Thursday, May 29, 2014

Drawing Brooches...

I did a few drawings.  Then I cut out some sheet metal and soldered a pin-back on.  Once I had the base of the brooches ready, I transferred the drawings onto the pieces with liquid polymer clay.  I then covered everything with a coat of resin.  When the resin had cured fully, I gave the brooches a good sanding and did a little bit of staining with alcohol inks.

These are early prototypes.  I have more ideas of how to incorporate my drawings into my jewelry and hope to do so in the future.

Dark Bloom Challenge SOLD OUT...

Many thanks go out to everyone who purchased a kit and signed up to participate in the Dark Bloom Challenge.  Thank you!  The kits are now sold out!  The reveal for the challenge is schedule for Thursday, August 7th!  I can't wait to see what everyone makes!

30 Words Thursday...

Driving by there is an Andrew Wyeth scenery.  From a car window, there is a sea of green grass, a dark wood and an ominous sky looming in the distance.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Dark Bloom Challenge...

This is the newest Reader's Challenge for my blog!  If you're not familiar with the challenges, 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 (both vintage and new), iron corrugated rounds, an iron filigree bead, lampwork glass, Irish waxed linen, a gunmetal toggle, vintage moon-glow lucite, and recycled African glass beads.  The kit also includes a Luxury Bead Blend.

The Luxury Bead Blend consists of Japanese Miyuki seed beads, Toho seed beads, Czech glass, charlottes, African glass, rose quartz, jasper, quartz, Chinese crystal, Swarovski crystals, vintage sequins, German glass, vintage Japanese glass, glass pearls, freshwater pearls, marble, Matsuno seed beads, bugles, and labradorite.

But wait... there's more!  The pictures show a gorgeous 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 might actually be more than just one bead or pendant.  It's always a surprise.

The Mystery Component will be publicly revealed on Monday, July 7th!

We have been having so much fun with the kits and people have been asking for more, so we're going to do a trial run and start offering them on a monthly basis.  You'll still have about two months to work on your project, but we'll be opening up the opportunity to work with them.  In selecting the components for this challenge, I imagined a garden at midnight under the light of the moon.  I imagined luscious purples and pale pink flowers all the more intense engulfed in shadows and moonlight.  I blended a selection of silky blacks, steely grays, gleaming silvers, and cool gunmetals.  They mix perfectly with pops of rosy pinks and deep purples.  

If you're seen the challenges before, then you know that there are a lot of different design choices that can create unique pieces, and a single kit can produce several pieces if one desires.

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 selection of beads included, but the sky is the limit with what you can use and make!

Keep your project secret until the reveal date!  (Of course if you want to post teasers, please do!  It'll add to the excitement!)

The reveal date is set for Thursday, August 7th, 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 Dark Bloom 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 seven 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 participants, 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 kits out as early as possible, but unfortunately 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 all 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!

An Object of Beauty Book Club Reminder...

This is just a quick reminder that the next meet-up of the Inspired by Reading Book Club is next week!  We'll be meeting at Allegory Gallery on Tuesday, June 3rd from 6PM to 9PM.  Our May selection was "An Object of Beauty" by Steve Martin.  The blog hop is the following day, on June 4th.  It's a fast read, so there's still time to participate!  If you're not familiar with the book club, you read the book and then make something inspired by what you read.

Our next selection is "The Drunken Botanist" by Amy Stewart.  The meet-up is scheduled for June 24th with the blog hop the next day.  I hope you get a chance to play along!  It's always fun to see what people will spark people's creativity!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Beads Baubles and Jewels Update...

The new season of Beads Baubles and Jewels has started to air on some PBS stations.  The episode that I will be appearing on is episode 10 of the 2000 series.  Look for episode 2010, Art Inspired Jewelry Making.  CLICK HERE to check your local listings.  You can also view the first part of the episode on YouTube!  CLICK HERE to take a look at a segment with me talking with Katie about my artwork, our growing business, and blogging.  It was really mellow and the flow was very conversational.  The second part (not currently up yet) is project-oriented, where I show how to make epoxy clay bead caps.  If you enjoyed it, please make sure to like it, comment on it, and recommend it to your friends!  I would love to be invited back!

Dark Bloom Challenge Sneak Peek...

We've been having a lot of fun doing the Design Challenges again!  It's always exciting to see what choices different designers will make working from the same starting point.  Since we started offering the kits again, we've received a lot of positive feedback and really sweet correspondence.  The kits and the challenges are a lot of work to put together, so it is nice that they are being received so well.  It always makes me smile when someone tells me that the challenge pushed them to learn a new technique, break out of a rut, or got their creative juices following again.  I love hearing stories of how the challenges have impacted people creatively and made a difference.

Over the past few months, one of the things we've been hearing the most is that people wished that they could have snagged a kit.  The kits sell out quickly and having them offered every other month, limits the participation.  With that being said, we decided to do a trial run of going back to offering a monthly kit.  Participants will still have two months to work on their pieces, but each month we'll be offering a new kit.  I say "trial run" because I don't want to overwhelm people or get burnt out again.  So, we'll see how it goes and if it works out smoothly, we'll keep offering them on a monthly basis.

Here is a sneak peek of the next Design Kit:  the Dark Bloom Challenge.  It's composed of silky blacks, steely grays, and shiny silvers with pops of luscious purple and pale pink.  The Kits will go on sale TOMORROW night (Tuesday, May 27th) at 8PM EST.  Check back here for the live link and don't delay!  The kits sell out FAST!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bead and Craft Bloggers...

Father's Day Craft Tutorials
From Kid's crafts, to one-of-a-kind cards, to hand-decorated mugs and door hangers, The Artful Crafter has all the "deers" for you.

Art Bead Scene
Take a peek Inside the Studio of Ema Kilroy and get a chance at winning a stunning pressed flower pendant!

A Bead A Day
Do you ever get hooked on a particular bead, design, or technique?  Then you'll understand exactly what Lisa's talking about this week!  She's hooked on foxes at the moment!

Resin Crafts Blog
This week spotlights how to make neon colored resin objects with acrylic paint.

Snap out of it, Jean!  There's beading to be done!
Jean has a giveaway of a book that is wonderful!  See how to enter and perhaps you'll win!  Margie Deeb's, "The Beader's Guide to Jewelry Design!"

Sunday Morning with Lynne
Lynne Suprock of Simply Pretty Things stopped by for a playdate with Andrew.  Check out what they made!

Mixed Media Artist
So many collage techniques... so little time!

Beading Arts
Cyndi shares a really fun little project that will have your running for your button jar!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Sugar Skull Ornaments...

I got up in the middle of the night and I couldn't go back to bed.  Instead of trying to force myself to go back to sleep, I made a bunch of sugar skull ornaments out of polymer clay.  Once they were cured, I finished them off with Gilder's Paste, acrylic paints, and alcohol inks.  I like them quite a bit and think they're bright and festive!

I posted them on Facebook and they were snapped up quickly.  Since the buyer was a friend and she got all of them, I decided to throw in a little surprise!  I made accompanying "sugar bones" and strung them both on some multi-colored ribbon.

I want to make more!  I have this idea that I'll make a Day of the Dead tree and hang these sugar skulls all over it.  I also want to get some colored porcelain clay and try my hand at translating these into ceramics.  Imagine a wind-chime constructed from porcelain "sugar bones" or if I made a hollow sugar skull that could accommodate a tea light candle.  I think they'd be really cool!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Gifts We're Given...

My sadness is my greatest gift.  It has taken a long time to admit this, not just publicly, but to myself.  We are told so often that anything that's not shiny and happy is defective.  We are told that being sad is equivalent to disease, that it is a weakness.  It is a blue blob.  It can be cured with a pill.

When I was little, if I cried, my father would tell me to "man up" and "stop acting like a baby".  Feelings were for "wussies". To quote a recent Disney animation, "Conceal, don't feel.  Don't let them know."  I can understand now where he was coming from.  He grew up in a time when there wasn't much room for feelings.  Survival was paramount.  The crops were what mattered.  And then later in the military, feelings got in the way of the driving purpose of action and clear-cut decision making.  At the time, it felt like I was somehow less than or not enough... that there was something wrong with me.


Before I go any further, I must underline that every case is different and that for some, their sadness is so severe that it inhibits their ability to function and that it is essential that they have medical attention to manage their depression.  This post is not meant to advocate the stopping of treatment and should not be construed as medical advice.  This is just my story.  These are just my experiences.

My sadness is my greatest gift.  My greatest gift is not my creativity or my compassion, because they are informed by and produced by my sadness.  My sadness has taught me to the value of appreciation, of loving more ardently and believing more fiercely.  It has taught me to empathize and be able to evaluate the situation from other's perspectives.  The darkness has made the light more brilliant and dazzling to behold.  It is the spirit of ephemera – the knowing that moments slip away like quicksilver and that a flower's beauty is all the more because it is fleeting.

If you know me in passing, you might not know that I am anything but smiles and bright-eyed wonder.  My sadness, while inherent and intrinsic to my personality and views on life, is something that I explore and evaluate – for the most part – privately.  I understand that it is a facet of who I am and not everything that there is.  We are all made up of shadows and light and are bestowed with many... many... many unexpectedly beautiful gifts.

30 Words Thursday...

One day, not far off, I will be forgotten.  My name will hold no meaning.  No pyramids or history books, just turkey feathers in the wind, a rustle of grasses...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Western Pennsylvania Jewelry Artist Group at Creative Differences...

Earlier this evening, I attended a meet-up of the Western Pennsylvania Jewelry Artist Group.  It's a motley crew of creative people united under the banner of making jewelry. I love how diverse the group is.  Members work in all kinds of jewelry-making mediums, like seed beads, chain maille, polymer clay, metal clay... the list goes on!  The premise of the group is to get together once a month and make things, share your recent accomplishments, and talk about your jewelry-making endeavors.  It's a relaxed group with no membership dues or requirements.  You just have to show up!

One of the new things that the group is doing now is meeting up at different creative spaces around the area.  It's a wonderful opportunity for the participating jewelry artists to scope out the scene and check out different possible venues for their work.  It's also a nice way to give back to the community that helps support and foster creativity locally.

Tonight we met up at Creative Differences in Ligonier.  It's off of West Main Street on Fairfield Street.  You can grab a bite to eat and pick up craft supplies at the same time.  They offer all kinds of classes on decorative painting, needle arts and more.  They run classes for both adults and children.  Although there is ample room for multiple meetings to go on at the same time, the space is comfortable and welcoming.  It was nice to spend a little time there and get acquainted with the space and Wanda, the owner.

The next meeting of the Western Pennsylvania Jewelry Artist Group is Wednesday, June 18th from 5PM to 9PM at the Latrobe Art Center.  The meeting after that will be held at Allegory Gallery on Wednesday, July 16th from 5PM to 9PM.  I have a lot of things planned for the meet up at the shop!  It'll be a nice way to introduce it to those who haven't stopped by the new location yet.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

New Class Proposals...

A few months ago, I put out a random inquiry on Facebook.  I asked what kind of classes people would like to take from me if they could.  I listened and took in account a few different factors, like specialized equipment, time, safety, and what I was comfortable with.  The reason that I was curious, was that I was asked to submit a few class proposals for a show in New York.  I finally came up with two classes that I thought could be a lot of fun and leave students feeling successful.

The first class focuses on a bunch of techniques, like working with two-part epoxy clay, polymer clay image transfers, and assembling the base of the brooch.  The second class features my method of sculpting faces and will cover making sculpting tools, working with polymer clay, and some finishing options.  The faces can be used in jewelry, art dolls, or fine art sculpture.

I think both classes are loaded with little useful tidbits that can be used to duplicate the samples or taken to the next level.  We'll see if the classes are accepted or not.  I hope so, because I think students will get a lot out of them.  It'll also allow me to stretch my wings a little bit.  I teach a lot through the shop, but I usually focus on basic beading techniques to get customers started and rarely get to do more "artsy" classes.  It'll also be nice to be back in the City.  I haven't been back since we moved away and this would be a good excuse to catch up with the friends I miss and visit my old stomping grounds.

Monday, May 19, 2014

From the Vault: A Shaman's Necklace...

One of the first trips I made out to Tucson, I met Heather Wynn (now Heather Wynn-Millican).  We were set up across from each other in a sunny atrium.  We became fast friends and would make funny faces at each other throughout the week.  At the end of the day, we'd show each other the spoils we acquired on shopping trips before the show started or on our breaks.  On the last day, she showed me a fabulous selection of fossilized walrus ivory.  I wanted some for myself!  She told me where to find them and luckily I caught them in a mad dash before the tent closed up.  I got two bags and filed them away with the rest of my treasures.

I was told that harvesting walrus ivory was illegal now, but that these pieces were dug up from old hunting sites.  These pieces had been grandfathered in.  They could only be procured by the native tribes and had to be traded for.

I put them in my plastic organizer and there they sat for almost ten years.  They traveled with me up and down the eastern seaboard and through the wilds of Brooklyn.  I would take them out on occasion and would think of the things I would make with them, but then would scoop them up in the baggies and put them away again.

And then a friend named Kathy Van Kleeck mentioned a site where she got her diamond-head drill bits.  I ordered some and put them away with the shards of fossilized walrus ivory.  And there they sat a little longer.

Finally the day came where I drilled the pieces.  Some turned out better than others.  The ivory has a natural grain to it and the rough pieces would sometimes crack.  I did manage to get a handful of nice specimens.  I put them back in the bag and there they sat a little while longer.

Recently I was cleaning out my toolbox, when I came across the drilled shards.  I poured them out and started to arrange the irregular daggers... and then I made this piece.  I paired the fossilized walrus ivory with faceted fuchsia labradorite, aluminum-banded ebony, sterling silver and garnet rondelles.  The clasp is an old sterling silver one from my family at Green Girl Studios that I harvested off of an old design that was in a magazine.

I'm quite pleased with the way it turned out.  It took awhile... much longer than I thought it would, but it finally came together many years later.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Bead and Craft Bloggers...

Art Bead Scene
Take a peek Inside the Studio with Rebecca of Songbead and get a chance at winning some of her hand-woven beads!

Resin Crafts
A week of working in molds is summarized in this post featuring the lovely Frida encased in EasyCast.

A Bead A Day
Sometimes you just need a little jewelry pick-me-up to make a work Friday a little more fun.  Lisa is sharing her Fun Friday jewelry and would love to hear about yours!

It's party time!
Andrew celebrates the Grand Reopening of Allegory Gallery in their new location!  Check out the recap of the big event.

Snap out of it, Jean!  There's beading to be done!
Jean reviews a lovely set of paintbrushes by showing what they do!

Get Your Felt On
Tammy takes a look at a book from Schiffer Publishing that's all about felt and felt making.

Beading Arts
Cyndi has been sharing some of the practice pieces that she made for her new eBook!

Mixed Media:  Adding Layers
Cherie creates a mixed media picture with her favorite colors.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Brother, Bird: A Short Story...

Earlier today, my friend Gina Chalfant of White Swan Illuminations posted a link to an article called, "The Mysterious New York City Island You've Never Heard Of".  The post features haunting pictures of the ruined structures on North Brother Island taken by Christopher Payne.  The island is situated between The Bronx and Queens and can be seen speeding by on 278 and from the air flying into and from La Guardia.  I remember seeing it from afar, but not knowing anything about it.

After I read the article and looked at the pictures, I was inspired to put on my creative writing hat and craft a fictional short story. The idea for the story started with the two opening sentences.  I couldn't get them out of my head and they ballooned into a 2,000 word story.  It's still pretty rough and just came off the top of my head after doing a little bit of research.  (I recommend you check stories found HERE, HERE, and HERE.)  I think that it has a fascinating history and is a super interesting place.  The story I created could easily develop into something much larger if I had the time or inclination to do so.  If there are any TV production people out there reading this, I encourage you to take a look at the source material.  It could easily be turned into something that's American Horror Story meets Bates Motel, with a dash of Shawshank Redemption, Stephen King's Rose Red and A Million Little Pieces.  Just sayin'!

Illustration by John James Audubon.

Brother, Bird

I returned to the island fifty years later.  A tree now grows where my bunk once was.  I am an old man now, but I came here as a punk teenager.  My memories of landing on the island are hazy and as broken as the windows are in their rotted out frames.  I had overdosed one too many times for my parents liking and was sent to this now abandoned place to recover.  I had taken a fistful of stolen pills before we left the newly constructed glass and aluminum hospital and was still high as a kite from an earlier fix.  I had a different destination in mind.

That first ferry ride flickers in and out of memory.  I do remember clearly that I had thrown up more than once.  Whether it was the pills, the heroine or the rocking of the boat, I can't say for sure.  Half a century later, I can still smell the river and my own vomit, shortly followed by the burn of pungent antiseptic.  It's the kind of thing that sticks with you.

Before the aptly named Riverside Hospital was a rehab facility, they quarantined Smallpox patients here and then later, TB patients, but really if it was infectious they'd send them here with a oneway ticket.  The kinds of things that went around then make H1N1 look like a runny nose.  The shame of my drug addiction was infectious, at least in my parents' eyes.  They told everyone that I was visiting relatives in Florida, not that I was on a private island dedicated to the sole purpose of straightening out drug addicted youths.  I might as well have been in Florida.  Even though the island was less than 8 miles away from my family's brownstone in the Upper East Side, it might as well been a world away.  You could see the shoreline of the City from one side of the island.  It was just beyond the river.  From the other side of the island, a view of Riker's Island, also just beyond the river.  We hung in the balance, a purgatory between Heaven and Hell, not that the City was all that much of a Heaven, but certainly better than jail time.

The island is different than it once was.  It's covered with invasive vines and the crumbling buildings are all but buried under the thick vegetation.  Porcelain berry, kudzu, and poison ivy cover the place I used to live like a green tarp.  Knotty vines dangle where pendant lights used to hang.  The ceilings in most of the buildings have caved in long ago and been replaced by a canopy of leaves. When I stayed here, the island was a pristine model of manicured lawns and orderly function.  What it has become and its new resident are what brought me back.  Specifically, a bird:  The Black-crowned Night Heron.

Following in the footsteps of ornithological illustrators like Audubon, my purpose for returning is to capture images and document the wildlife that has nested here.  Back in the studio, I'll turn my photographs into paintings for a new book, "Rare Birds of The City and Surrounding Areas".  The originals will be sold off to fundraise for the Parks and Recreation Department.  It's my way to give back.  All the people I would make amends with are now long dead.  Along with the Night Heron, there are egrets and cormorant.  The birds thrive in the wilderness brought on by five decades of abandonment and neglect.  Fledgling drug abusers have been replaced by fledgling birds.

The 134th Street Ferry was long ago decommissioned.  We had to charter a boat to motor us in, almost plowing into the jagged remnants of the wooden dock just below the surface of the water.  The birds are more abundant on the smaller South island, but we're touring the North island, where I stayed so long ago.  I prefer the name of the Dutch West India Company gave the pair: "De Gessellen".  It means, "The Companions".    Somewhere along the lines, they were renamed and turned into brothers.  North Brother and South Brother.  When I arrived for the first time, my brother was the last person that I wanted to think about.

Once I came to, I woke up in a small, empty room with metal grates over the windows.  I was laying on the floor.  Yellow square tiles with a black trim lined the room.  The sheet-metal covered door had a slot in it.  I might as well have been in prison.  From the slot I could see the metal frame of a bed propped against the wall and a mattress drying out.  Clearly I had an accident while I had been incapacitated.  The thin cotton pants were soaked through.  I called for help, but no one came.  I couldn't hear anyone moving around, but I could hear music.  Tchaikovsky's Symphony Number 6 in B Minor, "Pathetique" conducted by Eugene Ormandy, was playing on the record player down the hall.  I didn't know it then, but by the time I left, I had memorized every fluttering trill.  They played that LP repeatedly.

Those first few days were fuzzy.  I slipped in and out of consciousness.  When I was awake, I counted the tiles or hit the tiles until my hands were bloody.  I vaguely recall the nurses coming in, holding me down and force-feeding me.  They'd try to sooth me by saying my name, over and over again like they played that record, as if it were a prayer for serenity.  "Steve... Steve... Steve..."  The worst moments of being awake were at night.  I would lay on the ground, shivering and praying for death.  Half awake, I dreamed of my brother and his battle-scarred face, sunken in.  I dreamed of his shaking hands and the needle in his too-thin arm.  I dreamed of his red-rimmed eyes.  He starred at me... with cold, dead eyes.

I never thought that I would be back here.  When I left after a six month stay, I was convinced that I would never set foot on North Brother again.  Not long after I was released, the facility was shut down and all access to it cut off.  I used to stand on the ferry slip in Port Morris and look out over the waters at the brick chimneys.  One day I stopped going, but those blue tiled hallways were always in the back of my mind.  Coming and going from La Guardia, I would see it from the window seat and think back to a time where I faced my demons and surrounded myself with ghosts.

In those first few weeks, I remember hearing the other boys whisper about how the island was haunted.  Not only had it been a place where New York sent its carriers of infectious diseases to die, but a steamboat had crashed fifty years before we were there and a thousand people died.  Whenever anyone said the name of the boat, all the boys would snigger and whoop.  "General Slocum!"  One boy named Billy, claimed to see the ghost of Typhoid Mary.  He had learned how to sew in one of the occupational therapy classes and made a dress that he would wear.  He'd run through the halls shrieking and screaming, "I'm Mrs. Brown and you can't keep me here!  I'm being held against my will!"  He would cry himself to sleep.  He wasn't the only one.

The guiding idea behind treatment at Riverside was to keep idle hands busy.  They had even built a gym for the patients a few years prior, so that we could blow off steam being athletic, instead of taking it out on each other.  When I was interviewed for an article, they had asked me, "When did you first know that you wanted to be an artist?"  I smiled and said, "Rehab."  It wasn't a lie or meant to sensationalize.  During me stay, we had Occupational Therapy classes where we learned to cook, paint, emboss metal, and sew.  While it may be true that the hospital was rife with corruption and results were mixed, it was the first place that I picked up a paintbrush.  It was the first place that I stood out as exceptional and people didn't shake their heads with disappointment when they said my name.

The night that I overdosed for the first time, we had buried my brother earlier that day.  They were firing off his 21-Gun Salute and all I could think about was getting high.  The war had broken my brother.  It had wrecked his body and ruined his mind.  They have a name for it now.  Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.  To cope with his wounds, both internally and externally, he turned to drugs and alcohol.  He gave me my first sip of beer.  He rolled my first joint.  He showed me how to shoot up the first time.

Near the end of my time on the island, I ran into one of my teachers named Ms. Mabry.  She was sitting on the old wooden dock, her black dress fanned out around her.  Her hair, normally pulled back in a severe bun, had come loose and whipped around her face.  Next to her was a piece of driftwood, holding down a stack of papers.  She carefully removed a sheet and started folding the page until she had a paper bird.  When she realized that I was standing behind her, she looked up with a sad smile and handed me the origami bird.  Clearly she had been crying, but it wasn't my place to pry.  She pulled out another sheet and started folding again.  When she finished, she wordlessly held it up and pulled on its tail.  The wings flapped up and down.

As I started to walk back to the dormitory, the wind caught the bird and blew it out of my hands and into the water.  I watched it for awhile, bobbing on the surface of the water before it sunk beneath the waves of the East River.  The City, teeming with life and bustling with people, was in the background, but it felt a million miles away.

I wish that I could say that after the months spent on North Brother I was cured and that I no longer craved the chemically-induced release of drugs, but the truth is that addiction is another one of those things that sticks with you.  It's a constant battle to refrain from backsliding and relapsing.  Even after all this time, I still have to make the conscious decision to not fall into temptation.  While I wasn't magically freed from the cycles of addiction, I did finally get to say goodbye to my brother.  I had seen his casket lowered into the ground, but I was too chemically altered to fully be able to absorb the totality of the events unfolding in front of me.  I'll never know why Ms. Mabry was crying, but I still think of that little paper bird she gave me.  When I saw it slip from the surface and dip below the lapping, iced tea-colored current, my brother's passing somehow felt real.

It had been fifty years since I last saw that little paper bird.  We had carefully traversed the deserted island in search of a different bird.  We had aims of spotting the Black-crowned Night Herons, but came up empty-handed.  Patches of poison ivy choked the old paths and scaled the trees, slowing progress.  Eventually the light started to fade and the sky started to become rosy with the oncoming sunset.  Navigating the island in broad daylight is difficult enough.  At night it would be nearly impossible and highly dangerous.  The maintained paths were a thing of the past.  Slightly disappointed, we began our trip back to the charter boat.  As we almost reached the place we moored the boat, we heard a barking squawk from overhead and saw the outline of two companion birds, steadily flapping their wings, flying into the sunset.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

30 Words Thursday...

Winter branches newly ablaze with spring's green fire, crowned by a Maxfield Parrish sky.  The predawn hour glows warmly in rosy pinks and gilded buttercreams, pale blues and dusty lavenders.

Book Club Reminder...

Holy cow!  May is flying by!  The May selection of the Inspired by Reading Book Club is "An Object of Beauty" by Steve Martin.  So far it's a delightful read... and it has pictures!  It's a great book to participate with.  Due to the holiday, the in-person meet-up is scheduled for June 3rd from 6PM to 9PM at Allegory Gallery!  This will be in our new location!  The blog hop reveal is scheduled for Wednesday, June 3rd.  I hope that you'll be able to participate!  I can't wait to see what everyone is going to make and to hear what everyone thought of the book!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Moonlight Clarity...

Fitfully, I wrestled with my pillow.  Try as I like, I just couldn't fall asleep.  Eventually I gave up on tossing and turning and got out of bed.  The lights were off and normally the house would be completely dark at that hour, but moonlight poured through the windows making it easier to navigate the piles of beads and stacks of books strewn across the floor.  Even though it had been in the 80's all day, there was an early spring chill in the air.  I grabbed a light blanket slung over the sofa, wrapped myself in it and walked out on the porch.  My bare feet got wet from the damp boards from an earlier thunderstorm.

The moon, nearing the horizon, was bright and huge.  It was easy to survey the surrounding scenery, watching the silvery light spill across the swaying grasses and the trees stippled with new leaves.  Not as bright as the sun, but still unusually brilliant, the moon made a slow dive towards the distant rise and fall of the neighboring ridges.  An involuntarily shiver passed through me.  The cold, clean light made the evening crispness all more pronounced, all the more icy.

I stood there for what seemed like a long time.  I looked up at the moon and studied it.  I felt extremely light, as if I could float away or melt into the shadows.  I gazed deeply into the glowing orb and it felt, maybe, that I was looking inside myself.  It was a mirror in the sky.  I was reminded of a stories of deities who had swallowed the Universe and if you looked down their throats, you could see it celestially swirling.  Perhaps the story was a metaphor meaning that everything one looks for, resides within?

I used to be scared of not knowing.  Knowing what?  The world... myself... everything.  The lack of knowledge always seemed like an axe swinging overhead, threatening to fall.  When I was younger, I tried to craft an outward appearance of an indisputable expert, someone who was self-aware and had some kind of secret insight.  But as time goes on, I've realized that the whole of human experience is an ever-changing ocean.  The distant shores, explored one day, could be swept up and away and reformed somewhere else in the likeness of someplace else.  I used to be scared of not knowing.  Secretly, maybe not so secretly, I wanted to be someone.  I wanted that person to be permanent and immutable.  Inwardly, I was seeking sold ground.  I think what I felt was what many young people felt... the search for identity.

As I settle into my life, not necessarily giving up, but letting go of who I thought I'd be and what I thought I used to know, I've come to be okay with the not knowing.  I used to have nightmares about sitting in the middle of a classroom with a test in front of me and being filled with dread and panic because I didn't know any of the answers.  I don't get those nightmares anymore.  I've come to embrace that life is mysterious and full of wonder.  If you knew everything, I imagine things would get quite dull.  It's the little surprises and daily revelations that make life seem so sweet  and rewarding.  I've replaced my life goals of Being Somebody, with just Being.  And in the process of letting go of that imagined self, I've set about replacing what lacks with what fills.  If there's no solid ground, grow wings.  Fly free and learn what you can learn, explore what you can find, and discover and rediscover each day.

Within each of us there may be a proverbial Universe, all the answers to all the questions, but there is so much more... there is the unexpected and the unknowable and that which we will become.  That place – that is not really a place – is also populated with the afterimages of the people we might have become, had decisions been made differently or actions carried out otherwise.  We are engines of possibility.  I stood there in the dark, shivering.  I stood there looking up at the moon, but also looking deep within.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Thursday Giveaway Winner...

Hear, hear!  Let's give a round of applause for the latest winner of the most recent Thursday Giveaway, Sarajo Wentling!  Congratulations, Sarajo!  She won a set of ImpressArt Metal Stamps.  The stamps are in the Rad font.  A big thank you goes out to everyone who participated!  Keep an eye out for another fun, Thursday Giveaway!

Monday, May 12, 2014

What We Made...

Lynne Suprock of Simply Pretty Things was in town for the Grand Reopening party and we thought it might be nice to squeeze in a playdate!  I'm not a morning person, but I got up early and met up with Lynne at the new shop for some coffee and soldering!

It's always fun to see Lynne!  We made a little book pendant that was featured in the Winter 2014 issue of Jewelry Affaire and made a pair of some shotgun shell bezel rings.  I think that I'll fill the rings with two-part epoxy clay and set some vintage rhinestones in them.

I'm really excited about the techniques that she shared with me.  My mind is spinning with all the different applications.  I had tried my hand at soldering before with not so good results, so this was definitely just the kick in the pants I needed to try my hand at it again!  I'm totally going to experiment and hopefully make some cool things!

Not only did we play with soldering, but we also practiced a bead stringing technique and looked at an art doll that she's working on.  We had a full Sunday morning!

Old and New...

This project has been in the works for awhile now and we finally made some headway!  Before we opened the store, we had an idea of what we wanted, but we hadn't "lived" in the space yet.  Our online presence sort of reflected that and while it served us well for many years, we definitely wanted to upgrade to something that fit us better.

So, we pushed to unveil the new site along with the new store!  It's still in the early stages, but I think it represents us more fully.  It's brighter, cleaner, and will allow us to build upon it more easily.  CLICK HERE to check out the new website.

Not only did the website get a facelift, but our online shop got an update as well.  It's much more modern and contemporary and goes more with the website.  We have some ideas about the future of the online store and are working in the background on those plans.  It's very exciting!  We have plans to really ramp up our online offerings.  As things progress, I'm sure that I'll update everyone regularly.  CLICK HERE to check out the online store.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Bead and Craft Bloggers...

Resin Crafts Blog
What else can you do with resin filled bezels?  Why make art cards!

What will a group of jewelry designers make working from the same materials?
Check out what the participants of the Deep Waters Challenge made!  Each of the pieces is inventively unique!

A Bead A Day
Are you taking time for yourself to allow creativity to flow?  Lisa gifted herself with a Saturday and was inspired to create!

Mixed Media Artist
Do you want to be able to add digital effects to your mixed media artwork?  Here are some places to start...

Beading Arts
Cyndi has some metal goodies from Fire Mountain Gems to give away!

Snap out of it, Jean!  There's beading to be done!
Jean writes about a reunion which she had with her sister and her cousins last week, which included great memories, delicious food, and jewelry!

Call for Bird Nests
Yarn crafters are being called on to help out some baby birds by knitting and crocheting tiny nests for them.

Creating a Poetry Book Cover
Cherie talks about the process in designing the cover for her latest poetry book.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

New Beginnings...

Today was the first official day that we were open at the new shop.  People have been stopping by throughout the week, but everything was still in a state of disarray.  Today though, all the pieces lined up and fell into place.  It'll take time to get everything organized just the way I want it, but at least it's tidy and presentable.

Today was also the first Ligonier Art Walk.  Of course, it rained.  But they say that rain is good luck.  We still had a lot of people come in and it was so nice to see so many people out and about supporting the arts.  One of our goals is to promote the arts in the area, and it was just a pleasure to work with the other art venues in town with this goal in mind.

For the Ligonier Art Walk, we invited Shirleah Kelly back to show some of her photographs.  Her new show, "Works by Shirleah Kelly" was planned to coincide with the event.  The picture is of Shirleah next to the NEW Project Wall that we just built.  Her show focuses on the theme of hands.  I thought it was a fitting match, because all artwork, even the mechanically made or spontaneously generated from pixels and computer programs is initiated by the hand.  The hand is a symbol of action.  It is the facilitator of the mind.  In Shirleah's show, each of the portraits tells a different story –capturing moments of glory, transcendence, and love.

For the event, we had Batter Up Cakes cater the event.  Mary made a beautiful array of mini-cupcakes in all kinds of flavors.  She also made cookies some tasty hors d'oeuvres.  We definitely recommend her!

I was really busy talking with people and ringing people up, so I didn't get to take too many pictures.  But I did get a few photos from the evening.  This is Lynne Suprock of Simply Pretty Things and her husband Greg.  Lynne is one of the people of my tribe.  She is an "art sister".  Whenever we get together, we constantly bounce ideas off of each other and have such a good time coming up with things!

I took a quick snapshot of the gallery while Shirleah was talking with a group of people in the front room.  At points, it got super crowded.  It was nice to see so many people filling the space up.

From 4PM to 5PM, we had local singer/songwriter Jane West perform.  She was one of the first people to play in our old space, so we wanted to have her back to christen the new location with her lovely voice.

It's odd how at some points, things can seem so crazy and chaotic.  Everything seems impossible.  But in the middle of the tumult, there is a kernel of an idea.  It's a seed of a thing.  If you look at it and didn't know what it was, you might not think much of it – a little brown thing in the dust, barely distinguishable.  But within it, there are gardens of splendor and endless beauty.  There were times when things seemed impossible, but then there was this idea... that grew and blossomed.  I'm looking forward to our new home.  I'm looking forward to the light and warmth.  I'm looking forward to filling these rooms with things that are kernels of ideas, just waiting to be planted and cultivated... that will grow into things of beauty.

Good Earth Challenge Kits SOLD OUT...

A big thank you goes out to everyone who purchased a kit and signed up to participate in the Good Earth Challenge.  Thank you!  The kits are now sold out!  The reveal for the challenge is scheduled for Thursday, July 10th.  I can't wait to see what everyone makes!

Friday, May 09, 2014

Good Earth Challenge...

This is the latest Reader's Challenge for my blog!  If you're not familiar with the challenges, 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 (both new and vintage), vintage brass rounds, Indian glass, Irish waxed linen, a vintage Hamilton gold bead, artisan ceramic rounds, and a Luxury Bead Blend.

The Luxury Bead Blend consists of Japanese Miyuki seed beads, Toho seed beads, Czech glass, African recycled glass, jasper, agate, gold-plated daisy spacers, quartz, Chinese crystal, goldstone, Swarovski crystals, vintage sequins, German 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 might actually be componentS!  So you might get more than one surprise!

The Mystery Component(s) will be publicly revealed on Monday, June 2nd!

We had so much fun with the Radiant Orchid and Deep Waters Challenges that I thought that I would revisit the Pantone Fashion Color Report for Spring 2014 one more time.  I zeroed in on the warmer colors like Freesia and Sand.  I used accent colors in Hemlock, Celosia Orange, and Cayenne.  I looked out the window and drew inspiration from the scenery in front of me.  The trees were still mostly bare, but new leaves were dotting the treetops.  Yellow grasses swayed in the wind and birds fluttered from the branches.  The light was golden and warm.  After such a long winter, the warmth is very much welcome!  The Good Earth is waking up after a long sleep.

If you've seen the challenges before, 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 desires.

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 can make!

Keep your project secret until the reveal date!

The reveal date is set for Thursday, July 17th, 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 Good Earth 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 five 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 participants, 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 kits out as early as possible, but unfortunately 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.  

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Thursday Giveaway...

I love being able to customize things.  Metal stamps are the perfect way to express yourself and make ordinary jewelry components into personalized pieces.

This week, one lucky winner will take home a prize package including an entire set of metal stamps from ImpressArt!  The stamps up for grabs is Rad.  It is an edgy font that has a lot of personality and has the feel of hand-lettered printing.  It has a retail value of over $60!  CLICK HERE to check out their other fonts.

To enter to win this awesome giveaway is easy!  All you have to do is comment on this blog post!  One lucky winner will be randomly selected from the comment section of this blog post on Monday, (May 12th) at midnight EST.  Make sure to leave your name and email address if it isn't linked to your profile for easy verification and for us to get in contact with you better.  This giveaway is open to all participants, including international ones!

*Comment moderation is enabled.  So if you don't see your comment appear immediately, don't panic and post the same comment dozens of times.  I periodically go through and add comments throughout the weekend.  It helps keep the spam down!*

Bonus Points:  You can earn extra shots at winning this super prize package from ImpressArt!  All you have to do is hit the waves and share this giveaway through your social media outlets.  Don't forget to leave a comment here with links to your acts of social media kindness for your additional entries.  And don't forget to link back to this post!  Good luck!

Deep Waters Challenge Reveal...

Today is the Reveal for the Deep Waters 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 about 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's always fascinating to see what each person will make with the nearly identical kits.  Sometimes there are overlaps in ideas and themes, and other times, things are vastly different from each other.

I've really been enjoying the current Pantone Fashion Color Report for Spring 2014.  The kit focused on Placid Blue and Dazzling Blue.

In selecting the materials, I thought of the light filtering through deep waters, a glittering array of shimmering blues.  The kit was composed of a Luxury Bead Blend, Czech glass, African glass, vintage lucite, a silver-plated clasp, Irish waxed linen, and Japanese hex-cut seed beads.  Participants could use as much or as little of the kits as they liked.

Here's a close-up of the Luxury Bead Blend.  It's a random assortment of blues with pops of white and aqua.  This kit includes all kinds of goodies, like African glass, vintage Japanese glass, Japanese seed beads, semi-precious stones, Swarovski crystals, lots of Czech glass, and much, much more!  Usually there's enough beads leftover to make several projects and some challengers do!

The kits also include a Mystery Component!  This time, I put a porcelain coin pendant.  I carved the mold of the seahorse and then pressed out the pendants.  I fired them and then glazed them in a matte glaze in royal blue.  I fired them again and tumbled them to bring out the details.

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

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

I wanted to create a piece using the hex-cut seed beads and the Czech glass.  The pearls warm up the multi-strand necklace and the pearlescent glow ties together with the sterling silver toggle from Saki Silver.  The focal of the necklace is a lampwork glass bead by Belladonna Beads.

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

I'm not going to lie.  My inspiration for this challenge was the movie, Frozen.  With an almost six year old little princess in residence, the theme song, "Let It Go" has been the anthem that my family has been rocking out to for the past six months.  And how appropriate that in the movie, Elsa turns the WATER surrounding Arandale into deep, deep, deep snow and ice.

I picked up this gorgeous white snow quartz at Allegory Gallery a few months ago.  After sorting through all the beautiful blue lovelies, I just couldn't fall in love with something all blue.  So I let my imagination go and this is the result.  I spray painted a vintage brass stamping silver and what I had originally picked out to use as a clasp.  I instead used the clasp as a focal piece!  I inserted a gorgeous blown glass bead inside and voila!  A piece fit for a princess in an ice castle.  Thanks Andrew for another amazing mix of beads!  I can't wait for the next one!

Here's a close-up of Laurel's piece.  In the top picture, you can see her clasp-turned-focal.  In the lower picture, you can see the pattern of the beaded multi-strand necklace.

This piece was created by Marian Howarth.  Here's what she had to say about it:

I began this pin months ago, but never liked the finished piece.  When the Challenge Beads arrived in my mailbox, I knew they would finish it!  Some beads from the bag, plus the "mystery component" were just what it needed!  I made it to go with the shawl I wove many years ago.  The wire is 18 gauge sterling that I sharpened to a point and bent into the desired shape.  The grounds are old Roman sea glass.  Hope you like it!

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

I recently saw an article in a magazine by Lorelei Eurto with instructions how to make these awesome, multi-strand bracelets out of waxed linen.  I was inspired to use that technique to create my own bracelet.  One strand is made of Czech glass, another with beads from the mix and another with magatamas.  I used three ceramic beads for the focal points.  The "peace" bead was made by Diane Hawkey and the other two were also found at Allegory Gallery.  The closure button is a vintage one that I had in my stash.

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

I used to make a lot of jewelry, but over the past five years, there have been many changes in my life which got in the way of that and my other creative pursuits.  I have very much been wanting to get back into it.  I do still purchase components that I find inspiring when I can afford to, with the intention of using them later.  When I saw the information for this challenge, it seemed like the perfect impetus to finally get me to complete a project.  The deadline and the fact that I could immediately share my work with other people helped, and so did the "Deep Waters" theme.  I have always been fascinated and inspired by the ocean more than anything else, and the beads contained suit my favored color palette almost exactly.  I decided to make something for myself and let my perfectionism run rampant and make something that felt perfect to me.  I have too many pieces that I stare at and just wish that one part was different on.  I made a simple necklace structure-wise, but I spent hours selecting just the right beads both from this kit and my own collection, putting them in the right order.  When I saw Andrew's gorgeous seahorse pendant, I knew that this had to be the centerpiece.  I worked outward from there.  This has exactly the look and feeling that I wanted, and it was a wonderful reintroduction to making jewelry.  

This necklace was made by Crystal's brother.  Here's what she had to say about his piece:

When I showed my younger brother the kit, he mentioned that he had never made anything with beads before.  I thought it would be a nice if we made a family project out of it, and he did too.  I was very impressed with what he did.  He decided to go with the darker beads in the kit and added some carnelian and one of Andrew's Steampunk pendants to make something that was pretty as well as edgy.

This necklace was made by me.  When I started the project, I had a completely different idea in mind.  I originally set out to make a bracelet, but as time grew shorter, I had to make some design decisions to cut the work back.  So, I folded the peyote stitch band in half and made a small beaded purse.  I then added a beaded fringe and sewed on the seahorse focal and two of the African glass discs from the kit.  The base of the necklace is made from the Luxury Bead Blend.

Here's a close-up of the little purse that I made.  I like the fringe, because I think it shows off the mix well.  The finished piece turned out drastically different than what I had originally planned, but I was pleasantly surprised.  It has a very vintage, 1920's flapper girl vibe.

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

The Good Earth Challenge is up next!  The kits will go on sale tomorrow (Friday, May 9th) at 8PM 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!