Found this little mini-mask kicking around the studio the other day… it’s an oldie, probably circa 1997 or ’98. I used to offer these as brooches and pendants. Haven’t made one in forever and a day, and didn’t think I had any left!
I designed this original leather mask in 2013. It’s part of an ongoing series that began in 2001 – each one is unique, but shares similar lines and details. It would seem that the design has recently been copied by another artist, who is marketing it as his own.
Sadly, this stuff happens daily. If it was an isolated incident, I might be more able to let it roll off my back – but it’s not. It’s extremely frustrating, but I try to keep my mouth shut, because everyone tells me to take the high road. To “be better, not bitter” – and honestly, I want that too. Unfortunately, there are so many of these copycats these days that the “high road” is starting to feel like a lonely ledge… and it gets harder and harder to make a living doing what I love (or to love what I do for a living) from that place.
This really hits me where I live, and I don’t know how to put a “positive” or “professional” spin on it. To my fellow aspiring artists, I cannot encourage you enough to be respectful of your peers (and yourself). Be honorable, be original, and don’t steal.
This gallery showcases many (but certainly not all!) of the designs that I’ve done in this series. I hope it offers a sense of the time that spent honing and evolving these signature pieces. Many of these designs were commissioned to incorporate symbols or ideas that were personal and significant to them. Please be honorable, and respect my craftsmanship, my livelihood, and the wonderful people who’ve helped to support that process.
These sold works are archived here to illustrate the progression of my work over time. Those interested in custom work may find this collection especially helpful, as it provides a good sense of my style and abilities. Most of these pieces were unique or one of a kind, but sometimes I’m able to create something similar.
|Nov 6th – iolite and blue titanium quartz earrings|
For the past few days my NaSeBeMo projects have been small, but I’m still feeling pretty good about it. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I do have quite a few custom orders in the queue right now, and those have to take priority. With that being said, the fact that I am getting in any beading time at all is really good. In fact, I’m finding that my desire to bead is motivating me to try and finish up these orders a bit faster so that I can have more time to play with beads!
The 6th was pretty busy, so I just made the mate to an earring, and added some dangles to the hair stick from the other night. On the 7th I gave myself permission to take a night off, since I’d had painful dental work AND the early signs of a migraine — not a fun combo.
|Nov 8th – branch fringe earrings with blue quartz points|
On the 8th, I created these branch fringe earrings with more titanium quartz (yeah, I’m on a little kick here) and on the 9th I started a matching bracelet. I’ll post pictures of that one when I complete it.
Thus far, the majority of my projects have been small ones, but I’m enjoying the process. It’s been quite some time since I made an effort to bead every day, and I’ve really missed it. I’m hoping that these little efforts will grow to be a steady practice again.
|leather leaf earrings 2009|
I’m not doing the “inspiration Wednesday” thing today, cause I’m just not feeling it at the moment*.
Instead, I’d like to reflect on some design progress that a friend recently pointed out. In 2009, I started playing with a new (to me) earring style that makes use of some of my smaller leather scraps. There were several styles of leaves, and of course, lots of feathers — especially raven feathers (if you scroll through this blog, you may notice that I have a thing for corvids ;). These were accented with mixed metal wire, Swarovski crystals, and assorted gem stones. I debated whether or not to add real feathers.
|blue jay earrings 2009|
When I created their facebook photo album, I asked my fans if they were “Good, Bad or Ugly?” — which hints at how unsure I was about the style. They were well received, and I kept playing with the designs. These were somewhat tricky at first because I’d never really done such small leather projects. They’re simple enough to make, but working with leather at this scale was new and challenging for me; in addition, I’ve never been much of a wireworker. There are people who can do amazing things with wire, but I am not one of them. My knowledge and experience with that type of jewelry design is limited to the most basic skills.
|peacock earrings 2011|
I’ve continued to play with this style over time, and I suspect that I’ll continue to do so. They’re admittedly simple designs, but I think the little projects tend to be the ones that build your skills the most (see this earlier post on formative work). There are many artisans who claim that every single piece they make is a one of a kind design. That is admirable — though I always wonder if they are actually selling their work as a substantial portion of their income. As a working artist, it seems like it would be incredibly challenging not to repeat designs, and still create enough to support oneself. But I’m getting off track — my point is that I actually find value in revisiting designs. It helps me to hone my skills and also gives me a yardstick for progress.
|raven earrings 2012|
The current variations are still not exactly what I saw in my mind’s eye when I began making these; I hope there will be more permutations as time goes on. Still, it’s nice to contrast then and now. I often get restless or frustrated because my “creative vision” is usually far ahead of my actual skills. This is probably a good thing in that it keeps me striving — but sometimes it leads to feeling impatient or being hard on myself. When I can stop long enough to notice progress, it motivates me to keep exploring.
* As to the “Inspiration Wednesday” posts, I think they’ll become a bi-weekly thing. It’s a fun theme that challenges me to think about what inspires me, and having a “prompt” does get me to blog more. I love being able to share these things, and to promote other artists and creative spirits — but it’s starting to make me feel pressured and I don’t like that. Every other week seems more balanced and comfortable for me 🙂
|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?
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.
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.
Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of reconnecting with a group of old deadhead friends that I used to be very close to. This community was colorful and eclectic, and I learned so much from them. Being a bunch of hippies they naturally loved beads, so I also learned a lot about beading. In fact, I would say that some of the best beadwork I’ve ever seen came out of the the deadhead parking lot scene.
My fascination with cabochon beading – and also my love for antique microbeads – probably began during my deadhead years. I’d been doing beadwork, and even collecting beads before I got into the Grateful Dead, but those years really fueled my interest. I was exposed to the work of talented bead artists like Nome May, and of course, selling my work was a great way to support my gypsy lifestyle.
A few of my friends still have some of the pieces that I used to sell to fund my travels. I was delighted when they shared pictures of these older pieces with me. This one belongs to my beautiful friend Janna, who grew up to be an inspiring yoga teacher. It was made in 1989, and it features a large chrysacolla cabochon with a small (I think) raw emerald cab below it. The blue-green stones are tourmaline, and the quartz crystal at the bottom used to be a much longer, crossed/double terminated point, but it broke at some point over the last 20 years.
This barrette belongs to another amazing old friend, Hollie Rose – Java Goddess and owner of Klekolo Coffee in Middletown, CT. It was made in 1988, and it features 3 teensy opal cabs and 1 aquamarine cab set with size 18/o vintage micro seed beads. The funny thing is – I remember exactly where I was and who I was with when I made this (In fact, I still have some of the beads from this dye lot!)
Seeing these pictures reminded me of just how long I’ve been creating beadwork. It’s interesting to me that even though I’ve learned many different techniques over the years, I am still drawn to the same types of materials, such as cabochons and vintage beads. This picture shows me doing beadwork when I was about 15. Back then, I might not have guessed that my love for beadwork would last a lifetime, or play such an important role in my life.
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.