Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Things

As adults we aren't supposed to anticipate Christmas like we did when we were young-- after all, we are now the ones rushing around buying the presents, figuring out where to put all the holiday guests, planning all the festivities and paying all the bills. For many people, what's really special about this time of year just gets lost in the shuffle.

Although my husband and I will soon be celebrating our 10th anniversary, we still count having each other as our “bestest” gift at Christmas. And we're both still healthy and fairly active and that is quite a lot to be thankful for at our ages.

But I would be remiss if I failed to thank each and every one of you who reads this blog for making my days so enjoyable as I write down my thoughts and observations, knowing that someone is actually out there who shares my passions and takes the valuable time to visit and comment. I am so thankful that I have many good friends online that I feel closer to than any I have ever made in my lifetime, although I have never met you in person. Can creativity operate in a vacuum? Probably, but it's not much fun. I treasure the ability to share my discoveries, experiments and musings with all of you and am humbled by your enthusiasm for them.

I'm just bubbling with new ideas I want to share with you -- some of them are already scheduled to be out there in a public way around March. My wish list this New Year of 2011 includes making it to a major bead show, where I can meet in person some of the creative friends I talk to almost daily online.Also in the works in the next few weeks is a major update to my studio space, so I can get my kiln going and play with metal clay, as well as set up my bench with my flexshaft drill and soldering station. It's time to add in metals to my polymer creations in a big way, something I've been planning for over a year. I've used some found metal pieces and some  repoussé that Douglas makes for me but I've always had a better marriage of metal and polymer in mind for my designs. I'm so excited, I can hardly wait to get started!

Yesterday I played around with some old glass storage containers I found at a local yard sale. I plopped in some bits and bobs and built some seasonal tableaux with some of my latest polymer experiments.

Silver Leaves tableaux

Pinecone tableaux

Globes and Stones tableaux

  Here are some toys that Santa left under our tree.

"Red Fox" felted wool pin, from Under the Moon, Amanda Wiesenfeld, VT Handcrafters

Antique store find tool box, lovingly restored by Douglas

Present for both of us-- yipee! new techniques!

Polymer lentil bead from Mindy Jackson, Stray Cat Jewelry, VT Handcrafters

Lampwork bead from Wandering Spirit Designs -- present from my sis

And for a happy ending to the busted stove story, today I'm happily baking cupcakes and a pumpkin pie for Douglas. A wonderful repair technician named Gary from the Dead River Company in Woodstock, Vermont persevered through a snowstorm to repair my oven on Thursday night. Now, THAT'S customer service, Sears! I'm glad I went with a local company and supported my community.

Happy holidays to all and I'll see you again after the New Year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Giving and Receiving or What's Really Important at Christmas

Winter on a farm is a time to rest from the endless routine of summer's planting and growing and autumn's hubub of harvesting and storing and finally take some time to breathe and contemplate. Have I accomplished all that I set out to do this year? More importantly, what do I have to be thankful for? And now looking back over this past year, that's quite a lot.

Blogs are great vehicles for communication but they are also primarily journals and so useful to document our works and progress. I try not to view difficulties in my work as problematic but rather as challenges to be overcome. Is this annoyingly optomistic? Well, what's the alternative?

This past weekend my oven quit working. Given the holiday season, it's not easy to find a repairman on short notice and since we live in a rural area, it's doubly difficult. So all my plans for cupcakes and cookies are kaput. Not to mention Christmas dinner. Luckily, it's just the two of us but now I have to rethink all my plans for a special breakfast and my husband's potluck contribution at work.

I called Sears yesterday and they said “Sure, we can have someone there today-- how about between 1 and 5 pm?” So I cancelled a previous repair appointment for a later date and waited. And cleaned the stove within an inch of its life. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, at 4:30 pm, someone called from Sears and said “So sorry, the repairman got hung up on a job-- how about next Tuesday?” I actually kept my temper in check but was firm about wanting to talk to the tech supervisor who had so cavalierly decided the tech could just go home early. So the “customer service” person -- that's a joke, of course-- hung up on me! THEN I was furious! I ranted to my husband a bit and then we had to pick up our truck, which was at the garage being inspected.

Now I know you've been waiting for the “It's a Wonderful Life” ending of this little parable. Our great auto repair guy, who I've known since I moved here in 1992, told us he had had a rough week. His wife went in for a routine checkup and they found a large tumor on her ovary. They immediately did surgery to remove it and found no cancer. She's now home and well on her way to complete recovery.

So are my problems with my oven still a big deal? No. Not compared to what my garage guy went through. And this morning my backup repair called and said they could be out today and could maybe even fix it before Christmas. But it doesn't matter anymore. I'll eat hot dogs and beans with my sweetie and be glad that we are healthy and our families are too and that he just got a job and that I made some really good sales in December. And I probably don't really need to eat cupcakes.

If you made it all the way to the bottom, here's some eye candy as a reward. It's what I sent out for Christmas presents this year. And on time, too!

Jurassic cuff - for my niece Gilly

Jurassic Earrings

Pendant in faux basse taille for my cousin, Missy

Talisman necklace for my brother-in-law, John

Gravure Earrings for my sister, Bonnie

Monday, December 13, 2010

Art for the Sake of It

It's fine and well to make art strictly for the joy of it. Nothing compares to the satisfaction of seeing a concept through to the end-- to make reality of a thought, a feeling, an interpretation.

Although I've spent many years making art, I previously had little to show for it. A rug here, a garment there. I gave everything away. Until I started making jewelry, I didn't even have a portfolio of work to show for the hours and years of creative endeavor.

Now I've got a blog, a Flickr page, magazines that have published my work and lots of pieces of jewelry, all testament to the fact that I'm a "creative person". Trouble is, I'm a bit swamped with all of it. Lately some other artists have blogged about their urge to clean out, free up and open a space for creativity. My cousin chastised me a little last week, urging me to sell more-- “you can't wear everything” she said. That's true. But those of you who also create know that selling your work is like auctioning your babies. Will any amount that you are compensated really be adequate reward for the love, thought and care that you put into them?

But maybe having the freedom to express yourself and let your ideas fly and hopefully touch another person is compensation enough in itself? Maybe when that person wears it they will feel a little of what you put into it, what you felt yourself, how proud you were of your creation. My best customer really gets me. She truly understands what I'm trying to say, even when I don't fully know myself. When I let something go to her, I know it will be loved, cared for, understood, appreciated. What more could I ask for?

So I'll be putting some old favorites and special pieces of mine in my Etsy shop in the coming days and also some new work I've just created. If you've purchased from me before, please convo me if you want to purchase something-- I have some thank-you discounts for you. If you're not familiar with my jewelry, I welcome you to visit my Etsy shop and browse. Until December 25, all domestic shipping is free. Maybe you'll find something you will enjoy wearing as much as I enjoyed making.

Serengeti earrings - now in my Etsy shop

Kandinsky necklace - SOLD - Thank you!

Depth Earrings - now in my Etsy shop

Marrakesh earrings - now in my Etsy shop

Dark and Stormy Night Necklace - now in my Etsy shop

Disintegration Earrings - now in my Etsy shop
 Thrones Necklace - now in my Etsy shop

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Artists are varied in their approach to clutter on their workbench. Do you stop to tidy up so your tools are ready to hand or does the disorder somehow allow you to pull some creative inspiration out of the chaos?

One of the things that is most troublesome to me is my tendency to collect detritus and keep it in little containers all over my bench. Pieces of previous work that didn't quite make it, creative accidents, orphan beads, pieces of small repoussé work that my husband, Douglas, has made for me, interesting found objects, rocks with nifty textures, rusty bits, twigs-- all of these find a home in various receptacles. Sometimes I feel more like a 19th century naturalist, surrounded by specimens.

As I'm about to transform this space into a real working studio, I find myself firmly resolving to corral the clutter and keep my space zen-like and receptive to the slightest nudge from my Muse. But just this week, while digging through one of my boxes, I discovered a shard of polymer, a sample for the Jane Eyre cuff in faux ivory that I did some months ago.

Faux ivory cuff sample

Jane Eyre cuff

 It was too large to make into a pendant so there it sat. I just enjoyed looking at it. I like making pieces that look as though they are shards discovered in an archaeological dig and then combine them with more modern elements into one whole. The juxtaposition of ancient and contemporary creates a tension that appeals to me. I just happened to have one of Objects and Elements' open bezels in the same box-- sometimes when I buy new findings I don't want to store them away since I tend to forget about them. If I leave them out on my bench, I see them every day and eventually find a use for them. I've used these bezels with several pieces, like the Dance of the Ancients.

Dance of the Ancients

Intrepid explorer of the artistic landscape that I am, this rectangular bezel was cut, shortened and re-shaped to fit a scrap piece of polymer that I carved a bit and antiqued. So the bezel was fit to the shard, instead of the opposite!

Relic pendant

The shard was long and rectangular so would allow me to keep some of best motifs. I carefully scored the polymer with an X-acto knife and kept making shallow slices until I could break it off without damage. Some additional cutting and sanding was necessary to make it fit the bezel and then I re-stained the edges with shoe polish. My plan was to make a simple pendant necklace I could wear with jeans and a tee. Yeah, well.

The bezel had two attachment loops so I decided to look through my stash for a suitable dangle. Sitting in one of my containers was a copper leaf that Douglas had done in repoussé and I had heat-patinated to a beautiful purple/copper sheen. I drilled a hole and attached that to the bottom loop. The leaf was a more modern style than the shard but I encouraged that by stringing some garnet-colored square Czech glass beads together with mesh-covered crystal beads interspersed with lampwork rounds. I tried several ideas for the bail, like a piece of brass from a mantle clock that I had taken apart but ended up making one out of 18 gauge bronze wire. For the clasp, I used an antique etched brass bead on a chain with a handmade shepherd's crook as the loop side. It worked perfectly and was very secure.

Sonata necklace

After completing the piece, I was a bit sad that the repoussé leaf might be leaving my workbench forever-- the fate of all one-of-a-kind pieces. So I thought “why not make a mold from that great little leaf” and got out my Alley Goop RTV (room temperature vulcanizing) putty, and made a mold. I had some scrap clay in a mix of burgundy, green and purple so I used that for the leaf, which turned out to be the perfect base color and added some Jacquard metallic powders and metallic acrylic paint for the copper accents. Maybe earrings to match?

Repoussé leaf

Polymer copies of repoussé leaf

So, at the end of the day, I say – keep it but organize it. You never know what treasures you'll find to inspire you at the bottom of your personal benchtop midden.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Sometimes here in New England the summer seems to last forever-- it gets a little cooler but the grass stays green and the leaves on our Norway maples won't drop until the weather's about ready to spread that white stuff all over the ground. Just last week most of the leaves dropped and created what I call “golden snow”.

My photographer neighbor, Lyana, wanted to do a shot of me doing a “leaf angel” in the leaves but I would have had to rake them into a pile for that and they were just too pretty laying in an amber carpet so we settled on the above shot of my front yard. We Vermonters need to soak in all the color we can, for as long as we can, since Spring can be a long way off once the leaves are gone. I dug the flea market find-- below-- out of storage and hung it on my studio door. I think it's oil crayon on canvas.

You don't have to be a Harry Potter afficianado to love owls. They have been depicted in petroglyphs since the dawn of humankind's ability to interpret our surroundings in drawings and carvings. Lately they've been showing up everywhere in my personal sphere. From the barred owl that calls from our back woods in the early evening dark to the huge Great Horned seen sitting on the wrist of Dowager Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine in the new movie version of Robin Hood, they represent the mysterious and untamed forces of nature. In some cultures they represent wisdom, in others a harbinger of death or illness.

I always associate owls with the deep woods, flying through a backdrop of towering dark hemlocks. They may be raptors like hawks and falcons and have been used by humans for hunting prey as well but they have a different vibe for me-- nothing cutesy or precious but more mystical and spiritual. Their gaze is not as intensely fierce as a hawk's. It has almost a zen quality, of just being there, waiting and listening.

So, bitten by the “owl bug”, I went in search of images that I could use to carve myself one, with the intention of making a mold so I could create several polymer clay copies for one of my cuff bracelets. While searching Etsy for inspiration, I came across several Victorian brass stampings with carving just spare and detailed enough to satisfy me so I figured why reinvent the wheel, I could use these as a jumping-off point for the cuff decorations.

I decided to lay down a textured background on my brass cuff blank so I wouldn't have to cover every inch and would get more decorative mileage out of it. I had one motif that combined the head and wings and when the clay copy ended up projecting a bit more from the flat surface, the effect was of the owl about to fly out of the background. I put two smaller owl faces at the wrists, a highly underrepresented area on most cuffs, in my opinion. I let the composition sit for a day, during which I decided it needed some woodland elements so I added some oversized acorn-y blossoms and some branches. It gave the cuff design a steampunk quality I like. Thanks to Jan for noticing that! After curing, layers of raw umber, a mix of greens and burgundy acrylics went on and were mostly wiped off. It was still missing another tone so I rubbed on tan shoe polish, which added just a bit of yellow tint and mellowed the red and green together.

Wingéd cuff

Wingéd - detail

I had some ivory base clay left over and an adjustable ring blank from Objects and Elements so I experimented with filling that with a little owl face. This is the first ring I've done and I opted for a lighter antiquing on it than on the cuff.

It's quite comfortable to wear so I'm encouraged to try another-- maybe resin? I've got some bottles of ICE resin calling to me. Next blog-- leaves. Is there a woodland theme here?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Scarcity is the Mother of Invention

As I was waking up one morning this past week with my cuppa java I read an older blog post by my friend Barbara Lewis where she muses “Maybe scarcity challenges creativity?”.

I've always thought that the fact that I usually can't afford to indulge in a buying frenzy to acquire the latest and coolest finding/gemstone/chain/doo-dah out in the marketplace has definitely made me the “Mother of Invention”. It's made me dig a lot deeper into whatever I was working on, to find solutions that don't require a large cash expenditure.

On this blog and others, discussion has been raging lately about what entails copying vs. interpretation. When does a piece become your own and when is it merely a rearrangement of a few minor elements, not really a true embodiment of your own creativity? I don't have all the answers, by any means, but here's something that I do in my own pieces that might be useful as a jumping-off point.

Combine the techniques of different artists. I just completed a necklace using my beads and the beads of two other polymer artists (see my previous blog post, Copycats). I really loved the look of the piece and resolved to explore for myself in some new work the techniques used by my collaborators.

Rebecca Watkins, Artybecca, has a very unique carving technique which she generously shared on her Flickr site. I had bought some Dockyard micro-carvers last year which I had yet to use, which work better on small pieces than standard linoleum block carving blades. I mixed up some of my special formula ivory polymer (special only because it has the proportions of translucent, ecru and white Premo clay that I like), played with shapes, formed and cured the batch of five beads.

Getting the hang of carving can be tricky. I now have a few little nicks in my fingers, which will definitely happen if you hold your pieces in your hands while you carve. My husband got tired of hearing me yelp and made me a little jig that locks onto the edge of my desktop to keep the pieces from sliding around. But I just went slowly and not too deeply, following lines I marked on the pieces in soft pencil first. I kept it kind of primitive but kept working into them. Since the beads were not flat in any sense of the word, this took some time in order to not gouge my fingers any further. I found it very meditative.

Now the carving was done but they needed some definition and color. Claire Maunsell is a superb colorist and has inspired me ever since I first saw her work on Polymer Clay Daily. She cleverly lays down layers of pigment until she reaches her final color destination. I started with the traditional raw umber paint to define the carving, dabbing the acrylic into the cuts liberally with a paintbrush and lettting the beads sit for a few minutes before wiping most of the paint off with a paper towel. Sometimes I just cure the beads to set the paint and then sand, but these beads were curvy and uneven and wiping was my preferred method.

Now to add some real color! I wanted to coordinate the bead color with the patination I was going to apply on the wire-wrapped elements which would pull the whole design together. I also was using coral chips I had just purchased that were a rinsed red color. This was going to be a lighter color palette than my usual one-- more of an aurora sunrise with patina green touches. I decided to use a dry-brush technique to lay on the acrylic paint that I learned from furniture painter and master craftswoman, Ruth Pope. You use a small fan brush, one that's made from synthetic fibers and fairly stiff. Dip the tips of the brush in your your first color, then brush the excess off on a piece of paper towel. You have just a little color left and it's fairly dry. Now you can brush very gently in a back and forth wrist motion over the area you want to color. It lays down very little pigment on each pass so you can go back and add more if you want. It's almost like you're buffing the surface with the brush. Layers of color enhance one another and create a totally different effect from blending them all together into opacity, which could result in the color of mud! With this dry brush technique, what you have are layers of transparent color, one over another and the base clay color comes through in some places as well.

Patinated green chain and element from

I'm not finished with the necklace yet but I'm very happy with what I've done so far. I also discovered that you can patinate the wirework after you've already threaded it through the polymer bead. Avoid getting too much of any patina solution on the clay or you'll have to use a commercial alcohol ink remover to take it off. For the green patina, I simply applied the patina solution I purchased from Missficklemedia with a brush in multiple applications until it was the color and coverage I wanted. Shannon LeVart has an excellent tutorial on patination, as well as supplies, for sale on the MissFickle Etsy site that I used for these pieces.

Stay tuned for more texture and antiquing experiments-- I've discovered an interesting new direction for me, courtesy of my friends Claire and Rebecca.

Monday, October 4, 2010


I've been mulling over my thoughts for this post for a while now-- so much has been written in the past couple of months in the jewelry world about copying, infringement of ideas, theft of intellectual property, etc. As an artist who works primarily in polymer, I was feeling a bit smug as our little piece of the artistic pie has been relatively free from these sorts of public spats. The polymer world is well-known for its art retreats, dating almost from the introduction of the medium, where polymer people get together to work and freely share ideas and techniques.

But lately there's been trouble in Paradise. An officer of the International Polymer Clay Association wrote an article for the October issue of the IPCA newsletter that pretty baldly wondered what the big deal was about copying another artist's work and selling that product once the artist had shared their technique for it in a publication. Nan Roche, a pioneer in polymer and author of one of the first important books on polymer technique, made some very clear distinctions about what constitutes copying in her article published back in 1999. She talks about what is and isn't public domain: techniques are, subject matter is and combinations of colors and/or particular shapes are. But she cautions that “The problem arises when one uses a particular technique+subject matter+color/shape in the same configuration as a particular artist. It stands to reason that if you combine all the same components in the same way, it's going to look very closely like the original artists' work.” I think it's pretty much common sense that it's a no-no to sell this product, publish it or teach it. But here's another reason why it's really a bad idea to do this.

Luann Udell, in her excellent and informative blog, responds directly to the IPCA article in the organization's newsletter and references her insightful blog post, titled “What is the Story only you can tell?
She wonders about people who copy and why they would want to substitute someone else's story for their own powerful and wonderful one. As she says “ YOU, is a story that only YOU can tell.
Because it is YOUR story. It happened to YOU. And it changed you--how you look at life, how you look at yourself, where you fit into the world.”

I interpret this to mean, when you copy, you basically rip yourself off, even worse than you've ripped off the artist that you've stolen from. Your piece has no "authentic voice", it's just a manipulation of objects or colors, it has nothing of you in it.

Personally, I find it impossible to copy anyone's work exactly. I always have to do my own thing. I love to look at other people's work, I find it a very rich source of ideas but I never want to copy it. The first thing I think is “oh, that's a good idea” and my very next thought is of what I can do with it to make it my own. Usually the idea inspires something completely new, not derivative in any sense. It just jogs my own imagination and creativity. Just as the natural world does this for me, inspiring me to try colors and textures in my work. I've seen some blog posts lately in which people claim that they keep their art “pure” by not looking at others' published work in popular magazines. That's just limiting and you're deluding yourself if you think that you're not noticing what's out there around you.

So I've been wondering to myself, what is the antidote to all this angst in art? What positive statement can I make to address this worry about what's mine vs what's yours? So I decided to recruit my old friend, Collaboration! In my Flickr surfing lately I've discovered two polymer artists whose work I really admire and adore and so I asked the two of them if they would like to collaborate on some pieces together and they cheerfully agreed. This first piece was designed around the folk-arty and sculptural cat focal of Rebecca Watkins  (ArtyBecca) for my annual Hallowe'en necklace, joined by the quirky and stylish beads of Claire Maunsell (StillPointWorks). Both these ladies have techniques that I thought would complement my own aesthetic, while at the same time, would inspire some beads by me that would meld their styles into something entirely new.

KatManDo necklace collaboration

It's titled after Rebecca's name for her cat/man focal bead. The long textured beads in black, white and gray are by Claire, and I also used some of Rebecca's gold textured beads with integral metal loops and a long ivory one in the design. After adding three chunky, textured and highly antiqued beads I newly made to coordinate with my collaborators' pieces, I ransacked my older beads for some with red accents and made some wire-wrapped and beaded sticks to add color and texture. After watching a tutorial by Maggie Maggio on making polymer links for a necklace that I found on Cynthia Tinapple's blog, Polymer Clay Daily, I experimented with making my own interpretation and created textured black antiqued links for the focal's bail.

"Ritual" -  earrings

With the clay left over from my beads I made these, adding Dalmation jasper to the copper dangles and finished them with handmade copper earwires and coils. My collaboration buddies have spurred both my interest in and experimentation with texture and antiquing and I've been just knocking the work out so expect to see more in the next few blogs.

So I think we can all play together nicely if we just respect each other's stories and celebrate our own. Simple, isn't it?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I sometimes refer to myself as the “Queen of Rust”. Maybe because I am a redhead and I am myself speckled with those little rusty dots called freckles, I love the reddish-brown color of oxidized metal, patinated and given character by seasons outdoors and the vagaries of weather.

My husband has brought me many treasures he has unearthed (well, run over with our large field mower!) in the fields of our old New England farm-- large metal hoops that hold spoked wheels together from old farm wagons, bits and pieces of old buggies, rust-pocked, holey old buckets, gears, etc. A friend of mine displays her finds in an artful collage on the white-washed interior wall of her old 3-storey barn. Mine adorn my woodland garden, brimful of ferns we transplanted from our woods, as well as astilbe, jack-in-the-pulpit, and trout lilies that hitchhiked along with the ferns. I stand the hoops upright, propped with river stones, where they make excellent garden sculptures.

I've lately been cleaning off and fixing up--in an Adirondack theme--the little screened porch attached to the end of our workshop, displaying stored treasures I've collected for years. I went on a barkcloth binge a few years ago and in a way, I'm glad I did as the stuff is hard to find in the older, silk-screened beautiful rough textures that I collected. On one of his mowing forays, Douglas crunched into a tangle of old wire and brought it back to show me-- it laid for years in a rusty pile next to the driveway. As I was cleaning up one weekend, I happened upon it and it struck me as how sculptural it was, just all randomly tangle-y and patinated by years of weathering. Now it will have a new home adorning the pasture outside my porch, suspended in a custom hanger made by my artisan blacksmith husband. Repurposing at its very organic best!

I have now met my opposite number in the love of all things rusty-- Ted. My friend, neighbor and super-photographer, Lyana and I were out-and-about looking for antiques one weekend not long ago and here was a sign “Barn Sale” that tweaked my interest-- my best finds have been made, not at pricey flea markets or antique malls, but in the downhome environs of old barns and sheds, the messier and less-organized the better. A quick u-turn later and we were met by Ted, a prop-master, uber-collector and hoarder extraordinaire, whose orangey stash was unmatched in my experience in both scope and quality. I will wax rhapsodic at length on his other good stuff in some later post (and boy is there a lot of stuff!)

As I was already in rust-mode I thought I would play a bit with patinas. I dug out some vintage findings I got from Jems Gems on Etsy and applied some green patina solution I've had hanging around for years. This stuff goes on in light layers and some time has to pass before you really see the results. Leaving everything overnight worked the best. I also tried another little technique over the patina, which I promise to reveal once I've worked it into something that produces consistent results. Adding to all this fabulous color in these photos are some chain and findings I got from the talented Shannon LeVart who is also an editor on the Art Bead Scene blog. She's just produced an e-book called Color Drenched Metals, and I've purchased a copy from her Etsy shop as well as several bottles of her excellent patina solutions. I've got gobs of vintage chain and I can't wait to see what I can do armed with her well-explained technique and my penchant for experimentation.