Empty Space

•May 18, 2010 • 2 Comments

There are walls, a floor, a ceiling. Windows fill one wall. The walls are different – some are brick, some are smooth. Doorways allow one to exit the space, some into another room, and one to the outside.

This space, this room, will be my gallery.

In it I will place art – some created by me, and some by other artists exploring truths through various media. And to it, people will come to experience the art and find ways to enrich their lives and preserve their own story. (Click here to learn more.)

But, for now, it’s an empty space.

I moved my studio a couple of weeks ago, and since that time I have been working with the help of many friends to transform a space into a studio and into a gallery. Because of the nature of the raw space, I have joked that had I fully processed the immensity of this task, I might have reconsidered. Each day I approach the space with an awareness of my vision for the space. I know what it can be. This vision is not about aesthetics or interior design. It’s about processes, creativity and spiritual engagement.

Empty space is a rare thing. As the idiom goes, nature abhors a vacuum. A vacuum is an attempt to defy the laws of nature and physics. As my friend Nathalie said when she and her family moved from France, where living spaces are smaller, to a typical large, suburban American, newly constructed house, “We are like the water; we fill whatever space we are in.”

So, perhaps my gallery isn’t empty at all. Or, if it is, it won’t be for long.

One evening, after a long day working in the dusty boxes, I walked from the studio area into the gallery. One of my daughters was sitting on the floor of the seemingly empty gallery. Unlike the later photo below, there were not yet any display cases or paintings or jewelry in the room at all.  The street light outside barely illuminated the sparse room. She was just there, sitting, thinking, studying the light. A quiet moment in a completely vacant room is a rare opportunity. I asked to join her.

As we sat together, in the empty space, I realized the space wasn’t empty at all. We were there, and as we talked about the future of the space, potential became palpable.

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Celebrating the Muddled Middle

•May 6, 2010 • Leave a Comment

An artist friend of mine is most affectionate about what he calls the “muddled middle” of the creative process. Beginning or ending a project are not his favorite moments, and I would tend to agree.

Beginning a project is often a moment of heightened awareness of potential. Or it’s a time of being debilitated by the vastness of the options. Ending a project is either a time of celebration for the accomplishments either aesthetic, narrative or technical, or it’s a moment of sadness because a chapter is ending. Both are times of great definition and specifics. The level of abstract thought is lower and more predictable.

But, in the muddled middle, thoughts come quickly, solutions are revealed, and we are often in the presence of forces beyond ourselves. In short, it’s the fun part.

I think this is why everyone loves a studio tour! It’s fascinating to steal a glimpse into another person’s creative process. From the haphazard resting place of a tool on a bench, or the selection of books or music, or the pile of sketches on the corner of the table, we can witness traces of the magical muddled middle.

At the writing of this post, I have recently (just a few days ago) moved my studio to a new venue. It’s a very different locale from where I spent my last five years, so it’s going to take me a while to adjust to the new space – the flow, designations and processes. I am also setting it up with future students in mind, which is very different from establishing a space for solo studio work.

I am in the muddled middle of the project we call Studio Change of Venue. I began with the decision to make the change, and I will end with a grand opening and busy class schedule. But right now, it’s the middle, and it is certainly muddled. I’m not sure sometimes which way is up, and as such there is a significant amount of spinning of wheels and of my head. But, muddled though it may be, it’s the middle, and things are happening every day to bring the project to fruition.

After the new venue is a little more like a good pair of sneakers, I will create a new “studio tour” post to share here with you. (In the meantime, click here to read about my previous studio location.)

The space has a significant history both for my family and for our community. It once bustled with all the activity of newspaper production. Recently we have been renovating and preserving various aspects of the space, and I’m working to make the gallery a real destination for artisan jewelry (not just my own) and narrative art. The narrative aspect is important to me – it honors the history of the space, honors my personal background, honors my family’s role in the community, and encourages others to consider their own stories.

So, stay tuned as the paint dries and the hammers are unpacked. There will be much to tell!

(With gratitude, credit is given to Brandon M. for “muddled middle.”)

Change of Venue

•April 7, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Change is not the only constant.

Love is constant.

Mohs hardness scale is constant.

And spring pollen in North Carolina is quite reliable, year after year.

But, it is true that change is indeed a constant. Ironic as that clever statement is, I find myself thinking about the flow of change as I am preparing to end my time in a cooperative studio, gallery and retail venue to move to a new location.  As I was considering the move, I weighed the pros and cons. I investigated costs and estimated benefits. And eventually, the momentum carried me as it became evident that this was to be my next phase.

It ‘s a time of intense change for me, and with that comes both death and birth. It is the end of five years as a resident artist, working, serving and selling from a corner of a large venue with much to offer.  But it is also the beginning of a new freedom, in a larger space with an interesting history. I am looking forward to teaching again, and to working to create a fresh and dynamic arts venue.

Some in my field believe that a brick-and-mortar presence is no longer necessary for a successful business in the internet age. For many people, this is true. But, despite my true introverted nature, my work is fueled by my clients. It helps me to get to know them and learn pieces of their stories. These stories inform the work. Over the years I have developed ways to do this online and by phone as well for my distant clients. But, when possible, being able to share the same oxygen and shake hands with a client is important to me, and it also makes the work for my distant clients even better as well. I also believe in contributing services to my community, which is the main reason I do fine jewelry repair.

Lede Studio will be a dynamic venue offering a gallery for narrative art and artisan jewelry at its best, as well as metalsmithing classes, jewelry repair, and custom jewelry design and creation. The name honors the history of the space as a newspaper plant and my journalism background, as well as the power of narrative in art and fine craft.

This month I will celebrate the end of my five years as the resident metalsmith and jeweler at The Cotton Company in downtown Wake Forest with a retrospective show. I have loved my time there. It has provided me a structure for growth both business and personal. I am very grateful for this.

So, here’s to change! Cheers!

The aim of an artist is not to solve a question irrefutably, but to compel one to love life in all of its manifestations, and these are inexhaustible.

-Leo Tolstoy

Ink on the Page

•February 5, 2010 • 5 Comments

What good is a book?

After all, we can find just about anything on the internet these days, right?

Call me a romantic, but I’m the one who argued in a graduate-level journalism class that the internet would never completely replace newspapers because there is something about the crinkle of the paper and getting the ink on your hands. That was in 1991 or 1992, when the internet was just a notion. (I should have known then that I would be drawn to tactile art processes.)

Even today, I still believe this is true, particularly for community newspapers providing hyperlocal coverage.

And I feel the same way about books.

Ink that forms words …

Words that form language …

Language that forms ideas …

… Presented on paper pages, bound together between covers. While you are reading, you can hold it, smell it, mark it, flip it, stack it, throw it.

Ink to Ideas

A collection of books on a particular topic is a sweet asset, a resource worth building. My studio library continues to grow. I own many of the standard titles in the field, plus I regularly add titles based on trends in the field, artists’ whose work I admire, or just aspects that interest me. In addition to the fact that building a professional library is tax-deductible, I need to have the information in a book that I can just reach up and grab whenever I need it. My memory is intensely visual. So, after I’ve read something, I will recall the cover aesthetic, and whether it’s on a left- or right-facing page, high or low, etc. So, when I’m in the middle of building a hinge knuckle, if I need to look up what Tim McCreight wrote about it, I need to be able to get to my copy of The Metalsmith’s Book of Boxes and Lockets. Now.

Despite the overwhelming wealth of information available on the internet, I still believe there is incredible value in owning certain books. If I own the book, that means the writer was paid. That’s the way it should be, and that’s certainly not always true online. Granted, a printed book is not as environmentally friendly as a downloaded e-book. But if I own the bound book, I have the experience of physically interacting with it, which means I will learn more.

Truly learn more.

Let me tell you why I think so.

In 1980, I believed my mother was The Smartest Person on the planet.

In 1977, I decided my father was a Mechanical Genius, a master problem-solver capable of fixing absolutely any broken thing.

Granted, I was a youngster, and like most children, my parents were the center of my world. My mother is, indeed, extremely intelligent. And my father is, indeed, able to fix things, all kinds of things mechanical and otherwise. My childhood instincts were right.

So, because my mother was so knowledgeable, I was hoping to use her knowledge as an asset to make my life a little easier.

This is me, in 1980:

“Mama, what does U-B-I-Q-U-I-T-O-U-S mean?”

“Go look it up,” she’d reply.

“Just tell me.”

“No. Go look it up.”

So, I did.

A month later:

“Mama, what does ‘gerrymandering’ mean?”

“Go look it up.”

“OK.”

I knew my mother held in her bank of knowledge the answers to my questions. I knew she knew what these words meant, and I thought she should just tell me so I wouldn’t have to interrupt my reading, get up out of my chair, go pull down the dictionary, flip to the U’s, find “ubiquitous”….

If she would just tell me, then I would have to expend less energy to understand what I needed to know in that moment. Me lazy? Perhaps. Or, just looking to cut a corner. (Is there a difference?)

But, my mother knew that if I went through the act of doing my own research, I would be much more inclined to recall the information later. To this day, I can define ubiquitous for you. I’ve known this since 1980.

I learned to value knowledge and to actively seek it. The more I learn, the more aware I become of the vast unknown. And just as a love affair is about more than a decision to partner with someone, reading, whether just for fun or seeking information, is about more than answering a question.

The internet has made it almost too easy for us to answer all of our questions, immediately. I am just as guilty as anyone else of pulling out my Smartphone during dinner to find the answer to some question that has come up in dinner conversation. And as I announce, definitively, the differences between Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, for example, I am haughty and proud because I am the one with The Internet in my pocket. Nevermind that I am also the one who isn’t completely present at the table and who has robbed everyone else of the whimsical joy of wondering about something for a while.

My love of books has worked its way into my work in recent years, primarily in my Reading The Key series of metal sculpture, jewelry, essays and paintings.  It was truly a series that came not from me as an artist, but through me. All of the paintings are mixed media, including actual book pages. The metal pieces have book text etched onto the metal surfaces. The concept of the series itself is about the power of the written word, its impact on the writer, on the reader and on our collective consciousness.

Don’t get me wrong. I use the internet daily, and I value it as an amazing tool. Of course, I recognize that blogs (like mine) would not even exist without the internet. But, I monitor my own attachment to it, as it can be somewhat of a passive way to learn, just as it would have been for my mother to just tell me the meanings of those words I didn’t know.

Just as public libraries grew in the 19th century in America and offered the people more resources than they had before, the internet has become and will continue to be an immense resource. But, I am not getting rid of my books.

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Thanks for reading.

Studio Tour – Have a look around….

•January 31, 2010 • 6 Comments

Welcome to the metals studio!

Messy, perhaps, but to me it’s full of nothing but potential.  It’s a space that is designated for creating. Ideas are born and culminated here. This is a beautiful thing.

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I know. I know. It’s a mess. I resisted the urge to clean up before snapping these shots. I assure you that it is actually quite organized in a way that works for me. I know where everything is!

My main bench is to the right in the first room, and then you can see the hot table in the second room.

My bench is a modified watchmaker’s bench. Elsewhere in the bench room I also have a standard jeweler’s bench with the curved cutout and scrap tray, and a modified wooden desk with a skin (jewelers know what this is). Adjusting to the flat front of a watchmaker’s bench was tough, but now I enjoy it. It works well for me, especially with my GRS Benchmate. Because it is a watchmaker’s bench, it does offer a much better array of drawers, as does the watch crystal cabinet to the right behind my purple chair. This is a cabinet for Flex-O crystals with a foot pedal in the base that operates the arm on top to install crystals.

Many jewelers have torch setups at their benches. I prefer to have the torches in a separate location, along with an assortment of firebrick (see right), honeycomb and tripods, etc. I need to be able to work “large” with the torch, and I couldn’t do that safely at the bench. I have two torch outfits – one air/acetylene and one oxy-propane. My range of torch tips is quite broad – #00 to #8.

Back in the bench room, most of my hammers, except the really large and heavy ones, are on the peg board overhead. The latest addition (shown in the overall photo on the right with the black head) is the large vertical cross-peen hammer I found at SNAG last year. I was so excited about finding that! But my favorites are the Peddinghaus forming hammers. They have always served me well. Germans make great hammers.

I also have three anvils, but again the Peddinghaus is my favorite. (I have no ties to the Peddinghaus Corporation or any other company mentioned here, other than years of using these tools with wonderful results.) My husband drove about 500 miles to pick up this anvil for me from a blacksmiths’ supplier. I have forged, fold-formed, planished and just plain had it out on this anvil. It is a small one, only 45 pounds. It sits just to my right when I’m at the bench. I need to do something about that big crack in the stump. As the wood has dried over the years indoors, that crack keeps getting bigger. It’s too easy to lose parts in there. (Hmm, I could make a sheet lining to fit there that would be great for forming….)

My other anvils include a really large rough one given to me by a horseman. Its flat horn is broken, but I don’t mind. I call her Isabel, named for her stump, which my dad brought me after Hurricane Isabel took down a huge maple in his yard. The third one is made from a section of railroad iron.

Pliers are incredibly important for me. I really enjoy using an assortment of specialty pliers. Many metalsmiths prefer to get by with a basic set, but I like tools, and I don’t mind buying a tool even if it only performs one little function. It sure does help when its time comes. Of course, this means I have lots of pliers. I don’t know how many. I suppose I could count them, but I don’t really need to know that, do I?

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In a case to my right when I’m sitting at my bench is a stack of shelves with pieces from my found object collection. I like to have these things where I can watch them, or see them, and see what might develop. I really enjoy working with found objects, and I’ve collected lots of interesting relics. Who knows what they will become.

Getting back to the tools, I have many favorites. This dapping set (to the right), containing punches and a beautifully polished block, is fantastic. One of the punches has a gouge in it, and it arrived that way. Most people would have returned it and required a replacement be sent, but I didn’t. I just work around it, or not.

I also found this corrugating roller in a jeweler’s supply shop in Florence, Italy. What a wonderful way for me to remember that trip, along with the Italian hammer and oval bezel mandrel. (Italians make nice tools, too!)

My rolling mill is also a relic. I purchased it from another metalsmith. I did a little research on the manufacturer, and discovered that the company was only in operation for about 20 years around the turn of the 20th century. So, my rolling mill is a centenarian. I had the rollers redressed at a machine shop, and a wood-turning client made me a new handle. Still rolling strong!

I really enjoy getting tools, and even supplies, that have a little history whenever possible. A watchmaker in my area retired, and I bought his collection of watch crystals, most of which were vintage, but never used. I also bought a couple of benches from him, as well as several watch crystal cabinets. I may never exhaust this supply of crystals. I have thousands of them, all different kinds. It’s nice to have when a customer requests a replacement, as is my inventory of watch bands. But, really, I use them for other things, such as lockets or windows in sculptural pieces. Just imagine!

There are many other items of interest in the studio. A welder friend built me a hydraulic press to my specifications. And then, just to make me smile (prompted by my apprentice) he painted it purple. I’ve never seen another purple hydraulic press. I also have a German guillotine shear that I bought from a shop in California. I think this was my first significant “used” tool purchase, sometime back in the mid-1990s. I obtained a large enameling kiln from an artist in New England, and a ring stretcher from the widow of a jeweler in the next town over from my hometown. My dad gave me the bandsaw for Christmas one year, and I think I bought the buffing wheel on ebay. Yes, ebay. I have a fantastic forged steel soldering pick given to me by another apprentice. My found object collection, in addition to what I’ve gathered myself, was given to me by about 67 of my friends and family – at least that’s how many people I sent the email to when I was headed west for a found object class. I received little packages of goodies in the mail for weeks. It was bliss. The point here is that most things have a story. Stories matter.

I enjoy various types of artwork around me as I’m working. The music is important, as is the other artwork. I have a clothesline overhead with a rotating collection of images of other metalsmiths’ work. I enjoy collecting these cards, and find them perpetually inspiring. I have paintings and photography that is the work of my friends, but my favorite is a strange but simple installation I did using my vintage typewriter (also a precious gift), and an antique frame from our family.

Scroll down to check it out.

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Thanks for reading.

No More Starving Artists!

•January 28, 2010 • 1 Comment

May the starving artist be a thing of the past!

Van Gogh is the perfect example. He produced an incredible body of work during his lifetime – 864 paintings, 1,037 drawings/sketches, and 150 watercolors. But he only sold two pieces before his death. Two.

Of course, if you know Van Gogh’s story, you might say, “Well, no wonder then…” or something similar. And, of course ,Van Gogh didn’t have a virtual assistant or a blog or an etsy shop. He did have the perpetual support of his brother, Theo, which was no doubt a lifeline for him. But, limiting the parallel only to matters of business, I find the lack of community and affirmation in his life to be quite poignant.

So, in an effort to be an artist who can afford to eat well (the opposite of the starving artist), what can we learn from Van Gogh?  Talent isn’t enough.

Again, talent is not enough.

And, for an artist, money certainly isn’t the goal. Otherwise, that artist probably would have chosen a different profession. But, we all need to eat. We all need to do the thing we were born to do. And we need to eat.

Consider this paradigm:

  • STARVING ARTIST – Talented, dwelling only in said talent, expecting to one day be “discovered”, eventually sulks about being unappreciated
  • BREAD-EATING ARTIST – Talented, carries work to an outdoor festival on a whim, sells a few pieces, earns just enough money to buy more supplies, plus bread
  • LOBSTER-EATING ARTIST – Talented, identifies his market niche, puts in the effort to sell deliberately, celebrates by sharing good food and wine with friends

Though not without lots of hard work, it is very possible these days to make a living in the arts.

In the art and fine craft community, there are a lot more people talking about the nuances of business as it applies to an artist. This trend is apparent in the offerings of artists’ conferences and in arts education.

I attended a symposium for art majors at a nearby university recently that was designed to present the aspects of business in the world of art and fine craft. Those about to leave the world of art academia to enter the outside world got to hear eating artists talk about how they’ve built their careers.

At the last Society of North American Goldsmiths annual conference in Philadelphia, I arrived early to attend the Professional Development Seminar organized by Harriete Estel Berman and Andy Cooperman. I dare say it was not the most entertaining part of the conference, but definitely, hands down, the most essential.  Harriete also maintains a blog and has created Professional Guidelines for artists and craftspeople. These are must-reads.

Christine Kane is a musician who has become a guru on business for creative types. She understands the struggles of people who are created and born Artists (capital “A”) when it comes to matters of sales figures and mailing lists. Her program – Uplevel Your Business – is designed for artsy business owners, like me. Her program has also been used in lots of various types of businesses, which tells me that while there are some business aspects unique to artists, there are also universal truths.

Artists must consider so many questions:  Gallery representation, or solo? Wholesale, or retail? To teach, or not to teach? Make only one-of-a-kinds, or multiples?

Unlike Van Gogh, artists today have the power to build and market their own enterprise through a vast array of venues. The internet is no small thing. And, community is everything.

On Monday, I am beginning a 12-week journey with Christine to take things to the next level. I will be climbing a mountain, and it will take me at least 12 weeks. But, I heard they have lobster at the peak.

The Elizabeth Locket

•January 26, 2010 • Leave a Comment
The story of the building of a locket – noting its purposes and the techniques used in its creation.

Be it a story of  love, loss or lore, folks have long used lockets to contain symbols of the precious in their lives. Building a locket is a special challenge for a metalsmith, as it requires the marriage of the metalsmith’s aesthetic and technical skills at the bench.

The recent completion of the Elizabeth Locket was a studio victory like many others – I loved the piece, and the clients were pleased as we worked through the maker/wearer collaborative process despite delays along the way. The client wanted a locket as a gift for his wife to contain an image of their baby girl. At his suggestion, I met with his wife before approaching the bench – who would become the wearer of the piece – to discuss particulars of the design and the functionality of the piece. As we discussed the project, we decided the locket would be fairly large, rest well against the body, be versatile as either a pendant or a brooch, be feminine but contemporary, and of course contain an image of the baby.

Our original plan was to etch an image of the baby into a piece of copper, which would then become the interior of the locket. One of the technical rules of metal etching is to use line art, or images that are made up of black and white, with no shades of gray. I have challenged this rule in the past as I have long been fond of the shades of gray. Call me a rule-breaker, but I have had success in the past with etching photographic images (full of shades of gray) into metal by converting the images to halftones (as in non-digital newspaper printing) and using a heat transfer resist. Those childhood experiences of using a magnifying glass to see the dots in a newspaper photograph must have made an impression on me.

So I proceeded with the image of baby Elizabeth and converted it to halftones of various levels of contrast. I prepared several resists in various resolutions to see which etching was the most effective. I transferred the resists to properly cleaned, oil-free 22-gauge copper sheet, and proceeded with agitated immersion in ferric chloride for the etching. After several etched pieces, which I decided were not acceptable, I began to consider other ways to present the baby’s image. The halftone images etched, but I was unhappy with the level of detail. I could easily create an image that read visually as a baby, but it didn’t necessarily read as baby Elizabeth. So, since the piece was commissioned by Elizabeth’s parents and capturing her likeness was a primary objective, it was time to make and move to Plan B.

I’m no stranger to Plan B in the studio. Years of jewelry repair have conditioned me well in correcting broken situations. I decided to go with a more functional approach by using a photograph in the locket, and I chose to explore my collection of vintage (but never used) watch crystals to protect the photograph. From my set of crystals for pocket watches I chose a crystal size that I had in multiples in case of a fracture. (You cannot purchase vintage pocket watch crystals at the average corner market.)

The next steps were to build the locket itself from sheet and wire sterling silver. From a piece of 20-gauge sterling sheet, I cut out the backing first, including projections from the circle to become the hinge knuckles and tabs. The tabs would later be scored, folded perfectly perpendicular, soldered for strength, and shaped to hold the piece together. Moving from back to front, the piece would include five layers: tabbed backing, photograph, watch crystal, a sidewall (like a hudee ring around a retro sink), and the hinged front.

I had sketched out six or eight different designs for the piercing on the front of the locket. The client and I agreed that it should provide a slight glimpse to the baby’s image inside, without revealing too much. She chose a pattern with a combination of swirls and circles, that would create an artistic contemporary feminine mood. I carefully drilled pilot holes, inserted my saw blade, and pierced the design into a circular piece of 18-gauge sterling silver sheet. The next step was to dap the circle into a domed form.

In the next moments, as I faced an outcome different from my expectation, I opted against Plan B.

I placed the pierced circle into the concave dapping block, and proceeded to strike the convex punch to encourage the pierced sterling to conform to the forms surrounding it. I could feed the metal moving, so I proceeded. But, when I removed the punch and retrieved the pierced sterling, something was not as I expected it to be. One of the thinner areas of the piercing had broken during dapping, so the opening had spread open and the overall form was no longer a circle. This result was neither my intention nor my expectation. I held the metal form in my hands, sat at the bench, and discovered that it had become much better than I had ever imagined it.

This time, there was no need for Plan B.

The larger-than-designed opening was delightfully lively. With some minor tweaking, it became a bird-like form, with a sense of genuine whimsy and celebration. The bulge to one side of the circle became the perfect place to build the hinge, and create a sense of aesthetic inclusion for the mechanism. I built a rim around the perimeter to create a sense of substance, chased the piercings to add some texture and definition, planned the positioning and functioning of the hinge mechanism, and oxidized all the parts.

Bringing all the layers together to test the fit, it was important to me that everything fit perfectly. In particular, the crystal needed to fit securely – not tight enough to create pressure on the glass, but also not loose enough to result in a rattle. Rattling was the problem I encountered, so I forged a slight upset along the underside of the sidewall rim, which worked on the first pass to alleviate the rattling without creating tension on the crystal.

I called the client to invite her to visit the piece in process, and to talk with her about the lack of the etched image and the usage of an actual photograph. We agreed that a black-and-white photograph would suit the piece best, so she provided that. It was time for assembly.

I used to expect the moment when all the parts are assembled to be some kind of hallelujah moment – when my metaphorical choir breaks into the Hallelujah Chorus to celebrate the culmination of the piece. It wasn’t quite like that, or, if it was, no one heard it all but me.

Still, the piece came together well. The hinge was also the bail, the pin stem on the back was adjusted for ease, and the Elizabeth Locket was complete.

 
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