Monday, February 28, 2011

Decisions, Decisions - Work in Progress

Sorry not to have anything to post today but the background on my Bead Soup necklace is taking longer than I thought! But I promise if you stop back tomorrow, there will be something interesting to read!

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Risk and Reward

Living as I do in a remote area, I am frequently grateful for the Internet and the ability it gives me to keep in touch with other artists around the country and the wider world. I can tailor-make my list of blogs, choosing only those that are specific to my interests. I can surf museum sites and online galleries, browsing the best modern and ancient art and craft and I don't have to go further than my home office.

When I was in an artists' support group some years ago, our only means of communication was by phone and the only artists I had met locally all worked in a two-dimensional medium. We do have lots of fine craft artists in Vermont but you could only get to their studios by trekking through snow or over muddy roads or just wait until they had gallery shows and hope that they were staged in the warm months.

So with the advent of the Internet I now have many friends online who work in various media. We have Facebook, Flickr and the blogosphere where we meet and converse and share ideas and critique each others' work.

But I think there are true dangers to the creative life in the trend to present your work in the social media. It's great to get your work out there to a wider audience but are we becoming approval junkies? Do you ever find the need to be liked shaping your art? Causing you to re-think a design? The risk is that staying in the same groove may win approval and nice comments on Flickr or Facebook but may cause us to play it safe when it comes to swinging out there to make innovations or try new techniques.

Although what I do is not driven by the market--that is, I don't sell my work to earn a living, I have heard from other designers that their customers do appreciate innovation and new designs. So the many online opportunities that exist to challenge your creativity are excellent motivators as long as you're not just turning in work to meet a deadline at the expense of quality.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I am participating in Lori Anderson's Bead Soup Blog Party Three and our reveal date is this Saturday. I have a beautiful stash of beads and objects from my partner this time, Lyn Foley and although I have a design already sketched out, I'll be disappointed if I'm not challenged in making it all come together. For me, that's the reward for taking the risk of putting myself and my work out there. To find out something new as I'm working. To discover a new technique or a new material. To make a new connection with another artist. I'm taking a pledge to quit obsessing about recognition and get on with tuning in to the creative Muse, to let her inspire new breakthroughs and insights in 2011.

Here are a couple of photos of work that I did for a recent online challenge that has inspired several notebook pages' worth of ideas. It doesn't get any better than that!

Lantern beads - polymer clay and oil pastels

Evening of a Summer's Day
Polymer clay, agate, pearls, African glass spacers, Czech glass beads

Monday, February 14, 2011

Friends and Lovers

It's Valentine's Day and the popular media would like us to think that it's all about romance, candy, flowers, and jewelry. But I say it's about the gifts of inspiration that flow throughout the year from our relationships with creative friends.

It's a very new thing for me to have friends that support and praise my work. In art school, there was a lot of competition and negative criticism. We were told by our teachers that maybe 1 in 10,000 of us would actually succeed as professional artists. Of course, that meant painters. If you mentioned textiles or pottery, you would get a sneer and jokes about basketweaving courses.

After I attended the School for American Craftsmen at R.I.T., I began to see fine craft coming into its own in curatorial circles as a valid artistic medium. These days I would venture to say that people are collecting handmade furniture, ceramics, jewelry, baskets, and textiles as much, if not more, than they are buying art to hang on the wall.

This past weekend, I literally devoured the photos of the incredible work my friend, Cindy Wimmer, has done for the new Wire Style 2 book. I was so inspired by her bold, imaginative designs and meticulous wire work that I decided to transform a heart shape I was working on with wire, to strive for more than the simple polymer shape I originally planned.

Entwined Heart pendant

I've been working with tangling and kinking wire in combination with polymer clay for about a year and now have a much better idea of the properties and idiosyncrasies of this material. I've embedded clay into wire-wrapped bezels (see Belle Armoire Jewelry – Summer 2010 for a tutorial) but I'm also liking the airier feel of the floating tangled wire embracing the polymer shape--like the vibrations of a heart beating in synchronicity with her love's heart. Yes, I am a romantic! I'm sure there will be more work to come with this technique.

Around this time of year, and it's been a pretty snowy one for most of this country, I like to work in the color red, even more so than in other seasons. It's intense and warm, it reminds me of the heart's fire and passion and .... well, I just love it! I did up some mokume gane in reds in anticipation of getting some things into my Etsy shop for Valentine's Day but got sidetracked by a custom order. But I will be listing them anyway. You can never have enough red, in my opinion!

Watercolors cuff

Watercolors earrings

 When we woke up this morning at our customary 5 a.m. my husband, Douglas, handed me a card. It read “When my mind wanders, it always finds its way to you” -- opened, it played Sam Cook singing “You Send Me”. He had written some amazingly sweet sentiments inside-- no, I'm not sharing those! But heartfelt gifts like this mean more to me than diamond earrings and fancy dinners. Since his job supports me in my jewelry-making, I made these earrings for myself yesterday and counted them as a Valentine's present from Dougie. He approved.

Greensleeves earrings

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Once Again into the Creative Soup

Soup has got to be my favorite food. Stew, goulash, cassoulet, stufato-- whatever the culture calls it, the melange of flavors, the cornucopia of ingredients, the surprising little bits of this and that-- it all comes together in the pot in a surprising triumph of cooperation of many disparate elements. As you're simply chopping all the pieces up, you cannot predict what the final result will be. That's the crap shoot, the risk, taking the leap of faith that you will get something great in the end from things that don't even look like they belong together.

It's 20 degrees this morning in central Vermont and lightly snowing. I can see my snow-covered meadow from the window above my workbench, where there are a number of projects in various stages of completion-- Valentine's presents for the women in my family, a funky little heart framed in wirework with its patina curing, lots of pairs of earrings that need finishing.

It may seem chaotic but I find working like this to be the best way for me to let the lessons learned from one project spill over and influence others I'm working on. Since I've become a serious, every-day-at-the-bench artist, I need to put myself in the way of design problems to solve-- they don't just show up in my workspace. As I've mentioned before, the Art Bead Scene challenges are very stimulating and I've followed Michelle Ward's challenges as well. Now I've got a new “design addiction”-- Lori Anderson's Bead Soup Party!I know several beaders/designers who have done a couple of these with Lori and loved them so I decided to jump in.

Lori asked each one of us to define our style so she could try to pair us with someone who was the opposite of that style. The method in her madness: “to get you to challenge yourself, help break you out of your design rut, so to speak”. And it works.

I was so fortunate to be paired with a very talented lampwork craftswoman and designer, Lyn Foley, from Texas. We immediately e-mailed back and forth and checked out each others photos and in a few days I received this bountiful box of loot from Lyn.

The only rule is you have to use the focal and the clasp your partner supplies in your creation. You are free to use any of your own stash for supplemental beads or the ones that your partner sends. I had immediately admired Lyn's ruffly flower beads and was so happy to see some arrive for me wrapped in palest turquoise tissuepaper! But then I noticed the nifty Steampunk-style found object focal in bronze that she had included. How to make a harmonious piece out of two dissimilar styles? Well, that's the whole point, isn't it? To give your creative problem-solving muscles a challenge, to jog you out of familiar paths and ways of working.

I'll be teasing you with some little glimpses of work in progress in the next few weeks-- the big Reveal Party will be on February 26 and all 210 (yes-- you read that correctly!) of us intrepid designers will be blogging our results at the same time. Fireworks in midwinter!

For more information on the Bead Soup Party, go to Lori Anderson (Flickr group

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Wirework – What's Ancient Becomes New Again

When I first started doing polymer clay, I knew I wanted to incorporate metal into my work. There was something for me about metal as a supporting cast member that was important. Something about it that gave weight and stability to clay-- more than adding mere actual grams and ounces--grounded it, if you will.

Metal plays such a large part in our world of jewelry-making. Clasps, chain, bezels, jumprings-- all have their own special design capabilities and can be so much more than adjuncts to gemstones and beads.

As I was writing this blog this morning, I dug out some pieces I've made in the last year and found that more and more I depend on wire to provide an important design element.

From Kandinsky necklace

Copper wire experiment

Focal from Dark and Stormy Night necklace - Available in my Etsy shop

Wire element from unfinished necklace

Detail from Silk Road necklace

Clasp from Dzi bead necklace

Last year I sent a selection of my beads to a good friend, Cindy Wimmer who had been invited to submit projects for a new wire book by Denise Peck, editor of Step by Step Wire Magazine and author of 101 Wire Earrings and Wire Style.

I'm happy and proud to tell you that my little "Fallen to Earth" polymer focal pendant and beads are now gracing the pages of Wire Style 2, strikingly showcased in Cindy Wimmer's necklace of the same name. I haven't seen the book yet so I don't know if there are polymer beads used in other artists' work but I thank Cindy for championing the use of polymer beads in wire work in an important popular venue such as this. In the past I've provided beads for other artists such as Sharon Borsavage and Deryn Mentock and seen what amazing things a talented designer can do with them.

Rambler by Live Wire Jewelry - Pale blue faux jade beads by Stories They Tell

Vedauvoo Blooms by Deryn Mentock - Large beads by Stories They Tell

Among other contributors to the book are Kerry Bogert and Lisa Niven Kelly, whose informative and comprehensive website Beaducation has taught me so much about using metal and wire. Wire Style 2 is available now from the Interweave site and after March 1 from other booksellers.

Fallen to Earth beads

Fallen to Earth pendant