Colouring Clay

A friend took a trip into Artisans in the Attic this week and she pleasantly took some pics for me, which showed me that my clay pendants were getting low. Which means it’s time to make some more. She mentioned she’d like to see more colourful ones so I obliged! Normally I am random with the colours but this time I worked more systematically AND took note of my colour combinations so I’d have recipes for the next time. And then I realized that you probably haven’t seen how this works! Lots of people don’t realize that I colour my polymer clay with mica-based powders.

First, here is the raw clay. I condition the clay, roll it out, cut it with shape cutters, then texture each piece by hand using various texture tools I’ve collected and made.

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Now it’s time to start adding colour! I like the PearlEx powders personally. I have two sets which I’ve re-sorted into Metallics and Brights. 2014-03-23 12.44.11

 

Using the world’s tiniest brush, I start adding miniscule amounts of colour to the clay, one at a time. It’s easy to add too much and saturate the clay, so I have to take my time and pay attention to how much I’m adding and where I let the powder go. It can have a mind of its own!2014-03-23 12.34.07

 

I’ve found that blending colours on the clay adds much more depth and interest than just solid colour. Here I’ve built up several colours, overlaying them and creating new colours in the process.

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Next I came up with a peacock-inspired colour set.

(This is on the same blue background as above, the colour is all washed out… you’ll see the true colour when I take the final photos later on :)

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And a metallic set:

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Which one is your favourite?

 

Product, Photos, Design, Show!

About a month ago I suddenly decided that with two shows this season, it was time to get some professional photography done on my jewellery. It came together extremely quickly, with my friend Jayme Burns agreeing to take the photos, which I’m lucky she had a slot open; and my husband’s lovely co-worker Sarah-jane agreeing to model for me – and despite never having done such a thing before, she was amazing.

One of the reasons I wanted to do this was the new work I’d just started figuring out.

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Copper, which is so warm and calling to me lately, with some filigree.

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Someone basically stopped me on the street recently to say that my large pieces need to be shown ON MY NECK because she’d never have bought it on her own but seeing it on me showed how it could look. That’s really what prompted this whole thing, because well, my neck isn’t so photogenic:

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And my camera phone clearly wasn’t cutting it:

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But something needed to be done because I honestly think this is the best I’ve ever been. I am loving this line and I’m excited to find the time to get more of it done. I think it deserves to be showcased. So I got together my team. Getting the timing together was fast and furious but a few days later, I was frantically gathering some stock I wanted to try and capture.

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I picked up the lovely Sarah-jane and met Jayme at my house. We started figuring out which outfits might go with which pieces.

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In no time Jayme had our living room completely transformed into a photo studio and they got to work.

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We even went outside in the yard for a bit!

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Which resulted in some super great lookbook-like shots, like this one:

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Jayme even took a couple of adorable “boudoir” pics of our kittehs!

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 (All together now: Awwwwwwwww.)

We worked until the light failed and then the amazing Jayme managed to get the pics edited and returned to me the very next day! With the shows coming up it was a race against the post office to get the marketing collateral I wanted printed and shipped. What I really wanted was a banner for behind my table. So I think I probably designed a jillion of them and I reached out into my super supportive crafty community with some ideas and got feedback to help me figure out where I was going with this.

It’s weird that I literally spend my week critiquing my students’ designs but I couldn’t narrow down one of my own.

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I was torn and a little burnt out on design so I gave it a rest, and the next day finally came up with something that I’m sure still has flaws but by gum it was workable and printable! So off it went to the printers.

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Isn’t that stunning? While I was at it, I made up some Moo cards with all the great images I couldn’t get on the main banner! I picked a fun purple back and a pile of fronts that make me smile. I see now that I should have done more work cleaning up the images to make them more consistent but I was getting really sleepy ;)

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The banner came and it was all I could want. So I popped it up at my show last weekend, and lookit how great! I made a lot of other changes to my display as well – I’m looking for a more cohesive grey background – and except for the mishmash of mixmatched busts in the centre, I’m pretty pleased with both the simple look and the simple setup and teardown.

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It was an amazing process for an astounding result. Thanks to Jayme and Sarah-jane for helping me pull this all together into just what I wanted!!! I feel like my work is now being shown at a level of sophistication which matches the changes that have been happening in my work lately. It feels good.

Hood Ornaments – no, wait, I meant Statement Necklaces!

A while back I got myself some vintage leather belts, with some vague ideas of how I could use them as the base for some honkin’ big assemblage steampunk pieces. I didn’t really get a chance to start playing until a couple of weeks go. I cut up a couple of belts and started digging through my pile of vintage and new metals and bits and bobs, and began figuring out some placement. Here’s my original set of playing pieces:

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I glued up the larger pieces, leaving plenty of holes where I could back up the glue by wiring things down (I never quite trust glue). Then they sat on my bench for weeks while I had to get other stuff done. But today, I got to pull them together, add wire, extra embellishments, chains and clasps. And boy howdy do these make me happy!

The first one I ended up turning sideways – I just liked it better that way – and it needed more balance on the left so I added a few more feather charms. I used flat aluminum wire to create a light, airy balance on the bottom right.

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I got to play with old keys I got at the local flea market, clip-on earrings & leather belts from thrift shops, bracelets and metal charms, vintage watch faces, aluminum wire, copper wire, glass beads, pearls, vintage buttons a friend gave me, and a couple of cabochons dug out of a bag of broken things sent to me by a friend who used to work at a jewellery warehouse.

Hood Ornaments - Wait, I mean Statement Necklaces

Hood Ornaments - Wait, I mean Statement Necklaces

A closeup of the flash of the labradorite on this one:

Hood Ornaments - Wait, I mean Statement Necklaces

I love how things evolve. This last one was my least favourite when I started but now it might be my most:

Hood Ornaments - Wait, I mean Statement Necklaces

I’m getting ready for the Holiday Spirit market at the Cape Breton Centre for Craft & Design. I feel like these might steal my table’s show, which I’m totally happy with. So now I’m working on ways to display these giant sumbitches. I’m thinking… minimalist cardboard busts, covered in aged paper?

Wrapping Beach Glass in Clay!

I live on an island. For the past six years, a significant chunk of my income has come from wire-wrapping beach glass and selling it to tourists, or folks from here who have family away and want to send them a piece of home. It’s been great, and my parents have been my largest supplier of beach glass, picking it up on their weekly beach walks.

But recently, at least three other wrappers have popped up and I felt the market was inundated, so I stopped – but my work was still being requested. I ruminated for a while, and decided that polymer clay was the answer.

First, I did a bit of sketching. That’s my new thing, with the Think and Design series behind me and a gorgeous new Galaxy Note 8 Tablet (with the pressure sensitive s-pen!!!).

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I may have gotten a little carried away drawing shellfish.

Anyway, yesterday was the first day I was actually able to work on this idea. I grabbed a couple of light, slightly uncommon soft greens and got to work. At first, I wanted to just make sure I could actually capture the stone without using a back, so I didn’t get into any fancy sculpture, just some waves and dots.

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I sort of liked them – the blue one has great lines – but neither one of them was really pushing my buttons. I couldn’t figure out why, so I went straight to my wonderful fan base on Facebook and asked their opinions! And oh boy did they have opinions :) Most people agreed with me that they weren’t quite right but it wasn’t until I started pushing for answers that it came up to the surface: they looked like icing, like cartoons, like kid’s jewellery. Which totally resonated with me, and now looking at them I can identify that the solid colours and thick lines are not sophisticated enough. I needed texture, depth, interest.

So OK, back to the drawing board. Except this time I didn’t do any drawing. Whoops?

Anyway, I thought of trying a somewhat traditional bezel setting. I rolled out some clay, textured it with this gorgeous zentangle stamp, cut out a geometric shape using my clay blade, used an x-acto knife to cut out a hole behind the stone to allow the light through, and then used a piece of textured clay to create a bezel to trap the stone.

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I went back to facebook with the new prototypes and received much more enthusiastic reviews. I was really excited, so I made more!

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I had a lot of fun picking out and blending the Pearl Ex Powder colours on the surface of the clay to set off the colour of each piece of glass.

This technique lets me play with pearlex powders and textures while still keeping the natural beach glass which I actually do still love a lot, and I think it’s just groovy.

I can see a few places to improve and grow on this technique but so far, I’m loving it and I just had to share!

EDIT: Ok wow, my friend suggested that aluminum foil behind the glass would help with the luminosity, and BOY HOWDY does it ever! The difference was so staggeringly awesome that I re-baked all of these with foil trapped in a new layer of clay. Check it out, before and after, similar lighting conditions:

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It’s like there’s a flashlight behind them when it’s now solid clay! Yum :)

And new ones!

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Think & Design #3: The Cluster

Yep, I skipped #2 but that’s only because my sketches for those are upstairs – they were made while I was still doing the exercises physically, on paper with pen.

But then I bought this tablet, mostly because touching it in the store gave me a completely visceral reaction, and I started doing my sketching there. It’s nearly as good as paper, sensually, and ten times better because I always have it with me (but carrying around my notepad and a bunch of pens was getting tedious). I’ve been using it to capture all kinds of ideas – including a super secret project that I hope to be able to reveal soon! And then it’s easy to export sketches to a file for sharing.

So here are a few of my sketches from the third lesson. I’ll get back to #2 soon :)

First, a few sketches from the middle of the lesson and the beginnings of some designs:

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And then a concept for a necklace that occurred to me – to sew leather to a wire frame, and sew button clusters to the leather, and then cluster the frames: Sketch7019467

 

Good times, right? I’ve been having a ton of new ideas lately. Now if only I could get the time to do them! Oh hey wait – I’m on vacation – so here goes nothin’!

PS this Cluster lesson is available for sale.

Idea Overload!

Two weeks ago I had some vacation time, and my younger brother and I headed out across our wee island in search of rusty crap. It was a gorgeous summer day, warm but not so hot we needed the A/C so all the windows were down and everything smelled like heaven – pine and hot sand and salt air and just… fresh and wonderful. If I could bottle all of those summer smells for you, I would! As it was, I was too enthralled to even take a single photo the whole day. Remember what it was like to live your life instead of recording it? It was delightful and I’m happy I have the memories even without being able to show you.

But I CAN show you what I found on our little treasure hunt!

Apparently, most of the antique places in Cape Breton are clustered around the middle, so we plotted a course and headed out. First stop, Baddeck. I got a few fun little pen nibs, some random metal bits, and some old keys, really big delightful ones that my locksmith dad was super impressed by – he says they were probably for great big doors.

Keyyyyyyyyyys

Next stop, the Garage Loft. An antiques shop above a literal auto shop in the middle of a gorgeous wood off a rural road, you get in by walking up a hill behind the shop and then across a few planks over a gap between the building and the hill, and then you’re in the loft! The first thing I see? This delightful wall of tools. I bought some calipers which I can see as the basis for a fantastic necklace.

Calipers and... I dunno?

And a great little metal measuring tape, which I took apart, cut off the inside-most ten feet, and put back together so it’s still usable.

A great old chunk of tape measure

I spoke to the owner and he dug out the inside of an old clock, plus the beat-up clock face. My husband is going to have fun tearing this apart!

The whole inside of a clock. It still moves!

The front of a rusty old clock

Then I came across a lovely, unsorted (my fave) box of old horse tackle. The wheels are turning with these suckers!

Horse buckles and such!

Moving along, we found a house that’s been converted into “antiques and art”, with an artist in residence upstairs and so many old typographer’s cases – some with the metal type still inside – that I was almost weeping at being too broke for any of them. My brother bought some local fiddle CDs and the guy at the desk said hey, there’s another building up back – just follow the path.

So, we traipsed up the garden path, past someone’s front door, to a garage – with a blue door – full of more tools and delights. First thing I see? A box full of more keys (the small ones are in the photo above). Next thing? A BOX OF CLOCK GEARS. A whole box. So. Many. Gears. And not little ones, either, these are 2, 3 inches across. It was like I’d won the lottery. But… I was running out of cash! It was 3:30pm on a Saturday! I was in the middle of nowhere! I was counting out as many as I could afford and finally just took the whole box back down the garden path and made an offer – which he accepted!

A BUNCH of clock parts! These are HUGE.
MINE. ALL MINE.

Last place on our list was up in Margaree, further than we’d planned to go but the day was so gorgeous there was no way we were stopping now. And I’m so glad we went! At first I wasn’t sure there was anything for me, but I found a pile of leatherworking tools I thought would be great for clayshaping.

Leatherworking tools

As it turned out, they were part of a set of other leather tools and whatnots which, since I’d bought a pile of leather belts the week before (yet another project I haven’t had time yet to start), I thought what the hell, and bought the lot!

More leatherworking tools

Then we had some delicious meatball subs in Inverness (ok my brother had a lobster one, but: ew), waded through the water at the beach, and tiredly made our way back home.

But I’m not even done! My lovely friend was going through some inherited jewellery, and gave me a box of things she didn’t want/think were useful.

Jewellery castoffs from a friend!

The patina on that silver belt alone is swoon-worthy.

I’d also ordered a few things on Etsy, and they showed up too:

Bottle caps!

Gnarly pen nibs - some used

Random rusty bits

 

So with all of this new material, plus all the sketching I’ve been doing (more on that later), and a rainy vacation with my husband out of town, you’d think I’d be showing you a bunch of finished jewellery next, right?

Well, now we come to the title of this post: idea overload. With the hot mess my studio was in and the sheer number of thoughts running through my head, I was the most ADD I’ve ever been: start this project no wait clean this section no I can’t do that now I’ve got to put these away oh but look at the project I can do with these oh but I need to make earrings for the shop but I can’t do work I have to clean but these things need to go away but I don’t know where they go aaaaaaaaaaa… and I just actually walked away.

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Aieeee!!!

I’ve since got the mess somewhat under control, and some production work, including a wholesale order, sort of where it should be. I’m hoping by my next vacation – two weeks! – I’ll be able to actually show you something delicious.

Cross your fingers for me!

Think and Design: #1 – The Flower

As promised, I’ve begun the drawing exercises on my journey towards a new style. Above is the first exercise in the Think and Design Jewelry Series, which is to, essentially, draw a flower. I drew a bunch because it was so much fun to remember that hey, I used to know how to draw!

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Part of the exercise is to come up with a bunch of loose concepts for types of designs based on the flower. I was somewhat distracted while working on the first batch but my second pass yielded a few ideas I think I might even put into production – including, perhaps, clay button starfish rings!

So far, I’m excited to see where this journey takes me.

 

Self-Discovery

A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I leaned on each other … each of us were having a hard time and so we spent the day just nosing around town, getting errands done, distracting. I wanted to go to Value Village to look at metal bits, all the while wishing I could get into the piles of things people normally throw away to dig for delights like the old leather keychain I found at the flea market recently. Somehow that made me realize I could probably get some leather belts for pretty cheap, so I bought up a few. My friend calmly followed me around while I dug up some old spoons and helped me sort out the real leather from the fake. At one point during the day, he called me a visionary.

It was stunning. I would never have chosen that word for myself, but at the same time, it also resonated. As weird as it feels to allow such a strong word to be applied to me, I also have to admit that technically, it’s true – I do “see” designs from components. All the time I’m hunting for things – rusty crap, leather belts, beads, gemstones, beach trash – I’m quickly evaluating their usefulness. If it’s a component I’ve never used before, I have to visualize how it might connect to other pieces before I’ll commit to taking it home, so my brain is always going a mile a minute trying to invent jewellery. My whole life I was able to imagine the end result of any crafty project I was working on, even as a child. I actually recall coming up with the prototype for a cat head sculpture using a styrofoam ball and some pipe cleaners, and writing down the instructions for how someone could create it.

Which brings me to another day, another distraction: my dearest younger brother and I spent the day antiquing this past weekend. He helped me make decisions and offer bargaining deals on bags and boxes of random rusty junk (photos to come). At some point in the day he talked about his perception of what it is that I do. He remembers me bouncing from medium to medium, craft to craft, and he feels that I’ve found a focus for all of those things which have come together into this crazy world of making jewellery for folks to enjoy and cherish. His feeling, his understanding of my work is that I “take hard things and make them soft.” Again, some truth to this resonated within me.

These two short discussions have pushed my ideas about myself and my work inward. I’ve been feeling a change in my style and my influences recently. I can feel it, but I can’t – quite – see it yet. The visions aren’t perfect, after all. So, with the release of the 12th edition of the Think and Design Jewelry tutorial series, an amazing set of tutorials that I’ve been reading for a year but not actively doing anything about, I decided it was time to go back and actually start working the exercises. Being a visionary doesn’t do much if you don’t have a focus, or worse, if you forget the ideas you do have! So for the past few days, I’ve been sketching. I’m following the exercises in the TaD series to help me explore various design structures, to help push my work into whatever new direction it’s going to take next. And hopefully, I’ll be creating beautiful new jewellery along the way.

Adventures in Ring Design

Back when I first started making jewellery, there were no tutorials online – no pinterest, no craftsy, no jewelrylessons.com. So when I wanted to make a ring, I had to sort of figure it out myself. And what I came up with was pretty neat – a base with beads “sewn” on top:

I’ve sold hundreds, even thousands of these little suckers. But that tiny wire used to sew those beads on? Yeah, grabbing that is actually kind of painful on my hands. And they’re not very fast. And Arts North opens in about a week so I need to have rings made. So last week I thought, there must be some other way, and I looked up a few different tutorials online and gave ‘em a go.

First, I tried the Basic Bead Ring pattern by Patricia Capotosto. This is the ring that everyone makes and I thought well, if I’m going to be quick, this looks like the best place to start. But maybe I can give it spin by using my lampwork orphan beads from Amy Hall:

Can you spot the non-artisan bead?

Well aren’t they delicious like candy?! But quite tall off the hand…

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Which is fine – I know some folks like that! – but only a limited number of people are the audience for this particular design. I’m starting to feel comfortable with the heavier gauge wire and the simpler ring base, but I need something else.

OK. So what next? The clock is ticking! My eyes light upon my button box, and away I go!

Button rings: Yes or no? (I know they're not original but that's OK, right?)

Oh yes, these are fun! Some vintage buttons and some new buttons combined to make a great little cocktail ring. I flew the idea across my Facebook page however, and the comments were basically that they didn’t look like Gayle Bird Designs. Fair enough! I tried adding some swirlies across the top though, and it didn’t quite work out.

With time running out on this long weekend, I thought well, I’m just going to have to do something boring. I found beads similar to the lampworked ones but much smaller, and when you use the smaller donut beads, the result is kind of a solitaire style, which I actually like quite a bit!

Solitaire Style

Well, what happens if I put more than one bead on there? As it turns out, it begins to look channel-set… and it starts to look a little more like something I would do.

Channel set style

Finally, before I got out of bed yesterday morning I thought, there’s GOT to be a way to make Gayle-swirls on these rings without taking forever! I came up with an idea and after some experimentation, I think I’ve finally hit on a good compromise of time, style, and originality: the Rosette Ring:

Rosette style

 

I am VERY pleased with this new design! It’s using my favourite two-toned firepolished Czech glass beads, there’s an element of swirl in there (they’re hand-swirled, no tools involved) and after a few tries I was able to make a LOT.

Now I just need to figure out how to steampunk some rings and I’ll be all set. … Hm… if anyone needs me, I’ll be in the studio….

Concepts & Clay

I purchased a small fistful of these tiny watch parts one time because I couldn’t help but think they’d make perfect bird heads. Today the muse hit to give it a go!

I had a pretty good idea of where I wanted it to go, but first, I traced the watch part – doesn’t it look just like a head with a beak and an eye?! – and tried a couple of sizes and angles of body before I found one I was satisfied with. Next, I textured some clay and started cutting it out!

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After placing the heads and wings, adding a few more genuine watch parts, and doing a bit more texturing, I came up with two separate colourways and did half the birds in each using pearlex powders and a teeny weeny brush. One set is sorta peacock-ish and one is rather rustic and cosy:

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Loving it so far! I wasn’t sure what to do next, though – I had only thought through as far as the bird shape itself! Now what? Well, I knew I wanted some matching beads in there so I found a few that worked and, using some heavy gauge wire I built these bail-type things:

birds and eyes

But there’s an inherent flaw here! Can you see it? Well, basically, the big hole at the top is facing out but a chain would have to go side to side. D’oh! what to do, what to do…. I could turn the big loop but I liked the hammered look – plus, a single loop isn’t very stable for a bail. I dug around the studio to see what I could find and came up with a couple of ideas:

birds and eyes

Nope. Not working. That black cord with the lark’s head knot is almost right but the cord itself is too slippery and won’t stay. Doing the same thing with a chain just looks messy. Finally I realized I can CUT the chain and use jump rings to attach – then we get a Y-shape with a fun drop pendant, and everything lies nice and flat! After that I was able to quickly finish up my workday and get back to Deep Space Nine :D

birds and eyes

Another weekend, another project. And aren’t those colours to die for?!

Back to my roots… and they’re made of gemstones!

Earlier in the week I was planning my studio time. All previous projects have been complete and are off the bench, and I was musing aloud about what I could work on next. My very clever husband suggested I “get back to my roots” and pull out some gemstones and silver wire. And oh boy was he right!

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First, I pulled out my silver wire, which I haven’t used in forever – partly because the last couple of spools I had were over-worked out of the package. But yesterday I had a whole new spool which turned out to be beautifully soft and usable. This helped enormously.

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I pulled out my notebook of ideas and flipped to the page with gemstone combinations. I’d chosen these a long while ago for my “Focus” line, and the idea is that certain gemstones have ancient, mystical meanings, which when combined make for a stronger result… plus: pretty colours!

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Working from my previous research makes picking combinations much simpler. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried this but working within constraints can make creativity blossom! When you have unlimited options you can easily get stuck, but if you pick a constraint then your brain is free to work within that constraint without getting overwhelmed.

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The containers with the gemstones in them positively creaked from disuse, but the contents were gleaming and shiny and gorgeous. Choosing the shapes and sizes of stones from my stash was fun within the colour constraints.

We’ve got Pink tourmaline, Amethyst, and Rose Quartz, meant to denote Love: Photo

Happiness: Garnet, Amethyst, and CarnelianPhoto

Peaceful Sleep: Amethyst, Citrine, PeridotPhoto

Meditation: Labradorite, Moonstone, QuartzPhoto

Spiritual Growth: Iolite, Kyanite, MoonstonePhoto

Strength: Garnet & AmberPhoto

Peaceful Sleep: Citrine, Amethyst, PeridotPhoto

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More individual images over on Facebook.

Chakra Resolution

About a million years ago, when I was working out the gemstone combinations for my Focus line, I drew this Chakra necklace idea:

Chakra Necklace

Today I turned it into this!

Chakra Necklace

Top to bottom… Amethyst, Iolite, Aquamarine, Seraphinite, Amber, Carnelian, Garnet, and Onyx

Chakra Necklace

Fun so far!

Antiquing Copper!

Today I’ve been having fun with copper and oxidation. First, I created some earrings out of non-non-tarnish wire (bare copper!).

Next, I prepared a solution of Liver of Sulfur and dumped all my shiny pretty earrings into it. They instantly turned black! But that’s OK, that’s the point:

Next, I gathered some supplies – my dremel with the flex shaft (invaluable), some earplugs, a  face mask to avoid getting little bits of black dust up my nose, some safety glasses, and a few abrasive pads for the dremel:

Then… I just started buffing! It’s almost magical to watch the black come off and leave behind this gorgeous, soft finish to the metal, with dark crevices to show off the wire work.

The process is so amazing, I had to show you a video!!

How cool is that?! And here are some finished pairs of earrings:

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On Creativity & Collaboration

I was lucky enough to be in attendance at the first day of the first annual Growing a Creative Economy conference, hosted by the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design, earlier this week. The first day had several excellent speakers, and I came away with an actionable list of things I can do to help my customers really see my jewellery, and be able to visualize any one of them working within their existing wardrobe. I was given a completely free consultation on my displays (we actually dragged her right to the store!) and I’m already working on adjusting them. I got info on trends and innovation and collaboration and using the media and I’m tingling with ideas! It pushed me into the website update I just completed, and a new way to use existing materials appeared fully realized in my head right in the middle of a talk!

In addition to the actual content of the talks, I also found myself surrounded by creative types… every one of them tingling too… and it was like the vibration in the room churned up my imagination so that I’m brimming with ideas.

I wasn’t able to attend the final two days (oh day job, you pay the bills but why are you so mean?) and I regret it fully – friends have called it life-changing. But just that one day has sparked me enormously and made me feel lucky to live in this inspiring art community. I’m grateful to CBCCD and the folks who came to the conference; and you can bet that I’ll be doing the WHOLE conference next year!

Finally, I am hoping to pull together a group of creative folks to meet, say, once a month, to bounce ideas off each other in a pub. Interested?