Dragon Part II

This is a large piece, so I added the wires in two stages, starting with the face and main divider lines. All those tiny scales are going to want to drift all over the place, so it's better to have everything else already fired in place first.

When I bent my wires, I used extra care to make sure the scales would fit as perfectly as possible.  With so many tiny little pieces of wire, one too-large piece could throw the whole design out of whack.  Even so, I spent time trimming things as I was laying in the wires.  

It looks like a lot of gold now, but ultimately, it's going to be a red dragon.  I used a foundation of 24K gold leaf so the reds will be as brilliant as possible.  

Happy Year of the Dragon!

One of the most common questions I get asked at shows is "How long did it take to make that?"  Well, it's complicated, because I tend to work on at least a dozen pieces all at once, usually one or two showcase pieces, plus some earrings and cuff links to fill it all in.  

But to give you a sense of the time it takes, I spent 5 hours bending the wires for the single dragon necklace shown in the above image.  I'm pretty psyched about it- I used 24K gold wires, and it's going to be a brilliant red dragon.  If all goes well, it should be complete by the time I go to the American Craft Council Show in Baltimore in February.  I will keep you posted!

Also, here are some highlights from last years work that I totally meant to put on my blog, but never really got around to it.  It's way more fun to make art than to blab about it online, but I've resolved to be better about it in 2012.  Seriously.  :P

Time for a Garden Party!

Just in time for a sultry summer garden party!  All of these are available from Cedar Creek Gallery ($145 - $195).

Dainty rings with flowers and gemstones:
Earrings in teal and fuchsia and green:
For those long Gothic evenings.  (Look at those spikes on that plant!)

Come visit my studio this weekend!

Cedar Creek Gallery is hosting the 43rd Annual Spring Pottery & Glass Festival the first two weekends in April. All the studio artists will fling open our doors and you are invited to come see how it's all made.  I'll be making jewelry in my studio, Lisa Oakley will be blowing some glass, plus other glass and ceramic artists will be demonstrating.  It will be fun for the whole family!

For more info, visit:

Cedar Creek Gallery
1150 Fleming Rd.
Creedmoor, NC 27522

For the opening, I created a little "How it's Made" photo montage.  It documents every step of the creation process:

A sketch is made of the design and the enamel colors are chosen.
The designs are printed out on paper and glued to a sheet of fine silver.  Holes are drilled in the middle pieces to allow the saw blade to be threaded through and make the interior cuts.
The interior shapes are cut out first.
The exterior shapes are cut out and sides are filed smooth.
Add caption
The bases are cut out.  They are larger than the top pieces.
A copper solution is painted on the reverse side where the two sheets of silver touch.  This will lower the melting temperature and allow for easier fusing.
The pieces are set on a tripod and torched from below until they are fused into one solid piece.
The extra material is cut away and the base is ground smooth.
Texture is added with a scribe.
The base is domed using a soft mallet. 
To prevent cloudiness in the finished enamel color, the enamels are "washed" 7-9 times in distilled water.  A small amount of powder is placed in a cup, topped with water, and allowed to settle.  The water is then poured off, along with the impurities.
The enamel is washed and ready to apply!
Different gauges of fine silver wire are flatted using a rolling mill.
The wires are shaped into swirls and circles to match the design.
The wires are arranged on sticky tape that will hold them in place until ready to be used.
After two coats of colored enamel on the reverse of the base, a fine coat of clear enamel is fired in the kiln.
The wires are carefully positioned in the base.  Clear enamel is sifted gently on top, and the piece is fired in the kiln.  For more complicated designs, this may be done in stages.
After firing, the wires are gently pushed down with fingers to make sure they are flush with the base.
The colored enamels are placed between the wires using a fine sable brush.
The colors can be blended using water.
Before firing, the enamels are allowed to dry thoroughly.  If wet enamels are placed in the kiln, there will be air bubbles.
The layers of enamel are built up until they are higher than the exterior of the silver. 
The piece is affixed with wax to a wooden shim, and the top coat is ground flush to the metal.
After the first grind, the glass and silver are polished by hand using progressively finer sheets of wet sandpaper.

New work!

Above is my newest creation, made for the exhibit at Piedmont Gallery:

May 6 - 28, 2011
"It's All in the Pattern "

It's made up of 24 individual enamel pieces, and the petal motif continues all the way into the chain.  Jason Dowdle did these photos, and I couldn't be more pleased.  Here are two more necklaces I had photographed yesterday:

"Violetta Necklace"
Elephant Pendant.  Because who couldn't use a little extra good luck?

Welcome to my New Studio!

I am very excited to share with you my new studio space at Cedar Creek Gallery!  I packed up the old studio and moved in on Friday... It's very awesome, and right next to my friend Lisa Oakley's glass blowing studio.  There are also many ceramic artists working in studios there too, but I'm the first jewelry artist.  I'm particularly enjoying the radiant heating in the floors, because it's been so cold outside!

So, next time you visit Cedar Creek Gallery, do pop over to my studio and say hi!  (You can also buy my work from the gallery, so do that too!)

My kiln and main work table.  Also, my butterfly collection.

My grinder

Nice deep sink and view of the forest...

Still some unpacking to do.

Here's the studio from the outside.  There's Lisa Oakley!

Looking into my studio....

Cute Earrings!

I am busy moving into my new studio space at Cedar Creek Gallery this week, but I wanted to share these adorable b/w earrings with pearl drops that I made for a client:

All the Trimmings!

Just in time for Christmas!  I may have been negligent with my blog, but I've been very busy in my studio.  I recently finished this large enameled crucifix with all the trimmings for my dearest friend Jovan.  All told, this cross took almost three months of work.  I laughed, I cried, I learned a heck of a lot about enameling large, flat objects.  (Let's just say I'll do things differently next time around.)  But I have a hankering now for iconography, so expect more in the upcoming months...  

The Front of Jovan's Cross
The reverse side
Here was the process:

Step 1 - Research and sketching.  I spent a lot of time looking at images of historic Russian crosses.  I decided early on that I would do a pictorial version with no lettering, except for Jovan's name on the reverse.  Here's my final sketch:

Step 2 - Bending all the little wires.  This was a challenge. I started with the thicker wires outlining the figure of Christ, and filled in from there...

Step 3 - Fabricating the Back.  On the front side, I focused on a classical figure, but on the reverse, I went a little crazy and free form.  It's a cut-out design in 22 gauge sterling, on the top is the holy spirit, which I interpreted as a phoenix swooping down.  Jovan told me that sheaves of wheat are very important as symbols of bounty and goodness.  The fish at the bottom are personal as well, since beyond the obvious interpretation, Jovan has a delightful coy pond in his back yard.

I particularly like the image with all the holes drilled in the metal.  There's no going back at that point!  For each tiny hole, I had to thread my saw blade through the opening, make a tiny cut, then repeat the process for every single hole you see.  I remember sawing for a very long time.

Step 4 - Fusing the Base.  This was a serious pain in the butt.  It's a large piece of silver, and I probably used a whole tank of gas trying to fuse the top and bottom together.  As a side note, I would fabricate it out of sterling next time, but that's a whole different story. 

Don't try this at home...
Step 5 - Attaching the Wires.  This was a challenge, so I set the wires in place in stages.  First, I adhered some gold leaf where the three halos were going to be.  I had to eyeball it a little. Secondly, I laid in the wires of the main outline of the figure, then filled in with all the detail work.  It took about 6 separate firings to get the wires in place.

Step 6 - Colors! The best part, finally. 

I was on a bit of a roll, so I made a little cross for my sister Karen, who is a United Church of Christ Minister... 

Fun with Rejects

Every jeweler has a box of castoffs- so many things can and do go wrong in enameling, that I'm actually surprised my box isn't bigger. Sometimes the color was bad or cloudy, or I over-ground it, or it just didn't work out. I've decided to give them a nice, long soak in acid to remove the enamel. I use Etch-all, which will only dissolve the glass and leave the silver untouched. I can also reclaim the 24k gold wire from two of the rings I made, which makes it all worth while. The silver settings can be reused, or I can send them in as scrap.

The Etch-all, being that it's meant to just do a light etching in glass, takes a really long time to actually remove all the layers of enamel. But it's not a bother, because it's super easy. I put these in a couple of days ago, and once or twice a day, I'll give the pot a stir. We are about halfway there...

Little Helpers

It's so hot out today, that I'm offering up a cute cat picture to cool things down. Don't worry, I decontaminated my workspace before I let the kitties in. They like to be where the action is!

Making Sample Strips!

Enamels can be a tricky business. As all enamellists know (or find out to their peril), the enamel color that you see in the catalogue or website is usually nothing close to the color you end up with in the studio. That’s why it’s important to make your own sample strips.

Ages ago, I purchased a large quantity of old enamels from an enamellist who was moving on to other things. They have sat, largely untouched, in a corner of my studio for several months. I would paw through the box occasionally and read the names of the colors: “Blue Jay”, “Bishop Violet”, “Mikado”, “Regal Purple”, “Alice Blue”. Would they live up to my imagination? No way to know until I had the time to unpack them and test them for myself. Luckily, now that the Vegas show is done, I have a little time on my hands! So exciting!

I never skimp on sample strips. I know that fine silver is expensive, but it’s a bigger waste of time and money if you don’t have a real sense of each color you are using. I get a lot of pleasure just arranging the different colors and imagining the possibilities. So, to that end, I make all of my samples ½” x 1” fine silver. (22 gauge). That gives me enough space to see three things:
  1. How does the color look when it’s actually touching the silver?
  2. How does it look on top of a nice coating of clear enamel?
  3. How does it look on top of 24 carat gold leaf?

They still need a coat of counter enamel on the reverse side. I always use some junky unleaded leftover enamel. In this instance it’s Thompson Quill White. A color that has never in my experience actually turned out white. It’s usually an icky shade of yellow. But I bought too much of it long ago, so now it’s my “go to” reverse color for sample strips. I never sift leaded enamels if I don’t have to, so this works out just fine...

After enameling the reverse, I put a coat of clear on the front, but then wipe about a third of it. I want to see how the enamel reacts to silver. (Ugh. The bane of the silver enamellist’s existence!) A lot of colors react poorly with silver, especially reds and oranges, and it’s good to know upfront what is going to happen. So that’s why I leave a bit of the silver exposed.

After I’ve fired a coat of clear enamel, I cut up pieces of 24 carat gold leaf and adhere it to the other end with a little Klyr Fire. Then I’m ready to make my samples!

I usually do nine colors at a time, because that’s how many strips I can fit into my kiln. I do all different colors at once, and lay them out in a grid on my table to avoid confusion. If you do all blues, it’s easy to mix them up in the kiln and not know which blue is which after it’s all finished. And that would sort of defeat the purpose. So I alternate the colors, and label the sheets of paper.

It’s worth the extra effort. Here’s a good example of two yellows that sounded equally promising. (934 chrome chartreuse & 30 Soyer yellow). You can see that the one on the left reacted badly to the silver. Where it’s touching the silver, the enamel has turned dark brown. The other one, in contrast, looks pretty uniform both directly on silver, and over the coat of clear. I know which one is the winner…
So it’s two days of well spent time- not all the colors are winners, but I’ve added enough to my color palette (especially some knock-out greens!) that I’m excited to incorporate them into my new work. So there you go. Sample strips.

Raleigh Treasure Hunt!

My friend Lillian Jones is doing another treasure hunt next week, and I have made the grand prize, a sun and moon pendant:

Summer Solstice Treasure Hunt 2010

When and Where: This Treasure Hunt opens on the Summer Solstice at exactly 7:28 am on June 21, at Five Point's favorite cafe, The Third Place. The maps will be available then, and Lillian will be there from 7am to 8:30 am to give out free small Summer Solstice Treasure maps and sell the larger Treasure Hunt posters.

Cost: The Summer Solstice Treasure Hunt is free and anyone can play for pleasure. I hide a silver key in Raleigh, and if you find it you win and keep the key as a prize. If you purchase a poster (cost: $7.07) and find the key, you can exchange the key for the Grand Prize, the Solstice Pendant . If the First Finder hasn't purchased a poster, no one wins the Grand Prize.

For more information, visit Lillian's Site (http://www.raleightreasurehunt.com/news.php)

Good Luck!

New Work!

I leave for my jewelry show in Las Vegas this Thursday, and I finished up my new pieces just in time! Here are a few things from my Gothic line...

These are from my Baroque line...

I've been taking plenty of photos of my process, but I've been very neglectful of actually posting them to my blog. My goal for this series was two-fold...

In the past, I've always displayed my work by color, which looked great, but it was all a little higgly-piggly. I'd end up with a super modern necklace next to a medieval style gargoyle. For this show, I wanted to group my work thematically- I've got my new gothic line, the baroque series, and the clean modern line. (pictures coming soon of that, I promise!)

I've also been really exploring my grinding/polishing process. It's one of the steps that you can't skimp on, so I really explored some new techniques and took copious notes this time around. If you are interested in my exact polishing steps, let me know, and I'll do a step-by-step post later...

So I am so excited to do my first Vegas show. And excited in general to go to Vegas! (Haven't been there since my elopement 5 years ago, but that's a whole different blog...)


Stop-N-Go Men

Here's a fun pair of cuff links I made as a commission. They are the "Ampelmännchen" from German street signs. And they are adorable...

Flight of Fancy

You've seen most of these pics before, but I thought it might be helpful to put them in the correct order and make a little narrative that illustrates my process...

My primary goal for this piece was to capture the fluid movement and glittering color palette of a dragon in flight. I made many sketches and finally settled on a two-piece design whereby the dragon's wing would be separate from the body. This would add both an additional element of motion to the piece, as well as make it comfortable to wear.

The first step in the process is to create the base in which to inlay the cloisonne enamels. I cut out the design from a sheet of 20 gauge fine silver and then fused it to another sheet of 20 gauge fine silver.

Figure 1: Fusing the Fine Silver to create a base

I don't use solder, because the enamels would react to the materials in the solder and the purity of the colors would be lost. This was the largest design in silver that I have ever fused, and it was a little tricky. I heated it from below using a torch until the silver just started to shimmer, then backed off the heat, let it cool, and hammered it flat again. After the base was fused, I again used a saw to cut the design out of the silver base, filed the edges, and shaped it with a soft mallet to be slightly convex in shape.

Figure 2: The finished base and the wires

I use fine silver wire of various gauges (22, 20, 18 gauge) and mill them by hand to create the cloisonné strips. I like to use various thicknesses to add dimension to my designs.

Figure 3: The wires have been fired into place

After applying counter enamel to the reverse of the piece, I sifted some clear enamel and then carefully began the process of laying in the wires. I did this in several stages, starting with the main shapes and then slowly adding the rest of the wires, firing in stages to keep things from shifting.

Next comes the best part of all- adding the colors! By far, this is my favorite step in the whole process. I use leaded enamels, and wash them thoroughly at least 10 times with distilled water. I chose a color palette of greens, blues, and aqua for my dragon. I used a brush to add the grains of enamels in between the wires, and fired in between each coat. After many firings, the enamels were flush to the top of the base and I added a coat of clear enamel for good measure.

Then I ground down the enamels using diamond files and various grits of sandpaper until the piece was completely flush with the base. I added more clear enamels to the areas that weren't quite flush and fired the piece again. I worked my way by hand through the various grits of sandpapers – 220 through 4000, then fired the piece one last time to give the glass a perfect brilliance.

To finish, I fabricated a chain of 18 gauge fine silver links that were shaped like flames to compliment my dragon and add a little whimsy to the final design.

Feeling Gothic

It's spring- the sun is shining and the daffodils are in bloom, but for some reason, I'm loving the gothic right now. Here's a sketch of my new gargoyle necklace. He'll be holding a black drop pearl, and I have some gorgeous blood red ruby beads to string him up with. Very fancy, indeed! Well, I better go start cutting out some silver...

Back from Baltimore...

Wow. As much as I love making enamel jewelry, thinking about enamel jewelry, and talking about enamel jewelry, six days in a row is a lot of talking and thinking (and standing!). But it was such fun! Met loads of interesting people and saw some amazing crafts. Here's a pic of my booth:

I also had a great conversation with fellow enamelist Ricky Frank. He's such a nice guy... He shared a lot of great information for grinding, polishing, and finishing my work. So I'm very excited to get back to my grinding station and start honing my polishing skills.

Also present at the show was limoge artist Karin Pohl. She had the most exquisite miniature portrait of Katherine Parr:

So, all in all, a great show. The surprise hit seller were these little guys. I made little angel/devil cuff-links (and earrings) and they completely sold out. In fact, I took a couple of orders for them and need to make more tomorrow. (so if you want a pair, let me know!)

Busy as a bee!

I'm going to be doing the American Craft Council Show in Baltimore February 22-28. It'll be two days of wholesale and then four days of retail. I'm getting excited! There's so much to get done that I've been working non-stop.

I'm doing a whole series of Gothic pieces in shades of grays and black, and I've been enjoying them immensely. Here are two pendants:

And another charming flower necklace. This one will be in shades of purple:

And more butterflies too!


Yes, I'm branching out into the glorious world of pins. It's actually very liberating to be freed from shapes that need to fit themselves into necklaces, bracelets, or earrings. I've made a whole garden of flora and fauna.

I've made a charming lotus flower pin in shades of pink and green. Below, you can see the setting I created echoes the motif:

Here's my bench right now. As you can see, I'm very busy getting ready for my two upcoming shows- The Piedmont Craftsmen show in Winston-Salem (November 20-22) and the Carolina Designer Craftsmen show in Raleigh (November 27-29)