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Spring is for Muscles

It’s spring!  Inspiration runs wild in the spring, bringing to mind a favorite quote (from facebook, of course):


This spring, I am on a fitness craze.  This is nothing new… it happens every year.  First, let me tell you that I am no athlete.  I am surrounded by people with semi-surreal talent in sports and fitness, people who know their VO2 max, bike racers, professional climbers, skiers, lifestyle types who live and breathe on a higher fitness plane.

I am not one of them.

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New Resolve

The time for New Year’s resolutions is upon us.  It’s a bit silly for me to make special yearly resolutions, since I’m a list-writer and a goal-setter and I am awash with goals most of the time.  My goals always fall into the same broad categories:


Now that I am self-employed as an “artisan,” Work is really a combination of Fun and Finances.  I suppose I could reassign my Work goals into the Fun and Finances categories and then it would be The Four Fs.  You see?  It’s not healthy.

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Back to School

Back to school is an actual event here in our household for the first time since I graduated from college. Our just-barely-four year old started preschool, and her preschool is housed in a large elementary school. Each morning, my tiny daughter and I navigate the throngs of hollering children to find her classroom. Here is a portrait she drew of the two of us going to school in the morning. It’s a strikingly accurate rendition of the event.

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Twenty one years

Twenty-one years I am mourning.

I am caught off guard by it yet again. Heading up the canyon for a run in the woods, I look down at my phone and see it. August 4. My throat closes up and my teeth clench. I wish it would pour buckets of rain. I wish lightning would crack and trees would blow over, and I’d run like a beast through the storm, my tears mixing with the mud and washing down the mountain. But it’s sunny and warm and the dust kicked up by the mountain bikes rattling down the trail sticks in my wheezing throat. I wish I had a piece of him to carry with me: a lock of hair or a finger bone. I want to bury my sorrow in some black, gothic death ritual involving ravens and full moons and vials of blood from the deceased. But these are the mementos of other centuries. We have the clean snap of steel latches clicking shut, and lawns mowed smooth over headstones set flush with the ground for convenience.

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Peridot – Grassy green happiness from outer space

I’m writing a monthly post about the birthstones for the Etsy Metal team blog and newsletter.  I’ve decided to copy the series here too.  I hope you enjoy!

It’s hard to find a happier little gemstone than peridot.  Peridot is the gemstone-quality form of the mineral olivine, and the birthstone for August.  Late summer could hardly have a better stone.  Whether grassy, limey, or olive green, the color of a fine peridot feels like sitting in the tall summer grass, wearing sandals and sipping margueritas.  Substitute martini if you prefer. Read more

Do you love pearls?

If you love pearls and would like to read a bit about them, check out this short article I wrote for the Etsy Metal team blog!


This is my first attempt at a metalsmithing tutorial.  I’ll show you how I make my 14k gold hoop earrings with the self-locking closure.  For those of you who aren’t metal smiths, maybe you’ll find it interesting to see how I spend my days in the studio.

Click here to purchase me!

First, I must say a word about studio safety.  All work surfaces should be clear of potentially hazardous objects.  Absolutely no food or drink should be consumed in the studio.

Safety goggles are essential when operating power tools.  Sometimes it’s wise to wear them even when just approaching your bench.  Find a good pair that will fit over your glasses and don’t make you look like a dork.

Take good notes about what you’ve done, and keep them handy.

The right tools are essential.  But, when you don’t have the right tools, you can make them out of pretty much anything you have lying around.

Tripod is essential for shooting videos

Before starting a project, clear the toys off your stool.  You will need that space for your tools, since you will never find them again if you place them on your bench.  Make sure there is nothing lying on the floor that might cause you to trip.

Next, plug in your speakers, find the right station for the mood, adjust the volume, and get to work.

For the self-locking closure, you’ll need two steel plates, preferably held together with one or two pins so they don’t slide around.  I made this tool out of my PEPE disc cutter.  I’ve filed the edges of the plates so that they are rounded.  This is important… abrupt, sharp edges will cut your wire rather than compress it.  I’ve also sanded the surface of the plates smooth so they don’t leave marks in the wire.

PEPE disc cutter not harmed during this procedure

I’m making two pairs of hoop earrings.  Before the video starts, I’ve measured and cut four lengths of 20 gauge round wire.  You’ll need to multiply the desired hoop diameter by pi (3.14) to determine the proper length.  Add a couple of millimeters to adjust for the upturned end. Then I’ve sanded the ends of the wire smooth and used a sharpie to make a mark 3 mm from the ends.

Here goes:  please excuse the amateur video.  It’s hard when you are using a coffee cup for a tripod.

Take a look at the other tutorials posted by the Aspiring Metalsmiths team for our February blog roll:

VCArtisanOriginals –
Sylvia Anderson –
Metals Addict –
Lilian Ginebra –
Esmeralda –
Stacy –
Shannon of Gifted Designs –
Pennee- All Wired Up Jewelry Designs –
Jessica @ Abella Blue –
Elizabeth Brown –

Sharing the love

I haven’t made my three-year-old daughter any jewelry until now.  Well actually, I gave her a beaded bracelet for her first birthday, and she cried until I took it off.  Subsequently, whenever I showed it to her, she threw it on the floor.  I gave up after it was jettisoned out the car window.  The truth is, she resents my jewelry just a little.  So many pretty little things, so many fascinating sharp tools and chemicals, and only Mama gets to play with them.  And Mama’s always sneaking out of Play-Doh time and disappearing into the basement to hammer on things.  I can understand the rivalry.  So I decided I should play it cool and not make her any more jewelry unless she seemed interested.

The other day, she got hold of my ring bending pliers and started bending rings out of her gloves, my sweater, our leather couch.  After a day of this, I snuck the pliers back to my bench.  Recently I’ve converted a table in my basement workshop into a “bench” for her.  I install her there with some mildly dangerous objects like scissors, hammers, crayons, and hot chocolate, and we crank up the Pandora Kid’s station and pretend to get a little work done.  But this day, she was relentless.  She dragged her bathroom stool up to my bench and poked her nose over the edge to see what I was up to.

“Mama, here they are, my ring bending pliers.  YOU took them!  I need these to make a ring.”

It was like playing Whack-a-Mole.  I’d reclaim the sharp objects, tuck the stool away, and remove her to her own bench, but the stool kept reappearing, the little head kept popping up at different spots on my bench, the hand kept grabbing.  She was dead serious about making a ring, whether I helped her or not.  The truth is, I’d be thrilled if she inherited the creative bug.  I want to teach her to work with her hands.  I would love nothing more than to spend long, sunlit afternoons with my daughter, quilting, gardening, sewing doll clothes, and making special jewelry for her birthdays.

Ha!  Since when do daughters EVER like what their mothers like?

So I snipped off some copper wire, filed the ends and bent it into a circle, and slipped it onto her finger.  She was not buying it.

“That’s not a real ring.  See, it’s open right here.  You have to make me a REAL ring Mama!”

OK, fair enough.  I started over with sterling silver wire, soldered and shaped it, cleaned it up and slipped it on.  A perfect fit!  She was still not satisfied.

“But where is the pretty thing?  It needs a pretty little thing on the top!”

“Oh, you want a gemstone?”


“What color do you want?”

“Blue. I need a pretty blue one.”

So I soldered on a bezel cup and set a tiny ocean blue apatite cabochon in there.  Voila!  It was a dainty and perfect child-sized ring, and it looks so sweet on her hand.  I was pleased to see her wear the ring for a whole ten minutes before she started fiddling.  But… she only wanted to trade fingers.  The ring stayed on.  She jealously guarded it from inquisitive eyes, like a little secret just for her.


The next morning, I said “how do you like your little ring?”

She inspected it carefully.  “I wanted a red one, Mama.”

“Oh, but you told me you wanted blue.”

“But now I want a red one.”

“Ah.  Well I don’t have any red stones.  I only have pink.”

“Oh yes, pink!  I need a pink one.  For my other hand.”

Finding my muse

As a jewelry artist, I often get asked where I come up with my ideas.  It makes me wonder:

Where DO I come up with my ideas? 

Do I have a muse?  After thinking on this, I realize…it’s complicated.  There is a lot of repetition in the jewelry arts.  Most jewelry is a variation on the same basic designs that people have been making for centuries.  Hoop earrings, pearl studs, gemstone rings. These things inspire themselves.  I see one and I think:

I need to make one of those.

And then I do.  I am proud to be a craftsperson, pounding out the classics with my own two hands in my own little way, when anyone can see that it’s easier and cheaper to mass produce them in China.

So what about the muse?  Where does “my own special way” come from?  I will confess that I feel a little ambiguous about art.  I’m always sad when my favorite potter stops making coffee mugs in favor of sculpture.  As if the natural progression from craftsperson to artist demands a transition away from useful objects.  It makes me sad because my walls are covered and my mantle is full.  I have no more space for art without purpose.

But I’m always breaking my coffee mugs.

It goes a little deeper than that:  To make a stunning objet d’art is a fine thing.  But to make beauty spring out from within the defined parameters of a functional object is truly magical.  Lucky for me, jewelry must be worn, so it automatically has purpose.  Yes… the very serious purpose of personal adornment. It is the perfect medium in which to merge art and craft.

I have a few categories of ideas.  Some inspiration arrives out of thin air.  I’m sure it came from somewhere, but hell if I know where.

I’m a natural problem solver, and some ideas arrive as a solution to a problem.  It goes something like this:  I have piles of beads, and I like rivets.  How can I combine them? I won’t tell you how many beads I crushed trying to rivet them to metal objects before I came up with this idea:

Sometimes I get my ideas direct from my customers.  A friend asked if I could make a small vial for a loved pet’s ashes.  The request pushed me to try something I never would have thought of doing, and now I’m completely hooked on vials.

Some of my best ideas are born from my limitations.  I’m impatient (who knew?), and

Pearl necklace

I’m on the beginner end of the craftsman spectrum.  So, I do simple things. Instead of getting fancy, I try to maximize the impact of each design element; contrast, proportion, shape, color.

My favorite muse is a phenomenon that I will call Concept Transformation and Appropriation.  I catch a glimpse of someone’s necklace in the elevator.  It is incredibly cool, and I am stabbed with a jealous desire to make it, right now. I can’t believe I never thought of it myself.  I agonize over how I can use the idea without straight copying. The next day I lurk in the vicinity of the elevator to find the person with the fab necklace. I find her and stare…  and see that the necklace was not even remotely what I had imagined. Somewhere between eye and brain, the design morphed into something entirely new and entirely my own, without even pausing to consider my expert guidance.

Inspiration works in funny ways.

Check out where the other Aspiring Metalsmiths find their inspiration:

Macro heaven

For the last year or so, I’ve been taking a lot of jewelry photos with my point and shoot camera.  I was getting pretty fond of the old Canon PowerShot, and feeling pretty handy with it.  But, six months ago I scratched the snot out of the lens.  Now I finally have a new one.  A really long one. You should see the size of my camera bag.  When I go on hikes now, instead of looking at the scenery, I check out other peoples’ cameras.  Mine is definitely bigger.  And I’m in love, true love.  Look at what I’ve been snapping lately!


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