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.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Finished at Last

Snowdrift Ring
Yes I managed to finish my entry for the juried exhibition at Influx Gallery and got it sent in just in time. The finished piece is not what I envisioned when I was designing it - although the silver structure is as planned, the enamel was going to be far more experimental. But as with any experiment - some work and some don't and this one didn't. I was originally trying to fire gemstones directly in the enamel but I couldn't get them to 'stick' to the enamel. Perhaps someone out there knows how to do it?

When that didn't work I went onto plan B - opalescent enamels with silver embellishments. I just didn't like how it looked and the enamels were yellowing with all the firing. On to plan C - sugar-fired opaque enamel. No, too plain. So in desperation I went to plan D - do something you know will work and finish the damn thing! Actually I am pleased with the result although it is conventional and I was planning something which I thought was radical.

Does everyone else go through this agony when trying to do something unusual for an exhibition piece?

Monday, April 26, 2010


Last week I had a bit of an epiphany and it concerns something that I think a lot of artists have to deal with. An elderly friend of mine had shown me two pieces of jewellery that needed repairing. There was no value to the pieces in terms of materials - one was a brooch made of glass beads threaded onto a brass backing and the other a brooch of shell pieces glued to a backing of mystery metal. However they were of significant sentimental value to her. I don't like doing repairs on jewellery other than my own and try and avoid it but it always seems to be friends that I can't say no to.

So I went ahead and fiddled around for ever with glue (which I hate using) and nylon thread and so on until they were done. If I had charged my normal hourly rate it would have been hundreds of dollars, so what do I do? Charge a nominal $10 or $15 or what? In the end I went over to her apartment, had tea and gave her the pieces and said not to worry about paying, basically because it was easier for me that way. Anyway she suggested that she make me a cake as payment - she loves to bake, so I said okay that would be nice.

So the epiphany happened when I went back to her apartment to collect the cake a few days later. She had made a huge apple cake, carefully wrapped up. As I put it on the seat beside me in my car and drove away I was suddenly full of a strange warm glow and I realised that it was because I felt genuinely good at the transaction we had done, not just a fake kind of feeling good that you tell yourself to feel. I felt like it was the antithesis of a Walmart type of transaction and I felt good about that because I don't like Walmart and what it stands for.

Anyway this is not to say that I am going to search out things that need repairing and offer to do it for free! But I am happy about how it worked out in this case, and you can imagine the look on my husband's face when I walked in with the cake!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


However much I think I am moving into some other field of inspiration the world of plants and flowers yanks me back with some exquisite piece of perfection from nature. Today we had one of the first sunny and warm days of spring and my star magnolia bush is blooming - eight glorious confections of waxy white petals around a cone of pale green gold stamens.

I realise that thousands of people live in places where magnolias thrive and grow into huge trees and are covered in blooms. They are not my magnolia. My magnolia is fifteen years old and has attained the great height of five feet. For its first five years it actually got smaller every year due to breakage from snow. Then I had the bright idea of fertilizing it in the spring and summer and it actually grew big enough that it didn't collapse under the four feet of snow on top of it.

At the age of twelve my magnolia decided to bloom for the first time - you can imagine the excitement over the single flower. The following year it came up with three blooms. Last year I inwardly screamed as a landscaper we had contracted to lay a stone patio dropped a wheelbarrow load of stone right on the bush!

So now, with its eight flowers and its sturdy five foot limbs I think I can relax and enjoy it. As I walk by its intense fragrance wafts around and draws me to study the flowers again and to check what little visitors are feasting on the nectar. I would love to use the feeling I get from admiring the blooms and put it into my work. When something in nature is this perfect any artificial form of it, however abstract seems redundant.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Fine or Sterling?

I don't do a lot of enamelling on copper, not because I don't like it but it just doesn't seem to fit with the aesthetic that I'm into right now. What I like right now is transparent enamel on silver. What I have to think about before I make a piece is whether to choose fine silver or sterling. I weigh up the pros and cons of each according to the piece I am making and often I use both metals in one piece. Here are a few observations about using both metals in combination with enamels.

Fine silver
  • transparent colours really pop

  • no tedious depletion gilding needed (see an earlier post I wrote about this)

  • takes textures easily

  • very soft, so could bend if not formed (domed for example), or if used flat, very thick sheet is needed

  • more difficult to get a hard smooth high polish, on the edges for example
Sterling silver
  • colours can be a little muted, most of the Thompson transparent greens and blue-greens are fine, other colours may be duller

  • needs to be depletion gilded, I do it ten times!

  • sterling has much greater strength than fine silver meaning greater choice of form and construction

  • sterling can be polished to a super hard shine

  • If you want to experiment sterling offers some interesting possibilities if you don't depletion gild, ie let the copper oxide bleed through into the enamel

Fragment Series

And here is a pendant I just finished. It's all in sterling for strength and because the edges are high polished and because I knew the green enamel would work well.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Procrastination - the bane of the self-employed artist's life. I actually think I'm fairly diligent at my work but the dreaded procrastination can strike at any time. In fact it usually strikes when I have a deadline approaching, strange that. Some of my favourite ways to procrastinate are: reading murder mysteries, doodling, making another cup of tea, having a 'quick' look in my garden to see if anything bloomed, imagining what I would do if I won a million dollars...

I've been thinking of how I could harness the procrastinating tendency and turn it into something at least a little bit useful. I think it is impossible to eradicate it altogether (and would we want to?) but what if it was re-directed slightly.

For instance, if I'm working on a difficult piece and I don't want to get started in the morning, I'll tell myself that I don't have to work on it but that I do have to go into the studio, put on my apron and do something. Nine times out of ten if I do that I will actually start working on it. It seems that if I take that first step of putting on the apron everything else falls into place. If I'm stopping for a cup of tea that seems to go on and on, I find that if I take my tea back to the studio I will return to work. It is considered a safety hazard to drink tea in the jewellery studio but I find that once I get back there the half drunk tea just sits forgotten. If I have been out of the studio most of the day I often think it isn't worth starting anything when I return. But then again if I tell myself to just go in the studio and sweep the floor or something that takes a few minutes, chances are some other job will catch my eye and I will have spent the 'wasted' hour doing some much needed studio chores.

I'm sure you have your own ways to procrastinate, I'd love to hear them, and yours ways of fighting it!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Make it matte

Sometimes glossy is great but othertimes matte is marvellous, modern and makes me happy. I am talking about enamel, the wonderful material otherwise known as glass. Yes, transparent coloured enamels look luscious when they are fired to a smooth gloss, like wet pebbles look wonderful, but there are times when a subtle matte finish is just right.

Today I was working on my piece for Influx Gallery's 'Fiat Lux' juried show and getting a matte finish was exactly what I needed for my piece. In fact I combined the matte finish with a 'sugar fire', the two enhance each other wonderfully. This is what I did...

  • fire your first coat until fully fired and glossy
  • sift on your second coat of enamel and fire until it just starts to melt (it is quite tricky to get the time right, if you take it out too soon the enamel will flake off, for our purposes it is better to go a little bit longer rather than underfire too much)
  • the piece should look like its name - sugary but not orange peely
  • you may want to practice on scrap metal first
  • now submerge the piece in some Etchall glass etching liquid, usually takes 20 minutes or so, rinse well and dry
  • any parts of the enamel that had gone past the sugar stage will now look beautifully matte
  • of course you can use the Etchall on fully fired enamel too, to give a smooth matte finish
Have fun and remember to break all the rules!