Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I am agonizing over what clothes to take to Brazil. Usually I am such an efficient packer. Last year we traveled carry-on only for a 2 week trip and I was fine. But this year, my packing skills and objectivity have gone out the window.

It's almost like if I bring the perfect mix of dresses and lounge wear, going-out clothes and beach attire, boots and sandals, I will somehow be prepared for whatever emotional craziness comes my way. If I just have the right outfit, everything will be okay...or so it seems with all the obsessing over details I've been doing in the last two days trying to pack this damn suitcase.

So what am I bringing? Lots of black. More dresses than I'll likely manage to wear. High heels. Tall boots. Workout clothes and running shoes. A fuschia raw silk scarf that I've never used here at home. Gloves. Sunglasses. Havaianas.

I hope it's the right mix.

Good Times with Good People

One of my favorite things about the Casa Rosa is that over the years we were able to host so many friends, friends-of-friends, and relatives. Here's a few memories.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Despedida Rosa

Selling Casa Rosa has stirred up such complicated feelings for me. The most similar feeling I've had is my myriad "despedidas" over the years. Despedida means goodbye, both in Portuguese and Spanish. I remember being overwhelmed by a mix of grief, reluctance, fear, excitement, and happiness with nearly every goodbye party I've had. You're leaving behind people and places you've grown to love. You've set down roots. You've created dreams and plans involving the place you've called home. And then it's time to leave, to forge a life in another setting and start the emotional roller coaster anew.

Selling Casa Rosa most feels like my despedida when I was a high school exchange student in Maringá, Paraná. I spent a year down there, my first experience in Brazil, and had such a fantastic experience I didn't want to come home to New Mexico. I remember sobbing for weeks leading up to my departure date. When it came time to actually get in the car and drive to the airport, I bawled like a baby and had to be pried from the arms of my then-boyfriend Fernando. For as much as I didn't want to leave Maringá, I was also excited to see my mom and dad again, to be starting college in the fall, to make new friends and have new adventures.

In the big scheme of things, I knew that moving on was the right choice, but God was it hard. I had terrible reverse culture shock, and spent a good several months being an arrogant pill. All I wanted was to go back to Brazil and resume my fun life as an exchange student, and that totally clouded my vision of being home. I thought New Mexico was provincial, that our culture was piggish, that my peers were dumb, that my parents didn't understand what I'd experienced abroad, that I'd fundamentally changed and could no longer relate to anyone in my daily life. Of course, sense eventually returned to my teenage head and I had a fantastic college experience, but it was a long, bumpy road to that point.

When I think about selling Casa Rosa, I'm right back to that last desperate, weepy embrace I gave Fernando before going to the airport. I cried so hard, all I wanted to do was cling to this person and this life I'd come to call my own. Deep down I knew Fernando wasn't my forever partner, that we didn't have enough in common to continue a satisfying relationship. I knew that Maringá wasn't the right place for me either, a beautiful city but slightly isolated and hickish. Still, it was tremendously hard to let go.

We originally got Casa Rosa back in 2001 because a) it was a fantastic investment, and b) I was certain I'd return to Rio to live "for good" in the near future, and Casa Rosa would be my home. Well, plans changed. Mozambique wasn't even on my radar at that point, much less getting together with Rico and moving here to California. It's become clear that Rio won't be our home base, and we simply don't get down to Brazil enough to take advantage of that spectacular pink house.

Renting seems like an obvious solution, but it's not that easy. Casa Rosa is on the equivalent of the historic register, and it is full of the original features from 1910. Renters, no matter how well-intentioned and careful, end up destroying property. Things break. Old houses constantly need maintenance. It would be a challenge to be good landlords were we based in Rio; doing the job from another continent is a massive headache and simply not worth the effort.

We could also just leave the house empty, with only the caretaker around, as we've done for the greater part of the last decade. This option is tempting - we could hold on to this one-of-a-kind property and not have to say our goodbyes - but again the energy and resource drain is not insignificant. I think we're all at the point (and by "we" I mean me, my mom and Rico) where we want to simplify, concentrate on the lives we are currently living in the homes we currently occupy.

I do feel a bit like I'm walking away from an unfulfilled destiny with the sale of Casa Rosa. I always pictured myself living there, fully integrated in the funky, bohemian neighborhood of Santa Teresa. I'd be the artist in the pink house. We'd throw fantastic parties and host friends from all over the world. We'd know our neighbors by name. I'd suntan on the veranda and sketch the architectural details of the house while the bonde rattled by on the street below. Casa Rosa would feel like home, something that in all honesty it never truly has.

Of course we could pick up everything tomorrow, sell our furniture, put the cats in their traveler crates, and move to Rio. This Casa Rosa dream life isn't out of our reach, but I'm at the point where I have to admit that I'm not prepared to make the sacrifices for that Brazilian fantasy to come true. The life I imagine in Casa Rosa is definitely viewed through rose-colored glasses (ha, ha). It's not all bohemian wonderland. Maintaining the house is hard work. There are security issues and quality of life issues. More than anything, the life I desire in Casa Rosa would entail leaving this blessed existence in California, something I'm uninterested in doing. We love it here, and in contrast to the pink house in Santa Teresa, Casa Cali has felt like home from day one.

It's also a very good time to sell property right now in Rio, so the timing is good and we're hoping that the sale will allow our family to do new and wonderful things here in California.

We have some fantastic memories of Casa Rosa, the most spectacular being our wedding in 2008. I'd rather that amazing night be what I associate with the house, not another 10 years of long-distance maintenance that will leave us all with a bitter, resentful taste in our mouths. In my rational mind, I know it's time to move on and let someone else fulfill a dream and live their destiny in Casa Rosa. That gorgeous house deserves to be lived in, to be someone's home. Still, I can feel a lineup of sobs deep in my throat and all I really want to do is cling.

To say goodbye, a proper despedida for Casa Rosa, I've asked Rico to arrange for our wedding photographer to do a photo shoot of us in the house. It will be fitting timing, as we're just a week away from our 3-year wedding anniversary. The house is still on the market, so it still feels like it's "ours" and I'm hoping to be able to get some closure.

Monday, June 27, 2011

On My Mind

- I'm annoyed because I have a pretty bad blister on my left ankle. I got it thanks to what I'd hoped would be a comfortable, cute pair of sneakers. Instead, they tore up my feet in less than 10 minutes. I wonder if an 8 would be any better (I wavered between buying 7.5 or 8 in the shop). I love the mustard color so much I would be willing to break them in, but I want to do the least amount of suffering possible.

- I worked out with my personal trainer and then went for a run with my friend E. this afternoon. Recently I made the leap from doing intervals of running/walking to just straight jogging with no breaks. It is quite exciting. We go running around Lake Merritt which is 3.1 miles, and usually can do one loop around without stopping. Not today, however. My blister got in the way and crippled me about 3/4 of the way through. I was really frustrated, but some run is better than no run.

- My week in Mendocino was life-changing. It's the first time I've felt truly validated as an artist, and I had a really good time teaching as well. I was the studio assistant for a chasing and repoussé workshop taught by a total master. He's one of these people who seems to deliberately avoid an online presence, so I won't call him out here. He's amazing, though. I felt like I was taking a workshop from Morgan Freeman in his role as God.

- The Mendocino trip was good because I feel it centered me, helped me put things into perspective. I will need to draw on this for the next four weeks.

- Rico and I are going to Brazil on Thursday. It will be a great trip for many reasons, but it will also be an emotionally and physically exhausting one. We are selling Casa Rosa, and need to clear out all the furniture and see what we want to ship back here. We need to find a place for the woman who looks out for the house to live, and a way to get her a monthly stipend since she doesn't qualify for social security yet and has health issues that prevent her from continuing to work. We need to say goodbye to the house, which will be heart-wrenching for me, but in the big scheme of things what I recognize is the best way forward. I anticipate coming back from Brazil feeling very, very, very drained. I hope that's not the case, but if I learned anything in Mozambique it's to start with low expectations and go from there.

- I wish I were a bit tanner and a bit thinner prior to going down to Rio.

- I also wish I had more time to be in studio, as I'm just dying to work but don't really have time to finish anything (or really even get started) before we fly South.

- Hazy, the neighbor's cat who adopted our house for a brief period some months ago, came back for a visit. I was in the garden picking strawberries when he appeared by my side, seemingly out of nowhere. We were so happy to see each other. I really love this cat, even though he's not ours. When we first met him, we thought he was a stray and even took him to the vet to have his microchip scanned. That's how we found out Hazy belonged to our neighbors. About a month ago they moved to Hawaii and didn't take the cat. He's now being taken care of by another neighbor, but I think he's meant to be ours and that's why he keeps coming back and being so loving. He's such a beautiful boy, a soft gray tabby who is endlessly friendly and playful. He reminds me of Parceiro.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Glimpse of My Week in Mendocino

I learned some basic blacksmithing to make my own chasing tools.
I did many, many hours of repoussé in silver.
I walked around this very charming town and drooled at all the homes and gardens.
I went running in the Mendocino Headlands several times.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Geo Floral Pattern. Digital Skills Needed.

I've recently started hand-drawing patterns that are repeatable. This means you can use your designs in textiles, wrapping paper, wall paper, web backgrounds, etc. I do it the old-school way that involves scissors and tape. I'm sure it's more efficient digitally, but my 4D class at school was a waste and I learned very little as far as Photoshop and Illustrator go. Thus the paper method.

Anyhow, I have this pattern tile that I know will repeat, but I can't figure it out with the few digital skills I do possess. So here it is as a single unit.

Any quick tips as to how I can create a grid of these? I want to see the full pattern repeat, ideally digitally so I can fix any alignment issues (like I'd know how to do that, but one thing at a time). I still want to draw the patterns by hand, because that's what I love, but I want to be able to scan and arrange them using the computer.
Edited to add:

My friend E. is the best ever. She made my pattern repeat digitally and sent it to me last night. Now I just need to convince her to teach me her magic! Also I need access to a larger scanner so I can scan instead of photograph my pattern next time. That will help with the funky shadows and the slightly visible border.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mandala Necklace (In Progress)

Edited today to add the story of how this piece made me cry. I was too tired last night and forgot.

Last semester (Spring 2011) my jewelry class concentrated primarily on chasing and repoussé, a technique that involves hammering steel punches against a softer metal (e.g. copper, silver) to create three-dimensional relief and fantastic texturing. It's the closest to drawing in metal I've ever experienced. Chasing is when you work the front side of the metal, creating outlines or adding detail to a previously "pushed out" section. Repoussé, or more properly repoussage, is when you work the back side of the metal to create volume, the aforementioned "pushing out".

In preparation for our first big assignment, we made tools (intimidating but useful) by grinding steel punches into different shapes. We then practiced tap-tap-tapping the tools against copper to get an idea of how much you can manipulate metal into the form and design you desire. Metal really is more like clay than you'd ever imagine. It's amazing how elastic it can be when manipulated with punches and a hammer.

Our first assignment was to create a piece that expresses a dichotomy, ideally using chasing and repoussé. We were challenged to be conceptual, and to express two polar opposite concepts within one piece of jewelry or sculptural object.

Nearly all of my ideas for this project revolved around the idea of ornamentation vs. clean space. I love patterns and embellishments, but they need some negative or quiet space to feel balanced. Taking it further, when I create hand-drawn patterns or do repetitive decorative work, I get into a trance-like state. The work is very meditative, and I find it ironic that by making something so "busy" I am able to attain the clean-mind state of being that is the goal of most meditation. That was my conceptual dichotomy - the contrast between ornate, busy embellishments and the quiet, blank mind-space I reach by creating them. Now how to express that idea in metal...

I first started by sketching some pattern progressions. I wanted to make a necklace where each link would be progressively complex in form as well as texture/ornamentation. My inspiration was from a Nanettte Lepore dress I coveted earlier in the year.
Once I had a progression I was happy with, I started to sketch out the center medallion for the necklace. I wanted it to be mandala-like, a repetition of the shape used in the links. My idea is for the outside of the mandala to be super textured, but for the center to be very clean and smooth to express how my meditative mind feels while making all these patterns and textures.
After I got my idea sorted, I started to work in sterling silver. In order to chase and repoussé, you need something to support the metal when you strike it with the steel punches. We use a bowl full of a resin-like substance called pitch that is viscous and tar-like when heated, then dries to a hard consistency that will securely hold your metal in place while you work it, yet is supple enough to allow the metal to expand and contract. It's messy but pretty amazing.

Once I'd worked each link in my necklace, I cut them out with a jeweler's saw and soldered a border on the back to reinforce the edges (they get pretty thin with all that hammering). The links between the chased and repousséd pieces were cut from very thick silver that I recycled myself.
Back and forth, back and forth. You have to flip your metal several times in order to get the desired effect. It takes time. Lots of time. And all that hammering and holding tools is pretty hard on the hands and forearms. I struggled with repetitive stress injuries nearly all semester despite being really vigilant about stretching, resting and good posture.

I also had a mini-breakdown due to this piece taking so much out of me. I had about 10 times the work I'd anticipated, and spent 12-hour days in the studio everysingleday of Spring Break. That Wednesday it got to me. I hated my work. I was exhausted. I resented not having a vacation when I already so desperately needed one. I was especially frustrated because it was a *choice* to do this project, and a *choice* to work every damn day of my break, and a *choice* to push myself so hard. I had nobody to really blame/thank for how I felt but myself. After stepping outside into the alleyway outside the studio and having a good, lonesome cry I felt somewhat better. Still, I thought quite clearly, "I don't want to do this anymore." In that moment, I wasn't sure what that feeling encompassed. My specific project? School? Becoming a jewelry artist? Having my own business at all?
Although I worked a ridiculous amount on this piece, I wasn't able to finish it in time for the deadline (or even for the end of the semester, although I had good intentions). That was tough, but there came a point where I just had to set the necklace aside and concentrate on the next project so I wouldn't fall behind on that one as well. Being super burned out didn't help either. Honestly I didn't want to work on the dichotomy piece anymore. We needed some time apart. It was useful to see how much I can push myself, where my limit is, at what point I burn out physically and/or emotionally.

At least I was in good company for this whole experience. I think nearly everyone in our department has turned in a piece late despite their best intentions and efforts, and definitely everyone has had a crisis or three. I felt ashamed, defeated, tired, and stressed...but I felt like part of the team. Ha!
This is how far I've gotten on the necklace. I still need to do some texture work on the center mandala and then saw it out. I also plan to use dark patina (liver of sulfur) to add shadows to each of the elements and bring out the texture of the chasing and repoussé. I also need to finish a clasp. I'd estimate I have another 40 hours or so before completing the piece. Looks like I have my work cut out for me this summer!
The center medallion is about 5 inches in diameter and will hang just above the bust when worn. This is not a necklace for the faint of heart. Fittingly, it's being custom-made for a very strong woman: my mom. :)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Summer Blues

I thought I'd have shaken the post-semester blahs by now, but seemingly they're keen to hang out for a while longer. I tend to feel blue for a few weeks after school is out (something akin to adrenaline withdrawals, I think) but this summer I'm feeling particularly down. Nothing concrete is wrong, in fact life is pretty terrific. I just frequently feel sad for no real reason.

Maybe this is leading up to some fantastic art? Or a turning-30 crisis? Perhaps both.