Catching Up on Things…

So, yeah. You may have noticed I’ve been otherwise occupied for some time now, as I’ve been dealing with a few real life issues in my family. But good news: we are out of the woods and into the light now. Sorry for abandoning you, but as they say: family first!
Last weekend, I was very busy teaching all-day and two-day workshops at BeadFest Spring, and I’m sad to report it’s going to be the last show of a 10-year run for that particular event. I must say I am kind of sad to see it go, because that’s how I made the connection with the publishing company I work for, I met my current boss, and got my “dream”job as an editor for Lapidary Journal.
I did love April in Oaks every spring — even when it rained, or snowed, or was too cold, or too warm — because I love meeting new students and starting the warm season energized, inspired and ready to work. But, don’t despair! The annual August BeadFest Show is and will still be on the books, and for sure I will be teaching there every year.
On that note, this is my usual post-BeadFest debriefing, where I answer any and all questions that came in after class from students (so far) and I will continue to add to it through the rest of the month to capture any stragglers. So, without further adieu…

Q: Hi Helen,
I attended your amazing cab making class on Saturday at Beadfest. I planned to order diamond drill bits from the company I usually order metals and materials but when I checked into it I learned that they are very weak on lapidary supplies 😦
Can you recommend a couple of suppliers and which bits you find to be the most durable and reliable. Also, do you have any experience with Diamond Pacific’s Pixie Grinder/Polisher. I know… it’s hard to take a lapidary machine named “Pixie” seriously… but now, thanks to you, I REALLLLLY want to work with stones and the big boy Genie is to much $$$ at the moment. My guess is I should save my pennies for the real deal and not mess with a machine built for rock hounds living in an RV. It’s definitely time for the Spirflame torch to find a new home and make room for new equipment.
Thanks a bunch!
— Gina

A: Hi Gina!
I Like LASCO Diamond for shaped diamond tips for the flex shaft, and the Crystolite brand “Triple Ripple” Diamond Drill Bits. I like The Gem Shop, Inc. and Kingsley North as a great all around Lapidary suppliers, and don’t forget — Diamond Pacific is a full service lapidary and jewelry suppler as well.
For my hands, the Pixie is way too small. I owned a used one for about 6 months, and like all DP equipment, it’s fabulous, really well made and durable. My only “problem” was the petiteness of it  — I could span 4 wheels by stretching out my hand from thumb tip to pinky tip, and needless to say, I went right for a Genie and never looked back. I will be teaching Lapidary again at BeadFest in August, so stop by and say Hi!


Q: Where do you get metal and tools?

A: My favorite suppliers for metals and general metalwork and jewelry making tools are varied. I do have regulars, though:

Metalliferous in New York is always worth the trip for metals, tools, beads, supplies, discontinued parts, findings, chain and other needs. the Store and Mail Order Department is at: 34 West 46th Street; 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10036

Allcraft Tools, also in New York is another not-to-miss vendor. They have a website in progress, however I always suggest calling: 800-645-7124. If you want to go, they are located at: 135 West 29 St.; Suite 205, New York, NY 10001

Rio Grande is a large jewelry supply house located in Albuquerque, NM. They have all the major brand name tools and are well stocked in precious metals and materials for the serious hobbyist to the professional bench jeweler. Their online store can’t be beat when you need something right now. Get on their mailing list for a thick fully illustrated catalog, and browse their giant library of tip and trick videos, tool use videos and instructional materials as well as call the live tech support team during the day. 800-545-6566


That’s it for the moment, guys! Thanks for coming to class and I’ll blog again as soon as I get my studio straightened up… Ciao!

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On the Radio!

Quick hit here… Just finished a Metalsmith Benchtalk chat with Jay Whaley on Blog Talk Radio. If you missed it, click this link and listen to the recording. I had loads of fun! Nite!


Busy is an Understatement

Feast or Famine. This is the way of life for most creative people. Every artist that I know in every discipline constantly copes with waves of too much/not enough over the course of their career. This applies to everything: work, money, time, inspiration, sleep, raw materials, you name it. If you aren’t used to that too much/not enough rhythm, the artist’s lifestyle is bound to be too stressful for you.
I think it’s crucially important to find whatever balance you can and establish a boundary system of sorts — despite the fact that being undisciplined is more common to us creative types than the opposite.

Since the last time I posted here, I have fabricated 9 objects, taken a master class, tech edited 4 issues of the magazine and done the never ending onslaught of day job stuff, produced a series of set designs and illustrations for an immersive theater performance, pitched 9 newly created classes and created sample objects for them, packed kits for 3 Tucson classes, taken inventory for the 6 others and formulated a 2016 student needs shopping list for Tucson, traveled to the home office and back, oh, and also dealt with the normal life stuff: house, family, pets, laundry, garden, gym, etc.

Most of this recent wave of stuff has reached the finish line, and I can see an open space on the horizon. Yahoo!

Bring on some famine, because I sure need it now. I look forward to my famine times — however brief they may be — because those are the places of possibility. Where I think, dream, begin and push. I start to build an energy bank for the next wave. Having those calm, empty, famine spaces is essential for me, so I have disciplined myself to black out sections of my calendar specifically for the purpose of having open space. I may or may not go anywhere or do anything particular during those times, but if I don’t create that space and protect it from intruders, I know I will self destruct.

So here is a trick for you — if you are also a member of the feast or famine crowd. Trust me and try this. The crazy holidays are coming. Don’t feel guilty, just do it. Block off three days of your choosing and then don’t let anybody schedule you for anything. Except you. Guard those three days and see what happens to your head when you know they are there to depend on and that you can trust yourself not to surrender them to anything or anyone. And then, once you have spent those three days doing exactly what you felt like, take a look at how proud of yourself you are for defending your right to open space.

Then, make a habit of it.

See you next time!


What I’m playing with now

Sometimes, you must give yourself permission to play. Art becomes not so fun when you have to keep doing the same thing again and again — working hard to meet some external need — like a deadline, due date, quota, etc., and you never have enough available time for free experimentation.

Here are some multi-media experiments with recycled materials I have been engaged with.

Here are some multimedia experiments with recycled materials I have been engaged with.

Every book, workshop, guideline or system for creative types will tell you that you really do need to schedule non-negotiable “play dates” for yourself, and on those dates, just make something with no agenda on it. Doing this on a regular, scheduled basis seems counter intuitive to the “creative muse sweeps in and gives me a genius idea” concept, but it isn’t. You’ll discover that practicing this routine will allow you to access your creativity with ease. Because you’ll be familiar with the sensation of slipping in and out of the creative zone as easily as a dolphin flies and swims in front of a speeding ship. Doing this will put some “creativity bucks” in your bank account and you’ll have them when you need them.
Who doesn’t want that?

In my experience, it is absolutely true that “all work and no play” makes me one unhappy camper. If I make the critical error of cutting out play due to being overburdened with “real work” I get really cranky. When I get cranky, I can’t make work, even when I have to. Even if there is time. Because I end up forcing myself to make work, but what I produce is flat, boring, soulless stuff. I hate that crap — and it makes me want to not work. But I have to. So I sit at my bench and move things around and I can’t seem to finish anything. Sound familiar? Its a vicious circle. Why? No fun. No fun = no energy. Artists are kids. We have to play to get energy. And that means cutting loose.

This is some hand-painted, hand made paper I am encasing in resin.

This is some hand-painted, handmade paper I am encasing in resin and sawing out after it has cured.

I have learned that if you take care of yourself by scheduling play, there is a payoff. Because eventually, you’ll discover that when you do need to crank out work to meet those deadlines, you won’t be so exhausted or demoralized by the endless demands of external — and you will have the energy to get that work done. Which will make you feel a sense of accomplishment, which in turn will make you feel satisfied enough to give yourself permission to play again. End of vicious circle.

On that note, I have been playing in my studio a lot lately. I know I will need energy to teach soon, so I am banking up some creativity bucks — courtesy of regular, scheduled play dates for myself. None of this stuff I am creating has anything to do with anything, except that it’s what I feel like playing with. I am flipping the proverbial bird to those external demands and doing what-I-freaking-feel-like-thank-you-very-much. There’s metal, plastic, wood, paint, fabric, fiber, stone, glass, ceramic and other crazy stuff all over the studio. I have paint under my nails, loud music on the speakers, tools everywhere, books open, piles of inspirational materials next to my rocker and bed, and a big smile on my face. What a nice feeling. And, boy, do I feel smug.

So, go play. It will do you a world of good. Meet you at the jungle gym…


Metal Stamping Part Two

Sorry for the delay on this one, folks. I am a real fan of the phrase “Life Got in the Way of Art” and that applies here… So, hmmm…where were we? Oh yes, Vertical Spacing. Let’s start small and work up.

When it comes to readability, vertical spacing in lettering (including stamped lettering) can make or break you. It’s amazing how a teeny sliver of extra space can make the difference between seeing a word as one recognizable word, or two shorter, somewhat confusing words that were supposed to be one word. Again, this is not too critical for one, single, short, word, because your brain has the ability to process typography and put two and two together, so to speak. For sentences or phrases, clarity is important, so it helps when you are metal stamping to be intentional about spacing between individual letters and also the words. Let’s recall the glossary from part one of this topic: letter spacing is the space between individual letters of a font. Word spacing is the space between words. There are nuances to both.

When you look at the business end of a metal stamp, you’ll notice the raised letter sits relatively in the middle of a big square slug of tool steel — called the shaft of the stamp. Because all metal stamps are manufactured from stock-sized tool steel, a skinny letter i will sit in the middle of the same size steel shaft as a wide letter w. Here is where the smallest unit of vertical spacing comes in.

Here are an a and an i when spaced mechanically and visually.

Here you can see what happens when an a and an i when spaced mechanically vs visually.

There are two choices when using square letter stamps: mechanical positioning or visual positioning. What’s the difference? Mechanical spacing means you use the width of the tool shaft to determine the space of the individual letters. For example, 2mm stamps would be lined up along a base line with 2mm marks. Each letter would sit in a 2mm x 2mm cell. Think graph paper.

Visual spacing means you take the width of the individual letter form into account. An a occupies more space than a thin i, so you scootch the i a little closer to its neighbor before you stamp it. As you can see, that i can be moved over to the left almost half the width of the tool shaft. The point of this is readability. Trust me, you want to go for readability.
Another consideration when you look at letters is that you’ll notice some are friendly neighbors — like w with z, or m with n — they want to be close to each other, and it makes sense to take the extra time to decrease the space between them because it just looks better. Unlike graph paper.

Letter out your phrase. CHECK YOUR SPELLING. Find the center character -- spaces count as one. Circle them.

Letter out your phrase. CHECK YOUR SPELLING. Find the center character — spaces count as one. Circle them.

Now, lets look at vertical spacing blocks of text. Centering is a difficult thing to do for most people, despite the fact that it’s the most common type of text alignment used on jewelry objects. Centered type looks great on round things like pendants or charms. Here’s a handy method for getting well-spaced, centered text.

First, take a scrap of paper and write out your phrase. Then, count the number of letters and spaces in each line. Write them down. With a different color marker or pencil, circle the character that occupies the center of each line. In this example, you’ll see four lines of text. Line one has 9 characters and the k is in the middle at position 5. Next line, 5 characters; e is the center. Next, the space between the two words is in the center, and so on.

Once you have found the center of your text, its a good idea to test-stamp the phrase with the actual stamps you want to use before you go to your real jewelry object. Chill your jets and test it. I promise it will be worth the effort, because any little quirks about your particular stamps will be discovered in the test run, rather than on your sterling. Here’s how to layout your test. Cut a piece of scrap metal roughly the size of your finished object.
Clean it well, sand out the surface, dry it.

Here is a sketch of how I would letter this particular example phrase.

Here is a sketch of how I would letter this particular example phrase.

Use a Sharpie to draw a center line. Then, measure and draw the number of baselines you need for your phrase (If you forgot what baselines are, go back to part one). Start with the first line, using the middle letter. Make sure the stamp is not upside down. Position it on the center of the center line with the baseline at the bottom of the letter. Whack it like you mean it. Once. Take a peek.
Then, finish the rest of the characters on the right side of that letter from the center out. After that, finish all the letters on the left side of the line from the center out. Once you have the entire line stamped, follow the same process with the next line. And so on.

If you want ragged right type, no center line is needed. Start the lines of text at the left, stamp to the right. If you want ragged left, do the opposite. You can also letter on curved baselines, by following the same layout guidelines.

So, that’s the rudimentary lesson on vertical spacing for metal stamping. When you get really good with your particular stamps, you will anticipate where to make letters close to each other (called kerning) when to make letter forms closer to each other in general (called tracking) and when to space words closer together or further apart because of the shapes of the letters in your particular font. Have fun stamping… and check out my Twitter Facebook and Instagram feeds for more metal mayhem.

Twitter: @fabricationista
Instagram: HDriggs_Fabricationista
Facebook: Helen Driggs


I’m watching you…

This is a test. I have decided to experiment with Google Analytics, just to see what kind of traffic my blog generates in relation to: projects I have participated in creating, classes I am teaching, books I have written and other things…

So, if you’d like to play, and perhaps earn me a bonus at work, check out these links:

My Metalsmith Essentials Basic Fabrication DVD can be found here:
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My Metalsmith Essentials Riveting and Cold Connections DVD can be found here:

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My Jewelry Maker’s Field Guide Book:

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Thanks for playing…


Metal Stamping Your Jewelry: Part One

Metal Stamping is hugely popular these days, and I get lots of questions about it — particularly about stamping straight and spacing letters. To understand how to nicely stamp words and phrases, it’s critical to understand a little bit about typography. As a former graphics professional, typography and letter forms are near and dear to my heart, so here is an easy primer on the gentle art of typography for non-graphic designers.

First, a glossary is in order — just so we can speak the same language:
A font, or a typeface, is an alphabet of a specific design. All of the letter forms, numerals, symbols and ligatures of a particular font will be similar in appearance, match in size, weight and style, and they will work well together when combined into words, sentences, and paragraphs.
There are font families: Modern, Egyptian, Script, Roman, Gothic, etc.
There are font weights: Light, Medium, Bold, Extra Bold, etc.
There are two major types of letter forms: uppercase (capital letters; all-caps) and lowercase (non-capital letters).

Luckily, today’s metal stamp sets typically consist of one letter form, so the real complexities of typesetting are easily dealt with. Some fonts can be purchased as two individual sets: uppercase letters or lowercase letters. Either way, some essential measurements you’ll need to know about your particular letter stamps are detailed here. I know math and art make an unhappy marriage sometimes, but there are places where you’ll need it, and sorry, this is one of them.

The total height of the font includes the ascenders and descenders.

The total height of the font includes the ascenders and descenders.

In today’s blog, I will deal with just horizontal measurements. Stay tuned for Part Two: Vertical Measurements where I’ll be including samples, too.
OK, ready? Let’s start!

Capital letters of a font live in the space somewhere between the highest point of the ascenders (b, d, f, h, k, l) and the lowest point of the descenders (g, j, p, q, y). Some script fonts include flourishes and swashes that sweep into that space as well. The pink highlight in these diagrams, or, total height of the font, can usually but not always, be determined by measuring the shaft of the actual metal stamp. This measurement is critical to know if you are stamping blocks of text, but not so critical if you are stamping just one word.

Without getting too picky, there are also some special considerations for specific round letters — O, Q, G and C — which just look much better when they sit below the baseline a bit instead of on it, but I’ll save that for later.

Anyway, that baseline is the most important line you’ll need to know for well-spaced stamped lettering. It is used for lining up the bottoms of the letters, and measuring the “x-height” of your font is how you’ll find the baseline. See the green highlighted x in my diagrams? Those lines that mark the top and the bottom of the x are the font’s x-height. The bottom line is the baseline. This is true even if you choose an all-caps font. For a lowercase font, it’s obvious. So, take a scrap of metal, whack your x stamp and then measure the stamped x with dividers — so you know what that measurement is for the particular font you have decided to stamp with.
Here’s a diagram with a closer look…

The X height is the most-needed measurement of any typeface -- be it upper or lower case.

The x-height is the most-needed measurement of any typeface — be it upper or lower case.

So, once you know the total depth of the font and the x-height, you are ready to layout your horizontal guidelines, or grid. This is especially important for blocks of text, and again, not too important for single words. But, I suggest always working on an actual-size piece of tissue paper first, and hand lettering the layout for spacing, and then making a test run of your phrase on scrap metal. with the actual stamps you intend to use. Only then should you commit to your piece. In my mind, it’s worth taking the time to test things, because a poorly stamped text block can really ruin your day, not to mention your metal, so don’t go there.
To create the guidelines on your tracing paper, tape it to the table, and use a T-Square to draw parallel lines at all of these points: the top line, the base line, the bottom line, and the space between each line of stamping.
Here is a closer look at that…

Spacing guidelines for metal stamping must include these measurements.

The horizontal spacing guidelines, or “grid” for metal stamping must include each of these measurements.

I like to use the x-height as my line spacing, but you can also use more or less, depending on the style, size and complexity of your font. Again, making a test run (or several of them) is a good idea, especially with complex blocks of text. You did want people to be able to read it, right?
Next blog, I’ll address the vertical guidelines, so get yourself some letter stamps, a scrap of metal and write out a phrase to practice with. I have lots of tips to share with you, so hang tight… I will be back soon.

Pssst: Thank you, you intrepid souls who are following me on Instagram! It’s super-fun playing I Spy with you.

If this is a mystery to you, click on the photo under the photo of my book at upper right of this blog, join Instagram, and play along. And, if you have patience, wait. I’ll be producing a limited-edition instructional kit of the mystery project I’ve been making on Instagram for sale, in my soon-to-open Etsy Store… In the meantime, follow me here:

Twitter: @fabricationista
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