Thursday, July 10, 2014

Thoughts on Symbolism

Over the years I've been asked what certain pendants 'mean' or why I've decided on one symbol over another. Ever since I could remember, I've had a fascination with symbols, especially in art. It seemed to me that it was a secret language, or visual poetry. It wasn't so much that the image  had another meaning, but that meaning could be many things, depending on the viewer, on the artist, on the color - it was a riddle. I am still bewitched by the idea that a symbol can be as old as the world, yet still persist, altering and evolving as we do. Symbols of hands and eyes have been found in our earliest art, in cave paintings, formed from mud and scribed on vases. When I was a child I drew stars with eyes, after hearing a poem with the line 'the night has a thousand eyes, and the day but one'. The image stayed with me, so that I found myself trying to find the source of my favorite symbol. I found that the eye could mean so many things, like protection, or to keep away covetous glances, but mostly, it was to say 'Look! See!' and be watchful.  

So, regardless of any negative connotations a symbol may have picked up, I'm going to use it. Because, as an artist, I believe in the power of intention. There is something tangible in what one thinks about, or feels, while making art.  When I'm carving a piece, I think about the history of a symbol, of its roots, then think of what it will mean now and focus on that. Of course this idea has limitations. One can't change the meaning of a cross, or the swastika. But, symbols can be changed and they do all the time. It's what makes it so interesting.  One of my all time favorites, the harpy, had their image changed from lovely wind spirits, to ugly hags by the Romans. They probably originated from the Egyptian symbol, Ba, a person headed hawk that flew into the afterlife. Anyway, I adopted the image of the bird person into my visual language and use it all the time. I've written stories of bird girls finding lost things and returning them to their owners. I suggest not arguing bird girls, as I have one tattooed on my arm  and will get snappish.
Anyway, at the end of the day, a symbol can mean whatever you want it to. Here are a few of my favorites, some that I made, others from friends. The little horned statue is completely made up, but I like to think of her as forest guide -  same thing with the antler creature that is sometimes called Cernunos, or Lord of the Hunt. The silver eye bead is from Anne Choi, my favorite artist of all ( plus her eye beads are the best!). The little arrow was a gift from my buddies at Cabela metals ( to hit my goals). The tiny bronze bird girl is special. Only me and Wiesel have bronze ones. The eye pendant is very special to me. I was wearing it on one of my  best days - the day that my long lost brother contacted us after 23 years AND I found out I won an amazing ball jointed doll in a contest! So, I consider it a lucky charm.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Treasures from Bead and Button 2014

Hey there! 
What a great show! This year was an action packed event, seeing old friends, making new ones, tormenting my brothers (yep, both my bros were in attendance - along with Greg and Bob Burkett) and also fantastic shopping. I mean, it's why I go! To make money, of course, but acquiring treasure is one of my hobbies. So, here are a few highlights, starting with the work of the inimitable Anne Choi. The first cylinder bead features Elizabethan insect designs, the elephant says 'for luck', as does the fish. The text bead says 'love must be as much a light as it is a flame' and the cloud bead has various weather designs on each side. I love her beads most of all. You can look at her work at

These stone goodies come from a variety of vendors.  I definetly have a palette this time!
The lovely glass beads are from my neighbor at the show, Wendy Bergamin. I love how jewel like they are! 

These juicy glass forms are from Maureen of Pumpkin Hill Beads. I like to stack them up on a glass tipped wire and make hairpins. They remind me of sea creatures.

Here are some beautiful eyes on wires that Maureen made. I'm not sure what I'll do with them, but I love the lifelike colors. So, those are some of my favorite vendors that I always shop from. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

New Designs for Bead and Button 2014!

Hey there! Here are some of the new designs that will debut at the Bead and Button Show in Milwaukee June 6-9. 
This wide pendant is still in progress, it needs to be cleaned up and polished a bit more. I was thinking it would be nice to have a really simple, clean lined butterfly that would look pretty with that sparkly gemstone chain. 
This piece was inspired by the book Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. It's a beautifully written trilogy featuring angels and demons and a girl with blue hair. The original symbol ( Hamsa ) has a long history of use, with variations existing all over the globe. This piece isn't really part of the original symbol and looks a lot different, in my opinion. I made it as sort of a protection piece. Anyway, I carved this piece imagining it strung with mixed materials, wire work and hand carved stones, maybe as an amulet necklace, or part of charm tassel to attach to a purse strap.
Can you tell I was still listening to those books? More on the protection eye theme, this time with a bit of open work. I pictured faceted stones wire worked with leather, or if cast in bronze, turquoise and carnelian for an Egyptian flavor. I can't wait to add some danglies to this pendant! I bet Andrew would put this on a leather cuff, with some rivets, or stitch work.
This little bee is going to look good in pewter! Better in bronze, but then, what doesn't? I can picture this on charm bracelet, or simply strung on a cord. Sometimes simple is nice.
This little plumpy baby is a pearlscale goldfish, like my beloved Popo. I'll probably only sell one ( to a diehard goldfish fanatic like myself ) but I don't care. I make whatever I want, which is why our site is chockfull of weird things like bumble friends and mer sprites. Oh well. Stay tuned for more goldfish, because I've been staring at my baby goldies with soft eyes. So you know that means I have to carve a telescope, a ryukin, an oranda and celestial eye! I know, so perfect for a charm bracelet! For my bracelet, I'll paint them with enamel paint to look like my fish. It WILL be cute. 

Anyway, the month before the show is always chaos, nobody is getting enough sleep, time seems to speed up and I run around in questionable fashion choices ( sweatshirts and Thai fisherman pants? Aprons worn 24/7? Why not! ). 'These are good times' I say to Azalea, as I convince her that polishing bronze coins at the dinner table is good fun. It is actually fun, we push ourselves till we have crazy eyes, but that's when good, no, awesome ideas happen! Then, we have the rest of the summer to create all the wackiness that we dreamed up before B&B. I look forward to the day we leave, because it means I can sleep for like ten hours in the back seat and wake up and see all my buddies. I only have 23 days to go. 

Wednesday, April 09, 2014


Boy, did I love this cat! I painted his portrait, carried little tiny Polaroids of his face and stared lovingly into his eyes everyday. Folks would be like 'damn, you are obsessed with that cat!' and I would be like 'isn't everyone?'. Anyway, the picture is easily 15 years old, back when I used to make him fanciful collars (which he loved to wear - he would get really mad when our other cat Paddy would try and fight them off him). I was thinking  about his gorgeous face and wondered if it was time to get another cat......maybe I'll just wait awhile longer. He would be a hard act to follow.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Gilders Paste Patina

Hey there! Here's a quick tutorial on how to apply a colorful patina on metal. 
•Gilders paste in your choice of colors ( I use four: tulip red, iris blue, white and canary yellow - from this palette you can get every color). I bought mine from Rio Grande on the website:
•Paint thinner
•Gloves, I use non slip fabric gardening gloves by Atlas
•Cheap paintbrush
•Paper towels
•Cardboard work surface 
•metal charms - I use this technique on my pewter and bronze beads and expect this to work on any metal.
First, get everything ready and work in a well lit, well ventilated area. Use a fan, since the paint thinner can give you a headache.
Dip the brush in the thinner and work into the paste cake, you don't want to soak the cake, just wet it enough to pick up some color. I use the lid as a palette to mix colors, wipe it off when the lid gets murky.
Apply the color over a clean metal charm, using the brush to scrub the patina into the recessed areas. Its easy to get lots of variations in the color, just dab a coordinating shade next to one already applied and blend. This part should be fast, don't agonize over it, get the patina on and move to the next one. 
I work in an assembly line, quickly brushing on the paste, keeping my brush somewhat clean by dipping it into thinner and wiping it on a paper towel. 
The colors shift between pieces, because I'm wetting the brush in thinner and picking up a little paste, mostly mixing on the piece itself. This method will give lots of variations, if you want pieces to match, premix a dollop of color on the lid.
Wait 5-10 minutes, then use a paper towel to remove the excess color. If it's still a bit damp, more will come off, giving a more subtle look. The drier it is, the harder it is to remove, although the high points of the design will polish readily. 
I put on gloves while handling the pieces, because I don't like my fingers to get stained. Plus, it helps grip little charms.
I let the finished pieces dry completely and give them a light polish. The wax in the patina shines up nicely! I used to coat the pieces in Renaissance Wax to seal the surface, but found that it was an unnecessary step, since there is wax in the patina. I started using this technique after years of fiddling around with various recipes of patina and having some items continue to erode. This method doesn't alter the metal itself, just adds a tough layer in the recessed areas. If a solid color is desired, try metal inks, although both methods will wear off with time and use. The subtle coloring in the design sets off the metal itself, adding another dimension to the piece.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Gaston Collective

Hey there! I have some interesting news! My good friend Jessica Gaston has just started a new endeavor called Gaston Collective, a jewelry design company featuring the work of American artists with the goal of making meaningful, symbolic pieces made in the U.S.  The exciting thing for me is that I'm one of the artists! It's a great opportunity for me to be a part of this design group, since it will generate income that will be used to upgrade our equipment here at GGS. Also, I get to make things with my buddies Kate Richbourg and the master of wax, Bob Burkett. I'm really proud of my friend Jess for putting forth so much effort to get this project underway. She's like a force of nature, her enthusiasm is so great. She started a fundraiser on Indiegogo to help buy equipment and more materials, here's the link to check it out:
The prizes that will be offered are pretty outstanding, plus it's a great opportunity to help a great group of artists reach their dreams!
Here's a painting of Kate's eye.
Some of the lovely charm bracelets we are offering (note the sweet bead caps - they are carved to look like the bases of flowers!).
Check out the website to see more:

Monday, December 09, 2013


Ok! Here's a progress shot of the painting, after working on it all weekend. I think another two days will be enough. Then it's pieces for Tucson! 

Friday, December 06, 2013

Typhoon offering

Hearing about the devastation in the Phillipines was terrible, especially since my moms family is there, trying to pick up the pieces. My mom ( and the rest of my family!) has coming up with ways to help. The picture above is a progress shot of a painting I'm going to make prints of to benefit my faraway family. It's pretty loose now, but it will be built up with layers of egg tempera and watercolor. I based the mermaids face on my mom, when she was a teen.
This was the first sketch, really quick, done in pen and watercolor washes. 
Here's one of my reference pictures - I think my mom wouldn't approve of this tousled look, but she never looks at my blog, so I'm safe! Anyway, I will be posting more pictures of the painting until it's finished. Hopefully it will be done by Monday!

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Hello! Here's a progress picture of a little embroidery I've been working on. I carry this in my purse, or leave it on my desk, where I can pick it up and sew a few stitches here and there when I have a moment. I find it helps to stir up creativity when my hands are occupied. That old proverb my grandma used to say: 'Idle hands are the Devils playground' sort of stuck with me. I always have some kind of handwork: knitting ( which I am not very skilled!), twining miniature baskets, sewing tiny doll dresses, beading ( of course!) or just my sketchbook. Since my livelihood depends on creativity, the small practices that nourish inspiration are something I try to do every day. It staves off the dreaded ruts and staleness that can find an artist. 

So, this little piece of linen fabric and silk thread will eventually turn into a small pouch, for earphones, or prized beads. I like the idea of objects made by hand, they seem to have a magical quality that machine made things lack. 

Friday, November 01, 2013

Magical moments in SF and Montara

There's nothing quite like enjoying a feast with friends at SF's famous Zuni's. Pictured above from the left: Saara, Kate and Jess. 
Jess Gaston and Kate Richbourg giving inspiration for treasure lockets at a trunk show.
Odd metal goats grazing on a hillside.
Ken is an amazing chef at Zuni's and made a sumptuous meal of Porqueto (pork belly wrapped around a roulade of pork shoulder and orange and fennel).
A lovely dinner that Ken and Chris prepared (fresh black eyed peas, squash, white sweet potatoe, roast chicken and mustard greens). Southern cooking at its best! 
Katje and Chris preparing fresh oysters while I enjoyed spicy clams and white wine.
Beautiful lichen and moss growing high in the mountains. The hike up was steep and covered in mist, probably the reason the trees were so covered in lichen they looked furry.
Gooseneck barnacles and tiny shells. Don't they look as though they could start chattering and squaking? 
Huge sea anenome on the beach. I'm totally enamoured with tidepools and could look at them all day.
More tidepool finds, this time with seaweed and starfish.
Kate knitting by the fire at Montara House. Part of the charm of staying at this seaside house is sitting by the fire, listening to the ocean, chatting and sipping nice wine. 
A view of Montara House from the sea side.
The docks at Montara is the best place to find delicious fish. Unless you get there late and it's all gone.
An opalescent hermit crab nestled between rocks.

I really love visiting my friends on the West Coast, especially our time at Montara House. It's a wonderful house party of creative folks enjoying good food, tasty cocktails and lively conversation. So many good ideas and artistic revelations happen, it's a place full of bright energy. Also, I think the slow pace is a perfect setting for painting, knitting, sketching and jewelry making. We enjoyed many evenings wax working with Bob Burkett, who joined us for a few days of intense technique building. It's simultaneously exploding with creativity and calm relaxation.

When I leave, I feel like some of the magic of those golden afternoons follow me.