Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Things about batch-production

Right now, I'm in the middle of getting a big pile of Riven crests ready to go. I don't usually work in big batches, but I'm discovering all kinds of useful things about making many copies at once.

When I'm making 30 necklace bails, I can't help but notice the places where I slow down. (Having to dig through a pile of tools to find the right one. Alternating between two different pairs of pliers instead of using just one. Using a saw when heavy-duty wire cutters would work just as well. Stuff like that.) And sometimes I can figure out how to route around those issues so that I can zoom through the pile! I would never notice the little inefficiencies working on one thing at a time in isolation--if I noticed at all, I'd probably dismiss it as unimportant, even though the delays can add up over time.

Smoothing out the rough bits
When I'm making 30 of something, I can't rely on any techniques that hurt my hands/wrists/back, tire me out unreasonably, or make me really annoyed. I might lean on some of them for a one-off piece, thinking "just this once..." but in a big project like this one, everything has to be sustainable, or I won't be able to finish. Instead of transferring my etching design by laboriously burnishing every disc, I'm learning to work in sets of 9 using a mostly hands-off process involving big clamps and an oven. In the long run, this mindset will help me with everything I make! The more places I can find smoother techniques, the easier it is to get to the interesting bits of creating without burning myself out.

Rapid Iteration
OK, "Rapid Iteration" sounds like some buzwordy nonsense from a Silicon Valley startup or something, but here's what I mean: if you're playing a video game and your character dies at a tricky bit that's right next to a savepoint, you're going to master that tricky bit much more handily than if the savepoint is ten screens away. Because you get to try over and over with each minute timing nuance fresh in your mind. It's a similar deal when I'm working on a batch of the same component. I can more easily avoid mistakes and come up with elegant solutions to things.

This guy is one of my bite-sized side projects.
Click here to see it in my shop!
There's a different sense of accomplishment that comes with accumulating a pile of 30 components than that of finishing a single object from start to finish. I'm a fan of both, and I'm working on keeping some small, easily-completed projects in the works along with my Giant Batch Of Doom. But there's no denying that gazing upon a mountain of pieces--even when they're just incomplete parts, an intermediate step in the process--can make you feel like a rock star. Look at all those bails! So many!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hey, something purple and shiny!

My experiments with color have brought forth the first of what I hope will be a series of bold, exoplanet-oasis-inspired necklaces.

Purple oasis, available in my Etsy shop.
I can't wait to make more of these--there's so much to explore. Blends of colors, different textures and depths, adding more metal to frame the pool, and experiments with silk cord. If this is something that looks like your kind of thing, don't hesitate to check out my shop!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Coming soonish: Riven Crest pendants!

Coming soonish: Riven Crest pendants
by ~rivenwanderer
I have permission from Cyan to sell these! What I'm still working on is the process for making them in small batches rather than one at a time. They're red brass (a copper-rich brass alloy) that I etch, then flame-patina, selectively remove the patina on the raised areas, and polish.

I'd like to know who's interested in buying them--not to take preorders, but to get a rough idea of how many to make. They'll be $45 for the "full package" (with an antique-looking leather cord and nifty locking magnetic clasp) or $25 for just the disc (for DIY projects, attaching to journals, costuming, etc, and I'm happy to drill some holes for attaching to jump rings--this is the way to go if you want to use your own chain instead of the leather cord).

These are 1.5 inches in diameter, which so far is the smallest that the detail still shows up well. I make no promises about trying to make them any smaller, but might be convinced if there's interest.

So if you're interested in having one of these, let me know! I'll post here again when they're actually available :)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pouring molten metal

Last weekend, even though I was still getting over my cold, I went to a casting workshop at Artisan's Asylum. And it was amazing! I hadn't seen the new Asylum space yet, and it is so great. Overflowing with maker-ness and beautiful art and crazy projects and a sense of community everywhere. Like the best parts of a machine shop, a hippie co-op, and an artist studio all mixed together.

In the casting class, we melted bronze with a REALLY HOT TORCH. It was oxygen/acetylene! I am very covetous of this torch. So much so that I'm considering joining the Asylum just for occasional access to that torch.

To get a feel for melting the metal, we first just cast into water for random shapes. Then, we moved on to Delft casting (a very precise sand-casting) and cuttlebone casting. These were both methods I'd read about before and was eager to try out. Here are my first attempts at each (taken with my cell phone in class):
The ammonite on the left is duplicated via Delft clay. The face on the right was a semi-accidental shape made with cuttlebone casting--I tried to carve a trilobite, but missed, and it looked like a face because brains are good at seeing faces. So I did a bit of shaping with a file to enhance the face-ish-ness.

Seeing that cuttlebone carving can be a bit unpredictable, I of course turned to making continents. I really love the way the cuttlebone ridges lend a topo-map feel. I hope to make more things like this!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Tower defense games

Right now, I have a cold. It's pretty annoying. I'd rather be making shiny things! (But playing with fire while woozy is usually a bad idea.)

Whenever this happens, I always imagine that my body is playing a tower defense game--setting up my immune system to defend me from waves of oncoming yuckiness.

In honor of me being sick, here is my brief overview of tower defense games I've loved. They're just the right balance of casual gaming (click buttons! see pretty explosions! make numbers go up!) and strategy for me. These links are to reviews on other sites, because I don't feel nearly as eloquent as the reviewers right now.

Plants Vs Zombies: Cute and approachable

Gemcraft Labyrinth: Delicious complexity of tower layouts

Kingdom Rush: Really fun power-ups and unit types

Sentinel 3: Homeworld: The best option I've found so far for my Android phone

Let me know if any of you have similar games that you'd recommend! I wouldn't mind another game to occupy my time while I rest up and recover from this cold :)

Friday, May 04, 2012

Playing with color

Experiments with purples and bluesRight now I'm playing with color. These test pieces on the left are using two colors of Adirondack brand alcohol inks, with Ice Resin as a sealant.

I'm really loving the intensity of color that I can get out of these inks. I'm definitely one of the people who gets "drunk on color". At the local art supply store, I savor each hue in the aisle of colored pencils. I need bright green in the winter and on grey days, whether in the form of a salad or a blinding lime-colored shirt. And I'm simply hopeless in a yarn store.

As I wait for more shades of ink to show up on the UPS truck, I'm scheming about the ways I might use color in my jewelry. What if I wasn't confined to using the colors I can find in my gemstones (shiny though they are), but could summon any combination of hue and shade at will?

I'm thinking of tidal pools out west and the water in Riven. Of deep gazing pools and of ponds lined with glittering pebbles. Of all the ways I can bring together the highbrow art of metalwork and the playful, down-to-earth craftsyness of ink and resin.

Custom spiral-sun pendant
The pendant that started it all--a custom order, for someone who asked if the background could be blue. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

From my computer to paper to metal to paper

Look at this print! I've finally gotten the hang of transferring designs from my computer to metal, using this tutorial for the laster printer transfer process and the Edinburgh etching method. (The image I used for this example comes from Wikimedia Commons.)

Just being able to replicate computer designs nearly exactly on copper or brass is pretty exciting on its own. But using my trusty pasta machine as a printing press worked just as well as I'd been hoping. So neat!

You might wonder what the point is of printing a design on a laser printer only to transfer it to metal and then print it by hand. Well, I'm a process junkie, so my first answer is "It's just fun, OK?!"

But there are some other reasons. The texture of this kind of print is just different--the metal bites into the paper a bit. There are opportunities to incorporate artsy layering of printed textures by etching a combination of computer designs and designs carved by hand. And if I wanted to, I could use fluorescent inks, glitter-laden inks, or play with inking with multiple colors for a handmade, one-of-a-kind print. All things you can't get from a standard laser printer. Then, when I'm done playing with printmaking, I could turn the copper into some sort of jewelry!

I feel like I suddenly have a whole new world of design and illustration at my disposal. Right now I'm wondering how to combine public domain medieval woodblocks with fractals and abstract shapes. What do you want to see me etch?

Thursday, January 05, 2012


You guys know I knit, right?

I'm currently in the middle of two enormous purple shawls. (One's supposed to be easy and one's supposed to be complicated, but they keep surprising me by being sneakily challenging and simple in unexpected ways.)

I'm not going to post pictures of those, because I have a thing about jinxing projects in progress. But a couple of weeks ago, I snuck a third project in: a snuggly winter cowl.
Finished cowl project

I improvised the pattern, using a couple of cable motifs from a stitch dictionary along with some quick back-of-the-envelope math to figure out how to put everything together. That kind of crafty engineering is so satisfying for me--there's something deeply rewarding about taking some pretty materials and ideas and convincing them to become a Nifty Thing. And on top of that, I'm really happy with how it turned out. Winter's taken ages to get here, but it's finally reliably below freezing, and the extra warmth around the collar of my coat is definitely welcome.