Tag Archives: Jewelry Tools

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!

 

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Keep Making Work

It’s been a rough couple of months for everybody I know. The only thing keeping me sane these days is the commitment I have made to myself to keep working, keep making art, keep writing, and do my best to keep my personal house in order. Being jobless has been difficult for me because I love to work, but I’m hanging in, getting leads here and there, and taking a Teacher certification course with an eye on becoming an elementary school substitute for awhile — just to keep bread on the table, insurance on the docket, and a roof overhead. One thing is certain: I’ve discovered I still struggle with Math as much now as I did when I was younger, so it hasn’t been easy, but it is getting better. I actually search for math problems to solve now just to stay in practice.
After Tucson, it’s the Praxis Core Tests for me.

On the metals front, I have been experimenting with some cool new tools and techniques and have designed a group of fun new classes to teach this year. I am writing for the MJSA Journal now, with my first “At The Bench” feature running in the January 2017 issue, and I’ve contributed some tool content to http://www.wirejewelry.com for the educational section of their website, and will continue to do so all year. I’ve booked some gigs, pitched some classes, submitted a book idea and outline, and have managed to stay afloat so far, so life is good. I desperately hope that things turn for the better soon for me and for everyone, and that the Arts and Education are not hung out to dry by our new administration. I hope that we all find calm soon, as it seems the entire country and every person I know is still in a state of unrest and turmoil. We are all agitated and scared, which makes each day a real challenge, especially for the hypersensitive. Thank goodness for my jeweler’s saw — it is a calm port in the storm, and the place I go when I can’t bear the news any longer. I just map out and saw complex patterns and try to find the peace in my silent studio — to escape from the loathsome behavior, selfish greed, cruelty, paranoia and rage that is just everywhere now. Participating in the Women’s March helped, but I fear it did not turn any tides. I often lie awake at night terrorized by what may come. I know I am not alone in this.

We must continue to notice what is happening, watch out for each other, speak up for what we know is right, carry on, have hope and make work because we are artists and that’s our job. Artists are the sentinels of society and we can’t help but pay attention. Sometimes, it’s hard to do, and it’s difficult to be calm or kind in the face of an aggressor, or someone you believe has done something that takes our country the wrong way, but my friends, hang in there. When you don’t know what to do, pick up a hammer and hit some metal. Maybe it will help to fix something inside of you, or me, or us, or them, or everything and all of us. I just continue to saw, and I still continue to hope. I will remain kind, hold fast to my core values and go on. Because anything else is unthinkable.


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!


Embrace the Unexpected

When I was rather unexpectedly laid off from the day job at the magazine at the end of August, I decided to look on the upside of things — all of a sudden I have lots of time on my hands to spend in my studio without being mentally distracted by the daily demands of a job. Sure, there is anxiety associated with being unemployed, but if you treat the job hunt part of your day like a temp job and just blitz through the finding leads, sending out and following up on stuff to efficiently get it over with, all of a sudden you have hours and hours of unencumbered time at your disposal. It’s actually really awesome. I’ve been sleeping like a rock, eating so healthy it’s scary, suddenly have lots of energy, and strangely, no more acid reflux. I haven’t left the house for weeks except to take a daily walk around my local lake, or to visit the mailbox or work in my garden.

All this positive force means I’ve been making work like a fiend, sending out class proposals, applying for residencies, shaking up some freelance work and teaching workshops, organizing my paperwork, cleaning up my digital assets, mastering some code, getting the book idea that’s been dancing in my head for about 8 months committed to a worddoc, and generally investing 100% of my creative energy into ProjectHelen instead of ProjectElsewhere. Hate to sound selfish, but ProjectHelen is so rewarding because there are actually tangible rewards when you invest in yourself. I could really get used to this…

Anyway, quick word of reassurance — I promise will still be writing about Tools and Bench Tips here on a regular basis. My last formal column will run in the November 2016 issue. For the past few weeks, I gave myself permission for an essential and very healing mental break after what went down at the magazine. I just had to allow the trauma to sink in and process itself down and out of me. I am happy to say I am cool with it now, doo-doo happens and, it was a great gig while I had it. Oh, and good luck…

So. Over, next. If you follow me on FB or Instagram, you’ll see I’ve been toying with some video, taking loads of step shots, and creating some new classes for Tucson and BeadFest, plus some other places I hope to reveal soon. Keep an eye on my class descriptions for updates. And now, I can be here more often, too.

Change, they say, is as good as a rest. Um, yep!

 


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!


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…


Speed shopping in the desert: Tucson 2014

A Tucson 2014 haiku:

New stone was desired
Too short time; distant travels
Winter delayed me

For some reason, my area of the country has been cursed as the dumping ground for winter’s fury. I was looking forward to Tucson just to get warm, but even there it was chilly. There was such a short time on the ground when I got there that I power-shopped with the cold efficiency of a leopard pouncing in from the underbrush to make a kill. Boom! Kent’s Tools and the acquisition of stuff for 80 student kits was conquered in less than an hour. One thing I have learned about going to Tucson: a strict budget tied to a well-organized shopping list is king.

Sadly, this year I didn’t have lots of “funny money” to spend — it was all business for me. But, that didn’t stop me from looking — which is one of the last remaining free things left in the world. It felt great to walk around in the midday sun, check out some “new” cutting rough at Electric Park, see some interesting tools (check out my May/June Cool Tools & Hip Tips column for more on that) and catch up with my friends.

Usually, I try to find a “trend” when I get to Tucson, but this year it was too short a time to tell, so I motored through my visit list and did the best I could in the time I had. Getting an extra day because of snow didn’t hurt, either, but there is never enough time it seems.

Here are some photo highlights from my adventure. Enjoy!

Diamond Pacific Lapidary, Helen Driggs

I always visit the big tent at Electric Park to see what’s new and amazing at Diamond Pacific Lapidary.

Momma Javellina and her babies, Helen Driggs

At the new “Rock Show” I saw these recycled steel Javellinas (collared peccaries for you nature geeks). They were so cleverly done — I have yet to see live ones, though.

The Jewelry Makers Field Guide, Helen Driggs

I can never pass a bookstore without stopping in — and was tickled to see my book, front and center as a “special selection” at the Barnes and Noble on Broadway.

Raptors on the Volleyball court, Helen Driggs

Yes, you can buy a dinosaur in Tucson. Here’s a fine selection of life-sized raptors to choose from — for the garden, maybe?

The "club show" feature fantastic mineral specimens, Helen Driggs

I had just enough time to visit the “Club Show,” aka The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. The earth makes beautiful things…

Palm Trees and Blue skies: Inn Suites is always a great show for lapidary and mineral collectors.

Palm Trees and Blue skies: Inn Suites is always a great show for lapidary and mineral collectors.