Tag Archives: Bead Fest

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!


Life’s good when you get to run it

Bob Ebendorf, Fred Gall, CoMA Conference 2014 Salida, Colorado

Sculptor Ted Gall (left) and Bob Ebendorf share a quiet moment at the podium.

I truly love metalsmithing and I’m reminded of that pure and simple fact every time I get away from the daily grind and into a group of like-minded friends. Despite what it may appear to be, very often a job can be a job, and once you discover its the things you make time and space to do on your own clock that feed your mind and your heart, life becomes so much more rewarding.

Such is the case for me now, and I have gotten to a place where I truly understand how the “important stuff” happens when you get to run it. This year, I made a pact with artist Helen to go to the annual CoMA Conference on my own time and my own dime. If you love metalsmithing and you’ve never been, I heartily recommend it — so, mark your calendar now for the third weekend of July and join.

The last time I attended CoMA was a few years ago, and I was distracted by exterior unpleasantries, the job and the duties — and as a result I was unable to experience it on my own terms as artist Helen. This time, I had to run it, because I needed this one like a desert needs rain. When you are running on empty, you’ve just got to add fuel to the tank. And even with my excellent planning, I wound up being in recovery during the conference from a somewhat unexpected major surgery, and just a bit worried about being far from home. However, courage is essential when you decide to run it, so I trusted Doc, packed my meds and braved the pain and the flight. It was so, so worth it.

pinswap, helen driggs jewelry, CoMA conference 2014, fibula

Here are my 20 pin swap pins ready to trade. Wire fibulas were about all I could produce while laying on the couch drugged and in pain as I recovered from surgery.

Headliners this year were Andy Cooperman, Barbara Heinrich, Ford + Forlano, Ted Gall, and one of my “jewelry heroes” the incredible educator/artist Bob Ebendorf. Every presenter demonstrated a signature technique, and there were additional demos, including using Delft Clay by Alex Boyd, images and videos galore, the pin swap, lunches with friends, dinners with more friends, the silent auction (I scored a sweet strand of chunky, awesome stone beads for a song), the Arkansas River kayakers, “S” Mountain, Big blue sky, Culture Clash Gallery, cold adult beverages, a fantastic and like-minded roommate, glorious sunsets, tales of rocks and cutting rough, the vendor room, and a sweet, singing canary in the breakfast room of my hotel. I also took a two-day workshop with Bob Ebendorf after the conference which totally blew off my doors.

I came home energized and excited about making work again, which is a feeling I haven’t experienced in a while because my gauge was on empty. I have been very busy and life’s been full, but I have been making and doing lots of stuff for the job, plus curriculum pieces and demos for teaching. Important, yes. But, I remembered that its also  important to make space and time for the pure and simple work you make just for the love of making it. It is essential to do that to remain whole, and CoMA helped me remember. I was also very lucky to have an excellent drive featuring a very good mentor/student exchange with Bob Ebendorf all the way to the airport. Having an exchange with someone like Bob is a blessing. Wisdom is everything. And I know now it is critical to keep my sanity by establishing crystal clear boundaries between my own personal time and artwork and the time I have sold to others.

Bob Ebendorf necklace, CoMA 2014 Post Conference Workshop

Bob Ebendorf has used every imaginable material in his work. I have never seen such an inventive use of tabs and cold connections. He is an amazing educator and I have tremendous respect for him.

The more I spend time doing what I love on my own time and dime, the more I remember how important it is to me and how much I love metalsmithing. It makes me strong to have those boundaries in play because they protect artist Helen from the big time and energy drains that can suck the life from you.

The takeaway is this: here are five things I am going to try this summer as a result of what I observed at CoMA. These were my “Ah Ha” moments and I’ll do a show and tell later on as I progress. And, I am still working on the movie in a blog thing, guys/gals, so don’t give up on me yet. I am just busy, but I will deliver, I promise. So anyway, check this:

1. Weld sterling to sterling with sterling wire, instead of using solder — courtesy of Andy Cooperman

2.  Roll print my dried oak leaf hydrangea blossoms between 2 sheets of annealed gold — Courtesy of Barbara Heinrich

3. Make a hand fabricated chain out of iron tie wire or recycled coat hangers — Courtesy of Bob Ebendorf

4. Cast something using Delft Clay — Courtesy of Alex Boyd

5. Revisit polymer clay as a jewelry medium, but wearing a ‘barrier film’ on my hands to prevent a recurrence of serious allergic dermatitis — Courtesy of Steven Ford of Ford + Forlano.

So, that’s all folks. I have a busy remainder of the summer to go, and I’ll see you at BeadFest Philadelphia if you are there.  There are some spots open in some of my classes, so check out my Teaching Dates above if you are free.

Ciao! And, enjoy the rest of the photos…


Bob Ebendorf is free and open with his demo and sample pieces. He encouraged us to shoot as many photos as we needed to take notes. He is truly an educator at heart.

bob ebendorf teaching at CoMA 2014

This is the best part of the workshop experience. I always learn best by watching a master at work. Bob Ebendorf is a wealth of information and a truly fun teacher.

There is no try

I just finished a fun teaching stretch at BeadFest Philadelphia for two fully loaded “Rotary Tools Demystified” classes. My students were super, and very eager learners. I think/hope they left with full brains and the courage to use their Dremel (and other) tools fearlessly. That’s really all any teacher can hope for.
As a teacher, it is fun seeing your students enter somewhat cautiously at the beginning. After a class, and due to a little guided practice, I truly love seeing them swagger (tiredly, but happily) out of the room — all fired up to use the new things they just learned in the class. Often, as a teacher, all I need to do is stand by mindfully and get someone to take action. Like Yoda said, “Try. There is no try. Do. Or not do.” It’s like setting a spark and watching a fire kindle and grow. Awesome. And, so gratifying.
So, thanks, students! You totally rocked it, and your courage gave me the courage to submit more teaching proposals for next year.
See you soon…
Todays tip: Is straight from my Rotary Tools Demystified handout: Next time you stay in a hotel, grab one of those thick little hard bars of soap they leave at the sink. It makes a great in-a-pinch lubricant for your steel burs.

There’s always room for vise

Traveling to teach is not without drama.

Recently, my best pal and I met in her town and road-tripped to another state
(that’s a BIG state, not a little one) to tag team teach at Bead Fest Santa Fe. Now, you have to understand: teaching metals classes isn’t easy. You have to move tool steel, kits, torches and tanks for a dozen or more students per class. And, you want to bring extra stuff for your students to try and possibly buy. And, you have to rely on a sequence of events falling into place in a particular timeframe so everybody’s needs are met.

Don’t get me wrong — teaching is very rewarding. It’s just the logistics that aren’t. And, something always goes wrong. No matter how well you planned. It’s just a part of the thrill.

Like the vise. It’s heavy. You can’t fly with it, but you need it. Do you buy one when you get there and pray somebody in the class buys it? Do you ship yours? Do you borrow one and pray a student does not destroy it? Or, do you order one with your tool shipment and hope it gets to the hotel in time? And then, how do you get the thing 5 blocks over to the Convention Center, along with the 300 pounds of kits and tools for your classes? Oh, and stubbing that vise with your big toe in the middle of the night in the hotel room is really fun too.

Here I am teaching my Getting Started in Metals class, and totally delighted with my students and their progress.

We love teaching at away games. Really. But, when I said vise, I meant vice. Like cold adult beverages and good old fattening food with friends. And sweets after dinner every night. Because, when you meet up with fellow teachers you haven’t seen for a while, survive 4 days of teaching and assistant teaching in a strange town — without the shop equipment you are used to having nearby to teach well, vice is what you really need to get through it all. That, a sense of humor, and a sense of adventure will help you remember why teaching is fun. But, you’ll still need to leave room in the shipping box for the vise to go home once you wake up from the vice part of the trip the next morning.

Today’s tip: I saved my son’s toddler socks to cover my hammer heads when I travel. The little socks are the perfect size to protect the textured faces of my student hammers, and they remind me of my little guy when I am far from home.