Saturday, 23 April 2011

Update: No update...

Hi folks,

Just wanted to post a quick "hello" and apologize for the lack of activity here and on Facebook.  The change of seasons has got me feeling a bit under the weather, so to speak.  Hopefully I'll be back again next week as bubbly and spry as ever, ahem.  I should probably check my Etsy shop, eh? D'oh!

Apologies for the lack of communication...


Thursday, 14 April 2011

An Eye Toward Simplicity...

...or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Tree of Doubt

I have come to the conclusion that all artists, regardless of medium, are by nature insecure people.  It's not a judgement, nor a dig, on the contrary; in my opinion, artists have insecurities borne of self awareness.  I haven't met a writer, a poet, a painter, a craftsman yet who isn't constantly questioning themselves.  Am I good enough?  Is my work worth doing?  Why is everyone else is so much better than I am?  I have never known an artist who doesn't face these issues from time to time, if not often.  I, of course, am no exception.  But I've never really encountered the degree of insecurity that I have been grappling with of late.

I've grown a small following on my Facebook page, most of them personal friends, many of them fellow jewelry artists.  I visit their Etsy shops, their blogs, and their photobucket and flickr accounts.  And every time I come across their pages, I'm amazed and humbled by the talent I see there.  One after another, the work they exhibit eclipses my own in every way possible.

When I express this sense of inferiority to others, I'm usually greeted with similar answers:  Your work has value of its own, apart from the rest; no one style ever appeals to everyone, so your style will appeal to someone;  once you find your niche, you'll feel more secure; you have to be comfortable in the little corner you carve out for yourself.  But It's difficult to be comfortable in your niche when you feel that the little corner you belong in is so far below the salt.  It's as though I'm a kid who's been relegated to the children's table, and I long to sit with the adults and participate in the discussions from which I feel excluded--the ones they seem to understand far better than I.

It's not that I've had trouble discovering my niche.  It would be fairer to say that I've had trouble accepting it.  The sense that my work is inferior has plagued me for a long time.  I remember a few years ago when I presented, as a gift, one of my most prized pieces--a filigree and vintage glass bracelet--to a friend and fellow beader whose specialty was beadweaving.  Upon seeing her gift she thanked me rather unenthusiastically, after which she remarked with a condescending chuckle, "you know, there's more to jewelry than just putting beads on a string."  Ignoring for a moment that there were neither beads nor string involved in the piece she had been given, that comment served only to make me feel even less like an artist and more like a kid playing with crafts.   As if that weren't enough,  I visited her again a year later and found my prized bracelet, in several pieces, in a pile of unsorted beads and components that she was offering to me to take home, since she wasn't going to be needing any of it--"it's all junk", she said.  I suspect she didn't realise that my broken bracelet had found its way into the pile; when I pulled one of the pieces out of the box and looked at her questioningly, she smiled ruefully and began back-pedalling quickly, telling me that it must have accidentally got put in with the junk.  (At least she had the courtesy to backpedal, I suppose.)  Nonetheless, that experience left me with a bitter aftertaste that has yet to disappear; the seed of doubt she planted in my mind has now grown to a good-sized tree.  And with every photo I look at of yet another gorgeous piece of jewelry, another ring forms in the bark.

The Gifted Bracelet: I took it out of the pile of junk and put it back together.  Dammit.

If nothing else, the seed of doubt this woman inadvertently planted has given me plenty of opportunity to ruminate on my work and its place in the world.  There's a point at which every artist is forced to accept certain facts about themselves and their art.  We focus so often on our limitations and weaknesses that we lose sight of our abilities and strengths.  It's one thing to accept those limitations and quite another to allow them to govern how you feel about your own work.  I've reached the point where I no longer want the image of that broken bracelet in the pile of junk to symbolize how I feel about what I do.

In other words, I've come to the conclusion that it's time to plant a different seed and see what grows from it.

Vintage Ivory & Milk Glass Brass Filigree Necklace, Earrings & Bracelet Set, $100

Defining my niche, at least in terms of jewelry design, is (appropriately) pretty simple: I primarily think of jewelry as decorative functional art (this is actually the description of my shop).  The key word here is "functional", a term that encompasses a very specific meaning.  To me, "functional" means "practical".  I want the jewelry I make to be practical--versatile, simple, able to be dressed up or down, and easy to wear.  I like pieces that flatter without being flashy.  And most importantly, it has to be classy, both aesthetically and objectively:  elegant designs made with quality materials, no cheap or flimsy components, something that can serve as an heirloom or be passed on through generations if desired.

Vintage Blue Givre Crystal Stones in Brass Settings Necklace & Earrings, $45

When I used to buy jewelry (I haven't in years, since I can make it myself), I always did so with that same eye.  The pieces I bought were ones that I could wear every day, that were becoming without being overwhelming, and were easy to wear.  Earrings that are too heavy, bracelets that are too bulky, or necklaces that are too cumbersome, never made it into my jewelry box; if by chance something impractical did manage to find its way into my collection, it became clear very quickly that it wasn't going to stay long.

My handmade collection works much in the same way.  The jewelry I make is the same kind that I wear.  In fact, there isn't a piece in my handmade collection that I wouldn't be thrilled to keep, and I never make something that I wouldn't wear myself.  I don't want to say that I wouldn't wear an ornate wire woven pendant or earrings with cascades of beads.  I love to look at those pieces, to admire them from afar.  But I know myself well enough to understand that when it comes to my own personal preference, simplicity is the key.  When I have a beautiful stone, I want to showcase that stone.  But to my eye, the best way to do that isn't to add more--it's to add less.  Allowing the piece to speak for itself, to say its piece quietly and simply, with as few words as possible but all that are necessary to get the point across.  Subtraction is the key.  As a result, my jewelry isn't particularly showy; even my vintage work isn't nearly as ostentatious as much of the work I see being sold.

That is why my work is never going to grab the attention that the detailed wire weaving or gem waterfalls will.  My pieces are never going to stand out in the crowd the way those do, the way the pieces that I see being shared and linked on Facebook are swooned over.  Nothing I make is going to be endorsed by a celebrity or fawned over by jewelry lovers.  I'm never going to attract that kind of attention, because my work doesn't command attention in that way.  For the same reasons that I, personally, don't stand out in the crowd, neither will my jewelry.  Because the way I make jewelry is much the way I live my life: I try to keep things as simple and uncluttered as possible.

The way I figure it, life is complicated enough.  Perhaps what the world needs is a little more simplicity.  So, in the midst of the most amazing waterfall of gems, between the gorgeously elaborate sterling rings, somewhere within the exquisitely ornate wire-woven pendants, if you look hard enough, you just might find something beautiful there.

Vintage Pink Givre Diamond-Shaped Art Glass & Brass Filigree Necklace & Earrings, $45

Until next time,

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Etsy Favourites of the Week

Hello again, folks!

It's now already the second week in April, and I can't seem to remember what happened to March.  I got a bit caught up in other things and managed to miss last week's Favourites post, but it should be a regular Sunday night thing from this point on. So I now present you with this week's picks for the Etsy Favourites of the Week for this, the first real week in April.

If you spend a lot of time browsing through Etsy's categories day after day for almost a year, you'll probably notice the phenomenon that most artists are aware of: there is nothing new under the sun. You'll probably see a lot of the same thing; the same flower components in the same style of lariat, the same brass components attached to a chain, the same pink roses in a watercolour painting. After a while, it becomes obvious that it's not going to be often that you're surprised.

This week, while looking through the pen and ink drawings on Etsy, I came across something that surprised me.

The Raven (Part 2) by Edgar Allan Poe - Watercolour & Ink illustration, £26 ($43.65)

ClockTowerArtwork is unique. The delightfully whimsical, often childlike abstract ink and watercolour paintings would have been enough to capture my attention, but it's the surfaces she chooses on which to paint that seals the deal.

Leo the Yellow Cat - Watercolour & Ink on Vintage Poetry Book Page, £26 ($43.65)

She matches the painting to the poem, or in many cases, the subject to the subject: a rosebush painted on a page from a vintage book of Thomas Moore's poem Tis the Last Rose of Summer, or a watercolour ink drawing of a colourful piano on a vintage music sheet. The paintings are simple and straightforward enough to allow for reading of the poem or the music, and the black ink of the vintage pages serves to heighten the interest in the paintings. She manages to create a symbiotic relationship between the two that serves to benefit the viewer most of all.

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Generally in the "Favourites" blog, I try to feature artists, either painters, potters, glass or jewelry artists, and keep the focus on their work. But the beads at Skaramouche are, in and of themselves, little works of art.

Chunky Murano Klimt Mosaico Bead, $12

Not only will you find the most amazing Venetian beads on Planet Earth at this shop, but she also offers her own handmade lampwork beads for sale, as well as her own jewelry designs.

Huge Opaque White Murano Millefiori Pendant, $45

She uses many of the beads you'll find at Skaramouche in her own work at the other two of her three Etsy shops, where she showcases these marvellous beads in her own handcrafted jewelry as well as bridal jewelry. The best thing about this jewelry, in my opinion, is that she does just that, showcasing the beads themselves rather than eclipsing them with lots of extra beads or components (a mistake I see so many jewelry artists make), keeping the designs lovely but simple so as not to detract from the exquisite detail in the beads she chooses.

Murano Claret Wedding Cake Earrings, $38

Now that the jewelry market is so completely saturated with gemstones, it's wonderful to be reminded of the beauty of glass. It is by far my favourite material to work with, and I in fact prefer it to gemstones; gems are lovely, but the versatility you get with glass, combined with the luminescence and depth of colour, is unmatched in my opinion. Shopping at this site is like looking at a candy counter, and it's very difficult to choose which of the mouthwatering confections you'd most like to use in your own creations.

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I've said it before, and I'll say it again, and probably not for the last time: I love filigree. I think I were forced to choose one component or one style to use in my jewelry, I would have to choose filigree. Of course, add a beautiful glass or gemstone cabochon to that and you've pretty much found my Achilles' heel; I'm a sucker for the combination, and there's nothing that thrills me more than seeing the two combined into an exquisite piece of jewelry.

14K Gold Opal and Diamonds Bangle Bracelet, $15,500

Hoo boy.

The art of filigree (which is actually the name of these artists' web site) is one that I always thought best left to the true craftsmen. And if there is such a thing, then Alex Maryakin and Tim Wright are It. Going by the moniker master68uk on Etsy--an apt description--these two gentlemen are master goldsmiths, both with more than 25 years of experience, and it shows in their work. It's not difficult to see how labor and time intensive their work is.

Sterling Silver Amethyst and Mother of Pearl Chalice, $4,500

As impressive as both of these pieces are, there isn't a single item in their shop that doesn't equally impress. These two are true masters who have no trouble living up to the lofty heights that their name suggests.

Well, that's it for this week...going to work on being more on the ball with this blog.  It's a bit more time and energy intensive than I originally thought it would be, but when I look at all the gorgeous work that fills the world, it inspires me to write the next one.

Until then,

Thursday, 7 April 2011

New Jewelry Items: A Lesson In Photography

I'm delaying this week's blog because I need to finish writing it, so in the meantime here's a little something to keep you company.

For anyone trying to get their jewelry or other artwork on their Etsy shop, the biggest problem as I'm sure most will agree is getting decent pictures.  At least it's been an issue for me--I've gone through several set-ups in my little studio area, tried out different forms of lighting, spotlights, backdrops, etc.  The photos I've taken up until now have been mediocre at best, and I've had to futz with the contrast and exposure and saturation like crazy.  After a brief consultation with a professional photographer (i.e., a series of e-mails with a good friend who takes great pictures and doesn't mind sharing her secrets), my business partner (read: husband) and I determined that the best thing we could do was to steal a page from the book of barfights everywhere: take it outside.

This little catalog is the result of that experiment.  I'm quite happy with the results, on the majority of the photos anyway; we had an issue with one of the two digital cameras taking better photos than the other (the Kodak didn't do closeups as well the Sanyo; the brand name that is practically synonymous with "camera" didn't cut the mustard, go figure), and the sun cooperated and changed its mind a few times.

I haven't priced all of these yet, because I have to go through all my invoices to check the supplies costs and whatnot, but they should be up in my Etsy shop soon.

Tourmaline & Brushed Vermeil Flower 14K Gold Chain Bracelet, $52.00

This one is the one that came out the best, in my opinion, but that might just be because I'm partial to this bracelet, despite the fact that I can't remember the last time I wore gold.  My husband, who took these pictures (I "supervised," thank you), did a masterful job of getting some really nice detail shots.  These were all taken in the front of our building, where there is a cluster of potted plants and lovely stones and rocks, which make up the backdrop.  Oh, I arranged the rocks, too.  Yes, I played a huge part in this photography session.  (My husband was the one splayed out on the ground for three hours trying to get the closeups, but HEY, I moved the rocks around!)

Rock Crystal Briolette & Sterling Silver Necklace/Earrings, $60

We couldn't manage to get a full shot of this necklace, but the closeups came out quite nice, despite rock crystal and glass being near to impossible to capture on film.  These still don't show just how sparkly the necklace and earrings are, between the quartz and the sterling, but at least you can see them, which is more than I can say for the lousy photos I took inside:

So...yeah.  Consider this a before and after in reverse order. 

"White Ametrine" Quartz & Bali Sterling Silver Necklace/Earrings

I really like how this one looks, despite once again the inability to capture the sparkle of the components of this necklace.  These quartz beads are actually half clear and half silvery grey, which is difficult to see here.  Still, the detail is visible on the sterling bits, and the photo of it in my hand (which I managed to remember to wash the paint off before the photo session) looks rather nice up against the flower pots.  If I had to do over again, I think, I'd move that blue pot with the lovely orange pansies in it and turn it around--the ones in this shot needed a drink rather badly, while the others were looking a bit more spry.  Hopefully I'll remember to pay a bit more attention to the background in the next session and remove all dead plants from the immediate area.

By the way, for those of you wondering what "white ametrine quartz" is, this is my answer: You tell me and then we'll both know.  I honestly have no clue why the seller of these beads has chosen to call them "white ametrine," as they are neither white nor ametrine (ametrine is a combination of amethyst and citrine).  A Facebook friend noticed this curiousity too, and I didn't have an answer for her; I try to be consistent when I name the materials in my jewelry, if only because the source of them is often a mystery.  I can tell you that these are faceted round beads which are clear and silvery-grey, and very nice to boot.  I e-mailed the seller to inquire about the "white ametrine" connection but didn't get a coherent answer...if anyone has any suggestions on a better way to describe these beads, I'm open to them.

Oops!  We have a visitor:

Cat, dark brown, name unknown (not for sale)

This sweet little guy trotted right over to us, purring like crazy, and after claiming my mary janes as his own, plunked himself down next to me.  He declined any further photo opportunities, but he couldn't resist showing off for one candid.  He's not black, by the way--he's a beautiful sleek dark brown.  He also has the funniest, loudest meow I've ever heard.  He belongs to someone in the neighbourhood (or rather, someone belongs to him), but he secures the perimeter regularly.  He scampered off soon after this shot, certainly with some very important cat business to attend to.

Vintage Rhinestone Silver Filigree Bracelet

This is actually an older piece that I've never had a bit of luck photographing.  And look, my husband does a fantastic job in two shots.  I've included the second one because I like the way the sun has glinted off the stones.  This was done with the Kodak, and on my monitor there appears to be a slight pink tint to everything, but I don't know if it's just the colour settings on the Mac that differ.  I'd be curious to know if anyone else sees the same tinge of pink on these.  Regardless, these are still the best shots I've ever had of anything with rhinestones in it.

Any comments? opinions? suggestions? I'd love to hear them all.  No, seriously--I need all the help I can get!

Be back in a few days for the Blog O' The Week, nearly a week late...sorry, it's been an odd couple of days.