Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Etsy shop announcement!

Hey, remember these shiny pendants? They're now up in the "Gleaming Gears" section of my shop.

I've also listed some copper necklaces with handmade silk cords in the "Ancient Steampunk" section. Two of this style of pendant sold at ISC, and two sold to a coworker, but there are still four left for the shop :)

I'm definitely happy with my lightbox. From now on, I'm going to take nice-looking photos as soon as I finish things, so there's not so much lag between when I make things and when they go online.

IMG_20110531_123714.jpgMost of my bench time right now has been focused on some custom orders, but I'm also thinking about new jewelry designs. I'm playing with ways to use some of the great gemstones in my stash as well as some of my silver scrap.

Friday, May 27, 2011

What makes me tick: Myst

(This is the first post in what I hope will be a series about my influences, inspiration, and the artists I admire!)

Replica of Gehn's Crest
by ~rivenwanderer on deviantART

This isn't jewelry, though it has some similarities with the wearable things I make. It's a six-inch disc made for a contest on DeviantArt. I joined a group over there that's all about the computer game Myst and its sequels. And I couldn't resist pulling out all the stops and spending my weekend recreating one of the elaborate designs from Riven, my favorite game.

When I first played Myst as a kid, I was dazzled by the revolutionary (for its time) graphics, and by the concept of books that could literally transport you to new places. It was a concept much like the Wood between the Worlds from the Narnia books my mother read to me growing up. And the linking books in Myst provided me with a way to imagine writing my own worlds, and then travelling to them. My sketchbooks filled with doodles of islands, forests, and buildings.

Riven was an experience like Myst ten times over; a world much bigger, grittier, and realer than any fantasy world I'd seen before. Every surface showed the effects of weather, time, and wear; every puzzle existed for a logical reason; every aspect of the ecosystem fit together perfectly; every building bore the mark of its builder. I spent a wonder-filled week playing the game. Then, I wanted to know how it was done; I wanted to create real-feeling worlds like it. I pored over the "making of" video and learned to make my own computer graphics. In the end, I drifted away from 3D modeling, but the lessons about giving objects depth, texture, and a life of their own have stayed with me.

In making things out of metal, my aim is always to create something that feels like a real artifact from an imaginary world. Something that transports the wearer the way that Myst and Riven transported me.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Regaining my sea legs

Amethyst and gear pendant

Looking at my blog archives, it's been over a month since I worked on a project that required much complex soldering. Now I'm working on a commission that involves a bunch of tiny, multi-step soldering, and it's been great getting back into things. I do love the cold metalwork techniques I use, like sawing, filing, and especially texturing/hammering. But I think I love soldering even more.

I love the nerve-wracking moments where I'm holding my breath to line the solder chips up juuuuust right. The torching, where I first gently heat up the metal, then bring the flame close and fast while praying the little delicate bits of silver and gear will get hot enough to meld with the solder, but not melt into a puddle. The hiss of plunging the newly-soldered piece into the quenching bowl. Turning the newly-fabricated thing over in my hands, tugging at it to be sure the pieces have truly joined. I even love smelling the vinegar working away at cleaning something I've just soldered together, and I normally hate vinegar!

There are a few things about soldering that I can tell I've gotten rusty at over the last month without it. I overheated the back of this little prototype pendant, so there's an unsightly blob of silver on the reverse side. I'll be keeping this pendant for myself for that reason--it's wearable, but not up to my standards for selling. I think that a teeny bit of practice will get my heat control back to its normal form, and I can't wait to do more and more soldering! Yay playing with fire!

EDIT: Some folks didn't realize how tiny the pendant is. Here's a shot with a ruler in it for scale:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My International Steampunk City demo

Photo courtesy of Susan Paykin
At ISC, for the first time EVER, I made a pendant from start to finish as a demo for all passersby to watch. I cheated a tiny bit by drilling one hole in the middle of the copper at home, but otherwise, I did all the sawing, filing, texturing, and oxidizing right there on the Waltham common. I sat in a folding chair and used a short four-legged stool as my work surface, with a bench pin clamped to its edge and my adorable little anvil on top of it.

I was really worried that it would rain again on Sunday, but the weather luckily cooperated throughout the demo. It was a little windy, but no rain, thank goodness!

I had a bunch of opportunities to talk to a wide variety of people--some of them steampunk fans (in costume or in regular clothes), some slightly-confused Waltham residents, some curious folks from all around the Boston area who stopped by to check out the spectacle. I realized that I wasn't going to show a fixed group of people the entire process of making a pendant, but would be giving them snippets of progress on the project throughout the afternoon as they wandered the common, taking in the sights (including a blacksmith's shop, high-wheeled bicycles, and a parade!).

Photo courtesy of
Dan Kissam
My spiel was something like this: "Hi! I'm a steampunk jewelry artist, and I'm giving a demo in this lovely weather. Here's an example of a finished pendant I've made. Here's how this one's coming along. The pendant I'm making this afternoon is going to have this Waltham Watch Company watch movement as its focal!" (This spiel would, of course, be modified if I realized that the other person had no idea that there was a festival that weekend, or even what "steampunk" was supposed to mean.) Then I'd talk about the step I was working on, and point out how the finished example was constructed.

Some observations for the next time I give a demo:
  • The project will take at least 3 times as long as it normally would if I were working alone in my studio, what with all the pausing for conversation and the somewhat unfamiliar workbench setup.
  • Sunscreen next time I do this outdoors!
  • More business cards on a stand of their own (so people don't need to stoop to take them)
  • This time, doing a demo on the common (away from my table in the Watch Factory) was the right call, but anytime my table is less distant from the main hustle and bustle, it'd be better to set up shop closer to my table with finished jewelry for people to look at.
  • Don't accidentally set up shop along the path of the ENSMB-led parade!
  • The purple parasol was a great conversation-starter, even though I'm not a parasol-maker. People were pretty amused by my story of bartering jewelry for it at Strowlercon.
  • Take a photo of the finished product! I sold the pendant immediately after I finished it, and I really wish I'd thought to snap a photo. But it was another piece in the same mode as these guys, which I'll be listing on Etsy as soon as I can get my act together.
After I finished the pendant, I packed everything up into my little shopping cart and walked back to the Watch Factory. I remember feeling an immense joy and gratitude. Joy from the lovely weather, the connections I made with interesting people, and the thrill that always accompanies making things with my hands. Gratitude towards so many people who helped me vend at the convention in big and small ways: Susannah, for putting up with my crazy whirlwind of preparation, being there with me every step of the way for the weekend, and watching the table while I was at the demo; Alex, for driving me and my stuff there; C for playing her fiddle on Saturday afternoon; Jer, for carrying my folding chair from the demo to the Watch Factory; Susannah's parents for driving us home. I really felt like, in spite of the stress and the hard work, that undercurrent of purple-tinted enthusiasm was still with me after all. Such a marvelous feeling!


Now if only I can recover from this cold quickly and build on this momentum!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Why I sold off a pile of cool supplies for almost nothing

At almost the last possible minute, I decided to bring something unusual (for me) to International Steampunk City: a box of watch parts and other supplies to sell to steampunk fans on a pay-what-you-like-or-can basis (which worked out in the end to an average of 45 cents per thing--almost certainly less than I paid for most of the bits in the box). Read on for why it made sense for me to get rid of a huge swath of my carefully-accumulated stash.

Box of neat stuff!

The impetus for this destash was me realizing that some of my supplies were not quiiiiiite right for me.

In the time since I acquired them, I've been moving my jewelry away from assembling existing bits together in novel ways, and towards metalwork pieces that I fabricate myself, with watch parts incorporated the way one might incorporate gemstones or wire filligree.

An earlier necklace of mine
from my pre-metalsmithing days

A new necklace of mine,
available on purpleshiny.etsy.com

This distinction may only make sense in my head, but it's a big deal to me. This is the way of making jewelry that I find really exciting and fulfilling--and there's a narrower range of parts that I'm interested in incorporating this way. Life is too short for supplies that don't light you on fire with inspiration! Once I realized this, I knew I needed to move a lot of my stash out from my workshop as efficiently as possible. I wanted to free up both physical and mental space so that I can focus on the components that fill me with joy (and that touch of slightly-fearful awe that propels me to improve my craft to be worthy of my materials).

The deeper reason for bringing the box of supplies to the festival was that I wanted to connect with other makers and tinkerers. It's no secret that I like geeking out about making things! And what better outlet for unwanted parts than folks who are dying to get their hands on that sort of thing and build something cool with them? I was so happy to give people a chance to sift through a box of interesting stuff that I knew they could use.

I hope that some of the 30 or so folks who took supplies home with them will speak up in the comments section! Tell me about the projects you're thinking of, or link to pictures of any work-in-progress or finished contraptions. I know I can't wait to see what you come up with!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Indoor photography

I'm still trying to clean up my living room and studio after the chaos of last weekend's con... but I managed to clear off the secondary studio table and construct a primitive lightbox. A lightbox is something for diffusing and reflecting light for getting better macro photography. There are plenty of online tutorials for making them (the one I made was similar to this or this). I also started exploring some of the manual settings on my digital camera (it's a Canon Powershot A610).


I still haven't figured out the best combination of settings, and I'm thinking of switching to a more neutral background--but as you can see, it's possible for me to take clear, adequately-lit photos with my camera and this lightbox. That means I can take Etsy photos without regard for the time of day or the weather! This makes the idea of working through my backlog of jewelry to list it a bit less intimidating.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

To all who stopped by at International Steampunk City

Thanks so much to those who stopped by my table and my metalworking demo. It was so great to meet such cool steampunk fans--I'm honored that some of you bought my jewelry, and I hope that my demo was informative. And welcome to any new readers just encountering my blog for the first time! Tomorrow, I'll make a more substantial post about the weekend, but I wanted to kind of jump up and down and wave and grin at everyone one more time before I fall over and catch up on sleep :)

OH! If you have any pictures of me, my table/demo, etc, please email them to me or put a link in the comments or something, OK?

Friday, May 06, 2011

Can I get there by Candlelight? (Finding me at International Steampunk City)

You can reach International Steampunk City from the Boston area by public transportation! Here's one way to get to my table via bus and a bit of walking:

View Larger Map

Once you get to the Watch Factory, there should be signs to point you towards the vendor area.

Final outfit for International Steampunk City!

Full shot of the costume

There are a bunch of neat little details in this costume that I'm really proud of.

The back:
Corset-style lacing on the back of the vest
I laced through safety pins with stretchy cord to give the vest a more fitted shape. The folded fabric looks kind of awkward in this photo, but it's not really so strange in person. The silk of the vest is reinforced underneath with strips of felt. The gears really are ones I "just happened to have lying around my workshop", which makes me feel almost like an authentic steampunk person or something :p

I embroidered a couple of swirly/gear designs on the front:
Detail of embroidery

Hope to see some of you at the convention! Look for my table in the back half of the vendor area in the Watch Factory. I'm also hoping to do a demo on the common on Sunday in the early afternoon, making a big, textured copper pendant using a Waltham Watch Company watch movement :)

Monday, May 02, 2011

Making purple frames

I'm going to write a bit about the process of making some jewelry display frames for my International Steampunk City table. At first I thought this would be a tutorial, but I kept improvising things and running out to CVS for a stapler and changing my mind about what fabric to use, so I realized it wouldn't be a great how-to. Instead, I'm just going to show some pictures I took, and talk about what I did and what was going through my head while I was working.

IMG_20110501_160812.jpgThe plan was to make some display stands similar to this tutorial, but using a coarsely-woven fabric instead of mesh for better visual contrast. I started with some pictures in frames from the local Goodwill. I removed the pictures from them and glued some shaky joints to shore them up. It was a nice sunny day and I'd just come home from brunch, so I decided to work outside in the back yard.

I wanted to mimic the faux-gold effect that some of the frames already had, but with purple, by painting a dark purple undercoat and then adding metallic purple highlights. I used the acrylic paint I had lying around from my mural-painting undergrad days. I like acrylic paint because it dries quickly, and in this case the fact that acrylic dries to a very dark color was desirable. As I got to work on the base coat, I noticed that the paint had a tendency to clump between the shapes on the frame, so I paid special attention to brushing those areas to avoid this.

IMG_20110501_161938.jpgWhile I was painting this undercoat, I thought a lot about purple. I realized that purple isn't just my favorite color--it's also a kind of metaphor or shorthand for my enthusiasm and excitement about things. It's why I'm so happy when I've recently redyed my hair and have random spots of purple on my arms. It's why I named this jewelry thing Purpleshiny--it's something I can always talk about with joy, and if there isn't that undercurrent of enthusiasm in what I'm doing, I'm Doing It Wrong. Lately, as I've been prepping for this show, I've felt a bit like my nearly-empty tube of purple acrylic paint--hoping that there's enough of me to go around, to make everything splendid. But there was enough purple paint for all of the frames, and I hope there's enough of my time, energy, and enthusiasm to get me ready for and through the show.

I also thought a bit about reuse and repurposing, which I do a lot of in my jewelry as well as in this project. Who am I to take watch parts and make them into some kind of earring? Who am I to take a frame someone else has already painted and paint over it? I don't know, but a part of me hopes that one day someone finds my repainted frames and says, "These will be perfect if I paint them green!"

IMG_20110501_170925.jpgAnyway, then I mixed a very shiny batch of paint for a highlight/topcoat--it was a mixture of purple paint, silver paint, iridescent white paint, and two kinds of interference powder--one metallic and one iridescent. I used a mostly-dry brush to apply it glancingly to the frames, so that the highlight only touched the raised areas. This is a lot like an effect I used for clouds in several paintings in my dorm. My mural-painting past seems to have prepared me well!

Then came the part where I attached fabric to the frames. This meant I got to attack the backs of the frames with a stapler. I didn't get any pictures of that part, but it was really fun. I haven't wielded a stapler in several years, and I'd forgotten how satisfying the kaCHUNK of the staple going into the wood is. Also, I now know to only use frames made from soft wood in the future. One of the four frames was made from some kind of hard wood that staples and nails couldn't go into, so I used glue and tape instead. Seems like it might be less reliable, but I think it'll hold.

I'm so excited to have these frames to display jewelry! I know my copper pieces usually look best on a light background, and I'm glad I figured out a way to incorporate awesome purple colors while still using a light-colored fabric for the background. I still need to figure out a way to prop the frames upright, but I'm sure I'll come up with something.