Friday, November 21, 2014

More Cicadas

Last year's cicada 'invasion' left me inspired to use the wings for unique pieces of jewelry.
Since the invasion on my property was an army of one, the wings that I keep in a jar at my workbench are from northern New Jersey cicadas which were collected by the 5 year old neighbor of one of my sister's clients.
How's that for team work?
I found it interesting that the northern New Jersey cicadas were very different from the cicada that expired on my patio.
I didn't have the opportunity to see the actual bugs, but based on the wings, the New Jersey variety is significantly smaller than the eastern Pennsylvania variety.
My workbench wings are very fragile and have minimal dimension to the veining that creates the beautiful stained glass appearance.
My first attempt at roll printing the wings was not very successful.
I sandwiched a few wings between two pieces of annealed copper and cranked the layers through my rolling mill.
The result was meh...the impression was a bit too subtle.
I was already using a relatively thin gauge of copper sheet, so the only adjustment I could make was with the rolling mill setting.
I set the rollers as close as I could and cranked that thing which was not easy.
I don't have one of those top-of-the-line rolling mills and cranking my cheapo mill at a close setting means two hands on the crank and feet braced.
The impression is still subtle, but this is as good as it's going to get.
To help guide me, I outlined each wing impression with a Sharpie and then cut them out with metal shears.
The wings were flattened with a plastic mallet...
then filed and sanded to smooth all edges.
My plan is to turn the wings into pendants, so they need more substance.
Each wing is getting riveted with segments of sterling wire to a base of metal that I previously etched.
They then get a treatment with liver of sulfur to highlight the veining...
and are now ready for drilling.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


When opportunity knocks,
you need to be ready to open the door and forget about being shy.
I saw an opportunity a few years ago when a large oak tree was being cut down one block away from my house. Finding a stump for one’s jewelry studio is a real coup, and I realized that after years of wanting one, this was my chance to snag my very own stump to have at my workbench…a perfect surface for my more aggressive hammering.  
It might help to clarify that it is not usually the actual ‘stump’ that makes it into metalworking studios…it’s usually a higher section of the tree that isn’t quite so behemoth as is bottom of the trunk, especially when the providing tree is a mature oak.

I got out of my car, approached one of the crew members and asked if it might be possible for me to get a section of the tree, explaining how I wanted it for metalworking. He was very nice and told me, “No problem. How tall do you want it?” I told him that a section around 3’ – 3 ½’ would be perfect. He asked where I lived, and I took off to get my handcart.

As I was opening my garage to pull out the handcart, the Bobcat skid-steer loader from the tree crew pulled in my driveway with a HUGE 3 ½ - 4’ long section of the tree. When the crew member deposited the trunk section at the end of my driveway, the ground shook. While I had no problem asking for a section of the tree, I did have a problem with complaining that this was a bit more tree than I was hoping for.

I gave my thanks and then stood there, staring at this hunk of wood that was more than I could handle. I’m no weakling, but I couldn’t budge this stump. I thought “What can I possibly do with this?”
As it turned out, there was nothing I could do with it for over two years. It sat at the end of my driveway until I finally had a few strong and industrious relatives visiting. They were able to wrangle the stump into my garage without crushing the door’s threshold, and it sits near my soldering station waiting for the mythical anvil.

Yesterday, I saw that a neighbor at the other end of my block had recent tree work done and a pile of wood sat in their front yard…..opportunity!

I knocked on their door and asked if I might be able to take a section of wood, and I now have the ‘stump’ that I originally wanted for my workbench.

I've learned that when opportunity knocks,
you need to be ready to open the door and be specific.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

I'm Just Not Flashy

Earlier this week, I tried some new rolling mill textures.
An empty cereal box was removed from the recycling pile, and I cut out a collection of sort-of-flower shapes.
Sandwiched between two pieces of annealed copper, I cranked the flowers through my rolling mill and then cut out discs.
I like how my flowery discs look like a fun kind of currency, but since I want them to make real currency for me, I had to stop admiring these little coins and turn them into something else. 
I sell a lot of earrings during the holiday season, so earrings they shall become.
For a little dimension, I shaped the discs in my wooden dapping block.
I then took some of my sterling silver scrap and melted it into balls using my acetylene torch.
The sterling balls were soldered onto the formed discs and holes were drilled.
Because these discs are on the diminutive side, the drilling was not especially easy.
I probably should have done the drilling before the shaping, but I chose to wait until the sterling was soldered in place so that I could understand and complement the balance of each disc.  
Thinking that a simple design was the way to go, I made simple dangles with sterling wrapped freshwater pearls.
For a few seconds I thought the earrings were done, but then that bright copper spoke to me in an annoying way.
The discs were a little too bright for my liking, so out came the liver of sulfur.
A quick soaking turned both the copper and sterling black....
and cleaning with a fine grit sanding block followed by radial bristle discs highlights the metals in a much more appealing way.....
for me.
When I was at the Media Fine Arts & Crafts Festival in September, a woman stopped by my booth and spent a fair amount of time looking at the earrings in my display.
She told me that I really needed to make my earrings bigger and brighter...
"They need to be flashy!"
She would totally hate these earrings.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Old Frames Become New Frames

Growing up in a family of eight that lived on my father's high school coach/teacher salary, I learned at a young age how to live a frugal life.
Like my mother was, I have developed into an accomplished thrift store shopper.
I am always searching for frames at thrift stores and church sales because framing does not come cheap if one chooses to go the traditional route of actually buying something new at a framing shop.
As I prepared for my October display of artwork at Sweet Mabel, I realized that I did not have a good framing option for my Manayunk Bridge painting.
Leaving the painting at home was not an option, and a frenzied search through my collection of thrift store frames yielded only one that was the correct size.
I fastened the painting, added the hanging wire and loaded my van.
Tracy, the owner of Sweet Mabel, told me that one of her customers really liked the Manayunk Bridge painting, but she didn't like the frame.
I can't blame her...I didn't like it either.
The grainy oak looked dated
(because it is)
and too dark
(because it is).
A frame should enhance a painting, and this one did not.
When I brought my unsold paintings home earlier this week, I decided Manayunk Bridge deserved something better.
Even though I didn't like the color of the frame, I did like the profile.
This was something I could work with.
I went to a local art supply store and bought some gold leaf wax.
So much better!
The frame now complements the warm colors that I used in the bridge and towpath.
I was so pleased with the transformation, I thought I could work a little magic on some frames that recently made their way to my studio at no cost to me.
Free is good, but some of the frames were not completely to my liking.
This frame is very well constructed,
but I was not fond of the faux wood finish.
A careful application of gold leaf wax....
and I now have a frame that I will definitely put to use.
Yes, free is very good.