Monday, May 16, 2016

Playing Around with Nootka Rose Buds

Nootka roses are beginning to bloom in our area, one of my favorite spring moments. I gather buds to string into garlands, harvest petals to dehydrate for tea or sprinkle on top of homemade vanilla ice cream with a bit of Derek's honey.

Rose bud garlands are easy. Simply thread a needle and poke the needle through the fleshy receptacle. I generally use a sturdy thread to hold the weight of the roses. I also hang the garland outside for a spell until all bugs have dropped.

I prepare a wintertime syrup to help fight colds and flus. To do so, I bring to a boil one part whole rosehips to four parts water. As soon as the pot boils I turn the heat to simmer for 30 minutes. I then strain out the hips, return the liquid to a simmer and when it has reduced to a quarter of its initial volume, add honey to taste. I pour the liquid into glass jars and store in the fridge.

I also dehydrate the hips, but first (with a butter knife), scoop out the seeds and hairs. It's a pain, and I apologize to the many friends I've finagled into helping me...but the tea is delicious (which I often combine with dried orange rinds).

When I create my hand fabricated botanical jewelry, I literally pull the plants apart to determine how they're naturally constructed. I wonder how each little fold fits into another, and I try to replicate what I discover.

When you pull apart a rose bud and unroll the petals, did you know they're heart shaped?

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Tour of My Studio: Nicole Ringgold Jewelry Designs

With every artist comes a story, its content filled with detailed chapters. If given the assignment to bookmark just one chapter in each artist's story, what would it be?

I would bookmark the chapter that describes his/her studio. So much information can be gleaned from seeing an artist's work space.

After losing my studio to the Rising Eagle Fire in 2014, I approached Tess Hoke, owner of YardFood to see if she might be open to my setting up a work space inside her greenhouse. Within weeks I reinvested in equipment and adopted the greenhouse as my home away from home.

The greenhouse was constructed by Shackitecture, modern yet rustic (with the use of majestic recycled materials) architecture set in the mountains. The landscape that surrounds the greenhouse consists of gardens, fruit trees, a chicken coop, bee hives, and plant nursery. In the front of the building is a quaint garden and gift shop. The building's commercial kitchen houses the Okanogan Bakery which permeates the greenhouse air with a mouth watering aroma. The property is also home to a small schoolhouse. Children's laughter ripples through the air, and they frequently come feed the fish, plant and harvest garden produce.

I generally arrive to my studio by 8:30am.

Given that I work in a greenhouse and the temperature fluctuates, I wear several layers of clothes. By 11am when the sun shines directly onto my work bench, I often strip down to shorts and a tank top. In the winter the concrete floors are heated, so the space is still warm and cozy.

When I arrive, I clear cobwebs woven overnight, wipe down work surfaces, and sweep the floor. I get my dogs settled, plug my earphones into my phone and pick up my audiobook where I left off.

I prefer to leave the studio each day having completed each project I started. Of course, that's not always possible, in which case I jump back in where I stopped. Otherwise, I sift through piles of river rocks or walk through the greenhouse plants to find inspiration for the morning's piece.

My studio is organized in sections. I have a soldering station with an oxygen/propane torch system, all purchased through Rio Grande. They gifted me a generous discount as the victim of a fire.

I have a metal forming station. This is where I manipulate the metal using hammers, dappers, pliers, stamps, mandrels, etc.

I had to duct tape my chair because a hot piece of metal landed between my legs and burnt a hole in the leather. Luckily duct tape comes in red!

I have a sawing, sanding and polishing station. This is where I have my saw blades and flex shaft. It's also where my drill press resides for drilling holes and hollowing rocks.

I also have a hydraulic press, polishing machine, rolling mill and ring sizer/adjuster, all set on top of shelves/drawers where I store silver sheets, wire, gift boxes, and lots of other materials/supplies.

My space is only 10'x10', so it's important that I keep it clean and efficient. I put most of the furniture on wheels so that I can easily roll it around, clean and reorganize the entire space as needed.

My goal is to complete one piece each day, or reach a point where I'm satisfied with my progress. The best time to take photos of my work is at 3pm when the light is still bright but not glaring. I place my work on the floor and take shots from a variety of angles.

Depending on my family's schedules, I work until 4pm when I can take my dogs for an afternoon hike. Sometimes I manage to fit in a morning hike, in which case I work until 6pm.

Et voilĂ . My studio is a dream come true. Thank you, Tess.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Making of an Olive Leaf and Stone

This olive tree branch and pits were sent to me by a customer on the island of Lesbos, Greece. She and her family spend their days harvesting olives and herbs that grow on the island, pressing oil, marinating olives, making soap. I was delighted when she asked me to make her olive leaf and stone jewelry.

After she saw the completed work, she wrote, "In Greece we say, about someone who makes beautiful handcraft and art and of course food too, that they have golden hands."

Some day I want to visit this customer and work with her family to harvest olives. Until then, I will dream.

Here is the photo journal of my process:

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Making of Lace Lichen

I find two things hard to believe: 1) it's already approaching 2 years since we lost everything to a wild fire that swept over our hill (our home, my art studio, our chickens and cats...), and 2) this incredible path I've taken as a silversmith is a direct result of that horrific life-changing event. As an artist, I would not be where I am today if my world had not been completely jarred.

It's not that I don't resent the fire. It's that I acknowledge I wouldn't have reached this point without undergoing that experience. I would not have chosen to leave my work as a non-profit director without the tumultuous push by our circumstances.

And now?

Now, every day that I enter my studio I feel profoundly grateful that I am able to pursue my life-long dream to work as an artist. Time slips by and I don't take any breaks - every moment is too precious to waste. I take hikes before or after work (sometimes both) because I know I can't pull myself away from my creative process mid-day.

Today's completed creation brought me extraordinary pleasure, from untangling the lace lichen from a branch to solving the puzzle of how I could recreate it in silver. Watching the piece unfold into a sculptural, wearable necklace.

Are you kidding me? I get to do this for my job?

Thank you, Universe.

The following images illustrate my process to fabricate this lace lichen necklace. I hope you enjoy seeing this as much as I did making it.

I started with 21 gauge wire and soldered two ends together, acting as a frame.

I then randomly wound wired around the frame, interweaving it here and there to create a web. I then soldered all of the joints and hammered them flat.

Sand, file, sand, file, get rid of all sharp edges.

I soldered the stems together, some in groups of two or three.

With my pliers I manipulated the forms into organic, flowing shapes.

I then came up with joints to ensure the necklace would move gracefully when worn. Oxidized the silver, polished, washed, and voila!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Botanical Study in Silver: 30 of 30

Here it is. The last piece of my botanical challenge. I am posting this with a mixture of relief and melancholy, glad to have completed the series, but wishing for a fireworks display.

When I first decided to tackle this challenge, I had no clue just how much it would influence my work, push my boundaries, help me expand upon my silversmithing skills. My expectations were enormously understated. Needless to say, over the last 4 months I have learned A LOT.

I chose to make a simple plant for this last piece. Previously, every piece was more complex than the one before, and I thought I'd make something crazy intricate to bring closure to my self-inflicted challenge. Instead, I was drawn to the simple, wide, paddle-like leaves of the silver dollar eucalyptus.

What have I learned? What have I accomplished by pursuing this botanical jewelry challenge?

  • My ability to saw detailed shapes out of silver sheets has improved
  • Soldering...I can now solder itty bitty bits of silver together, concentrating on specific spots of a project without melting previously soldered joints.
  • I am more confident with my texture hammers.
  • I am more confident using pliers to bend silver sheets (to replicate the true nature of leaves)
  • I am less intimidated by projects when I set a goal...actually dissecting plants and figuring out how to reconstruct them in silver helped break down the wall. Doing so was akin to climbing a mountain, taking one step at a time to reach the summit.
  • I am less interested in 2-dimensional silversmithing. Sculptural jewelry is now my calling.

And that's a wrap, folks.

What's next?

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