Monday, March 26, 2012

Blue Topaz Inclusion Ring

Back in Maputo we knew a Dutch diplomat who had taught himself lapidary work (stone cutting) as a hobby. Mozambique has amazing gemstones and this guy had a steady source of gorgeous tourmalines, aquamarines, quartz and topaz to practice faceting.

One day I was looking at his finished stones and spotted this gorgeous half-cut blue topaz discarded in a pile of broken tools and chipped rocks. I asked about it, and the diplomat told me he'd started to facet the stone and then realized it had some serious inclusions so he tossed it out (inclusions are like fractures in a stone, or can be intrusions of some other mineral...they make it very hard to properly facet a gemstone). What was junk to him was definitely treasure to me!

I've been waiting for nearly three years to do something with this blue topaz and finally made it into a ring for the first project in my casting class. I made the shank and structure out of wax wires, then cast them in sterling silver. My idea was to make the setting so that I could bend one of the top wires open, slip in the stone, then coax the wire back over the top of the topaz to hold it in place. This was not an easy operation, but I managed to make it work and the stone is nice and secure in its setting.

I am very pleased with the clean lines of this ring. I don't usually work in a minimalist style, but this semester I am trying to explore a more distilled, less decorative style than my usual pattern- and ornament-happy look. It's not easy to work in a style that's not really my comfort zone, but I can definitely feel it's been a productive, growth-inspiring exercise.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Original for Puka Shell Bib Necklace

This gives you an idea of what I started with for my Lost and Found necklace. I had a photo of the original piece but it got deleted when my phone crashed and had to be wiped clean.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Lost and Found

This semester I am taking a class called Lost and Found that is all about reusing and reworking materials or components into new pieces. Our first assignment was to select a piece of old, unwanted, possibly ugly jewelry from a pile of stuff to be donated and somehow remake it into something new and fabulous.

I selected a surfer-style shell necklace that had multiple disc-shaped white shells strung together and some chunks or coral and dyed turquoise in the center. Instead of stringing the shells together, I envisioned them riveted to a backplate of some sort. After an intense design session, I decided to create a spinoff of my Floral Chain Maille nekclace.

I punched out a series of nu-gold brass discs, drilled holes, then linked them together using double-balled wires. This has become one of my favorite constructions, not only for the aesthetics but because it is relatively fast and creates a pretty impressive end result. The pieces move like chain maille and drape really nicely against the neck and chest.

As a result of the torch technique required to get the double-balled wire links, I got a really interesting patina on the nu-gold discs. For a while I thought it might be too charred for appealing wear, but I liked it so much I decided to leave it. I waxed the metal to make a nice surface and preserve the patina, then got to riveting. I attached a selection of shells from the surfer necklace I'd originally selected to recycle, then added some black antique trade beads from Mozambique Island that I'd collected on a visit there in 2009.

The final touch was a pair of stud earrings to coordinate with the necklace. I am so excited about this piece. It's really nice and heavy to wear, and I love that the materials are a combination of old/antique and old/reclaimed/recycled plus a new design. This set will likely go into an exhibition at D+H Sustainable Jewelers in San Francisco at the end of our semester.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

About Spring Break

Today I turned in two projects and feel equal parts on top of the world ready to party and like I want to burrow away in a hole and sleep for four days straight.

Why happy? Because I finally, FINALLY, managed to finish not one but TWO projects to the point of 100% completion. Finishing my pieces has proven to be a huge struggle for me, not because I'm lazy or because I'm not a detail freak or that I somehow don't want to have totally fantastic presentable pieces in time for critique. Rather my designs tend to be more complicated than I realize, and I am always scrambling to get things together. More times than not there's a detail or three that I can't make happen. I don't have proper time to polish or patina or burnish the edges. But this week - THIS WEEK I PULLED IT TOGETHER.

Not once but TWICE.

DESERVING OF CAPITAL LETTERS because this is freaking monumental in my world, at least this semester. The feeling of finishing, properly finishing, was so delicious. I am finding a new minimal voice in my art, which is a relief. Clever design, simple execution, good results. This is my new goal. Forget the out-of-this world complicated projects. I just want to be done.

So I have one more project due tomorrow for my Lost and Found class (today's projects were for 3B and Casting). I'm not really that close to being finished, but I'm close enough. Tonight after my class I was so tired that all I wanted to do was go out to eat and drink some wine with Rico. Which is what we ended up doing. So now I feel relaxed and happy and like myself again.

I'm mindful that I have a ton of work still ahead for this last project to come together, but my alarm is set for 3:30am and I have a plan. :) And spring break is in sight, which gives me a nice boost of motivation.

Spring break. Ahhhhh, mini vacation. I'm so proud of myself. I'd already done some serious overbooking and I just went and unscheduled a bunch of stuff. Yes, unscheduled. Because what I really want to do for the next week is relax, organize my studio, work on my website, exercise, eat delicious stuff and spend time at home. I can't wait.

Monday, March 12, 2012

No Overachieving Allowed

I'm definitely feeling more positive than when I wrote the last sad post on here. Over the weekend I took an important step and "liguei o foda-se," best translated into English as turning on the fuck-it button.

I decided to care a little less, relax a little more, let go of the things that really don't matter that much but have been keeping me up at night and making me bitchy and physically ill.

What did I let slide?

- Applying for the SNAG (Society of North American Goldsmiths) student scholarship. Why was I planning to apply in the first place? Because our teachers said we should. Because I wanted the recognition. Because I'm good at presenting myself on paper and thought I had a good shot. Because a couple thousand dollars is always a nice perk. HOWEVER...this application was causing me a tremendous amount of stress. In order to make it happen (due in two days, btw) I'd have to clean up/fix five pieces, photograph at least 10 pieces, edit in PhotoShop ad nauseum, select final images, write a little essay, get transcripts, figure out the third-party online application system, etc. I still feel a little guilty for not applying, like I'm going to let my professors down and somehow be shamed in front of my peers, but the balance of stress vs. potential reward just didn't seem right.

- Submitting 5 different pieces to the American Craft Council juried show. Again this would have involved significant fixing/clean up, photographing, editing, wholesale and retail pricing, and a heavy dose of my old friend stress. Instead I decided it was okay to just submit 2 pieces that I already have ready to go. They're not my most recent, and perhaps not my most spectacular. But it's something. Application finished this morning after putting it off for weeks because I was avoiding getting those other pieces ready.

- Not applying for the SNAG student exposition at their annual conference this year in Phoenix. Given the problems I've been having this semester, I don't feel that seeking the recognition and approval of others should be my main priority at this point. Sidelined to next year...

- Getting my new studio totally organized over spring break. This was a self-imposed deadline, a bit optimistic at best. I will organize bit by bit. No need to have an all-or-nothing mentality, which is definitely how I'd been feeling.

It's funny, once I made the decision not to do the above items (or to scale them back) I suddenly felt so much better about the workload I am facing at school. I have three midterm projects due this week and when I still had the scholarships and applications and what not on my to-do list, it seemed impossible to get through everything. Now that I've given myself permission to focus on school and let the other stuff slide a bit, I feel so much happier. The queasiness in my stomach is subsiding and the ropes in my shoulders are loosening. But I still feel guilty, like I'm doing something "wrong" by giving up on these scholarships and exhibitions...and then I tell myself, whatever, I'm an adult student and a big girl and I can make these decisions without worrying about the judgment of others.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Plateau or Perhaps a Wall

This has been a hard semester, perhaps the hardest yet.

I thought last semester, when I took Production (the class that has the reputation of being the most intense workload in the entire jewelry curriculum) together with 3A (where we learn stone-setting and have lots of new technical challenges) would take the cake as the toughest. But no, it seems Spring 2012 is the winner.

To be fair, I am taking 4 studio classes for the first time in my career at CCA. I have completed all of my academic requirements so all that's left is studio classes until I graduate. Since I have a vested interested in being a full-time student to access scholarships and financial aid, but don't want to pay for classes that don't count toward my graduation, it's 4 studios a semester until I graduate in May 2013.

It's recommended that you do a maximum of 3 studios per semester. It's not unheard of to do 4, but people definitely give you sympathetic/you're crazy looks when they find out. Each class meets for 6 hours per week and you have anywhere from 3 to 18 hours of homework per week per class depending on the assignments.

It's definitely intense, but I don't think the studio workload is completely to blame for my struggles this semester. Rather, I believe I've hit a plateau or a wall or whatever you want to call it and it's proving to be damn hard to break through.

At this point I'm a good enough jeweler that I could quit school and make it on my own. I've gone up the technical ladder, I've got respectable chops. I know how to do my pricing and marketing. I have a client base. I've set up a basic studio. I even have a recognizable style to my work. I'm proud of what I've accomplished, but I know I'm far from "done" (not that one is ever finished growing and learning - I'm referring to what I feel I'm meant to get out of school).

I'm at this place right now that could be very comfortable but instead is uncomfortable and honestly quite stressful. Instead of forward momentum, it seems I'm moving backwards. It often feels like I've regressed back to my Jewelry 1 days. I struggle to come up with compelling designs. Simple soldering or stone setting fails. I feel as if I have the jeweler's equivalent of writer's block. I know I can do it...but I just can't make it happen.

Even worse, I find myself comparing my work and my talents to my fellow students, something I know is unproductive and try veryveryvery hard to avoid. On days where I am having a big pity party, I feel like they are all the shining stars and I am a dull, remedial flicker in the corner. I hate this so much because I am aware that I'm allowing myself to be driven by my ego. I recognize that I make work thinking of the praise I might receive from my teachers and classmates, and become stuck when imagining their criticism or disappointment.

This makes me feel so disheartened. Ideally I'd be beyond ego, beyond worrying about what others think of my work, but that's clearly not the case. I want the praise, I want to be the best, I want the recognition that I am on the right track. And as long as I allow that - or the fear of the opposite feedback - to guide my work I will continue to feel like I'm hitting my head against this massive wall.

In moments of marginal clarity and wisdom, I'm aware that my challenge this semester is to get over myself, to break out of the safe, comfortable zone that I am tempted to work within in order to get praise. I intuit that there is this world of greatness, of massive growth and potential just waiting on the other side if I can only get over the ego and insecurity. I'm aware of this, but not able to totally act on it. Or rather, I'm only able to act on it in small doses, a bit every day, and often many steps back for each tiny advance in the "right" direction.