Sunday, August 19, 2018

Bead and Craft Bloggers...

I'm always in awe of all the creativity that's on displayed in the different blog posts.  It's always inspiring and encouraging to see what others are making.

Pretty In Purple
Cyndi shows how to make a stunning spiral rope necklace with opulent purple pearls.

Color and Pattern
Ann creates a lovely new necklace using beads from Darn Good Yarn and an old African bead from her collection.

Autumn at the Beach
The seasons are changing and autumn inspiration has struck Terry Jeanette!  Her new line of jewelry incorporates a beachy vibe with a fall color palette.

All about the Pods
Sarajo creates an assortment of pod related jewelry for the July Art Elements monthly challenge, as well as shares some of the headpins from the Adornments Retreat.  Sarajo also made a mold for future pod components.

Sitting down with Gina
Allegory Gallery launches their NEW series of podcasts called, Allegory Gallery Interviews.  In the first interview, William sits down with ceramic artist, Gina Chalfant of White Swan Illuminations.

Advice from the Other Side of the Counter
Drawing on my experiences from being both an artist and a gallery owner, I share some of my small business guidance gleaned over the years.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Sugar Skull Pendants...

Czech Glass Sugar Skull Pendants by Andrew Thornton
These Czech glass sugar skull beads have been hanging around the studio for a few years now.  They were in a little ceramic dish next to my computer, peering up at me with their floral eyes.  I just love them!  I think they're fun and festive.  When you look up the Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos), it's so bright and colorful!  It really is a celebration of remembrance.  I knew that I wanted to do something special with them, but I didn't know just what I wanted to do with them yet.

That's when I had the idea to bezel-set them!  I've been bezel-setting a lot of stones lately and bezeling has a really nice way of finishing something off and framing the piece.  I think this technique dresses the components up, without taking too much away from them.

So... it took me awhile, but I finally set the beads in sterling silver, soldered on a bail, and made them into pendants.  Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), it took longer than I thought it would.  Apparently filing all the curved areas and sanding out the scuff marks takes awhile and can be fiddly work that's hard on the hands.  Luckily I finished and am quite pleased with how they turned out!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Memento Mori...

Mixed Metal Skull Pendant by Andrew Thornton
I know that skulls aren't for everyone!  There are a lot of people who look at skulls and think they are scary or conjure up images of unruly bikers and pirates plundering the open seas.  Skulls are a reminder of death and for a lot of people, that can be off-putting.

For me though, I think about the saying, "memento mori".  Translated from Latin, it means, "remember death".  It sounds ominous, but it's a reminder that death is just another part of the cycle of life.  For all things that begin and are new, so too do things end.  "Memento mori" is a call for us to live good lives and celebrate the gift we have while we have it.

This pendant included stamped and sawn out sterling silver that has been soldered to textured copper that I flame-polished.  I really enjoy the graphic difference between the cool silver and the warmer hues of the copper.  Of course, I antiqued everything, so the nooks and crannies really became the stars of the show.  The darkness really brings out the details and makes them stand out... sort of like life.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Angel Cats Pendant...

Even though I've been making jewelry for many years now, my jeweler's saw has been sorely neglected.  That is until recently.  I've been having fun cutting things out and soldering them.  It's something that I've thought about for a long time, but just needed to work up to to really get going.

This pendant captures my love of cats!  In hindsight, I realize that it sort of looks more wolfish and canine than feline, but I was working off a sketch of my cat, Barnaby, and he has a longer snout and bigger nose than a lot of cats.  Therefore, when translated to cut-out metal, it has a more dog look than cat, but I can still see it.

This is probably one of the most ambitious mixed metal pieces that I've made.  Up until now I've really just focused on sterling silver and integrating copper.  This piece has sterling silver, copper, AND bronze.  I definitely had to think about how to construct the piece so that all the pieces adhered properly.  Sometimes if you're not careful and you layer the pieces out of order, as you're heating up the solder for one element, it can melt other pieces or cause them to move.  This is particularly challenging with tiny pieces that seem to have a mind of their own and migrate.

On the back of the piece, I stamped part of a Jules Verne quote.  It reads, "I believe cats to be spirits come to earth."  The full quote goes on to say, "A cat, I am sure, could walk on a cloud without coming through."  I like this sentiment.  I think about this book called "Angel Cats" and how my cats have seemed to know just what I'm thinking and provided comfort in the hardest of hours.

Written in Stone...

I've talked a little bit about symbolism before and even mentioned some gem lore, but I haven't dived too deep into the topic.  Mainly because it's such a vast field.  Gem lore stretches back millennia and even though there are some crossovers, there's a thousand different things a stone can mean and sometimes it can be confusing or daunting.

One of the things that I like to do is to hold the stone in my hand and be mindful of what pops into my head.  Is it a memory?  Is it a sensation?  How does it make me feel when I look at it?  Are there any histories that come to mind?

More often than not, these intuited meanings are usually remarkably close to what the consensus offers.  Of course, even if a group of experts agree on a particular meaning, it really just depends on what it means to YOU!  For instance, if you are in an abusive relationship and your partner hits you with a turquoise ring on – that experience might taint your particular feelings toward something.  We're all different and unique and our experiences shape how we see and interact with the world.

With these pendants, I wanted to find the most common meanings of the stones that I bezel-set and stamp them onto the pendants.  For larimar, I stamped "healing".  For rainbow moonstone, I added the word, "dream".  Turquoise is thought to be a stone of protection, so I hammered the word "protect" and some protective Runes.  Crazy lace agate has such a fun pattern and it's no wonder why it is often considered the stone of happiness.  That's why I stamped the word, "happiness" on the crazy lace agate pendant.  For the pendants with the coral on it, I used the word, "imagination".  I think they're fun and even if you aren't familiar with so much gem lore, you'd still be able to guess what they meant.  The bezel-set stones are soldered onto hammered copper bases that are flame-polished.  I like the nice contrast of the cool silver and warm reddish brown of the copper.  I think it really makes the stone POP and not in a bad way.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Made with Love...

One of the things that I find infinitely fascinating is what things represent.  It seems like everything has a hidden story and a secret meaning.  One of my metaphysical friends once told me that all things contain a signature – a fingerprint of God and that those hallmarks of individuality all meant something.  They were a secret language.  Later, in art school, we tried to decipher the code.  When you're working primarily in a visual medium, why not learn what makes things more appealing or off-putting?  Why not learn how to hone the silent communication of an object or image?

One of the things that you discover when you try to break things down is that it's a little bit tricker than one might think.  Depending on the culture and the time period, symbols develop and change representation.  What might be a symbol of life and new beginning in one culture might be a sign of death and finality in another, like the color white.

Even though there can be differences, surprisingly, several images have universal understandings that cross borders and customs and stretch across the ages.  Sometimes those "signatures" are so redolent of their intended representation that it can be felt and intuited.

When I'm making representational work (even when I'm working more abstractly), I always like to think about what a particular symbol means to me.  What makes it unique to my cosmology?  How is it different from others?  And how is it the same?

Despite how crazy it made our mother, we used to draw on ourselves.  I remember once we made a game of drawing eyes on our hands and chasing each other around the house.  Later I discovered that this was not unique to us.  In fact, it has a long tradition and history.  Sometimes called a "hamsa" and sometimes "the Hand of Fatima", it is a symbol of protection and is used to ward away the "Evil Eye" or bad intentions.

To me, the hand is a symbol of possibility and potential.  As an artist, I use my hands to make things. The eye is a symbol of the spirit and seeing what is there and beyond that.  Combined, I think of how an artist works from head to heart to hand.  An idea is pulled from thoughts and feelings and distilled through the artist, moving down through the heart, concentrated there, and made manifest through the hands.  The act of creation is a powerful magic.  What's more magical than making something from what seems like nothing?

Along these lines, I think of hands as symbols of healing.  I'm often reminded of the saying of the "laying of the hands".  Healers use their touch as a conduct of prayer or energy or whatever you want to call it.  Who hasn't been given a small bit of comfort when you're upset and someone has hugged you or patted your arm?

But the hand motif has other meanings.  A raised hand is a call for recognition.  An extended palm is a signal to stop or yield.  A handprint is also evidence, a record of being there.

I think it's important to be mindful of the different interpretations, but not to let that hold you back.  Instead, focus on what's important to you and what it means to you.  As you're woking on something, set your mind towards your intention and your meaning, imbuing the object with that particular energy.

This piece was made from flame-polished copper and sawn out sterling silver.  I bezel-set a tiny larimar cabochon in the palm.  One could see the hand holding this "ball" of energy or as an eye.  Larimar is commonly thought to represent healing, peace, love, and enlightenment.  It's a stone born of fire and water, balanced between the elements.  Like painting, each element adds another layer, increasing the depth and width of meaning and symbolism.

Friday, August 10, 2018


Rune Pendants by Andrew Thornton
When I was a kid, we used to go to the flea market "fairly frequently" and by "fairly frequently", I mean, almost every single weekend.  When you don't have a lot of money, it's one of those places where that doesn't matter as much.  A dollar can be stretched amazingly far and if you're lucky, there's treasure to be found!

It's at a flea market that we first discovered runes.  Tucked in a crumbling cardboard box, we found an almost complete set in a faded rust-colored suede bag and a tatty guidebook that was about to fall apart.  The missing piece didn't phase us one bit.  We were crafty even back then that made a polymer clay replacement.  Later on, after high school art class, the polymer replacement was upgraded to a ceramic one that was almost indistinguishable from the originals.

Ever since then, I was fascinated with different systems of divination.  We were curious children and having a tool to answer questions was empowering and a small comfort.  The Runes were a form of connection to something bigger than us and opened the door to a much larger world, where a child could solve hidden mysteries and not feel quite so alone.

I decided to create a series of pendants based off the Runes.  I cut out sterling silver discs and hand-stamped them with a selection of Runes.  I then soldered them to a flame-polished, textured copper backplate.  Once the pendants are cooled, they're cleaned, polished, and burnished by hand and coated with a protective layer of Renaissance Wax that's buffed to a nice satin sheen.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Notes from the Other Side of the Counter...

Since Allegory Gallery's recent SCORE American Small Business Championship win, a lot of focus has been put towards our experiences as small business owners.  It seems like I get questions from people almost every week about running a creative-based small business.  I'm all too happy to help, because when we started off, we had an abundance of advice and that has definitely contributed to us being as successful as we are now.

As I wrote the responses, I realized that a lot of the ground that I was going over was already covered in a ten-part series of blog posts I did a few years ago called, "Notes from the Other Side of the Counter: Candid Advice from a Brick and Mortar Gallery Owner".

I thought that I would share them again, in case others might find value in them.  I think the information is still pertinent and I think that I'll revisit this series and maybe offer some more content that I've picked up along the way.

Here is a list of links to all of the existing posts:

1. Letting Go of Ego.
2. Doing Homework.
3. First Date.
4. Dress to Impress.
5. Break It Down.
6. Playing Hardball.
7. Red Flags.
8. The Bitter Pill.
9. It Takes Two to Tango.
10. Mind Your Business.

Do you run a creative-based small business?  What's some of the best small business advice that you've received?  What's something that you would tell to someone who's looking to start their own small business?

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Art Bead Collection: Owl Eyes On You...

Even when I was little, I was fascinated by owls.  The house that I grew up in had an old red barn.  One of my earliest memories is of me running in the backyard, racing to the barn and flinging the doors open.  Out swooped an owl, right above my head.   I remember being captivated instantly and completely by this majestic creature!  My owl collection started not long after that.  One of my great aunts gave me a tiny porcelain snowy owl figurine.  I used to carry it in my pocket everywhere I went.  The poor thing!  The feet and a wingtip broke off.  The feet were lost to time, but with the help of my mother, I  haphazardly glued the tip back on.  My mom still has it!  She keeps it in a box with other childhood treasures.

That little banged up owl figurine was just the start of my collection!  I have several hundred now, each different and unique.  My love of owls merged with love of art beads, resulting in several owl jewelry components!  I thought about doing one epic post with all my owl art beads, but I thought that it'd be a little overwhelming.  So I am going to spread out the owl love and do a few different posts featuring them.

Anne Choi
Anne Choi makes some of my favorite art beads!  She starts off by reverse carving molds, pressing wax sheet in them, casting them (primarily in sterling silver), forming them, and then soldering them together.  That's a pretty simplistic rundown of a labor-intensive exactly method for creating little works of art!

Diane Hawkey
Working in clay stretches back millennia.  Luckily for us, the tradition continues and marches forward.  One of my favorite ceramic artists is Diane Hawkey.  All of her pieces convey her unique style.

Cynthia Thornton
This piece was created by my family at Green Girl Studios in Asheville, NC.  It is one of their special pieces that isn't apart of their regular line.  It's cast in shibuichi, a copper and silver alloy, and set with tiny rose-cut sapphire eyes.  Sometimes they'll list special pieces like this in their Etsy shop or they'll make them for shows.

Gaea Cannaday
Gaea Cannaday is another fabulous artist who works primarily in ceramic clay.  This particular sleeping owl head bead was embellished afterwards with Gliders' Paste.

Joan Miller
One of the coolest things to me is how different artists can use the same medium, but use different techniques to produce distinctively unique work.  For instance, Joan Miller works in ceramic porcelain clay, but the way she works is a little bit different than others.  She builds up layers of colored slip clay to produce her signature style.

Kylie Parry
So very graphic, this ceramic pendant was made by Kylie Parry.  She used a decal method to transfer the illustration the owl onto her pendant.  I love the nutty, red brown of the illustration.

Laurel Moon
Normally when you think of making metal components, pictures of standing in front of a huge fire with spinning centrifuges may pop into your head.  But this one was create differently!  Using acid, Laurel Moon creates these striking etched copper pendants.

These are just a few of my owl-themed art beads.  I hope you enjoyed this look into my private collection!

Friday, August 03, 2018

Healing Arrow Point Pendant...

Healing Arrow Point Pendant by Andrew Thornton and Cynthia Thornton
Let's face it, modern day living can wear one down mentally and physically. It can be abrasive and make even the most cherished of times lackluster. But we believe that if you focus on the positive and concentrate your energy, even the most troubling of times can turn around.

We created this pendant as a talisman. It is a touchstone and a reminder to focus on positive, healing energies all around us. The distinctive arrowhead shape directs good energy right into the heart. The web motif, reminiscent of sacred geometry, acts as a dream catcher, attracting and capturing positive thoughts and feelings. The bezel-set stone absorbs and radiates the transformational affirmation. Believe. Heal. Create.

The pendant was handcrafted by me and my sister, Cynthia Thornton of Green Girl Studios, in the mountains of North Carolina. It is composed of lost wax cast bronze and has a nice, comforting heft.  Each pendant from this limited-edition series measures approximately 6.25 cm X 3.5cm. This pendant also features a hand-set stone that was hand selected and carefully meditated over. The stone, hugged by a fine silver bezel, is a luscious, rose-cut garnet that has a lot of depth and romance. I felt the earthly dark red of the stone complimented the honey-toned bronze nicely.

A little over two years ago, Cynthia and I collaborated on the idea and design.  Cynthia then carved the wax masters that were then molded and the original series was cast in sterling silver by her husband (Greg Ogden).  For this round, we wanted to work in bronze.  Bronze has a beautiful golden warmth and has a long history that stretches back millennia.  Once the pendants were cast, I then bezel-set the stone and polished and burnished the pendant by hand.  During the creation of these pieces, it was important to all of the artists involved to keep their minds focused on positive thoughts and good intentions. We hope that the wearer of this piece enjoys it and that it brings the owner much luck, love, prosperity, abundant healing energy, and is a repository and amplifier of positive energy.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

On the Road...

We just got back a few days ago from a quick trip down South to see my family in Asheville.  It's an annual trip we make to shop the gem shows in Franklin, but it's more than that.  It's a restorative time, when I spend time with my sister and her family, make things, and fill our bellies full of good food.  We laugh and share stories and work on projects.  This time we were joined by the lovely Candie Cooper, who was also in town when we were.  We had a fabulous time and dreamed up all kinds of plans!

When I'm on the road, it seems as though I give myself permission to relax.  When I'm home, oftentimes I get so wrapped up in the day to day goings on that it's easy to feel a little overwhelmed.  Don't get me wrong!  I love my life and feel blessed by the abundance of good energy.  But... I still think it's easy to get caught up in the rush to keep all the spinning plates going.

We got back and I felt that overwhelming feeling sink in with a vengeance.  I started to feel guilty about taking the extra few days and  I started to get apprehensive about not doing all the things that I had on my docket.  Did I answer all the emails?  Did I miss a meeting?  Did I forget something?

As I sat there, immobilized, caught up in the spinning cycle of my own self-defeating thoughts... I got fed up!  How is it that one day I feel relaxed and at ease and the next I'm a bundle of exposed nerves?  How is it that one day I'm enjoying the simple pleasures and the next I'm worrying so hard that my jaw feels clenched, my neck stiff, and my stomach sour?

And really... there is no reason.

The difference boils down to a change of perception.  A change of pace and scenery alters the way we see the world.  The worries I had upon returned weren't new.  They were always there.  But the difference is that I let it bother me.  I opened the door to let these nagging voices in.  And if I had the power to open the door, I also had the power to close it.

I decided to make a list.  It wasn't the usual kind of list that I make that lists all the things on my mind, but a briefer, more succinct list.  From the list, I prioritized what was important to me at that moment.  And I set about crossing those things off.  If I get to it, good.  If I don't, it's okay.  The list will be there tomorrow and I can only do so much.  Sometimes things work out.  Sometimes they don't.  When they don't go according to plan, this isn't an invitation to worry or fret.  It's an acceptance that it is what it is.  Knowing what I have to work with, I can adjust my plans accordingly and swim with the current, as opposed to against it.

We have choices about how we live.  We don't have to be defined by our scenery or circumstance, but how we see the world and choose to interact with it.