Tag Archives: Tucson Gem Shows

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.

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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!

 


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!


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.


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.


Teacher chronicles

I have been preparing like mad for several spring teaching engagements, and I have finally gotten my head above the water. With just two weekend days and evenings per week to get ready, it’s been a race to the finish – because my first classes are almost upon me. The last thing I have left is to prep my comprehensive shopping list to take to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Shows. I’ve got half-packed kits all over the studio, instruction sheets to print, and little boxes and bags of demo pieces all over the place. I love teaching, but it is inevitable that when my mind is sharply focused on what I am soon to teach, something comes up for a student from a class I already taught. Then, I end up juggling questions from students about last year curriculum and questions from organizers about soon-to-come curriculum simultaneously. My brain hurts.

One of those questions came up last week about my “One Hour Rings” video:

“Hello Helen. My name is David. I watched your video (One Hour Rings) and I was left with a few questions. For starters, where can I buy a sanding disk? I can’t find one anywhere. Secondly, you said to quench the metal in water after soldering, can I do that with white gold? Somebody told me that I can’t. I would appreciate it if you could get back to me. Thanks again for such an informative video!!”

And shortly after he replied to say it was OK to answer his question here, David sent me a second email, with a link to a website, picturing a titanium ring:

“Hello. It’s me again. I just had one last question. I have been wanting to make myself a ring for a while now. I finally found one I want to make, but I wouldn’t know how to set the stones like that. It can be viewed here. It is the picture on the left. I was wondering if you had a video or could explain how I could make a ring like that and set the stones like that. I would really appreciate it. Thanks!”

Really, I don’t suggest copying someone elses work, but in this case, the ring pictured was a plain, half-round band with a flush set stone. The only real challenge to fabricating the ring in question was the metal: titanium. But, back to the original question first:

1. Sanding discs (search for brass-center snap-on sanding discs) – my preferred brand is Moore’s. I get mine from either Kent’s tools in Tucson: www.kentstools.com or from Rio Grande: www.riogrande.com. Don’t forget a mandrel for them — they require a square center mandrel for easy switch outs, which is why I love them.

2. Quenching Gold – don’t do it. Especially white gold, because it will cause extreme brittleness in the metal. For hard-wearing jewelry like rings, weak metal is not a good idea. Weak metal is never a good idea, actually. Just let your gold air cool on a steel block. Then, pickle it before proceeding.

3. The ring in question – features plain, ordinary half-round stock and a flush set stone, sometimes called a “Gypsy setting.” I’ve never fabricated Titanium, so I can’t help you on that, but any really good reference on stone setting will give you step by step instructions on how to create a flush setting. However, I am a firm believer in “Show, don’t tell,” so, here is the proverbial picture is worth a thousand words shot…

Image

You’ll notice that a setting bur has virtually the same profile as a standard, round faceted brilliant cut stone. Never bur deeper than the top of the bur.

And here’s an ultra-simplified bullet point process on how to do this:

• Fabricate a band thicker in gauge than the deepest part of the stone – measuring from table to culet.
• Use a drill to start a hole in the band, then switch to a setting bur the same size or slightly smaller in diameter than the stones girdle.
• Cut the seat to the depth that causes the girdle to be just below the surface of the metal.
• Set the stone in the seat, then bouge the metal in and up to the girdle of the stone to set it securely in place.

Fair warning: it’s a lot tougher than it sounds here. It takes a lifetime of practice to set stones professionally, but there is no reason not to try. I’d suggest practice with CZs on brass, and really reading up on stone setting. Again, it’s fun, but it isn’t easy. There are loads of books on the topic out there, as well as Ann Cahoon’s brand-new and fabulous video called Introduction to Gemstone Setting available from IWP. I was at the filming for that video and for her next one, and Ann is a real pro!

And, to my 2013 “Rotary Tools Demystified” students — I finally got your resource list ready.
Email me if I missed you, or if you still need one…