Saturday, July 30, 2011

Special Projects

A nice aspect of having a studio of tools and supplies is that I can sometimes do special projects for family and friends. Around a year ago, I was able to make the bridal jewelry that my oldest niece wore for her wedding. Just yesterday, I handed back a bracelet that I had fixed for a friend. The anniversary gift from her husband had broken. An easy repair, and she was delighted to have her special gift back on her wrist.
Some of the projects are especially significant to me.
As my one son has lost more of his vision, some tasks, such as signing his name, have become extremely difficult.
Products designed for the visually impaired include a variety of signature guides. As I looked at the styles available, I thought that none of them had just the right features to be most suitable for my son.
Time to get to the workbench.I cut a piece of 16 gauge copper the size of a business card thinking that it could conveniently fit in my son's wallet. Using my jeweler's saw, I cut out two rectangles. In each rectangle, I saw cut short notches that an assistant could align on the signature line. My son can the feel the rivets to understand where his signature needs to be placed.
A hole was drilled in the upper left corner in case my son would rather put the signature guide on a key chain that would then be attached to his white cane.
The guide has already come in handy numerous times, and I know that my son appreciates knowing that it is a one-of-a-kind item.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Still Working on the Soldering

I really enjoy etching. It's so satisfying to have a piece of metal that nobody else has. My pieces of etched brass, silver nickel and copper are so wonderfully unique that I often have a hard time cutting them up for use in actual projects. I can be that way with a lovely piece of fabric. There is something magical about looking at a prized material while imagining the many possibilities of how that material could be transformed. I sometimes have to force myself to let go of that magical moment and.....use the material already!!!
Such was the case with this piece of brass that I etched with vintage images of a rooster.
This etching was done several months ago, and I have only recently begun to use it in some projects. Last week I cut a small piece to use in a ring design that I was envisioning.
I started out with a piece of sterling flat wire that was measured to fit my finger. The two ends were filed to meet flush for soldering. After soldering and pickling, I formed the piece on a ring mandrel using a high density plastic mallet. Whoops...could have gotten a better join. You can make out the solder seam at around 8 o'clock.
Oh well, by the time this project was done, that solder seam was the least of my worries!
Once I had the circle formed, I textured the surface with a ball peen hammer. Rings are subject to a lot of abuse, and a textured surface can hide many of the inevitable scratches.
I then took a small rectangle that I had cut from my rooster brass, filed the edges and corners smooth and soldered a small, square brass 'window' onto the surface.
I prepared for soldering my brass rectangle onto the sterling base by using a third-hand clamp which is especially useful when soldering something flat to something round.
Everything was going just great until it wasn't going great.
Right around the time that I expected the solder to flow, the clamp unexpectedly shifted, leaving my pieces out of alignment.
Oh no!! I lost my soldering mojo.
I ended up applying too much heat as I made a futile effort to realign my pieces, and my sterling started to melt. Ooooh....not a successful soldering job.
At least nobody sees the back of the ring!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Taking Control of My Camera

I have repeatedly complained about my photography-induced frustrations. I have set up for jewelry photo sessions only to give up after getting unacceptable results. Trying to develop a jewelry business includes much more than producing the jewelry, and part of that "much more" is being able to promote one's work with good imagery.
I decided I had complained enough.
It was time to do something about my lack of photo-knowledge.
I re-reviewed my Nikon D40 manual, read various articles and visited photo blogs.
My turning point, however, was signing up for a digital photography class at Main Line Art Center.
I am halfway through a six class session, and I am now on a second honeymoon with my camera. I have already had several significant light bulb moments because of the informative direction provided by our instructor, professional photographer Ed Marco.
We have turned off the automatic features on our cameras and are working in the manual mode.
I am finally developing an understanding of selecting an appropriate aperture and ISO setting. Depth of field? I get it now!!!
I have been testing my new found understanding by taking pictures in my garden.
My confidence is starting to build.
I used to think that my occasional good photos were like camera alchemy.
That juvenile thinking was my ignorance speaking. There is no magic to taking good photos; it takes a dedicated effort to understand the tool with which you are working.
A good result with most anything comes with good knowledge....except my hair.
A good hair day with me truly is alchemy.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Media, Pa Festival

Found out that I was juried into the Fine Arts & Craft Festival in Media, PA!
Now I need to make sure that I have a tent that won't break two days before the festival.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Unexpected Treasure

I stopped by one of the thrift stores that I regularly visit a couple of weeks ago just as one of the volunteers was setting out a frame that caught my eye. In addition to looking for recyclable metals, I am always looking for good items for displaying my jewelry. I have numerous frames that I infill with fabric covered insulation board which are great for the holiday shows that I do at local art centers.
This particular frame had an interesting pattern and texture, so I investigated.
I was delightfully surprised to find an original, artist signed etching. Even the volunteer ladies were aware that there was a signature.
The scene is a landscape with an old mill alongside a pond with a dam. The etching has the artist name, but there is also a penciled signature which suggests that the artist printed the etching. A little bit of Google research revealed that this is by Frederick DeBourg Richards (1822-1903), an American artist. This particular etching is dated 1882, and my intuition tells me that the frame is probably original.
I couldn't find additional information, but it appears that Richards is better known for his oils, primarily landscapes.
Correction: I did find some information here and here.
I don't think this frame is destined for my jewelry display.
What a lovely find for $2.50.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sentimental Charms

My ongoing search for unique jewelry-making material makes me a frequent visitor at a couple of church hosted thrift stores in my town. I have gotten to know some of the women who volunteer at these shops, and we occasionally have conversations about the projects that I'm envisioning as I make a purchase. I think that some of the women were initially horrified to find out that I was cutting apart beautiful platters and taking apart vintage jewelry, but then I started bringing in some of my completed pieces. It helped to show that I was giving a new, repurposed life to items that had been let go by previous owners.
One of the women recently asked if could do a project for her. She had two sterling spoons, part of a set of 5, that had been in her family for a long time but were no longer used.
She thought that instead of sitting in a drawer, maybe two of them could become a bracelet so that she could actually appreciate them. No problem!
I took a quick measurement of her wrist and began the project later that week.
The bowl shaped end was cut off with my jeweler's saw, and that cut was filed and sanded smooth. I drilled a hole in each end of the handles, making them large enough for 16 gauge wire. Because the spoons were undoubtedly over 50 years old, I wanted to take special care in curving them to fit a wrist. Older metal that has been used repeatedly can become brittle and can crack if over-stressed.
Both handles were annealed with an acetylene torch, making them malleable. Using a high density plastic mallet, I shaped the handles on a steel bracelet mandrel. A vintage crystal was wrapped with sterling wire, linking the two handles together. Sterling wire was also used to connect the sterling clasp. Because the annealing process burned off the natural patina that age had created, I gave the assembled bracelet a treatment in liver of sulfur which turned the silver a dark, matte gunmetal color. Light sanding with a fine grit sanding foam block revealed the lovely floral pattern once again.
I delivered the bracelet last week, and it was received with joy and delight. I, however, felt uncomfortable when asked,"How much do I owe you?" I hadn't agreed to do the project to make money, but it had taken time and my "expertise" in order to complete the project. This volunteer had been telling me for several months that she had charms that she wanted to give to me for my jewelry making endeavors. I suggested that we make a swap- the finished bracelet for her old, unwanted charms.
When I stopped by the thrift shop yesterday, I was handed my 'payment', and it was much more than what I had expected. I had known that there were going to be girl scout pins and charms, but there were also charms that had been awarded for specific achievements. I love finding treasures like these during my thrift store hunts, but that's when they are anonymous and abandoned. I know that the volunteer has children and asked, "Don't your kids want these?!"
Nope....she had asked, and nobody wanted them.
I guess that I'm overly sentimental, but I would never have let something like this wonderful bracelet go out of the family and into the hands of someone like me. Some of the charms are from high school and some are from college. Some have the volunteer's name and date engraved on the back. As a special bit of irony, her name is also Cynthia. In a strange way, it feels appropriate that these bits of her history are now in my care.
Her bracelet is similar to a special piece of jewelry that I own.
Years ago, when I graduated from college, my dad gave me a bracelet that he had made with charms that had been awarded for his athletic and coaching accomplishments.
My dad had been a basketball star at St. Bonaventure University, was one of the initial players when the NBA was formed and had a very successful career as a high school coach. These charms help to tell part of his story.
This bracelet will never be abandoned at a thrift store.