Friday, August 31, 2007

Stick pearl earrings

I'm laboring through my designer's block. So many options: How many pearls should I use? Should I add a crystal drop at the bottom? And, what color beads at the top? String them on flexible beading wire or 26-gauge sterling silver wire? Decorative or plain earring wires?

Not surprisingly, almost every decision ended at the simplest point: 15 pearls — enough to splay out dramatically. No crystal drop — too fancy for the organic look I was going for. Just two amethyst chips up top, to set the stage for the irregular pearls. Strung on 26-gauge wire (wire wraps good, crimped beading wire not so good, even with a crimp cover). Handmade earring wires with a 4mm amethyst bicone crystal to highlight the color of the pearls.

Yes, it took me several hours to design earrings that you can make in under 15 minutes. Such is the ugly underbelly of the jewelry design process, that creativity takes work. But, I'm happy with the results. The earrings look awesome when I put them on!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

How one writer gets through writer's block

There's a Media Bistro interview with Gabe Rotter about the writing process and what he went through to get his first novel published. He's hilarious, and if you've ever felt pressured to deliver something creative, this is worth reading. My favorite quote: "That's the hardest part of writing, I think -- Sitting down and writing. It's where most people screw up." Check it out.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Designer's block and making lists

I've been having designer's block — like writer's block, but with designing. I've been designing more stuff than usual and feeling creatively tapped. So maybe this isn't the best time to submit jewelry to accompany a book proposal. (Ah, if only I could set my own deadlines.) Designing feels like work — I can't wait for inspiration, I just have to move on without it. I've been fixating on how to create jewelry that's stylish and impressive and representative of my work and that uses a range of materials and techniques. And and and: the list of criteria grows.

I resolved to work through my block. Today. But first, I watched my friend Kerry play in a tennis tournament, then we analyzed the tournament, then we ate a big lunch, then I went to Knot Just Beads, then I talked to Denise, then I mowed the lawn, then it was time to make dinner. I tell you this not because you'll be fascinated by my day, but because making the list made me see how I avoided facing my designing demons. I was busy, right?

I finally sat down to work. And then a funny thing happened. Hearing Jackson Browne's "Doctor My Eyes" for the jillionth time, I remembered how I was in a zone last summer listening to this CD, when I designed Cool Jewels projects and didn't obsess over what everyone's reaction would be. By the time the disc was over, I had finished my necklace and felt proud of it. Maybe getting over my anxieties wasn't quite that simple — I did need to hear some Hall and Oates, too — but, by remembering (re-experiencing?) what it felt like to trust my own judgment, I actually was able to focus and concentrate.

Now that Necklace Number One is done, I'm ready for some sleep. It's been a long day.

Let me know if you have advice for getting over designer's block. Really. What's on your soundtrack?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Thinking green

This was a weekend of green.

When Denise and I got to Irish Fest on Friday night for our shift, the marketplace was crowded with people buying sweatshirts, caps, ornaments, and other souvenirs. Although everything sold like hotcakes, the green t-shirts and classic hoodies were especially popular. (I picked up a green shamrock ornament, no surprise there.) Irish Fest is my favorite summer festival because we get to volunteer with kids and retirees and everyone’s in a good mood, including the customers. After our retail stint, we usually wander the fairgrounds and eat some shepherd's pie. This year, though, we decided to try something new: reuben rolls and a baked potato with cheddar, sour cream, and bacon bits. I’m not a fan of corned beef, but I can appreciate it when it’s deep-fried in an egg-roll wrapper. There's nothing like sharing fried food and good conversation with a friend.

On Saturday, I went to Planet Bead to buy gemstones. My no-brainer buy: a $40 strand of gumball-sized round turquoise. The colors in the photo look murky, but the actual strand is mostly green, with a lone blue nugget and three brownish pieces — can’t wait to combine the beads with tiny Swarovski crystals in smoked topaz, chrysolite, olivine, and maybe even jonquil or indicolite. I try to avoid metaphors about beads speaking to me, but this strand seemed like an obvious choice, even surrounded by the store's huge selection: round is one of my favorite shapes, and the colors don’t require much embellishment. Green is good.

My third brush with greenness: the avocado. It's huge, about the size of Ginger's head. Ginger is a 50-pound dog. That's a tennis ball next to said avocado. (By the way, I think tennis balls should be used to gauge size in photos. Everyone has an intuitive sense of how big a tennis ball is.) This avocado reached me via my neighbors, who went to Florida and procured it from their friend’s tree. To make a story out of this, I'll conclude by saying that I used half of the avocado to make guacamole and gave the other half to my parents, who then asked me to make guacamole.

Hope you had a colorful weekend, too.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Two things about turquoise hoops

One of my earring designs in 365 Earrings is a turquoise hoop with huge nuggets. These babies are 2.5 inches in diameter, and I learned two key things. First, basic geometry helped me calculate how much 20-gauge wire I'd need. Circumference equals pi times diameter, remember? For each hoop, I used 7.85 inches plus 2 inches for the wraps and the loop. Ten inches per hoop, that's more than I'd have guessed. Another way to do this: you could use a string to outline the hoop and then measure the string. Also good, but you're missing a chance to exercise your mathletic skills.

The other thing: Wear these for short periods of time. They're heavy. Even after I used a thicker earring wire and pushed a rubber ear nut close to my ear so the earring wouldn't swing, my ears were slightly numb. Just slightly. Luckily, Cathy (BeadStyle's editor) found Ear Lifts, adhesive discs that keep your lobes from getting weighed down. I just ordered some. I'll let you know how they work.

Thursday, August 16, 2007 interview

I just did an interview with Tammy Powley, who writes about jewelry making on She gave me lots of interesting questions, so check it out if you want to learn more about how I became a jewelry designer, my approach to designing, or my ideas for getting into a career in crafts.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Ways to finish snowflake ornaments

I was making some snowflake ornaments and realized that my hands hurt from making all the loops to finish them. The spokes are so stiff (like memory wire) that I had to use roundnose pliers to start each loop and chainnose pliers to close it. Loops are fine if I’m making one or two ornaments, but in November I’ll be teaching a class, so I needed to figure out a less painful way to finish the ends. Options:

• Attach a crimp bead on the end of each spoke. And possibly a crimp cover over it, to make it look pretty. This is a good solution, but still requires me to do most of it — as opposed to being something that kids can do themselves.

• Attach a rubber ear nut on each end. Not quite as pretty, but it works well. Also, it’s handy to string the ear nuts to hold the beads in place while you decide on a pattern (then you don’t need tape).

I like the ear nut idea, but I wanted to make the finish extra-secure by gluing each one. So, which glue? I visited This to That, a web site that helps you figure out what glue you need. But then I remembered that Michaels has a brochure that lists their different glues. So I bought some Amazing Goop, a stinky glue that requires time to set before you put the pieces together.

When I finished the snowflake design, I slid the ear nuts out, applied glue to the spoke, waited a few minutes, and then slid the ear nut back down, on top of the glue. Then I trimmed one of the spokes to 3/8 in. (1cm) and made a loop. I trimmed the rest of the spokes flush with the ear nuts and attached a wire hanger to the loop.

One last thing: make sure the holes in the ear nuts are small. I buy mine from Fire Mountain. Just type in "rubber ear nut" and you'll get lots of options.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Creativity and the Umali Awards

In the photo, that's Renato Umali (wearing glasses) with John Myers, his friend from high school. John tied for seventh-place in DIWITTYs. DIWITTYs, you ask? They're Days in Which I Talked to You. On Saturday, at the 6th Annual Umali Awards, Renato presented DIWITTY awards based on his calculations from 2006. Not surprisingly, his best friend had the most DIWITTYs, but the second-place finisher posed proudly with his trophy, pleased to have earned a top spot despite his lower total than the previous year.

Renato uses Excel spreadsheets to track, among other things, DIWITTYs, most frequented eatery and the average tab, and his mood (on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being "shitty"). My grad-school friend Michelle — not to be confused with my high-school friend Michelle, misty-eyed Michelle, or her sister-in-law Michelle — invited me because she was in the running for an award. Though she didn’t win for Best Meal, she declared that it was an honor just to be nominated. Indeed. The gallery was packed with men in suits and women in fancy dresses who showed up to present and possibly collect awards. What I loved was that these awards honored Renato's friends and also documented his appreciation and gratitude for the people in his life. If you awarded DIWITTYs, who'd be on your list? And what else would you find worth documenting? In the quantification of human experience, do you think about how many eggs you ate last year, much less track egg consumption from year to year?

I've been thinking about creativity lately, and how it can be a challenge to develop it. It takes work, for sure. But doing the work is satisfying; I find that I'm happiest when I'm doing something creative, especially when it's part of a long-term goal. I've been inspired by both Renato and by this neat book, 52 Projects: Random Acts of Everyday Creativity. Both have shown me ways to be creative (many of the book's projects include writing letters and taking photos, two things I love to do). The way I see it, life is about priorities. And if I'm prioritizing creativity and the people I care about, I'm definitely on the right track. So, thanks, Renato (and Jeff Yamaguchi, even though I don't know you). I'll look forward to the 7th Annual Umali Awards.