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.


Ellen said...

THAT bear you saw was ME trying to sneak in. alas, people always notice the furry women in a crowd. ugh.

knitsteel said...

Really nice piece. It looks like he showed you some quite useful techniques, that you can use for many different applications.

TrueMirage said...

yes, if only I had access to a hydraulic press!

Rebecca said...

Do you know of any other jewelry making camps or workshops around? Anywhere in the uS, preferably in July.... I didn't hear about this one till the day before it started and I really want to do something like this.


DC Designs said...

Are you sure the bear wasn't blue?!?!

The torch sounds scary. I used to be afraid to light matches once upon a time. I guess thats why I so polymer clay.

Wouldn't it be amazing if we had the self-discipline to create such a schedule that would force us to focus on our craft even when we weren't feeling the high of a new project idea. Just to know that from blank to blank you must do this. I wonder if we would be more productive, more inspired, or if it would become a chore. Hmm you may of inspired me for a possible week long experiment.

Athena's Armoury said...

I love this description of jewelry camp. It truly reminds me of my class with everyone jumping and then staring as soon as someone lights the torch. I'm totally digging your blog and am going to add a link from mine to yours.