Friday, December 16, 2011

Instructions for DIY Jewelry Display

We spend a lifetime accumulating a collection of jewelry that defines our lifestyle. But, unlike the collection of clothes that hang in our closets, the necklaces, earrings, and bracelets that we have acquired are not disposable. We hang onto every pendant, ring, and pin, treasuring the memories they evoke. And they continue to reflect our moods, set the tone for an outing, or… or become invisible at the bottom of a drawer or inside a box on the vanity. Why not display them like the fine art and keepsakes that they are, I wondered?
A few years ago, when I ran a custom frame shop, I made a simple jewelry display for myself. I still use it and have since made many more at the request of family and friends. So here is a simple DIY project for anyone who would like to keep her jewelry collection at hand, and on display. They also make wonderful gifts.
Because I had beautiful framing materials at my disposal I chose a rich cherry molding to make a 16x20 frame. There are, of course, many choices of imported frames in the art and craft supply stores that carry ready-made frames in various sizes, shapes and styles. It will be easy to find one that will fit your wall, cabinetry, and color scheme.

At the hardware store, pick up nylon window screen and a piece of thin, stiff cardboard or plastic which will be cut into edging strips to hold the screen in place.  Or matboard works beautifully for the strip and can be purchased with the frame.

On a padded counter top, lay the frame on its face. Cut the screen material to overlap the frame about an inch on each side. Snug the screen to the inside of the frame using the strips to hold it in place and staple each side in place, as in the photo. Trim the remainder with a utility knife.  Attach a sawtooth hanger or eyelet and wire.

Earring wires hang nicely on the screen. For necklaces or bracelets, use ornament hooks, or make your own from 18 ga. wire (I used Artistic tinned copper wire) as seen in the 3rd photo.

Your favorite jewelry will be easily accessible for the woman on the go!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Feedback of Art

Butterfly earrings by OxArtJewelry - Large, Medium, Small & Petite

We hear it every day in the world of commerce. " New and improved! You spoke; we listened. Designed with our customers in mind."

How can the artist compete in the commercial world, when we hold ourselves to higher, more personal standards? When our goal is quite the opposite of seeking mass appeal, or discovering the lowest common denominator in the creation of our works of art? These are not simply products that we are producing! They are adventures in abstraction, color, texture, space. They are personalized expressions of our passions and our sensibilities.

Several weeks ago I received a request from a lady who had admired a pair of earrings from the butterfly collection that I had listed on Etsy.  She thought they were gorgeous, and knew they would add luster to her jewelry selection. However, through experience, she had learned to never buy an earring that weighed more than 5 grams. She asked what these earrings weighed (they weighed in at 7 grams), and if they exceeded her limit, would I be able to make her a similar pair within her constraints?

Years ago I had abandoned commission painting of portraits and murals precisely because I never liked the idea of creating art that needed to conform to the expectations of others.  Still, this request offered a different kind of challenge: wearable art must be - before all other considerations - wearable.

In order to reduce the weight of these earrings to 5 grams I would need to trim the pieces by 29% in some combination of size and thickness of enamel.  I had never taken the time to really understand the ratio of copper to glass.  Would I be able to cut the weight 30% by cutting the size 30%?  I discovered it’s not that simple.  After considerable experimentation I now offer 4 sizes in my ‘butterfly series’ with the ‘small’ weighing in at 5 grams and the ‘petite’ version under 5 grams.

I can truly say my lighter versions were “designed with the customer in mind” without feeling like I have compromised my artistic perrogatives.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

On the Origins of Innovation... and Art

A recent study suggests that innovation consists of five separate processes: associating, questioning, observing, networking and experimenting. Sounds reasonable enough. But what about art? Is it the same process as innovation?

Let’s do a thought experiment. We know that the mind has tremendous powers of logic, coupled with the ability to synthesize diverse concepts. Given a sequence of numbers 2… 4… 6… it predicts 8. Given the knowledge that protons and neutrons pair up to make atoms, the mind can easily extrapolate all the elements in the periodic table. Nothing artistic here.

But when the mind is afforded knowledge about evolution and genetics and the role of DNA, using all of its powers of reason and logic, it is unable to predict the existence of kangaroos. Why? Because kangaroos and giraffes are accidents of nature, produced by unpredictable mutations.

As it turns out, nature wields her artistic brush with her eyes closed.  She relies on happy accidents in order to innovate. Does the creation of art require a similar unpredictable serendipity?

Anyone who has ever worked in watercolor knows that we often rely on similar “happy accidents” for interest and texture in an under-painting, a sky or the foreground.  We flood the paper with colors letting the water and paint do its own mixing.  A “bloom” is created when a wet stroke is placed alongside a nearly dry area.  Pigments, water and watercolor paper must cooperate with the artist’s inspiration for art to happen.  Have you ever finished a piece and wondered “how did I do that”?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

On a Personal Note...

Tarabino Inn, Trinidad, Colorado
One of our favorite places on this planet is Trinidad, Colorado, just as the leaves of autumn begin to show on the mountain slopes. In this historical mining town, we gather each year with three other couples that we knew in the springtime of our lives. Before we went our separate ways we all lived in Wiley, Colorado, a sleepy little village of 400 or so farmers, ranchers, and migrant workers (that would be US, as we have all long since moved on to other climes and endeavors.)
     Our reunions have moved well beyond the endless reminiscing about the past. We are not any kind of sequel to “The Big Chill” or “The Four Seasons.” Instead, we savor the moment, and the earthy, lush, piedmont of Trinidad. We simply enjoy one another as we spend a weekend yard saleing, antiqueing, and boutiqueing. Or sampling the home made breads, goat cheeses, and locally grown produce at the farmer’s market.
     The consensus of our group is that Rino’s Italian Restaurant, located in a magnificent old Methodist Church, is Colorado’s only 5 ½ star restaurant. The half star is awarded to the owner, Frank Cordoba, for the live musical entertainment ranging from Elvis to Italian arias. (Reservations highly recommended.)
     We plan ahead each year and select interesting accommodations, which have ranged from a former bordello above Blackjack’s saloon, to the historic Tarabino House, now a bed and breakfast. The three story mansion, built by Italian immigrants cum retail magnates, lends its own story of elegant fragility as we renew relationships that would tarnish if neglected.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Music of Metals...

Enameled Copper Breastplate by OxOriginalArtJewelry

Every material I have ever worked with seems to have its own way of expressing its inner beauty, much the same way every individual on earth has inner beauty waiting to be discovered. Or the way sounds can be transformed into music, with patience and experimentation.

As I became more familiar with pure copper in my jewelry work, shining it to reveal its inner brilliance, treating or aging it in solutions, heating with a torch or firing it in the kiln, I began to listen to its music. Each piece reveals itself in a rainbow of color as it oxidates and self-patinates throughout the jewelry making process.

So I decided to allow one piece to sing its own melody entirely with its own voice. For this experiment I created a specimen in the shape of a breastplate, or bib, with lots of open surface, devoid of texture or embellishment, to allow the copper ample space for self-expression. I shined it to its natural glossy state, then applied a coat of protective transparent vitreous enamel to the edge, like a frame, and fired it to seal and preserve that edge. The results were stunning: the copper actually glowed beneath its protective glass blanket.

Each time I fired with subsequent coatings of transparent enamel, the unprotected areas oxidized, aged, and revealed their own patterns and characteristics. It painted itself. It expressed itself. It found its own voice, created its own music.

How often do we forget to listen for the harmony in the materials we work with?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Jewelry Giveaway

Aquariann, who blogs at "Art and Tree Chatter of Aquariann", is a talented colored-pencil artist who creates bookmarks, buttons, magnets and prints in fantasy motifs.  Her Etsy shop is full of unicorns, pirates, mermaids and fanciful winged creatures.  She posts beautiful photographs for Wordless Wednesdays and informative articles about subjects covering both art and the business of art. Aquariann also features great giveaways to promote the work of others that she lists in her extensive file of favorites.

Today aquariann is hosting a giveaway of a pair of my enameled leaf earrings!  If you'd like a chance to win, go to her blog (link below), look around and follow instructions.

Ox Original Art Jewelry Handmade Giveaway

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wednesday Window

I have always had a fascination with windows, those apertures that illuminate, our homes and our lives, and through which information is exchanged, and interaction made possible.

 These dormers appear to pop up out of the roof like a Muppet lifting the lid to peek out of his trash can. We never see trash cans in quite the same way after we know that Muppets live there; and the roof of this house gets a second glance now that we know it conceals living space.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wednesday Window

I have always had a fascination with windows, those apertures that illuminate, our homes and our lives, and through which information is exchanged, and interaction made possible.

Willow Creek Park Caretaker's House

This depression-era sandstone construction, (the caretaker's house in Willow Creek Park) gets a dressed-up 12 pane window treatment at the base of the stairs leading to the roof top patio. Without the windows we wouldn't know if it was a cottage, or a castle.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wednesday Window

I have always had a fascination with windows, those apertures that illuminate, our homes and our lives, and through which information is exchanged, and interaction made possible..

The artist uses every tool at his disposal to evoke memories and emotions from his viewers.  Look how the homeowner used his artistic skills and imagination to repurpose this bathroom window to make us want to wait around for the puppet show to begin, or for the princess to appear on the veranda.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wednesday Window

I have always had a fascination with windows, those apertures that illuminate, our homes and our lives, and through which information is exchanged, and interaction made possible. 

Sometimes our man-made window portals are absorbed into nature.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wednesday Window

I have always had a fascination with windows, those apertures that illuminate, our homes and our lives, and through which information is exchanged, and interaction made possible.

Some windows become cloudy and opaque, like eyes obscured by cataracts. Still, the world impinges, asserting itself onto the window. How like aging human faces these vacant eyes become!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Wednesday Window

I have always had a fascination with windows. They are to the home what the eyes are to the face - those apertures through which information passes, knowledge is acquired, and interaction made possible. Windows illuminate the home in the same way that ideas enlighten the mind. At night they shed their light and radiate their warmth into their environment.
Widows shape the face; they reveal the mood of the abode. We study people’s eyes to know if they are sincere, loving, and kind. In the same way, we can guess the mood inside a home by the state of its windows. Flower pots, sconces and dangling crystals welcome our eye to linger and observe. Torn curtains, broken panes, and ragged shutters warn us away. A happy window, painted and decorated, is an eye lined and tinted with shadow, its lashes and brows prepared to party. Unkempt windows show their despair.
Beginning with today’s posting, I will share each Wednesday a window from my collection. They have been gathered from Lamar and in my travels, as interesting mementos – the way we file away memories of faces throughout our lives. My windows help me to formulate artistic expressions of mood and context. I want my works of art to speak out and express themselves – to tell a story - as clearly as these windows reveal their own circumstances.

July at the Third Street Nest

It's all there: the summer flower baskets, patriotic ribbons and flag on a colonial porch. Now imagine this scene without the window, without the interactive portal transporting the festival inside and out. Wouldn't it lack the very life that the window breathes into the scene?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Colors of Colorado Metalsmithing Association

I'm so happy to be included in this group of talented Colorado jewelry artists!And especially to be showing in Vail, Colorado!
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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Tribute to Branson, John Denver ... and Art.

James Garrett as John Denver
Jim Glaspy,  Texas State Bluegrass Champion and National Dobro Champion

Last week we visited Branson, MO, America’s Fort Knox of music – the place where our national musical treasury resides. From the moment we drove down the winding main street, nestled comfortably in the dense Ozark forest, we began to hear echoes from our past. The marquees displayed over 100 venues of our musical heritage. We knew immediately that we had arrived at a very special place.

As a native Coloradoan, and a contemporary of John Denver, I had always regretted that I had never seen him perform his music while he was alive. So the John Denver tribute performed by James Garrett at Branson’s IMAX Theater was the first show on my list. And as an artist, who admires the artistic creativity of others wherever I find it, the performance stirred up old philosophical questions within me. What had I just seen? Was this mere entertainment? A simple reproduction of the original work? Or did the performance have its own artistic merit, apart from its creator?

Let’s do a little thought experiment here. Would the John Denver tribute have been a more memorable experience if I had seen John Denver perform his own work – even if James Garrett might have improved, or even perfected, some of the original songs? (This is a thought experiment, remember!) Or if I had been from Outer Mongolia, and known nothing of John Denver’s legacy, would I have appreciated this music as the iconic American folk music that it has become? Could I have separated the singer from the songwriter; detached the product from the producer, and recognized the performance as the artistic masterpiece that it was?

These are questions that I ask myself with each piece of art jewelry that I produce. Does this work stand on its own merits, apart from my own sensibilities? Does the value of art, like the intensity of love, reside solely, and entirely in the eyes of the beholder?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Friends Sharing the Art of Enameling

My first attempt at repousse work

Friends who love making jewelry, working with metals, and enameling will go the ends of the earth – or to the middle of nowhere, it seems - for the love of their art. That is how little Lamar became host to an art-jewelry mini-workshop last weekend.

Two friends visited my studio for a few days of fun, experimentation and learning.  Oh, we could have spent hundreds of dollars traveling to exotic venues for a fancy symposium on enameling or repousse. Could have turned it into a mini-vacation, complete with fine dining and scenic overlooks. But all of that would have been wasted on the incurable jewelry enthusiasts that we are. No possibility of those kinds of distractions in Lamar!

On Friday, Rose Marie from Denver, and I experimented with repousse on copper sheeting, fabricating additional tools out of wood dowels as we needed them. We picked up a second pitch pot at WalMart. (They called it a single-egg skillet, but we didn’t correct them.) Great fun.

On Saturday, Sandy from Colorado Springs, joined us and we turned to enameling. By Sunday we began working in cloisonne. Both of my guests went home with beautiful earring drops and a passion for a new jewelry technique.

And while we played, our poor husbands, out here in the middle of nowhere,  had to entertain themselves. They toured the John Martin Dam, followed the Arkansas Valley canal systems, visited the archaeological site of Bent’s fort, then trekked into the prairie to the site of the Sand Creek Massacre, and finally explored the Colorado Green Wind Energy installation. Poor things. So little to do out here.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Philosophy of Art (or How to Make an Earpod Pendant)

Enameled Earpod Pendant

The ancient Greeks argued endlessly about the nature of art. Aristotle insisted that the ideal painter would recreate an individual berry so true to its natural form that the birds would attempt to pluck it off his canvas. For Plato, the artist’s duty was to discover the essence of “berry-ness”, and to somehow reveal that form in his art.

Now, it is neither my intention nor my desire to get caught up in the middle of THAT argument. They are both adults; they’ll have to settle it between themselves. However, every once in a while a project comes along that causes me to lean to one side or the other - like when I get inspired to create an artwork based on some “berry” that I have come across. Do I want to ‘imitate’, or ‘extrapolate’?

A few weeks ago I visited the studio of a jewelry artist friend who also collects natural artifacts to use in her work. She had collected some unique seeds from an exotic Earpod Tree in Florida. I admired them, and immediately began to imagine the possibilities for an unusual pendant. Rose Marie graciously gave me one to experiment with.

Did I want to replicate it, as per Aristotle? Or should I throw in with Plato and attempt to capture the essence of all earpods? Not a big deal, I thought, until I began hammering the copper sheet into its kidney-esque shape. That’s when I noticed that Nature had neglected to provide a balance point for the chain. I’d have to tweak that. Point for Plato.

And what’s up with these indents and wrinkles? Are they unique to this particular pod, or does nature just go with the flow? Copper is not exactly elastic, you know! At what point in the shaping process would Aristotle lay the hammer down?

 Now, for the texture: would the ideal artistic earpod be glossy and smooth, or would it allow for some pebbling in the enameling process? So, there I was… did I want to imitate, or extrapolate? Oh dear, what would Socrates do?

Happily, the enamel artist can ‘evolve’ her work in much the same way that nature causes earpod trees to evolve; I used trial and error, multiple firings, patience and timing, until all of my artistic notions were satisfied.

I judge the result by its being as unusual and unique in the jewelry world as the Earpod seed is in the world of nature.
The actual earpod is top right.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It's finished!

This is the finished product after soldering, polishing and oxidizing.  Adjusting the prongs to hold the center orb presented a challenge.  The silver tines are slightly springy, so they failed to grasp until they were equally tight.  I see the earth when I look at this piece.  Perhaps "The World" would be a good title.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spring Resolutions

Ahh, the joys of Spring! The robins have returned to the yard; the trees are greening; the lilacs are abloom; the soil has begun to warm; and I can feel that irresistible call of my artistic nature… to rush out into the garage and solder! That was my spring resolution for this year.

A year ago I banished my soldering station (and the soot and the noxious fumes) to the garage, which leaves me working mostly on enameling and metal clays during the cold winter months. The soldering projects accumulate on notepads (and inside my head) until spring, when it is warm enough to pop the garage doors open and light the torch.

My first soldering project this year involves the assembly of a ring, the components of which can be seen in the attached picture:
The “gemstone” is a small copper dome that I pounded into shape using a dapping block, punch and hammer. I fired it with several coats of enamel until it resembled a turquoise stone. The base is silver sheet with prongs soldered into place to hold the “stone”. This will be soldered onto the band to finish the piece.

After I get this Spring Resolution taken care of in the garage, maybe I’ll be able to get after those dandelions.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Art in the Age of Facebook and Twitter

Watercolor by Patsy Wollert Oxley
Forty two years ago a dynamic, young art teacher named Suzie Brown invited members of four Southeast Colorado art clubs to unite for the purpose of promoting a juried art show for local artists. I knew four of the charter-member officers personally, and fondly remember their tireless efforts to promote art, artists, and the Southeast Colorado Art Guild. How we miss them!

Over the years SECAG awarded numerous scholarships to budding artists and donated equipment to the local community college for public use.  The organization sponsored workshops and seminars. It became the area's principal venue for local artists to receive critical acclaim for their work. How we will miss it!

Does this read like an obituary yet?

In the age of Facebook and Twitter, the obituaries of our local civic organizations are being written every day.  Clubs, sororities, leagues, and guilds are dying off like WWII soldiers, leaving not even a monument to memorialize their extinction.

As books, magazines, and newspapers disappear into cyberspace they are, at least, replaced by their digital analogs. They are still available for us to experience with our iPads and Kindles. But how do you 'twitter' a sculpture? How do you 'text' a hand-woven masterpiece?

Is the production of artwork so detached from the viewing public that it will continue to be produced without public recognition? Does it require an audience for it to exist at all?

The arts community, like all social groups, requires periodic renewal – a renaissance, from time to time. Southeast Colorado Art Guild has sent invitations to every active artist and artisan in the area requesting their attendance at a meeting where these things can be discussed later this month. We’ll keep you posted…

Monday, March 28, 2011

Art exists where the heart is...

Justin Young's "Prairie Wings" at Lamar's Centennial Park
Art exists where the heart is; it manifests itself wherever there is a passion for life and beauty… even at the core of the dust bowl.

Lamar, Colorado is located at the crossroads of two national highways (Hwy. 50 & 287) that bisect our nation North/South, East/West; from coast to coast, and Canada to Mexico. Lacking in both rugged mountains and scenic seascapes, we have had to find other ways to celebrate our existence through art. The locals have shown themselves to be worthy of the challenge.

So how do you celebrate a little oasis along the Arkansas River nestled inside a hot, windy, arid and largely barren landscape? Begin with talented craftsmen who are driven to display their passionate love of the area.

We know how to incorporate the wind into artistic masterpieces. Throughout the town, monuments have been built to the wind. A 60’ blade from a wind turbine points the way to the local Chamber of Commerce. A massive and mobile pair of metallic wings flutter above the college. The Emick family has dedicated itself to the preservation of historic windmills, located strategically throughout the town – both North and South of the railroad crossing, and at the Court House square.  On his ranch south of Lamar, Bob Emick has created a veritable museum of wind machines, juxtaposing his own salvaged and restored windmills within the giant wind turbine farm that he helped attract to the area.

Windmill, tank and train at the Lamar Welcome Center.

Local artist Justin Young’s “Prairie Wings” sculpture on Main Street marks our area’s critical flyway for migratory waterfowl. His 1 ½ times lifesize antelope welcomes visitors and students to the college.  Local artists have utilized vacant walls and windows to paint murals that illustrate our area’s heritage. Artistic monoliths created by each High School graduating class populate the median of Savage Avenue.

Justin Young's "The Sentry" at Lamar Community College.
Become a follower and check back often, as I'll be featuring other creative local artists/artisans and their projects regularly!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A challenging project...

The recent sale of one of my bronze-art necklaces at the Manitou Springs gallery has presented a unique challenge – and provided me with a project for this weekend.  The purchaser, a spring bride, wishes to present each of her two bridesmaids with a bronze pendant to commemorate her wedding: she has asked me to make a duplicate of the original!

As an artist who creates mostly one-of-a-kind jewelry, I had never considered the difficulty of duplicating an original piece. Not that I’m comparing myself … but, just imagine Picasso, or Michaelangelo trying to duplicate one of their original artworks! For the bronze-clay artist this becomes especially challenging because there are certain unpredictable aspects to bronze art that one who is unfamiliar with the process would not expect – things like an unpredictable texture, SHRINKAGE, and the kiln-fired PATINA.

Since I have agreed to venture into this brave new world, I thought it would be interesting to document the process for my blog.

When I made the original, I made a mold (luckily, I still had it) of the button-like bezel piece. The pendant consists of a plate, a fancy bezel and a round bail, each of which are made separately. These components are then combined with the stone before firing. Did I mention that because of shrinkage during firing, extra space must be allotted, and movement of the stone during firing is to be expected?  If it is too tight, the stone can be crushed.

Images show the original necklace, a lump of Bronzclay (below), components in their leather-hard state before assembly, and the pendants before firing.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Wayttyn's Owl

A few weeks ago, with hints of spring in the air, and the return of songbirds to the yard, I had this idea to freshen my jewelry offerings to reflect the return of life to the environment. I picked up a few bird books at the local library and began making sketches as patterns for bronze pendants. My thought was to capture the essence of what appeals to us, and attracts us to the shape of birds, not unlike the way cartoonists create cuddly caricatures.

One afternoon my granddaughter saw my bird sketches on the table and thought the design process was a wonderful idea. She took my sketchbook and proceeded to draw some owls for herself. She informed me that since she was only a few days away from her 6th birthday, she was requesting an owl necklace for her birthday.

Imagine her satisfaction when she saw her ‘sketch’ fired into timeless bronze. 
(The bird on the right was made from her drawing.)  Years from now she will see this piece in her jewelry box and remember it with the same wonderment that we view our own hand-prints stamped into concrete  when we were children.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Allergic to Orange?

Sometimes it seems that if it weren’t for sunsets, citrus and pumpkins we’d have hardly any orange at all in our lives. A quick scan of the globe reveals a single orange stripe in India’s flag (they call it saffron); the official color of the Dutch royal family; and a cell phone company in France. Poets gave up on orange hundreds of years ago, whining that it doesn’t rhyme with anything. Even the Denver Broncos appeared to have thrown in the towel on the color.

  So it has been fun to see the reappearance of orange lately in the fashion world. Designers from Prada, Yves Saint Laurent, and Celene have begun to dabble in the color. Estee Lauder’s new Orange Crush shadow made its appearance last week on the runway. Brooks Brothers and J Crew even added a few orange offerings for men.

Not to be late to this party, I have decided to brighten my spring offerings with orange.  As a dominate color in my enameled “Lacey Leaf” pendant, it demands to be seen.  And it is certainly strong enough to stand alone as evidenced in the earrings and disc pendant.

After a long, cold winter I think we’re all ready for this hot, vibrant and energetic orange.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Our Four-Pound Family Member

Everyone who has brought a Yorkie into her life will know exactly what I’m talking about.  The distinction between man and beast begins to blur.  Arguments about whether animals have true emotions, or mere response mechanisms, end.

The cats are different, with cats, it's all about them.  But our Yorkie, Kujo, knows that he is a full participant in our family life.  He communicates with us through distinctive little barks, snorts, growls, or whines.  When he wants to be picked up to share in adult conversations he uses a little bark.  To wake us in the morning he quietly snorts or coughs.  He loves to answer the door, and keeps us advised when the cats (in his opinion) misbehave.

Kujo simply cannot understand why we have to go on vacation, and tells us over and over again how much he missed us while we were gone.  In fact, he can’t imagine why we need to go anywhere without him.  To prove it, he takes the lead when we go walking, clearing a path free of danger and vermin – especially those Labs and German Shepherds!  He dares them to come out from behind their fences, to step outside their protective castles.  “Don’t make me come over there and shut you up, big boy!  You’re not going to like it!”

Unlike the birds and squirrels we enjoy seeing in the yard, our pets are incorporated into our lives like family members.  We know they’re totally dependent on us but they give back as much as they take.

Monday, February 28, 2011

How do I know when I'm done?

It takes a fresh eye…

Every artist (writer, musician, artisan) knows the feeling.  Unlike placing the last piece in a puzzle, or completing a crossword, the creator never knows precisely when her work is finished.  There is always room for one more brush stroke, one more adjective, one more bead.  How do we know when to quit?

Some art works have their own way of telling us that they are over-embellished or over-worked.  In watercolor painting and creating jewelry, less can be more.

I was thinking about these things today as I added beadwork to these bronze pendants that I had fired weeks ago.  Yesterday I selected the beads for each of them and spent hours trying different configurations for stringing.  Did the beads complement the stones and color in the pendants?  Were the various shapes, sizes and textures true to the style of the bronze work? 

Now notice the necklace in the center of the picture.  I strung simple amethyst beads with spacers in the middle of the strand and added larger, more colorful beads to one side.  Not sure if I liked the look, I left it lying on the workbench overnight.

This morning I looked at it with fresh eyes and saw something different: a different kind of symmetry.  The pendant is as irregular as the unfinished strand of beads, with its smooth and rough edges.  Somehow, hanging from this lop-sided strand, it seemed right.  There is something appealing about the asymmetry.  Something artistic…

Is it finished?  I’ll allow my eyes to refresh themselves again before I decide.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


“Enamel? You mean you painted this with Nail polish? Bathroom paint? Resin?”
“No. I painted it with fire.”
There is no other way to explain the art of enameling to the uninitiated.

Of all the artistic techniques that I have learned over the years, enameling is the least appreciated, the most misunderstood by the public. So I am going to permit myself to post an explanation of my enamel work, starting at the beginning of my exciting venture into ‘fire painting.’

In the past I have always searched for new standards of intensity in color. I sought out ways to produce pieces generous in form, unique in geometry, appealing in texture. And I liked the idea of combining the skills that I had acquired working in metal clay and sheet metals with the painting that had sustained my career years ago.  For the artist who produces pieces one at a time, enamel offers infinite possibilities and, often, unexpected results. These were the challenges that attracted me to enameling.

The art evolved in early Greece sometime before 2000 BC, but after the beginning of the bronze age, when soldering with gold and silver became possible. In its earliest and simplest form, vitreous enamel is the fusion of glass granules, or powders, onto metal. Beyond that, it is not so simple.

You see, glass does not really “melt”; instead, it flows when it is heated. We say that glass “fits itself” to the metal when it is fired. The pigments and minerals that give each glass its distinctive color also impart specific physical properties to the glass. These characteristics are known as the coefficient of expansion – the softening point and rate of flow peculiar to each type and color of enamel. To complicate matters, different enamels may soften at the same temperature, but flow at different rates. And if that weren’t enough, the size of the glass granules, the type and thickness of the metal, and the firing time and temperature all interplay to introduce elements of unpredictability to the work. Each piece becomes a unique work of art. Success may come early to the beginner, but then we spend a lifetime learning the intricacies of enameling.

Enamels are available in different hardness. They can be lead-bearing or lead free. Some are transparent, others opaque, metallic, or even opalescent. They come in multiple size grains, or as paintable pastes. All of the above create a rich pallet of possibilities for the enamel artist, and also a mine field of potential disasters.

Left too long in the kiln, the glass will bubble, or burn. Not long enough and the enamel will look like an orange peel.  Metals tend to warp when they glow red hot. And the flowing glass will glue itself to the hanger or table that supports the piece inside the kiln if it is not removed at the precise moment. Firing is definitely a ‘hands on’ process.

Accordingly, each piece of enamel art becomes it’s own experiment. As in baking, the final results cannot be known until the cooking is finished. However, the process is forgiving in that the artist can build the piece in layers through multiple firings, adding, correcting, and modifying the work much as a painter would touch up a portrait. For me, this is the most exciting part of the process.

Often I create enamel art using the same technique that I used to paint in watercolor. I fire a white glass “canvas” first, then begin painting in negative, light to dark, layering the work in multiple firings.

Imagine the thrill each time you take a glowing piece out of the kiln and watch it reveal itself to you as it cools in seconds, and the colors, luster and texture come to life. This is truly “painting with fire.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Beading: Tedium or Gratification?

Someone told me once that beading is to art as bowling is to sports: neither requires innate talent; the results improve with repetition, and they both can benefit from a bit of luck. Easy to say, when you’ve never strung a bead (or rolled a perfect game!)
4ZNNZCYRHHFH True, if one never goes beyond the patterns and techniques that are taught in the classes and books, beading can become tedious. The real enjoyment comes when we begin to view beadwork as art – painting with beads, as it were. The use of beads to create texture and shape in addition to color offers infinite possibilities.

After I had ‘paid my dues’ by learning the basic beading and weaving techniques, I began to look for ways to design beadwork for maximum visual impact. This required the addition of texture. I looked for unusual shapes and finishes that could be bound into tight, yet flexible, helical patterns to achieve an appealing symmetry. The goal was to create artistic pieces that are elegant enough for a wedding, but casual enough to pair with blue jeans.

Beading, like life, gardening, fitness (or bowling), becomes gratifying when we go beyond the tedium, always seeking ways to convert repetition into art.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Sometimes Art evolves from the most mundane of projects.

The mudworks story began when my husband and I bought a home that was built in the 1960’s with the idea of remodeling and updating it ourselves after we retired. For months we dedicated our evenings to watching DIY programs on television. We attended the ‘Parade of Homes’ in several cities, created folders with pages torn out of the home & garden magazines, and scouted the home improvement centers for ideas. To mentor the project, we enlisted the services of my brother, Bobby, a building contractor, who graciously gave us 6 months of his life.
Then, as seen on TV, the three of us spent weeks tearing out walls, and stripping the floors and rooms of cabinets, fixtures and appliances. Finally we were ready to begin learning the basics of framing, tiling, and… mudding. We soon discovered that a near-infinite variety of wall textures could be produced with simple brushes, trowels or sponges. (Anything but popcorn ceilings!)

When we began texturing a special wall in the master bedroom that was designed for a fireplace and flat panel TV, the artistic possibilities began to take hold. We had used simple putty knives to give the wall a rustic Etruscan veneer because it seemed so Italian with its open arch window into the walk-in closet. But it deserved more. So I fetched my knives and brushes and began texture-mud-painting a floral design above the fireplace. A little gold paint, applied with traditional antiqueing technique, and voila! My first mud painting.

Later, I used the same technique to create a pair of “pop-out” mud artworks for my bathroom. This time I found inspiration in the illustrations of the Czech artist, Mucha, who was fond of leafy boarders and arches. The subject material for my ‘mud’ pop-outs came from our own garden – dried bunches of Stonecrop Sedum and Lamb’s ears blossoms.

Cost: a couple quarts of texture mud. Artistic effect: priceless!

Friday, February 18, 2011


More Americans now live in foreign countries than have ever lived in small towns across our great land.

Actually, I just invented that statistic. But it seems like it could be true. Our urban cousins who come to visit us on the high plains of Southeastern Colorado often arrive with a sense of wonder at the absence of civilization here. For Europeans, it is an eye-popping experience to drive south from Denver for over 200 miles without passing through a single stoplight, or even seeing a stop sign along the way.

Three times each week we walk to the fitness center at the local Community College, about a mile from our home. We take a path that leads under a bridge, along Willow Creek, through a grove of cottonwood trees, passing by a sandstone monument marking the location where Zebulon Pike’s party camped in 1806 as he passed through this area.

A small herd of deer makes its home in this wooded area; they stand like statues as we pass by, within just a few feet of their fawns. Birders know this tiny oasis as a special place where over 300 species stop each year during their annual migration. So we are always keen to new chirps and feathers along the way.

We may not have a metropolitan museum, or a professional sports franchise in little Lamar, but how can one not be equally inspired by the cacophony of cattails, willows, thistles and wildlife that is just outside our door?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Year of the Honeysuckle

    Imagine what musicians and poets could do if only they were able to project color into their art!
     I’ve been thinking about this ever since I learned that Pantone, the global authority on color, had selected honeysuckle as the color of the year for 2011. But this new pink is not our Colorado garden-variety hedge honeysuckle. Pantone’s version of honeysuckle is achieved by cooling down the old hot pink into something more like raspberry.
     I certainly buy into the notion that changing colors can help us transition out of a cold winter, and even provide an uplifting in mood after a bitter recession. Colors have a way of instilling optimism, energy and spirit into our daily lives.
  In our homes most of us will begin by using it in the same way that we use garlic or sage when we cook - sparingly. Nobody is going to paint the living room honeysuckle (unless it is already bright blue). Even an entire sofa set might be a bit jarring in honeysuckle.
   All of which made me want to begin experimenting with this new color in my art jewelry. Enameling is the perfect venue for experimentation with new, daring color schemes.
   What do you think of my variation on honeysuckle?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Tree Shadows

Tree shadows are wasted on a summer lawn.
But after a few inches of fresh snow on a sunny winter morning, the shadows of a majestic tree mirror its architecture.  Like a kaleidoscope under the rising sun, the shadow reveals the sinews and tendons of last year’s growth, stripped of its summer foliage, on a flat frozen canvas.
Here on the plains of Eastern Colorado we rarely get to enjoy the softness of nature. Our rains and snows come in torrents, driven by winds that seem desperate to move things along. So when nature gives us a fleeting glimpse of her artistry, we pause for a moment and take notice, knowing that the next time we look it will be gone.
In the eye of an artist, these are the kinds of things worth capturing, to incorporate into a watercolor, or in the design of a bronze pendant. They are images seen only out of the corner of one’s eye, or blended into the background, as mere texture, contrast, or pattern.
But please don’t think that we under-appreciate the shadows of trees during our long, hot summers. In the summertime we just call it shade.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Is symmetry the enemy of good taste?

The German philosopher Nietzsche’s vision of hell was to be condemned to live one’s life over and over and over again into eternity. Endless repetition. Suffocating symmetry.

Of course, these things we already knew. We intuitively avoid repetition and symmetry in the landscaping of our yards, and in the organization of our flower gardens. We arrange pictures on our walls purposefully avoiding parallel lines, or any juxtaposition that would suggest geometric designs. The tiles that we lay, and the individual pieces of wood that we select when laying a floor must give the appearance of randomness.

My biggest challenge as an artist has been to ‘loosen’ my style, to allow the chaotic asymmetry of nature into my painting, jewelry, and home decorating. Organization was my personal artistic demon. It would never let my hand stray too far from perfection, or allow my mind’s eye to see into the possibilities offered by abstraction. This freedom to innovate, I had to acquire through fierce discipline.

Several weeks ago I stumbled upon an artistic device - a system for doodling, really - that seems to unlock the gates that separate symmetry and her unseemly cousin, asymmetry, allowing them to co-mingle. Zentangles enables one to begin a work of art in total chaos and randomness, then to give it structure and unity.

Pictured is a sampling of my Zentangles designs, made while watching TV one evening. The ‘templates’ for each design were objects within my field of view and the television screen. (Perhaps you will recognize our cat, Rusty.)

Next challenge: incorporating a Zentangles design in a copper etching or bas relief in bronze. I’ll keep you posted on that!

Thursday, February 10, 2011


This morning a family of quail came into the back yard to visit. The blanket of snow on the open prairie just beyond our back fence surely made their foraging seem easier under the bird feeders hanging in the yard.

We never see just one. They are the most social of wild birds, marching around the yard like a squad of little soldiers in single file.

Among my best-selling enamel pieces are birds, butterflies, and even a little pig pendant. I must try to capture the distinctive shape and colors of these quail with their cotton-top crowns.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It's out there!

The blog came to life at 6:38 Monday afternoon. I took it “live” without the benefit of a profile, links, or even much of a statement of purpose. I suppose all blogs come to life in a similar way.

I chose the bronze necklace, a piece I named “Nestling”, to lead into the blog because it seems to sum up where I am with my bronze clay work now.  So I am going to allow myself a few words of explanation about working in bronze.

I love working with bronze because it has been the quintessential material for sculpture, jewelry and artworks for over 55 centuries.  Bronze is stronger than iron.  It resists corrosion, remains ductile, and jingles with a nice resonant ‘ping’.  All of which makes bronze ideal for artwear that is stylish, but unassuming.  Did you just read, “…and it’s a lot less expensive to work with than silver?” Glad I didn’t have to spell that out.

 The process I use begins with Bronzclay.  The “Nestling” was formed from three separate moldings of Elm tree bark that attach behind a hand-rolled bezel, nestling a large aqua stone. Bronze develops its patina during the firing process, and over time each piece acquires its own unique ‘living patina’, often exhibiting warm hues and azure highlights where it is most often touched.

Since each piece that I design is one-of-a-kind, the intention is for it to become an heirloom possession.  I’d love to hear from other bronze enthusiasts.

Monday, February 7, 2011

... beauty for its own sake

The jewelry that I design seeks to become art. It seeks beauty for its own sake. Because every piece that I create is one-of-a-kind, each piece must represent its own best effort. It must be unique and un-revisable - and natural. Like life itself.

Symmetry and perfection play only supporting roles in these efforts. More important are the values of balance, contradiction, and understatement. For it is the art of nature not to conform, or to imitate, but to be original, authentic, and genuine.

Surely I am not alone in this endeavor! The world must be filled with others who recognize that we create art for the same reasons that we fall in love, and have children, and keep pets, and grow flowers. The artworks that we are compelled to create provide substance, purpose, and meaning to our lives.

And so… this blog, which I begin for many of those same reasons. It is not my purpose to merely create a record of my own endeavors, but also to seek out others who may share my passion for art in all its forms. Surely we will have much to talk about.
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