Saturday, September 17, 2011

Life is Just a Bowl of Soup-- Bead Soup, That Is!

The Bead Soup Blog Party is a large collaboration project, brainchild of Lori Anderson, for lovers of beads in which each beader is paired up with another and tasked with sending the following: a focal, a special clasp (not just a lobster claw) and some coordinating spacers or beads.

Using the focal and the clasp is mandatory, but anything from your own stash can be used to round out the rest and you can choose to use the coordinating beads or not.

In my opinion, the real challenge is to make something in your own style using someone else's interpretation, expressed by the style of the components of the Bead Soup that they send you. My partner was Cynthia Deis, jewelry designer and owner of Ornamentea. The focal she sent was a beautifully-crafted lampwork bead with a tree theme by Lisa Daly, the clasp was a handmade by Cynthia, and the accompanying beads were small Elaine Ray ceramic forms and beads and some Czech glass leaves and faceted rounds.

Now my style is more tribal and usually incorporates large elements. My beads have a soft sheen and are not shiny. Gone are the days of Flecto Varathane for me! But lampwork is shiny and glimmery, so how to incorporate it into my own style? I had to solve the same issue in my previous BSBP piece, Mistress Boleyn's Necklace, so after some musing, I came up with gilt! In the tease post I did for this year's BSBP, I showed a piece of polymer done in multiple gilded colors to mimic a wooden Indonesian screen. I decided to use the same technique to frame the lampwork focal so its jewel-like glow was set off and enhanced by metallic paint.

Since the theme of the focal was a tree, I decided to use woodgrain and branches as a background for the polymer “bezel”. Lately I've been influenced yet again by an HBO production-- The Game of Thrones-- in which gardens dedicated to the old gods are planted with trees called “weirwoods”, so I used handcarved branches on a woodgrain textured background to hold the focal and provide a surface for texture, color and gilt. The same technique used for the layered bezel also created the three-strand connectors that hold the beaded wires.

Now, how to incorporate all the small beads into the design? I've been using wire-wrapping a lot lately so the solution was to wrap and string them around forged strands of heat-patinated copper. I drew the patterns onto paper, enlarged them on a copier and used them as templates as I worked. They were then attached to the focal piece with polymer, textured and cured in place. The amazing thing about polymer clay is that it can be cured again and again without harm so layers can be built up and wires can be held in place.

After adding layer upon layer of color with heat-set oil paint, acrylics and gilders paste--a technique I'll be teaching in a workshop at ArtBliss in D.C. next weekend--I decided that simple bookchain links in copper and steel would be appropriate to match Cynthia's clasp and finish off my gorget. (def: a metal collar designed to protect the throat, later used as an ornamental accessory on military uniforms).

As I've said before, I believe that perseverance is the key to compelling design – to keep working into it, adding layers of color, shape and texture. I design with the intent that when people see my pieces, they are inspired to invent a story about them. With “Norweigan Wood”-- my title for this piece-- I hope I've achieved my goal.

"Norweigan Wood"

Focal lampwork bead

Clasp detail

Here's the link for the entire list of 362 participants/partners of the Bead Soup Blog Party. Grab a cup of coffee and have fun-- there's lots of great design to enjoy! And thanks for visiting!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

If you were on high ground in Vermont two weeks ago watching as Tropical Storm Irene sent sheets of rain down for twelve hours, except for a fairly warm drenching there wasn't much happening. All the battening down of lawn furniture and picnic table umbrellas proved unnecessary since the predicted Category 2 winds never developed. Of course the power went out about four hours into the storm for four days but we were prepared for that. We had water, oil lamps, crank-up radios, food and plenty to read as we hunkered down in our one-story workshop situated in our field and out of the way of tall trees.

The stream next to our house

Overruning the opposite bank

 As the rainfall rate started to crank up, my husband and I went outside to get a better view of the teensy stream that runs at the back of our acreage, which was cresting its banks with leaping waves and had begun to flood the lower parts of the property. Happily, it had avoided our newly-planted apple grove and blueberry bushes. A wide, shallow river of muddy water was rushing toward a confluence with the larger stream whose course runs a few feet from our driveway, flowing from the hills across the road, under a small bridge and down to the Third Branch of the White River. When I bought this house in 1994, I made sure it wasn't in a flood plain but I also guessed that once the water flowed under the little bridge it had a wider place to go and therefore wouldn't rise to the top of our bank, 12 feet or so above the streambed. My gamble was correct and although Douglas snapped photos of the water's crest coming to within a foot or so of the roadbed of the bridge, severe damage was avoided except for a total rearrangement of the stream's course as well as some physical features of the landscape downstream. I also knew that our home, which is post-and-beam construction and built in 1830, had withstood the historic Vermont Flood of 1927. It had, in fact, sheltered men from the community who stayed here overnight so they could keep one bridge open off Braintree Hill by fending off large trees that were washing down the streambeds and threatening to demolish the bridge.
Floodwaters flowing under our bridge

We had experienced major flooding from a summer storm in 1998 and lots of roads in our nearest town, Randolph, were severely damaged that year. Earlier this spring, major work was done to replace aging culverts and this work was well-justified, as those previously-damaged areas came through with flying colors. The Amtrak trestles didn't do so well. In two sites the track was seen suspended in mid-air with nothing underneath for 20 feet.

Amtrak "suspension" bridge a mile from our home

 Monday after the storm we ventured into town to get a cell-phone signal so we could call relatives and let them know we were ok. We began to see saturated furniture and household goods piled in front of homes and farms. Boulders and large trees were left in the middle of flattened hayfields, like strange sculptural installations. Stands of ripe corn were covered with gray mud. Parking lots had collapsed into streambeds, giant bites taken out of the asphalt. Stores had their doors open but without lights. We checked our local Aubuchon's Hardware and they told us generators were on the way. Shaw's Supermarket was running on generators but the shelves were still reasonably stocked. Randolph Village, which had been so hard hit in the Flood of '27, had survived the worst. At least our floodwaters had receded.

View from the bottom of our field-- normal streambed is to far right of photo

Battles Brook heading toward its meeting with Flint Brook
But many of our tiny villages and communities are still isolated and without power or a way to get out except by foot almost two weeks later. My husband's company had watermarks 5 feet up and mud all over their offices and manufacturing facilities. They will rebuild but it will take months and lots of physical labor and help from a backhoe. It's hard to believe that in 2011 our civilized world could be dealt such a blow from the forces of wind and water. You read about the tornados and the earthquakes and the tsunami but until the water's at your door, it doesn't seem real. We are lucky in Vermont that we still have some time to fix roads and find shelter for those whose homes were demolished before winter and the inevitable cold arrives. But the courage and fortitude (a word hardly used anymore) of my neighbors in dealing with this crisis makes me proud to be part of this community-- we're not whining, we're not looting, we are being generous with our resources and our homes, we are rebuilding by using our own hard work and hands, we are helping each other. In earlier times we did the same. It seems adversity serves to renew our trust in each other and our interdependence as a community.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Is it Soup Yet?

Yes, it's that time again-- 362 jewelry designers from all over the planet swapping hand-picked jewelry elements that will become fabulous swag--. Lori Anderson's largest-ever Bead Soup Blog Party!

This time I am paired with Cynthia Deis, owner of the eclectic and gloriously-stocked shop Ornamentea, where I've spent many hours perusing and marveling at the wares she's gathered. Of all the online shops I visit, I love Ornamentea the best for their inspiring and unique tutorials demonstrating ways to use the components that they sell.

The purpose of the Bead Soup Blog Party-- BSBP-- is to have fun designing with materials somebody else has chosen and to meet new jewelry enthusiasts but also to stretch our design abilities and use colors and materials we normally might not choose, to get outside our artistic comfort zone.

The stash I received from Cynthia will definitely do that. I love to work in a fairly large scale-- big, chunky beads, bold colors, multiple layers of vintage chain and substantial focals. My package from Ornamentea is all scaled-down and precious-- a glimmering handmade lampwork focal by Lisa Daly with a tree motif, miniature leaves, faceted Czech stones, tiny ceramic beads by Elaine Ray-- all woodsy-toned and neutral. An eclectic group of fibers is included-- deerskin, leather lace and golden maple silk ribbon. Cynthia's handmade steel clasp finishes the group.

 I puzzled a bit over what I would do with this. I went over to my pile of “works in progress”-- bits and pieces of experiments, earring parts and elements that are waiting for completion and/or inspiration. I found a little piece that I made a few months ago that reminds me of the wooden Indonesian screen that my sister has hanging in her living room. It's handcarved with very weathered paint.

 So my challenge is to incorporate Cynthia's supplies into my own style, using the “wooden” polymer shard as my jumping-off point. This is one of those instances where the total design just sprang into my head and my fingers had to move very fast to capture it on paper. The fibers will add in nicely and I might whip up some cord on my Diva cordmaker to pull it all together. I already have a name for my piece, which is unusual since I almost always name them after they're done. I'm calling this “Norwegian Wood”. Stop back for the big Reveal on September 17 for the blog hop.