life’s adventures.

Lately life has been more about my adventures AWAY from metalsmithing than adventures IN metalsmithing.  In early 2012 I became pregnant and chose at that time to step away from the studio.  I wasn’t 100% sure what the risks to my pregnancy were with many of the materials I use, so I decided to err on the side of caution and close up shop.

In October 2012 our daughter was born, and life hasn’t slowed down since.


In the 17 months that followed I poured all I have into being a mother to my daughter.  The journey has certainly had its ups and downs (and will continue to do so), but it’s been an amazing trip so far – and isn’t nearly done yet!  The next stop on our adventure is located deeper into the depths of parenting as we are preparing to add another member to our family.  Baby #2 is due on June 5th, 2014.  Our daughter has no idea how her world is about to change – and neither do we, to be honest!


With the bigger family came a bigger house, which is awesome, but it also meant that I had to leave my studio behind.  Over the next 12-18 months we hope to build a new studio for me in part of the unfinished basement.  While I’m very excited about designing a studio from scratch, I’m not nearly as excited about finding the time and money to make it happen.  But, I have faith that we’ll find a way to get me back up and running on or near the time when I’m ready to do so.

For now, I’m just enjoying my job as “Mommy”.  I’m excited to meet Baby #2 and to watch both of our children grown and develop into the individuals they are destined to become.

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. . . .”
~ Henry D. Thoreau

competition entry.

This is kind of a big deal for me, so I suppose the knot in the bottom of my stomach is a normal thing.  Today I officially entered a design competition.  My goal was to have already completed the link bracelet and have entered the competition with an actual photograph of the completed piece, but as previous blog posts have stated, this was not meant to be.  Luckily, it is a DESIGN competition, so to enter you only need to show the design.  To be a finalist, you need to show the completed piece!  After scrambling around yesterday trying to figure out how I was going to illustrate my design in a way that would communicate effectively, I finally came up with a rendering!

Bracelet SketchI would like to say that never before have I been so happy to have taken one semester of CAD (computer aided design) in college.  I was also extremely happy to discover that the software we used 10 years ago at Tyler School of Art is still one of the industry leaders for jewelry CAD-CAM.  And to top it all off, the software company is in the very early development of a Mac version and are currently offering it for free for beta-testing.  What does that all mean?  Well, I have a mostly fully-functioning piece of software that usually sells for a few thousand dollars – that may crash unexpectedly.  However, it did everything I needed it to do, and within a few hours I was able to create the bracelet on the computer as a 3D model.

Bracelet Wireframe

Next came the hard part… Rendering.  In the world of 3D graphics, there is the building of the underlying framework (see above), and then applying textures to said surfaces and lighting them so they look real.  I NEVER want to do that part again.  While it’s impressive, it’s just more than I care to ever do again.

Gordon found that 3D Studio Max offers their software as a 30-day trial, so I thought that would be perfect.  After downloading the Windows-only beast, I started to fumble around.  While I’m pretty good at picking up software, this one still has me baffled.  I’m just happy I stumbled upon enough to get an image to suit my needs!  Anyway, when I opened my piece in 3D Max, I started to apply materials to the surfaces.  This part went pretty quickly and was fairly simple.  The hard part was getting lighting to not look like crap.  Then I discovered the “color pencil” display and I fell in love.  It was everything I wanted my concept sketch to look like.

The first image above shows the basic rendering.  No lighting and a quick display of the surface textures.  The second shows the colored pencil drawing applied to the forms and then the last image is my attempt at making the bracelet look realistic.  I spent far too much time trying to get this image to look good, and in the end, my fear is that the piece that I make in the studio may not look exactly like this photo-realistic rendering. What if I choose to use a brushed finish on the metal or the oxidized finish isn’t quite that black?  With the pencil version it is almost expected that there would be some variation from concept drawing to actual finished piece, and I’m not forced to try to reproduce that piece EXACTLY if I’m selected to be a finalist for the competition.

I am kind of impressed with this rendering though, so I figured I might as well put the whole image in this post :)  The lighting is still not what I would like – I can do better with my photo booth on my dining room table!! The stones have no sparkle at all, but when the most appropriate texture for them was “clear glass”, what did I expect?!?!

So, now I just wait and see if I’m selected to produce my piece!  Finalists will be asked to produce their pieces by January 2012, and I’m assuming will be notified within the next month.  Considering I tried to produce this bracelet in less than 3 weeks, I’m sure that with about 3 months I’d have a much better shot at success!!

in the scrap pile: link bracelet

It only seems fitting that Murphy should come into the studio yesterday and lay down the law… hard.  As the adage goes, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”   I feel like this was a huge understatement.

I started the day working on the clasp for the link bracelet.  I thought everything was going fine, but then the mechanism just wouldn’t work. Next thing I knew, I had spent over half of my day on a clasp which needed to be scrapped.  Thanks, Murphy.

Realizing that time was quickly becoming a factor, I shifted gears and started soldering links together – the last solder joints on the entire piece.  Knowing that the end was in sight, Murphy struck again, and of course they just wouldn’t flow.  By the end of the evening, I had ruined more of the links than I could have salvaged.  Screw you, Murphy.  Who invited you anyway?

On a slightly positive note, in between ruining links, I did come up with a new clasp which works perfectly and actually goes better with the design of the bracelet.  A very small consolation.

So, the link bracelet has been retired to the scrap pile.  Sorry to everyone who was getting excited to see it finished!  While I was beyond frustrated and upset yesterday, I have calmed down dramatically today.  I actually learned a lot in the process of failing – so I suppose it wasn’t a total failure?  I feel like perhaps this time, my design and ambition were just greater than my skill level.  There’s one way to fix that, and that is to improve my skill level so next time I won’t fail so hard.  A good lesson to learn, albeit a rather expensive one at over $40 per ounce!

Also worth mentioning, the design competition I was going to enter isn’t totally out of the question.  The application requires a photo, rendering or drawing of the piece.  The designs are then judges, and finalists are asked to produce the piece for submission and final judging.  I have no skill in drawing, and I don’t feel that my 2D “renderings” communicate enough of what’s going on in the piece – since it needs to stand alone, without an entire blog post describing what it is!  It’s for those reasons that I felt it would be best to just produce the piece and submit a photograph.  But… if I can manage to draw the darn thing well enough, I could still enter the competition by scanning a drawing (or doing a decent computer rendering).  I have a few hours yet today to figure out what I am going to do, and I have until 5pm tomorrow to get the application submitted.  If I can’t get something together that I feel gives me a fighting chance, I’m not going to waste the money on the application fee.

still in progress: link bracelet

Just thought I’d post a quick update on the progress of the link bracelet.  I took a few days off (translation: procrastinated) and enjoyed a weekend of football – so nice to have it back!!  Now, with just days until the competition deadline, I’m going to be working non-stop to get the bracelet finished.  I feel like I’m back in college!  (I procrastinated then too!)  I try to rationalize it by saying that I work better under pressure, but we all know that’s pretty much crap!  Anyway, on to the progress, as there has been quite a bit.

Link Bracelet In ProgressAll of the links are constructed and I’ve completed nearly all of the soldering on the bracelet.  For the picture, I just have the links laid out touching each other, and will be connecting them tomorrow. The ball hinges work better than I could have imagined!  I’m so pleased with them!

In these detail shots you can see the hinges a bit better.  I also decided to go with prong settings for the stones.  Originally I had intended to do bezel settings in tubing, but for a few reasons, I opted to solder prong settings into tubing instead.  The main reason is that my stone-setting skills are pretty crappy.  Since the stones get set after everything else is complete, the last thing I wanted to have happen was to screw up setting a stone and have it ruin the whole piece.  I was nervous about using the prong settings, because I felt that aesthetically they weren’t going to make me happy, but I have to admit that they are growing on me.  I’m really looking forward to seeing them with the stones in place!

Tomorrow I finish soldering the links together and work on making the clasp.  This should be an adventure in itself, and I’ll be sure to snap lots of pictures as I construct it.  If all goes well, then Thursday is going to be polishing, patina and gold plating.  Photos will be shot, and then the competition entry will be submitted Friday – the final day.

(Please forgive the crappy photography – the iPhone can only do so much in the garage under much less than ideal lighting conditions!)

in progress: link bracelet

Since it’s Labor Day weekend, I thought I’d get in the studio and work my butt off.  My focus is on getting this link bracelet finished in time to enter into a design competition with a deadline that is quickly approaching:Trifecta BraceletThe hinge mechanism between each link is custom-made for this piece.  Standard hinges (think of a door hinge) require a straight edge on each side, but my design doesn’t have any straight edges!!  I needed to come up with some other type of connector, and I dismissed several options, including jump rings. My solution was to use a ball-in-socket joint, and I’m happy to say that I finished constructing them today! I also made significant progress in constructing the rest of the pieces for the links.

Bracelet In Progress

The small domes are soldered into their tubes, trimmed and filed flush.  The larger circles are almost at that point, however the excess metal still needs to be trimmed and filed from the top of the tubes.  After the cleanup on the larger circles is complete, all of the components will need to be sanded to the same height and squared up.  The bottom of the tubing will be capped with sterling silver sheet and cleanup. Then the real fun begins as all of the components will need to be connected.  First a large and small tube get soldered together, then the hinges and stone-settings get attached.  Piece by piece, link by link, the bracelet will eventually take form.  After all of that, I get to construct the clasp.  I’ve never made a box clasp, so that will be a learning experience for me, and I’ll be sure to post about that adventure when the time comes!  After everything is constructed and connected the bracelet will be cleaned and polished.  Finally, after all of that, the black patina and gold plating will be applied and stones will be set.

Whew!  I didn’t realize how much I have left until I wrote it all out!  Here I thought I had accomplished a lot today!  (Don’t worry, I still think I got a lot done… I just know I have a lot more to do!)

where inspiration led.

As I have posted before, I’m not one to sketch in the traditional sense of the word.  I don’t break out the pencils and drawing pads and get graphite all over my hands.  My years in desktop publishing and graphic design have conditioned me to do my thinking on the screen.  I will admit that it’s times like this when I wish I had taken more of the CAD classes offered in college, but alas, I’ll just continue to design 3-dimensional pieces with a 2-dimensional tool.  Not ideal, but I’ll make due for now.

When I decided to enter a design competition this fall, I immediately went to my trusty page layout program to start designing some new pieces.  Doesn’t everyone?

Inspired by a ring I made for my sister, this link bracelet emerged.

Trifecta BraceletThis piece is by far the most ambitious piece I will have ever attempted to make – and I’m so excited to get started.  Tomorrow I head into the studio to start making some prototypes in brass and copper to ensure that the mechanisms all work as intended.  When the rest of my materials arrive on Wednesday the real fun will begin.

It’s too soon to tell if I’ll ever try to sell this bracelet, but I have come up with some designs that I’d like to think could make it into a production line.

The first piece would be the slightly modified version of my sister’s ring.  The scale is slightly smaller, but it now includes a tube-set stone and sterling silver ball accenting the two concave bowls.  The sketch shows an oxidized patina and 24kt gold surface treatment on the concave surfaces.

Next would be a pair of earrings.  While they may appear to be slightly asymmetric, the right and left are just mirrors of each other – both vertically and horizontally. I like to think that this little bit of whimsy helps add fun and movement to the design.  As with the ring, various surface treatments and stone options will be available.

The whimsy and asymmetry that started to come through in the earring design took off when I started working on a pendant for the series.

And so it appears, at least for now, that a new series is born.  The next test will be taking all of the designs from the 2-dimensional “drawings” that they are today into actual 3-dimensional pieces.  While I feel confident that the construction of the pieces is very well thought out, I’m not foolish enough to believe that I won’t come across obstacles along the way.  But that’s the fun part, right?

fighting the paralysis.

In 2010 I lost both of my parents to cancer.  My father was diagnosed in early December and died abruptly in late January – just as he was starting to see an improvement in how he was feeling.  Although he wasn’t given a high chance of surviving his cancer, he wasn’t told it was terminal.  Not surprisingly, we were caught completely off guard when he passed so unexpectedly.  This alone could be enough to send a person reeling, but I honestly didn’t have time.  You see, the day after my father’s memorial service, I had to take my mom to the oncologist for the first time to receive her diagnosis – terminal, small-cell lung cancer.

For the next 9 months my sister and I attempted to live our lives, all the while trying to care for our mother hundreds of miles away.  In the month of February, I believe I spent more nights sleeping in the guest bed at my Mom’s apartment than in my own bed in Virginia. (And I’d do it again, gladly, if I could!)  By the end of summer Mom was admitted to the Hospice Short-Stay facility in Mount Joy, PA.  It was Labor Day weekend when she was admitted for “pain management”.  The hospice nurse who visited her at home once or twice a week suggested she go there since the doctors could more closely manage and adjust her pain medication.  The idea was once she had her pain meds adjusted, she’d be discharged and sent on her way. She would never leave.  My sister and I practically lived at the hospice center with Mom during the month she was there.  We watched her fade away, and eventually die, peacefully.  And then we went home…

Today feels no different than any day last October.  I still cry daily.  I still haven’t moved on with my life.  I fight paralysis every moment of every day… Most days I lose.  I honestly do not know how to move on with my life.  I know I should get up each morning, go down into the studio and make something.  It doesn’t have to be anything fantastic, just SOMETHING.  When I do, I always feel a little better… It’s just getting into the studio that seems like a insurmountable hurdle.

I’m sure that at this point I’ve crossed the line from sad / mourning to depressed.  After all, it’s been how long?!?  And I’m still not “over it”?!?  I don’t know how long it should take to get back to living life the way I did before this nightmare.  All I do know is that I lost my best friend, and it has left me paralyzed.

back in the studio!

I was able to get back into the studio – which was a wonderful treat for me.  I was armed with my sketches and ready to start making some earrings!

The first step was to create the square and circle “pillows”.  The squares were created using my hydraulic press, and the circles were created using my disc cutter and dapping block. I also knew that I wanted to put a piece of tubing through the pillows, so the next step was to make some tubing!

The tubing is made from scratch.  I don’t have all the tools needed to make perfect tubing, so I made due with what I have, and made my tubing in small pieces.  To make the tubing, I hammered the sheet around a mandrel, and then formed it around until the edges met.  Once the sides are brought around to each other, the seam is soldered and the tubing is re-shaped to smooth out any lopsidedness.  Ideally, when making your own tubing, you’d want to make a longer piece that you can then pull through a draw-plate to ensure your tubing is a perfect circle.  Since I don’t have this capability, I was restricted to making tubing only in diameters to which I had corresponding mandrels for shaping around.

Once I have the tubing and the press-forms, next comes the task of fitting the two together.  I sawed holes in the domes,making sure that the holes are at the same place on both domes, so they line up once the tube is inserted.  This step is perhaps the most crucial step to ensure the design works successfully.  If the holes don’t line up, then the outer edge won’t line up either.  If the hole for the tubing is done sloppily, then there will be gaps, and as I learned early on in school… Solder will not fill gaps! (at least not the big ones!)

The decorative holes which are drilled into the shapes prior to soldering serve two purposes.  The first is that they are really quiet pretty and add some visual interest to the finished piece, but more importantly, the holes are a necessity!  When a hollow piece is soldered closed, an air hole must be drilled into the piece.  This allows air to escape as it expands when the piece is heated.  If an air hole is not drilled, there is a huge risk of the piece exploding!! As the piece is heated, the air which is trapped inside expands.  If the air has no where to go as it expands, the entire piece can explode.  Since I’m not in the mood to have shards of hot metal flying in every direction, I choose to drill air holes!!

Filing and sanding are quite tedious steps in the process, but have such a big impact on the final piece.  Getting lazy and cutting corners during these steps will show in the final piece. No matter what finish I choose for the earrings, they must be brought up to a high polish finish first.  Any scratches or file marks that aren’t removed will show through any surface treatment which is applied. The rest of the process will be covered in a later blog post, along with photographs of the finished pieces.

since I don’t “sketch”.

Life has been a bit crazy, and while I haven’t been able to be IN my studio, I felt I should use the time to do some “sketching”. I’ve never been a person who picks up her sketchbook and pencils and walks away with something useful. I’ve always worked better by taking elements and moving them around until they found themselves in a pleasing arrangement. It’s not much of a process, but I work with what I’ve got! Since trial and error can be an expensive way to work if you’re using sterling silver, I found that the best way to “draw” my new design ideas was actually to use my graphic design software to do my “sketching” digitally. Working in Adobe InDesign was the best fit for me – partly because it’s the software I know best, but also because I could create libraries of the elements I would create in the studio, and then move them around on the page.

I knew that I wanted to start incorporating stones into my pieces, and decided to order 4mm, round cubic zirconia. I also knew that I was going to set them in tube-settings (I’ll devote and entire post to tube setting in the near future). So, that was the first element I added to my arsenal.  I also knew the size of the square die forms I would be using, as well as the dapped domes.  The rest were added after the fact, and in the end, I came up with some cute ideas to take to the studio…

bathroom is not a photo booth.

So, I learned tonight that the bathroom is NOT a photo booth.  While it might be the brightest room in the house at the moment, it’s just not an acceptable place to photograph jewelry.  That being said, I don’t think there’s anywhere in the house that is an acceptable setup for photographing jewelry.

That being said, I wasn’t exactly expecting to have something to photograph already!  I guess I should be thankful for this problem!

Tonight I completed my first pair of earrings.  The squares are shallow press forms made from pieces of etched sterling silver I had saved from college. There are two square press forms per earring which are soldered back to back. The squares spin on a rod which goes through the middle and is capped on both sides by silver domes. The wire makes a continuous oval, but in the back the wire opens to allow the wire to go through the earlobe and then “clips” behind the back of the dome on the back of the earring.

I was quite pleased when I tried them on to discover that they weren’t too heavy and my ear didn’t look like it was being dragged down by the weight of them.  I was a bit worried about the weight as I was making them, but so far so good!

When I get a better setup for photographing jewelry, I’ll retake this photo, but for now, it’s something!