Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tutorial Tuesday-ish! By Karen McGovern

This post was suppose to be on TUESDAY.  Sorry....

*NOTE:  Any tutorial I post is just MY TAKE ON HOW TO DO SOMETHING.  I do not use words like “right” or “wrong” when describing how I work.  This is just what I have figured out and there may be folks out there that do things differently.  GOOD FOR YOU!  Go with what works for you!  Also, be an adult and follow basic safety rules.  Wear protective eye gear when needed.  Work with fire and fumes in a well-ventilated area.  Don’t burn yourself…BE SMART!!  Also, all supplies used in this tutorial are easily found online at Etsy, Amazon and RioGrande among others.*

My first tutorial of 2015 comes by request from MaryAnn Carroll, who said she wanted to know more about how I make my bezels.  I figured I’d give that a go, since the style I most prefer came about due to a complete accident on my part.

I like to make bezels that feature a combo bezel/prong setting with dots of silver as accent.  My style is rustic, and the combination of bezel wire with rustic prongs appeals to me.  The combo came to me as a sort of ”salvage” effort when I was first learning how to solder bezel wire.  I’ll try to explain…

For this pendant I chose a nice, long slice of jasper.  I plan to bezel set it and run prongs along one side.  Here we go….

I use Easy Solder paste solder for just about everything (cooltools.us).  I prefer paste solder because it acts as a sort of glue, sticking things together nicely, and it has flux in the paste, so you get to skip that step!  I love anything that saves time.  I use a jumbo Max Flame butane torch (available everywhere.  I got mine through Amazon).  I have not graduated to anything fancier, and find that this torch suits my needs just fine.  I have had this torch for a couple years now and love it.  If you want to know the dirty truth, I have a jumbo and a regular size Max Flame.  My jumbo’s igniter stopped working a while ago, so I immediately ordered another, not realizing I had ordered a smaller version of the jumbo.  It works fine also, but the jumbo gets hotter and I need that quite often.  So, I use the smaller Max Flame to light my jumbo.  Yes, I have them both lined up at my soldering station and use one to light the other.  Whatever works, right?!?!?! Okay, now on to the bezel setting….

My dirty solder station.....

I use 24 gauge sheet for my bezel backs.  Silver, copper, brass, whatever.  Bezel wire comes in graduated widths, I have an assortment, also in a mix of metals.  When I first tried to solder bezel wire (which is very, very thin), I burned up a TON OF IT! So, practice with copper and brass before sterling—my advice to your wallet.

Cut a back piece from sheet that is larger than your cabochon, leaving room for the bezel wire, prongs and any accent metal you may want.  I’m using sterling silver here for the back, but copper bezel wire for some contrast.  Wrap the bezel wire around your cabochon to size the wire.  Bezel wire is super flexible and thin, so you should be able to shape it around the stone easily.  Allow a bit of overlap for filing and perfecting the ends so that they meet flush (using flat files), and conform snugly around the stone.  I use my good metal shears to cut bezel wire, but you can use extra sharp scissors as well.  Just be careful and try to cut as straight as you can.  You want the ends to meet FLUSH.  Manipulate the bezel wire to fit snug around the stone and still hold its shape on its own.  This is a bit tricky, but you can do it. Make sure the stone can be seated easily within the shape, but still meet the edges of the stone.  Once you like how the ends meet, ad a dab of Easy Solder paste to the seam, place on a solder block and heat with the torch.  Heat evenly and move the flame around the bezel CONTINUOUSLY.  Don’t let your flame remain in one spot for any length of time—too much heat in one spot will MELT THE BEZEL WIRE.  Paste solder will flame up—that is okay, it’s just the binder burning off.  Soon you will see the solder melt and flow up the seam.  Quench immediately and check the seam to make sure the solder flowed correctly and the seam is sealed strong.  (Note:  Silver solder will leave a thin line in the seam of a copper bezel.  I don’t mind this and usually make sure this is where I add a prong or accent metal.)

Now, reshape the bezel wire around your stone and make sure the sides of the bezel are straight and that the entire bezel will sit flat on the back plate with no spaces between the bezel and the back.  The wire is soft and easily manipulated.  Take your time and make sure the form is true and the stone fits well in the bezel.

CAREFULLY apply tiny dabs of Easy Solder paste to the bottom of the bezel wire (roughly 2 mm dab close together all along the bottom).  Remember how soft the bezel wire is.  You need a very light touch here or you will change the shape of the wire and your stone won’t sit well. Be patient, you may have to start over a couple times until you get the “feel” for this. Place the bezel wire on the back plate, press lightly but firmly flush to the back plate.  The solder paste will hold the wire nicely in place. Set on a solder block and begin gently heating with your torch.  HEAT THE ENTIRE PIECE, CONSTANTLY MOVING THE TORCH AROUND.  If you concentrate the heat on one spot you will MELT THE BEZEL WIRE INTO GOO.  So, constant movement!  The solder paste will flame up again, that is the binder burning away.  Keep the torch flame moving, and heat till the solder flows.  Again, patience here!!!  Once the back plate begins to glow a bit red, the solder should flow nicely.  Quench in water, dry and look to see if any spots of solder missed or didn’t flow.  If needed add more solder paste and re-heat in the torch.  Quench and pickle if you want, or give it a basic clean with sanding sponges.

Next, use a bit of dental floss across the back of your stone and set it in the bezel (the dental floss allows you to lift the stone out in case it is in there tightly).  Using a Sharpie, mark where you want the prongs to be.  For this design I wanted six prongs.  Remove the stone and drill holes where you marked.  I usually use 14 or 16 gauge wire for the prongs—make your holes as close to the same size as you can.  You want the prongs to fit snugly in the holes.  Put the stone back in, then decide how long you want your prongs to be.  If using copper or sterling wire, you can ball the end in your torch if you want that look.  I made sterling prongs and balled the wires. Cut the prongs a tiny bit longer than you think you need. With your bezel setting on a soft solder block, push the prongs in place through the holes in the back plate and into the solder block.  Tap with a hammer to even the heights if you want. When you are happy, remove the stone and add a dab of solder paste to the base of each prong where it is inserted into the back plate.  At the same time, you can place any other accent balls or metals around the bezel.  Yes, many folks make their own silver balls by torching scraps of silver on a charcoal block until they form balls.  I use sterling silver casting grain because I am lazy and want to have this on hand all the time. (I do plan to make my own balls soon, because I like the organic look of pits and rough spots you get when you make your own.  But for convenience, you can’t beat casting grain, and it comes in silver, gold, copper and brass!) Add a dab of solder paste where you want the accent, place the balls, and torch the entire thing till all pieces (balls and prongs) are soldered in place.  Again, constant movement of the torch is key.  If you over-heat your prongs may wilt….nobody wants wilted prongs.

When it’s all in place and soldered secure, quench, clip any excess prong material from the back, and sand the back smooth.  Pickle, use shears to cut the bezel form to your liking, and finish by sanding the edges.  Use needle files to get in and around balls and prongs, finish as you see fit! I added some wonky lengths of wire to the top for a bail and accent.   

Pickle the setting and clean thoroughly.  I use a brass brush on my flex shaft and polish till it’s bright.  Then it went into a liver of sulfur bath.  After that, I set the stone (standard bezel pusher and burnisher), gently bent the prongs over (tapped them in place with a rivet hammer) then polished and finished the setting.  I textured the side with the prongs for added interest.  Once I was satisfied with the look I polished with a polishing cloth.

Viola! Here is a crappy slideshow of the entire process.  If you have questions, please contact me here!

When I started this post I said I discovered this setting design by accident.  Well, I was learning to solder bezels and failing miserably.  I burned a portion of bezel wire away on a ring and instead of trashing it I thought, “I’m going to put a prong there instead!”  And it worked.  Filed the bezel edges, drilled a hole, set the prong as above, and finished the design.  I liked the look so much I continued experimenting.  And yes, I still occasionally burn my bezels and now add prongs or metal balls to cover the “mistake”.    

Most recently I made the ring you see here using gorgeous labradorite and ocean jasper.  I wrecked the bezel wire around the labradorite.  I tried to cover by placing the ocean jasper cab right next to the “mistake” and it sort of worked.  BUT, by the time I set and finished the ring, I still didn’t like the look.  So, I drilled a hole between the stones and cold connected a tiny enamel copper cup and sterling silver cast twig in place.  I used a brass micro screw (that I topped with sterling silver in the torch).  I hammered one end of the twig flat, drilled a hole, and used the micro screw to hold It all in place.  It worked because the ring is a large statement piece and I had enough room on the back to accommodate the screw and nut, which I hammered flush to set.

The beast of a ring before and after I set the enamel and sterling twig.
You can see in the "before" pic how crappy the bezel is around the labradorite!

Moral of the story—there are no mistakes, only opportunities!  Don’t throw away a design you think you have “ruined”.  Take a minute or three, look at it again, and maybe you can salvage it through the placement of elements you hadn’t originally considered.  Combine hot and cold connections.  Add prongs, accent metals or another layer of “something”.  Sometimes our disasters lead to the best design ideas yet!!

Friday, January 23, 2015

All over the place....

by MaryAnn Carroll

I guess that is the best way I can describe what I have been doing lately. I took a break from jewelry at the end of the summer to remodel our home. That is ALMOST done! Not quite, though. Following that I started painting the book themed Hop on Pop toy box for my youngest granddaughter Adelina. This is my fourth. When my first grandchild was born, I handmade all kinds of things. At the time, I wasn't thinking about more to follow! lol! I have had to limit what I do and the favorite is the toy box.

In between painting, I started making people pendants.

My son graduated, so I made him a BIG person...

Then I started getting into making copper bangles from tubing. They have been a tad bit addicting for me. I think it is because I get to see the results soon after I've starting creating them.... and there is just something about using a torch! I love to use fire to create with.

I made a few discs for my friend Karen McGovern, who makes amazing jewelry with them!

And now, I am back into the swing of making beads again. I was motivated by my grandchildren last weekend when we pulled out the glazes for work they made previously.

And especially, Chloe (almost age 5) and her band of 'pwenguins'.

They'll be hittin' the kiln soon!

So.... here's where I am at as of last night. I am trying not to destroy my kitchen table, but this Fed Ex box is not cutting it!

That's my story.... What's yours?


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Playing with Pantone's Spring 2015 Color Palette + GIVEAWAY!

Carol Dekle-Foss
Pantone's recent en plein air color palette tries to arouse our feelings of calmness and provide us an escape from our hectic and fast-paced lives. The colors, inspired by nature, are soft and cool but have pops of warmth.

What do you think of the palettes cooler hues with warmer tones? A bit drab maybe? They are not my favorite colors, and honestly I just create with what colors I feel like, but sometimes it's fun to play with the latest palette.

Last week, I was grateful for a custom order request for a sandblasted necklace because I hadn't sandblasted in quite awhile. It gave me an opportunity to sandblast and paint some stones using Pantone's new color palette. I have yet to make them into jewelry because of..well..life, but I plan to have them done and listed soon.

I go to my happy place when I create these pendants. Choosing what patterns will go on each stone and selecting the paint colors is very therapeutic for me. Each stone is unique and it's fun to see how the final design turns out. 

I'm fascinated by how stones are formed and what their contents are. They each have their own set of characteristics, and are unique and beautiful in their own way. I've recently started a Pinterest board with my favorites. Also, Here is a great resource if you are interested in knowing more about stones and their characteristics.

I wouldn't dare sandblast on these beauties, it would be blasphemy or something. Mother nature has created her own exquisite pattern and color palette. Someday I will be brave and try to make something amazing with them.

 Christmas Agate

Prudent Mans Agate

Ok, now for the giveaway!

It's been six months now that I have been a contributor! Yay! I feel so blessed to be a part of the LMAJ team, and it's wonderful to be part of a community that shares the same love for creativity.

 So for you, dear readers, I am giving away this latest pendant creation.

It's a purple crazy lace agate stone (possibly color enhanced) and top-drilled from the side.
All you have to do is leave a comment here or on Facebook for your chance to win! I will announce the winner on my next post, which is scheduled for February 4th.

Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Hello! Is This Thing ON?? By Karen McGovern

Welcome to 2015!  Feels like I’ve been away for a year instead of a month.  Thank you to my LMAJ peeps for covering for me this past month.  You are the BEST. I hope all our readers and artists had a wonderful holiday season and are striding into 2015 with purpose and sky-high expectations!

For me, entering into 2015 has been sort of weird.  I took some time off from all things jewelry related since early December.  I made a promise to myself that I was going to begin 2015 with reduced stress, more focus and some restructuring of priorities both personally and professionally. I don’t do “resolutions”, because I believe the entire concept is flawed and sets you up for inevitable failure.   Resolutions suck, in my opinion.  I promised myself to simply make a few changes immediately that would more or less guarantee a tangible, real change in my life.  Simple?  Not even close.

First off, I am practicing my ability to say “no”.  As you all may know, I am a conservation biologist with the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation, www.rarespecies.org.  This is my “real life” and it is 24/7.  I live on 30+acres filled with critters demanding my attention from dawn till dusk and beyond.  It is my passion.  I live it and love it.  Jewelry design and art have always been an outlet for me, a blessed outlet, one that lets me express myself creatively and balance my world in a way that is beyond therapeutic.  BUT, it is not my first priority. It’s high on the list, but not my first and never will be.  I am lucky to be able to create by choice.  My artwork does not pay the bills (Hell, the most I hope for is to cover the cost) but it is another way for me to tell my story, to share my love of wildlife and wild places to the world through art. The past couple years have been very productive for me artistically.  I made new connections, was picked up by new galleries and was published in several print and online magazines and blogs.  All really good stuff.  REALLY GOOD STUFF FOR WHICH I AM GRATEFUL.  I also found that I was juggling my time in what became a very frantic way.  Trying to “sneak” in a few moments here, an hour there, to fill and order or meet a deadline.  And, in the end, my work suffered for it, both on the “farm” and in the studio.  So, I put on my big girl panties and made some tough decisions. 

The first and most difficult was my decision to leave the Nunn Design Innovation Team, www.nunndesign.com.  I have been a part of Becky Nunn’s team for a couple years now, and it has been BEYOND WONDERFUL.  Becky is a fantastic artist, business woman and friend.  I have had so much fun working with her and it is because of Becky that I have been published AT ALL. I can’t say enough good things about her product line—seriously—if you haven’t looked at if DO IT NOW.  So, why leave such a fantastic gig you ask?  Simply put, because I began to feel like I was totally taking advantage of the opportunity, and not in a good way.  I didn’t have the time to really commit to the projects I promised and was “dialing it in” at best.  Becky deserved more and so did I.  The work I was creating was…..BLAH.  I lost the creative spark, buried under other commitments, stress and simply not having enough time to work properly.  When I looked at the body of work created for her, I saw a dramatic decline.  I think it really hit me how oblivious I was to what I was doing when I organized the magazines I had collected that published my work through Nunn.  Sitting on the floor next to my bookcase I realized that I HAD NEVER EVEN LOOKED AT THE MAGAZINES BEYOND THE PAGE I WAS FEATURED ON.  WTH???  I was so lucky to be included amongst some of the most talented art jewelry designers out there and hadn’t even taken the time to LOOK AT THE ENTIRE PUBLICATION.  I felt so embarrassed and ashamed.  So I said, “NO” when asked to participate in 2015.  Becky is such a lovely person.  We talked about it and she was more than supportive and understanding.  I hope we get to meet in REAL LIFE someday—I owe her a HUGE HUG and a kiss on the mouth! So that was my first NO of 2015. 

One of my personal favorite designs created for Nunn.  My etched
copper sugar skull with Nunn brass componants, twig connectors,
rosary chain, charm and clasp.  I LOVE NUNN DESIGN!!!

Also, as 2014 drew to a close, I began to assess the galleries I am affiliated with and withdrew from all but three.  Again, I was flinging work wherever I could as opposed to finding “homes” within galleries.  I really believe that creating a more intimate connection with galleries showing my work is extremely important.  I realized that a few of the galleries and shops carrying my work I had nearly abandoned anyways.  No new work going in, no work going out either.  So, as 2015 arrived, I said NO, gathered it all and moved on.  I now have three homes representing my work and I feel completely comfortable in each.  And I have good, open relationships with the gallery owners as well—absolutely vital for me.  I also now have a box of old designs just waiting to be torn apart and reworked, which is something I really love doing. Nothing like resurrecting a piece—giving it a brand new life! 

These few decisions immediately affected me in a positive way, even though the decisions themselves were very difficult.  I feel like I can “breathe” now.  The pressures have lessened and I am at peace with the choices I've made. I am ready for 2015.

All that being said, getting back into the studio has been very difficult so far.  My brain was focusing on so many scattered things, I feel like my artsy brain is in some kind of deep hibernation and DOES NOT WANT TO COME OUT, THANKYOUVERYMUCH. I’ve shared my frustrations with my LMAJ family, and they all have had similar experiences hauling themselves out of HOLIDAY HEAD and into 2015.  Got to knock the rust off ASAP, people! With that in mind, after a disastrous day of burning perfectly good silver bezel wire into oblivion, I decided to stop.  I walked away.  You can’t force this stuff, we all know it.  I made a plan. Instead of beating myself over the head and feeling miserable about everything, I am going to take another route.  I have decided to begin 2015 by teaching myself something completely new and to challenge myself whenever I can.  Four things came to mind immediately. 

First, I want to learn how to make pins and brooches from scratch.  I’ve been wanting to do this FOREVER.  Stick pins, sweater pins, hat pins—artisan pins!  I have so much inspiration for this—Lorena Angulo’s book, Behind the Brooch is a wonder.  Linda Larson is another artist I drool over, her brooches and pins are amazing.  You can spend the rest of your life on Pinterest using the search terms “art jewelry brooches”.

Next, hinges.  Hinges have defeated me in the past, but I want to master this.  I love making lockets and boxes, now I am going to make hinged tops and doors and hinged cuffs ala Richard Salley (what a masterful artist he is!!!).  I WILL DO THIS.

The top two images are of the first ever locket I made a few years ago,

Third, enamel.  Staci Louise sold me a box full of beautiful enameling supplies and I AM GOING TO LEARN THIS SKILL!  No worries, MaryAnn Carroll, I still need your gorgeous discs (in fact, I can't live without them...).  I am going to try to apply this technique to pendants, bangles and pins.  I have Barbara Lewis’s fantastic book, Torch-Fired Enamel Jewelry, and I plan to use it.

Finally, I am going to teach more.  I have taught a few simple classes in cold connecting, and I want to do more.  Teaching is very intimidating to me, but so rewarding!  I learn just as much as my students, each and every time, and am constantly amazed with what we discover and create as a group.  This goes for more tutorials on the LMAJ blog as well.  At least one a month, Folks, so be READY!!!  Staci, I know we talked about a Southern Bead Retreat, we need to pick up on that conversation!!!

Spectacular ladies from my Party Hat Ring class....LOVE!!!!

If I have to call anything I am contemplating a “resolution”, I certainly will not fall into the ridiculous annual traps we all seem destined for.  I am NOT JOINING A GYM!  I am NOT GOING TO GIVE UP SUGAR! I will NOT BE LEARNING A FORGIEN LANGUAGE! I will focus on being kinder to myself and others, I will be buying more art from artists I love and want to support, and I will give more of my art away because that is one of the best highs you can give yourself and someone else. I am going to spend 2015 rediscovering my artistic voice.  I feel that I have strayed from the origins of my desire to create jewelry.  I have always loved creating designs that tell a story.  Sometimes over the top art installations that may or may not be worn and sometimes simple, wearable designs.  All with a written story or poem behind them.  This is what started my journey into art jewelry design, and I miss it.  I’ve become too dependent on designs that “sell” well.  I never wanted to create jewelry based on whether or not it was “sellable”.  I’ve always wanted to create a reflection of my view of the world—designs beyond “pretty”.  That may sound ridiculous or arrogant, but the word “art” before the word “jewelry” means something specific to me.  So, watch out.  There are going to be some new and intensely personal designs coming from my studio this year!!!!

A few older designs created around a short story or poem that I wrote for each.
These are some of my most favorites!  All incorporate antiques and unusual elements.

Bottom line, time will no longer run away from me.  I will strive to be in the moment, and appreciate every day as an individual opportunity to accomplish something positive in the world.  I wish the same to each and every one of you!!!

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