Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Don't hate

This past weekend I attended the Society of North American Goldsmiths conference, held this year in Phoenix. I love being a SNAG member and have no issue whatsoever with the name, despite the fact I have never worked with gold in any serious amount. In fact, there are more than a few SNAG members who don't even use metal as their primary material. And that's fine. I was, however, more than a little surprised to hear some attendees reacting in a very hostile manner to the use of "alternative materials" (Really? Aren't non-metal materials in jewelry ubiquitous in our group at this point? Do we really need to persist in labeling them 'alternative'?), to the point where they felt that work not done in a traditional manner was, not to put too fine a point on it, crap.
Yea, so here's the thing...chasing, repousse, cloisonne, soldering, forging - they're techniques thousands of years old. People have done everything with them. Some choose to employ them in strictly traditional work, sitting at the feet of masters and learning how to do exactly as the masters do. Some learn from the masters then forge their own paths (pun intended). Some only learn one or two techniques and happily use them to create the work they want to make. There is room for all. However, by eschewing anything that doesn't fall into the strict definition of 'good' from a specific and exacting definition of a traditional technique is simply trenchant and limiting, especially at a conference full of makers with widely varied backgrounds.
I love silver. I love being a silversmith. I will work with silver until the commodities market pushes it beyond affordability. But my silver work is a base from which to add color, texture, pattern. And I get good response to my work. But I also love to see traditional silver hollowware and flatware because it's yet another way the material is utilized. In general, I am not attracted to cloisonne enameling, but can deeply appreciate the skill and time needed for it. Shutting out modern techniques and materials as 'crap' (or, for that matter, traditional materials and techniques as 'boring') is just sadly limiting and a good way to tune out gifted makers.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Consider your purchasing power every day - it matters!

How do you make your local economy healthier?

Do you buy from the big box stores or from local businesses?
Do you buy your fruits and vegetables from Safeway or from the farmers' market?
It may mean going to the hair salon owned by your neighbor.
Or buying a pair of earrings from a friend.
Or buying a wedding present from a local artisan.
Consider the impact of your every-day purchasing decisions!

- Harriette Estelle Berman, visual artist, writer, and small business guru
Lone Flower 2

I don't pretend to know how my creative process works at this point. Even after years of working in metal, doodling, experimenting, I'm just never quite sure when inspiration will strike or when I'll hit a frustrating dry spell. What I do know, however, is to be super grateful when a new idea really takes root - embrace it, bask in it, and, above all, make it happen. 

I hadn't really given much though to enamel in my work, mostly because it doesn't work well with sterling silver. Then silver hit $35/ounce and cheaper materials like copper started looking better and better. But how to make copper into interesting art? Oh yea, enamel! And how to make enamel more interesting than a bright and shiny 2-D glass-coated metal object such as the hoaky cliche Etsy-inspired sparrow? Oh yea, build up! And texture, and fuse, and over-fire, and...Suddenly enamel's not looking so boring.

The new series I'm developing glues metal to metal with heat and glass (like my perennial favorite, soldering - gluing metal to metal with heat and more metal). I'm playing with the way copper leeches into white enamels, and how bare metal darkens and creates contrast against lighter colors. 

But beyond the technical details, the important thing is that this is the first new work I've conceived in almost 2 years. Not that I don't still enjoy my other series, but a creative career needs innovation and reinvention on a fairly regular basis. Because I struggle with actually sitting down to intentionally do this, it is a huge relief when inspiration finds me. I'm invigorated, excited, to see where this goes, and grateful for the muses that pushed me to this new place.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Workin' on it - excerpts from the studio

Silver scrap
The hammering stump

Working the ingot
Bracelets in progress

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Stuff that amuses me

 OMG - yet another reason I love bamboo!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Where do we go from here?

So, Indulge, my first ever invitational museum show...While overwhelming, the whole experience felt so important to my career, and not just because it was like a shot of PEDs in the arm of my artist resume. I also learned a lot, more than at any other show, in fact, about my work, my presentation, and about playing in the big leagues.

Primary lesson? I need to focus. In all aspects of my work. For starters, I need branding - a font, logo, and business cards. People need to see my name so they don't have to ask me. Repeatedly. An eye-catching banner than can be seen across a crowded exhibition room that screams, 'Come see me! I am art worth knowing!' I have some large pictures, and that always helps reel 'em in, but without specific, identifying information, they're just pretty pictures.

I also need to focus in my pieces. Building a body of work around a technique does not cohesion create. Just because I fabricate in silver and imbed with polymer does not mean that a cabernet and lime-colored pendant can sit next to off-white, black, and red earrings next to a copper and purple brooch (think Sesame Street - 'One of these things is not like the others, one of these things does not belong...'). Looking at the other art jewelers in the show, I could clearly see how they'd each taken an idea and expanded on it completely, in as many ways as they could imagine, while still maintaining a common theme.

Finally, I need focus in my display. Showing up with some table cloths, 5 acrylic risers, fabric swatches, and a couple of boxes is an excellent way to ensure my display ends up a hodge podge of height and space. Combined with my wide array of work styles, the result is just a messy cluttered table. Instead, display items need to be constructed of the same 2 or 3 materials, built to matching heights, and take into consideration the work being presented. Displays shouldn't be distracting, they should be complimentary and uniform, supporting the jewelry, not distracting from it.

When I first accepted the invitation to Indulge I was scared, but in hind sight I am so grateful for the experience. My bar is permanently raised and my marching orders are clear. Next time I'll be ready to bring the new and improved version of myself and my jewelry that is comfortable in those big art leagues.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Widespread (Studio) Panic

Ah! 8 days until my show! Ah! I haven't made any earrings yet (my best sellers)! Ah! I haven't even thought about my display! Ah! I'm out of business cards! Ah! My house is a mess! Ah! I need to do laundry! Ah! Ah! Ah!
I have a full-blown case of show panic.
Show panic (SP) is what sets in about a week before I do a show, the voice that says, "What the hell were you thinking?!? You're not ready for this, you have SO much to do! How is it all going to come together? Maybe you should bag out..." It's this horrible fear that my whole professional reputation being on the line with one show and that my financial success at said show is directly related to how much saleable stuff I'm able to produce for it, and that if I fail even slightly I will end up on the street. Seriously.
Yet it all comes together somehow. Fortunately, my bouts of SP are getting shorter and shorter. I think that, in part, this is because my work is now more cohesive. The pieces flow together and inspire different variations on the same themes. Not only is this helpful for building an inventory, it makes the idea of displays less intimidating. Instead of trying to match disparate items, I can put an entire series in one part of my booth, and another series elsewhere, organizing them into the families of metal and mixed media to which they belong. In other words, bodies of work instead of a jewelry rummage sale.
But this speaks to a larger issue of confidence, of finding my own creative voice in this vast and wonderous medium. It's a reassuring feeling to have parameters, to have designs that are mine, that work, that are a joy to create, that people genuinely seem to like. My creative voice is now stronger and less afraid of appearing in public. Now, about that housecleaning... 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Forming, Coloring, and Applying Patinazation to my World

Apparently expanding one's repertoire IS healthy. Or so I was reminded after spending 3 days in a workshop with Helen Shirk, professor (now emeritus) of metals at San Diego State, famous for her large, vibrantly-colored floral forms. I'd been looking forward to the class for 6 months and thought I knew exactly what I wanted to get from the whole experience. I've followed Helen's work for years. Her use of Prismacolor pencils on copper creates incredible color and effect (http://art.sdsu.edu/faculty_and_staff/directory/helen_shirk/). I have ALWAYS wanted to know how she does it, and I FINALLY had my chance!
While I came for the colored pencils, I stayed for the patinas. And the forming. And the color theory. And the discussions on being a working artist. Early into the first day, Helen had us raising bowls and other forms in copper, using hammers and leather instead of stakes and other forming tools. While aim was initially an issue, Helen's harem of hammers, many of which she made specifically for her needs, yielded a wide (and narrow) variety of lines. While the pointy tips couldn't give quite the same fine lines as a repouse tool might, the hammers were amazingly versatile, allowing us to tease unexpected details from flat copper sheet.
When Helen announced we were also going to learn to patina metal I thought, 'Okay, fine, been there, done that. Liver of sulfur - you dip metal in it, it turns black. It makes gold colors pop and covers boo-boos.' Then she took the class into the back yard of our studio and lit up a big butane plumber's torch. As it turned out gentle heat (below 212 F) and spray bottles of liver of sulfur, cupric nitrate, and ferric nitrate create some really cool colors. While liver goes black, ferric turns into lovely caramel brown colors and cupric yields amazing aquamarine blues.
Cupric nitrate
Used in combination, the precise pencils and the spray-on patinas add vivid color and texture to metal. Cupric nitrate, for example, becomes nubbly as it's layered. I chose to leave the roughness (instead of sanding it off) to juxtapose the super smooth shiny exterior of the piece, which was sandblasted and covered in Prismacolor pencil.
Prismacolor on the outside, cupric nitrate inside

I also entered into this workshop with the idea that I am a vibrant color kind of person who doesn't have enough understanding of drawing to create any sort of complexities of shading or tone. Fortunately, I also experimented with this piece:
Red and violets Prismacolor pencil outside, layers of
cupric and ferric nitrates inside
Detail of attempted shading

While it wasn't quite as smooth as I'd hoped, I was pleased to discover that layering a darker shade under my dominant color (in this case, red) would create a shadowy effect. In the end, the piece looked as though it had been covered in enamel and fired until slightly burned (a very Victorian motif).

The whole process sounds simple - cut a shape, form it, sand blast it, apply color, patina, apply more color, lacquer, enjoy, but, as it turned out, the possibilities were limitless. In the end I came away with pieces I was honestly satisfied with, having been able to give them dimension, color, texture - a real life of their own. While I probably won't run out and become a sculptor, my perception of what I can do with metal, and my sense of the possible, is broader now than it was before and that is what lets me grow as an artist and creator.

Monday, June 21, 2010

It's on!

Today I was accepted to the Northwest Art Alliance Best of the Northwest show because I took initiative and called the organizers to introduce myself. This also follows closely on the heels of being accepted to a gallery in which several accomplished, well-known jewelry artists have their work. I got in because I walked in wearing one of my pieces. The owner wants 10 pieces to start. It may not seem like a big deal, but for me it represents a flying leap forward as an artist and as a person capable of chasing a dream.
I haven't done a show in nearly a year and a half. I haven't been in a gallery since 2004. I've been stagnating. But now I feel like I've burst into bloom, a desert plant after heavy rain. It's exhilarating, though an intimidating amount of work to pull off in a short time.
But this is what chasing my passion looks like - sudden opportunity and lots of hard work. For the last 2 years I have been thinking about all the things I need to do to finally launch my business in a serious way. Then, in the space of one short week, I found opportunities that require me to do it NOW. Perhaps this is an extension of my procrastinative nature, but I'm trying to see it instead as really having something to work for. Once more into the studio!

Friday, May 28, 2010

"I can't quite figure out what I just saw, but I want someone to give me a Happy Meal and tell me everything's okay," my boyfriend said after the curtains fell. The performance we'd just seen, Heaven, a collaboration between choreographer Morgan Thorsen and musical group Low, was the very definition of modern dance, replete with men in white dresses walking in slow circles around the stage while women in suits made from mattress pads ran back and forth at top speed, pausing occasionally to fling themselves to the ground.

I know that Heaven affected me, that what I saw moved me consciously and unconsciously. It also aroused in me a creative crisis. Everything was engaging -the movement (incorporating familiar yoga posses executed perfectly by dancers totally at ease with their bodies), the costumes (eerily clean, crisp, and white), the lighting (strobbing, pulsing, utterly disconcerting), sounds (amplified floor fans), and music (live chanting and spirituals). But did I GET it? Did I actually understand the performance? For that matter, did I even understand art at all?

As one who considers herself an artist, this question is troubling. I've had many of those Liberal Arts courses that aspired to teach symbolism, facilitated by professors who sought to help us tease out the deeper, hidden meanings of important works. I always did well in those classes, due more to my writing skills than to any original ideas. The last time I looked at a Rothko I didn't grasp a deep universal truth, but I was inspired to repaint my kitchen.

Perhaps this is really a manifestation of my own lack of confidence as an artist - I can't possibly succeed because I don't, in fact, "get it," this huge, massive, nebulous thing called "art." I can't access that higher plain of creativity required to break through and make truly awe-inspiring, revolutionary work. There are just some people who can distill ideas, concepts, statements into works of deep symbolism and profundity. And then there's me.

Here's where I pause to say I KNOW, on some level, that this thought process is ridiculous. It basically says that if I can't paint like Van Gough, I shouldn't try. If I can't be Alexander Calder, I shouldn't make jewelry. If I don't understand all the nuances of Heaven, I'm not a real artist.

So what to do? In The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron stresses the importance of simply showing up. Don't question your creative endeavors, just do them. So I'm going to try to simply be with my art, not judge, to not worry if what I'm doing is deeply symbolic or just looks pretty, to switch from, "Do I get it?" to "I'm going to do it."