Tag Archives: jewelry artist

Touching Base from Touchstone

helen-driggs-touchstone

Touchstone Center for Crafts is located in Farmington, Pa.

Recently I was invited to be a presenter at the Touchstone Center for Crafts for an awesome annual event called The Jim Campbell Hammer-In and Alchemists Picnic. Other presenters included the amazing Eric Burris, Rebecca Strzelec and Laurie Brown on the jewelry track and Caitlin Morris, Bob Rupert and Jerry Veneziano on the blacksmithing track. It was a full, rich, rewarding day and the demos were fun, informative and well-worth attending. I had never been to Touchstone, so when organizer Wayne Werner invited me to present, I jumped at the opportunity.

Touchstone Center for Crafts runs a full schedule of workshops, classes and year-round activities, the metals studio is fully equipped, and the setting could not be more serene and peaceful. Forget your cell and computer, abandon the endless beeps, chirps and never-ending electronic intrusions of daily life and just focus on making work — my idea of heaven on earth. Centrally located for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, DC, Maryland and upstate New York or Ohio residents, it’s worth the drive out the PA Turnpike to attend a class there. And do not miss the food either, because they really, really feed you well and make every effort to meet any dietary restriction or preference!

helen-driggs-blacsmith-samples

The Blacksmith shop is one of the best I have ever been to — here are some of many twisted iron samples.

Because I have been screaming busy for several months preparing some grant applications, doing digital housekeeping, creating new work and curriculum work and doing lots of freelance writing and teaching, it was great to just get away from my computer for a weekend, eat food prepared by a talented cook, see other members of the metals tribe, listen to nature and chill out. I did not realize how much I sorely needed a break until after Saturday’s lunch, when my full stomach and tired hit me like a ton of bricks…

Next year, I am planning on attending the Picnic for the fun of it. Or, maybe teaching a workshop there leading into it, or following after. Either way, I intend to be there or be square in 2018.

My favorite part of the weekend was the mokume gane demo by talented Eric Burris (he has workshop openings, I am totally going) who has invented an affordable, ingenious small-scale mokume gane kit that works with an acetylene/air torch in your average home studio. Can somebody say awesome? What a brilliant idea, and what an amazing artist.

eric-burris-genius-mokume

Eric’s amazing setup allows you to create mokume gane in the average home studio.

The metals studio is fully equipped with benches, torches and flex shafts, and situated on the hill down from the blacksmith shop. There is also a secret mosaic studio, spring houses, a kitchen and flower garden, a hot glass studio, the main hall and gallery, dorms and camping facilities, so you can go rough or not. There are bonfires and sand casting at night, plus myriad other ways for metalheads to entertain themselves.

Basically, I can’t recommend Touchstone and the Alchemist Picnic enough. If you live in the region, you owe it to yourself to attend a workshop there, visit the center, or at least join.

So, check out my photos and links, and if you are in the Mid-Atlantic region, make it a point to go to the 2018 Alchemist Picnic next year — I’ll be seeing you there!

 


I’ve been a busy Metalsmith…

Since the layoff from the magazine in August, I have been having way too much fun in my studio creating new curriculum pieces for 2017’s upcoming classes in Tucson, for an 8-week introduction to jewelry course at a local adult school, and hopefully, for the August BeadFest in Philadelphia. I am truly lucky because so many people have called and emailed me with an eye on getting a hold of the new, free me to teach, lecture, create video content or write for their respective publications and sites that I am as busy now as I was whilst employed full time. Not. Too. Shabby. If you are interested, you can find my current workshop descriptions here, and my class rosters and signup information here. If you plan to go to Tucson, look me up and I hope to see you there!
PS: Check my Instagram feed for works in progress shots and to see what I am up to these days. I usually post there a few days per week.

On a side note, I have also been busily creating print content in the form of some short technical features, tool reviews and tips, and how-to articles for a large jewelry industry magazine. It’s fun writing that kind of content, and what I enjoyed most/did best in the old job, so I feel extraordinarily lucky these days for the continuity. Thanks universe, you never let me down.

Now that my plate is a little less full of all that time-consuming transitional employment and other real life stuff, I plan to be here more. Keep an eye open for news about upcoming classes, online workshops, heads-ups about magazine articles and projects I have on deck. I will be adding a few pages to this blog for up-to-date ways we can stay in touch, so check here often, because I promise this year will be a fun one. Surely we will need fun in 2017.

And to all of you who have contacted me, thanks so much for your kind words and encouragement. You really have no idea how much it means to me!


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:
http://www.interweavestore.com/metalsmith-essentials-basic-fabrication-dvd?utm_source=interweave.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=iw-hda-bl-150421-11BD08

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

http://www.interweavestore.com/metalsmith-essentials-riveting-cold-connections?utm_source=interweave.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=iw-hda-bl-150421-11BD12

My Jewelry Maker’s Field Guide Book:

http://www.interweavestore.com/jewelry-makers-field-guide-book?utm_source=interweave.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=iw-hda-bl-150421-13BD05

Thanks for playing…


Tips for Tucson

One of my students is headed to Tucson for the first time this winter, so she asked me for some advice. What a loaded question. Tucson (otherwise known as the annual Tucson Gem, Mineral, Bead, Jewelry, etc. Shows) is such a vast topic, it’s really hard to explain the concept to the uninitiated. Here is a feeble start if you don’t know about it at all:

Every year, beginning around the last week of January, the city of Tucson in Arizona becomes the epicenter for anything and everything that is directly or even remotely connected in some way to minerals, gemstones, jewelry, jewelry making, embellished or decorated apparel, and accessories. For about three and a half weeks, you’ll find retail and wholesale beads, cut stones, tools, supplies, materials, stone, objects, finished goods, findings, display, ephemera, vintage stock, precious and non-precious material and new, unusual, and unexpected objects of delight in the hotels, public spaces, convention center, and seemingly every vacant lot capable of hosting one of those big, white epic tents they put up for events. In short, Tucson is heaven on earth for the jewelry minded. On the downside, it can also be exhausting, expensive and confusing if you haven’t got a plan. I’ve been there for 7 years running, and consider myself pretty efficient on navigation concerning Tucson, so here are my top ten tips for going:

Need a bracelet? There are thousands of tables just like this all over the city

Need a bracelet? There are thousands of tables just like this all over the city

1. Set a strict daily budget and adhere to it. It’s easy to blow the bankroll there, because there is so much good stuff. Self control is critical — unless of course, you are on an unlimited budget, in which case, call me and I will be willing to be your companion personal shopper for a mere 2% commission. All kidding aside, I discipline myself with a cash economy when I am there. Each day, I make an ATM withdraw of my daily budget and tuck the cash in the wallet. The plastic remains in the hotel safe to avoid temptation. When the cash is gone, I am done for the day.

2. Determine need vs. want — before you leave home. Make sure you get what you need first, then spend the rest of your cash on what you want. It’s easy to get swept away by the great deals and seduction of cool stuff, however if you miss getting what you went for, you’ll hate yourself when you get home.

African Masks

I always visit the African Art Village. It’s a photographer’s dream.

3. Travel light. You will need room in your suitcase. I choose a color scheme and bring clothes I can layer, mix, and match. The temperature can fluctuate 30 degrees from morning to night, and the city is ringed with mountains — you never know what the desert will do. Comfy shoes are a must. There are stores in Tucson if you forget something.

4. Don’t forget to drink water and eat regular meals. Ditto on the desert here. Dehydration can really ruin your day. And lack of food will give you stupid-head and make you susceptible to overspending. Been there, done that.

5. Flat Rate Priority Mail. I bring one medium box for each day of my trip and two rolls of reinforced packing tape, some bubble wrap and a thick black sharpie. Don’t rely on the post office to have these things, bring them to be sure. Each evening, I put all the catalogs, cards, notes and purchases into the boxes, pad it with dirty socks in plastic bags, and take it to the all-night self-service post office. Insure it, track it, stick on the label and drop it in the bin. You sure don’t want the weight in your suitcase going home.

Ocean Jasper

I adore the mustard yellow Ocean Jasper. If you know color, you’ll realize how useful this hue is…

6. Register in advance for credentialed shows. Visit the Tucson Show Guide website to figure out what you’ll see when. If a show is Wholesale only, see if you can fill out the Buyer’s Badge credential form online.
Then you can usually jump the line at the show and hit “Will Call” to pick up your badge, saving 20-40 minutes of line waiting. But bring your wholesale credentials (and several photocopies) with you, because you’ll need them constantly in the wholesale shows as you purchase.

7. Plan your attack before you leave home. I look at the date range for my selected shows, and try to visit them in logical order. I do the most critical things first, while I am sharp, awake, and still have money. The first thing I always conquer is my student kit needs for the coming teaching season. Then, I conquer replenishing my personal stash. After that, I am open to seduction. I always carry my credentials, business cards, shopping list, notebook and pen and camera to take notes. If you have time, scout first, make notes, then go back to buy after you’ve comparison-shopped.

Bucketloads of turquoise rough from every locality. Yum.

Bucket loads of turquoise rough from every locality. Yum.

8. Try one show per promoter to get a feel for what you like. There are several promoters with several locations each. Many of the vendors set up tables in each location a promoter has, so you’ll find the same stuff at different places. That’s a time-waster if you don’t have much time to spare, so pick one location per promoter and commit. You’ll never see everything anyway, so accept it and move along.

9. Collect business cards and booth numbers if you plan on continuing to do business with a particular vendor. I usually use my cell phone camera to record info I want to get back to — I will shoot the show banner at the start of the day, then as I find stuff I am intrigued by, I shoot booth numbers/names and then the actual stuff I am interested in. That evening, while it’s fresh in my head, I look at the photos, write out some notes in the notebook and tape the business card next to the notes to refresh the old gray matter when I get home.

Aquamarine

Yes, that’s a $45K aquamarine specimen. Uncut. Just the way nature intended.

10. Have some fun. It’s so easy to get sucked into the exhausting feeding frenzy of consumption when you get to Tucson, but remember to look up and out once in a while. The city is beautiful, and if like me, you are coming from somewhere cold, gray, and dreary, it will be a delight to stand in the golden sunshine and look at the rosy sunset every evening. Especially if you are holding a cold Margarita and eating al fresca at the same time.

So, that’s it. In case you are interested, my must-hit shows are Tucson Electric Park (Kino Sports complex), The Pueblo Show, The African Art Village, The 22nd Street Show, Gem Mall, and the “Strip” along I-10. Every year, I try to add a “Wildcard” and see something I have never been to. I typically buy cutting rough, tools, things for my students, some finished goods and vintage components, particularly the old, dusty or unusual.

As for other human needs, I always try to eat at the Tucson Tamale Company, The Old Pueblo Grille and Sushi Cho. Lunch is typically a grab and go affair, so I make it a point to sit down for a meal and unwind at the end of the day with friends. Margaritas are, of course, a given.

Pssst: To those intrepid souls who really looked and are following me on Instagram, thanks! It’s super-fun playing with you.
Here is the weekly recap: Welcome. To. My. Studio. Are. You. Ready. To See. What.

PS: If this is a mystery to you, click on the photo under the photo of my book at upper right of this blog. It will get you there, lol.


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…

pendant

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.