Thursday, March 27, 2014

Rockhounding Near Los Lunas, New Mexico

My Dad and I drove on dirt roads, along the railway and past a scattering of mobile homes with corrals out back, out so far into the mesa that the worry of discovering something other than rocks becomes real.

The map was precise, though, and after a sequence of seemingly random turns we found the site. It must have been a riverbed at some point in geologic history, because there was a swath of stones about a quarter mile wide and then nothing - no stones at all, just sand and the occasional juniper - on either side.

The assortment of rocks was impressive, which also leads me to believe they were carried from distinct places and deposited all together. It was a real jumble, the kind of treasure rock hounders dream about. We found jasper (mostly poppy red and mustard hues), obsidian, petrified wood, some sedimentary rocks that look like cracked mud, and many others that I'm unsure how to classify.

When we returned home, I washed the rocks and set them out to dry in a gradient, both according to size and color. So appealing to my personality to look at all that beautiful order!

Now I need to learn how to cut some cabochons...

Monday, March 24, 2014

An Organizer at Heart

The grand paper calendar. I love this format.

It's no secret that I adore planning. It's like comfort food. Soothing, reassuring, makes me feel like all is right in the world.

I've used a paper calendar since high school and it works really well for me, especially this vertical format where every day of the week has the same layout. It drives me nuts when calendars will treat Saturday and Sunday as half-columns, or double them up. I also really like the to-do list at the side.

Being self-employed, the reality is that each of my days could potentially be a rest day or a work day. I do try to maintain a consistent schedule, and after several months of unpredictable hours and random (and urgent!) tasks, I've finally settled into something that feels right.

Here's how it goes:

  • Mondays I start the day with some accounting and emails, then work in my studio for a couple of hours. I go to pilates at 2pm with Rico, then do another studio session until sunset.
  • Tuesdays I focus on exercise in the morning (ideally a combo of strength training and cardio), then work in my studio until sunset.
  • Wednesdays are studio and pilates, and every other week I get a super relaxing shiatsu massage and go to gallery openings at CCA.
  • Thursdays I work in the showroom all day and can usually put a good dent in computer work and graphic design while I am there.
  • Fridays I work out in the morning, then work in the showroom.
  • Saturdays I have flex time in the morning that I can use for whatever needs attention, then I work in the showroom.
  • Sundays I run with my running partner H., then sunbathe, go to studio, and have the rest of the day off (or, if needed, can play catch up).

Over the years I've figured out a balance of activities that makes me feel happy, gets the work done, and allows for the feeling of spontaneity even within such a controlled schedule. I plan my activities, obligations, studio sessions, and workouts way in advance - sometimes up to two months. I like to know what lies ahead, what I need to be prepared for, when I can let my hair down.

I track two main things each week to help keep me on track: # of times I exercise in a week, and the # of times I make it to my studio (computer work, photography, and graphic design don't count - it has to be metalsmithing). I have a little code to mark each day, and I tally everything in the corner of each page at the end of the week.

My minimum goal is 4x exercise and 3x studio, my ideal goal is 5-6x exercise and 4x studio. It really works. If I hit those numbers, somehow the rest falls into place pretty well.

So far in 2014 I've exercised 63 times (average of 5.2x per week, so totally on track there) and worked in my studio 35 days (average of 2.9 days per week, so just below my minimum goal).

I love tracking everything, and especially love looking back. I often struggle to recognize the things I've accomplished (the pending items on the to-do list usually stand out more than the ones I've crossed off) and this is a nice, empirical, undeniable way to appreciate my efforts.

Are you a planner? Do you keep a paper calendar? What (if anything) do you keep track of over time?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

New York After Nearly 20 Years

Back in October we went to New York to celebrate my birthday with friends and family. It had been nearly two decades since I had been to the city, and about the same for Rico. New York at 30-something is totally different than New York as a pre-teen. Much more fun, much more expensive, much more exhausting.

We stayed with a friend from Belgium who I met back in 1998 on my AFS year to Brazil. We've kept in touch all these years, and now he is a diplomat working with the UN. Coincidentally my cousin was in town, a crazy friend from the Bay Area was around too, and two of my favorite jewelry girls now live in New York and are doing courses at the Gemology Institute of America (GIA). It was cool to just hang out with people and share a little of their routines and favorites in the city.

We walked an unholy amount every day, the heel on one of my boots fell off, the weather was good, the architecture was killer, and we ate the most delicious food. My most memorable meal was definitely birthday extravagance at Ma Peche. Maialino was also fantastic.

Hopefully it won't be another 20 years until we make it back.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Materials Libraries

Over the years I have collected lots and lots of materials. Beads ancient and new, pot shards, shells, rocks, faceted gemstones, metals, coins, stamps, antiquities, heirlooms, junk jewelry, found objects. You name it, I probably have it somewhere in my studio.

Despite the fact that I've been accumulating many of these items since childhood, it took me a long time to realize that my work is, in fact, materials driven. These objects are the starting point for my compositions, and I needed an effective way to categorize and display them, both for my own work and to show to others.

Brainstorming how to display my materials.

I started by figuring out the materials display for the showroom. I wanted to give people a glimpse of what inspires me, what the ingredients are to my work. Sort of like a painter's palette but in three dimensions.

Materials vignettes in vintage jewelry boxes, on display in the Ali Amaro showroom.

For the showroom, I ended up using some jewelry boxes from the 1960's and filling them with a sampling of materials. I wanted the mix of colors and textures to be visually appealing as well as to tell a little bit of the process story. Every so often I plan to switch up the selection of materials in these boxes.

For my own work in studio, however, I need a more functional version. My desk tends to become covered in materials and this clutter drives me nuts. I need to have lots of objects out and at hand because this is how I compose, but they also need to be corralled somehow. So I repurposed some oversized drawer organizers and made a big tray full of the materials that currently inspire me.

Materials library work tray #1 in my studio.

This is a small sampling of my entire materials collection, because I work a lot better when I have fewer options (even though this still is a lot of stuff!). Limiting my options allows me to see more creative possibilities. I think I will build some sort of a shelf that can accommodate these large trays, that way I can have several of them and still have a way to clear my desk at the end of the day.

For the rest of the objects in my collection, I have a storage system using clear plastic bins with labels according to materials type. This makes it easy to find things, as well as to create custom materials libraries to show clients depending on their interests.

Materials storage in plastic bins.

Do you have the challenge of organizing multiple materials/inputs in your work? What sort of solutions have you discovered? Please share in the comments.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Workspace Wednesday

Compositions in progress, materials inspiration, a repair for a client. I think I just realized how I want to organize my desk!! (It's different from what you see here.)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Daylight Savings

Sunset from my studio looking at eucalyptus and the Bay.

I often use the sun to set my schedule, especially to signal when it's time to stop working for the day. Because my studio is just up a big hill from Casa Cali, I prefer to walk there instead of driving. I will work for a few hours and then, as the last pink and orange traces of daylight hang in the air, I know it's time to return home.

When the sun sets around 6pm or even 6:30pm, it tends to be perfect timing. I've worked a solid day and I am tired. Ready to transition into the evening, to cook dinner and place aside the ever-growing to-do list for a few hours.

With daylight savings, however, my work hours become skewed. I miss the visual cue of darkness and find that I continue working long past 8pm. We end up having dinner European-style around 9pm or later. I am not sleepy before midnight, and that starts to affect the minimum 8-9 hours I need to feel human and still be up at a decent hour.

Maybe this year I will figure out a better way to deal with daylight savings. Now that I am out of school, I have control over my schedule in a completely new way. At least for the Showroom it will be good - extended summer light means lots more visitors!

Saturday, March 08, 2014

10 Things I Love about the Bay Area's Hidden Gem

View of Oakland and Point Richmond taken from a plane window in 2013.

Here's 10 of the many reasons why Point Richmond is the best:

1. Small town feel where neighbors know each other, like each other (for the most part), and look out for each other.

2. Tons of history, from the railway to Ferry Point to the WWII Homefront and Rosie the Riveter.

3. Cute, walkable streets and a downtown full of independent shops and restaurants.

4. Waterfront location with beautiful parks, trails, and beaches.

5. Characters galore. This is not a homogenous or predictable place when it comes to the residents.

6. Calm, serene feel. Almost island-like. And yet you are 10 minutes from BART and 20-30 minutes driving to Oakland and San Francisco.

7. Convenient access to some of Northern California's best nature and sights (Marin, redwoods, Napa, Point Reyes and lots more).

8. A great summer concert series.

9. Arts! There are so many artists here, I feel like every day I meet or hear of someone new. I'm excited to be part of this scene as a maker, gallery owner, collaborator, and organizer. If you are ever in town, come check out the Ali Amaro | Art Jewelry & Objects showroom at 41 Washington Ave., right across from the Hotel Mac.

10. Great weather. Lots more sunshine and not as much fog compared to most other parts of the Bay Area. Plus it's never too cold or too hot.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Africa to the Bay

I have now lived at Casa Cali for as long as I lived in Mozambique. Four-and-a-half years. Combining both places, nearly a decade.

I think about the fact that I moved to Chimoio when I was 23 and it blows my mind. So ambitious and precocious and confident and arrogant. So open to radical change. So unfazed by geography.

Between then and now I got married, created a lucrative freelance career for myself, left said career, became a homeowner, went to art school, became a metalsmith, learned how to parallel park, set up a collaborative studio space, and now - most recently - with lots of help from lots of people, opened the showroom.

I also felt my wanderlust and expat identity transform into something more grounded, content to stay in one place and invest in that life as a solid base from which to explore.

In many ways, the process of making art feels like living abroad. It can be frustrating and lonely and full of fear. It is continually humbling. There are lots of tears. And yet it is also enlightening, inspiring, and an unfailing way to get to know myself better.

These days life is grand and it is also very hard. All of the aspects of being a self-employed artist, an entrepreneur, a collaborator, a mentor, a boss that I knew would be a challenge have been just that. But in a good way. In a growing way. In a way that makes me remember every day that it's the cumulative and sustained efforts that make a difference. That Rome wasn't built in a day. That it's okay for things to be continually in flux.

The reality of my latest leap is still sinking in. I write this from the most calming and beautiful space imaginable, in a community that I am wholly part of. My fledgling business is flourishing. Rico is here helping me close for the day. We will likely go next door to the wine bar and have a glass of something delicious before going home. Then I will cook, we will relax with the cats, and tomorrow I have the chance to do it all again.