It's that time again, friends and neighbors! Yep, it's time for me to try to educate and entertain the public in regards to cleaning silver via nonconventional methods. Last time, I experimented with that favorite of folk remedies: the potato. (To read what happened, click here.) This time, I decided to experiment with a method I had used a few times in cleaning particularly grungy silver clarinet, flute, and oboe keys during repair: TOOTHPASTE. As you may or may not know, toothpaste works on teeth because it is a mild abrasive. This abrasive is what scrubs the plaque and other junk off your teeth. I had heard from several instrument repair technicians that toothpaste was an excellent alternative to conventional silver polish. As it turns out, it's a little more complicated (as usual).
The first thing I did for this little experiment was choose a piece in my collection that needed polishing. Since the chosen piece has a lot of nooks and crannies, I devised a tool that you yourself can build at home, comprised of a coat hanger and a strip of old t-shirt. I threaded the piece of cloth through one of the openings that needed polishing, then smeared a little bit of toothpaste on the cloth (mmmmm, minty fresh!). I then tied the other end of the strip of cloth around the bottom end of the coat hanger hook in the most convoluted way possible, and proceeded to use the cloth to polish the inside bend of that particular part of the pendant. Easy-peasy!
As you can see in that last picture, the silver in that little bend is shiny again. Mission accomplished, right? Wellllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll.......
No. Not exactly. While I was photographing that last one, I thought it was kind of hard to see, so I decided to find a piece of tarnished silver that was flat so it was easier to photograph. Enter the side Bb key of a long-abandoned clarinet repair project (Hint: it's my clarinet that I sent off five or so years ago to get the keys replated from nickel to silver for science). This side Bb key was very tarnished from sitting on a bottom shelf in my repair shop, so I figured it would be the perfect candidate. I smeared some toothpaste on, and behold:
Did the toothpaste get the tarnish off? Yes. Yes it did. Did it scratch the living tar out of the finish? Yes. Yes it did. While this isn't really a problem for a beat-up old clarinet that's just going to be taken outside in the rain for marching band, if you have a semi-mirror finish on your silver jewelry (or any other silver thing you want to polish), this is a BIG problem. Those tiny, fine scratches make the light reflect differently than before, making the silver look cloudy. So, if you have silver that has a brushed finish, or something called a "butler's finish" on it, toothpaste is fine. But if you want to maintain that mirror-like reflection? Yeah.... we're gonna have to find something else.
To show you what I mean, I got two commercially available silver polishing compounds for comparison (still using my Bb side key). The first one I used is Hagerty's silver polish. It has a tarnish protectant in it and is commonly found lurking in the aisles of Bed, Bath, and Beyond and sometimes even in your local grocery store or hardware store. Here is what polishing silver with Hagerty's looks like:
What I tried to do was to buff out some of the scratches the toothpaste put in. As you can see, it helped a little bit, but the silver finish is still cloudy. (It also stinks, so if you're going to use Hagerty's, go outside and do it.)
I then remembered I had a great big can of Simichrome polish out in the garage. Simichrome is a favorite of high-end flute builders, and I used to use it wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy back when I worked on expensive flutes (like wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy back in the day, y'all. I don't mess with $20,000 flutes anymore.). Check this out!
You'll notice I changed polishing cloths. I managed to smear toothpaste all over the other one, so I didn't want to mix the Simichrome and toothpaste. I also like this softer microfiber cloth for use with Simichrome. A cloth for cleaning glasses or camera lenses works really well, just do NOT use the cloth on your glasses or camera lenses afterward!!!
You'll notice that when the polish was buffed away, there are very few scratches. This was the goal. This also explains why makers of $20k+ flutes use this stuff for their final finishing. I then decided to see if I could use the Simichrome to clean up the scratches from the toothpaste on the other side of the key.
Is it perfect? No. Is it an improvement? A little bit. To really get it back to the way it was before, I would have to bust out the machines, which I know the average person doesn't have hanging around the house. I'm going to leave it alone because I really don't care what my keys look like, and it's probably going to be another five years before I even think about reassembling my clarinet, so I'm just not going to worry about it. If it belonged to someone else, then I absolutely would get the buffer out and go to town.
At any rate, I think the lesson here is that if you want to aggressively polish your brush-finished silver, then go ahead and use toothpaste if you really want. If you want to maintain that lustrous mirror-like finish, go with Simichrome. Does it stink? Yes. Is it toxic? Uhhhh... yes. So wear gloves and use proper ventilation as you would with any household cleaning chemical. In the mean time, I'll keep looking for a nonchemical, environmentally friendly AND EFFECTIVE solution.
If you have any methods you want me to test, I'm all ears! Send me an e-mail or leave it in the comments! If you enjoyed this blog, and want to stay in the loop, sign up for my newsletter! Thanks for reading, and I'll catch up with you later!
I'm sure a lot of you know I have a few loose screws. I mean, have you SEEN my studio? I keep finding them everywhere, especially after that one time I was attempting to clean and, ahem, knocked a full box of clarinet replacement screws all over the floor. They're teeny-tiny and they bounce like hyperactive kangaroos when they hit the floor. Needless to say, I've got lots of screws for lots of different instruments in boxes and bags and nooks and crannies and even Altoid tins marked "miscellaneous". What does this have to do with jewelry, you say? Well, I'm so glad you asked!
Ever since I started making musical instrument jewelry, I've been asked about saxophones. The problem with saxophones is that they are surprisingly repairable. I remember when I had just been transferred to the main headquarters repair shop of a music store chain I used to work for, and a young lady brought in her tenor saxophone that her extremely apologetic boyfriend had backed over with his old station wagon. Since this was way beyond my skill level to do anything about, I told her to wait while I went to find Alex. Alex was a venerable magician of a saxophone repair tech, and was well-known to all the jazz musicians from Dallas to Chicago to New Orleans. He also did some work for the guys who toured with Santana (yes, THAT Santana). Well, after I went into the "cave" (as everyone called the back room where Alex and his brother Henry and their assistant George worked, which was a maze of shelves, boxes of unidentified parts, weird smells, flickering fluorescent overhead lights, and questionable ventilation), Alex emerged, blinking benevolently at the young lady as she opened the case to reveal a very flat Buescher tenor. Alex took one look and said "Okay, but I'll need a deposit for this one." She agreed, and paid it, then left the instrument. It took Alex four months to get it back into shape, but fix it he did, and all the technicians (and even some of the floor sales reps) stood admiring his work when he finished. It was as if it had never been run over! And as long as people are willing and able to pay for that kind of repair, it makes it hard to find suitable donors for jewelry making.
After the umpteenth request about saxophone jewelry, and still no leads, I sat at my desk last week and pondered what to do. Lo and behold! Upon my repair desk I spied a stray saxophone screw! The kind that holds the keys onto the body. Yes, it was small, but it was something. I decided to use it as the center of a water lily, and also to use it's function as a screw to attach the flower head to the lily pad. I had never attempted to do something like that before, so I thought it would be a fun challenge.
The first thing I did was make several paper templates in different sizes and glued them to the pieces of copper I wanted to use. After cutting each individual piece out, I soldered them together, then center drilled them to fit the saxophone screw shaft. Alas, I did not manage to take pictures of the soldering process because I can't solder and take pictures at the same time, and I was excited that what I was making was actually turning out to look like a water lily. After I got the water lily flower head done, I made a lily pad out of some thicker gauge copper, then drilled a hole where I wanted the lily pad to line up with the flower head when I put the screw in. After that, I put the two parts together and tapped the threads in the holes.
After this step, I decided I didn't like the saxophone screw I was using, and went in search of a key guard screw instead. For those of you who have never heard of such a thing, a key guard is this piece of metal on a saxophone that protects the key from getting hung up on the player's clothes. A key guard screw is a tiny screw that holds the key guard onto the saxophone. I do not know what you will do with this information other than wow your friends and family at dinner parties or during trivia night.
I retapped the threads for the new screw, then decided "hey, wouldn't it be fun to add some color! So I did. I used a technique that involves wax-based colored pencils and a substance called gessoe. If you want a somewhat incomplete picture tutorial on the subject, you can check out my Facebook album here: www.facebook.com/pg/hkarlssonjewelrydesign/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2806824019395032
Well, OF COURSE, because I'm a big DIVA, I decided I didn't like the color on the flower part, and decided instead to clean it off. This was easier said than done. I tried scraping, and that didn't work much at all. I tried to burn it off, but that just made a dark, sticky mess. I ended up having to soak the flower in water with a denture cleaner tab thrown in. After about twenty minutes, it was good to go! In fact, it worked so well, it cleaned off the discoloration from the flame I used to burn the paint!
Once I got everything situated, I got the sax key guard screw and threaded it in the screw hole, and voila! A water lily and lily pad pendant! The coloration on the flower head is actually from me attempting to "paint" the copper with the flame of my torch. I was marginally successful, because I was going for a deep purple, but it kept heating the metal too hot and it would go from gold to black very quickly. I decided to leave well enough alone after the third attempt. I have since discovered that if I bake a piece of copper in the oven at 300 degrees for 30 minutes, it turns a beautiful shade of pink, so if I make another one, I think I'll do that instead.
So there you have it! What do you think? Should I make more things like this? I have some bassoon screws, too! Let me know in the comments!
Greetings, and thanks for visiting my blog! So you may remember me mentioning that I got a commission that called for a material I had never in my life used before or even seen. To be quite honest, I didn't even know it existed! What was that mysterious material, you ask? ELK IVORIES. Before we go any further, though, I need you to read the following DISCLAIMER:
If you have a sensitive or otherwise squeamish disposition, you may want to go read any number of my other blogs. Things are going to get a little graphic. Also, before you go on the rampage and scream at me for using ivory, elk teeth are not actually ivory, per se. That's just what everyone calls them. I'll explain that in a little bit. Bottom line: no screaming, and don't blame me if you get grossed out by some of the pictures. This concludes the disclaimer. Reading anything past this disclaimer means you consent to viewing any and all graphic images and can't sue me for anything.
Okay. Back to the originally scheduled informative session.
I was approached by a gentleman whose wife had already commissioned a piece for her sister as a Christmas gift. The mission, should I choose to accept it: make earrings out of elk ivories as a surprise gift for his wife. My first response was "what the heck are elk ivories?" My second response was "where the heck does someone get an ELK?" My third response was "mmmmm.... chili....." I answered the challenge with a resounding yes, and immediately started researching elk. I am ashamed to admit that my elk knowledge was quite lacking in comparison to my knowledge of other woodland creatures.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is an ELK:
This is not your cute little whitetail Bambi-deer that frolics in the fields and makes friends with skunks and rabbits. Oh, no. This is a GIANT DEER capable of putting you in a world of hurt and totalling an F150 pickup truck. You do not befriend elk. You do not call them cute (to their face, anyway). You respect the elk, and give them space. Lots and lots of space. Especially during the rut, which is fancy biology talk for mating season. This is because bull elk are NOT here for your problems. They are single and want to mingle. Bottom line: don't try to pet the elk. That being said, they are super cool, majestic as all-get-out, and at there are a lot of things to know about them!
First of all, there are six subspecies of elk in North America, two of which are extinct. The particular species that these ivories belonged to was most likely a Roosevelt elk, as it was hunted in the Rocky Mountains, and that's where those kind of elk live. At one time, elk used to roam the prairies, hills, and piney woods of Texas! (Man, could you imagine sitting outside the Murchison Performance Hall up there in Denton warming up on your trumpet and you end up attracting a herd of elk?! So wild.) They were driven out of Texas by cattle ranchers about a hundred or so years ago, but elk are being reintroduced out in west Texas.
Second of all, when I say elk are big, I mean BIG. A bull elk stands about five feet tall or so at the shoulder, and a cow elk stands a little shorter. A bull elk can weigh in at as much as 1100 pounds and can be 10 feet long from tip of the nose to the tail. A cow elk can weigh as much as 625 pounds and be about six feet long or so from tip of the nose to the tail. To give you an idea, if you've ever seen one of those longhorn cattle at the Ft. Worth Stockyards, a bull elk is taller and a cow elk is about as tall. Or, if you are not familiar with livestock, the average elk is taller at the shoulder than a Prius.
Now to the matter of ivories. Elk are the only true deer to have these sorts of teeth. They are vestigial TUSKS. That's right. Wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy back in the day there were ginormous saber toothed deer roaming unchecked over the continent. (Are you as excited about this as I am? I hope so.) These teeth grow at a place in the skull where canines grow in other mammals (like us), so technically they are considered canine teeth. They are not made out of ivory. That's just what everybody calls them because of the whole tusk thing. And before you National Geographic enthusiasts burn me in effigy, I have NOT forgotten about the several species of musk deer in Asia, but they are not really true deer, inasmuch as they don't have antlers or facial scent glands or multiple teats, but they have fangs, a gallbladder and a musk gland (which is where the scent in high-end perfumes come from. That's right, kids! That fancy French parfum you're wearing? It comes from a gland on a male musk deer located between the balls and the belly button. You're welcome.)
Okay, before I get completely carried away about relative deer anatomy, let us get to the point of this exercise: making earrings out of elk teeth. After sending several design sketches, my client decided on a simple design that would require cutting the teeth. In order to cut the teeth, I would have to properly clean the residual gum tissue and nerve endings off the teeth. HEY! I WARNED YOU THIS WASN'T FOR THE FAINT-HEARTED! Here is a picture of how they looked when I got hold of them:
Yeah, it does look pretty gnarly, doesn't it. I did some research on how to properly remove the elk bits on the outside in such a way that would not hurt the teeth, and came up with the solution: let 'em simmer in a Crock Pot for a couple of hours and then scrub them off. I have to say that all my years of cleaning out middle school bassoon bocals and clarinet mouthpieces more than prepared me for this process. Still, it was a little disconcerting scraping the cartilage off. Once I got all the meat and other bits off the roots of the teeth, I soaked them in hydrogen peroxide to both sanitize them and even out the color. Please note: if you ever get hold of anything made of dental enamel or bone, do not soak it in bleach, as that will weaken the cell structure of the material and it will crumble and break. Here is how they looked after an hour soaking in hydrogen peroxide:
Once I got them dried, it was time to cut! I didn't want to damage the teeth, so I decided to use a very fine jeweler's saw blade. I also donned my protective gear. Bone dust floats in the air like nobody's business, and you do NOT want to be breathing that mess into your lungs. Thankfully, they cut beautifully, and the smell wasn't too bad. If you use more aggressive cutting methods, the friction will cause the bone to singe and THAT is a memorable smell, let me just tell you. I used to work next door to a luthier who would cut his own bone nuts for classical guitars. Peeeeeyewwwwwwwww!
The next step was to cut bezels for these uniquely shaped objects. When researching this project (because, honestly, I had never even heard of elk ivories, let alone making jewelry out of them), I saw examples of similar earrings that had been rounded to fit bezel cups, but I wanted to keep the crown shape as true to the original material as possible, out of respect for the cow elk they belonged to. (In the course of my research, I also learned how to age and determine the sex of an elk by the shape and wear patterns on the teeth. This particular cow elk was around five and a half years old.). Here are some process pictures: (If you look closely, you can see the little bits of nerve ending in the roots and the crowns. Don't worry, I got all that stuff out before I set the crowns.)
And here is the result! I'm rather pleased with them, and I know the recipient is, too!
There you have it: the most unusual material I have made jewelry from to date! I enjoyed learning about elks and enjoyed learning about working with the material. I hope you found this blog educational as well as entertaining, and once again, thanks for stopping by! Stay tuned for further adventures in the new year!
Greetings, and thanks for visiting my blog! It's been a while, hasn't it? Well, go ahead and get settled on the couch, fix yourself a beverage and a snack, and have a read. I've been up to no good, as per usual. Now, as I'm sure most of you have gathered, I am a trained musical instrument repair technician, in addition to this whole jewelry and art thing. (Yeah, I need to do a blog about my art. I know. One crisis at a time.) The pieces of jewelry I am about to show you came from one of the most startling repairs I ever attempted. I nearly lost a finger, and definitely lost some pride that day. The resulting works, however, were worth it.
Feast your eyes on THIS!
The cabochon and earrings are actually wood from a badly damaged bass clarinet body that I inlaid with variscite that a lovely person from New Mexico sent to me. This whole piece has quite the convoluted story as to how it went from being part of a bass clarinet to being part of a piece of jewelry.
Several years ago, I got a call from a middle school band director in Flower Mound, Texas, telling me that one of her students had gotten angry and snapped a fully assembled Yamaha extended range bass clarinet in half. For those of you keeping score, a Yamaha extended range bass clarinet (aka low C bass) costs about $9000 new and is a sizeable chunk of hardware. She sent me pictures of the damage, and it looked to be something I had the equipment for, so I accepted the repair on the condition that the school district make the family of the student pay for the repair, because, I mean really. Our tax dollars should not have to pay for something some little heathen with anger management issues destroyed.
I received the instrument, and saw that the tenon had been sheared off, so I decided to cut out a new socket on my lathe and insert a tenon to replace the one that was damaged. Easy-peasy. Except it did NOT go according to plan. When I fed the joint into the cutter on my lathe, it got hung up on something, and the resulting force caused the joint to split halfway up the body. Thankfully, Yamaha had an available replacement joint, but I really did think that I was going to lose a finger when that thing popped open. And I was left with the smoking wreckage of the damaged joint. I shoved it into my parts cupboard to bring out as a lesson to children for when they asked what was the worst damage I'd ever seen.
Fast forward a few years to last November, when I was working on a piece that I was really excited about. I had the perfect green Mojave turquoise stone picked out, but alas, the little thing had the colossal effrontery to chip on the side and I couldn't repair it. I got the idea to shape some of the bass clarinet wood into something similar, but it took me forever to cut the chunk that I got, so I abandoned the idea.
Fast forward to this September, when I was at Market Days at Liberty Crossing in Gainesville, Texas. One of the owners of the Buchanan Family Pecan Farm was looking for a particular shade of light green stone for an inlay project she was working on, so I was on the hunt for green stone that was suitable. Along the way, I thought, wouldn't it be fun to try to inlay some crushed stone into that chunk of bass clarinet wood I cut last year, so I did.
Here's how I did it, in pictures:
I then decided to make a multi-strand necklace to go with it. I was going to use onyx beads, but I quickly realized that the necklace would weigh a ton, so I had to order black wood beads instead. It turned out alright. I even made the end caps, which was another first! I made the clasp from fine silver and a ring key from a clarinet. The best part is that the necklace works by itself as well as with the pendant! Unfortunately, I didn't photograph the process of making the end caps (which is for the best, because it was really tedious). Take a look!
This glorious piece (with matching earrings!) is available on my website and on Etsy. It will also appear in person at my upcoming shows, until someone decides to give it a loving home.
Friendswood Art in the Park,, Friendswood, TX. November 16-17
John Paul II High School Christmas Bazaar, Plano, TX. November 23
Friends of the Library Artisan Market, Grapevine, TX December 7-8
(10% of the sales go to the Grapevine Public Library!)
Market Days at Liberty Crossing Holiday Sip-n-Shop, Gainesville, TX December 20-22
Greetings, and thanks for visiting my blog! Well, as you can probably guess from the title of this blog, things took a very strange turn during Memorial Day food preparation at the House of Karlsson. See, Mr. Karlsson had decided to reprise his role as "Best Unknown Pitmaster in this or any other state" and smoke a rack of ribs, so I decided to make my deservedly not famous potato salad. While I was peeling a couple pounds of Russets, I remembered something that I had said to a lady at the Wimberley Arts Festival a couple of weeks back. I remember she had asked if I knew a good way to clean silver without using harsh chemicals, and I told her my standard recipe for taking the tarnish off of silver (which I think I'll have to do a separate blog about, because it's cool and it really does work on a lot of things), but I also mentioned that she could use the water she had boiled potatoes in, and it would take the tarnish off after soaking for about thirty minutes. I had read it on the internet AND seen it in a book of home remedies, so I figured it must be true.
Now those of you who know me know that I am not one to leave things untested, and the more I thought about it, the more it bugged me. WHY ON EARTH would soaking your silver jewelry in potato water remove tarnish?! The idea is that potatoes contain small amounts of oxalic acid, which will (allegedly) eat away at dirt and tarnish. I had vague recollections of seeing some special on PBS back before the internet was invented about this sort of thing, so I decided that since I would be boiling potatoes anyway, I figured I'd give it a shot. I used as my guinea pig a fine silver pendant that I wear all the time, and it was spectacularly grungy.
I boiled my peeled potatoes and let the water cool for a few hours, then went to work. According to several sources on the internet and the home remedy book sitting on my bookshelf, there was no set time for how long the tarnished object should soak, but the agreed upon minimum was twenty minutes. So saying, I rigged up my necklace on a spaghetti fork and lowered it into the cooled potato water like it was in a bad James Bond movie. "I don't expect you to talk, Mr. Bond, I expect you to detarnish! Ha ha ha haaaaa!" I waited and... well... as you can see, the results were less than stellar.
In the midst of all this, I remembered I had a couple of tarnished candle holders that were sterling silver plate, so I decided to test one out in the potato water. It worked marginally better to loosen the tarnish, but I still had to really scrub on it with a paper towel to get it off. I concluded that potato water or anything involving potatoes was probably not going to be an effective method of cleaning silver. Oh, well. At least I got potato salad out of the deal. More importantly, I got some of the best smoked pork ribs outside of Memphis!
I guess the moral of the story is don't believe everything you read on the internet or in home remedy books. I'm kind of bummed that this didn't work, because it would have been safe for cleaning turquoise jewelry and pearl jewelry, two things I make a lot of. Oh well. Once again, thanks for reading, and I hope you learned something from my failed experiments! And now for the time-honored tradition of a Tosca Q Puss photo! Until next time!
Greetings, and thanks for visiting my blog! I realize it has been about three months since I last wrote, but a whole heck of a lot has been going on here at the House of Karlsson, and quite frankly I just haven't been able to keep up with writing. So I decided to scrap all the planned blogs in my draft folder and start afresh with today's post. I've been giving this a lot of thought recently (due in part to those aforementioned goings-on), and the point of this blog is to not only educate the wearer of jewelry, but to also give food for thought to my fellow jewelry artists.
I suppose you are wondering what I mean by art versus fashion. Isn't all jewelry merely a fashion accessory? No. Jewelry serves many purposes in our lives. Sometimes you wear a piece because it matches your shirt or blouse. Sometimes you wear a piece because you're trying to show off. And sometimes you wear a piece because it holds personal significance. It has been my observation that significance to the wearer is the main difference between art jewelry and fashion jewelry. Now, before anyone has a hissy fit and goes on the rampage about how important fashion is to the world, I'm not here to knock fashion. Fashion has it's place. It's just not MY place. I'm not trying to be fashionable. Those of you who have met me in person know that this isn't just a philosophy, this is a lifestyle. I am the least fashionable person I know. It's just how I roll.
To my mind, there are three categories of jewelry. I made up these names. These aren't official categories by any stretch of the imagination. Just bear with me for the sake of discussion. One category that comes to mind is "fun" jewelry. The stuff that falls into the "fun" jewelry category is the stuff you might buy at certain discount stores, certain import stores, or some other low cost venue. The purpose of this jewelry is to match that favorite sweater, or because it's "cute", or something to that effect. You wear it for fun, and it won't hurt your feelings if it gets lost or broken, or if your cat swats it off your dresser and it falls down your floor vent, never to be recovered.
Another category that comes to mind is "fine" jewelry. This is the stuff that you go to the jewelry store in the mall to buy your significant other when you're going to propose, This is the stuff that you get ads in the Sunday newspaper for around Christmas, Mothers Day, and Valentine's Day with pictures of gold and diamonds and slogans meant to guilt you into buying, and all that other stuff. You wear it to show off, and you can also wear it as a fashion statement. Sometimes it has significance attached to it by the event you wear it at or the person you give it to or who gave it to you, but the piece itself has none on its own. You would also be really hacked off if your cat made off with your Tiffany diamond solitaire necklace and buried it in the litter box.
The category of jewelry that I do is "art" jewelry. Art jewelry can be purchased for fun, or for fashion. It can even be purchased as an investment if it's a famous artist (think of Rene Lalique or original House of Faberge). It's main purpose, however, is that it holds some sort of significance for the wearer. It doesn't necessarily have to have a deep significance, but it does have meaning, and maybe transcend just day-to-day fashion wear. Art jewelry acts like a talisman of sorts. It reminds the wearer of something that is important to them, whether it is a memory, a person, a story, or even just the stone or representation itself.
For example, you may have noticed that in my photo in my artist bio, I am wearing a very simple pendant that looks unlike what I normally do. I wear this pendant pretty much every day, even though I am spoiled for choice in regards to jewelry and can wear any of my creations I have on hand if I so choose. I wear this pendant because of its personal significance to me, and I will never sell it. Here is its story:
It was the beginning of 2018. My mother had passed away suddenly a few months before, and it was affecting me in ways that I honestly had not expected. I was coming up on my first art show of the spring season, and only my second art show I had ever done that was out of town. I needed to come up with designs, and I needed to create enough inventory for the show, but I just couldn't do it. I couldn't make myself create, and what was more, when I would force myself to sit and draw, nothing would happen. It was just scribbles. Before this, I was able to practically pluck ideas out of the air. It had been easy. It had come naturally, and the design ideas had been plentiful It was almost like a torrent that I could barely keep up with. However, leading up to that February show, there was nothing. My head was empty, and I just couldn't muster the energy.
After weeks of frustration, I finally challenged myself to do something completely different to try and break the mental block. I tasked myself to choose a material that I had never used and pair it with a stone I had never used. I dug through my stash of silver bits and bobs and found some sterling bead wire that had been sitting for Lord only knows how long, plus I found some spiny oyster shell and turquoise cabochons in a dusty corner of my studio that I had forgotten about even buying. Unfamiliar materials chosen, I sat down and made a simple piece. I hated the thought of it. I didn't think it would work. It was too simple. I didn't think the stone would look good with silver. Excuses filled my head as to why I shouldn't bother. I finished it anyway. To my surprise, I was pleased with the result. So pleased, in fact, that I made a series of pendants and bracelets with these chosen materials, plus a pair of earrings. Most of them have since found homes. I kept the original piece to remind me of what I did to break through a difficult time.
That's the real beauty of art jewelry. It doesn't have to match any of your clothes to be worn. It doesn't have to be "in style" or "on-trend" to be worn. It is, in and of itself, a piece that matches the wearer. Art jewelry is hand made, not mass produced. Art jewelry is made by one set of hands from start to finish. It is not the product of a production house or a factory. Art jewelry bears the heart and soul of the maker within it. When you buy a piece of art jewelry, it's not about the packaging, it's not about the price, it's not about all the bells and whistles that are usually associated with "fun" jewelry or "fine" jewelry. You are buying a story. You are adding to that story with your own, and when you wear a piece of art jewelry, you are sharing that collective of stories with others, and in so doing, tapping into our common humanity.
That's why I don't spend much time worrying about packaging. That's why I don't spend much time worrying about trends or fashion or whatever. That's why I don't make huge production runs of things that all look exactly the same, and why I don't enlist the help of factories in Bali or wherever to make my designs. Every piece you see is made by me, at my little workbench, in my little studio, surrounded by my turquoise hoard, my clarinet collection, and my angry little cats who keep trying to eat the plastic bags they SOMEHOW KEEP FINDING despite my efforts to clean the place up.
So, when you go wandering through art shows or art galleries, or other venues containing one-of-a-kind art jewelry, remember that you aren't just buying something to wear. You are buying part of a life to add to your own, and the artist will always appreciate you for it. I know I do.
It seems I'm not very good at keeping up with this whole blog thing. I turn my back for a half second, and BOOM!!! January is over and done with, and February is almost halfway gone. I hope you all had a great start to the new year. Here at the studio, it has been just WILD with unexpected opportunities and the beginning of a new collection. So grab some hot chocolate, settle in with your furry friends on the couch, and have a read.
So, as you may or may not remember, my studio resolution for 2018 was to add more texture and depth to my work. I think I'm coming along in that regard, and it will be an ongoing resolution for 2019. Case in point: I finally got started on the Rivers of Texas Collection! Have a look at some photos. I will do a blog devoted to the production of these beauties, but that's a story for another day. Hopefully, I will get to it before I leave to go to New Mexico at the end of next month. At the rate I'm going, though, I wouldn't bet money on it. Right now, I'm just trying to keep up with the demand. Both galleries I'm in wanted several pieces for display! Oh, that's right, I need to tell you about that, don't I...
Another studio resolution for 2019 is to get past my fear and embarrassment of self-promotion and contact more galleries to get my work out into the world. After all, I do have a turquoise habit to support and two kitties to keep stocked with tuna in the manner to which they have become accustomed. As you may have read in last month's blog, I started this resolution early and got accepted into the C Gallery in Corpus Christi for a three month stint starting in mid-May. Lest you think this process has been a walk in the park, I have since contacted dozens of galleries and have not received responses from most of them, and the majority of the rest have been "no room in the inn" or "not our style". I find that this process is kind of like fishing. You just have to throw your bait out on the water and see what happens. I do, however, have fantastic news! I did hear back from a wonderful gallery in Galveston called From the HeART Gallery. It's on historic Postoffice Street near the Galveston Grand Opera. This coincided with both the Galveston Art Walk and a professional photo shoot in Austin (cuz I'm trying to fancy up my marketing and all that).
I went to Austin to visit with Annie Winsett of Crafting Exposure, a one-woman consulting agency for creatives. She does photography, she does promotions, she gives workshops on marketing your art, and a lot of other great stuff. She was was super-easy to work with and I'm very happy with my pictures.
From Austin, I went to San Antonio to visit with my friend and woodwind repair colleague Justin and drink rocket fuel for coffee, eat some LEGIT breakfast tacos, and gripe about tenon cork replacements and the cost of supplies. After a quick stop in San Antonio, I drove to Port Aransas in the rain to have the beach to myself for a few days and to scope out the art scene. I'm sad that I didn't get to see Esther and her family this time around, but I did get to see Kellie and hers. A fun time as always! Below are some gratuitous beach pictures in Port Aransas and North Padre Island.
From Corpus Christi, I drove up the coast on Highway 35. People, let me tell you something. There is a WHOLE LOTTA NOTHING up through there, and it is absolutely glorious. Even in the rain. I drove through downtown Rockport, such as it was, poked around a bit, then headed onward in the general direction of Galveston. I managed to find the world's smallest Buc-ee's gas station somewhere outside of Port Lavaca. Seriously! It was like a plain old regular gas station. No wall of candy, no giant bathroom, no beaver statue, no nothing. They did have some powerful coffee, so there was that. (For those of you of you unfamiliar with Buc-ee's gas stations, they are a destination in and of themselves. Google it and be amazed.)
I was expecting Highway 35 to be a major road, but it was just a two-lane road cruising through the bayous and beaches and salt grass prairies of the gulf coast, and I have to say it is my second most favorite region of Texas, after the Hill Country in spring time. So anyway, I drove and drove and drove and eventually ended up in West Columbia (which was not really my intention, because I intended to cut across on Hwy 36 towards Lake Jackson and on over to Surfside, but NOOOOOOO my GPS cut out somewhere around Bay City. Also, I was worried about flooding.). West Columbia is a cute little town, but if you blink, you'll probably miss it. From there I managed to find my way to Angleton, head south towards Clute, and then all the vegetation disappeared and there was nothing but saltwater marsh. I was not prepared for this abrupt change and it caught me off guard. In spite of my mutinous GPS, I did make it to Surfside Beach. I shall not be doing that again.
After visiting the sketchiest public restroom on the island, I headed up the Bluewater Highway to get to Galveston Island. You know, on the map, it looks like it would be a lot more, ummm, populated. You would be wrong for assuming that. I crossed over the bridge, paid my $2 toll, and went on. Behold, more gratuitous pictures. Beach access was not happening down on that end of the island, mostly because I didn't know where I was going, I was concerned about alligators eating me, and I was getting hungry.
After arriving in Galveston proper, I got settled in and did my obligatory beach walk, then went to From the HeART Gallery and met Samitha (one of the owners) and took care of the necessary paperwork to become part of the gallery, which is an eclectic mix of some wonderful local and national artists. I set up my display case and got to meet some of the gallery artists. Then I went to, you guessed it, the beach! (I know you're probably getting sick of all my beach pictures, but tough cookies. I like the beach in winter. It's just me and the sea gulls.).
Friday night was the Art Talk at the gallery. Five of the featured artists got in front of the group of visitors and talked about their processes, their inspiration, and why they decided to become artists. It was very educational, especially about the painting techniques (who knew medieval painters used rabbit skin-based glue to afix linen to board to do their oil paintings?! Also, ghosting, and not the kind that happens with online dating.), and it was touching to hear each artist's personal story. Maybe someday I'll get the guts and the space in my schedule to speak, but not any time soon, ha ha. Saturday night was the Art Walk, and even though it was WINDY AND FREEZING COLD, it was well attended. It was kind of overwhelming, to be honest, but I did my best, and everyone was lovely.
Sunday I had to say goodbye to Galveston and head back to Carrollton-vegas. I will tell you that once you get out of Houston, I-45 is not so bad to travel on. I would rather drive I-45 than I-35 any day of the week, thank you very much. I did one more beach walk and managed to get caked in wet sand all the way up to my knees because I may or may not have been playing in the water at 45 degrees while the wind was whipping the sand off the dunes and embedding itself in my jeans. And I can neither confirm nor deny that I didn't have my shoes on. Kids, don't' try this at home.
My next big adventure was the Mary Lee Hu workshop at the Craft Guild of Dallas. There was so much that happened there, that it deserves its own blog. Hold me to that, y'all. I will write it and show you what happened. Craziness!!!
After the workshop, my next event was at McKinney Coffee Company. The owner, Joy, was gracious enough to invite me to do a pop-up shop at the coffee house, so I did. The biggest challenge was condensing my inventory into a four foot space, because, let's face it, it would be ridiculous to have a 10 feet x 10 feet setup in a tiny coffee shop! I managed to make it work, and am rather pleased with the results. A fun time and lots of caffeine was had by all!
My next adventure will take me all the way to Las Cruces, New Mexico, then up to Albuquerque where I hope to tour Rio Grande (my main supplier for silver and other jewelry making supplies), and then on to Santa Fe! I'll keep you posted. And, as always, here are some gratuitous cat pictures as a reward for making it to the end of my blog. See you next time!
Greetings, everyone, and thanks for visiting my blog! I know I've been promising to catch you all up on what's been happening here, but you know how the holidays can just make everything get away from you. I hope that you all had a happy and healthy holiday season this year. Now, before I get any further, you better run and grab a snack and a beverage and settle in, because there's a lot of ground to cover.
First of all, I'd like to announce that there is a sale currently going on, both on my website (which I would prefer that you use because the fees are less for me, LOL) and on Etsy. You can enjoy 15% off of orders $100 or more until January 16, 2019. Use the coupon code NEWYEAR2019 when you check out from my shop on my website. Below is a picture where to enter the code. It's really teeny on there, and my web host doesn't allow me to modify and make it bigger.
You can also go to my Etsy store and shop, if you don't feel like fooling with coupon codes. Either way is fine. I just wanted to show a little appreciation for all the support I have received in this crazy endeavor this year. It's been quite a ride, and I thank you all for coming with me!
The next big announcement is very exciting, and I've had a time keeping it a secret up until now. I am pleased to announce that I was accepted into Studio C gallery, located within the Arts Center of Corpus Christi. Selected pieces will be shown and available there for sale from May 18 to August 23, 2019. I'm planning on making a few pieces especially for that exhibition, in addition to my usual musical instrument and woven wire jewelry. I'll keep you posted. I'm looking forward to having my work there, as I really enjoy the Texas Coastal Bend region (and I'm always looking for a reason to head down there to Corpus Christi and Port Aransas, ha ha!).
Another big announcement is that I'm going to do my first out-of-state show in Las Cruces, New Mexico in March. I've never driven that far west before (although I have flown to California multiple times, but that is a story for another day), so this should be a real hoot. I'm also planning on visiting Santa Fe, New Mexico to see what I can get into. The Las Cruces Arts Fair will be held at the Las Cruces Convention Center March 1-3, 2019. If you're in the area, come see me!
In other news, I thought you might like to see a new technique I tried. It's called hollow form. Basically, what you do is, instead of casting or using a solid piece of silver to carve, you form a framework and make a bunch of solder joints to make a solid piece. In this way, the solid piece is a whole heck of a lot lighter, although it is a bit more work. This particular ring is a size 11-11.5. It's made from sterling and fine silver, and the stone is Cumpas turquoise. In addition to this being my first hollow form piece, it's also my first flush set cabochon. That was a feat of engineering in and of itself. I wish I would have taken more pictures, but I was too excited to get the piece finished to think of photography until it was too late.
This is, I think, the most informative of the pictures I took. To make a hollow form ring, first you have to take a piece of whatever metal you choose to work with (in this case, sterling silver) and form the inside part of the ring. This is the part that determines the ring size. You solder that to a back plate. Then you take a second piece of metal and form the outer portion of the ring. In this case, I used fine silver because it's easier to bend, and I honestly wasn't sure how it was going to behave if I used sterling (and, to be honest, I really didn't feel like doing a whole lot of annealing). I soldered the outer portion to the ring plate. Then, because I wanted to flush set a stone, I somehow managed to solder a thick base plate of sterling for the stone to rest on. There was a lot of measuring involved, and also a lot of breath-holding. I balanced the narrow piece on the back plate and soldered it in place, hoping it would be even. I think next time I do this, I'm going to come up with a better plan. Once all that's done, the real work begins. And yes, in case you were curious, I used only hard solder for this project so I could practice good flame control, and also to make all the seams as invisible as possible.
Once I pickled the base plate and the soldered-on components, I drilled a hole and sawed out the middle of the ring. I didn't take a picture of this step, because I was impatient and wanted to get all that done. I put myself on a deadline to finish the piece before I gave my cats their nightly tuna treat, and they are very quick to let me know when it's tuna time. Once that was done, I soldered the piece to another base plate of silver.
If you look closely at the above picture, you can see that there is a space between the base for the stone and the top base plate. There is a reason for this!!! When you make a hollow form, you must allow for air trapped inside to escape, or your piece can rupture, or worse, explode all over the place. Nothing like blazing hot silver shrapnel in your face, right? Right. So that's why I left an air space. I didn't fancy getting a face full of molten metal and ruining all my work. Anyway, once the second base plate was soldered together, I sawed out the center of it and began the tedious process of filing and shaping the inside to get rid of the excess silver. Once that was done, I filed and shaped the outside. I decided to put a matte finish on the silver instead of make it shiny, just for the sake of variety, and also because my cats were howling at my studio door by the time I got to the point of setting the stone.
I had to shape the stone a little bit, because the fit was a smidgen too tight, but the depth was just right (go me!!!), so once I had the diameter corrected, I popped the stone in and burnished the sides over the top to hold the stone snugly in place. This was a fun project, and I think I'll do another one at some point.
I'd like to finish out this blog with some gratuitous Christmas treat pictures. Not shown: bags of decorating frosting that exploded, powdered sugar everywhere, cats meowing at my feet. Well, okay, there are two gratuitous kitty pictures
Once again, I'd like to thank you for visiting my blog. I wish all of you a happy, healthy, safe, and prosperous 2019! See you next year!
Greetings, everyone, and thanks for visiting! I know it's been a while, but the last month and a half have been a whirlwind of production and travel adventures, and those deserve their own blog, which I will get to at some point. This time, though, I wanted to give you all a friendly reminder about shipping deadlines if you were thinking about ordering from either my website or my Etsy site and want it to arrive in time for Christmas. Please note that this is for domestic shipping to the lower 48 states only. Alaska, Hawaii, AFPOs, and international addresses take a lot longer. Behold, the deadlines:
USPS First Class Package Service: December 20
USPS Priority Mail: December 20
USPS Priority Mail Express: December 22
FedEx Ground: December 17
FedEx Home Delivery: December 17
FedEx Express Saver: December 19
FedEx 2Day: December 20
FedEx Standard Overnight: December 21
FedEx Priority Overnight: December 21
Be it known that I do not use UPS. They are highly unreliable, and anyway they are delayed by several days already because of all the Black Friday deliveries. (Yeah. I know. This happens every year. Go figure.)
A WORD OF CAUTION!!!
Okay. Now, you and I both know that a lot can happen between now and those deadlines. Snowstorms, floods, fire, alien invasion, discovery of Bigfoot in Benjamin, Texas, and Lord only knows what other natural or man-made disasters can and will delay delivery of goodies far and wide across this great land. Therefore, I highly recommend NOT being like me and procrastinating until the last minute with your gift selection, but getting it done as soon as possible so you have plenty of time to place it under the Christmas tree (or hide it because the intended recipient likes to use an x-ray machine on all the presents). Your nerves, your wallet, and your friendly neighborhood jewelry artist will thank you.
In other news...
Coming this weekend is my final show of 2018: Redbud Artisan Market in Dripping Springs, Texas. I am SUPER EXCITED about this for several reasons, not least of which is that it's down in my favorite part of Texas: the Hill Country. Wheeeeee! Here is the flier for the show with the information on it. If you're in the Texas Hill Country this weekend and want to buy your special one-of-a-kind piece in person, now is the time! The Dripping Springs Ranch Park Event Center is a lovely facility, and it looks like the artist roster is going to be pretty spectacular. Admission is $1 for adults, and kids under 12 get in free.
Thanks again for reading my blog, and I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving, if you're into that sort of thing. Below are some of the pieces that will be available for purchase at the Redbud Artisan Market. Hope to see you there!
Greetings, everyone, and thanks for visiting my blog! I just got back from Chalk Walk in Round Rock, Texas. It was held at Centennial Plaza in downtown Round Rock. Thankfully, the rain wasn't too bad, but the heat index was 103 degrees (due to the 100% humidity), so this presented some unique challenges. I'd like to pass along some solutions for staying healthy and safe in such an environment, especially if you're by yourself.
All in all, I had fun. I met a lot of friendly people, had good neighbors, and got my art out in front of a whole bunch of people, which is always a good thing! Below are some pictures of my display. Hope you enjoy them!
My next art show tour is going to be a doozy! My first stop will be in Granbury, Texas for the Harvest Moon Festival of the Arts from October 19 to October 21. Then it's off to Odessa, Texas and the Ellen Noel Art Museum for their gift shop preview party. From there, it's back down to the Hill Country to the Arts Round-Up in Spicewood, Texas from October 27 to October 28. Then it's back home once again to see if my husband and cats still remember who I am, until time for my next round of shows. Whew! I hope to see you while I'm out and about!
One final piece of advice that I forgot to mention earlier is this: do NOT wear a shirt that says ANYTHING about Oklahoma on it during the Red River Shootout weekend when you stop in a small town in Texas, unless you want every single person in line for kolaches to give you the stink eye. Even if UT won the game. (That's probably the only thing that kept me from getting kicked out of Czech Stop, to be honest!)
Want to know the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke? Click the link below:
For some nifty gear (like those running capris I mentioned) click the link for Duluth Trading below:
For the electrolyte powder I mentioned, click on the link below for product info (just pardon their 1990s-style website):
For product information on Body Glide, click on the link below: