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!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Last Show of the Year

by Staci Louise Smith




Why is it that when we have little to no time left at all, our inspiration kicks it into overdrive?

I have my last jewelry show of the year this coming weekend

(Crafts in the Meadow- Tyler Park PA...it's a wonderful juried show full of amazing artists)

Since Beadfest I have been dying to play with all my beads.  Not only the ones I have made, but the ones I bought and traded for.

I have been sketching necklaces for weeks, trying to figure out what to make.  I really don't need anymore to fill my booth, but I HAD to make new stuff!!!  I have really been loving the way more and more artists are embracing wire, and wanted to really play with wire this year.  I got to see some of Susan Lenart Kazmers work in person at Beadfest this year, and I love her free form use of wire.  I also loved how she used wire as the back of the necklace in lots of fun ways.....like this piece.

Great use of wire to make a cage sort of neck wire to match the cage on the ammonite. As I admired her work, I promised myself to do even more fun stuff with wire.

Below is one of the necklaces I really adored by Susan.

This may sound funny, but the piece above sort of inspired this new style. I had originally wanted the wire part in the back of the necklace, but liked how it looked in the front better.  Plus, its is much more comfortable this way.  I love me some fun art jewelry, but it also has to be wearable to me.






They look really nice on as well.  It allows me to let the focal shine, yet still gives some character to the necklace.


I also wanted to make more charm necklaces.  I have always adored charm necklaces, and haven't made any new styles in this past year.  Here are a couple from last year.



I love chunky charm necklaces, and I have tried in the past to do the "over - charmed" look.  Yet I can never make it work.  It always felt too busy to me.  

Then I found this on Pinterest, and I loved that the chunky front was balanced by that wire back that I had been admiring.  I thought I would give the "over-kill" charm look a go again.
The necklace is by Allison Bellows
(take a peek, all her stuff is amazing!!!!!!!!!!)



So with this sort of wire in the back, charm necklace idea..I started to draw pictures and think about it. How things lay for me is important, which I think is what always stopped me from completing this style.  I like to be able to see everything and don't want things to turn sideways, or be hidden, ect........... I also need things to be very wearable and comfortable, which to me, means they should be adjustable.  So, I started to play.  I am very happy with the results- and even more happy that I got to use a ton of my favorite beads on each one of these!!!!!!!!!!

This was my first one, not tooooo much charm wise.  I added the sari silk last, because I thought it needed another long element and another pop of color.

I decided to use chain in the front, along with one larger element, and then hang the charms off the chain, so that way, they can still lay sort of flat and be seen.  Plus, it totally allows this to be adjustable.  The hook at the end of the neck wire is where you fasten the chain.  even better, the weight of the charms holds the chain down, so it doesn't come undone.  I also did little spirals at the end of the hook clasp so it couldn't come off easily.


This was my last one I made.....lol!  You can see I made my way to overly charmed!  But i like it.

 I had some very pricey brass chain I had been hoarding (all these chains are handmade solid brass- not made by me) and so, I made this one for me.  I haven't taken it off at all!!!  I love the jingly heavy charm feel of it!


Picture of me wearing it.  It is soooo mine!



This one I just had some fun with.  I had to re-do it quite a few times until it had the right flow to it.

I kinda laughed at myself, because you would think these would be quick to make, just adding this or that, but they all took a lot of adding something, removing something, or shifting it to the side, ect ect.....

Anyhow, I am hooked.  Crazy wire everywhere.  I had more fun then I can even imagine.  I have been sketching and looking at my beads for far too long!  Often when I sketch a new idea, it doesn't always pan out, but I think these did.

If you are planning to come out to the show this weekend (if you are local, you should, it is a GREAT show!) please stop by.  I have lots of new stuff to show you!

Here are some more pieces I made for this weekend.  I still want to spend a couple days doing silver bezels of odd stones.  I have movement in mind with that batch, so we will see how movement and silver bezels end up.

















Sorry for the loooong post and all the exclamation points.  It just felt that good to get to play with all this stuff that has been brewing in my brain.

How about you?  Do you sketch your designs?  And if yes, how excited are you when they work out????    

The Last Show of the Year!!!

by Staci Louise Smith




Why is it that when we have little to no time left at all, our inspiration kicks it into overdrive?

I have my last jewelry show of the year this coming weekend

(Crafts in the Meadow- Tyler Park PA...it's a wonderful juried show full of amazing artists)

Since Beadfest I have been dying to play with all my beads.  Not only the ones I have made, but the ones I bought and traded for.

I have been sketching necklaces for weeks, trying to figure out what to make.  I really don't need anymore to fill my booth, but I HAD to make new stuff!!!  I have really been loving the way more and more artists are embracing wire, and wanted to really play with wire this year.  I got to see some of Susan Lenart Kazmers work in person at Beadfest this year, and I love her free form use of wire.  I also loved how she used wire as the back of the necklace in lots of fun ways.....like this piece.

Great use of wire to make a cage sort of neck wire to match the cage on the ammonite. As I admired her work, I promised myself to do even more fun stuff with wire.

Below is one of the necklaces I really adored by Susan.

This may sound funny, but the piece above sort of inspired this new style. I had originally wanted the wire part in the back of the necklace, but liked how it looked in the front better.  Plus, its is much more comfortable this way.  I love me some fun art jewelry, but it also has to be wearable to me.






They look really nice on as well.  It allows me to let the focal shine, yet still gives some character to the necklace.


I also wanted to make more charm necklaces.  I have always adored charm necklaces, and haven't made any new styles in this past year.  Here are a couple from last year.



I love chunky charm necklaces, and I have tried in the past to do the "over - charmed" look.  Yet I can never make it work.  It always felt too busy to me.  

Then I found this on Pinterest, and I loved that the chunky front was balanced by that wire back that I had been admiring.  I thought I would give the "over-kill" charm look a go again.
The necklace is by Allison Bellows
(take a peek, all her stuff is amazing!!!!!!!!!!)



So with this sort of wire in the back, charm necklace idea..I started to draw pictures and think about it. How things lay for me is important, which I think is what always stopped me from completing this style.  I like to be able to see everything and don't want things to turn sideways, or be hidden, ect........... I also need things to be very wearable and comfortable, which to me, means they should be adjustable.  So, I started to play.  I am very happy with the results- and even more happy that I got to use a ton of my favorite beads on each one of these!!!!!!!!!!

This was my first one, not tooooo much charm wise.  I added the sari silk last, because I thought it needed another long element and another pop of color.

I decided to use chain in the front, along with one larger element, and then hang the charms off the chain, so that way, they can still lay sort of flat and be seen.  Plus, it totally allows this to be adjustable.  The hook at the end of the neck wire is where you fasten the chain.  even better, the weight of the charms holds the chain down, so it doesn't come undone.  I also did little spirals at the end of the hook clasp so it couldn't come off easily.


This was my last one I made.....lol!  You can see I made my way to overly charmed!  But i like it.

 I had some very pricey brass chain I had been hoarding (all these chains are handmade solid brass- not made by me) and so, I made this one for me.  I haven't taken it off at all!!!  I love the jingly heavy charm feel of it!


Picture of me wearing it.  It is soooo mine!



This one I just had some fun with.  I had to re-do it quite a few times until it had the right flow to it.

I kinda laughed at myself, because you would think these would be quick to make, just adding this or that, but they all took a lot of adding something, removing something, or shifting it to the side, ect ect.....

Anyhow, I am hooked.  Crazy wire everywhere.  I had more fun then I can even imagine.  I have been sketching and looking at my beads for far too long!  Often when I sketch a new idea, it doesn't always pan out, but I think these did.

If you are planning to come out to the show this weekend (if you are local, you should, it is a GREAT show!) please stop by.  I have lots of new stuff to show you!

Here are some more pieces I made for this weekend.  I still want to spend a couple days doing silver bezels of odd stones.  I have movement in mind with that batch, so we will see how movement and silver bezels end up.

















Sorry for the loooong post and all the exclamation points.  It just felt that good to get to play with all this stuff that has been brewing in my brain.

How about you?  Do you sketch your designs?  And if yes, how excited are you when they work out????    
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