Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fearful Asymmetry

Disclaimer:  this entry uses lots of technical detail.  If you're not into that, feel free to skip ahead to the pictures.  Enjoy, no matter what you decide.

So last week I set out to make some things that were slightly out of my comfort zone.  I wanted to make some asymmetrical stringing pieces.  For those of you who don't know (which is all of you!), I love making perfectly symmetrical pieces, or pieces that have just 1-2 random elements to mix it up.  It's just the way my mind works.  I have a system for most things, even though it doesn't seem that way to others.  My book collection and my closet may not make sense to you, but I know exactly where to find my 3 quarter sleeve grey sweater, or my copy of Wuthering Heights, right away.  My point is, when I put something in a particular place, I like to have a reason or rationale.  I am pretty much unable to place things in a random manner.  Thus, the seemingly effortless random order of beads you see is actually the product of much agonizing, painstaking rearrangement.  Is the whole piece balanced?  Do I have enough groupings?  Enough colors?  Too many colors?  Aargh.  The mind reels. 

Also, I have a great fondness for wirework pieces.  For those of you who don't make jewelry, these are pieces in which wire is manipulated into various shapes like spirals and circles.  (See below for an example.) 

Wire pieces just seem so sturdy and long lasting.  When I string beads, I am constantly thinking, what if the string breaks?  That tiny little string seems so delicate, and can picture it breaking and spilling beads all over a sidewalk somewhere.  True, you can buy ultra-strong beading wires and threads, but your piece is only as strong as your closure.  And the closures can be so unattractive!  If you are using thread, you have to close with an ugly knot.  If you use beading wire, you have to use a metal crimp.  After much searching through beading books (I am entirely self-taught, or I probably would have learned this sooner) I finally found an attractive, albeit labor intensive solution.  I place a wire crimp and use a special little crimping tool which squeezes it in the middle and then bends it in half, making it small and unobtrusive.  After that, I place a tiny metal bead called a crimp cover over it, completely hiding the closure.  I also use a device called a wire guard, which keeps the end of the wire from breaking with wear.  This sounds complex, right?  Well, try actually doing it.  The tiny metal pieces bend and warp the wrong way with the slightest provocation.  I have just now gotten good at manipulating them. 

I spent my free time last week working on two asymmetrical (well, relatively) beaded pieces.  A dark red bracelet using some gorgeous Chinese lampwork beads as focal points, and Czech glass, crystal, and freshwater pearls as accents.  And a lovely freshwater pearl and silver bead necklace, with moonstone rondelle beads.  It has a decorative clasp and an angel wing charm at the back, so that you can wear it in the normal way for a delicate, formal necklace, or wear the clasp in the side or front for something a bit more funky.  The red bracelet has garnered so many compliments this week that I will probably reproduce it for my Etsy shop.  The necklace is about to make its debut, so we'll see. 

And what did I work on this week?  Why, a perfectly symmetrical wirework and bead piece, of course.  And I loved every minute of it.  Stay tuned for pics of it!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Reality Bites

I seem to have thrown myself into this new endeavor with more energy than usual.  A couple months ago, I was talking to a friend about a New Year's resolution and immediately added, "But it won't work out."  He replied, "When you die, your tombstone will say, 'Here lies Laurel.  She gave up before she even started.'"  And I do tend to pessimism (although I like to refer to my worldview as realism).  So I'm determined to give this a good shot...at least until it stops being fun.

That's one of my main worries--will the blogging and such take the joy out of jewelry making?  What about introducing money to the equation by selling my work in a serious way?  Thoughts like this kept me from progressing with my journey for a while.  I have finally decided to proceed, full speed ahead.  If this stuff takes the fun out of jewelry, I'll take up a new hobby.  Like felting or Chinese brush painting, lol.

In a burst of activity over the past few days, I set up this blog, a Facebook page for my jewelry, and an Etsy shop.  Not familiar with Etsy?  In a nutshell, it allows artists and crafters to list their works for sale on the Etsy site for a small fee.  It takes a lot of the stress out of starting out--it's easy to set up a profile and post items.  But then you run into all the STUFF.  How much to charge for shipping, keeping in mind that Etsy is a worldwide site and you could get an order from Australia?  What about your return policy?  Etc, etc.  I've noticed that a lot of people dream about owning their own business, but I have never been one of those people.  I am the child of two small business owners, and I know about every nitpicking thing that makes owning a business a pain.  Terms such as "sales tax" make me break out into a cold sweat.  Reassuring myself that this was completely different from my parents' businesses--no employees, no physical location to keep up--I forged ahead.  Once I committed, it was easier than I thought.  I hit the "list" button and sent my few little items out into the brave new world of Etsy.  I don't really care when or if they sell; the point is that I did it.  I can say casually, "Oh yes, I have a shop on Etsy."  And the beauty of Etsy is that you can list just as many or as few items as you wish.  You don't have orders piling up or anything like that.  Perfect for the commitment-phobic...like me.  :)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fun with Photography

So this afternoon I thought, if I'm considering selling stuff online, I should have pictures of said stuff.  Now, I don't have any really special pieces right now, considering my recent creative drought, but I had some decent looking earrings to play around with.  And besides, I felt I deserved a break since this morning I finally finished unpacking the suitcase I took on a trip last month (okay, don't judge!)  I don't have any photography skills to speak of, but I do have a fairly good digital camera, so off I went to fetch it...only to find that I left it off the charger and it is dead as a doornail.  Grrrr.  I don't want to wait for it to charge because I'm hoping to take the pics outdoors (taking advantage of the natural light), and it will be dark in a couple hours.  Also, when I get the motivation to do something, I better go ahead and do it, because later I'll find myself out of the notion.  So I grabbed my trusty iPhone and headed out.

First thing, though, I had get a picture of some of the earliest spring flowers, which are flourishing despite this morning's snow shower. 

These are some of my favorites--I call them the Firebird earrings, because they are inspired by Maria Tallchief of the New York City Ballet in her great role of the Firebird.

Freshwater pearls and glass leaves

Freshwater pearls and mother-of-pearl rings

The photos were good practice, and hey, you CAN actually tell what the earrings look like, but I am really looking forward to seeing how much better the photos can look with more practice and a fully charged camera.  :)  More later...

And now for something completely different...

My adventures in jewelry-making started about a year ago as a way to de-stress during a time of personal crisis.  It was fun, and gave me a feeling of accomplishment, etc.  Eventually I started to sell a few pieces here and there, and occasionally someone would say, "Why don't you sell your jewelry online or something like that?"  Yeah, right, I would think.  Like I don't have enough to do.  So my jewelry making stayed my hobby--and a lifeline.  During that time, I wasn't often able to visit a craft or bead store, so I improvised.  I bought some of every type of bead that the Wal-Mart craft department had.  When that became creatively stifling (our rural area Wal-Mart has a tiny crafts section!)  I wandered into the jewelry section.  Wal-Mart doesn't have a lot of jewelry that I would actually wear, but I had the bright idea to buy pieces that had some interesting beads or charms.  I would take them apart and put them back together in creative ways.  I would wear them to work, and my co-workers couldn't believe the pieces started out as cheap Wal-Mart jewelry.  I ordered jewelry magazines and books online and studied them to learn new techniques. 

One day last summer I finally had a Sunday off and was able to visit the craft store Michael's.  Talk about heaven!  Aisles and aisles of gemstones, glass beads, crystals, jewelry tools, clasps, wire, books...I carried out sacks of stuff!  I had a burst of creative energy.  I made about 20 different pieces to enter in the jewelry competition of the TN Valley Fair (almost all of them won a ribbon!)  Then I started to work on Christmas presents.  I made tons of stuff to sell and to give as presents.  Then, after Christmas...I stopped.  I had to clean up the house after the Christmas celebration, and things were busier than ever at work.  My jewelry making materials got stuffed back in the roll-top desk I used as my tiny studio, and I basically forgot about them.  Work was becoming more and more stressful.  Basically, the economy was taking a huge toll on both the wallets and the manners of our clients.  Not only do people let things go for far too long, but when a crisis inevitably hits, they consider it someone else's responsibility.  Daily I see more and more people at their very worst.  It is physically, mentally, and spiritually draining.  For the past few weeks, I have been working 10 to 12 hour days, then coming home and collapsing.  I was lucky to have enough motivation to wash the dishes.

Last Friday night, I went to dinner with a friend and stopped at a bookstore on the way home.  A small paperback book titled "The Handmade Marketplace" called to me from a display table.  I scooped it up along with all the jewelry magazines I could find--more out of habit than anything--and scurried home to do some reading.  My new little book was about inspiring crafters to reach new creative heights, and how to market your creations.  Maybe I was meant to find that book, I decided.  What I need more than anything else is a diversion.  I want to think about and do something else than work and sleep!  So I decided yesterday to start a new journey of self-discovery.  Elizabeth Gilbert found self-actualization in traveling, meditation (I accidentally typed medication!), and Italian food.  I don't have that much spare time, and I don't like traveling anyway.  So join me on my journey to discovery through jewelry!