The Art of Living by Making Art

Jewellery inspired by nature and made by hand.
How I make it, why I make it, the challenges I face and the successes that come my way.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Daily Work

Some people may think that the life of an artist is an easy one, not real work perhaps. But it is the life that I have chosen so I thought I would write about a typical day in my studio.

As my job is mostly sedentary I always feel better if I get some exercise first thing, for me it is the best way to start the day. So at 8am I get outside and go for a run, three seasons of the year, in winter I cross-country ski and when the weather is bad for either I go to the gym. By the time I get home, shower, change, make a cup of tea and get into the studio it is usually exactly 10am. I put on the radio, CBC, and start listening to Q, my favourite program.

Usually I have something that I am half-way through on the work bench. It could be a custom piece, maybe a wedding ring with a gemstone, or I could be making inventory for my online shop or one of the galleries I sell my work in. My activities could be one of many, such as cutting, texturing, forming metal, setting a stone, soldering and joining metal, finishing and polishing. Or maybe I'm using up scrap metal, melting and pouring an ingot or drawing out wire to different thicknesses. I mostly make everything myself that goes into my jewellery, rarely buying ready-made components. This is because if I make it myself I can put my own style in it, if I buy it, it will be the same as everyone elses.

I break for lunch at noon and always take an hour to eat and relax. Then it is back to the studio. I'll spend the afternoon doing the same range of things trying to get ahead with several pieces, or completely finishing one piece, depending if it is custom work or not. If I am enamelling I'll set the kiln to heat up while I am having lunch, then I'll clean all the work bench of metal, tools and dust and get the enamels ready for use. I usually work through until 5 or 6 pm, it varies depending on workload and whether I or my husband is cooking dinner tonight. I'm sure other jewellers work longer hours but I do what is right for me. I put all my tools away at the end of the day, cover the rolling mill and let the hydraulic press down, turn off the torch and the pickle pot.

Of course some days are different, there is book-keeping every month and running to the post office with shipments of jewellery to mail. And don't forget designing, sketching, photographing, making prototypes, pricing, and ordering materials. Meeting clients for custom work is a favourite part of my job, but it can be time-consuming if it turns into a social occasion. After dinner I usually spend an hour or two on the computer catching up on work-related email, sorting out jewellery photos, checking jewellery organization newsletters, making applications for various things - juried shows, grants and other opportunities that crop up.

I do this five days a week, well sometimes it is four and other times six,at busy times (Christmas) seven. Of course I can organize my schedule how I want which is great but I do have to be disciplined or it would all fall apart. I take a bit of extra time off when I get busy in my garden or if the powder is especially good in winter, but this has been my routine for ten years and it works for me. If there are other artists out there I would love to hear about your daily routine too.

Monday, February 22, 2010


I'm very inspired by textiles and fabrics. I can spend hours in good fabric shops looking and feeling different cloth. I particularly like damask type fabrics where the pattern of stylised leaves and flowers is woven into the cloth. I never get tired of the curling leafy tendrils and overblown petals that often seem to crop up in these patterns.

My friend Janet, who owns a very stylish store in my town, was using some tissue paper that was white with a clear black damask pattern on it to wrap up items when they sold. I took a piece, photocopied it and transferred the reduced size pattern to a sheet of brass which I then etched. This master brass sheet now has the pattern incised into it and I can use this plate over and over to roll onto silver. I have used it to texture some earrings here, after which I overlaid the silver with a rich purple transparent enamel. I have it in mind to do a one of a kind piece using this pattern, but enamelling it to look like an old scrap of antique cloth. I'll keep you posted on that idea. Like most artists I have many more ideas than time to realise them, but I jot them all down in my big black book so I know where they are when I need them.

The purple earrings were a hit over Christmas so I decided to do a simple pendant using the same shape. This time I used a clear blue enamel, stoned back so the pattern shows up in a paler blue than the background. It makes me think of a piece of old Dutch pottery.

And it reminds me of a shard of blue and white china that came to the surface in my vegetable garden last summer. Now I want to do a more complex piece using the same texture again and colour and the idea of broken china, but again I need to spend the time thinking it out and sketching some designs before I start cutting into the metal. Where does the time go and why does everything take me so long?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

More Leaves

Outside my window the ground is covered in snow but inside I still have leaves on my mind. I have been using the leaf skeleton pattern in my jewellery for quite a while and I'm not tired of it yet, I don't think I ever will be. Every time I roll the leaf onto the silver is like the first time.

The challenge is to make the jewellery as exquisitely as I can while still retaining some sense of how much time it is taking and therefore how much I will charge for the piece. That is the nature of production work - a continuing juggle of time, money and artistic inspiration. These leaf earrings I recently made are a simple silver shape with two shades of green enamel on them, front and back and a silver hook, but even they took several hours to complete from start to finish, all completely handmade in my studio. I love the simple look, not fussy or ornate.

On the other hand the necklace here took many many hours to complete and it is a one of a kind piece because I don't think I could reproduce the exact colouring again, the shades of rust and brown and verdigris green, like an old junkyard find but with shiny silver edges! To be quite honest it was a happy accident. I didn't prepare the sterling silver quite enough before enamelling (not enough depletion gilding for the jewellers out there) and some of the copper in the sterling came through and coloured the enamel. At first I was quite dismayed but then I decided that I liked it better than the original plan I had. Sometimes things that go wrong are really going right, if only we know when to go with the flow.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Let me admit to my love of leaves! What artist doesn't like leaves? The millions of variations, the colours and forms, the veining patterns, the translucence or the waxiness or the fuzziness, the serrated or the wavy edges. I'll never get tired of looking at leaves.

Yes I love to make leaf inspired jewellery and I know I'm not the only one, but it is an addiction I can't give up yet. Here's a pic of a pendant neckpiece I recently finished - three separate leaves in silver and enamel on a sterling chain. I've been working in enamel a lot lately and lucky for me all the shades of green enamel are some of the most satisfying to fire - luscious glossy colour that melts and flows beautifully.

What goes into a piece like this? Well cutting out the right amount of silver sheet first and then rolling it with the pattern from a leaf skeleton. Next cutting out the leaf shapes and giving them a mellow fold down the centre or a serrated edge. If I'm using fine silver (999) I'm ready to enamel now, but if I'm using sterling (925) I have to go through the time-consuming depletion gilding process - familiar to most studio jewellers. Sterling is stronger and better for structural pieces so there are many times when it has to be used.

Next comes prepping then enamel powders - cleaning them by washing and draining numerous times and then drying then back to powder form. Meanwhile I turn the kiln on and set the temperature for 1385 F. I fire two coats of enamel each side, checking for uneven areas and using a diamond grit stick to grind tha enamel so it is smooth and even. I never get tired of seeing a pieces come out of the kiln one colour and watching as it cools and turns to another shade altogether.

After the firing is done, the edges of each leaf are meticulously sanded and polished and then the jumps rings are threaded through and carefully soldered closed. Another piece finally finished and photographed. I wonder who will end up wearing it?