you get the nice rosy glow of heated copper. The other neat thing is that the powdered enamel doesn't seem to like the black pen enamel, so you get this interesting resist effect which I think you can see if you click on the second picture. I think this technique would look great with transparent colored enamel too, but sadly my starter kit of enamels from Rio Grande didn't come with any. It also didn't come with any yellow and there are TWO different shades of brown. Who wants brown enamel? (By the way, to see stuff on the Rio Grande website you have to be a member and log in. If you make and sell jewelry it's easy to become a member - call them, give them a website or real world location where your jewelry is sold, and you're in. For those of you who don't sell jewelry or don't want to become members, sorry. I'll try to keep the Rio Grande links to a minimum.)

Soldering is proceeding apace and yesterday I made two pieces that are definitely acceptable. I've even made them into necklaces. Not sure I'm going to sell them yet, but they're not bad. This one is a piece I made intending to replace the tendril components I ordered from somewhere -- I can't recall and can't find the components at any of my usual on-line jewelry supply haunts. You can see those components in a necklace here. Granted, my swirly thing isn't as delicate as the store-bought components and my soldering is a little visible while the store-bought soldering is invisible - but I'm quite happy with the swirly thing.

The other piece is based on a sketch of a spider web I saw a couple of months ago. It wasn't anything like your usual spider web, as you can see - of course, the real thing was much more detailed, but this is what looked best once I started piecing it together. I oxidized it and went for a Lair of the Black Widow look. I'm much less happy with the soldering in this one and the wire bending is awkward, but I think it captures the odd swoopy shape of the original pretty well. This one I'm not going to sell - I have a friend whose birthday is coming up who could, as they say, rock this necklace. Wonder who it could be?

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Blood, sweat, and enamel

Yesterday I held an enameling practice. Three hours of blood, sweat, and tears - or at least that's what it felt like. Two types of metal (copper and fine silver), three types of enamel (lumps, threads, powder), several varieties of failure (among them: cracking, discoloration, lumpiness, and general ugliness). The thing with pmc is that you put the pieces in the kiln, fire them, it's done. With enamel it's in and out, in and out, wait for it to cool, wait for the klyr fire to dry -- every time I open the kiln, hotness. Hence the sweat. The blood, just a drop, appeared when I was sanding a fine silver piece that I'd enameled. I still don't know if it was a sharp glass edge or a sharp metal edge. There were no actual tears - truth be told, I was too wrapped up in what I was doing to cry or even care about the blood and sweat until I was done. I love that feeling of losing myself in the process. It's even better when the result of the process is something you like. I liked the way a couple of things turned out in this session. Not surprisingly, they're all enamel on fine silver. I swear, enamel on copper is a bitch - more specifically, firescale is a bitch. So let's not talk about it.

First success: I had read that fired enamel could be filed down to remove surface irregularities and then briefly heated to reglossify it. This was great news for the red pendant I had done a couple of weeks ago. The pendant was made by creating a fine silver cup and filling it with big chunks of enamel (i.e., glass). The before picture is on the left; the after picture is on the right. As I think you can see, the enamel is much flatter and smoother in the after picture. I had another fine silver setting that I had originally made for a very thick drusy. Unfortunately, I didn't calculate shrinkage accurately and it didn't fit the stone after firing. So I decided to try this same technique. This time I used only transparent enamel chunks in blue and green, topped off with a second layer of clear enamel chunks. This really worked. You can see all the way to the bottom of the setting, which is heavily textured. The enamel is flat, even with the sides of the bezel. Learning has taken place!

The next project was to decorate a couple of fine silver pieces with small lumps of enamel. All I had to do was find an appropriately transparent lump of the right size, position it, and fire it. And hope that it wouldn't fall off afterwards. (I think the falling enamel problem has to do with how clean the surface is before enameling -- apparently even small amounts of skin oil or soap can cause the enamel to detach from the metal.) So far so good with these two. The piece on the left was made from pmc sheets. These are thin sheets of pmc, pre-rolled. They're easy to work with and don't dry out as fast as the regular clay. One problem is that they are quite thin, so to do anything other than decorate another piece, you really need to laminate a couple of sheets. Fortunately, this is easy. Paint one sheet with water. Put the other sheet over it. Put a weight on it and let it dry.

The second piece to get a dollop of enamel is made from pmc clay molded in a carved wooden stamp. (Note that I seem to have had a blue thing going on yesterday.) There was a perfect little round indentation in the middle of the star, just right for a lump of enamel. I have to figure out how to hang this - typically I forgot to poke a hole in the pendant while it was wet clay and drilling on this tiny rounded shape would be a bad idea.

Then we had some real experimenting. The best of that phase of the session involve sifting powder enamel over some oval donut-like pendants that have been sitting around, not attracting much attention. Here's the one that's fit to be seen. It's black opaque enamel sifted over half the pendant. It's not quite as dorky as it looks in the picture, but almost. The other pendant, well, some things are better left to the imagination...

Finally, I had a fine silver piece that was an attempt at the adinkra pendant, me ware wo, I mentioned yesterday. I'd gotten as far as making four joined circles and then given up because I couldn't get the tiny inner dangly things to work. I decided to enamel three of the circles, each in a different color. The result is, shall we say, slightly rustic. Not necessarily bad, just a bit rough.

End of day assessment: I have three, possibly four, enameled fine silver pieces I can actually use. There are another three enameled fine silver pieces that are probably too ugly to use for anything except the charmless bracelet, which is getting pretty full at this point. And there were three total disasters on copper disks that have disappeared into the garbage. Practice makes progress.

Soldering peaches

In the past week I've made great strides in my soldering skills. You won't think so when you see the pictures, but trust me, the fact that I could get two pieces of silver to stick together at all constitutes a great stride. A few days ago I set aside several hours and a pile of wire to practice soldering. I discovered several things:
  • Sheet solder works for me, paste doesn't.
  • I was using flux all wrong.
  • A third hand (not an actual one, one of those contraptions) is extremely useful, maybe even crucial.
  • My hands shake.
That last thing is why the third hand is so crucial for me. It's also making me extremely nervous, as in "I'm extremely worried that I have a degenerative disease of the nervous system." I don't, but what's life without a little hypochondria?

So, here's the first "piece" - and I use that term very loosely - I made during my soldering practice session. The pieces of wire were left over from a setting I tried to make for a drusy. I chopped them up and laid them out until they took on this basket shape. Then I soldered them together and added a hook. (It helps me feel less pointless to believe that I'm actually making something.) I doubt I'll ever do anything with this, besides gaze on it proudly from time to time.

The next thing I did was to attempt to make two different adinkra motifs out of soldered wire. I chose me ware wo "I will marry you" (which is the symbol to the right) and odo nnyew fie kwan "love never loses its way home" because a friend wants me to make her a necklace using those two symbols and a couple of others. I've made a couple of adinkra symbols out of pmc, but these two seem more suited to wire work. It took hours, but I managed to produce what I'm thinking of as first drafts of the symbols. (I don't have a picture of odo yet, but I'll post one later.)

You can click on the picture at left to see a larger size of the me ware wo pendant, which will allow you to admire my mad soldering skills. Actually, what you'll see is that this one is blobbier than the first practice piece. The reason is that there are so many joins so close together. Still, it hasn't fallen apart yet, so I'm pretty happy.

To cap off a very satisfactory afternoon of soldering, I took a scrap of square 16 gauge silver wire and created....a tiny peach! And, yes, there is actual soldering involved here - the stem is attached to the body with the teensiest bit of nearly invisible solder. I was, as the Brits say, chuffed. So it was with renewed confidence that, a couple of days later, I picked up my torch and tried to make a soldered ring. Forty minutes later had a solder-covered mass of crooked wire - not the design goal I had in mind - so clearly more soldering practice is in order. Still, the very fact that I can think of myself as someone learning to solder, as opposed to someone who can't solder is nice. And I can always look at my soldered peach if I start to think that I can't actually do this %&#!&@! thing.

Friday, June 1, 2007


OMG, my e-language has gone totally weird since I started hanging out in the Etsy forums and chatting on line. arrggghhhh! I used to be a serious person LOL but now my emails and posts have gotten soooooo emoticonal and it's really hard to keep it from spilling over into my business life. :/ I almost winked at my boss in an email the other day - eeewwww!!!! :p IMHO, this has gone way too far and I need to stop, but I don't seem to be able to. :( Pleeeeeze IM me right now if you have any ideas about how I can stop writing like a 14-yr-old!! course I don't actually have an AIM account - ROFL! ;^)