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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Artistic Confidence, Being Nice, and Finding Your Artistic Voice

Can you imagine going up to a jewelry booth at a show and saying to the artist, “You work really sucks.  These people around you are so much better than you.  You shouldn’t even be here.”

Pretty shocking, right?  I mean, even if you THINK it, you’d never say it.

But some people do say it… to themselves on a daily basis.

It breaks my heart.

Ideally, we wouldn’t only not say these kinds of things to ourselves or to others, but we wouldn’t even think them.  (Yes, I am an idealist.)  Can you imagine accepting everyone’s efforts as worthy?  Everyone. 

I was watching one of those cooking shows the other night and I was mentally trying to give a pep-talk to one of the contestants.

“Don’t worry about it.  Food is about taste and you can’t force people to taste things the way you taste things.  You can’t predict how someone will feel about your food… because it’s just too subjective.”

Granted there are certain things that could be more obvious deal breakers.  If you burn something, odds are you won’t find many takers.  If you accidentally use salt instead of sugar in your cookies, you may not be asked back.  But when we get into the finer differences, a good portion of the judging is subjective opinion. 

I was wondering if I’d rather be in a field that is cut and dried, a job where you win or lose based on ability, not opinion… like (most) sports, for example.   In a math competition, you either get the correct answer or you don’t. 

In cooking, you are making something according to YOUR personal preferences and YOUR taste buds and being judged by people with their own personal preferences and their own taste buds.

Same thing with jewelry.  We make (usually) what WE want, what WE find attractive.  Then we hope that people who have the same taste as us come along and buy our creations.

Have you ever made something you thought was hideous and yet people raved about it? 

When someone compliments you on something you make that you don’t’ like, you can’t say “thank you” because you figure they’re just messing with you… you’ll look like a fool if you take them seriously!

And then something you don’t like sells… and it leaves you scratching your head.  Maybe even questioning a lot of things about your creative direction.


As an artist, I think one of the best things you can do is work on technique.  Because that’s one thing you have the most control over.  You can’t control how many people will love or hate your work, but you can control if it has scratchy wires, rough edges, loose stones, etc.

So tighten up your skill set and make jewelry that makes you happy.  It will most likely change over time anyway.  Evolution is natural and pretty necessary in this industry.

So yeah, we’re in an industry that relies heavily on the opinions of strangers.  So the least you can do is be gentle with yourself.

Most people I know who are critical of others are twice as critical of themselves.

Have you ever done that thing where you say a word… over and over… and it starts sounding just ridiculous… like not even a real word anymore?

I think we get the same effect with our jewelry.  I made 22 charms for a charm swap last year and by the time I was done I thought, “OMG this thing is so ugly. I can’t give this to people.  I’ll have to start over.” 

But that wasn’t the rational part of me talking.  It was the part that lost all perspective from seeing the same thing, in minute detail, for five days straight, inside and out.  My perspective went in the toilet.  I was too close to the charm, too intimate with it, and had just plain old seen it way too much to have any kind of reasonable opinion.

So not only do people have opinions that differ from one person to the next person, but even within ONE person opinions can change… perception can change.

I decided to opinionate on this topic now because of something someone said to me recently.  One of the ladies in my SRAJD organization (self-representing artists in jewelry design) was comparing her creative work to that of others in the group and making pretty disparaging remarks about her own efforts.

This makes me so sad.  I’d like to think sometimes people are just fishing for compliments or maybe aren’t even paying attention to what they’re saying… but taking it at face value, I sincerely don’t want people to feel this way about their creations.

So for starters: Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else.  Go back and read my first paragraph.  How can you be meaner to yourself than to an absolute stranger?  Yet we are, on a daily basis. 

Seriously people, start being nicer to yourselves!  Start talking nicely about your work.  What are you afraid of?

I want each of you who struggles with confidence in your artwork to do the following.  It takes a CONSCIOUS effort, but I have faith in all of you.

The next time someone compliments your work, just say “thanks”. 

Don’t say, “Thanks, but I feel I could have done better.”
Don’t say, “Thanks, but I was actually going for this other thing.”
Don’t say, “Thanks, but I know you’re just trying to be nice.”
Don’t say, “Thanks, but I know it doesn’t hold a candle to the real artists who do this.”

Don’t say any of that crap!  Just stop yourself!  Say “thanks” and shut your mouth (or stop typing).

It will be hard at first, particularly if you’re used to be down on yourself.  But it gets easier as time goes on.

Be nice to yourself.

Because you know what?  If you keep telling people your work sucks, they’re going to start believing you.

If you can’t love your own work, look at it and define precisely what you don’t like about it.  I had to do this about seven years ago.  When I started making jewelry, I was trying everything and mostly imitating what I saw around me.  I ended up making lots of different things and not liking it all… not by a long shot.

So I took a hard look at what I did like.  I needed to pinpoint what direction what aesthetics and styles appealed to me.  I made a folder of photos of my few pieces that I really liked and/or was proud of (which usually is synonymous).

Then I started looking around… books, magazines, internet, etc.  I clipped photos, hundreds of photos until I started figuring out what design aesthetics I am attracted to.

Starting to work on pieces that more closely identified with my personal taste made me start to like my own work better. 

So figure out what you like… and then don’t just make jewelry… make the kind of jewelry you want to make.

And don’t compare yourself to others!!!  There will always be someone better than you.  Should you not do something just because someone else is better than you, even if you know you’ll never ever be as good as they are?  If you say yes, then it makes sense that we should only have one painter in the world, one photographer in the world, one chef in the world, etc.

And that’s too bad because there are always going to be people who don’t like that artist’s work or that chef’s food.

Fear is a prison.  Stop being afraid of the competition.

Now…. before you think I’m trying to encourage you… stay tuned for my next blog post.

So I’m going to end tonight’s rant by showing you two pieces of jewelry I listed this week that are the end result of collecting all those photos.

Believe it or not, I didn’t have a folder full of one style of jewelry.  Luckily (because I do feel this is lucky), my personal taste has a few different directions.

One of them is ancient artifact jewelry and design.  I’m fascinated with things like archaeological digs and the things they find.  There’s something I love about primitive jewelry and design.  It’s not something I can explain… it’s like liking cilantro or not liking cilantro.

So these are my last “ancient artifact” inspired earrings.


And after looking through my folder years ago I came to the realization that I’m really attracted to minimalist geometric style jewelry.

Here are some earrings that exemplify that concept.


Anyway, thanks for letting me ramble.  Talk to you soon!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

What is Metal Clay

What is Metal Clay
(a non-technical introduction to the medium)
by Laura Bracken

 Here are the basic steps involved when I create a piece of jewelry from metal clay.

First I’d like you to know that “metal clay” is solid metal that has been powderized.  Added to that are small particles of an organic binder so that when mixed with water, a clay-like substance is formed.  There is no “clay” in metal clay.  Metal clay is pure metal and an organic binder.  During the firing process, the organic binder burns off and you are left with only pure metal again.  So here’s how it works.

Metal clay is a form of powder metallurgy.  This is what the powderized metal and organic binder look like before you add water to it (this happens to be powderized Bronze, which is an alloy of copper and tin).

You add water and mix it up to a clay-like consistency.

Then you use this clay-like substance to form your piece.  You can roll the clay into flat sheets, roll it into balls, press textures into it, sculpt, build, carve, etc.

You can mix certain metals in certain ways for really cool effects.  The main metals I work with are Bronze, Copper, Steel, a lighter colored Steel Alloy, and very rarely Silver.

You can also embed certain stones into your designs so long as you check first to be sure they’ll survive the firing temperature.  Most of the stones I use are natural Rubies and Cubic Zirconia.
When you have your pieces the way you want them, you let them dry.  Here are five pieces that are dried but not yet fired.  The metals on each piece are Bronze, Steel, and Copper.
Then you place the piece in a bowl filled with carbon (made from coconut shell or husk) and fire it in a kiln.  The firing temperature ranges from about 1400-1850 degrees Fahrenheit and it takes about 3 hours for one firing in the kiln.  Some of the metals require two separate phases of firing, with a cooling down period in between.  Metal clay is not an instant process.
During the firing of the piece of metal clay, two things must happen.  First, the organic binder must thoroughly burn out.  After that, the remaining metal must sinter.  Sintering is where powderized metal is heated to a temperature below its melting point.  Then the particles of metal begin to fuse together into one solid piece.  A finished piece of metal clay jewelry is more porous than jewelry made from sheet metal, but it is still strong, solid metal.

Once your pieces are out of the kiln, if no repairs are necessary (repairs can be made with fresh clay and re-firing) it is time to clean the metal.

Sometimes the metal pieces get a really neat color patina from the firing.  These vibrant colors usually fade with time.
For textured pieces of metal, I clean my piece with a radial disk tool on my dremel.  
If the piece needs a smoother finish, I sand aggressively with increasingly finer grits of sandpaper, usually starting out at 120 and working my way up to 1000.   
I created a cheap contraption to keep the ensuing metal dust contained.  Two holes cut into a lidless box with cut-off kitchen gloves taped into the holes.  Two lengths of Saran/plastic wrap across the top of the box, overlapping so they touch but you can separate them to slip things (like your dremel) into the compartment.
After the piece has been sanded and polished, I can give it a patina with liver of sulfur if I want to emphasize any color contrast.  This works well between copper and bronze as the copper darkens and the bronze stays bright.  This is a speeded up process of the natural oxidation that would occur if we just left the piece alone, exposed to the air, for months and/or years.

The final step, adding a sealant, is optional and there can be different reasons to choose this.  These reasons include:

  • If I want the piece to be preserved with the colors it has at that moment.
  • If the customer reacts to copper and wants a barrier between the copper and their skin.
  • If the piece is steel, I often add protection since the iron in steel can cause rust when it gets wet.

I hope this explanation helps anyone who wanted to become more familiar with the process of metal clay.

I am accredited to teach both Hadar’s Clays and PMC.  

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Are You Wasting Your Energy Worrying About Your Competition? And the Start of My Medieval Inspired Line of Jewelry

Warning…. I’m going to do that soapbox thing now.

Wasted Energy

Stop spending time and energy worrying about competing with other jewelry makers.  Spend your time and energy on improving your work, your store, your listings, your audience.

First of all, it is a turn off to potential customers if you bad-mouth the competition… snarky, bitchy, whiny… all of it.  And guess what?  You NEVER KNOW where a potential customer is.  Anyone and everyone who sees your written words on the internet is a potential customer.

Secondly, it’s a waste of energy.  You will rarely see a focused professional jewelry maker whining and carrying on about their competition.  And by “competition”, I don’t just mean other self-representing jewelry makers.  I mean don’t bitch non-stop about Chinese mass-produced imports.  Just don’t.  Don’t bitch about people copying your work.  Don’t bitch about nasty customers who approach you in your show booth.  Don’t bitch about how much the price of silver has gone up.

If you simply MUST bitch, do it only occasionally and in a private setting with a few people

When you are whiny/complaining/negative often and in public, I can guarantee you are turning people away from your business.

Spend more time practicing your workroom skills and less time worrying about things you have no control over.

Okay, rant over.  Now onto something completely different... a new line of jewelry.

The Start of My Medieval Line

Recently I designed a piece of jewelry as a gift to the stylist of the TV show “The Originals” to be considered for use on the show (wish me luck… this is a new thing for me).  This is the piece…

But then I liked it so much (isn’t it great when we like our own work?!) that I decided to keep going and I made the start of a whole line of medieval  inspired jewelry.  Okay, not that vampires and medieval are the same thing, but I think the styling could be similar.

So here are some of the first pieces in my new line.





Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What Are People Pinning From Your Website and The Nature of Handmade... TRULY

Pinterest and Your Website
Wanna see what people are pinning from your website to Pinterest?  Put this URL into your internet address bar (but substitute the name of your website where it says “yourdomain”) and remove the space after the “h” at the start… I have those there so this won’t become a hyperlink.

h ttp://pinterest.com/source/yourdomain.com

I don’t think it works with Etsy shops, though… or at least I couldn’t get it to work with mine.  I used my regular website and got to see what others posted from there.  Neat!  

Good tool, too, to see what sparks the most interest with the viewing public.

Handmade?  Guess Again

So you think your jewelry is handmade?  Probably not according to FTC standards.

“… the entire shaping and forming of such product from raw materials and its finishing and decoration were accomplished by hand labor and manually-controlled methods…”

(a) It is unfair or deceptive to represent, directly or by implication, that any industry product is hand-made or hand-wrought unless the entire shaping and forming of such product from raw materials and its finishing and decoration were accomplished by hand labor and manually-controlled methods which permit the maker to control and vary the construction, shape, design, and finish of each part of each individual product.

Note to paragraph (a): As used herein, “raw materials” include bulk sheet, strip, wire, and similar items that have not been cut, shaped, or formed into jewelry parts, semi-finished parts, or blanks.

(b) It is unfair or deceptive to represent, directly or by implication, that any industry product is hand-forged, hand-engraved, hand-finished, or hand-polished, or has been otherwise hand-processed, unless the operation described was accomplished by hand labor and manually-controlled methods which permit the maker to control and vary the type, amount, and effect of such operation on each part of each individual product.

The question is… handmade by whom?  If I put two things together, a pendant that was handmade by someone and a chain that was handmade by someone else… do I refer to the piece as “handmade” when I list it? 

For argument’s sake, let’s say that is so.  That would still discount a lot of us… how many of us use machine-made components?  Clasps, chain, etc?

This is all food for thought, but does anyone care about FTC regulations.  The proliferation of non-handmade “handmade” items on Etsy, eBay and other places is not going to change.

But I think in our hearts, it’s good to know what handmade is SUPPOSED to mean. 

Now, having said that, let me show you some of the handmade things I created recently. 

The chain is purchased.  The circle was made from silver sheet, the headpin/bail was fused and formed by hand, the components on either side of the pearl were sawn by hand.

Here’s one I found from 15 years ago (yeah, it was stuck in a drawer… don’t ask me why).  I can call it hand assembled, but not handmade.  I’m sure the crystals and glass pearls were machine made, as well as the vintage Lucite leaves.  I designed it and I put it together, but I didn’t (nor did anyone else) hand form the components.

Purchased chain, completely handmade (by me) pendant (okay, except for the embedded CZ).  I mixed up the metal clay, formed the piece, fired it, and polished it all by hand.

Same for these earrings (except for the pearl).

Anyway, it’s just something to think about.