Saturday, November 8, 2008

Status Check!

Whew! It's been awfully busy around here!

State Certification exams in the morning, jewelry making in the afternoon, family time at night...when'm'I supposed to blog?

The photo here is my studio table this afternoon. If you look closely, you can see some of the earrings I have posted on my blog or on Etsy. I have a show coming up at one of the local elementary schools soon, so I'm trying to get a bunch of earrings together, since those are what sell the best. There are little crystal Christmas trees and hammered silver loops.

What I really need is for some store to come and buy the whole lot all at once. (And while I'm dreaming, let's just say they want me to create a Spring Line for them. Oh, and they're interested in my pastels as well - apparently they would make beautiful prints to sell nationwide through higher end furniture and accessory markets).

Tomorrow, I have a spot in the Jewelry Showcase on Etsy. I'll see if I can wield my snipping tool well enough to share it with everyone. Let's hope for lots of early Christmas shoppers! I've been busy trying to refine my photography, and make it more in line of what's on Etsy, so hopefully my wares will be included in more treasuries, and will be more enticing to those who're shopping.

I hope you're feeling productive and happy!

PastelGuy - pastels

Friday, November 7, 2008

Oops, I Did It Again!

Yep, I did it again! I said, "YES!" to another project.

Like I needed more responsibilities. Seriously.

But this is a good one! A while ago, I joined a Yahoo! group of Montanans who have stores on Etsy. Since I am not currently living in the state of Montana, I was flattered to be invited. Apparently, they accept 'tumbleweeds' like me who leave the state, but whose roots are still in Montana.

And they have a blog.

And I like blogging.

And I said yes when they asked for some help.

Occasionally, I will be adding posts highlighting the Montana artists who also sell their wares online. We also plan to highlight other artists whom we think are outstanding. It should be a great place to learn about all sorts of people and all sorts of art. Unlike my blog, where it's just me and my art.

So, come visit us, pour a coffee, and stay awhile.

Pastel (and whatever) Guy - pastels - jewelry store

Thursday, November 6, 2008

This Is For You, Australia!

Happy Spring to the bottom half of the world!

Even though all the leaves are gorgeous shades of yellow, orange, and red around here (and the weather a balmy 74 F today), there is a part of the world where it's the opposite. It just seems weird. Christmas in the middle of the summer? What about all the snowflakes and everything that go along with Christmas? Do you have chili peppers and suns?

But, I digress. I hauled this window outside this weekend to photograph it. This is my first real project with stained glass. Unfortunately, I can't take credit for the pattern, although I did alter the colors quite a bit. (The actual size is about 24 x 30 inches)

In a later blog, I'll show you a window where I designed the whole deal. But this bouquet was quite an undertaking. It was made on our kitchen table. Now I have a whole, dedicated space to make things, but this was BS (no, silly, it means Before Studio).

Here's how it went down. It was right about the time my son was born. Our neighbor at the time owned a stained glass shop in town, and offered classes. One spring, I finally relented and took one. Very cool! I made the mandatory class project, but then had to go and do this as my very next project. 'Twas ever thus. I don't ever wade into a project or a new medium. I dive off the high dive!

So, with a small house, and no extra space, our kitchen (no dining room then!) turned into studio, with sheets of glass lying around, a grinder on the counter, and foil tape draped over the chairs.

But my wife was all very supportive (still is! - kisses, hon!) about it all. Not long after, I built myself a big 4 x 8 foot table in the basement. I still am using it today. It definitely was not part of the deal when we sold the house. That was coming with us!

So now I'm taking over part of the garage (glass and jewelry), and part of the playroom (pastels). I guess we're all hoping for the fame and accompanying fortune to set in....

Until tomorrow,
Pastel Guy

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My Roots are Showing!

If you've been a regular reader of my other blog, then you probably are aware that I have roots. Deep ones.

Once you feel you truly belong somewhere, once you achieve that sense of place, there's nothing that can cover those roots.

I'm from Montana. I consider myself a Montanan, even though I haven't been registered as a permanent resident for, oh, about 25 years. But the clean air and big skies run through my veins, and every summer when I return to visit family, it's like going home.
Since I don't live there anymore, I make Montana an inspiration for my art. In looking at the photo above, which has not been altered in any way, can you begin to see how the beauty is everywhere? I think that's what impresses me so about the Big Sky State. No matter where you turn, there's nature at its finest.
When I first started pastels, my wife mentioned that the skies in my paintings were the wrong color of blue. "No they're not!" I replied, whisking my painting back downstairs amid muttered mutterings. "What does she know? Has she ever really looked at the sky?"
It wasn't until our next trip out west that a random comment on the shores of Flathead Lake solved the mystery. "You know, the skies out here in Montana are so blue! I can see why it's called the Big Sky State!" That's it! That's why she thought my skies were the wrong color. Midwestern skies are wimpy by comparison. Pale. Sickly.
Not only the colors, but the shapes, too. If you look closely, nothing in nature is straight. I think that's why I incorporate so many curves into my jewelry. The lake's shoreline curves. So does the river. The clouds certainly aren't straight, and even the tallest Engelmann Spruce tree has some sort of crick in it.
I don't think I could ever paint anything but landscapes. I struggle with the symmetry and perfection of still lifes, and portraits? Forget it. When you grown up in the most beautiful landscape there is, how can you not paint it?
Maybe that's why there were more art galleries than grocery stores in the little town where I grew up.
And now I have kids. And while they visit Montana every summer, their roots will be different. Midwestern. I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Jewelry Tutorial Part II

In the last Jewelry Tutorial, the materials, cutting, bending ("forming"), and hammering ("planishing") were covered in detail. This time, we'll finish those bad boys and get them posted (by the way, they're already sold - they sold within 24 hours of being posted on Etsy, and are on their way to New Jersey!).

Here you can see how I use my acetylene torch to gently warm the metal from the earring side, since the jump rings are made from 18 gauge silver wire, and heat up much faster. Goodness knows I've melted many a jumpring trying to solder them on! Once the flux has finish bubbling, and had become the gooey mass that I use to hold the two silver pieces together, I use my titanium pick to pick up a piece of medium wire solder, which I then lay at the joint. If you do it right, the solder should melt right into place within about a second of you putting it down.

Once the soldering is finished, the earrings look like a terrible mess - all black and raggedy. So, they then go in the pickle pot - a cheap crock pot filled with pickling solution, which is actually an acid, I believe. If the solution is hot enough, then the fire scale and tarnishing comes right off. I took this picture as soon as I dropped them in, and they are already back to their silver color. Using copper tongs, I take them out and rinse them well in the sink. Next step is polishing.

However, before I started polishing, I notice that there's an unsightly corner sticking out where the ring is soldered to the body of the earring. Using my handpiece and a white rubber wheel, I take off the offending silver in no time. I find this to be faster and more efficient than a file, even though I think you're supposed to use a file. My years as a dental technician (where I was wedded to the darn handpiece!) made me prefer it over the more traditional tools.

OK, my handpiece is my tool of choice unless I'm polishing. Once I started silversmithing more frequently, I investing in this polishing lathe which I LOVE! It make polishing a snap, and was worth every penny. I use the black/fine final polishing compound so that I don't take off the hammering marks. It makes my fingers black, and it sprays up onto my face and head, but that's OK.

Once the polishing is completed, the earrings are looking like a finished product! All that's left now is a bath in ammonia, which dissolves the polishing compound. I swirl them around in there, fish 'em out with an old toothbrush, and give them a scrub. They're now sparkly clean!

The last step before they are wearable is to attach the earwire. Remember to open them sideways, keeping the shape of the circle intact. Otherwise, the loop will be (or could be) messed up when you close them. I use premade earwires, simply because it's easier. If I'm taking this much time to make a pair of earrings which I then sell for a wing and a prayer, then this is the corner I'm choosing to cut.

And there you have it. A unique pair of earrings that actually made that meeting worthwhile!

I hope you have enjoyed this little look into my studio, and into the steps that go into making the jewelry for sale in Studio 206. Please let me know of any comments, questions, or requests for future installments.

Remember, most of my work is one-of-a-kind, and so I love to do custom pieces. Contact me if you're having a wedding or big occasion soon!


Pastel (and whatever) Guy - pastels - jewelry for sale

Monday, November 3, 2008

OK, OK, I Confess!

Today is my adoption day. Well, the anniversary of my adoption day.

I'll be expecting a call from my mom this evening, since she says today is more like my birthday, since this is the day I was new to her and Dad.

There's a lot of pride in being adopted. A lot of that philosophy comes from how the whole situation was treated in my family. My sister and I have always known we were adopted. It was a badge of honor, and I wore (wear) it with pride.

I can't imagine being one of those teens whose parents sit them down on their eighteenth birthday and start the conversation with, "Son, there's something we need to tell you.." Talk about feeling lied to!

As I look back, it probably wouldn't have been too hard to figure out. While I could have passed for their natural son physically, when it came to the rest, there's quite a difference. For example, my mom is wicked smart. Me? Average. My dad likes history and infrastructure, airplanes, and boats. Me? Gardening, art, reading, and the outdoors.

With my sister, though, there's no doubt we had different parents. I'm six feet tall and 175. She's 5'2",and probably about the same weight as me. I have (ahem. had) blond hair, she has dark brown ringlets. My eyes are blue, hers are deep brown. I was in Honors classes and tutored her in the evenings. Never the less, we shared a close bond growing up. And despite our different paths now, we're still brother and sister when we get together.

The most FAQ, however, is Do I ever want to meet my biological parents? That's a tough one. I would say 98% no and 2% yes. No, because I have the perfect family right now, and I don't need another one. Our low level of dysfunction (every family's got it - admit it!) suits me just fine - I certainly don't want to inherit someone else's! Besides, that's just one more birthday card to send and one more Christmas gift to mail.

Yet 2% of me wants to know about them. At my adoption, my parents were given
an itty bitty paragraph that describes them. But sometimes I want more. Like medical records. Like who does my daughter resemble? (No one on my wife's side, really, and not like either of us, really. She's probably some spitting image of a long lost auntie...) Like personality traits (although I must say it's awfully convenient to blame all our kids' quirks on my side!).

But I love my family. That's my adoptive family. They're the only family I have, and I wouldn't trade 'em.

Until tomorrow!
Pastel Guy

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Jewelry Tutorial Part I

I am asked all the time how I come up with the designs for my jewelry. Then there are tons of questions on how it's actually made. Therefore, today and Tuesday will be dedicated to showing you how I do it.

It all starts with a concept drawing. This particular idea came from doodles I made during a meeting at work (sorry Doug!)

These are all the tools and materials I anticipate using for this project. I've never made these before, so as I'm photographing, you'll see that not all are used, and the end product ends up looking slightly different than the original design. The square is used to measure the wire (14 guage sterling). Starting from the bottom left, there's the ring former pliers (one side is curved, the other flat to help curve wire evenly), chain nose pliers to make the bends, wire cutters, parallel pliers, forming hammer and steel block, the coil of wire, and needle nose pliers and another set of junker wire cutters that I don't mind cutting larger gauge wire with since they are already messed up.

Next, I measure the wire into 3-inch (7.2 cm) lengths, and cut them with the junker wire cutters. 14 gauge wire is right there on the border of being too thick for nice wire cutters - you don't want the blades to get nicked (like the ones on these cutters!).

Then, I start bending the wire, using the drawing as a pattern. I bend the top with my chain nose pliers, and the main curve at the bottom around a Sharpie marker. I have found that all curves should be bent around something to make sure they are smooth. I've used nails, drill bits, pieces of wooden dowel, welding rods, and whatever else is lying around my garage.

Once the shape is set, and they both match each other to the best of my ability, then it's time to hammer out the curves. I make sure to hammer the mirror images, so that the indentations from the hammer will be seen on the correct side. Just like with calligraphy, the widest part of the curve will be flattened to make it wider. This hammer has two heads. I use the flatter, metal forming head to do the initial shaping. Starting on the outside of the curve, I hammer, working toward the bottom of the curve, making sure to bring the follow through of the stroke in the direction of what will be the widest part. Once the shape has been established, then I use the rounded side of the hammer to create the texture that gives the final product a sort of sparkle, similar to faceted gemstones. Be sure to hold the shape with your other hand, because curves have a tendency to widen as they are hammered. And as metal is formed, it will harden. All this means that you can't rebend a curve once you've finished hammering.

The next step is soldering. This photo shows the earrings with the jump rings lying on my soldering pad. If you look closely, there is a blob of flux at the junction. Using my titanium soldering probe and acetylene torch, I will slowly warm the metal from the earring side, since that is the thickest metal, and will absorb the heat the slowest. Once the flux melts, it will act as a sort of glue, holding the two pieces together.

In the next blog (day after tomorrow), I will show you the soldering photos along with the polishing pictures and the final product. Once you make it through the soldering, the rest is just standard procedure - in other words, nothing will go wrong (although I have bent stuff during polishing with the lathe...!)

Until tomorrow,
Pastel (and whatever) Guy - pastel paintings - jewelry like this for sale