Getting ready for the ACC Baltimore Craft Show

Like most craft professionals, I got my start at small local shows. My first booth consisted of a floor lamp, a card table and a piece of cloth on which to display the jewelry. My eye was always on the prize though, getting accepted into the American Craft Council shows. In 1986 after 5 years of unsuccessfully applying, I was finally accepted into the American Craft Council’s flagship show in Baltimore. It was very exciting to get that fat envelope in the mail full of exhibitor information! Since that time I have shown my work in Baltimore at the end of February every year except the year I was 9 months pregnant. This year’s show will be year 32!

Getting ready for Baltimore has dominated my winters for a long time now. The preparation begins right after the holiday rush. Because the show is open for both wholesale and retail sales, it is a good time to introduce new work to buyers from galleries, museum shops and stores that feature handcrafted work.

Early January is my favorite part of the process. During this time I review, found objects, (mostly rocks), sketches that I have been making throughout the year, and photos of rock walls and escarpments taken from my travels in Ireland, Italy, the Adirondacks, the coast of Maine, or wherever a good rock makes it’s acquaintance with me. It is a time to dream and aspire, a time to play with color and design without giving a thought to salability… which is very freeing. I draw on large index cards so that I can lay out all of my ideas across my desk. I move the cards around according to my daily assessments/ratings of the designs that I am working on. Eventually I narrow it down to 10 or 12 design ideas, more than I will ever actually have time to make. During week two, I make my final selections and work on refining and scaling the drawings. Construction begins toward the end of week two and continues through week three and four. One by one the designs are transferred to tracing paper and glued to a thin sheet of sterling silver.

Long hours are spent each day sawing out the tiny compartments that will eventually contain the enamel and filing them to smoothness. Depending on the complexity of the design, this step takes between 8 and 25 hours to complete. The next step is to put many tiny paillons, (chips) of solder on the back of the cut out design. One has to be careful not to put on too much solder, the excess could flood the design and fill in small areas. At the same time,  one must apply enough paillons to secure the pierced piece to the base with no gaps. The solder is applied over a coating of flux and I gently heat the piece just until the solder flows across the design.

Next I clean the piece and place it right side up on a textured  base sheet of silver. Sometimes it takes a few repetitions of this step to get everything into place, particularly if there are multiple sections to attach. After the piece is cleaned in a mild acid called “pickle”, the next step is to cut out any interior windows and around the outside edge. If I am working on one of a kind work, at this point I go on to the enameling process. When I am working on edition work,  the new design is now a completed model. Using the lost wax casting process,  a mold made from the model. Into this mold, hot wax is injected.  The wax version of the piece is surrounded by a pour of plaster which hardens to make yet another mold into which molten silver is injected.  Casting enables me to duplicate the design and keep prices affordable! I don’t own casting equipment, so I send the models to a professional caster. A week or two later, I receive 6 or so castings of each new design which now need to be prepared for enameling. The sprue, which is the channel through which the molten silver flowed into the plaster mold, is not a part of the finished design and must be ground away.  Also, because I am enameling on sterling which is an alloy containing  fine silver and copper, I must heat up the cast pieces in the kiln and quench them in acid. This, for some reason unknown to this non-chemist, brings a layer of fine silver to the surface which is necessary for enameling. During weeks 4, 5 and 6,  I enamel all of the new designs and also stock up on my older designs of which there are more than 100. During week 4, cabin fever comes knocking on my door. We get out every day for a nice walk or an afternoon cross country skiing or skating and plan some outings, but the schedule is non stop. My husband Paul works on preparing castings for enameling. I do all of the designing, enameling and soldering, but when that is complete, he goes to wrok. He first grinds off excess enamel and polishes each piece. After that he oxidizes the pieces in liver of sulfur and burnishes them on a spinning steel wheel followed by rubbing them with powdered pumice. The last step is to acid etch the glossy enamel  to a matte finish.  (He also makes dinner most nights, in fact right now he is making chocolate cream pie!) His help makes it all possible!

Wait, what week is it? …oh no, the show is only a few days away and I still have to photograph the rest of my new work, edit in gradient backgrounds  and post everything to my website. (Here is where my two sons, both computer science experts, have been an invaluable help. They are grown up now, but still respond to emergency “help me I’m stuck” calls). Price lists, postcards and business cards are printed and ready to go…I fill my spare time with posting on Instagram and Facebook, eating dark chocolate covered almonds and writing this blog… but now I really have to stop and pack up my show clothes, buy dog food and have a glass of wine.

All for now, hope to see you in Baltimore!

 

How to use your iPhone to take (decent) Jewelry Images for Instagram

I thought I would depart from the jewelry making/inspiration/lifestyle focus of my previous blog posts and this time offer a quick little tutorial on taking decent photos of jewelry with an iPhone. This is a low tech approach… no equipment, no lights, no set up!
I am a jeweler, not a photographer, but like so many jewelers, (and gallery owners), I find that I have to produce more images than I could possibly afford to have photographed professionally in order to feed the great maw of my social media accounts! Social media is a fun way to generate interest and excitement about your work, but of course poor quality images won’t advance your cause. Because many of us don’t feel that we have much time to spend on learning how to do this, or the money for a professional set up, I thought I would share what I have learned after taking thousands of (terrible) photos.
The following are some common issues and the fix:

Photo out of focus: This one is easy to solve…support your phone with a small box about 6″ tall, in order to hold it steady. The box should be either white or wrapped with aluminum foil to reflect more light back onto the piece…serves two purposes!  
Lighting: I use natural light, which for me is usually a window ledge in the studio. Morning light on a cloudy day seems to work best for me. I find that bright sun casts too many shadows and late in the day shots tend to be too yellow. Once you get a feel for the right time of day and cloud cover, shoot several pieces so that you have some ready to go. You can edit/fix some lighting issues with adjustments in the photo program on your phone. I have found that the most useful ones to try are “exposure”, “contrast”, and “cast”, this is not a miracle cure however! If it is a sunny day and you can’t wait for the clouds, you can try taping a large piece of paper over the

window to filter the light. Test out different windows and angles to the light. You can also try hovering apiece of white paper such as an envelope over the piece to get some nice reflected light. This is when a third arm comes in handy…I somehow always manage to do this on my own and I hardly ever drop my phone!
Background: Blank 5”x7” index cards make for a nice clean white background. However when shooting on a white background, be sure to make a “frame” around your piece of a more neutral color, otherwise your image will likely be overexposed. In the photo showing my set up, I simply cut a square out of a catalog page. This same tip works for shooting on a black background…you have to balance what the camera sees. The easiest is to use a neutral background…for instance some gray paper. Before posting, I edit/crop the catalog page out of the photo and rotate/adjust the angle of the piece as necessary.
Weird reflections: You may notice a weird pink glow on your piece…if you are white, this could be coming from your face or hands, or that pink jacket you are wearing. You can experiment with where you are standing with relation to the piece and the light source, and make sure that your clothing is neutral in color.
Supporting the piece: A small packet of black Model Magic does the trick here; you can buy this at craft stores and fashion little supports to use behind your pieces to keep them in the position that you want them to be in.
Fortunately with digital you can take many photos and experiment with getting the effect that you want,  eventually you will get some nice photos!
These tips are for more casual jewelry shots…for producing jury quality images, you might want to use a professional photographer or at least learn to use Photoshop or similar. I use an open source program called “Gimp” to refine photos and add gradient backgrounds etc.

Building the stone patio 2017

I had been thinking for a while that I wanted to improve and enlarge the stone patio that I had built 10 years ago or so on the west side of the house, but the job was daunting. The entire retaining wall would have to be dismantled and rebuilt and there is a lot of stone in a four foot high wall that is thirty feet long!

I always know that I am ready to begin another stone project when I see a stone on one of my walks that I must have. One morning in early spring, I spied just such a stone, triangular in shape, about 2.5 inches thick and 16 inches on a side. It was covered with lichen and had fallen off one of our old walls. Without thinking about it too much, I picked it up and carried it the few hundred yards back to the house. A few days later,  again without thinking about it too much,  I started taking the old patio wall apart. I find that sometimes if you think about something too much, you never do it! After setting aside the top most stones, a collection of fossil laden and stream smoothed beauties,  I started throwing stones off the wall at a steady pace. It really did not take long to make a huge mess in the yard,  I was fully committed!


I love doing stone work in the springtime; it is a great motivator for getting out of doors during one of the most beautiful times of the year .   The apple blossoms from the orchard smell wonderful, the birds are singing, and the black flies buzz merry circles all around your head.  A few years ago when I was building a wall in a wooded area, I witnessed two male Pileated woodpeckers swooping through the trees, battling for territory.

When most of the wall was down, I laid out the new arc for the wall which makes a graceful curve around a bizarre Honey Locust tree which is covered with 3 inch long spikes that can, and have pierced our lawn mower tires. I feel quite sure that Sleeping Beauty was pierced by one of these thorns. And by the way, while taking pictures today, one of those thorns pricked me too. So…. I wonder what it will be like in 100 years when I awaken in 3017.

Stone by stone the wall grows taller.

 

 

Building a wall is a great metaphor for tackling anything difficult. One stone at a time and all of that. I find myself humming happily and completely absorbed as I work, I guess you could say that it is a form of therapy.

I had to make regular runs out for more stone pulling a trailer behind our heavy duty garden tractor. Because the wall is built on an embankment, I needed a lot of fill stones. I found some old chunks of concrete, left over from somebody’s project… and into the wall they went. We reasoned that we were discovering the remains of the original chimney when we found a quantity of bricks mostly buried at the edge of the woods. The bricks were really useful to use as spacers and shims on the back side of the wall. Fortunately, we have 13 acres of land which is well endowed with stones, so there are always plenty! I had to pay particular attention to the strength of the wall as it curved down the hill past the spike tree. This is where I was not careful enough last time and the wall had started to pull apart. Here in the Northeast, the frost heaves can really damage a wall that is not built well.

I worked on the wall for about a month, but only a few hours each day. It is very heavy work, and for me this works best.

 

Many people ask me for tips on wall building so here are a few.  It is always one over two and two over one…this is the stone masons credo. I build small sections that are level and then try to seat a larger stone there in order to connect the front of the wall to the back for instance. I fit the stones pretty tightly so that if the frost pushes on a section of the wall, there is no empty place just out of sight for the stone to move to. I always wear gloves and I don’t pick up anything that I am not sure that I can handle. I roll, or flip heavy stones rather than lift them.  I don’t work when the stones and work area are wet and muddy, one’s footing absolutely has to be secure.  Lastly, I try not to be too attached to a section that I have just built. If I am stuck, or if I think that I can make it better, down it comes. It is worth it! At the end of a project, you have something that will be there for a very long time. People also ask me if I build walls for money. No, not usually although I have done so a couple of times. It is more fun for me to work on our own property where I can really enjoy the results.

 

Stone projects at the new old house

We loved the setting of the new house. The ancient Sugar Maples in the yard, the apple orchard, the barn, and the pond made for an idyllic New England setting and we decided to go for it…. unfortunately, our “new” circa 1850 saltbox style house was just as small as our former circa 1850 saltbox house. No problem, we are good at renovation!

Although the house was old, most of the interior had been rebuilt in the 1960’s after a catastrophic fire. The 60’s not being my favorite architectural period made contemplating another big renovation/restoration plan seem like a reasonable idea. Like most renovation projects, the scope the project grew and GREW. Every time we turned a corner, we discovered something else that needed to be redone. Maybe I will blog about that another time.

Our renovations took the better part of a year, during which time we continued to live in our old house.

our son wasn’t at all sure about this…the fireplace before and after

After we were well underway on the main living spaces I decided to address the issue of the 8’ by 8’ 1960’s stone fireplace that dominated the small front room. It was too modern looking for my taste; I wanted something smaller made of river stone.  Since we were doing a complete renovation on the house, it was not a problem to wreck off the old fireplace and fill the living room with piles of stone and bags of mortar while I worked on the project. Bret and Amy gave us access to the stones in their creek and I rebuilt the face of the fireplace with this beautiful worn stone. We had a lot of fun searching the creek beds for the perfect stones with which to build the arch. Our friend Gavin, a real stone mason, built me an ingenious wooden form to support the arch during the construction phase. The form was designed to drop down after the mortar had set, and it worked perfectly.
We have lived in the new house for 12 years now, and it has been fun rebuilding the many collapsed walls on the property .

The most ambitious wall to rebuild in terms of length was the 300 foot wall that lines the driveway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most ambitious wall in terms of the weight of the stones was this one to the right of the barn which contains many huge limestones. I found that with some antique pry bars and a heavy duty hand truck, you can move stones weighing a couple hundred pounds by yourself!

 

 

 

 

This wall defines the courtyard to the side of the barn. We keep our maple syrup boiler in this section of the barn, and boil the sap down in the courtyard in early spring.

Stones and stone walls…the beginning

I had always collected small stones and have always loved anything built of stone, but I never thought of doing it myself until I moved into my first house(circa 1850)  which was so close to the road that the cars whizzing by seemed about to enter the living room.  After an accident during which a car spun out and overturned just a few feet past our house, (nobody was hurt thankfully), we were very motivated to  build a stone wall barrier between our house and the road.

My future husband Paul and I each tackled a section on either side of the front walkway. Neither of us had any experience, we only knew the basic stone mason’s mantra of “one over two and two over one”. Thanks to the relatively flat local bluestone, our efforts were somewhat successful and along the way I discovered that I totally loved wall building! For me it is a great complimentary activity to the fine detail work required in jewelry making. If you like doing jigsaw puzzles, you might like wall building. As in puzzle building, one has to remember the location of as many stones as possible from the pile, and be able to picture how they will fit.  I particularly love that with perseverance and some time,  a woman of average size and strength can build a massive wall!
Over the years that we lived in and renovated the house, my most ambitious stone project was working on re

storing the collapsed terraces behind the house. If you like gardening, (which I do), stone walls provide a fabulous background for flowers. While I worked on the terraces, Paul rebuilt the gorgeous exposed stone foundation.

We loved the old house with it’s hand hewn beams and wide plank floors, but by and by we had two sons and as the boys grew, our little house seemed to become ever smaller. The living room contained the wood stove, our only source of heat, and so we all gathered there in cold weather. We shared the space first with toy trains, tracks and cars, which were followed by a vast collections of K’nex and then legions of  Legos. After stepping on lots of small plastic parts repeatedly, we realized that we had to move to a larger space. We looked for a new house for a couple years and then were lucky enough to know someone who knew someone who was selling an old farm house that was 400 feet off the road. The hardest part of moving was leaving behind my terraces and walls so I was really happy to see that our next house had plenty of stones around!