Well, January, February and March have been very productive, yielding many new pieces.  Just got a new photo set-up and will take a break from jewelry making to indulge in taking ( and retaking) pix.
At one point last week, while preparing for 2 back-to-back shows, I decided I am a glutton for punishment.  During the show set-ups and break-downs this weekend, I often feared the "shop elf" would quit (or divorce me.)

But we got thru both days and lived to tell the tale.  Fortunately, the weather was fantastic, even for Carolina -- mid 50s on Saturday and mid-60s on Sunday with sunny skies the whole time.

My sales at Cary's Ole Time Winter Festival were only middling (about 2x fees.)  There were some buy-sell vendors there, and the visitors were really not looking to buy at my price point.

On the other hand, my sales at Raleigh's Boylan Heights Art Walk were fabulous!  (7x (+) fees.)  All the art displayed was original and all artists were on site, set up on neighborhood lawns and porches.  (FUN!) The visitor traffic was heavy and constant and folks were ready to spend -- a great combination. 

Now my display units are stored away and the trailer covered.  I'll while away what passes for winter here, making my jewelry, working on my photography, honing my show applications and writing this blog.  :)
I have added a kiln to my studio and bronze  clay to my list of materials.  LOVE this work, and so far I'm very pleased with the results.  The only down-side is the firing time -- either 5 hours or 9 hours PLUS cool down time of at least an hour!  SHEESH!  But I am cultivating patience, and organizing my work day around the chosen firing schedule. 
Of course, before a bronze clay piece goes into the kiln, it needs to be refined as much as possible while still in its leather-hard state  -- sanded, holes drilled, cracks filled, etc.  Bronze comes out of the kiln incredibly hard, so refining before firing saves a lot of work!


Waiting for my kiln

I have long wanted to "do" metal clay, but it never seemed practical as I had no easy access to a kiln.  Now I am getting my own - tomorrow is "der tag" and I'll be looking for the UPS man.  My Shop Elf has been busy setting up a super spot for the kiln, with ceramic tile no less.   

Copper and Brass ("and bears. Oh My!")

I'm trying to learn to love alternative metals. (God help me!) 

I did a show in Chapel Hill (NC) last weekend.   Even with the price of silver declining somewhat, I had decided to make some alternative metal pieces -- that is -- non-silver. One of these pieces, the bracelet pictured here (copper washers, brass jump rings, brass filigree and an inch of copper tubing), was the first thing that sold.  I was pleased with my sales -- 3 times my entry fee plus food for two at the show.  BUT, didn’t sell a single silver piece.  Hmm…….

Actually, I'm very taken with this bracelet and will design more in this line, but it is somewhat of a  departure from what I have been doing.


Handmade for Gifts

I'll be adding this great logo (created by Aspiring Metalsmiths group menbers, Tana McLane and Lisa Whitten) to my side-bar until after the holidays.  Happy Handmade, everyone!


My Muse is in the Metal (and My Other Stuff)  
Using One’s Materials As the Source of Inspiration

Today, the group Aspiring Metalsmiths is blogging about finding one's muse. 

When I'm at work in my home studio, inspiration is not hard to come by.  My workbench is angled towards a wall of floor to  ceiling high windows, with  a northern exposure and really Ab(solutely)-(Fab(ulous)  light!  My jewelry books, catalogs and tutes are in a dedicated bookcase to my left.  My forging bench is over my left shoulder just behind me.  A 24/7/365 ceiling fan overhead keeps the air around me  in constant motion.   My trusty flex-shaft is attached to the right side of my workbench and my materials' stash is shelved to my right as well.   From my workbench, I look out on a glen of young and not so young hardwoods and a two acre pond.  I often find it hard to believe that I'm in the middle of suburbia.  Although it’s very cool to watch the seasons unfold beyond the deck, I can’t really say that nature is the inspiration for my work. 

On the other hand, sitting down with my materials' stash is likely to generate productive questions directly related to my designs.  How can I use this?  Will these two elements, or this group of elements, “work” together?  Which metal or metals are right for which chainmaille weave or forging project?  Which colors or shapes for any embellishments?  What findings?  Which clasp?  What visual “flavor” will this combination produce?  What matches or contrasts will these materials allow me to achieve?  Which blends for harmony?  What juxtapositions for surprise? 

But, let’s back up a step or two.  My materials didn’t just appear out of thin air like something from a Star Trek replicator.  At one point or another, I bought all the stuff in my stash.  All my materials are reflections of me – what I enjoy working with, and what I liked the look of.  Or, maybe some of my materials are left-overs from projects past or never weres. 

So, what did come first – the having or the inspiration?  Neither?  Both?  When I swoon over all the brass thingies at the local, un “big-box” hardware store, or see a potential clasp in a small, stainless steel shackle, or just have to buy some of those pretties from Ornamentea (even though I use very few beads or embellishments), what IS going on?  Is my Muse already sitting on my shoulder? 

Looking back at the title of this Post, I evidently thought I knew the answer to this question when I started writing.  But clearly the question is much more complicated than I thought.  I guess that’s the nature of art – always more questions and very, very few answers.

See what other Aspiring Metalsmiths have to say about their sources of inspiration by visiting the blogs below:

[An addendum and further food for thought:  My friend Lisa Barth, wire-worker and metal clay artist extraordinaire, just published a book Designing From The Stone: Design Techniques for Bezel Setting in Metal Clay Using the Stone as Inspiration (ISBN-10: 1463576471) http://www.amazon.com/Designing-Stone-Techniques-Setting-Inspiration/dp/1463576471/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1316669975&sr=1-1
I think her approach to design has applications beyond metal clay.  Check it out.]


Leap of Faith

With Silver prices flunctuating wildly, but staying up in the stratosphere (I'm currently paying more than twice per troy ounce as I paid this time last year), I have found myself running into resistance from customers, re pricing.  I love the look of sterling silver, but it's difficult to offer true silver jewelry at a reasonable price point. 

So, I decided to look into Silver Fill as an alternative to sterling silver, at least in chainmaille where forging is not an issue.  I had heard from several of my trusted jump ring suppliers that Silver Fill is a viable alternative to sterling silver and is hands down superior to silver plated in terms of durability.  Plating is merely a very (VERY) thin coating of silver over a base metal.  On the other hand, Silver Fill starts with a thin tube of silver which is then filled with copper.  The ammount of silver in Silver Fill is 10% of total weight -- this compares favorably to the ammount of 14k gold in Gold Fill which is only 5% of total weight.

I tried Silver Fill on a small scale, using a ringpack from Chainweavers,  ( http://chainweavers.com/ ) for use in weaving their beautiful "Waterfall" earrings.   I found the jump rings  beautiful and easy to work with.  It seemed to me that the Silver Fill jumps rings have less "spring-back" than the Argentium  sterling silver jump rings I am used to working with.  So closures tend to stay  closed which I think is a very good thing.

I certainly will consider using more Silver Fill jump rings in my chainmaille.   There will be some transition issues.  For instance,  Silver Fill and sterling silver jump rings must not be used together in a piece -- but I already segregate Argentium sterling and regular sterling jump rings.  Also, the Silver Fill must be be tagged as such, so that customers know what they are getting.  However, I already mark Gold Fill as such (not that I have any pieces that are gold. LOL)  But, I think it's worth sorting these things out.

Nagging Annoyance -- Drastic Measures

My favorite pliers are the Lindstroms with the padded handles and black plastic "springs."  I love how they feel in my hands  as they give me great control.  BUTTTTTTT, the plastic springs were always either falling out or seemed to be on the verge of falling out.  This drove me absolutely crazy.  I found myself being tentative as I grasped any pair I had set down, fearing the spring would go flying.  I seemed to spend an inordinate ammount of time looking for and/or reattaching these springs.  So, I decided to use super glue to permanently attach the  springs to the pliers, and d- - - the consequences.  WOW! I can't believe how my chain-work has speeded up.  No worries -- no wasted time or motions.  Of course, I may have a problem down the road when the springs break in the middle, but I'll cross that bridge, etc.


Measure of Success

The measures of success are not always monetary.  Didn't even make my booth fee on Friday, BUT -- designed a new set-up geared to an indoor show, and I now have some thoughts on lighting needs and solutions, etc.  So, I consider the show a success!