Friday, August 28, 2009

About that Bandwagon, aka Caution - Discomfort Zone Ahead, aka Am I Repeating Myself?

There are three themes for today's post.

Part One: About That Bandwagon...

In my bead making I try not to jump on every bandwagon that passes by. I am surely not up on all the new glass colors, and I don't know that I've ever made a bead for a Pandora bracelet. OK, well maybe one or two. I try to do something unique that will help my work stand apart from the rest. That said, look what I just made! Disc beads!
Yeah, yeah, discs are nothing new and lots of beadmakers have been making them for some time. Not me, so much (that bandwagon thing I mentioned before). People like Kerry Bogert are using them in fun projects like cocktail rings, and Sara LaGrand is using the concept to make some of the most artful jewelry I've ever seen.

I had played around with the disc style for a tiny bit but just lacked the skill and motivation to really make them work for me, until...

Part Two: Caution - Discomfort Zone Ahead

A visitor to my booth at a local art show recently contacted me to inquire if I could make some custom disc beads for her in several specific color combinations. I squirmed as I read the email. She had called them "flat beads", but I knew what she wanted even before opening the attached photos. It struck fear in my heart.

For some reason (lack of recent orders in my Etsy shop, maybe?) I decided to plunge ahead and immerse myself in something I wasn't quite comfortable with. Many other artists have found that this is one way to bring out your creativity, but it's also a way to confront your fears.

What if they're all wonky (<- that's the voice inside my head)? What if she doesn't like them (Brain: "offer her prototypes first before committing either party to a big order")? What if, what if... Once my discomfort (ha! That was too easy) was sitting in the back seat where it belonged, I was free to explore this new technique. The last thing that many (actually most) artists want to do is execute someone else's vision for their work, but sometimes those ideas can be just the thing to propel you forward in a new direction.

The bottom line for this part is that I think the experience of being open to a new idea, to at least consider something outside of what you know you do best, is healthy, and I'm very glad I did it.

Part Three: Am I Repeating Myself?

If you read the beadmaking forums at all, you already know that ppp (practice, practice, practice) is what it takes to become a better beadmaker. Of course, who doesn't realize that? But have you really thought about how you're practicing? What I mean is, what kinds of lessons are you learning in your ppp sessions? How many attempts at a particular style do you make before you feel accomplished at it?

What I've found recently is that a concentrated experience with one and only one type of beads is very helpful to my learning process. I used to think that after making something a handful of times I could generally feel proficient in it, but I was wrong. It's only after making forty, fifty, or sixty of one type of bead (e.g. Meanies, Tortugas) that I now feel I can really master the specific techniques used in the bead.


Playa Tortuga.

The things I'm learning are perhaps the tiniest of details, but several of those add up to something worth knowing. What I'll do is limit my choice of colors (to focus on other parts of the technique), and make several beads that have little "twists" on the general approach. I'll try making a smaller footprint with the glass in a pressed bead, I'll put dots on upside down so that gravity will help center them as I burn off the rod, or I'll try a different raking technique. After the 10th or 20th bead I'll discover that the slightest change in the mandrel's orientation or amount of heat I apply will make the bead look entirely differently. And when I look at my the progression in a style over time, the learning is apparent.

What do I mean by a concentrated experience? Well, I'll sit and make virtually nothing but that type of bead for one, two, or several multi-hour sessions. Yeah, you may get sick of it and just have to take a break with another style, but I've been amazed at how deeply I get to know the style of bead I'm working on.

So, to make a long story even longer, since I've made the prototype disc beads for my custom order, I've really gotten to love this style, and can't stop making them! I'm not aiming to make it my signature style or anything, but they sure are fun.

What makes you uncomfortable, and what have you done to stare that discomfort in the face?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Two Ball Day

Some days Bodie likes to take our walk with just one ball. When he's good and ready he'll drop it, look at me excitedly, and wait for me to throw it. But today was a two ball day.

A two ball day is when I have one ball in the chucker (for you non-dog folks out there, it's a long-armed claw-like tool to allow you to throw a tennis ball without touching it), and he has one in his mouth.

The way it goes is like this: As he approaches me, he drops the one in his mouth and runs after the one I throw. I pick up the one he drops, take a few more steps along the trail, and he comes charging back. He's already thinking about the next ball, even before he's back with the one he's just retrieved.

It was hard to make progress on the trail this morning since he was constantly racing back with a ball for me as I was taking my first couple of steps forward. Today he exhausted himself with this routine, and slipped from my side to steal a dip in the neighbor's pond on our way back.

Today I'm enjoying a two ball day myself. I'm roasting tomatoes and peppers for homemade salsa, redoing photos for some of my Etsy listings, trying to get some chatter going on the Etsy forums, catching up on some emails, and thinking about what to make for dinner. Soon I'll be behind the torch to make some prototypes for a collaboration I'm doing with Rachel Nelson-Smith.

So, dogs are like (some) people, I guess, in that they can multitask. But some days you're up for it, and some days you just want to enjoy the walk. Are you having a one ball day or a two ball day? Or maybe you're juggling five or six?

By the way, if you went to Bodie's blog and were worried about his knee, stop. We went the non-surgical route, and he appears to be completely recovered! We're thrilled, especially with hunting season approaching. Now I just need to get him to put those balls down and update his blog!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Why Do I Blog?

In reading Robin Atkins' latest blog post I was inspired to consider the reasons why I blog.

First of all, I believe that I blog because I've always been a writer. As a young girl I filled countless three ring binders with stories about princesses waiting for their prince, about four legged creatures whose nocturnal business disturbed me from sleep. As a high school and college student I took creative writing classes where I could explore various styles of writing, and all manner of content. My favorite was a creative writing class at the University of Iowa, where I had fun writing short stories in the Stephen King style (my favorite author at the time). but my sharing was limited to those pieces that were read aloud to my class.

My foray into blogging started two and a half years ago when our beloved family dog was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We were heartbroken when we got the news about our 7 year old lab mix Rio, and I needed a way to express the very complicated feelings I had about him and what he meant to our lives. Even without knowing who might read it, I found a therapeutic catharsis in the act of writing about our relationship. I'm sure that it helped me along the road from grief to recovery, and with less of a burden to my friends than sobbing on someone's shoulder every day. I had always intended to start blogging as a natural extension of my bead making career, but had put it off. But the day we got the sad news about Rio from our vet, I quickly created the blog and began trying to make sense of it all in a more or less public forum.

Now I tend to blog about my artistic accomplishments, my personal travels, and things that I find interesting and useful in the world. Perhaps not as deep as a raw emotional expose, but hopefully interesting to someone besides myself. I am constantly trying to make it more interesting, more personal, and more frequent.

Why do YOU blog? Let's hear about it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kate McKinnon Soul Clearing Sale

Kate McKinnon has been having a tremendous sale on her huge stash of finished jewelry pieces and handmade and vintage jewelry components. If you know Kate, you'll know that there will be some fabulous and wonderful items in her chest of hoarded treasures.

Hurry before it's over - tomorrow is the last day. Check back to her site frequently, as items are being added often. And do give her blog a read - she's an incredible writer and you'll leave there knowing more about her, yourself, and the world.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Summer Fun

Come to The Iowa State Fair! Five days left: Aug 13 - 23. Yes Kenny, your tractor is sexy.

What could be more typical of wholesome summer fun than a visit to the Iowa State Fair? Not having been to one before (and unlikely to go again for a while), I tried to soak up as much of the Midwestern charm as I could while visiting my mom recently.

And the longest line at the Fair? Butter Cow. Don't try to cut in line here or you could get into a fight. Trust me on this.

And... the Butter Astronaut. I guess the theme was, "Butter is Out of This World!"

I wanted to post a picture of the best pork chop I've ever eaten, but it disappeared before I could capture the moment. I'm certain it was brined before grilling and smoking, and plan to try this at home soon. Holy swine, batman, that was good.

If you go to the Fair, you MUST visit the Iowa Pork Producer's tent. They will Hook. You. Up.

I guess this is as close as I got to a picture of the delectable pork chop I had at the fair. Thanks, buddy. Ya done good.

Funny thing, the best corn dog on the planet also disappeared faster than I could capture it in 1's and 0's, so you'll have to trust me concerning it's delectable, fresh, light and savory goodness.

It was hot hot hot there (no surprise in Iowa in the middle of August), but we were delighted to find that the livestock judging arena had air conditioning. Lucky cows!

It was heartening to see that young people are still interested in raising animals and showing them at the fair through their local 4-H or Future Farmers of America groups. These animals were huge and I give the kids great credit for having the courage to work with them. By the end of the judging I feel like I could anticipate which one the judge would find the "most feminine heifer", or the studliest steer. Needless to say he didn't care for ribs showing, or sway backs.

If anyone can figure out who needs to be worried about this sign posted in the livestock arena, please let me know.

While in Iowa my wish to experience a summer thunderstorm came true twice. I have never in my life seen such spectacular cloud formations - aren't they impressive? Fortunately we did not experience the full wrath of these, and only got a little rain and wind. But it was a treat for me, since I don't get to see these in coastal Northern California.

Finally, running with the theme, here's one of my latest Etsy listings, a Sunny Yellow Amulet in lampwork and fine silver. Summery and delicious.

Sunny amulet, in my Etsy shop.

Take it away, Kenny.


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