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Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine

A pile of leather masks & wings in progress…

School has been taking a lot of my focus and energy of late, so my creative time has been very limited. It’s somewhat uncomfortable, since being creative is really how I process the things that are going on in my life. I tend to think a lot (sometimes to the point of over thinking) so making is a very soothing process for me; my hands get moving and my mind begins to still. It helps me to relax, to sift out my ideas and to find solutions.

Without this outlet, I get a little high strung. That feeling has been hitting critical mass lately, and I’ve been out of sorts. Irritable, restless and generally feeling unproductive and uninspired. I was really starting to get stressed out about this, when I took a second look at my studio.

I began to realize that I haven’t stopped being creative, I just haven’t been able to complete as much with the limited studio time. I’m able to peck away at a variety of projects here and there, I’m just not finishing as many of them. As you can see by the photos here, I have quite a lot of  pieces “in progress” that are piling up. The masks above and the hair toys below represent just a fraction of the projects in my studio right now.

Assorted hair toys awaiting completion

A quick count tells me that my unfinished projects include at least 12 odd masks, 7 pair of wings, 6 or 7 crowns and headdresses, and more hair toys than I can count. That’s not even counting beadwork or leather jewelry (let’s not even go there). It’s typical for me to have several projects going on at once, since I tend to group things in “stages”. For example, I’ll cut out several patterns at once, then shape, then paint, then embellish them in “groups”. Groups of this size are unusual, though. I’m thinking this may be where some of my restlessness and dissatisfaction is coming from.

It’s ironic how often the state of my studio parallels the state of my head and heart 😉 I think that the clutter in my creative space is cluttering up my head! So I’m making a commitment to whittle this pile down by at least half within the next month. It’ll clear up some work space, and hopefully open up room for some fresh attitudes and ideas as well.

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Shifting Focus

Snow Queen headdress – 2012

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that my beads have really been calling to me. I’d love to listen, but I never seem to have the time or resources to really explore this. That’s why I’m stepping back from commissions right now; I really want to clear out some time to follow my muse.

While I do enjoy the type of work that I’ve been doing, it feels like I have fallen into a cycle of creating easier, smaller, “safer” stuff — either because that’s all that I’ve got time for, or because I know that it will sell. That last bit may sound shallow, but let’s get real — I’m blessed to be able to do what I love for a living, but it IS still work. This is how the bills get paid, so I often feel pressured to create the smaller “bread and butter” items that satisfy my creditors, rather than the  time intensive pieces that satisfy my soul.

Amber necklace – 2001

For a frame of reference, the headdress above is probably one of the most elaborate pieces that I’ve completed in the past several months. It’s lovely, and I’m quite proud of it; however, it’s still not a huge time investment compared to my beaded pieces. It probably took twice as much time for me to create the necklace at the left — which is still not that elaborate in the realm of beadwork! In both cases, the significant creation time requires a greater price tag than most of my work. While they’ll certainly sell eventually (in fact, the necklace already has) I typically do not sell pieces like these every day. Thus you can see how I’ve fallen into this cycle of creating more “bread and butter” work, and less of the deeper work that really fuels me creatively.

I’d really like to change that in the year ahead, but I’m not entirely sure how to do that. The cold hard truth is that no matter how loudly my muse calls, my responsibilities remain. So how do I create this shift in focus? Do I take out loans (not really an option), pray for a generous benefactor, or simply take a huge leap of faith?

For several years now, I’ve been sketching very elaborate designs which would incorporate several of the skills that I’ve developed over the last 20 odd years, and also challenge me to develop new ones. While I used to fantasize about having the time to work on these ideas, now I am feeling like I need to. Part of this drive is simply my creative force aching to stretch and grow, and part of it is the need to go deeper and develop greater patience and focus (qualities I am seeing the need for in other areas of my life). I can see and feel this goal very clearly, but I can’t yet see how to actualize it. Any suggestions?

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Taking a break from commissions…

I’ve decided to take a break from custom work. At this point, I’m still undecided as to how long of a break it will be — the only thing that is certain is that I need to do this. Most of last year was spent making what other people wanted me to, and by the end of the year I was having a really hard time keeping up with all the deadlines and expectations. While I’m very grateful (honored, even!) that so many people trust me with their ideas, my muse is really aching to do her own thing for a bit. In addition, I’m back in school this quarter so I won’t have as much time for creative work. As such, what little studio time I do have will be guarded preciously.

This is not a permanent choice — I just need some time to recharge my creative batteries so that I can continue to love what I do for a living. The only exceptions that I will make will be for custom orders that I have already discussed and agreed to accept. If we have already negotiated your piece, I will of course honor that — otherwise, please check back in a few months to commission custom work. In the meantime, please keep an eye on my website and Etsy shop — I’m hopeful that this choice will help my work to grow, and that I’ll have lots of new and exciting designs to show for it! 🙂

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Adventures in Negative Space

Apparently, I’m still on a cuff kick. I’ve made a couple new ones since my last cuff post, and I have more in the works. Not that I’m cranking them out or anything. If you’ve ever done beadwork, you know — it is simply  impossible to “crank out” quality beadwork.

These are a bit simpler than my filigree cuffs. I’ve been using them to explore my aversion to negative space. To be clear, it’s not that I dislike negative space… it’s just that when I get in the beading groove, sometimes it’s hard to stop myself from filling everything up with color and texture.

So I’m consciously trying to leave some open space with these. It amuses me to notice how challenging that can be. It takes conscious effort for me not to bead every square inch of the cuff!

I suppose that I’m improving, though. This brown and green cuff is my second attempt at deliberate open space. The smaller purple & teal cuff below was my first try, and as you can see, the ends are really the only areas that leave any open space.

The one that I’m still working on is primarily open space, with just a beaded focal and edging. I like it, but I’ve got the nagging feeling that it isn’t finished. Once I complete the edging, I’ll post a picture here and on my facebook fan page. It might be interesting to see what kind of response it gets. Maybe that sense that’s it’s incomplete is just a manifestation of my compulsive desire to bead everything? 😉

 

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Evolution…

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I was recently searching through some old files, and I came across this picture (to the left) of one of my imp masks. It may be my original prototype, which I created around 2001.

The reason it caught my attention is that I still

create this style of mask today. The picture at the right shows the current version. I’ve made some minor modifications to the original pattern, such as lengthening the tips and horns, and rounding out the cheek area at the bottom – but for the most part, the pattern is still the same. I think the biggest changes are in the intangible factors, like time and skill.

In the 8 or 9 years that I’ve been making this particular styleof mask, I’ve honed my skills and learned better techniques for shaping and coloring. In addition, I’ve had the benefit of a few mistakes along the way, which have taught me which paints and sealants to use. It may not have felt “beneficial” at the time, but the knowledge has really helped me to improve the quality of my work.

I still have much to learn, and I view my work as a constant process of experimentation and evolution … which includes plenty of mistakes. Still, it’s nice to be able to look back and realize that I’ve made a bit of progress along the way. Here’s hoping that my work will continue to improve and evolve over time.
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Formative work

When I was little, I dreamed of being a professional artist like my father. I had this vision of myself as an artist (ahhtist?) — hair blowing in the wind, heart brimming with inspired, mystical energy that would move me create exclusive masterpieces in my large, brightly lit studio.

While that’s a lovely vision, it really doesn’t jive with my reality as a working artist. Putting food on the table via my craft means working as efficiently as possible. It means being disciplined and working every day (even when I’m not particularly “inspired”). It means balancing creative time with administrative time — and it means doing some degree of production work.

When I started selling my handwork, the mere mention of production work bothered me. I dislike repetition and the idea of assembly line art. “Producing” seemed counter to “creating”.

My dad had a different take. Rather than production work, he viewed it as formative work. He saw value in those little projects, and the way that repetition hones your skills.
As I grow older, I realize how much I agree with him.

Many of my simple designs remain popular — but I still enjoy (and learn from) creating them. Each time I make one, it calls me to focus on shape, color and detail. It challenges me to improve my existing ideas, and to explore new lines that are more graceful or expressive. This study, these skills become the building blocks (and often the inspiration) for my larger/more involved work.

I’d love to tell you that every time I sit down to my workbench, a brand new design masterpiece just leaps off the table — but that’s not how it works. For me, “inspiration” is most often a gradual process that evolves from simple (and consistent) work.

When I was a kid, I imagined that this lifestyle would be far more glamorous than it is. What I could not have imagined, is how much satisfaction I would find in the ‘boring’ parts ;o)


This is a sample of what my worktable looks like right now:

(okay — my worktable isn’t really this tidy, but it *is* piled with masks!).

At any given time, I usually have several masks & crowns in various stages of completion. The ones shown have been sculpted & painted with a base coat; they’re now awaiting finishing details like accent colors, glitter, beadwork & feathers.

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Letting go & enjoying the rain…

I had big plans to catch up on my photography this week, but I guess the universe had plans of its own. On a good day, it can be tricky to for me get decent pics. Natural light seems to work best for shooting my beads & handwork — but my condo sits on a heavily wooded lot. Great for nice cool summers, not so great for sunny photo spots :o/

Unfortunately for me (or at least, for my photos) it’s been rainy and overcast all week. I made valiant attempts to get some pics taken anyway, but it just wasn’t in the cards.
The rain kept dumping, and the phone wouldn’t stop. The cats absconded with my DIY light box , and no matter how hard I cranked the gamma, there was just no hiding the fact that they were lousy shots.

I got intensely cranky before it finally dawned on me that the best thing would be to just let it go. I gave myself permission to stop worrying about all the zillions of beads & cabs I need pictures of. The new masks, crowns, cuffs and hairclips … they’ll keep 😉

Instead, I put finishing touches on the masks I need to send to NOLA — and played with some new designs I’m hoping they’ll like. I worked on my pages for the Bead Journal Project, and doodled & sketched new book/journal ideas which was fun and productive.

My books are rustic looking, which is the polite way of saying that they’re a bit crooked and bent

my 2002 journal ~ buffalo hide w/beaded fabric inset:
my daughter’s beaded/long stitched book

These new sketches are for more polished/precisely crafted books, but they should still retain that … special wobble that says hand crafted.
I’m so glad I started keeping a sketch book again, so that I can hold on to ideas that inspire me. I’m excited to try them out, but summer & early fall should be very busy for me. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to explore them again this winter.