Monday, October 27, 2014

The Truth Hurts--Or Does It? By Karen McGovern

We all have secrets….all of us.  Especially artists.  Artists have TONS of secrets.  It’s part of what makes our work interesting.  “I wonder what inspired her/him to create THAT?” “I wonder where he/she learned to do THAT?”  And the most often heard…”How did you make that?” coupled with “Where can I buy the super spectacular thing you used to make that super spectacular thing?”

I recently read a post written by a jewelry designer asking other artists to comment on how much they comfortably share regarding technique and design details when asked by either a potential client/customer, or another artist.  I think the answer is simple.  Share whatever you want, and keep whatever you want to yourself. 


This post covers two topics—sort of.  Components and design.  I try to be as up front as possible about the “ingredients” of a design, usually in my listings and descriptions.  Names of stones (if you use gemstones in your designs, I think you should know with certainty what the stones are and say so.  Specifically…I’ll come back to this in a minute), type of metal, construction details (hot or cold connected, etc.).  Now, from here it can get pretty tricky, so I try to keep things as simple as possible.

Regarding gems—know what you are using and do not ever, ever make something up if you are not sure.  If you don’t know what the stone is, say so!  For beginning designers, this can be tough and you have to be careful.  I have written before about getting scammed at gem and bead shows, purchasing stones I thought were one thing only to find out later they were not---by a long shot—what I thought they were.  If your stones are dyed quartz, that’s fine, just don’t pass them off as amethyst, rubies or sapphires.  Jaspers are tough because there are a MILLION OF THEM.  But, if all you know is that the stone is a type of jasper, then say that.  My point is, don’t feel like you have to dress up your descriptions or stretch the truth.  It will bite you in the ass later, I guarantee it.  Always be truthful about what you use in your designs no matter what the material is—period.

Now, regarding SOURCES.  Hmmmmm…..when it comes to gemstones, and basic components I am happy to share sources with anyone who asks.  Many artists have relationships with their favorite vendors and spreading the love around will help you and the vendor as well.  I love to pimp my vendors!  But….NOT ALL MY VENDORS.

This is where the super spectacular thing comes in.  You know, the one thing you use that makes your design singular, unique and YOURS--your "secret ingredient".  I have a couple things like that.  Items I use over and over, would love to tell you where I found them, but would have to kill you if I did.  There are not many items like this, just a couple, and they are MINE.  AND, it’s perfectly okay to say that to anyone who asks for the source.  My usual answer is the tongue in cheek reference to murder, followed by, “That particular thing is so special to me and to my work that I just have to keep it to myself. I hope you understand!” Or some version of that.  These words, with a sincere tone and smile, should shut the door on that particular conversation.  I think we all need to understand that saying "No" is   not a bad thing....SERIOUSLY.



Same for singular techniques that you spent the past 20 years perfecting.  Unless you plan to share with a tutorial, you don’t have to share anything at all.  I’m always a little amazed by folks that see my work and ask, in all seriousness, for me to explain in detail exactly how I made it.  In that instance I make some reference to magic or something and move on.  I use humor as often as possible to get out of tricky spots like this.  I am always flattered when someone likes my work, but I do not feel obligated to share every detail of the process just because they ask. 

If this was a TV show I would so watch it.

Am I paranoid they will immediately try to steal a design or copy me?  Partly, but mostly I squirm because the creative process is intensely personal to me and not for the whole world to see.  The world gets the finished result, the rest is between me, my bench and my imagination/psyche thankyouverymuch.

Artists learn from one another.  It’s impossible given today’s technology and social media availability not to use Facebook, Pinterest, blogs and more as teaching tools.  I learn whenever I see an artist’s work that I love.  I emulate.  I am inspired by others.  I always give credit when creating work inspired by another.  I try to be polite, kind, grateful, RESPECTFUL and appreciative, and expect the same from others in my artistic community. I believe you get what you give. 


How I feel when I see an artist that inspires me....

Now, for something completely different, but still on the topic of sharing.  As we evolve as artists, we sometimes get a bit too big for our britches.  By that I mean, we can actually feel embarrassed to admit where we get some of our stuff.  Yes, I would like to be able to say in all truth that I discover all of my findings, components and unusual elements while wandering through abandoned mansions, visiting Parisian flea markets, or directly from my dear, dear friend who happens to travel the world collecting beads from ancient temples and tombs.  See the stones pictured here?  My latest haul from Michael’s.  MICHAEL’S CRAFT STORE, PEOPLE.  For reals.  You can find some great stuff there and YOU ALL KNOW IT!  I am no bead snob—not me.  If I see something I like, of quality, I’m snatching it up.  Yes, the turquoise is dyed howlite, but well done (and I will list the stone as howlite, not turquoise).  The points are dyed quartz, but again, well done.  The wood is….well….WOOD.  And now Michaels carries dyed, embossed LEATHER!  Who knew?  Even if I could afford the world’s finest stone beads I would still buy from my local craft stores cause sometimes that stuff is exactly what I need and exactly what I want.  Do not turn your nose up, ever, to “common” sources—if you do you’ll miss out on some rather cool bits and pieces.  Wait—I misspoke--go ahead, turn your nose up.  More for me!!! *Rubbing hands together*


Buying inexpensive materials to use in your designs doesn't immediately mean that the finished work is worth “less” than something created using material purchased at a “higher end” source.  DESIGN COUNTS.  Your artistic vision, your talent, your creative interpretation are PRICELESS, which makes pricing our works so difficult.  THAT IS ANOTHER POST FOR ANOTHER DAY!

So, keep whatever secrets you want.  Share what you want, honestly, and appreciate other’s works AND understand if they don’t want to share as much as you’d like them to. Bottom Line: Respect each other and each other’s works.  That is no secret and needs to be shared far and wide.

Now, GO MAKE SOMETHING!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Wind is not my friend.........

by Staci Louise Smith

So I had my last show of the year last weekend (my last outdoor art show that is).  The weekend was supposed to be gorgeous, but windy.  Gusts up to 30MPH.  

I was a wreck leading up to the show.  It is in a huge field with little to no cover or things to break the wind.  
:sigh:

Anyhow, I have a pretty wind proof display.  I do almost all outdoor shows, and our springs and falls here in northeast PA are certainly unpredictable.  I have done some REALLY windy shows.  
I have seen tents go flying, or even just break apart while the legs stay staked.  Not to mention its is near impossible to keep displays up in high winds.

I am happy to report that I faired well. I was in a partially sheltered area- a building not far away and some trees off to another side.  I was also completely surrounded by tents.  So I did not take the full brunt of the wind.

Anyhow, I know I have shared this before but I just wanted to give some windy day tent tips to you guys once more.  It is not only important to be prepared for YOU, but so your tent doesn't fly into anyone elses.

Here are some pics of my set up.  I use these large rubber flat weights that are 22lbs each. I put one on each leg.  


Then I add on top of that, bags of sand.  I think they are about 30lbs each.  to make them look nicer I got brown pillow cases for on top.
you can see the sandbags in brown on top of the black weights in the outer lower corners of the picture


I used to use the homemade PVC / cement weights.  What I didn't like about them is they attached around the frame of the tent, and put pressure on it.  plus, I have seen tents flip, even with these on them.
Still, they do a decent job, and are much nicer to lug around.  I would say they are the most popular though.


Here is a link to a blog that has a wonderful description of how to make them!  step by step!  Thanks Jen!!!



 I bungee cord my shutters that display my earrings to the tent, 



my shelves have displays on them, and on the back each one has a HUGE rock or brick.  



My crates have bricks and cement blocks.......

and duct tape is your friend for bust displays and everything else

(you can't even see it, but almost everything in this picture is duct taped from behind...its black tape)

you know, its a lot to lug around, but you don't' sell anything if you are spending your whole time picking up jewelry or holding onto things.

Anyhow, I could say at the end of the show, "Look Toto, we are still in Kansas"..................though at times, I feared I wouldn't be.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Needle Felting and Nature Inspiration

I've been fully bitten by the needle felting bug!
Do you ever experience an overwhelming sense of having to figure out everything you can as soon as possible when you finally get your hands on a material you have been wanting to try out, but have never really had the right encouragement, inspiration or materials to give it a go?
These are some of the books I have gotten out of the public library this week.
I looked up "Felting" and these are what popped up, so they went on hold and I got them last night. With the exception of the two at the bottom - those are mine from home. 
And having a background in Entomology and Wildlife Conservation, I go directly to nature for inspiration. The colors, patterns, textures are everywhere you look in nature. And I like to reference scientific books or field guides for a soft inspiration on realistic things, although my final work rarely incorporates exact replicas from nature.
 Taking time to walk outside will allow you to find unexpected things like this mushroom above.

And hanging out with friends, that have friends, that are interested in art, can quickly open new doors - quite literally in this case. I took a needle felting workshop last December in my friends kitchen and met Sara from Sarafina Fiber Arts. I had always had a round about interest in needle felting - but did not quite experience the "bite" until after this workshop. And now Sara has opened a shop where she teaches workshops, sells materials and finished art from local artists, and creates a bunch of How To videos on You Tube for sculptural needle felting.
Above is a quick photo of the Sarafina Art House after a pumpkin workshop (I was there to drop off some of my ceramic items for her to sell in the gallery). I purchased a bunch of needle felting supplies from her at the open house not even two weeks ago, and went home to watch a few of the videos to remember some of the basics (there are three video in Sara's pumpkin videos).
I wanted to make some Autumn Pumpkins!
 I just love these candy colored locks that Sara dyes and sells - I could have purchased the entire basket she had at the shop! They add such color to the pumpkins...

There is this thing that when I make, I like to make a lot of things - it's an obsessive personality trait. I think it's exactly why I can sit and make and make a ton of beads at a time (give me good music or an interesting audio book, or podcast and I'll be there for hours!).
And it becomes about technique and seeing what I like as I make things, comfortable changes in technique as I work, how I can picture the development of a general shape - like a pumpkin, and move it forward and make details that are more appealing to me - most of the time - it ends up having spirals and swirly lines somehow...
So the pumpkins started getting these spiral stems.
And the bottom points of the stem onto the pumpkin, started getting wavy ends if they were long enough (after this in-progress photo).
I loved the banana fiber and how it frays, twists and twirls. 

I make and I make, then I move onto something else.
Like - what about making some ceramic pumpkins?
It is the season for them to ripen and be everywhere and in every shape and color!
Since I do already have all of the ceramic stuff from my bead making, small terrarium sized ceramic pumpkins were a natural. Notice the points at the bottoms of the stems. Those are there because in Sara's video, Lee mentions making points from the bottom of the felt stem. Cutting the ceramic clay to make points - that was fun to figure out and make happen (you have to work fast so it does not dry out and crack off).

Now my brain is set to figure out how to combine felting with beads in a more sculptural way.
Not by any means coming up with "new" as there are many artists out there that combine sculpture, beads, art, etc., but rather, new to me. Exciting to me. But ways to find my voice and learn techniques then pull all this work together in a way that is uniquely an expression of the things deep within.

What about you? Do you share a love for felting?
Even if it is just a visual love vs a "making".
Who are some of your favorite "felting" artists?

Social Media Links:
Like Sarafina Fiber Arts on Facebook
(there is also a group if you are into felting).
Like Love My Art Jewelry on Facebook.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Caterpillars Do Not Do What You Tell Them and Other Life Lessons by Karen McGovern

This post isn't really about jewelry design…Sorry.

Last Saturday was my birthday. I turned….50.

The week prior, I found myself the caregiver for over a dozen monarch butterfly caterpillars on four milkweed plants.  I realize that most people played with caterpillars in kindergarten, and learned all about how butterflies grow from first-hand experiences that occurred before the age of 10.  Well, not me.  While I have always been fascinated with nature and all things wildlife related, I had never seen, up-close and personal, caterpillars becoming butterflies other than illustrations in books and bad film strips.  Chalk it up to being the last of seven children to parents that were, frankly, exhausted by the time I rolled around.  Or crappy schooling, or whatever.  So, when my good friend and fellow artist Norm Gitzen (check out his website, ladies, his sculptures and metal works are OUTSTANDING) arrived on my doorstep with milkweed plants covered in tiny caterpillars, I was as pretty darned excited and set up my new family on my screened-in back porch.  BTW, Norm also keeps bees, so I'm very grateful he decided to bring me caterpillars...

I’m also a bit obsessive.  I am a conservation biologist who takes care of critically endangered species every day.  I happily threw myself head-first into this whole caterpillar thing.  I photographed every bug, and posted daily updates on my Facebook page.  I plucked aphids off each leaf. I did a caterpillar head-count several times a day and searched frantically for stragglers that decided to explore beyond their pots, returning them with firm admonishment to stay put (because they obviously understood the giant alien abducting them was only trying to be helpful). I watched them shed their exoskeletons and grow from a creature smaller than a grain of rice to a 3 inch monster in open-mouthed awe.  I watched them poop like tiny cows, covering my porch in “frass” (that’s the technical term for caterpillar crap—thank you Google), which I learned is fabulous fertilizer.  But nothing prepared me for the ultimate transformation—from caterpillar to chrysalis. 

Hannibal
The first and largest caterpillar to transform was named Hannibal.  Hannibal taught me many, many things.  He taught me that next to eating continuously, pooping continuously is a caterpillar’s favorite thing to do.  He taught me that monarch caterpillars are cannibals.  Yes, he earned his name (and, BTW, I have no idea if he was a “he” or a “she”, but for the purposes of this story, we’ll go with “he”).  While happily crunching away on a milkweed leaf, he vacuumed up one of his tiny siblings (?) without missing a beat.  Google confirmed that monarch caterpillars will mindlessly eat smaller caterpillars if they happen to be in the way of the non-stop eating machine that is a caterpillar.  So, I immediately separated all my caterpillars, made sure each had its own branch of milkweed to munch, and relocated any that moseyed too close to one another.  Aside—by this time the eye-rolling from my husband over my constant caterpillar updates was EPIC. 

Anyway, one day Hannibal refused to stay on his milkweed.  He kept crawling off the plant, off the pot, and wandering.  I picked him up and put him back over and over, but he just wouldn't stay.  In my mind he had decided living with me was the worst thing on the planet and he was risking death to get away from me.  I finally gave up and let him be.  (Again, my husband was totally cracking up behind my back).  Turns out, Hannibal was ready to change—transform into a chrysalis.  I learned that this is what they do—when ready to transform, they leave the plant (usually) and search for a safe, protected place to form a chrysalis, the last stage before becoming a butterfly.  AND WHAT A STAGE IT IS.  They hang upside down forming a “J” shape, secure themselves in place with a strong strand of sticky silk, and then, several hours later, SLIDE OUT OF THEIR SKIN IN THE FORM OF A GIANT, WET, GREEN ALIEN.  They shed their skin like an old pair of pantyhose, twist violently around and fling it off, then hang there all gooey and green and CRAZY LOOKING!  The first time I saw this I may or may not have screamed the entire time it was happening, which is amazingly fast.  Once ready to go, they split and shed their skin in under two minutes.  An hour or so later and they dry up, forming a hard, beautiful green chrysalis dotted with gleaming spots of bright gold.  HOW COOL IS THAT?!?!?!


10 days later, Hannibal emerged, again amazingly fast, in his final form.  The chrysalis turned transparent, and I could see the butterfly inside, all curled up.  He popped out in less than a minute--a gorgeous monarch butterfly.  It took a couple hours for his wings to expand and dry, then he flew away out the back porch door (which I had propped open), rested briefly on a ficus tree then hit the bright blue sky.  WHAT AN ADVENTURE!

Note the artistic use of silk fibers to tie Hannibal's chrysalis to a twig.  ART!

Now, I am an old pro at this.  I have 12 more chrysalis on my back porch.  Five under a wood folding table, four on twigs right near my kitchen window, and three I tied to chopsticks because the chrysalis were on weak leaves and I didn't want them to fall.  Three caterpillars remain on the milkweed, they each have a few days to go before transforming.  I still photograph and film like a crazy person, and am loving every second of this entire process.

NOTE: As of this writing, three chrysalis have popped out butterflies, all of whom are now in the great blue yonder!


  




Life is pretty miraculous.  So many forms, so many transformations to reach maturity.  You know where I am going here, right? I turned 50.  That is nothing compared to what these caterpillars turn into.  I was prepared to throw such a mental hissy-fit over this birthday, and instead I became completely enraptured and caught up in something totally outside of myself.  I know Norm had no “grand plan” in mind when he gave me the caterpillars (BTW, he’s single, ladies—chat him up), but this journey has been one of the best birthday gifts I have ever received.  Well, this and the 50 roses my husband gave me.  Fifty. Roses.  Yes, I know how lucky I am. 

So, my advice to anyone out there that is trapped inward, focusing too much on whatever you perceive to be your flaws and foibles, to simply look up.  Look outside.  Get a milkweed plant and just wait, you’ll be witness to something so amazing, so magical, so OUTSTANDING, you can’t help but realize how silly most of our mental gymnastics are.  From me worrying about getting “old” to trying to make a caterpillar do what I wanted--pfft.  It’s out of our hands, people.  Enjoy the front-row seat and marvel at the passage of time, the potential for growth and the power of transformation.

Happy Birthday to EVERYONE!
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