A chronicle of the meanderings, false starts (which in retrospect, while sort of embarrassing turned out to be highly instructive), epiphanies, selective apathy (still evolving), wild mood swings, opinions (subject to frequent change), and life lessons of an inveterate dabbler (and her latest dabblings).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Studio Milieu

Thought I would share a little with you about my creative milieu, i.e., my neighborhood. I firmly believe an artist's physical context informs his or her art, and provides both inspiration and flavor. My home studio is tucked away in a little corner of figurative Appalachia (no offense intended to literal Appalachians) in the middle of a semi-upscale northwest Montana ski town. Somehow our little block has managed to retain a goodly measure of eccentricity, bohemian slovenliness, and joyful self-absorption.

Our block has the perpetual, carefree, dissolute ambience of a frat party the morning after. The neighbors directly across the alley still have booze bottles sitting outside their garage door from their annual cocktail party one YEAR ago (you read that right). There used to be three crates of booze bottles and a couple pieces of furniture that apparently didn't survive the party, and a pair of skis. Over the last few months, they have somehow managed to summon the energy to throw out two of the crates, then the busted furniture and eventually the skis, but I guess they ran out of steam when it came to that last lonely crate of bottles. It still sits outside their garage door, about 30 feet from the dumpster. (This home belongs to an engineer and a published novelist--I've also been inside the home many times, which looks like another house and a bar and a restaurant and a book store exploded inside a crack den and no one had the heart to clean it up. It is a future Superfund site.)

A white Fred Sanford lives down the street, surrounded by his salvage yard. Lovely man, generous, friendly and helpful, but a bit of a packrat. I saw a toilet in his backyard once. A mentally handicapped woman used to live next door, but she moved away. She was a Shouter. I think her brother was a meth dealer.

But best of all is that the neighbors with the booze bottles have recently developed what I can only assume is intended to be a "garage band", i.e., they strike musical instruments and vocalize in their garage. I was listening over the weekend, trying to figure out what genre it is they're going for. Can't put my finger on it. I think it's a new genre.

There is usually a drum, a guitar and vocalizations. They've been at it for several weeks now. On Sunday I detected three distinctly different "songs" being played concurrently (one on the drum, another on the guitar, and the vocalizer seemed to be pursuing yet another composition), in three different keys at once (the keys in each "song" change every measure or so). Very, very avant garde. In fact, the arrangements they do are really complex. The person banging the drum (one-handed from the sound of it--I think his name is ZOG) cleverly changes the tempo every couple seconds--fast, faster, REALLY FAST, not so fast, sort of fast, little slower, faster, faster, STUPID fast--getting crazy now--Oh, I guess we're taking a break now. Oh wait, no we're not. Just changing hands. The guitar is freakishly out of tune (so daring!), and played apparently while wearing mittens. The "vocalist" (the one producing the vocal noises) is doing an intriguing, completely atonal impression of Bob Dylan with the occasional foray into Sid Vicious when she's feeling sassy. Like a true artiste, she is not married to conventional ideas such as pitch, key signature or tempo. From time to time she might yell.

Their repertoire is very, very minimalist. One song, apparently. Something about needing a man. I know all the words by heart now. "I need a man, I need a man...[instrumental]...I need a man." At one time there was what sounded like a two-handed drummer who seemed to be making progress but I think Zog has replaced him/her. I am intrigued to know what their plans are--is this goal-oriented activity (like they have a gig at the deaf school?), or just noodling? And of course, more than once they have postponed their sessions until quite late in the evening, or have resumed an earlier session at bedtime, sometimes serenading the darkened neighbor houses with their thoughtfully amplified vocalizations until well after 11:00 p.m., weeknights. The gentleman who lives in the house ran for City Council last year (or maybe it was the year before). He clearly rejects passe and bourgeois notions of neighborliness and common courtesy, and has freed himself from shame. This would have made for interesting City policy (he was not elected).

So, I am eagerly awaiting the next piece of jewelry I will produce in this irritating stimulating context. I sort of have some half-formed ideas, and as I listen to Zog, Mitten Man and Deaf Bob/Sid, I am drawn to using new, little-used materials--I'm thinking of making a collar out of barbed wire, broken glass and cockleburrs, chokers made from recycled hair shirts, and a series of bracelets made from duct tape with the sticky side out. I was also thinking of making earrings out of living insects, like real live dragonflies or bumblebees, that would buzz about your head as you go about your day, and notebook-sized pendants made from reclaimed chalkboard slate for you to scratch with your fingernail anytime you crave some unusual aural texture. This would probably be a better response to my neighbors' self-expression than putting feta cheese on their microphone, pepper spray on their guitar strings and hiding a fish sandwich in their drum set, which is what I was going to do before.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Trickle of Creativity

Well, I am slowly trickling out new pieces. They are from the 24-item list I made a couple weeks ago in my efforts to increase my focus. As I write this, at this very moment I am realizing that "24-item list" and "focus" may be conceptually incompatible. Perhaps that is why I have only completed three items on the list in two weeks. Of course part of the reason for that is because of my 25-year high school reunion that took place over the weekend--I would have made at least one more thing over the weekend if I hadn't been out goofing off with people I haven't seen in 20+ years. Then it would have been a ratio of 4 items completed:24 items contemplated. (Still not real good). I did do prep work--oxidized a bunch of brass wire with ammonia fumes to a lovely brown color, and antiqued a bunch of sterling wire to a nice gunmetal color. I am all about the ammonia fumes method for brass--it happens slow so it's easy to control the degree of oxidation, you can get anything from a nicely mellowed brass to a sable to a deep brown to black (depending on how long you forget to take the items out of the container), and the finish doesn't come off!! You can brighten it up again some with steel wool, but unlike using some of the Midas solutions, the finish doesn't just wash off in water. It's really durable. If you want a slightly greener oxidation on your brass, Liver of Sulphur works better.

Here is the first item on my list, that I started at the lake at our camp spot, and then finished in the car last week. I'm calling it Sea Bubbles.

The large smooth slightly irregular sea green stones are aqua agate--just love the stuff. (Golden agate is lovely too, a mellow golden yellow like the inside of a peach). The teardrops and rounds are new jade, and the three mint green discs on either side are matte, opalescent glass discs from Happy Mango. The chain is handforged and all the sterling wire is lightly antiqued with Liver of Sulphur. Oh, and there are soft green freshwater pearls. I'm just surrounded by water all summer, being down at the lake, and as it's glacier-fed, it tends to be green--I keep making these aqua green things and I have more in the pipeline. (Just got some tiny, deep green aventurine rectangles that I'm dying to use).

I completed this piece two weeks ago at the lake--I'd been carting this cherry quartz around for months, trying to decide what to do with it. The watermelon association is obvious, and I had to maintain iron discipline not to fold up and do something literal and cheesy with blackstone roundels or little black coins. So I used garnets instead. I took the photo under our awning at the camp spot in my lap with the item in the lid of a copy paper box. No tripod. Like I said, steady as a friggin' rock. And that was even after a night of heavy drinking. Should have been a neurosurgeon.

I did this the other night--I cheated and just riffed off one of the necklaces I already did. I have had a devil of a time photographing this, and the necklace and earrings that are made from the same stuff. The silver coin pearls and sterling silver are pretty remarkable in person, but they just don't look very impressive in photographs (so unimpressive in fact that it only got one measly view on Etsy overnight). Pearls are weirdly hard to photograph. They almost look blurry to me sometimes (like after said night of heavy drinking). Going to try photographing this item again later but for the moment this is all I got.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Interview with Lorelei Eurto (for Mostly Self-Serving, Opportunistic Reasons)

I was recently feeling some artistic growing pains, and feeling a little overwhelmed by the unfavorable free time:inspiration ratio in my life (too many ideas, not enough time). Jewelry designing seems to have awoken some latent ADHD in me, and focusing enough to actually create something had seemed beyond me for some weeks. So I decided to pick the brain of one of my favorite designers, Lorelei Eurto—she is constantly offering up new jewelry pieces on a pretty regular basis, they are all very unique and each obviously involve a lot of contemplation, and she also works a full time job. The first I aspired to, and the second two I felt we had in common, so I thought some input from her would probably be pretty relevant to my dilemma. She was kind enough to respond to my questions, and her answers were really helpful, mainly in sort of giving myself permission to let up on myself a little. With her permission, I’ve shared her insights below (my questions are in italics) into her own creative process, along with photos of some of her recent pieces. (To see more visit her Etsy shop, or her new Artfire shop; for information on the artists who make the art beads she uses, visit her blog). Hope you find it helpful too (especially those of you with the keeper day job and the jewelry gig on the side)!

What is your creative process? Do you plan somehow, what you create? Do you have production goals? (Like make X bracelets, or make X items using X beads you just got)? Or is it totally organic?
There is no science behind my motivation. You say you've been feeling really overwhelmed with too many ideas and not enough time to put them out there. What's the rush? I have the same issues. There are days when I cannot keep up with my fingers and I bead my heart out for hours on end and still don't complete everything I set out to do. But I don't put any pressure on myself ... I don't have a quota where I want to make so many bracelets, so many necklaces. 95% of the time, I sit down in my studio and I have no idea what I'll come up with.

This past year I have really gotten my name out there and have promoted myself in publications. But I have never been in this to make a ton of money. Beading is like therapy for me. It's my one creative outlet that helps me relax at the end of a long day. And if I can make something that will sell quickly so that I can buy more beads to make something else, then my goal has been reached. I have always just wanted to keep beading.

Do you complete a design in your head/on paper first, and then put it together? Or do the beads just talk to you?
A lot of my work revolves around art beads. Handmade beads and components make it easy to design around. I don't make a whole lot of jewelry that doesn't incorporate some sort of art bead in it. I have a very large collection of art beads. I hoard them. I think when I buy certain things from people, their hope is that I create something around their beads right away. But sometimes I sit on them for a while before creating anything because the ideas have to build up over time.

It's rare that I come up with an idea ahead of time. This happens occasionally but more with my art jewelry type of pieces. Like the necklace I did with the Alice in Wonderland theme. That piece happened slowly.

Do you work 40 hours/week? How do you balance studio time/time with your husband/other personal time?
I work 40 hours a week at the Museum. I work on jewelry in the evenings after dinner for a few hours. We go to bed fairly early so I'd say I don't bead past 9:30 pm generally. Sometimes I like to have stuff to list in my Etsy shop every day. If I take an evening off, sometimes I whip something up in the morning before I go to work. I get up at 6:00 am, and this is when a lot of business stuff happens. Packaging orders. Printing labels. Taking pictures of jewelry made the night before. Editing photos. Listing pieces on Etsy. Putting pics on Flickr and Facebook. I'm out the door to work by 8:45 am.

I do spend time with my husband during the week, when I take evenings off from beading. And on the weekends. I do create a lot on the weekends but Joe usually works on the weekends too so that gives me a lot of time during the day to get stuff made. We don't have a lot of plans generally.

My technique toolbox is pretty petite still, and I'm relatively new to the creative process, but I'm afraid I'm going to burn out from lack of direction. Any words of wisdom?
I'd say my technique toolbox is also petite. I find that I don't have to do a whole lot of fancy beadwork and wire work for my jewelry to sell well. Once you get into a routine, and a niche with your designs, you'll create what sells best.

Do you ever suffer from a lack of focus, and how did you deal with it? Any organizational aides you've developed that help you bring to life what's in your head?
There have definitely been times when the creative process falters. Where I feel overwhelmed and can't focus. When this happens, I walk away for a while. It doesn't take long, away from the studio, to get inspired again. My advice for you is to not put so much pressure on yourself. Put pressure on yourself after you've quit your job and are creating jewelry for a living...I am lucky in that I've got my dream job, and my dream hobby all wrapped up in one. I have no intentions right now to do jewelry full-time. That would feel too much like work and I'm not into making my hobby feel like work. It's supposed to be fun and relaxing and it's nice because there is no pressure. So take advantage of the fact that you have another job that pays the bills and treat the jewelry thing like your hobby.

Don't worry so much about techniques. Find your niche and continue with the designs that sell well. Get comfortable with this and then if time permits, try something new.

Friday, July 17, 2009

I Made a Digital Photo Collage

Hey, look what I did! My friend Michelle at Tile Me Beautiful had a cool collage on her blog (or was it Facebook)--I asked her how she did it and she said she used MS Power Point. So I Googled "photo collage PowerPoint" and found this article, followed the instructions, and voila!

As I was going through the article, I saw at the bottom that you can download Picasa for free, and you can do collages on that too. Lorelei Eurto has done some collages of her work with Picasa, and they're neat because they have borders that make them look very tidy. Going to download that when I am home again (I'm at work and I'm not important enough apparently to have "administrative rights" to download software. Hmph.)

Give it a shot.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Crop Circles, Camels and Blood Oranges

I have a thing for round disc pendants like this tantalizing "new jade" lozenge I got at Brought to Life Beads in Whitefish, Montana (where I live) a few months ago. I've been obsessed with this pale celadon color for a while now and keep buying more and more of it (I hope there are people out there with PayPal who share this obsession). Every week or so I would paw through my little box of pendants and wait for them to speak to me. Not a damn word. I really wanted to do something special with this one jade lozenge (is this why I have a thing for these discs? Because they look like giant candy? I don't even like candy). I carried it around with me for a while with an assortment of other stuff that I thought might make the most of it, but it just wasn't right. Finally, in a mad rush to pack to go to the lake for a few days, I was freed from my usual artistic paralysis and just threw some things in a container. One of them was a strand of these opalescent pale yellow green mini lozenges (or coins). I didn't want to take my whole stash so I just picked out a few pieces to work on. I did the majority of this pendant at the lake, even taking my Liver of Sulphur to do some oxidizing at our camp spot (we didn't get a lot visitors that weekend...) I really really like how it turned out--the circles and the wire remind me of a crop circle. I'm not usually that roundly pleased with my stuff (always something I don't like about it), but this really hit the spot for me. Simple.

Before that I was cruising around on some of the Flickr craft and jewelry groups, and visited the "Accessory Trends: Red, Peach, Orange, Gold" group. I was inspired. I hauled out my carnelian (lots of that), red agate, brecciated jasper and red aventurine and stared at it for a while. I was thinking bracelet. I didn't want it all Mardi Gras though (not that there's anything wrong with that). I don't really do the festive happy colors thing (irritates me for some reason)--I thought I could take all that luscious tangerine, apricot and poppy vermilion and make it something smoldering and moody with some deeply oxidized brass wire. So I linked them together with some heavy gauge brass wire, and added a length of chain I had made the other day, and popped the whole thing into the ammonia fumes (overnight, as it turned out--oops). Voila:

I love it. Kind of old-worldy. With a flash of fire.

And lastly, my ode to the camel and his habitat.

I ADORE camel. The color, not the animal. Wheat. A lion's mane. Sand. I was going to call it, "Behind my Camel", after a quirky Police song, and then thought better of it. Maybe not the best place to be. I don't usually give my pieces pretentious cheesy names, but it seemed OK in this case b/c I figured camel would be a search term. Camel and pendant and I had it covered. Especially since I don't have a clue what that little stone pendant is. Forgot to ask. Looks like something from the driveway. The little ivory spacers are bone, and the pale round beads are wood, and the light caramel colored disc beads are actually matte glass discs from Happy Mango Beads. (They are ever so slightly opalescent and come in a few different charming colors).

(Believe it or not, these photos were taken in my car on my lunch hour, literally IN MY LAP. I put the lid to a cardboard copy paper box upside down in my lap (this is also my work table in my "mobile studio"), arranged my stuff, and took a picture. No tripod. Steady as a friggin rock.)

Lastly, I sold some of my favorite pieces to family this last weekend, and am thrilled that they will be loved and worn, and given as gifts to special friends! The hardware bracelet, the house pendant with bronze pearls, the copper charm bracelet with amazonite and aventurine, and a labradorite and sterling necklace and earring combo are winging their way to Billings, Montana, and then on to North Carolina.

Thanks MaryLu and Marcia!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

It's Not Nice to Plagiarize Mother Nature

Tom and I were sitting by Flathead Lake this weekend and I was seized with a fit of creativity and had a relapse of my childhood rock fetish. Most of the mountain lakes, and the rivers around here lie over and are surrounded by the most astounding assortments of tumbled river rock, in wonderful, smooth shapes and vivid colors. Up til recently, most of my jewelry designs have been largely monochromatic and tone-on-tone, or at least in the same color family. I LOVE that look. I haven't really been enticed into making multicolor pieces. But, once again, Lorelei Eurto (this is getting broken record-y, got to find a new minor deity artistic inspiration) has broadened my horizons. She had this nifty little bracelet on Facebook in pinks and oranges (I'd put a picture here but I think she sold it), and I thought, Eureka, it CAN be done. Of course a lot of her stuff is multicolor, I just wasn't willing to see it yet.

So as I looked at these rocks, I saw color combinations that I wouldn't have considered before. And I thought, this could be a really fun way to explore new palettes for jewelry pieces. I started collecting the best specimens and brought them home and photographed them in different combinations. Granted there's some colors missing (fuschia, lime, any shade of blue, etc.), but there was an amazing assortment of muted tones (a dearth of cool colors, alas). These are some of my favorite combinations:

And lastly my compulsive ode to tone-on-tone.

I feel inspired, although I still have a mental block about cool colors. And pink and purple. I hate pink and purple. I used those pink and purple rocks out of sheer iron will and discipline. Keep loving those fall colors...I should get a house on Mars.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, This Necklace Is Red and a It's Bracelet Too

When I read that Etsy was having a Ruby Red theme for the month of July (July birthstone is the ruby), I obediently and slavishly set about making a red item because it does so much to prop up my withered little ego to be in a gift guide. And it would make me want to go on living if I could be on the front page. So I pulled out all the red stuff I have, most of it cannibalized from other jewelry I had fallen out of love with and stuff I had foolishly bought to make Valentine's Day items in December, and as is my wont, stared at it for about an hour. Changed my mind several times, and finally set to work. Three hours later, I had myself a bracelet. A bracelet that looked an awful lot like it would have been a really cool necklace if I had been more ambitious. DANG! I thought. But then...my tiny little wheels started turning, really really fast, and I thought, maybe it can still be a necklace! HEY!!! Maybe it can be a bracelet AND a necklace!!! It'll be CONVERTIBLE! I made some minor modifications, and discovered happily that the remaining piece of oxidized copper chain I had left over from the bracelet was the perfect length for an extender to turn the bracelet into an 18" necklace. So I engineered that, and the result is what you see here.

Now I'm thinking I'll have a whole section of convertible bracelets/necklaces. You saw it here first, tell me if you see anybody copying me. (I've done this with my own jewelry because I'm poor.)

Going to make earrings and then that will be just about it for that assortment of ruby red beads. Might have enough odds and ends to eke out something lame. You'll know it when you see it.