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!