Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Tale of Two Victorians

One of my favorite singer-songwriters is Loreena McKennitt. She sets well-known poems to music and her beautiful, haunting voice and inspired orchestrations bring these sometimes timeworn words to vibrant life. Her adaptation of Tennyson's poem “Lady of Shalott” was playing on Live Ireland a few weeks' ago as I was working on the Art Bead Scene's November challenge. The poem is very bittersweet and sad and the image in my mind was of the painting by J.W. Waterhouse, a Victorian artist.

"The Lady of Shalott" - J.W. Waterhouse

The painting chosen this month for the Challenge is also by a Victorian artist, though it's a world apart in execution, theme and emotional outlook. “Fairy Feller's Master Stroke” was painted by Richard Dadd, a patient at Bethleham Hospital--known popularly as Bedlam-for murdering and then dismembering his father. The director of the hospital made painting supplies available to Mr. Dadd, who had attended the prestigious London Academy of Art and had a respectable, if not stellar, reputation as a painter before he went off the rails.

I found the painting very disturbing, to say the least, for a number of reasons. Nothing is alive or growing in the woods surrounding the figures-- it is the dead, brown landscape of autumn. The Victorian loved their colors deep and rich and painters of the era were master colorists, layering tints in transparent washes over base tones to achieve startling effects of intensity and depth, even in a muted palette like that in Waterhouse's Lady of Shalott painting. The only noticeable colors used in Dadd's painting, at least in the larger reproductions I searched out on the Tate Museum's site were the primary colors of red, blue and green. The level of detail, which is what most people notice, is truly astounding; in fact, it is somewhat 3-dimensional. Apparently the Tate lights the painting from the side, so visitors can appreciate the dimensionality of its diminutive 15 X 20” size.

While researching the painting, which I always do before I start interpreting them in jewelry, I found many analyses of the work, among them that Dadd claimed it was based on Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream and portrayed a fairy kingdom. I found the characters scary and grotesque and decided to work in a different direction, recreating elements in polymer clay of the natural world that Dadd had painted so thoroughly and used so abundantly. The Victorians loved complexity in every aspect of their surroundings-- jewelry, interior d├ęcor, clothing, architecture. I made an impression in molding putty of a section of an ornate Victorian picture frame and used it to make a practice piece which was antiqued and slightly gilded.

My goal was to create a piece of wearable jewelry--not mimic the painting-- so I made several large lentil beads in the same way as the sample, adding subtle gold highlights to elevate the somber tones of Dadd's very neutal palette with gilding.

I brought in the muted primary colors using two tube beads covered in clay done in a mokume gane technique with midnight blue, ocher yellow and burgundy. The pods and seeds allowed me to play with my raku technique and after I used metallic powders on them, they were glazed with a wash of Byzantia brand metallic paint and highlighted with colored pencils to bring out the primary colors.

I looked through my stash for similar-sized beads to complement the raku elements and added some yellow faux jade beads, picture jasper rounds from my local Ben Franklin variety store, and gold-painted polymer clay melon beads that I detailed with gunmetal acrylic paint—all separated by African rough bronze spacers from Objects & Elements.

A second layer of smaller elements was added to jazz up the neutrals and intensify that sense of over-the-top Victorian embellishment. I made a clasp using brass washers and some bronze wire for an s-clasp so I was able to layer the smaller strand over the larger one.

This was overall a very intense and time-consuming process but I enjoyed doing it more than any piece I've done for the challenges so far. I call the style tribal Victorian and named it "Lady of Shalott".

"Lady of Shalott"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Out in the World

I have mentioned before that if I had my wish, I'd just give my beads away-- that the real joy is in the envisioning, crafting and sharing, not in the selling. But there are electric bills to pay, supplies to buy, and a very tiny bit to Etsy, that wonderful site for all things handmade that allows me to share my work with folks all over the planet.

Writing my blog is my way of sharing the pleasure I get from creating and how it is that I do create. That's the gift I have to give and so far, I'm gratified to say that it's been well received. But in order to share the information, people have to read my blog--so publicity has its place in the grand scheme of things.

Many of my fellow artists have been more than generous in talking about my blog and my work and in this season of thanksgiving and celebration, my thanks goes out to all of you who have made this possible! And thanks to my family as well, who have supported my artistic endeavors since I first held a crayon or burned my first polymer clay bead in the toaster oven.

So now my little offerings are out in the world, in a big way--and their success is part of a collaboration with all of you in many ways.

First, I got news last week from Interweave Press that my first solo piece, a necklace, had been accepted for Stringing Magazine. With beads from Barbara Lewis and clasps by Cindy Wimmer, “Reading the Stones” will debut in the Spring 2010 issue. I can't show you a photo but I think you'll like it-- I'm proud that I stayed true to my style and found a way to use some friends' work in it as well.

Claude's Lily Garden - 3rd Place, Plastics - by Lorelei Eurto

After keeping the good news secret for months, Bead Star 2009 should be on the newsstands this week and Lorelei Eurto's necklace “Claude's Lily Garden” won 3rd place in the Plastics category with my Apocalypto beads featured as her focals. Lorelei has been a big supporter of my work since the beginning-- she used my Little Bumblebeads in her The Convertible necklace that was published in The Best of Stringing a few months ago. See more of her excellent design work on the cover and in the pages of Jane Dickerson's newly published book Chain Style.

Another person I owe a great “thank-you” to-- as much for moral support and advice as for showcasing much of my work is the generous and talented Deryn Mentock. She encouraged me early on to write a blog-- I was waiting until my retirement next year-- and through writing the blog I discovered my true purpose-- to share with others what I've learned about artistic process and manifesting your creative vision.

Vedauvoo Blooms - Deryn Mentock - beads by Stories They Tell

Serengeti Sunset - Deryn Mentock's Jewelry Challenge - 2009

So Stories They Tell is out in the world. I encourage you to celebrate with me the enormous blessing of self-expression by whatever technique you love best. This is truly the thing that we should give thanks for. And for good artist friends everywhere.