Cheap and Easy (Drill Bit Storage That Is!)

I was trolling that delightful time sucker Pinterest a few months ago when I saw an awesome bur holder  sold on the Stuller website. It looked like it would hold hundreds of burs and drill bits in a compact space and could sit  right on the top of my jewelry bench.  Did I mention that I wanted one right then and there? I’m not given to impulse purchases, however,  so I tucked it into the back of my mind. Then one trash day, I found a wooden thing with four sides that spins. I think it’s a mug tree and kitchen utensil holder.  I took it home and studied it. Then I realized that it was a drill bit and bur holder  waiting for me to liberate it from its former job as a kitchen caddy.  It now sits proudly atop my jewelry bench enjoying its new role.

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To make the transition from the kitchen to the jewelry bench, I first marked where the holes would go and then I drilled pilot holes with an electric drill and a 1/8 inch drill bit.  Then I went back and drilled the holes at an  angle so the burs and drill buts would slip in and stay put.

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The wood caddy is hollow in the middle (probably meant for spoon storage)  so I took care to drill a number of holes only partially through so the bits without a brush, polisher or wheel on the top would not fall through.   If I want,  I can drill more holes on the top lip for more storage.

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This project was easy and cheap since I found the wooden caddy.   It would probably be easy to make one of these with scrap wood and a lazy susan base.   Unless you can build something yourself,  however, it probably wouldn’t pay to buy an  item similar to the one I used to convert to a drill bit holder.  But keep your eyes open at house sales and flea markets.  And on trash day.

Inspiration from The Infant of Prague

I’m not producing many finished pieces  in my workshop right now.  I’m in a playing phase.  I collect  materials and make components  without any idea of what I am going to do with them.  I solder things together,  and  try different patina formulas and  techniques that are new to me.    At some point,  I’ll plan out  a project  using what I’ve learned.  Sometimes I even make something I like.   Maybe.  Or maybe I start all over.  But since I’m playing and having fun it’s ok.

I don’t have to worry too much the cost of materials because  I get a lot of them  from  sidewalks and house sales.  When I something interesting  that could work as part of a jewelry design  I grab it  if I can.  (Assuming it’s not someone’s hood ornament or something.)     I’ve become more selective as my collection has grown which is a good thing.  I don’t want to be a mindless collector of domestic detritus and end up on a reality show about hoarding crafters.  Most  of my metal is reclaimed electrical wire, and brass and copper that had previous lives as plumbing or refrigerator parts, kitchen ware and the like. I’ve bought more than one brass tray at a garage sale for next to nothing and used it for jewelry. I understand that this is now the “in” thing to do, but it’s frugal too.  That’s why I started doing it.

Which brings me to the Infant of Prague and his role in my jewelry making inspiration.  (If you are confused, feel free to continue reading.)

 I was at a flea market and saw the crown you see in the picture above.  When I asked the guy who was selling it (along with other assorted piles of junk) how much it was,  he responded with a question.  (Don’t you hate it when people do that?)

 “You ever hear of the Infant of Prague?” 

 “The Infant of Prague, ” I repeated to myself . . “Infant of —

All of a sudden,  cars screeched to a  to a halt.  Dogs stopped barking, children stopped playing.  The earth’s rotation stopped (OK, it probably didn’t, but it seemed like it) while  I had a flashback to my childhood.    Memories of  dark churches,  smoky  incense,  tall ornate  statues and  ill-tempered Nuns in ankle-length habits started flooding my brain.  I could hear the ethereal tones of  a Gregorian chant  off in the distance-and bells.  I swear I could hear bells.

Let me explain.  I suffered through twelve years of Catholic school.  That included forced conscription into the annual  May Procession,  Stations of the Cross, and choir practice.    My suffering took on a whole new meaning when I attended church  Wilkes Barre Pennsylvania where I had relatives.  Wilkes-Barre had been a destination for many Catholic  immigrants from   Eastern Europe.  It seems like there was a church on every corner (What do I mean “seemed?  There was a church on every corner) where one could hear Mass in the native tongue be it Ukrainian, Croatian,   Slavic, Czech, or any dialect or sub dialect.  And there were  there touches of   scary and exotic (to me) Eastern Europe in the rituals, ceremonies, vestments and church statuary.   The immigrants brought their special icons and saints with them-St. BarnabasSt. Olaf – Saints  we didn’t read about much at my school where mostly everyone was of Irish descent (and all the boys worshiped the Notre Dame football team; what’s up with that anyway?  My husband is Jewish and he sure doesn’t  tear up the living room sofa  when Brandeis takes the field.  Am I missing something?)  There was nothing very exotic about  my Catholic school in New Jersey- especially after Vatican II.   Tedious yes.  Painfully tedious.  Exotic-no.  Going to church in  Wilkes Barre  was tedious too, but at least the churches were exotic; the  relics of ancient tradition and worship  were very important in to the immigrant congregations Northeast Pennsylvania.  And  one of them was the Infant of Prague.

The Infant of Prague entered my life when someone  gave my  cousin an Infant of Prague doll.  It sat on a dresser in his room covered in plastic to keep the dust off  its lace and brocade robes.  The Infant clutched an orb which looked like a softball that someone had stabbed with a crucifix.   I was fascinated.  But we weren’t allowed to play with the Infant who spent all his time up on the dresser staring at us.  It was only when I reached adulthood that I released  he was  spying for my  Grandmother.

 I always  wanted pry the orb from the Infant’s  hand and try to roll it across the floor like a  bowling ball.   I never did, but it was tempting.  To this day I am certain that if I had done so, I would have gone straight to hell  when I died.  It was only the likelihood of my Grandmother creating a hell on earth for me if I got caught that saved my mortal soul.  Maybe.   We were Catholic after all and as that famous Catholic George Carlin said, “It was a sin to wanna.”  And I sure did wanna.

 When my niece was about three,  one of  her grandmothers gave her  a quilted nylon bathrobe  that came down to her ankles.  You know-the kind you wear on Christmas morning and take to the hospital when you have your tonsils out.   When she first put it, on I burst out laughing because she reminded me  of the Infant of Prague.   (The John Waters version from his movie Multiple Maniacs.)  I shared my opinion with her parents and maybe that’s the reason I was never-never mind.    By now you must be wondering what this has to do with inspiration and making jewelry.  That  must mean that we  have reached the end of the flashback and   need to get  back to the flea market  to see what happens  next.

“Yes,” I gulped to the man with the piles of junk for sale.   “I have heard of the Infant of Prague.”

‘Well, this here is from a statue of the Infant of Prague”, he explained  handing the crown to me.  “I don’t know what happened to the rest of it.  You can have it for fifty cents.”

“Sold American!”   I hooted,  fishing two quarters out of my pocketbook.  I took my prize home and tried to put it on the cat’s head and take his picture, but Plumpton was having none of it.

The Infant’s crown now sits on the top shelf  of my jeweler’s bench.  I think it’s brass.  I’ve already used one of the  pieces as part of  an embellishment.  But since it is the crown of the Infant of Prague,  I can’t waste it on just anything.   So there it sits waiting for the right project.

The End of Summer in Bob’s Garden

It’s the end of summer in my neighbor Bob’s sidewalk garden, which now takes up the front of four row houses in South Philadelphia. Bob takes care of the garden and koi pond. The only thing he asks is permission to place a beautiful flowering plant in front of your house, which adds badly needed curb appeal in an urban environment. There’s a new addition to the koi pond this year: A big, sleepy turtle. He just appeared one day. Do you think he’s a magic turtle? Bob thinks he’s blind. All I know is that he’s very lazy. Once I saw him on a Lilly pad and thought he might have died. Then I realized that if Turtle had gone to the great hereafter, it is likely he would have fallen off the Lilly pad. But he bobbed up and down on that Lilly pad for quite some time. Turtle is lazier than a house cat. If you don’t believe me, try to sit through this video.

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Do you think Turtle is really blind?

Enjoy the slideshow.

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On-Line Ideas and Inspiration for Jewelry Makers

I troll the Internet in search of ideas and inspiration.  Here are some new finds and some old favorites I want to share:

Nancy LT Hamilton offers free metalsmithing videos on sawing, riveting, soldering,  making findings and other techniques.  She offers a few metal working tools and her site is full of  useful  information about tools, metal, measuring, ring sizing, drill bits and more.

Beaducation sells jewelry making tools, books. DVDs and findings.  In addition paid on line classes,  Beaducation offers  free on line classes in several mediums including metalsmithing, felting, resin jewelry making  and beading

Brenda Sue Lansdowne  sells cool  vintage jewelry supplies on her web site, B’Sue Boutique  and her  blog, Jewelry Making Outside the Box  is chock full of interesting information.   She also offers free on line videos  showing how she uses her products to make eye-catching  mixed media jewelry.  The videos and blog are great places to get ideas and inspiration.

Speaking of ideas and inspiration,  I found these silver plated serving forks at a flea market.  I plan to saw off the handles and make the serving ends into pendants. 

If you think you have seen it all when it comes to jewelry made from spoons, knives or forks, you must watch this  video  by Italian Artist Giovanni Scafuro.



Art in the Open: Brian Dennis

When my friend Jeri told me that her friend Brian was participating in the second Philadelphia Art in the Open, which  took place  on June 9-12, 2011,  I was itching to go. I had never seen one of his installations “in person” before, but I had seen The Brian Dennis Project – a film documenting  how he designed a wooden installation  that seemed to defy gravity and then built it on a staircase inside the Philadelphia Art Alliance in 2004.   (To see pictures of  the installation, “Leaning Keep,” press here.)

Art in the Open aims to  give a different perspective on the creative process by inviting the public to watch artists working outdoors and, consequently, enabling artists to draw inspiration directly the environment.  In Philadelphia, this is an urban environment.  So it seemed appropriate that Brian had decided to build giant towers under a bridge near the  Waterworks.   

On our drive there, Jeri told me that Brian built the towers from  wooden coffee stirrers.   Talk about the environment having an effect on the creative process!  We wondered how the towers had withstood thunderstorms the night before.  Were they still there?  What would they look like?

We met Brian standing in front of his installation answering people’s questions and talking  about the challenges of building an art installation on a steep, rocky incline under a bridge trestle during a heat wave.  But he wasn’t alone; he  explained good naturedly  how a family of   baby rats, a  garter snake and a  suspicious groundhog watched his every move.  And take it from me, Philadelphia groundhogs are tough!  Brian knew enough not to mess with the groundhog (he was on the groundhog’s turf, after all) and he completed the installation.    To see the installation as it looked when Brian finished it, press here

But then it rained and the installation took on a different form.  Not what Brian had planned.  Even so, his installation  caught the attention of everyone who passed by the next day.

Here are some pictures.  

And a couple who had just gotten married had the courage to climb up under the bridge to have some wedding photographs taken next to Brian’s creation.  I wonder if the rats, snake and groundhog minded?

 To go to Brian’s web site, press here.    To go to his blog, which contains in-depth information about the creation of the installation, press here.

Resin and Bezels


I have been practicing soldering and trying new projects including backless bezels and prongs.  All the pieces below are made from recycled metal.

I poured the resin into the bezel after completing the bezel.  I put packing tape on the back to keep the resin from seeping out.  The color comes from alcohol ink.  I put in a tiny bit and carefully swirled it with a tooth pick so as not to make more air bubbles.  After pouring a layer of resin, I put in another tiny drop and allowed it to spread without swirling.  I also put in some glitter and metal leaf to see what it would do.

The back.  I had a hard time cleaning the metal as you can see.  Next time it will go in the tumbler with the stainless steel shot!

I didn’t like the way the top turned out, so I sanded it and poured it again.  I think the dome is a little too high, but now the top has no dings.

The  circular pieces of metal are  scraps left after I trimmed a thin piece of metal with  tin snips.  The blue comes from blue pulver powder.  Pearlex would work, too.

There are obvious air bubbles in the resin, but I didn’t try to coax them out.  I think they give the pendant an aquatic feel.  I also floated some metal leaf in the resin.

My first attempt at prongs using Joanna Gollberg’s article “Fresh Prongs” in the July 2011 issue of Art Jewelry as a guide.  No binding wire needed!   Check out Gollberg’s book, Making Metal Jewelry for more great ideas.

I poured the resin cube in a plastic pill organizer.  They make great resin molds; the cured cubes just slip out and the surface on the top and sides are nice and shiny.  I probably poured resin in the back before unmolding because the resin will shrink and dip a bit in the curing. 

 

The prongs need to be higher, but they hold the cube securely.  I don’t think the resin cube is spectacular enough to make this a memorable necklace, but I wanted to try making a prong setting before attempting to make five or six more and using them and resin cubes to make a bracelet.  I think that would look interesting.

 

Take a look at Susan Lenart Kazmer’s DVD Exploring Resin  to learn some interesting resin techniques including how to cast resin in an open bezel.

Take a Peek into My Workshop

It’s been a while since Libby Mills  profiled my workshop in her blog’s Studio Snapshot series.  Since then, I’ve branched out into other mediums including felt,  do more metalsmithing,  and have acquired some new tools.

I am lucky enough to have a dedicated space for my work, but I live in a small house and purge regularly out of necessity.  This includes my workshop.  My current set up is the result of  regular purging and many wasted hours playing Tetris.

Here are some pictures of the ordered chaos.

The Story of Nomge


One theme I try to address in this blog is how  the history of world events (think of the history taught in schools) and personal and family history affect the creative process. The story of Nomge’s creation is an example of world events and personal  history converging into art.  In Nomge’s case, however, the world history is  African-American history which is still not uniformly taught in schools as the integral part of American history  that it truly  is.

Nomge is the work of Philadelphia artist, teacher and activist Maisha Sullivan-Ongaza, who first traveled to the African continent to visit  Nigeria and Kenya more than thirty years ago.  That trip was the first of  a regular series of travels to countries throughout Africa that  she continues to this day.  Along the way,  she developed a vast expertise in African culture and history that she used as host of a local radio program,  “Fertile Ground.”  But sometimes the most important journeys we make are the inner ones.   I think that’s what led Maisha to create Nomge.

Most artists have  the itch create.  Sometimes this urge kicks into overdrive:  ideas that might have laid dormant within the artist for years start to resonate and insights seem to come from nowhere.  Materials such as fabric, metal or beads might start  “talking” and telling the artist how to use them.  The experience  often makes the artist feel like an  external force has taken control of  her and that she is more instrument than artist.  The process can seem almost religious, but I think  it is  a result of ideas, memories  and emotions lurking in the subconscious and spewing forth almost uncontrollably at the point when the artist is ready to give them a voice or form.  I don’t think my rationale makes this process any less miraculous.

Four years ago,  Maisha  decided to have her DNA tested  to learn  about her African forebears.  She found out that her that her maternal ancestors were Bamileke people who came from Cameroon, a little country tucked next to Nigeria on the West coast of Africa.   Knowing the country your  ancestors came from is something many people take for granted.   But for those  who have lived all their lives with a with a hole in their family histories,  the discovery can generate powerful emotions and, for those who have the courage, an invitation to embark on a path of self discovery.   Art can help the process because it is a constructive,  therapeutic way to express feelings.  And all over the world, it is a traditional method of paying homage to an ancestral legacy.

From what Maisha told me, I can’t help but believe that at least some of  these elements came together and compelled her to  create the Cameroon-inspired Nomge who is named after one of the more than 250 ethnic groups who live there.

 Maisha started with a “T” shaped wood armature and anchored it in an old Gullah  basket she lined and filled with plaster.   She sculpted Nomge’s head and arms with  Ultralite Sculpey colored with pigment.  Nomge’s hair is a combination of cocoanut shells, heishi, bauxite shells, and strands of Maisha’s own hair. Maisha  obtained the vertebrae beads on her first trip to Nigeria.  She does not remember what animal they are from-possibly a snake. She stained them with walnut ink.  Nomge’s necklace is made from African trade beads.

Maisha made Nomge’s body soft so she could bead on it, and she used beads from her travels  collected over the years. The bronze pieces are from Nigeria. The coin on the front with the hole in the center  (see top picture) is from 1957 when Nigeria was still a British colony. 

    

The leather shoulder  pouches are inspired by Gri Gri from West African culture.  Gri Gris are talismans normally filled with prayers and protecting, healing herbs like Echinacea and golden seal. The Gri Gris on  Nomge’s shoulders contain the names of Maisha’s ancestors and children. There is an African saying, Maisha told me,  “Thanks are due to the shoulders who hold the head high.”  The Gri gris are meant to honor her ancestors without whom she and her children would not be here to contribute to the world.

The smaller Gri Gris on Nomge’s sides contain the names of the children Maisha works with in her program along with  lemon rind and honey, because life can be bitter  and it can be sweet.

The various bone pendants and amulets belonged to Maisha’s late husband.  The red leather ( stained to age it) comes from a jacket that Luther Vandross owned and wore on his “Power of Love” tour.    Maisha’s friend Dzinga was Luther’s first cousin and gave Maisha the jacket after he died. It has found new life in Nomge.

Maisha didn’t buy any new materials to make Nomge. “She wouldn’t let me,” Maisha laughed, ” Every single time I went and  tried to get new beads for her, she wouldn’t let me!  I would get lost or have car trouble or something else would happen. It was her way of saying ‘You don’t have to go all over to find me. Whatever you need in life is already here. Everything you need is right here. ‘”

Nomge’s final instruction to Maisha was that she would be finished in 2010, and she was.  Maisha put the last bead on her on New Years’ Eve, 2010.

I suspect that Maisha  carried Nomge inside for years until the series of events she related to me ended with Nomge’s  arrival in her house on New Years Eve, 2010.  It must have been a joyful event when Maisha welcomed Nomge home.




Jewelry from the Trash Can

I have been exploring textile arts and learning  techniques for incorporating them into jewelry.  And making up a few of my  own.  The bracelets below are from recycled materials:  old clothing dyed, stamped, painted and shredded, cast off electrical wire stripped and straightened, scrap stained glass tumbled and drilled, some gilded twigs from the sidewalk, pieces of old jewelry, and old plastic bangles or wire forms,  There is no plan; I just start to wrap and embellish.   I hit some of the bracelets with a heat gun to see how it would affect the fabric.  Depending on the fabric, it will burn, seal the frayed edges, or melt the fabric to reveal  what’s beneath.  I got this idea from a video by  Textile  and Mixed Media Artist Maggie Ayres.  There is so much information out there.  Don’t limit yourself to what you already know or think you have to take a class (unless you are learning how to use a torch, or another technique where proper safety instruction is vital).   Don’t be afraid to try something new!

The Fabric Workshop: A Philadelphia Treasure


 

I recently had the opportunity to see an exhibit at the new home of the Fabric Workshop and Museum .  It’s a roomy, comfortable space that takes up several buildings on Arch Street in Philadelphia.   You no longer have to climb flights of stairs to get to the exhibits and it’s conveniently located on across the street from the Philadelphia Convention Center.

The current exhibit, New American Voices II showcases the work of  four invitational artists-in-residence: Bill Smith, Jiha Moon, Robert Pruitt and Jim Drain.    New American Voices II was definitely not the visual version of a string quartet; it was the work of four soloists, each of whom chose different media and themes to express a unique point of view.   The FMW  tries to showcase artists from across the United States with varied backgrounds and perspectives and encourages them to work with materials they might not have used before.  From what I saw the FMW accomplished its mission and it looks like the artists enjoyed the process.  The exhibition had so much to offer that I can only hit the highlights  in this post.  To get the full flavor, you must see it for yourself.

 

South Korean-born Jiha Moon’s mixed media wall pieces combine collage, sewing, painting, and screen printing with an Asian color aesthetic.   She makes  plentiful  use of Asian and American popular culture symbols and much of her work reminds me of traditional Asian embroidery, not because of any needlework she might usem, but because the designs are expansive and flowing.  Much of her work consists of fanciful pieces that incorporate images from folklore and advertising , but she showed her serious side in a work that appeared to explore the tensions between North and South Korea.     The piece below, which is a little different from the others, features pin cushions, ribbons and beads.

                                       

Jiha Moon

Jim Drain’s huge (and I mean XXXXXL) colorful  machine-knitted dolmen sleeve sweaters remind me of  the big suit David Byrne wears in Stop Making Sense, and fantastic Noh costumes.  I suppose they could be worn, but they were displayed on stands that let the viewer examine every nuance of the designs.  A two-dimensional picture cannot convey the surprises that jump out as you circle the sweaters.  The colors shift and there are lots of subtle details and embellishments.   At first, the color choices appear to be mostly random but on further examination, you realize that every skein and thread works with everything else in the sweater.  Nothing is there that doesn’t belong.

 

Jim Drain

What fascinated me most about Robert Pruitt’s work was his use of period cameras to photograph members of a fictional African-American family to depict ancestors from years past like you’d see in a family album.  Now that’s attention to detail and real dedication.  For me the most powerful photograph was one of a young woman wearing a grass skirt and what appears to be a European colonial officer’s dress uniform jacket.  The golden shoulder cord is replaced by rope that appeared to be a noose.   Pruitt also uses  traditional African symbols and imagery pulled from contemporary urban America.   I found his work  disturbing and compelling.

Robert Pruitt

Bill Smith’s mechanical sculptures meld engineering and art in a way that any fan of Jules Verne or Nicola Tesla would admire, but his inclusion of organic objects like Emu eggs and feathers along with organic looking plastic forms that resemble jellyfish or brain synapses takes his work out of the realm of Steampunk into another world that seems really strange (or is it strangely real?)  Along with Emu eggs, he takes water, magnets,  quirky copper wire, electronics and computers to fashion  several interactive contraptions that manage to look organic, old-fashioned and futuristic all at once.    When walked up to one sculpture,  the Emu egg started to spin, the wires started to sway and the room  filled with a low humming sound.  Then projectors started flashing images onto the white walls of the gallery.  Amazing.   Here’s a video of a similar device he designed and built.

New American Voices II runs until the Spring.  Admission is only $3.00 but you can  donate more if you like.    Treat yourself to this exhibit and the ones planned for the future.  We are so lucky to have a venue like the FMW in Philadelphia.  Let’s support it.

For more pictures of the artists’ work, press here, here, here, and here.