Friday, February 28, 2014

Deep Waters Challenge SOLD OUT...

After the busy week I've had, once I posted the kits, we watched a movie (that has been waiting in our DVR queue for a few months) and I went to bed early.  When I woke up, I was happy to discover that all of the Deep Waters Challenge kits had sold out!  I just wanted to say THANK YOU to all the challengers and good luck!  I hope you have a lot of fun and I can't wait to see what everyone makes!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

30 Words Thursday...

This is the view from my window. Gray clouds and gray mist on a gray day.  The mist is a serpent, snaking around the valley, hovering over the frozen waters.

Deep Waters Challenge

This is the latest Reader's Challenge for my blog.  It's a fun and informal way to play, create and challenge yourself with a pre-selected set of components.  Let's see what you can make!

To participate, you must purchase a Design Kit.  This kit features a selection of Japanese hex-cut seed beads, premium Czech glass, vintage lucite, African glass, Irish waxed linen, a silver-plated clasp, and a Luxury Bead Blend.

The Luxury Bead Blend consists of Japanese Miyuki seed beads, Toho seed beads, freshwater pearls, aquamarine, Czech glass, African recycled glass, Chinese crystal, Swarovski crystal, vintage sequins, Germain glass, vintage Japanese glass, and Swarovski crystal pearls.

But wait... there's more!  The pictures show a luscious mix of materials, but what isn't shown is the Mystery Component!  Each kit will come with a special, handmade component that will remain a mystery until it arrives at your door!

The Mystery Component will be publicly revealed on Monday, March 31st!  Please keep it under wraps until then.

We've had such a great time with the Radiant Orchid Challenge.  I almost forgot how much fun it is to see all the different creations and how each artist brings something new and different to the kit.

In selecting the components for this kit, I thought about the Pantone Fashion Color Report for Spring 2014.  I zeroed in on two colors:  Dazzling Blue and Placid Blue.  They reminded me of water and the kaleidoscope of shimmering blues of light penetrating deep waters.

If you're familiar with these challenges, then you know that there are lots of different design choices that can create unique pieces, and a single kit can produce several pieces if one wants.

With your kit, using as much or as little of it as you like, create a piece that showcases your creativity, individuality, and artistic expression.  Ideally your creation will spotlight the great assortment of beads included, but the sky's the limit with what you make!

Keep your project secret until the reveal date!

The reveal date is set for Thursday, April 24th, 2014!  Post a picture on your blog or send one to me to post on your behalf (if you don't have a blog of your own).  The Deep Waters Challenge will end in a blog hop, sharing all the lovely creations with your fellow participants!

There are only 20 Design Kits available (with one set aside for myself)!  Once we receive your order, we will process your kit and send it out within three business days.  Hurry!  Supplies are limited and are on a FIRST COME, FIRST SERVE basis!  (Sorry, no exceptions!)

I also wanted to mention that all the Design Kits will be shipped with First Class mail.  This can take anywhere from one business day to fourteen.  For international orders, it may take longer!  If you know that it takes a long time to reach your destination (from Southwestern Pennsylvania) please place your orders early!  I will do my best to get your kit out as early as possible, but unfortunately I can't be held responsible if it arrives late due to the postal service.  All sales of the Design Kits are final and there are no returns or exchanges.  With that being said... I hope you have lots of fun and I can't wait to see what you make!

CLICK HERE to get your Design Kit!

Disclaimer:  This challenge is not associated, affiliated, and/or sponsored by Pantone.

Radiant Orchid Challenge Reveal...

Today is the Reveal for the Radiant Orchid Challenge!  If you're not familiar with the challenges, I put together Design Kits and offer them on a first-come, first-serve basis.  Challengers claim their kits and I then send them off around the world.  Each participant has a little less than two months to create a piece and at the end of the challenge, everyone shares what they created!

It's a fun way to challenge your creativity and it is always fascinating to see what each person will make with the nearly identical kits.  Sometimes there are overlaps in ideas and other times, things are vastly different from each other.

Since this was the first challenge of the year, I thought it might be nice to kick off things off with the Pantone Color of the Year: Radiant Orchid.
Here's a snapshot of the kit that everyone received.  The kit was composed of a Luxury Bead Blend, polymer clay, vintage lucite, Czech glass, Swarovski crystal, lampwork glass, and stone beads.  Participants can use as much or as little of the kits as they like.

Here's a close-up of the Luxury Bead Blend.  It is a random assortment in purple, fuchsia, and pops of pink.  This kit included all kinds of goodies, like African glass, crystal, semi-precious stones, lots of Czech glass, and Japanese seed beads to name a few.  Usually there are enough beads leftover to make several projects and some challengers do!

The kits also includes a Mystery component!  This time, I put two in each kit.  They are torch-fired enameled, filigree beads made by me.  I also included some porcelain pendants as bonus pieces.

And without further ado... here's the REVEAL:  

This bracelet was made by Julie Katz.  Here's what she had to say about it:

I wanted to create a piece using the tree pendant as my focal point.  The Radiant Orchid Color is gorgeous and one of my favorites.  The tree and the color have me looking forward to spring – really can't wait for spring to come this year!!!  I love the look of crystal and silver so I built the bracelet using these elements around the pendant.

This necklace was created by Alison Herrington.  Here's what she had to say about it:

Creating this multi-strand necklace helped me out of a funk by reminding me of my creative side.

This bracelet was created by Irene Lenihan.  Here's what she had to say:

Here is something I made with some of the beads that were sent and some of my own.  It is a Russian Spiral Bracelet.

This necklace was made by Joanne Goldberg.  Here is what she had to say about it:

The name of this is, "Spring's Coming".  When I looked at the beads I decided to use the large beads going from large to small and using tiny beads next to each bead.  I decided to wire wrap each bead and use chain in between.  I am very pleased how the piece worked out and am anxious to see others. I also did something that would not take much time as I am leaving for a trip.  Also you will notice I alternated the colors.  My favorite.  

This necklace was made by Linda Starosciak.  Here's what she had to say about it:

I was so excited to receive my challenge bead mix and I loved each and every piece added.  The colors are wonderful and so spring-like in this dreary never ending winter.  (I'm in Central Jersey.)  I love to create and to wear multi-strand necklaces, and this lovely mix provided so many options.  Laying it all out was a joy.

So here is my submission for the Radiant Orchid Challenge.  I've used the components (almost all of them!), plus added lilac and mauve glass pearls, lilac Swarovski crystals, small glass daggers, and some lavender dyed jade beads.  The 25" necklace has 4 completely different strands that can be worn many ways due to the S-hook closure and jump rings at each end of each strand.  Strand 1 has the largest beads and the porcelain focal.  Strand 2 has medium beads and the pierced enameled beads.  Strand 3 has seed beads, dagger beads and gemstone chips.  Strand 4 has seed beads, and bells.

This necklace was made by Laurel Ross.  Here's what she had to say about it:

The night that the kits went on sale, I had two members of my housed sick with the flu and this challenge could NOT have come at a better time!  Although I'm usually not a huge fan of purple (gasp – says my 5 year old 24/7 princess-clad daughter), I knew that Andrew would come up with something incredible, as he usually does.  It took me awhile to get my hands on the kit, particularly because our weather in Pennsylvania is terrible in winter and I was stuck at home.  But when I did, I took it into my bedroom, laid it out in front of me on the bed and sorted out all the goodies like a kid on Halloween.  The amount of ideas I had when I looked at all the pretties laying there was crazy!  So I gathered what I wanted to use and put the stuff I wasn't crazy about aside.  The kit had so much stuff that the projects can continue for months!  In fact, I even shared some with a bead store buddy.

So, if anyone knows me, you'd know that I can't stand seed beads.  But something happened to me when I saw all the those gorgeous colors in the little container.  I ended up stringing a strand of randomly selected colors and was smitten.  One strand led to a total of 14 thanks to a trip into the gallery to get a few tubes more.

Was it monotonous?  Sure thing!  Did it seem to take forever?  Yep!  But every time I ran those strands through my hands, and saw how beautiful they looked I was so glad that I finally got a chance to make peace with the seed beads and stop my mental block.  My daughter thought they were incredible too!

The next question was hot to tie them all together into something pretty.  Well, back in the day, I was making shoe clips and had purchased a pair of really cool metal flowers.  I took one in to show Andrew and we thought they might be copper-plated.  I tried various methods to get the patina off – lemon juice and salt, Brasso, cooking it in my wood burner, soaking it industrial cleaner, but to no avail.

Back to the gallery I went, where Andrew produced some perfectly matched inks.  I painted them up, lost a few of the flower layers to simplify and make it look (unbelievably) sort of like a real orchid, and voila!

So many thanks go out to Andrew for pushing me out of my comfort zone and into something new on this one!  I'm really proud of it.

This bracelet was made by Laurel Ross.  Here's what I had to say about it:

My second piece is a miss mash of the big stuff that came in the kit.  It's a multi-strand bracelet that might turn itself into something else since it is so heavy.  Who knows?  I wanted to incorporate some stuff from my stash as well as some of the cool stuff I picked up on the Destash page.  All in all, it's big, bright, chunky and funky.  After an awful winter, I kind of need something to make me smile and get ready for spring.

This bracelet was made be me, Andrew Thornton.  Here's what I had to say about it:

I loved the assortment of the mix and I wanted to keep that random, ever-shifting look.  I strung the beads from the kit and Swarovski crystals on headpins and wire-wrapped them, turning them into dangles.  I embellished the chain with the dangles and tiny beads.  It has great movement and makes music when it is worn.

This bracelet was made by me, Andrew Thornton.  Here's what I had to say about it:

I had leftover seed beads and I decided to use those in a project as well!  I ran with the random theme and did some free-form peyote.  Originally, I had the idea of making petals.  It turned into this ruffly fin that I sewed to a piece of silk cord.  I wired on the clasp and glued the end-caps on.

Here's another view of the bracelet I made.  I wanted the transition to be smooth between the crest and the silk, so I got my needle and thread out and started to sew sequins with seed beads on.  Once I finished, I wanted to add another element and incorporated the wire-wrapped dangles for a little extra movement.

But wait.... that's not all!  Please swing by the blogs of the other participants and see what they made for the Radiant Orchid Challenge:

The Deep Waters Challenge is up next!  The kits will go on sale tonight at 7PM EST.  Check back here for the link.  If you're interested in participating, the kits sell out super fast, so make sure to get one while you still can.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Challenge Update...

Tomorrow is the Reveal for the Radiant Orchid Challenge!  I am so excited!  I love seeing what people make.  It's always interesting to see how each artist will take the same materials and put their individual stamp on their creations.  Sometimes ideas overlap and sometimes the results are totally and completely different.  Make sure to swing by and comment on all of the fabulous designs in the blog hop!

The Deep Waters Challenge Design Kits will go on sale tomorrow evening at 7PM EST.  This is the next challenge and it should be really awesome!  As with all the Design Kits, if you are interested in participating, I encourage you to snag your kit as soon as they go up! They sell out fast!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Someone to Watch Over Me...

Over my work area at the shop, I keep a locket with my grandmother's picture.  It hangs in front of my Gratitude Wall, where I keep cards, thank you letters, and happy little notes that we have received since we started the store.  On the back side of the locket is a piece of washi paper with the word, "love" collaged on it.  The glass locket, with her portrait and mini-collage, hangs there and oversees everything.

The locket is there, not only because I miss her, but because she is a reminder.  Not only does she remind me of happy days, spent crafting and cooking, but of what it means to be a good person.  She always did what she thought was right and stood up for the little guys.  Even though she was a sassy Southern woman and wouldn't think twice about telling someone off, if there were those who were less fortunate, she would find a way to help.  I remember dropping off cardboard boxes with jars of preserves and Ziplock bags filled with venison or wild boar that my grandfather had procured during hunting season.  If there were young children in the family, she'd always put a bag of hard candy.

I think the spirit of charity grew from when she and my grandfather first started out.  They lived in the rural Ozarks in a log cabin with a dirt floor.  The spirit of the Roaring 20's roared on without them.  They were farmers and picked cotton until their hands would bleed.  She always kept a branch with a boll on it, sticking out of a vase or a mason jar.  I never knew why.  I thought that she would hate the sight of it.  But now I realize that it was a reminder to be grateful for the blessings in life and that those small blessings came from hard work.

I keep a locket hanging over my work area to remind me to work hard, be grateful, and "take no shit".    I try to lead my life and conduct a business that would make her and my grandfather proud.  And on days where it seems harder than hard, it gives me a piece of mind to know that there's someone to watch over me.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Next Chapter...

For the past two and half years, Allegory Gallery has called 139 East Main Street home.  We've met so many wonderful people in this space and created so many amazing memories.  It has been an honor and a pleasure to be able to offer our unique finds in this space.  Since we've started, we've had over a dozen art exhibitions, hosted teachers from all over the country, and had events featuring talented authors, artists, writers and musicians.  Thousands of people have crossed the threshold, from former Project Runway contestants to beauty queens.  In this space, we've laughed and cried.  We've transformed the stuff of dreams into reality.

Starting in May, we will shut the door on this chapter of our lives and move forward into our new incarnation.  The store will move a few blocks away to a new location.  We will continue promoting the arts and offering beads, art, and jewelry to the Ligonier community and abroad through our online presence.  We believe in our mission as a creative destination dedicated to inspiration, learning, and the joy of making.  We will continue to empower individuals to adorn their lives and find personal meaning in the things they fill their lives with.

The decision to leave our current location was not an easy one.  We grappled with the idea of starting over and part of us will always be a part of this space.  We've imbued it with our energy.  But the opportunity presented itself and we looked for the lessons in recent challenges.  We looked deep within and asked, "What's next?"  The Universe responded with this amazing opportunity to grow our business and further our goals.

Over the next few weeks, more details of the exact location will be revealed.  I will, of course, document the transition and share glimpses of the process along the way.  So far, we have scheduled our Grand Reopening for Saturday, May 10th.  Up until the move date, we will be offering special sales to help thin our inventory and make the move easier.  I will post more information as it becomes available.

We want to thank everyone who has welcomed us into the community and supported our vision and small business.  We wish to express our gratitude to all those people who have lent their time, energy and efforts to making this dream a reality.  Thank you so much and we hope to see you at the Grand Reopening to celebrate our next chapter.

Trunk Show at The Bead Place...

Our porcelain pendants have made their way to The Bead Place in Fairview Heights, IL for a special trunk!  The trunk show is going on right NOW!  If you're in the area, make sure to check it out!  They have a selection of handmade porcelain pendants lovingly made by me!  Load up and hand-pick your favorites!

During the trunk show, if you purchase one of my pendants, you'll be entered to win this necklace by me!  The necklace is made up of Japanese silver-lined seed beads, yellow freshwater pearls, peach calcite, reconstituted amber, an altered Art Metal Components by Anju piece, and one of my porcelain pendants as the focal.  Please stop by The Bead Place for further details!  And may the odds be ever in your favor!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bead and Craft Bloggers...

Resin Crafts Blog
Sometimes it is best to just use resin as a glue!

Art Bead Scene
Have you always wanted to try Kumihimo?  Try out guest blogger, Ema Kilroy's handy tutorial for combining Kumihimo and art beads!

The Writing and Art of Andrew Thornton
Stamping on metal, Andrew created a series of pendants that have a positive message with the newsprint letter set from ImpressArt.

Downton Abbey Inspired Earrings and Bracelet
Truth be told, the set wasn't inspired by Downtown Abbey.  The earrings were inspired by a moonstone ring for which Eileen couldn't find matching earrings.  The bracelet was a recycling project of a filigree link removed to tighten a belt.  But don't they look quite Edwardian?

Charlene Sevier Jewelry
Yes, you too can learn to solder and make gorgeous jewelry using techniques traditionally used to make stained glass.  Charlene reviews a book that shows you how.

Snap out of it, Jean!  There's beading to be done!
Jean reviews the fascinating jewelry design book, "Soutache & Bead Embroidery" by Amee K. Sweet-McNamara.

Mixed Media Artist
Dryer sheets?  DRYER SHEETS?? Yup... they're great!

Beading Arts
Cyndi shares part one of her tutorial on how she integrated soutache braid into her bead embroidery.

Carmi's Art/Life World
There is a truly exciting way to create a scarf that does not require you using knitting or crochet needles.  Take a peek at what you can make with water soluble stabilizer.

Crocheting and Playing
Tammy takes a look at a relatively new book from Running Press that has some adorable baby and young children's projects.

Mixed Media quilt project
Cherie continues the middle squares of her anniversary quilt.

Turning Points…

When I was younger, some bad things happened to me.  The details of those events are unimportant to this post or relevant to my life now.  But at the time, they lived beneath the surface of my skin and when I made artwork, they came out.  They seeped out of my fingertips and onto the canvas, laying the hurt bare for all to see.  I felt like my artwork was a way for me to express all the things I could not say in the light of day.  They were the late night whispers to dear friends while blinking away tears – things said in a jumble of words as fast as they would come out.  If I said them quickly, they would not hurt as much.  I pulled the words from my lips like bandages being ripped off, their removal suddenly stinging.  I put them down in paint, to ease the burn and quiet the hammering in my heart.

One day I had a critique with Peter Hristoff and Monroe Denton.  The first thing anyone said was, "These paintings are really sad.  Not sad because they are lacking in quality, but sad because they express so much anguish."  I stood there, quietly shaking… acknowledging what I already knew.

Then Monroe said, "Don't be a victim.  Don't let anyone tell you how to live your life.  Be stronger than that.  Be the hero of your own story.  Only then can you make artwork that really speaks from your voice and not what someone or something made you say."

Peter remarked on the gold-leaf I had added and how they took on an iconographic feel.  He whispered, "Don't worship the mistakes of the past."

From there, we had a discussion of the subtle differences between art therapy and fine art.  We talked about mixing paint and different mediums to make the colors richer and glossier.  Monroe started to scribble and then handed me a note.  On it where the titles of two books:  "Legend, Myth, and Magic in the Image of the Artist" by Ernst Kris and Otto Kurz and "Letters to a Young Artist" edited by Peter Nesbett, Sarah Andress, and Shelly Bancroft.

He smiled at me sadly and said, "These will help make sense of things."

I sometimes think back to that humid summer day.

For me, it was turning point.  Not only in my work, but as a person.  If I lived my life as a victim to fate or circumstance, I would never fully actualize my full potential.  I would always be held back.  I would never be able to say something true, I would only be able to echo old hurts.

The truth of the matter is that it is easy to be a victim.  It is easy to cry out and have people come to your side and comfort you, pat your head and coo in your ear.  It is easy to blame others and say, "I am this way because I was made this way."  It's harder to say, "This happened, but I  chose to live a better life of my own free will."  This is not to say that there aren't truly horrible things that happen to people. Bad things happen.  Bad things often times happen to good people.  But at some point you have to put the hurt away and move forward… otherwise you'll always be controlled by forces outside of your control.

The reason that I have been thinking so much about this turning point in my life is that recently there is a group of people who are intent on painting me as a villain.  They speak of how I've hurt them and publicly humiliated them and have outlined all the things I have done wrong.  If you didn't know me, you'd think I was a monster from their descriptions.  They would call me Iago, spinning webs and lies.

But the truth is that I have done nothing wrong and have only lived my life according to what I think is best.  I use the facts that I have gathered and look deep within to make the judgements we must in life.  Each day, I try to do good works and bring beauty to this world.  Each day, I do the best I can with what I have to work with and always try to make the world a better place.  I do so in small ways, encouraging others, building bridges, and promoting the arts.  I share my experiences in hopes that others can find meaning in the stories as I have found meaning in them.  I put positivity in the universe, with the hopes that like a pebble, the ripples will grow and expand ever-outward.  I give my loyalty freely and always try to see the best in people.  Some days are harder than others.  Some days are challenges.  I always own my words and actions.  And if I have wronged someone, I try my best to make amends.  I learned not to distinguish myself by the bad in my life, but strive to be known for the good.

And when it comes to others who try to vilify me, I won't play your game.  I will not be bullied.  I will not be made into something I am not.  I will stand up for myself and say the things that I need to say.  I will not sit silently.  I will not be the public whipping boy.  I have lived a life that I am proud of.  I've overcome adversity and been a force of positive change.  I will shine brightly and no one can stop me!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Full Circle...

After we had the store for a few months, we quickly realized that we would run out of space.  We desperately needed more room for classes, events and our internet offices.  So we set out to start the Annex to supplement the square footage in the shop.  The Annex is located a few miles up the road from the shop.

We found a space that we could afford with the aims of turning it into a place where people could learn and find creativity.  We took a unit stuck in the 70's (that was being used as a junk room) and gave it a more modern facelift.  It was a ton of work.  We scraped wallpaper off, soundproofed the walls, painted the walls, painted the ceiling, cleaned, cleaned, and cleaned some more.  Above are some of the progress pictures.  Believe it or not, the picture to the left was taken after we had already removed a load.  The stuff was literally stacked to the ceiling.

We had the Annex for a year and half before we sat down and had a long conversation.  While we really liked the additional room, it would be better if we could consolidate our resources.  We were paying for two insurance policies, two utilities, and two rents.  Unfortunately we weren't able to take full advantage of the space and really utilize it to its maximum potential.  We still had a lot of fixing up to do and really couldn't justify pouring more money or time into renovating a rental property that sits empty part of the year.

So we're closing the Annex.  Don't worry!  We aren't closing the store.  The shop will remain open and function normally.  While this might sound like sad news, we're actually really grateful for the learning experience and blessed for the opportunity to try and make it a go.  Not only that, but we've got some very exciting news in the works!  I can't say anything now… but will soon!

We wanted to thank everyone who has contributed their efforts to making the Annex a success.  We appreciate your time, energy and efforts!  We feel really fortunate to have been able to host such incredible talent.  Thank you!

Friday, February 21, 2014

More Love, Less Hate...

If you keep up with current events, then you're probably aware of the recent bill passed in Arizona that would effectively allow establishments to ban gay people on religious grounds.  I don't talk much about politics or sexuality here, but it is pretty obvious where I stand on this.  It is an affront to human rights and basic decency.  Not only does it spit in the face of civil rights, but it is silly and riddled with inherent problems.  I won't go into the fine details, as there are other blogs and other websites that are already doing so with great depth and clarity.  I will say that I am saddened to see hate proliferating and saddened to see that there are people who don't see this as hate.

I'm not a lawyer.  I'm not a politician.  I'm not a famous celebrity or podium-weilding public speaker.  But… in life, there are many things that can combat hate.  One of the most effective that I've seen is love.  I am an artist and quietly go about making things.  And while what I make won't veto bills or end bigotry, I hope that what I make brings a little beauty in this world, help counterbalance the hate and promote a positive message.

"more love, less hate"

I stamped a copper blank with the message and then textured it with the ball-peen side of the hammer.  I flame-polished it with my torch and added a patina.  I then punched holes in it and added wire-wrapped dangles.  The dangles have rubies and Czech glass.  The rest of the necklace is made up of matte, tumbled rose quartz nuggets, African copper spacers, opalescent trade beads, "gooseberry" trade beads, and a copper toggle to pull it all together.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Challenge Preview...

With the Radiant Orchid Challenge Reveal a week away, I thought that I would debut the next challenge!  Let me introduce you to the Deep Waters Challenge.  The primary inspiration for the next creative exercise came from two colors from the Spring 2014 Pantone Fashion Color Report: Dazzling Blue and Placid Blue.

When I thought about these colors, I thought about light filtering down through deep waters, creating a kaleidoscope of shimming blues.  I imagined a mysterious, underwater place… full of magic and wonder.

The kits will go on sale at 7PM EST on Thursday, February 27th.  Only 20 kits are available.  Don't hesitate!  They sell out quickly!  They will be offered on a first-come, first-serve basis and unfortunately I cannot set aside or reserve any kits.   Best of luck!

And don't forget to stop by before or after the kits go on sale to see all the amazing creations made for the Radiant Orchid Challenge!  Comment and show some social media love to these brave challengers!

30 Words Thursday...

Far from distant, rocky, Grecian shores, the grey-eyed goddess stands in stony silence.  An owl, an olive tree, gifts of wisdom and strategy.  An old god in a new land.

Affirmations in Metal...

I believe in the power of giving yourself subtle reminders on leading a better and more fulfilling life through positive affirmations.  Everyday that I go into the store, I wear a bracelet my friend Heather Wynn-Millican made me.  It has a Ghandi quote on it that helps me think of the reasons why I do what I do.  It says, "be the change you wish to see in the world".  I cherish it.  Not only because it was a gift from a beautiful friend, but because it is a mantra that I try to guide my actions by.

I decided to make a few pendants with different affirmations stamped in copper.  I used the Newsprint font from ImpressArts on copper discs that I cut out with a disc-cutter.  I used the two-hole metal punch to make the holes at the tops and bottoms.  (Tip:  To make cleaner holes and make your set last long, remove your punch and put the tip into a stick of Bur-Life or even bar soap.  It'll lubricate the tip.)  I used the ball-peen side of the hammer to create an additional texture.  I was careful not to texture too close to the letters, so that the letter impressions stayed nice and crisp, without distorting them.  This is important, because when I went back to darken the letters to make them pop, I wanted them to read clearly.

I played around with my torch to "flame polish" the pendants and give them groovy, iridescent patinas. The rainbow, butterfly-wing-shimmer effect happens on the cool down.  I was being experimental and I cooked some of them a little too long, causing some fire-scale, but I dig the cherry reds and blushes of fuchsia.

I will add jump rings to the tops of the pendants for bails and fun, wire-wrapped dangles at the bottoms.  I imagine hanging them off of simply beaded necklaces or chains with a couple wire-wrapped dangle embellishments.  I might tie on some recycled sari silk ribbon for a contrasting texture and to play up the colors in the pendants.  I think they look good AND provide nice little reminders to be more positive.

The Box Beneath the Bed...

Under my bed, I used to keep a box. It was an old, cardboard shoebox with faded orange letters.  In it were mementos of former friends, tokens from unrequited loves, and a bundle of rejection letters.  I told myself that I kept these things to stay grounded, to be real.  I remember hearing stories of famous writers and artists who kept their rejection letters as a catalyst to be better and be greater.  Some even framed them and displayed them proudly.

I didn't open the box when I needed inspiration or was looking for validation.  It wasn't on the wall to show the world how far I'd come.  It was stuffed under the bed, collecting dust and shame.  I only looked at the box when I was particularly blue, a darker shade than most.  And every time I did, I tortured myself.  I relived each hurt all over again.

I can be nostalgic to a fault.

And then there came a night where I couldn't sleep.  I tossed and turned.  I could feel the box through the bed.  It was there, lurking like some hairy beast, ready to bite and infect me with a fresh dose of sullen remorse and feelings of ineptitude.  I tried to ignore it.  But I could feel it was there.  It was my own Tell-Tale Heart.  I even dragged my blanket in the hallway and tried to sleep on the ground.  All that did was give me a better vantage-point to see the monster under my bed.

Eventually, I couldn't take it.  I got dressed, pulled the box out and wrapped it in a dishtowel.  I walked down the stairs from the 14th floor, down ten street blocks and descended into the subway station.  I didn't know where I was going.  I swiped my Metrocard and ran to catch the first train that pulled in, barely slipping in before the doors closed.

The train was empty, except for the homeless man sleeping with a newspaper draped across his face.  I sat there on the train with the box wrapped in a dishtowel on my lap.  The train sped darkly on, under the river and beneath the earth.

Tired and exhausted, I tried not to open the box.  I fought against the impulse to reminisce one last time and say farewell to the menace who lived beneath my bed.  Part of me knew that if I opened it, I would get off at the next stop and head home and put the box back.

I must have dozed off, because I remember opening my eyes to sunshine.  The train had resurfaced above ground and was making its way to its final destination.  I half expected to wake up in bed, the frantic trek to the subway station a dream.  But there I was, the box still in my lap.

When the train finally stopped, I got out and walked until my feet hurt.  I passed high-rise apartment complexes, football fields and defunct grocery stores.  The pace was slower and less possessed, but nonetheless determined.  I crossed a highway and saw water.  The pier emerged and I walked until I could walk no further.  Tired and sweaty, I placed the box wrapped in a dishtowel in a metal trashcan, turned to go and never looked back.

It's easy to hold on to old hurts and store them up.  Take them out and be reminded.  It's easy to keep regrets and failures, like so many trinkets in a box.  Saved up and ready to be spread out all over again.  But to move forward and free yourself from the unhealthy cycle, you've got to let go. Slay the monsters under the bed.  Once I got rid of the old, cardboard box, there was an incredible lightness.  I could feel the old words that haunted me so much, dissolving until they were unintelligible.  The old wounds, while not completely healed, started to mend without the threat of being ripped open again.  Now, when I try to think back of the exact contents of the box, it's hard for me to focus.  Names have been forgotten.  Those things have lost their meaning.

While I no longer keep a box of things that tether me to painful memories of the past, I am guilty of holding on to too much and have to remember, that from time to time, to let these things go… to scatter them like feathers.  Let the wind pick them up, take them away, and out of my life.  Leave the box by the sea and keep on walking.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

To Be My Friend...

On cold days, when the skies are gray and the light is dim, I look within.  I look inside to find the light, the warmth that makes these less than sunny days bearable and easier to endure.  The light that shines within is love.  Love is power.  It is not power over others, but a thing that fuels passion and creativity.  Love is fed on many things – things like beauty, nature, family, and friends.

I've been thinking a lot lately of what it means to be my friend.

I am "friendly" with a lot of people, but I do not necessarily consider all the people that I come in contact with to be my friends.  To be my friend is a special thing.  Friendship is a bridge between hearts, where love is exchanged freely and without condition.  Combined and together, this exchange makes the light burn brighter and more beautifully.  We are stronger and better for the friendships in our lives.

When I was little, I was a lonely child.  In my heart, there was hurt that would not heal.  I was always afraid that if you loved someone, they would leave you.  I made up imaginary characters to keep me company, but even they said goodbye eventually.  When I was little, I used to climb up on the wooden fence and try to bribe the children at the next-door daycare with oranges and kittens.  I would whisper to them through the fence and hold the toys thrown over the fence hostage.  "I'll give them back, if you talk to me."

I was not supposed to cross the road.  People would speed along the highway and I lost many a furry companion to wheels on asphalt.  I did it anyway.  Ride bikes, skip stones, I made friends with the children in the neighborhood.  Some of them, even after decades, I am still friends with.  And when you start to build bridges, it's hard to stop.

In thinking about what it means to be my friend, I have looked back on sun-drenched memories and tiptoed forward through my personal history.  I've looked back to look forward, to learn and understand.

To be my friend, we must have contact.  It doesn't need to be every day or once a week.  Life is busy and varied.  While I would love to surround myself with my favorite people and slip into a world of constant contact, I know that isn't always possible.  Sometimes years go by in between exchanges and that's okay.  When we do come back in contact, we'll have stories to share and experiences to relate.  Contact need not be face to face.  Sometimes friendships bloom through words and images and I have many friends that I have not seen in person, but are no less my friends than people I have set eyes on in person.

To be my friend, you must speak kindly of me.  We might not always agree and that's okay.  We are different and unique and individual with our own lives to lead, but it always important to speak kindly of those one calls their friends.  To vocalize anger, aggression, displeasure is to manifest negative energy.  That negative energy is like a gremlin that lives on the bridge and tears it down piece by piece. It is a black spot on the sun and left to grow, it will eclipse all that is bright and good.

To be my friend, you must support me and cheer me on.  I'll do the same.  The more we hold each other up, the more we can achieve.  We might not always agree that the things I do are right for me, but please understand that I do and there's a reason why I do what I do.  Advise me, council me and express your point of view, but respect me and respect my decisions.

To be my friend, do not criticize me.  No true friendship was built on putting the other down.  If there is something that I am doing that I could be doing better, I want to know.  I want to learn and grow.  But I also am doing what I think is right or in a way that I can afford or understand.  When someone keeps suggesting ways to change, they are in a way saying, "I don't like you the way you are."  Constantly being told that you are wrong or should be doing it differently wears down the bridge.  I am different and I love that I am different.  Please don't try to make me into something I am not.

To be my friend, listen to the words I say and more importantly, listen to the words I don't say.  I will communicate my feelings, but sometimes words fail me or circumstances prevent me from saying what I want.  Know that if you are my friend, my words and actions are not against you.  If you think that the things I am doing are meant to harm you, trust our friendship and the history of our friendship.  Know that I would never consciously hurt a friend.  If someone has said that I have said something or done something against you, please defer to our friendship first before passing judgement.  I am not a villain.

To be my friend, please do not use me.  Friendship is a give and take relationship.  I am a person that will bend over backwards and do anything for a friend.  Please respect that and do not take advantage of that trait.  I do not want to approach every situation with a guarded heart.  I want to give freely, knowing that if need help in the future, the favor will be returned.

To be my friend, it is important to know that you don't own me.  I am an individual with ideas and aspirations and refuse to be controlled.  Because of what I do, my passion is my livelihood.  I have left behind much more lucrative positions in fields that were not in line with my path, so that I can live a life doing what I love doing.  Respect that our friendship and retail relationship are different and separate.  We can be friends, even if you don't buy things from me.  We can be friends, if you do buy things from me.  But if you do buy things from me, it does not mean that you can manipulate me or my business.  It is easy to think that because one is a supporter of a business and that they are "good customers" that they have a say in the operations of a business, however, when someone starts a small business, it is usually to be free from being told what to do and how to do it and are not readily agreeing to be a servant.  If you do not like something I am doing or saying personally, do not threaten me.  To be my friend, means that you respect me and my business separately, no matter how much gray area there may be.

To be my friend, come to me if there is a problem.  Know that I will listen to you and I hope that you can come to me if there is an issue and that you should be comfortable in expressing your point of view.  Don't let it bottle up.  When we bottle up our emotions, they have a way to explode and cause more damage.  Even though I want you to be comfortable in saying whatever it is you need to say, to be my friend, remember to speak kindly to me.  We may both be passionate about our points of view and get loud and excited.  But calling me names, trying to make me feel bad, or intentionally trying to inflict harm is not respecting me and is not the actions of a friend.  Speak kindly.  If I lose my temper, just say, "I am your friend."  That is all.  I can promise that these magic words will make me settle down and step back.  I will defer to our friendship.  And if we do argue and I have said you've hurt me, say you're sorry.  While it might not mean that all is well and make everything is good again, it is a step in the right direction.  Refusing to acknowledge that one has caused another personal pain is not the actions of a true friend.

I write these words, not because I am perfect and that I have always been the best friend that I can be.  In communicating these virtues, I've reminded myself of what it means to be a friend.  I have reminded myself of what I need to make those bridges from my heart last and grow stronger.  And in reminding myself of these qualities, I am reminded also of all the friends who have taught me what it means to be a good friend.  It might seem like a lengthy list, but with true friends, these things come naturally and easily.  True friends are committed to working hard to make things work when things aren't easy.  As I write, I think of all my friends who have weathered the storms and brought light on a cold, gray day… and how lucky I am to have them in my life.  I am a better person because of these friendships.  I am stronger because of these friendships.  I am who I am, because of these friendships.  So, I salute all of you out there, who are my friends.  I am grateful for you and how rich and beautiful you've made my life.  You've freed the lonely little boy, trading oranges for smiles.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Some people are made of steel.  Some are made of stone.  They are hard and impenetrable.  Others are as light as air and float above the world, untouchable.  Things pass through them as if they were made of plumes of smoke and fine powder ash.  Everyone is different.  When I look back at my life, I see a quilt.  I see a patchwork quilt.  I am that child, laying on my back, looking up.  I see my mother and my grandmother.  Their hands are busy, pulling thread and tightening stitches.

The pieces that make up my quilt do not form a pattern, but randomly interlock.  The pieces and parts are experiences and memories bound together with a zigzagging thread.  The thread is a line that runs through it all, like a spider's tracery.  It is a brightly colored quilt, made of many patterns and kinds of fabrics.  There are exotic silks, everyday cottons, and sturdy denims.  There are fine linens, soft knits, and stiff canvases.  Different and diverse, they should not work together, but somehow they form a bigger picture.

The quilt of my life is well-worn and much used.  I have wrapped others with my quilt to warm, comfort and console.  I have dabbed tears with the fabric, mopped up messes and wrung out bad days.  Held by strong hands, the quilt can carry or conceal.  This quilt is an imperfect thing.  There are tears and rips, mended and re-mended.  Like scar-tissue, I am tougher and stronger because of it.  Little moths have chewed their holes.  I've patched the patches and keep on sewing.

When I look at my life, I see a quilt spread out and added to.  In its making, I've pricked my fingers, tasted blood, and remember.

Monday, February 17, 2014


I was sitting in a cafe in New York City and looking out the window.  In one hand was a cup of coffee, in the other, I held a pencil.  I remember watching the strangers passing by…. the woman pushing her stroller, the man walking his dog, the couple holding hands, and the boy crossing the street.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.  Unconsciously, I was tapping my pencil against the sketchbook in front of me.  I don't usually fidget.  The pencil was just moving in my hand.  It was probably my imagination, but the rhythmic thrum matched the footfalls and for a moment, I could hear the heartbeat of the City.  Each person was contributing to it.

Years later, when I was creating this collage, I thought of that beat.  While I'm not a musical person, I thought about how each of us sings a song, the song is the story of life.  Those songs weave together and form a chorus.  Sometimes the songs clash and sometimes they harmonize.  The beat is in the background, moving us along and giving our songs structure.  Each of us adds something different, lending the uniqueness of our voices.

At times, it can seem hard to sing.  The words might not be there.  The lyrics may seem tired and worn out.  Sometimes it's difficult to hear your own voice amongst the crowd.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.  Life is moving us all forward and encouraging us to sing our songs.  If the words are gone, listen to your heart.  If the lyrics seem old, sing something new.  If you can't hear yourself, sing louder.  Sing prouder.  Sing with all that you are.  Play the music only you can make.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bead and Craft Bloggers...

The Writing and Art of Andrew Thornton
Happy Valentine's Day!  To celebrate, Andrew created some polymer clay heart pendants.

A Bead A Day
Tweet Me Valentine!  Lisa found the cutest group of charms that are perfect for Valentine's Day.

Chipboard Heart Bracelet and Earrings
Eileen made this heart jewelry set with Valentine's Day in mind, but loved it so much, she wore it early!  Her friends asked her where they could get one.  She said, "Make your own."  Eileen wasn't being snide or nasty.  These are fun and inexpensive to make.  Check it out!

Take 2
When you don't succeed the first time, try again!  That includes crafting, of course.

Carmi's Art/Life World
There is nothing like a fabulous bezel to inspire an equally fabulous felted collar.

Resin Crafts Blog
This week I had an opportunity to experiment with a new medium, Powertex.  It allows artists to turn crocheted doilies into bezels that can have resin poured into them.

Snap out of it, Jean!  There's beading to be done!
Jean has a giveaway of a fantastic book, "Simple Soldered Jewelry and Accessories" by Lisa Bluhm! Comment on her blog and get a chance to win this classic!  It is truly a terrific book!

Mixed Media Artist
Maleficent the Dragon is joining Disney's theme park parade this spring and Cyndi's daughter had (more than one) hand in helping to construct her!

Beading Arts
Cyndi has ventured into the exciting world of working with soutache, and has worked up some practice exercises to sharpen our skills!

Postcard:  Thanks to the Lord
Cherie works on postcard art for June's mail exchange.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Alchemy and Mythic Nature...

Tonight was the opening reception for our latest shows at Allegory Gallery.  We celebrated the work of Jenny Davies-Reazor and Elise Wells.  Jenny debuted her show, "Mythic Nature" and Elise presented her show, "Alchemy".

This is the installation of Elise's show.  I love how contemporary the exhibition is.  I could easily see this in a gallery in Brooklyn or Chelsea.

This is an installation view of Jenny's mixed media pieces.  They've got such a richness and good energy.  They hum with positive vibrations.

Jenny's exhibition also included five mixed media necklaces.  I love all the textures and how she combines unique elements to tell stories through wearable art.  For people who follow along with the Inspired by Reading Book Club, they might remember one of the necklaces.  She created it using inspiration from a story in the October selection, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me.

Here is Jenny in front of the Project Wall with her work on it.  She drove five hours from Delaware in the snow to come to the opening!  It was so nice to see her and I am really glad that she and her husband could make it!

This isn't the best picture, but here Elise is talking about her work with William and the Turners.  We're really lucky to have such a talented artist locally.  She has such a unique point of view and I'm so happy that we could help share it.

Jenny wasn't the only one who drove in.  Above is a picture of Terri and Sue.  Terri and her husband came in from Ohio and Sue and her boyfriend came in from Pittsburgh.  It was a real treat to have everyone together.

I am really pleased with how the exhibitions turned out.  They play off of each other nicely and have a great synergy in the space, but still create distinct stories and represent each individual artist.  I feel really honored to be able to present their work and share it with the world.

In the next few weeks, we'll be adding the pieces to the online store so that people from all over can get a better view of each piece and if they're interested, purchase the artwork.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day...

I've heard a lot of people say that they don't like Valentine's Day – that it is a commercial holiday created by candy companies and that it should be called, "National Co-Dependancy Day".  I'm of a different mind.  Any holiday that promotes love is good in my books.  It seems that, for all the many different kinds of love that exist, they're not celebrated as much as they should be.  So, Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

30 Words Thursday...

Done.  I am done.  Winter doldrums, go away.  No more soggy socks or runny noses. The snow and cold has outlasted its stay. I'm ready to trade white for green.

Art Exhibitions at Allegory Gallery...

I'm a smitten kitten with the new shows opening at Allegory Gallery!  We will be featuring the works of Jenny Davies-Reazor and Elise Wells.  Each artist will be displaying original works on the Project Walls.  Jenny will be opening a show called, "Mythic Nature" and Elise is debuting a show called, "Alchemy".  This is Jenny's first solo show at the gallery and the first time Elise will be showing with us.  I'm really excited!  The opening reception is THIS SATURDAY!  Mark your calendars and set a reminder!  February 15th from 5PM to 8PM!  It should be a lot of fun!  Make sure to stop by if you're around!

Phipps Photo Contest...

Phipps Conservatory, located in Pittsburgh, is having a photo contest called, "Phipps Through Your Lens"!  I submitted a picture I snapped of a Himalayan blue poppy!  I went through a phase where I was obsessed with blue flowers.  I have seen them in books and magazines for years and dreamed of fields of these ethereal blue flowers.  I even tried (unsuccessfully) to grow them once.  The blooms are short-lived, extremely fragile and are highly sensitive to temperature changes.

In all of the hundreds of pictures that I've taken over the years at the conservatory, I selected this one to submit.  To me, it embodies my experience.  Phipps allowed me to experience something in person that I might not have otherwise been able to.  It brought beauty to life.  Their knowledge and understanding of plants enabled them to showcase this stunning blossom.

If you like my picture, would you please consider taking a moment to vote for it?  The winner's photo will be featured on their Facebook page AND the winner will also take home a membership.  (Mine is almost expired, so it's perfect timing!)  CLICK HERE to vote.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Color Blue...

When I was growing up, I was different.  I preferred shiny shoes to tennis ones and would wear a silky, blue robe around the house.  I would rather spend the day crafting instead of talking about cars or playing sports.  I was "one more mouth to feed" that talked too much and always talked back. I dragged around a baby doll dressed in blue.  I never said, "yes" and almost always said, "no".  And when I didn't, I would slyly say, "maybe".  My father didn't know what to do with me.  I was different.  He was used to "yes, sir" and "no, sir".  And when I would reply with my noncommittal response, he would shake me hard and call me Gomer Pyle.  I was not like him.  I was not like his brothers.  I was not like my own brother.  I was different.  And when my brother left, I insulated myself with the fantastical and make-believe.  My father, who grew up on a farm, didn't see a use in finger-painting or talking about feelings or what it meant to have a family with one less member.

When I got older, I was always angry.  I was mad that we were poor and that I wore hand-me-downs and thrift store purchases.  I hated every pyramid scheme and get-rich-quick opportunity.  I still cringe when I hear the words, "Amway", "Shaklee", "Melaleuca".  I was always embarrassed when he'd pick me up from school in that old, blue van with rust spots and faded decals in comic sans.  When other kids would go home and play, I had to work and help mow lawns and weed flowerbeds.  I think I was the only kid who prayed for summer school.

I couldn't impress him with straight A's, blue ribbons, or state championships.  It didn't matter if I was a volunteer of the year, editor-in-chief of the newspaper, or an overachiever.  I felt like a stranger, even though we lived under the same roof.  When I tried to tell him that I was gay, he told me that I must be confused and that he had seen the way I watched the girls on TV.  He said that I was a liar, even though my boyfriend was crying in the other room.  He called me sick.  He called me a pervert.  He said I was an embarrassment.

When I looked into the blue of my father's eyes, I couldn't see myself.

I talked with my dad today.  It has been years since those old arguments.  So much has changed.  We had a conversation that we couldn't have had before.  I set my ego aside and listened to him and what he had to say.  I didn't get defensive or prepare a rebuttal for everything he had to get off his chest.  I used to be so angry with him and felt like everything I did wasn't good enough.  I always felt like I was a bad son and he was a worse father.

Over the years, I have had to let go of those old resentments.  I have had to remind myself that I can't make anyone feel a certain way, if they are not interested.  All I can do is change myself and do my best.  I have had to consciously work towards not seeking approval from others and finding confidence in myself.

We talked today and I approached this conversation with empathy.  I put myself in his shoes and it dawned on me that he has always tried to do what he thought was best for us.  His harsh criticism wasn't an attack, but meant as a lesson to live a life better than his own.  He is a regular person, who has flaws and made bad decisions like everyone else.  We were born to different worlds.  We were raised in different generations.  Our experiences have been different.  And we can teach each other about those differences.

As I get older, I realize just how fortunate I have been.  My parents did the best they could and tried their hardest to improve our lives.  We had a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs and food on the table.  They taught us about hard work and perseverance.  They taught us to be strong and not give up.

We talked today without arguing or yelling.  We talked to each other… really talked to each other… maybe for the very first time.  And there were clear, blue skies.