Saturday, November 7, 2009

Come to the show!

Just a quick note: Hope you'll come see me at the UAF Women's Bazaar this weekend and/or at the Holiday Marketplace next weekend. (See sidebar for details.) I'll be downstairs in Wood Center today; upstairs tomorrow. [Edit: I will not have a table on Sunday after all.] While you're saying hello, please sign up for my new email list and get a chance to win one of three $50 gift certificates. The winners will be drawn at random and will be notified by email on November 16.

I won't be sending tons of emails. I mostly want a way to send important announcements (for example, when I get my etsy and ArtFire shops up and running — which really, really is going to happen soon. Really.).

Whatever you do, have fun today! I'm headed out to do one of my favorite things: Meet y'all.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Seasons change...

From this...

and this...

to petunias in the snow, overnight...

For a short time it seemed we'd zipped right through Autumn into Winter, with early frosts in August and then snow that seemed to want to stick in mid-September. Thankfully, it has warmed up a bit, so now we have time to batten down for the cold that's coming.

The turning of the seasons always brings a little sadness, and this year the passing of Summer was especially poignant as it saw the closing of New Horizons Gallery in downtown Fairbanks. A 30-year community fixture, New Horizons nurtured many a young and developing artist, including myself, always with kindness and great appreciation for the work. I miss my frequent visits to the gallery terribly.

Although New Horizons is gone, don't forget that you can still find my jewelry in Fairbanks at The Artworks on College Road and at The Magic Carpet in Chena Pump Plaza. I'll also be sending out a fresh batch of stuff to Fireweed Gallery in Homer within the next two weeks, and if you're in Anchorage, stop by Portfolio and ask to see my things.

New seasons also bring new opportunities, and this year I decided it's finally time to venture into one of Fairbanks' biggest holiday arts venues, the Holiday Marketplace at the Carlson Center. This is a huge 3-day show (November 13-15), and I'm really excited about it. I'll also be at the University Women's Bazaar on Saturday, November 7. At the moment, these are the only two holiday shows I plan to do, so if there's a gift you'd like for someone special and you can't make it to those or to the stores and galleries, please be sure to get in touch.

After a few more outdoor chores, I'll be "chained to my bench," working away — and quite happily, too. When it's too cold to play outside for very long, it's the perfect temperature to stay indoors and play with fire and metals.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Under the Midnight Sun

Have you seen your first moose yet?

(Of course, I'm asking our visitors. If you live in Alaska, you've probably seen more moose than you can count. But if you're like me, you still get excited every single time.)

Here's a little bull that hangs around along Chena Hot Springs Road near my home:

He's become quite the star: Cars are always stopped and cameras snapping away while he munches water plants and snorts. He can't be that irritated, though, because I always see him in pretty much the same spot. (Please, visitors, never walk up to a moose. Even a little one. They'll stomp you flat.)

If you're here for your first visit, are you thrilled by the nearly nonstop daylight — or is it driving you crazy? It's a little of both for me: I love forgetting what time it is and discovering that I'm out tending my flowers at 11 p.m. But I'm also hyperaware of how fleeting our summers are, and I want to wring every last bit of good out of these precious long days.

Thus, I must admit my blogging has been on the back burner as I spend as much time as possible outside (and some at my bench).

As proof that I do spend a bit of time working, I offer this photo of a batch of silver squiggles being carded, headed with a bunch of other stuff to the Magic Carpet at Denali, Portfolio in Anchorage and Fireweed Gallery in Homer. (Please stop in if you're in the vicinity and say I sent you.)

Want to see a few more of the things that feed my soul?

Here I am on the banks of the Chena River. (Betcha didn't know I'm a giant.)

All my life I've picked up interesting stones and toted them home, so you can imagine what a joy spots like this are. Luckily, my husband has a less acquisitive perspective on rocks, so I haven't cleared the banks or covered our property. Yet.

Here's a lovely spot in a stand of birches at Creamer's Field in Fairbanks.

I love walking the trails there, mostly for the trees. Well, the trees and the birds. Most folks go for the migratory birds — it is a refuge, after all, and loads of sandhill cranes, Canada geese, trumpeter swans and ducks of every persuasion stop there to rest and eat on the way to their nesting grounds. If you're there at the right time, you can see workers from the Alaska Bird Observatory catching songbirds in mist nets and banding them, too. And if you're interested in learning about the flora and fauna, catch one of the guided nature walks.

I've been spending a lot of time planting flowers — my ususal petunias, mimulus, nasturtiums, snapdragons, gloriosa daisies, geraniums. Anything with lots of color. My soul craves the bright colors after the pastels of the winter.

Those flowers aren't ready for primetime photography yet, but here's a beloved chokecherry in bloom:

Look at those leaves! Isn't that a yummy green? Especially compared to the still-brown grass. This tree was a gift from an old friend no longer with us. Last year it bloomed for the first time; I hope we have more cherries for the birds than the three little ones that emerged last year.

Today I wandered around picking leaves from the willows, roses, cranberries, dogwoods and lots of other plants to press for my Forest Floor jewelry. That's work, isn't it? (Like most of my work, it's certainly fun.)

It has been more than a month since my last blog entry (gasp), and I have so much more to share... updates on the Stone Soup Challenge, new adventures with embossing and resin, profiles of the shops and galleries that represent me. If I don't come back and write again soon, I'll never catch up. So I guess my next entry will be written outside on my laptop.

Until then, here's one last bit of inspiration. Looks to me like a caribou marked this birch with his hoofprint. What do you see?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Stone Soup Challenge update

As promised, I want to share with you the lovely items I've bought from other artists as part of the Stone Soup Challenge.

First of all, I found this sweet little mouse ACEO by Melody Lea Lamb:

The mouse was the perfect gift for a dear friend from college. It's a long story that involves me rescuing a couple of mice from becoming a snake snack at a pet store while little kids looked on and then giving them — truthfully, dumping them on — my best friend, sneakily, while she was out of her room. Ummm... They multiplied. And I keep sending her reminders all these years later. I still wish I could have seen her face when she walked in and saw the cage sitting on her bed, but I'm really glad I wasn't there.

My friend was delighted by the ACEO and reports that Melody Lea made her feel special by enclosing several extras with it. I know that she has been a dream to communicate with, and I'm enchanted by the way she captures the essence of the little animals and birds she paints. Please take a few minutes to visit her store. Bet you'll find something you like.

Next, I fell in love with these lampwork beads by Art by Lisi

This is her "Tropico" colorway, and the breezy island colors beckoned to me while we still had tons of snow on the ground and freezing temps. I have a special plan for these beads and will show you later.

Lisi's beads are like candy: I want more and more. I'm sure I'll be a regular customer. She makes most of them to order, but it's well worth the short wait, and you know you're getting special attention, so please browse her shop. I know you'll find your own "gotta have" colors there.

On the "buy local" front, I first met Abby and Bo Coffell of Entwined Designs at a holiday show last year. Bo makes lampwork beads, and Abby turns them into gorgeous jewelry — and has begun experimenting with metalsmithing, as well. Abby is becoming a good friend, and I'm looking forward to purchasing beads from them.

And finally, I did a bit of bartering at Saturday's show. I've admired Vladimir Zhikartsev's work for years. I first became aware of him through the World Ice Art Championships held in Fairbanks every March: He's one of the top carvers with many awards under his belt, including the 2009 team 1st Place and People's Choice award in the abstract multiblock category for this piece

Besides being a world-class sculptor, Vladimir is also an accomplished painter, and I've been lusting after his work for quite some time. So when he offered to barter, I jumped at the chance to trade jewelry for prints. I chose two gorgeous framed pieces — this Birch Tree and another piece called Shallow Water. And in return, I'm flattered to say my jewelry will be headed to Russia as gifts for his family and friends.

Next I'm planning to purchase more beads from Deborah Gregory of Sweetwater Designs. She's offering a "buy one, get one" sale in her Etsy shop until May 1, so hurry over and snap up some of her gorgeousness before it's all gone.

Whew. Now I'm headed into Fairbanks to deliver some jewelry to New Horizons and the Artworks. [Edit: Didn't make it to Artworks; hope to get there Friday.] I plan to mail a package to Portfolio in Anchorage on Thursday, and I will have photos of new work up soon. It's easier now that we have all this glorious daylight!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Red Alert: EAFB bazaar is closed to general public!

After inviting the world to visit my booth at the Spring Break-Up Bazaar on Eielson Air Force Base tomorrow, I've just now been informed that the military powers that be have changed their minds and closed the bazaar to the general public. Only DoD personnel and families will be allowed inside the gate.

So, if you're not DoD, please don't make the drive. 

And I apologize most profusely for the confusion. Unfortunately, the bazaar organizers have done a poor job of informing vendors about changes, and I would not have known this had I not contacted them about something entirely different. Needless to say, finding out on the day before the bazaar when I've been advertising it since February is a huge problem.

If you were planning to go, especially to visit my booth, I hope you will visit one of the galleries and shops that have my jewelry — or get in touch with me. If you're in the area, I'll be happy to arrange a private showing; if not, I'm also happy to send photos of my jewelry.

I'm very disappointed about this, but there will be other opportunities. The Girdwood Forest Fair is the weekend of July 4th, and I'm looking for other events between now and then.

Hope to see and/or hear from lots of you soon.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The missing link

You know, I know that I'm an exceedingly lucky person. I love what I do, and I love where I do it. Even after living in Alaska for 14 1/2 years, I am still facinated by its utter difference from Georgia, where I grew up, and I know there are few other places in the world where I might encounter lynx or bears or moose on my own property. The Aurora Borealis still stops me in my tracks — freezing or not — and the Midnight Sun still gives me a huge energy boost.

Of all the "jobs" I've had — from newspaper reporting to state government work to selling office furniture to providing respite care for elders — making jewelry is what I choose to do for the rest of my life. I can't imagine ever growing tired of it or disliking it or wanting to give it up.

Still, I sometimes feel there's something missing.

And this year, I've finally realized what that missing link is. It's you!

I spend almost all my time alone, which does suit me. I like quiet — or I like cranking up the Talking Heads or B52s on the stereo. (Egads, I just dated myself. Most of you will have no clue who those bands are.)

You've heard the phrase "spark of creativity." Well, it's hard to create a spark in a vacuum.

At the new year, I decided I wanted to break out of my shell a little bit and work on developing new relationships. And like magic, as soon as I made the decision, opportunities began coming my way. (The blog has helped a lot.)

I'm thrilled to have made new connections with people who've bought my jewelry, with people who've admired my jewelry, with other artists and artisans. I've got a great email correspondence going with a couple of you, I've spoken with several of you on the telephone, and I've met more than a handful of you for coffee and conversation. One of you generously offered to help me make a banner for the blog (which is progressing beautifully), and someone else is considering photographing my jewelry on live models.

And to a person, you have inspired me. You've given me new ideas and suggestions, you've asked me for a special piece for a special occasion, you've shared your reactions to my work and even pushed me to try something different. Every time I meet one of you — whether in person or by email or on the phone — I come away with renewed energy, eager to get to the bench and make something new.

Thank you!

This Saturday (the 25th) I hope I'll meet lots more of you at the Spring Break-Up Bazaar on Eielson Air Force Base. If you're in Fairbanks, it might seem like a long way to drive, but hey: It's gorgeous out there, and all of us artists are finally stirring from the winter doldrums, brimming with enthusiasm and creative spark. Please stop by my booth and say hello!

If you're nowhere near Eielson, how about Homer or Denali or Anchorage? I recently sent a small shipment to Fireweed Gallery; I'm working on the first order of the season for the Magic Carpet at Denali (opening in mid-May); and I'll be sending a package off to Portfolio in Anchorage next week (after a bit of a hiatus, so this is particularly exciting).

If you're nowhere near Alaska, I've got some ideas percolating in my head that should come to fruition after the bazaar, and I'll be taking photos and writing about them here. You can always get in touch if you see something you like. Please do! Because I've just realized how much I need you all.

Here's a hint of one of the new things: A couple of weeks ago I picked up a book on metal embossing techniques, and I was so enchanted with it that I started looking on-line for some embossing tools. I almost decided not to fiddle with it because the new tools seemed expensive, but how's this for serendipity: I found a set of antique Japanese (I think) embossing tools in a lovely case on eBay and got them for a song. Here they are:

After this week, I hope I'll have time to play with them. My ideas about how to incorporate embossing into my jewelry are a bit hazy at the moment, but the seeds are there, and I can't wait to see what blossoms.

Happy Spring!

(P.S. Wow... It's been a month since I posted, and I have a lot more to share. So next time, look for an update on my purchases for the Stone Soup Challenge, plus a couple of new designs.)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Earth Hour, Made in Alaska, and playing tag

Did you participate in Earth Hour last night? We did: I turned off all the lights, unplugged the computers and TV, and listened to the silence and my husband playing his acoustic guitar. It's always pretty quiet here, and there's not a lot of artificial light outside the house, either, but it was so nice just to sit and enjoy the time together. Wonder why we do so little of that?

Before we get to the game, I must report that I finally applied for (and was accepted into) the Made in Alaska program. I'm not sure why it took me a decade to do this, as the process is completely painless and the cost is minimal. But this means I can now display the Made in Alaska logo on my jewelry cards and other materials. For folks who already live in Alaska, this may not matter. But for our many visitors from elsewhere, it's a reliable assurance from the Alaska Department of Economic Development that they're not buying "Alaskan" tchotches actually made in China.

Plus, the logo is kinda cute: a polar bear mom and cub..

Now for the game: I've been tagged by wonderful painter and photographer Joanne Giesbrecht, so now you get to learn stuff about me you probably don't really want to know. Or maybe you do? In any case, here goes:

What are you wearing now?
Jeans, a Georgia Bulldogs long-sleeve T (tho I'm not a fan, husband is), organic cotton socks and sheepskin slippers.

How often do you blog?
I try once a week. But fail.

Who was the last person you hugged?
My husband. I think it was by lamplight during Earth Hour last night.

Which item from your closet are you wearing most lately?
Still wearing my heavy Scottish wool cardigan most nights.

What's for dinner?
I don't want to think about that.

What's the last thing you bought?
Three larimar cabochons — and probably paid too much, but oh! so pretty.

What are you listening to right now?
Blessed silence. And my finches beeping and chattering.

What is your favorite weather and why?
A crisp autumn day. I still get that "new beginnings" feeling from all those years starting school in the fall. And the leaves smell so good.

What time do you usually get up?
Between 12:30 and 1:30 p.m. (Yes, weird. I go to bed at about 4 a.m.)

What is your most challenging goal right now?
Finding all the papers to do my taxes — and actually doing them. And then cleaning up my studio.

Say something about the person who tagged you.
Joanne pays exquisite attention to detail, not only in her wonderful paintings, but also in her photographs. She loves and is inspired by the natural world as much as I do/am.

If you could have a house — totally paid for, fully furnished — anywhere in the world, where would you want it to be?
Sewanee, Tennessee, my heart's home.

Favorite vacation spot?
Any vacation anywhere would be nice. Haven't had a true vacation in many years.

What movies can you watch over and over again?
O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Amelie, Ronin, Dead Man, Baghdad Cafe, Howl's Moving Castle

What is your favorite tea?
Earl Grey or a good green chai

Who are you tagging?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Birches and serendipity

When I'm working at my bench, a giant birch tree is my constant companion. All I have to do is look out the window, and there it stands, a gorgeous guardian spirit.

Most of our property is covered in black spruce, so the bright white bark of this birchtree stands out. When I'm daydreaming or trying to figure something out, my eyes rest there.

Here's my companion birch in early summertime.

Decked with a rainbow in the golden light of a late summer rainstorm.

And here is a close-up of her bark.

No wonder, then, that one of my favorite jewelry patterns is called "Birches." Inspired by my faithful birch tree, it's also a lot of fun to make, as I enjoy hammering the bark pattern.

Here I've added a tiny, pale citrine to the pendant. It reminds me of birch syrup, which I keep promising myself I will learn to make. These earrings and pendant are polished to a high shine; unfortunately, the shiny part shows up as grey in my photos. But I can promise that you will stand out as brightly as my birchtree when you're wearing them.

Serendipity is one of my favorite words, and it's a concept I embrace wholeheartedly: That so often when we're looking for something, we accidentally find something else that's even better. So I should not have been surprised to find an email waiting for me after my last blog post asking if anyone would be interested in bartering a bit of web design for jewelry.

But here's the fun part: The person who emailed me is substitute teaching in Fairbanks. She had picked up a copy of an Ikea catalog at the school (on her first day working there), and my business card fell out. She liked the design, was surprised that I'm in the Fairbanks area, and so she looked me up on the Internet. Ta daaa: There I was, asking for help with something she loves to do.

So we've talked, and it sounds like we've got a deal. Don't you just love it when the Universe gives you exactly what you need? And makes you laugh and shake your head at the same time?


Monday, March 16, 2009

How do you know you're buying my jewelry?

Does that seem like a silly question?

Well, it just occurred to me that I haven't shown you my logo, so you wouldn't know what to look for when you visit one of the galleries or shops that support me. Of course, you could just ask, and they'll take you right to my things. But in case you're shy, here's a photo of my Ruffles chain and the matching earrings — on the Tin Cup Designs card.

I hope soon I'll either figure out how to incorporate the logo into the blog layout or that I can barter with a graphic artist to set up a layout for me. I'm also hoping to sell a bit on-line, and my "store" will need to show my "brand," too. (Hint: If you're a graphic artist and you like my jewelry, get in touch and let's see if we can work out a barter arrangement.)

At the moment, I have an experimental "booth" set up at Bonanzle. I've only posted four items: two chains and two pairs of earrings. I'd like to hear your reaction to the site: Is it easy to use? Is it appealing? Would you actually buy something from there? 

One feature I do like is that customers can chat with me while browsing if I'm on the site or leave comments I'll see immediately if I'm not. The idea of having a conversation with you is appealing.

I'm also planning on setting up shop on Etsy and Artfire. I'll let you know when I do, as I'll want feedback then, too. I feel a little like Goldilocks: I need to try them on to see which site is "just right" for me and for you.

I do want to emphasize that I have no intention of allowing my on-line sales to overshadow my galleries and shops. They will continue to be my primary outlet, and in these tough times, I want to do everything I can to promote and support them. Please help keep the arts community alive and vibrant by visiting the galleries where you live.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Longing for summer in Alaska...

It's March. We've still got two or three feet of snow on the ground, depending where you step. It is warmer: Yesterday it was about 27 degrees F. We're gaining nearly seven minutes of daylight every day, and our days are already nearly 12 hours long.

But I'm impatient. Yes, I could be out there on my snowshoes, enjoying the clean sharp air and looking for animal tracks and birds. I do love the way snow makes various things — say, a stack of summer tires or a clump of small spruce trees — look like cupcakes with icing or sugared donuts.

But dang it, I'm ready for some color! I want leaves and flowers and butterflies!

When I'm feeling like this, the best thing I can do is pull out the dried leaves my friend and I collected over the past couple of years and make a Forest Floor cuff. Like this one:

When I'm working on one of the Forest Floor pieces, I'm not just shaping metal. I'm enjoying summertime in Alaska.

Did you know that scent is considered the strongest trigger for memory? The scent of the leaves, stored in layers of blotting paper, is fresh and earthy — and when crushed in the rolling mill, the leaves' sap and oils perfume the studio. Instantly, I'm back in the woods, kneeling on thick moss, watching the sun shine through the canopy of birch leaves, picking berries.

Here are just a few of the plants I use in my jewelry. All of them live on our 10 acres in Two Rivers.

This is Alaskan Dogwood. (Being from the South, where dogwood is a tree, I laughed when I first saw this tiny earth-hugging bush. But it makes a gorgeous carpet of green in summer and crimson in fall.)

This is High-Bush Cranberry, good for jelly.

And poisonous Red Baneberry.

Here is Fireweed, the barometer of our summertime. As the blooms progress up the stalk and finally burst into puffy white seed fluff, we know summer is going and it's time to batten down for winter again.

And here are our lovely Alaskan Wild Roses. They seem to bloom all at once, and only for a few days. They're everywhere; the air is sweet with them. And after the roses come the brilliant red and orange rosehips.

You'll find these and many others in the Forest Floor pieces.

Just as in nature, no two cuffs or pendants or pairs of earrings will ever be the same because the leaves are crushed and destroyed in the embossing process.

After the metal is embossed, I saw the edges a bit and file them. I like to make the pattern irregular, like the bug-bitten edges of some plants and trees.

The leaves always shift a bit while going through the mill, so I'm never sure what I'll see until it's done. There's always a "flaw," where the metal slipped too much and the pattern didn't take or where the leaves cracked or moved too far apart. This actually delights me.

These are opportunities to play, serendipity instead of mistake. In the cuff you see here, a slight diagonal space along the bottom edge didn't take the leaf pattern at all. Wonderful! It gave me an opportunitiy to hand engrave cross-hatching there. The straight lines contrast nicely with the irregularities of the natural forms, don't you think?

Now you know that each Forest Floor piece carries with it the reality of nature in Alaska, the memory of specific summer days and specific places, and a little bit of serendipity. What a wonderful mix!

Friday, February 27, 2009

No fear.

Listen to the news and you'll think the world is ending. People are losing homes and jobs, and everybody seems afraid of the future. I will confess to feeling a little anxiety myself from time to time. When people are cutting back on the groceries they buy, why would they buy jewelry?

But here's the thing. It's okay to be afraid, as long as you don't stop there. The real answer to fear is this: Do something. Preferably something positive, that will help another person. Because we're all in this world together, and when we open our hearts and our hands to one another, we create energy and strength that can overcome whatever it is we fear — and then some.

So here's what I've decided to do. I've never liked the old stereotype of the "starving artist." I think most people are more creative with a full and happy life. So I've joined the Stone Soup Challenge. This is a grassroots movement started by artist Laura Bray. The goal is for artists and crafters to help one another by promising to use a portion of their monthly profits to invest in a fellow artist's shop.

I already buy many of the beads I use from small local shops (The Spinning Room and Pristine's in Fairbanks), but I can do more. I'd like to buy more lampwork beads for special pieces, and so I'll be searching those out from local artists and on sites like Etsy.

I also plan to put some money aside every month so that I can start buying small paintings again. This feels great, because I used to have a nice little collection, but it was all destroyed in a house fire a decade ago. The Stone Soup Challenge has given me the little push I needed to start buying again.

What can you do? Well, of course you can buy my jewelry. If you're in the area, you can help support the galleries and shops that represent me. If not, contact me directly, and I'll be happy to make something for you. And beyond that, whenever you have need of a small gift, consider original art (mine or any artist's). Art feeds the soul, which may be even more important when it feels like all news is bad news.

Most important: Don't live in your fear. Do something. Help someone else. Life is a big circle, and the good you do will come back to you with interest.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Swiss cheese, anyone?

Or perhaps a lunar landing?

I don't make these very often, but I always have fun when I do. Dropped them off at New Horizons yesterday, along with some very shiny, very curvy thin cuff bracelets.

Still playing with brooch options for the Leaf Moth. Nothing's quite right yet, but I dreamed about it last night.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Leaf Moth pendant in progress

Here's a first quick look at a copper and sterling silver Leaf Moth Pendant. I've figured out an interesting way to convert it to a brooch and hope to work on that tonight. This made me so happy, though, that I just couldn't wait to share it. It's going to be awfully hard for me to sell it. If you have the least bit of interest in it, start sweet-talking me now. *grin*

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Color Joy

Need a spot of color to brighten your day?

Stop by the Artworks or New Horizons in Fairbanks. 
I'm making a delivery of these sterling silver and glass swirl drop
earrings later today.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tarnish or patina?

Do you wonder about the best way to clean and care for your sterling or copper jewelry? There's no single best answer.

Probably the first thing to consider is whether you're dealing with tarnish or with a patina. The two conditions are similar and the difference is largely in the eye of the beholder: If you don't like the dark coloration, you probably call it tarnish. If you do like it — or if it is part of the artist's design for your piece — it's a patina.

For instance, take a look at these two bead rings.

Both are sterling silver wire with a carnelian bead. I just made the top ring; I've worn the bottom one on and off for several years. Personally, I think the patina improves the older ring by accentuating the curved lines of the wire, but to other eyes, it may simply look tarnished. It's case of personal preference.

Sometimes the artist has decided to add coloration as part of the design of the piece. For instance, the embossed leaves would not show up if the Forest Floor Cuff lacked a patina.

In contrast, the high shine works well for the Folded Cuff because it shows off the smooth fold against the dimples of the hammered surface.

In these Random Copper Dots earrings, the difference between patina and clean, polished metal is a key part of the design. The dark patina shows off the embossed pattern and contrasts nicely with the bright, shiny copper beads on the earwires.

So, to get back to the original question about cleaning and caring for copper and sterling silver: As in medicine, the best cure is prevention

If you want to avoid tarnish, gently clean your jewelry with a soft cloth before putting it away. This removes oil and dirt that can react with the metal.

Silver and copper (and even gold, although much more slowly) oxidize when exposed to certain gases in the air. Therefore, don't leave your jewelry out on your dresser: Keep it in a jewelry box, preferably in air-tight zippered plastic bags. Placing individual pieces (or pairs of earrings) in separate bags will also help as some metals react with others. Better quality jewelry boxes are made with special anti-tarnish cloth linings, and you can also purchase drawstring or zippered bags made of the same material. These work very well.

Even when you keep your jewelry clean and properly stored, tarnish happens. How you clean it depends on what materials you have.

If your jewelry includes gemstones or an artist-applied patina, clean it very gently with a jeweler's rouge cloth. You can buy these at any jewelry store, and they last for years. Rub the metal (not the stones or pearls) with moderate pressure, and be careful not to remove too much color if the patina is important.

I don't recommend using ultrasonic cleaners for jewelry with stones, because the vibrations will break some gems. Also, never use chemical jewelry cleaners on gemstones and pearls; the chemicals can discolor the stones or even create pits in the surface. Again, a rouge cloth is best, or take the piece to your jeweler to have it cleaned professionally (usually at little to no charge).

Jewelry made entirely of metal is simpler to clean.

Most of my chains are finished to a very high polish. Using a rouge cloth on large-linked chains is too labor-intensive, so I recommend a chemical cleaner for these. (I use liquid Tarn-x. You can find it in the cleaning supplies aisle at your grocery store.) Simply pour a very small quantity of the Tarn-x into a glass or plastic bowl, put the chain in it and swirl it around for a few seconds until the tarnish is gone. Then rinse in warm water and dry with a soft cloth.

Here's one of my chains: Heavily tarnished in the top photo, and then clean and shiny after being dipped in Tarn-x.

Just remember that any chemical tarnish remover will strip away all of the oxidation, including intentional patina, so don't use these unless you want absolutely no dark areas on your jewelry.

For copper, I recommend a product called Bon Ami. You will find this powder at the grocery store alongside other kitchen cleansers, such as Comet or Ajax. However, never use the other powder cleansers for jewelry, as they can scratch and damage softer metals. Bon Ami is made especially to clean copper and is not abrasive.

I generally put a small amount of Bon Ami in my palm and add a little water to make a thin paste. I use my fingers to rub the paste onto the copper. If there are crevices or if the tarnish is especially heavy, I sometimes use a soft (baby) toothbrush. If you do this, be very gentle, as too much pressure on the brush can cause scratches. When the tarnish is gone, rinse the piece in warm water and dry with a soft cloth.

Here are a couple of before and after pictures of part of a thin copper bracelet.

I actually like the way the patina in the top photo highlights the hammer marks, but I wanted to demonstrate how the copper looks after cleaning with Bon Ami. The patina will come back gradually as I wear the bracelet.

This brings up another issue: Your body chemistry affects the way metal will tarnish as you wear it. Some people cannot wear copper next to the skin because it turns green. Some can't wear silver because it leaves black marks on their skin. Some people are allergic to these and other metals. If you're one of these folks but you love silver and copper, choose jewelry that won't touch your skin, such as a brooch or a chain that you can wear over a turtleneck.

If you visit one of Alaska's many hot springs, be sure to take your jewelry off before going into the water. The high sulfur content will turn your jewelry completely black, even gold jewelry. In some cases, the metal may be damaged or the tarnish may never completely be removed.

I hope this information has been helpful. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments, or feel free to email me.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

How do you make that?

Many, many times I've been asked, "How do you make that?" or even, "Do you really make all these things?" So I thought I'd show and tell a little of the process.

Most of my work starts out as a coil of silver or copper wire of varying gauges (thicknesses). Some of it, such as the cuffs, begins as a plain sheet of silver or copper. I keep the raw materials in a chest by my bench.

Today I'll just talk about how I make the chains. 

First, I cut off a length of wire and wrap it around a wooden or steel dowel until I have a coil of 20 to 50 or so links, depending on the size. I use a jeweler's saw to cut the coil down one side to make a bunch of open links.

Next, I use pliers to push the ends of the links flush together. I then solder some of the links closed with an oxygen/propane torch. I line a lot of them up at one time, and this is what it looks like (except that the board is usually at least half full of links).

Once I've soldered those links, I join them together with others and then solder all of those to make a chain. Some chains require more than 100 solder joins. (Yes, it takes time and patience.)

Next I hammer each link of the chain. Here are my beloved hammers.

See the one in front on the right? That's a planishing hammer, and I use it 90% of the time. It's my oldest and most beloved hammer.

After everything has been hammered, I toss it in a rotary tumbler with steel shot and let it go for up to eight hours. This is where it gets the bright, shiny finish.

And here you have an 18-inch "Paperclips" chain and earrings with 42 individually soldered and hammered links.

So, every single piece of every single chain I make, including the shepherd's hook clasp, has been formed, soldered and hammered by me. (The only thing I don't make is the earwires for the earrings. If I did, I'd spend days and days just making earwires, and even I'm not that crazy.)

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Taste of Art

We all need hope — and sometimes a little help, too.

I hope you'll mark your calendar for February 21 and make plans to attend A Taste of Art, to benefit Fairbanks Counseling and Adoption. This year's theme is "One Heart, Many Faces." The fundraiser includes silent and oral auctions, dinner and entertainment. Scroll down for details, but first, take a look at my Circle of Hope necklace, which could be yours... if you submit the winning bid...

I apologize for the poor quality photo, but in scrambling to get to town to deliver the necklace, I forgot to take a picture. This is from my camera phone. However, isn't Danere Hanna, FCA's secretary, a lovely model? (Hint: You might find yourself in a bidding war with Danere's husband if you want this one-of-a-kind piece.)

The necklace is sterling silver. Both the hammered round-linked chain and the large circle focal point are incised with lines, which create real sparkle when polished (and will make an interesting, almost tribal, pattern if you prefer to let your silver oxidize naturally over time).

You really should go to the auction and get a good look at it for yourself. Here are the details.

A Taste of Art
6 p.m. to midnight February 21
at the Westmark Hotel Gold Room in Fairbanks.
All proceeds benefit the programs of Fairbanks Counseling and Adoption, which provides counseling and support for families, pregnant women and girls, as well as adoption services.
For more information and tickets, please call 456-4729.

I'd love to hear from you if you're the lucky winner of the Circle of Hope. I will be happy to make earrings to match!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Well, hello there!

After much prodding and a few well-placed (but gentle) boots to the figural behind, I'm starting a blog for Tin Cup Designs. I don't know why it has taken this long, because I've always wanted to share my creative process, new designs and upcoming shows with you. And I certainly want to hear what you think, so please let's make this a conversation.

First of all, I'm headed into Fairbanks later today to drop off some jewelry at Artworks and New Horizons Gallery. Stop by if you need a quick gift for Valentine's Day — or just a pick-me-up for the JanFebs. (That's what I used to call the winter blues before I moved to Alaska and discovered that winter can last from September until May or June. And with the temps headed towards 50 below right now, if you're here, you probably need a boost.)

The pendant at the top is one of the new pieces I've just finished. There will be more very soon, I promise.

This one is called "Chained Heart." It's a repoussé copper heart attached to a matte-finished sterling silver trapezoid with hammered edges. The heart swings back and forth on a tiny silver chain attached by a copper rivet. 

I've been thinking a lot lately about the paradoxes of loving anyone or anything deeply: How love can make your heart soar, free as a bird — and then tether you before you get too far away. How the bonds of love can be a comfort and, sometimes, an uncomfortable limit. Most of all, how love truly is the energy that fuels the Universe, and that when I'm really working — when the hammer sings and the metal dances — I'm filled with it.

Have a lovely day!