Wednesday, April 21, 2010

New Technique!

I stumbled upon a new technique for wire-wrapping briolettes and teardrops: using headpins. As an example, take a peak at nonakednecks "Rose Quartz Trio" earrings.

If you're not a jewelry maker, or if you've never wire-wrapped before, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about.

For those of you who do know, I thought I'd share this with you. I am currently infatuated with briolette shapes, but they always give me trouble when I try to wire-wrap them. My biggest problem is with tiny brios - I tend to break them in the wrapping process. It is very frustrating to invest in sapphires and watch them crumble in my hands because I used too much force.

My hands just don't have the strength they used to. I also have problems with shaky hands and mild arthritis. This is not the best combination when trying to do wire wrapping!

But when I saw some earrings using briolettes wire-wrapped with headpins, I felt like I'd stumbled upon a miracle! I am dying to try this out for myself, because I think I'll have an easier time manipulating the wire and beads. Plus, there is a little less wire involved, so the stones get to show off a little more of their natural beauty. It seems to let more light hit the beads so they appear just a bit brighter.

Something I've debated with myself in the past is the line between learning or finding inspiration from another person's work, versus stealing. Every artist in every medium uses a bit of something they learned from someone else, something they saw somewhere else, something that inspired them into emulation. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

Well, I had this debate with myself earlier today. I had never seen this technique before, never heard of it, never thought of it on my own. It is such a small change to a basic technique, how come everyone else wasn't doing it too? I worried that it was so rare that maybe it was someone's trademark. I would feel very bad to rip-off anyone's signature style. So I quested, courtesy of Google and Etsy.

After an exhausting (and yet not exhaustive) search, I now know there aren't many people out there using this technique. However, there are definitely enough designers out there who are using it to nullify my concern over infringement. You should check out their stuff - it's all gorgeous!

jahnavidesigns, passementerie, GaHooleTree, isler, shopshrew, ACelticgirl2, theodate, CoryellDesign, elainehaydonjewelry

Does anyone disagree with my conclusion?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tacoma's Museum of Glass

I have been wanting to go to the Museum of Glass (MOG) in Tacoma since before it was even open to the public in 2002. The biggest draw is Dale Chihuly's Bridge of Glass, which extends over a highway to provide free-to-the-public access between the three downtown Tacoma museums. The bridge was not quite what I thought it would be (you don't walk on glass), but the incredible array of colors and forms definitely exceeded all my expectations! I took a million pictures, which I hope to post some of later. But first, let's talk about the MOG itself.

The MOG is architecturally intriguing, very modern with lots of chrome and concrete, but something about the space saves it from being cold and boring. Maybe it's the sky? It is on a little waterway with moored boats, and in the background you can see Mt. Rainier, The Tacoma Dome, and an impressive suspension bridge. Personally, I think it is the sun hitting the outdoor glass instillation, illuminating clear glass forms so they appear whitish, reflecting off the shallow pool they are set into.

Inside the MOG are some incredible pieces, most notably an enormous glass triptych entitled Gathering the Light. Painstakingly created in a multitude of stages by Cappy Thompson, the riot of color radiates from within. Add sunlight, and it shines like a creation of the gods. Also not-to-be-missed is the gallery of works designed by children and recreated in glass onsite by the Hot Shop team - there are over 50 whimsical creations to enjoy. The gallery of Preston Singletary is quite impressive as well, recreating Tlingit (Native American) designs into glass sculpture.

Unfortunately, there isn't much more to talk about in the MOG. There are only 2 galleries, a shop, a cafe, a theater, and a children's learning room. For some reason there is a long hallway to the bathrooms entitled "Alley of Art" that has NO art in it, although the glass wall allowing you views of the domed courthouse is impressive - if you manage to overlook the depressing train tracks immediately outside. We definitely enjoyed ourselves, but at the cost of $12 per ticket, we were not impressed.

That is, until we plopped down in the Hot Shop and watched a team of glass makers work for over an hour. Watching the techniques, seeing the transformations through various stages to create a final product, was all riveting. There are some dull moments when the piece is in the furnace and everyone stands around waiting for a minute,  and yet you still can't look away. I'll be posting some pictures here soon that show the progression of one piece - I missed the initial stage and the final product, but it's still fascinating.

In the end, was it worth the $12? Yes, but only because of the Hot Shop. I would have felt better if there were separate admission prices, say $7 for the Hot Shop and $5 for the museum. Even $10 to see the glass making in action would have been worth it, then they could charge an extra $2-$3 to see the museum. Oh well, in the end it was all quite enjoyable, gorgeous, and definitely worth the price of admission.

Friday, April 16, 2010

EtsyBloggers Blog Carnival #1 for April 23, 2010

Happy birthday Joey & Aleethea! In your honor, this week's Blog Carnival is about birthdays: "Tell us your birthday/what astrological sign you are/what are your plans for your birthday this year?"

Well, my birthday for the year has already passed - January 14. On the standard Zodiac I am a Capricorn, the steadfast worker who perseveres, which is usually true. Things are a little trickier when you move to the Chinese Zodiac however. 1973 is the year of the Ox, which seems quite familiar to the Capricorn in me. However, Chinese New Year is not January 1st - it's actually a few weeks later. In the year I was born, Chinese New Year fell on February 2. So after years of anxiety over being compared to a big dumb cow, I discovered that I was actually born in the year of the Rat! Now, rats aren't exactly favored here in the U.S. But check out Wikipedia's description of a Rat on the Chinese Zodiac:

"Forthright, tenacious, intense, meticulous, charismatic, sensitive, hardworking, industrious, charming, eloquent, sociable, artistic, shrewd. Can be manipulative, vindictive, self-destructive, mendacious, venal, obstinate, critical, over-ambitious, ruthless, intolerant, scheming."

To me, the Rat makes so much more sense! I am actually dual-natured, sometimes quiet and reserved, but behind that is the crazy, wacky, wicked, and demanding. The Rat just sounds so much more balanced to me than Capricorn.

And then there's the fact that Rat is interchangeable with Mouse, the animal I associate with because of my name. The pronunciation of my name leads to all sorts of misspellings and nicknames, my favorite of which has always been Mousegirl.

Doing all of this fact checking, apparently there are more designations to determine your true zodiac, together called the Four Pillars. Here we go:

First Pillar (Ancestry and/or Early Age): Year of the Rat (Water, Yang)
Second Pillar/Inner Animal (Parents and/or Growing Age): Month of the Ox (Earth)
Third Pillar (my Upper Character, spouse's Lower Character; or Adult Age): Day of the Dog (Metal)
Fourth Pillar/Secret Animal (Kids or Late Age): Hour of the Dragon (Metal)

Supposedly, the Hour designation is supposed to be the truest representation of yourself. I'm kind of doubting this one:

Dragon - Magnanimous, stately, vigorous, strong, self-assured, proud, noble, direct, dignified, jealous, eccentric, intellectual, fiery, passionate, decisive, pioneering, artistic, generous, loyal. Can be tactless, arrogant, imperious, tyrannical, demanding, intolerant, dogmatic, violent, impetuous, brash.

While there are some things in there to relate to, the majority of characteristics are actually quite contrary to who I am. Hmm...

So, in summary, I am the Rat Ox Dog Dragon Mousegirl. They don't exactly sound like they would play well together, now do they?

Monday, March 22, 2010

I dig cupcakes, and I looove seeing all the cupcake shops popping  up everywhere. Two years ago I spent three weeks in Italy, where an evening stroll linked arm-in-arm with a friend or sweetie is a daily ritual, often celebrated with a few scoops of gelato. In Florence especially, it was almost impossible to find a block without a gelato shop. The decadence of enjoying the night air eases the day's stress to nothing, and is made all the sweeter with a gelato in hand. I have thoroughly missed this daily activity, so I was thrilled when the cupcake shops opened everywhere. Finally, Americans are learning that constant discipline in everything just isn't necessary. A little indulgence now and then helps you remember how awesome it is to be alive. Americans hop from puritanical to hedonistic in everything, never able to appreciate moderation. Cupcakes may be just what we need!

Why am I going on about cupcakes? A blogger for the Seattle P.I., Suzanne Ball, doesn't understand The Cupcake Craze. Actually, she seems to find it laughable and ridiculous. As do some of the commenters on her article. If you're curious about something, say... cupcakes, don't write paragraph after paragraph about how much you don't understand it and therefore don't like it. Do a little research first. Walking into a cupcake bakery, seeing the $4 price tag, and then walking out again is not research. So I sat down and thought about it, this Craze that I'm kind of on the peripheral of. Unfortunately, my response just got longer and longer, so I thought I would blog about it instead of posting a very wordy, rambling - but interesting! and informative! - comment at the PI.

According to another commenter, this whole thing started in 1996, at Magnolia Bakery in Greenwich Village . But Suzanne doesn't seem to understand why/how it became a huge phenomenon. I believe the HOW is tied to the "Indie" movement that has been growing over the past decade: people, mostly women, deciding to make things for themselves instead of just purchasing it from a store, in an effort to be independent, self-sufficient. "Crafting" has exploded from Indie to mainstream. Along with crafting came increased interest in the "Home-Ec" stuff that the modern woman sort of abandoned during the Women's Lib movement.

Cooking and baking is no longer just for chefs or foodies, but anyone who has an interest in creating versus purchasing. Couple the Indie movement with the electronic age where everyone has a blog, and suddenly there are countless blogs about creating, crafting, and cooking. A lot of these women decide they are good enough at what they've learned to sell their goods. Like cupcakes. So now we have something that started out Indie, has gone mainstream, and then finally gone commercial. Ironic, but not unusual. Have you stepped into a Michael's or Joann's lately? Gone to a scrapbooking party? Crafting, sewing, knitting, scrapbooking, cooking - these are all at-home, do-it-yourself activities that people used to do on a regular basis. Now, there is an entire industry, divided into subcategories, to sell you magazines about your craft, fancy materials to use in your creation, innovative and attractive ways to store your tools, new gadgets that make things easier and more efficiently. Cupcakes have become popular the exact same way scrapbooking has.

So that's the HOW. But what about the WHY? What is so damned special about cupcakes? There are a million reasons, the primary one being they taste good! But again, I think the women in the Indie movement have a lot to do with it as well. Meeting up in groups to craft is a regular occurence, to share the creative experience. These get-togethers are always self-catered with potluck foods that everyone can munch on, and cupcakes are just that much easier to share.

Then there is this need to re-capture our youth, another central part of crafting. Grown women wearing candy necklaces and barettes made for 5 year olds. TV and Cartoon shows from the 80s ending up on popular clothing. Sweets were big when we were kids, and "adult food" just isn't as fun as kid food. Cupcakes are easy to make, providing a quick relief to the monotony of "responsible" eating.

Cupcakes are small. I have yet to meet a woman who can look at a small, miniaturized version of... anything and not call it "cute". Cupcakes are cute! This can be played around with in decorating/frosting. Coming up with recipes is only half of the creative process - finding interesting, new ways of decorating cupcakes is just as fun.

Cupcakes are blissfully easy to make. You can start with a box mix, or whip something up from the basic elements most people always have on hand in their kitch - flour, sugar, eggs, etc. And then you can go crazy adding extra elements into the mix for interesting combinations - ginger, orange rind, coffee, fruit, lavender, maple syrup. The options available are endless.

I think that's enough in the "WHY?" department, so let's move on to "WTF? OMG! Sooo x$pensive!!!"

Seriously? People will pay it, and love it, period. Starbucks started an international phenomenon with the $4 espresso. And the $2 biscotti and $3 pastry and $5 quiche. We should be asking ourselves why it took so long for a similar industry to pop up using the same scheme. Especially considering how often the average person buys coffee from a stand or shop, versus how often a person will be willing to break their responsible diet routine and splurge on a little morsel of sinful bliss. There isn't really a danger that cupcakes will lead to more obesity, since the average person has the willpower to limit their trips to the cupcake shop. Whereas coffee is the new cigarette, expensive, addictive, and popular with ever-younger growing ages of children. I'd rather buy my kid a cupcake once a month, than a mocha 3 times a week.

Now ask yourself why the cupcake bakery sells their cupcakes so expensively. It's called quality. Yep, Mom's Betty Crocker brand cupcakes are awesome, but plenty of coffee drinkers dig Folgers from the grocery and still splurge on a latte now and then. Cupcake shops buy higher-end ingredients than the typical mom. Swiss chocolate, unprocessed sugar and flour, fresh and local lavender, whole vanilla beans from Madagascar - all purchased in bulk, this stuff is hugely more expensive than a box of cake mix. Then there is rent, utilities, industrial ovens and refridgerators - all of which is paid for by $4 cupcakes. Not to mention salaries. Baking professionally has always been, and will always be, a true labor of love - crazy hours and a ton of physical, repetitive work.

If you haven't yet, start up a conversation with an Indie crafter about why they do what they do. You will learn it's about passion, self-expression, laughter, accomplishment. You will discover that what started out as crafting is now truly personalized artwork, miniaturized and accessible to the general public - art was never meant to be only enjoyed in museums and owned by the rich. It is meant to be enjoyed on a personal level, creating a small but real bond between artisan and buyer. And finally, you'll hear about how important it is to them to support their fellow artists and shop locally instead of from a Big Box Store. Because your new Indie friend invests so much time and attention and love and personal funds into what she creates, she realizes how much goes into the creations of other artists. Being an individual is a huge deal in the Indie Craft movement, but so is community - supporting each other, respecting other artists, and making friends with like-minded people is just as important.

I used to call jewelry making my hobby, something I did on the side when the mood struck me. Now I call myself a jewelry designer, I invest most of my time and money into creating, and every item I make is a piece of art that is special to me. When someone buys something from me, the dollars make me happy. But knowing someone has appreciated my work enough to buy my $40 gemstone necklace instead of a $20 knock-off made of plastic and glass at WalMart means the world to me. I know that the item was special to me when I made it, and now it is going to someone who finds it special enough to part with a little extra cash. It is an addictive feeling, being appreciated and knowing that my jewelry is an investment that will be loved, instead of an impulse buy at Target that may or may not be worn once. It fuels my creativity, inspires me to create more, create better. Also, it's extra incentive to drive across town to my favorite cupcake shop, and extra money in my pocket to buy a $4 cupcake. Or two.

ps: the more you buy Indie, the better you get to know the people, the more you get into their social circles. And then you get invitations to events with lots of potluck food, including free $4 cupcakes.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Allie's Getting Married

I've been living under a rock for the past two weeks now, but it's been for a good cause. I was commissioned by Allie from Louisiana to make jewelry for her bridesmaids. And then some jewelry for her mother. There was some drama finding enough chalcedony for all three sets, but it was a great design project. The bracelet had a steep learning curve, but I've now taught myself a new technique that I want to try out again soon!

Congratulations Allie! I hope you have a beautiful wedding. My #1 piece of advice: make sure to actually eat the food at your reception, and at least one full piece of wedding cake. Don't count on your freezer successfully saving it for after your honeymoon!