handmade jewelry & metalsmithing

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Amethyst Earrings

My first time ‘smithing in my new place, and my first fully iphoned post! Let’s hope for the best! I’m sharing space with my bunny buddy Moops-rocking out to Devo radio on Spotify- sipping tart bubbly apple cider…all in all I am in heaven.

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First I saw out the shape in copper.

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Then I hammer the edges for texture, and file it to correct the shape.

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After that, the bezel setting is soldered into place.

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But first it has to be fitted to the stone.

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And with earrings, you do things twice.
After you take a hay-break!

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After pickling the metal overnight, I’m ready for the torch!

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After some clean up, it is time to set the amethyst into the silver bezel.

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All done and ready for polishing. I’ll have these up on ETSY soon-ish. Thanks for watching me work! Let me know if you have any questions it would like to see a particular item or technique!

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Creating a More Natural, Chemical-Free Jewelry Studio

Jewelry Bench

Do you ever wonder if you really need something toxic-strength to do a simple job? As I moved my studio recently, I had to neutralize my pickling acid-creating a bubbling blue sludge volcano, mop up all traces of flux with a wearing a mask and gloves, and try not to chemically dissolve the carpet out of my new car, as I did last time I moved my studio.
So it got me thinking about switching to ingredients that are a little less harsh. My husband and I gave green cleaners a try for our home, as we hate smelling windex/pine sol/bleach. Yuck. So we gave vinegar, baking soda and borax a try. Wow. They have not let us down, and the savings are unbelievable. We even switched to pure glycerin soap, and now we don’t have to clean up soap scum from those other soaps.
But, it’s metal…it needs a really hardcore toxic action to do the job, right? Flux has got to stand up to torches that could reach 1500° to melt hard solder, and the pickling acid needs to be able to eat up the flux glass that forms on the metal. But I’m game, so I do a little research like a good librarian should, and here is how I work now:

Borax Flux

1. Flux: In blacksmithing, we used 20 Mule Team Borax to forge weld steel. An awesomely fun endeavor-as it bubbles and sprays hot molten stuff out when you smash it with your hammer. Waaaaayyy out! I used to love doing demos and watching people jump back! But anyway, British jewelers, and a lot here, use a cone of Borax that they grind into a dish (looks like a mortar and pestle) with a little water. The Borax in the box maybe isn’t so finely ground, so I pulverized it a little with the back of a spoon, and put it into a little jar with water. Accustomed to using handy flux, I will tell you the main differences: you will have to shake it , stir it and apply it fairly quickly-the borax and the water separate. If you had thrown away your solder pick because your flux stuck like glue-go get one-you’ll need it. It can bubble and jostle all your pieces around until you get a feel for the mixture. It also helps to wait a little for it to dry, which is the opposite of working with handy flux. Also different, is that you can get it all over your piece to prevent oxidation, then still control your solder flow with the torch and solder pick. If you don’t have one, I have always used the needle tool from my clay-working tools. The wood-handled ones for soldering metal where always to bulky and bendy in my experience. Advantages of Borax: easily available from the laundry aisle of your supermarket for around $5 a box. That means borax is about $1 per pound, handy flux is about $11 per pound. Commercial fluxes contain fluorides, potassium and hydroxide. You don’t want to breathe their fumes or let them touch your skin. Borax is naturally derived sodium tetraborate-the only dangers it warns you of is not to eat it or put it in your eyes. You still don’t want to breathe the soldering fumes (solder, carbon monoxide), but think of it this way–you can wash your clothes in it. It’s not scary.

Pickling Acid

2. Pickling Acid: There’s a lot of ways to pickle-sulfuric acid, sodium bisulfate, sparex, pool chemicals. And then you are responsible for neutralizing and ethically disposing of your sludge. Not to mention that you are going to be breathing some amount of it, as a big puff of steam escapes each time you raise the lid. My first alternative solution was to try Citric Acid. This can also be found at your supermarket (well, maybe your more country-ish supermarket. Food City, not Kroger) in the canning and pickling section. Also at sporting goods/outdoorsman stores with the sausage-making/meat preserving items. I used a mixture of 2 cups water (16oz) and added 3 oz. citric acid. Always add acid to water. They also say you can use 1 cup white vinegar with 1 tsp-1 tbsp of salt. But guess what-it will stink like a pot of simmering vinegar all the time. I’ve found that the citric acid has excellent results, comparable to chemicals, and is still going strong now that it’s a month old. Just add water as the water level lowers. There’s still a lot of granules floating around the bottom, but nothing funky is growing and it has no smell. It costs about $5 for 5oz. Which will make a couple batches. I worked out the cost difference to be about $2 to make a quart with either chemical or natural pickle. But the citric acid won’t eat through your clothes. It’s citric acid, as in sour candy, lemons-stuff you know. The chemical pickles have a long list of warnings-each one ending with “seek medical attention.”

Hand Torches

3. Torches: There are a lot of ways to spend a lot of money to get a simple flame. My first torch was my most expensive-an acetylene cylinder. It cost about $90-filled, I got $40 back when I turned in the empty cylinder 6 years later. The Smith hoses, regulator, handset and assortment of tips were well over $300. Of course I loved it-worth every penny. The best set up for working a range of sizes. But somehow I got over having to be responsible for that cylinder of gas-driving it in my car when I move, carrying that behemoth up flights of stairs, knowing that it could be potentially disastrous in a house fire. I was kind of relieved when it ran out, and I decided to explore other options. So, what’s actually legal to have in your home? A disposable propane cylinder, not a grilling size tank. They can even be recycled http://www.bernzomatic.com/green-key/green-key-english.aspx I use the Bernzomatic TS 4000T Trigger Start hand torch, which is about $35 at your hardware store. The propane fuel cylinders are about $2, and last me several months using them pretty heavily. You can do anything with this flame, and it is much cleaner than the acetylene-no black on your piece and it’s a nice heat. It was priceless when I had concrete floors, space, and a ventilation hood. But in a smaller area with windows and fans, it set off my carbon monoxide detector after soldering. So use it outside if you don’t have a big, well ventilated setup. I purchased the Bernzomatic Butane Micro Torch Kit at a hardware store for $25, that is filled with butane. At about $4 for 5.5 oz, I have refilled it twice and haven’t run out yet. It’s a lovely little flame to work with. However, I prefer the propane hand torch -the large neutral flame is perfect for enveloping your piece to prevent firescale. The butane flame is burning bright blue and pointy (oxidizing)-so you’ll want to coat your piece with flux, or have a terrible cleanup ahead of you. I do appreciate it’s adjustable flame, otherwise it really might be useless in soldering with thaIt has its limits, you will not be doing large pieces with this flame, and if you try, the tip will melt at extended periods of high heat. But it’s very convenient for findings, which was risky business with the large non-adjustable flame of the propane torch. I like having them both.

Dremel Stylus

4. Rotary Tool: My Grobet FlexShaft tool is indispensable. I need it to drill, to grind, to sand and polish. But when you have an old house with no nearby grounded plugs- you don’t want to blow a fuse, or fry your over $200 investment. So , I decided to try the Dremel Stylus-again, from a hardware store around $70. I picked up additional collets (quick change assorted pack-$7) so I could use my jeweler’s drill bits and flex shaft bits. And it works like a dream. It sits on a charging station, so it is cordless, but always ready to go. And to me, the greatest advantage is that it comes with instructions for which speed settings to use for which bits and materials-drilling metal, buffing with a felt wheel, grinding. The speeds correspond to the rpm, which allow you to use precisely the right speed for your bit. My polishing results are more reliable now that I’m at a steady speed rather than using a foot pedal. But be careful, if something catches, the off button is near the bit (bad design choice). It’s much more comfortable to use, being cordless and lightweight is a nice bonus. I hate that Dremel is made in China though-Grobet and Foredom FlexShafts are made in the US. But this is an affordable, capable, compact alternative to a flexshaft.

Bench and Anvil

5. Work Area: My jeweler’s bench is surrounded on 3 sides by open windows. A fan gives a nice cross breeze, and the natural light is so much better for my eyes. Although, I do have to sometimes draw the blinds to make it dim enough to watch my flame. I always wear a 3M P100 respirator (vapors and particulate) when I’m soldering or using chemicals. And a regular dust mask when I’m sanding, sawing or polishing.

Window View

6. Preventing Eyestrain: I always wear safety glasses, but how do I keep my eyes strong when I spend hours squinting at tiny objects? You must periodically take breaks to focus on something far away. Now I can look out the window at my vegetable patch, and combine that with the sounds of the birds and the fresh air, and I really don’t mind that it is hot…so verrrry hot in Tennessee! I hope this gave you some inspiration about how you can be more natural in your workshop. It’s safer and more economic, and generally we can be more creative when we are more minimalist in our processes. Pare your studio down to the basics that you understand, and you can be more comfortable and intuitive about what’s happening in there.

An Eye-Candy Tour of Charleston’s Ironwork

Charleston, South Carolina is absolutely stunning-whether you're into history, food or beauty in general. James and I chose it for our honeymoon because it is such a different city-very romantic and enchanting. They do not replace a historical sctructure with a plaque-they keep it! They do not move all their antiques into the museums-they keep them where they've always been. It makes the city very charming and beautiful, not to mention the people are incredilbly friendly and the food is amazing...

Beautiful. Think about how there is no gate today that will look like this decades from now. Certainly not one that people will stop on the street to photograph. There are still blacksmiths making decorative gates, and the more people commission them, the more there will be!

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Now this...is what church steeples were meant to do. They invoke the feeling and the recognition of the grand distance and the stark difference between the earthly and heavenly realms.

This church had a lovely courtyard with flower gardens.

They even have gorgeous park-benches! I once made an earring styled after arms of a parkbench. Actually, not once but several times.

And here they are, my Silver Scroll earrings. And their secret's out-they really are Park Bench Earrings. Oh well, beautiful lines and graceful curves work the same magic on furniture and architecture as they do everywhere else.

Back to Charleston, where an alley to an art gallery has a beautiful gate...

And so does an ordinary insurance company...

Our stormdrains? Yes, let's give those decoration too.

This one is a little unnerving, but maybe it's some kind of flower-trellis? Or where you impale your pirates?

Lovely entryway, I have never seen a lamp like that, but I am in love with it.

Beautiful in the night-light as well! Here's a link to the University of South Carolina Press, which prints an excellent book about a Charleston Blacksmith, Philip Simmons http://www.sc.edu/uscpress/books/pre1993/9835.html I bought it, because I remember reading UT's copy and enjoying his life story as well as all the images of his work.

This is the entrance to a church. I believe this was part of a "haunted places" tour. So, go ahead and imagine that a jilted lover committed suicide inside..that is apparently the story of every haunting in Charleston. To me, thats a pretty bold ghost-to haunt a church! I don't think that would inspire much faith.

And then there are those who like to decorate with pickled pigs feet...this is at the #1 restaurant in the US, Husk. Stroll arround the coast, cobblestone streets, gorgeous walkways-then eat better than anyone else in the country. But I highly recommend the bar...

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

happy hearts and happy cephalopods

Heart Earrings! One for me, one for Etsy-these are a larger size than my skulls and flowers. The size reminds me of being a kid and wearing big clip-on earrings from the Sanrio store. These are probably about the width of the yummy candy hearts as well-all adding up to something that makes me very happy to wear!

These were a nice impromptu design. Using the metal stamps, I noticed that I never really use them for their non-intended purpose, so I played around to see what I could do. Deciding on smiley/frowny faces was in part because for our first Valentines together, my husband had given me little silver frog studs that were adorably frowning. Smiles are nice, but frowns get a hug and kiss. So, easily enough, I hammered up some silver, sawed out a heart, stamped in a face, and polished it up!

Hearts and Flowers for you for Valentines Day! These are on Etsy http://www.etsy.com/listing/91059948/heart-studs-sterling-silver-handcrafted

Wrapping the silver sheet in masking tape makes a nice surface to transfer my drawing for the saw.

Flipping my sketch over, I transfer the pencil onto the taped surface. Ouch, my poor wrist is sore-from too much time at the sewing machine, if you can believe it-not used to that!

To get into little nooks and crannies, you must drill a hole to feed your sawblade through.

This is a sawing-intensive piece! The little guys waving all those tentacles around and not holding still!

Then it's needle file time to- knock off those rough edges.

It's a fire-bath for our little mollusk friends, to attach the hinge for the cufflink backings.

And the finished cufflink, also available on Etsy for your fancy-dressing sweetheart http://www.etsy.com/listing/91062556/octopus-cufflinks-handcrafted-sterling We recently gazed at a real octopus at Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg, and were absolutely transfixed. Their movements are absolutely mesmerizing. Apparently they are also extremely intelligent, so I've got my eye on them for taking over the planet-if I had eight arms....I could think about that all day, actually.

Springtime=Birds and Candy Colors

Aventurine Owl Pendant

Aventurine Bird Pendant

Everybody knows the spring/Easter-y colors; the colors that M&M's change to and those marshmallow eggs that are great for hiding, but not adequate for eating. I've been laying on the green and purple stones-Aventurines & Amethysts-highlighted by yellow gold accents. And birds are a major inspiration. I sleep in front of a huge window facing a very old oak tree, and assuming theere's no tornado, I leave the windows open pretty much year round. Through the winter, there was only one bird that hung around, but now there's a new bird call adding to the bunch every morning. Since they're such nice harbingers of spring, i believe their image qualifies for totem status.

sawing out a bird

My system for making the birds is to draw out a basic bird shape onto the silver, then I saw him out and change him as I build the piece around him. I might saw off the feet and cut the wings in more, to make a soaring bird, or round out his belly to make a perched bird. No silver's really lost because I refine all my scrap, and I much prefer a way of working that lets me sculpt with the metal, rather than doing all the designing on paper. A three-dimensional final product really calls for a three-dimensional workup.

sanding before setting the stones

These two pendants are being sanded and polished with the flex-shaft-a flying songbird and a perched dove.

Perched Dove Pendant

Amethyst Ring

I really like the way a tiny bit of gold makes the color of these stones more vibrant. Gems have me kinda of hypnotized lately, they play off of their surroundings so much. In the sping, when you're revelling in the sunny days you realize how much you can enjoy something that catches the light. My last studio day was quickly turned into a picnic/nap & draw in the sun-day when the light was making rainbows off my new engagement ring, and it just made me want to stay outside and take in all the new plant life that was popping out over Cara's backyard. First day of the year I could lay in the soft grass, and I had good friend to talk to, kitty batting at her gardening gloves, and adorable baby Alex pulling up grass and crumbling up leaves. Perfect day, I got some very inspired designing done that had been giving me a headache before. I'm making some pieces for the workshop faculty exhibit and silent auction for the Appalachian Center for Craft where I'll be teaching an intro jewelry-making class. It really made me feel like we were back at the Craft Center, as that was pretty much how your time got spent, minus babies & kitties, laying in the grass with a project in mind and all the nature inspiring you and the ideas just flow.

SKull pendant

But I will say that Cadbury eggs are not a sunshine-picnic treat..more of a pudding-without-a-spoon. I'll also attribute Easter-candy longings for the candy-skull bent my skull pendants have taken.

Handwork

This morning I read a nice essay by Bruce Metcalf on the eternal debate of art vs. craft. I'll boil it down for you; his stance is agreeing with Arthur Danto that art is "embodied meaning" and the object is limitless, while craft implies some amount of handwork. He likes to keep the designations separate, while others like to blur the lines. For myself, I appreciate the separate realms, because when I studied "art" we had to talk about what makes something art ad nauseum, and everything we made we junked in the trash after crits. When I studied craft, we skipped the banter, learned how to use tools and the focus was on creating objects and learning techniques. Our crits were so much less an exercise in selling your idea, and we actually learned as well as gained inspiration from discussing the pieces together. There's so much more to be learned from a well-crafted object, than "art projects" that are basically an exercise in visual communication. When you "get" the meaning of a work of art, it's nice to continue to be awed by the skill of the maker, and the nature of the medium, and the way the piece interacts with its environment. I would definitely agree that art and craft are separate realms, craft is like a thick rope made up of a lot of different strands, and art is like a single thread with a lot of weight on it.

I've been having a bit of spring fever since we've had snow dumped on us for more than a week, so I've been working on themes of flowers and colored stones. If my gem order doesn't arrive soon with more colors, I'm going to start mining for my own in the mountains! I've never been a fan of gems, but it's creeping up on me. Maybe it's the long-term exposure to Leslie Hall. In the meantime, I've made these, which take a different route to floral representation. I've made the sculptural flowers pictured below, so with these I represent the outline of a floral motif with saw-work.

I love the simplicity of these little blossoms. Today I'm going to get started on some larger floral forms for pendants. I used to try to avoid floral motifs in jewelry, as it's done so often, but there are endless approaches to it. And they go so nicely with birds, which I've been into lately.

These turned out very simple and charming I think. They have a hammered texture and a very wiggly delicate line, so they look very old and comforting to me. They make me think of a motif from hand-stitching on a quilt, with their wandering tendrils- a good way to interpret flowers in the winter.

New Year=New Stuff

I'm so happy to have a new year as a reason to make a bunch of big improvements. I revamped my website, made a bunch of new jewelry, and rearranged my studio. I am very pleased to be the proud owner of a new jeweler's bench-handmade by my Dad-best Christmas present ever!

As for jewelry, I've been thinking about more about something I read by a French blacksmith. He was giving advice to aspiring metalworkers and said that new artists should avoid being completely abstract at first-people appreciate recognizable imagery-animals, natures, stories-they like being able to identify what they see & associate their own meanings. Then once you develop your own story as an artist, then they appreciate your work in the same way. I think this is very wise advice-when I see elements that I like in a piece, I like the piece; but as I understand the style of the artist over time, it becomes familiar and complete on its own. So, I'm beginning this new year with design-baby steps, by taking recognizable images that I love aesthetically, and interpreting them in the style that I love in metal.

First step is a little totem of wisdom, the owl. I sketched out my idea of an owl, which is somewhere around a hello kitty shaped head, the tootsie pop owl and the one that gives a hoot about pollution. I decided to stay away from real images of owls, it's an exercise in the subtlety of symbols to dig up the visual cues in your memory that represent an object to you. There's a real difference in the reality of a subjet in nature & the recognizability of a subject in symbols. The most characteristic details are amplified, and all the other elements can be stylized. It's kind of like the pet store-all the creatures there are modified from their wild ancestors to be the most pleasing visual ideal, sometimes almost cartoon-like in contrast to the original.

I have the finished owl pendants up on Etsy now, in black or silver with twisted square wire to bring in the ironwork theme, which I love.