Friday, October 3, 2014

To the Moon and Back - Photo Tutorial

I've always admired artists and craftspeople who share their techniques and secrets. I've spent many nights surfing the interwebs for tips and tricks that help me to be a better artist, and I am at times overwhelmed by people's generosity with their time and talents. Hence, my homage to all of the craftspeople out there in the world who share what they know. 

Here's a brief photo tutorial of one of my favorite necklaces: To the Moon and Back. I'll quickly go through the steps so you get an idea of what's involved in a piece like this. Not a lot of details, so feel free to message me if you are wondering about something. This is mostly a hand-cut piece, so I start with a pattern and trace it onto 24 gauge sterling silver sheet with a fine-tipped sharpie.

Next, I cut it out with a jeweler's saw.  I LOVE beeswax and first started using it with some of my lampworking presses. I use it to lube my saw blade, making cutting out the silver much easier. I break far less saw blades when my blade is lubed. You can use other products to do this, but the beeswax is always so handy on my work bench and I love the smell of it.

Here's a shot of me using my saw to cut out the shapes.  I don't use a typical metalsmith's workbench, I just couldn't stomach the expense.  I use a nice oak-topped table from Ikea and it gives me a great solid work surface with plenty of storage.  Unfortunately, that means that I have to saw over the garbage can because I don't have a catch tray for my silver bits.  It also means that I often have to dig through the garbage to find pieces that I accidentally drop, but, it keeps my carpet free of metal shavings.

When I'm cutting out the middle of a shape, I pierce it with my flex-shaft. A flex-shaft is like a fancy drill/polisher with a foot pedal (like a sewing machine) and I love it.  Once I drill the hole I can fit my blade through it and saw out the inside of the piece.

Here are the custom pieces all cut out . . . now it's time to file them down.  I start with larger files to get rid of the bulk and then use smaller files to smooth and refine the shape of each piece.

Next comes the sanding.  There are lots of ways to sand silver.  I love these sanding pads from Hobby Lobby.  I can find them in the wood crafts aisle and they are small enough to fit in my hand, yet firm enough to work around my pieces, yet they bend so I can get the curves just so.  I usually use 2 different grits, one that's rough and one that's really fine to smooth out all of the edges and surfaces.  Below is a photo of the pieces all cut, filed, sanded, and ready for the next step.

These pieces are going to have an over-all hammered texture along with stamped lettering. I prefer to heat the pieces - a process called annealing - to soften them and make them easier to work with.  I don't always do this, usually only if the piece requires a lot of hammering. This process oxidizes the silver and it turns a dark color. Don't worry, we'll take care of that with a pickle solution later.

Next comes the stamping.  I use scotch tape to anchor my piece to my steel block, and a sharpie to mark out where the lettering goes. I use the big hammer when stamping, and the smaller hammer to give the piece a hammered texture.

Here's a look at a few of my favorite stamping letters. Stamping is a whole other topic.  I've been stamping for about 10 years and like everything else, I've come up with my own system that works for me. If you're interested in learning how to stamp, I recommend watching some free tutorials on a site like Beaducation, or youtube.

Next, I gently hammer all of the edges and then work my way around the whole piece with the rounded end of the ball peen hammer. This can sometimes put an unwanted curve in the piece, so I will often hammer it flat or hammer it gently from the back side to give it a better dimension.  The photo below shows a piece where the left side has been hammered from the reverse to give it a gentle curve.

You can see the curve better in this photo, where the entire piece has been hammered from both sides. You'll notice that I've punched a hole for the attachment.

More stamping of the other pieces. You can see my markings for the lettering:

Next, I solder the pieces onto the chain. This step isn't necessary and a lot of people don't do this. I just hate to have loose ends or pieces that can potentially catch on a sweater and open the jump ring making it easier for the piece to fall off, so I solder as many jump rings as I can. It is sometimes impossible depending on the style of charm or chain, and honestly, my torch is not very delicate (I use a plumber's torch or a creme brule torch) so I can run the risk of melting delicate chain. This one is substantial enough that I feel it's necessary, even though it's an extra step.

Into the pickle pot the whole thing goes.

When it comes out of the pickle pot everything looks sort of white. I use a brass bristle brush and a piece of 3M kitchen scrub pad to shine it up. Water helps the process, so I usually do it in the bathroom sink.

Here's the piece all shined up and waiting for patina.

I coat the fronts of each charm with a silver black solution or liver of sulpher, and let it air dry.

Next, I polish with size 0000 steel wool.  I do this down inside a deep cardboard box to minimize metal shavings getting everywhere. It's possible that I've used the same cardboard box for about 10 years. It's a perfect box, so why change?

Next, the whole necklace goes into my Lortone tumbler with a little "shine bright" and stainless steel shot.

I like to let it tumble for a few hours. This hardens and polishes the silver. This is a step that I can skip, depending on the desired look of the piece.  The chain got hot while I was soldering the rings and it oxidized, which gave it a dull look.  Tumbling it is the easiest way to restore the shine. But, sometimes I want the piece to have a more organic look and not be so shiny, so I will polish it by hand.

We are almost done! When I took the necklace out of the tumbler it was a giant tangled knot! I knew that would happen because the chain was so long, but it was worth it to have the shine. After untangling the chain, I attached the clasp and wired together a freshwater pearl and some Swarovski crystals to give it a little sparkle and bling. I use head pins and silver daisy spacers.

Next, comes the photography. This is always a challenge and I've tried lots of different methods. Here's what I've used the longest: an ice cream bucket and clamp lights.  The ice cream bucket diffuses the light and gives everything a soft glow instead of a bright reflection. I lay out my piece on a square of travertine and put the bucket over the top. (I keep the whole photography set-up in a plastic storage bin that I tuck under a table when not in use.) There is a hole in the top of the bucket for my camera and because of the reflective nature of the silver, I often get a black dot reflected back in the photo. This time, I used my phone to take all of the photos (hubby has commandeered the nice camera again), and since the back of my phone is white . . . no black dot. That black dot has plagued me for years! I might have just fixed that pesky problem.

Voila! The final product:

Friday, January 31, 2014

Generations Necklace

Amy is one of my best friends in the whole world.  We were thrown together in college, by chance, sharing our freshman dorm apartment.  We have followed each other going on 24 years!  For most of that time, we have lived across the country from each other.  But we still manage to stay in touch and can even get together every few years or so.  Amy is one of those wonderful and rare friends that "gets me."  You know what I mean?  This necklace is for her mom.  Amy and her dad sent me a simple sketch of what her mom wanted . . .  a stamped necklace with three charms: one for her children and spouses, one for her grandchildren, and one with her favorite scripture found in Doctrine & Covenants 84:88.  I stacked the charms together so that they would lay nicely.  The grandchildren are stamped onto the top piece, the heart outline.

 Next, comes the scripture.  This is the Jesus the Christ speaking:

"I will be on your right hand and on your left,
and my Sprit shall be in your hearts,
and mine angels round about you, to bear you up."

And the third layer is her 5 children and their spouses.  An appropriate gift from her husband for her to wear as they approach a new chapter in their lives: serving a church Mission in Australia!

Angel's Wing Necklace

This is one of my favorite necklaces to make.  There are variations, for sure.  It includes a circle LOVE pendant and freshwater pearl, and usually the names of children or a spouse and wedding or birth date.  It's a great "family necklace."  This one was ordered by my lovely friend, Dianna, who is a strong and beautiful, faith-filled grandmother.  It is extra special because it is for a young mom who recently had to say goodbye to her 7 week-old baby girl.  Brilee's parents knew there were complications during the pregnancy and were told that their little angel was not likely to survive birth.  If she was born alive, they only expected to have a couple of hours with her.  Through lots of faith, prayer, and miracles . . . Brilee lived for 7 weeks!  This necklace is kinetic as the charms mix around with movement and gravity.  Sometimes you can see Brilee's name, and sometimes it is covered up by the wing.  To me, it says she is always with us even though we can't see her.

Custom Silver Charm

Danell ordered this beautiful "Grandmother Bracelet" as a Christmas gift for her mom.  There are 17 grandchildren represented here!  The boy initials are in a block type, and the girls are a little curly.  We interspersed it with crystals and pearls to represent her 7 children.  The size of the charms makes this a lovely light-weight, and comfortable keepsake to enjoy for years.

Tracey has been a sweet friend and client for years.  We lived just a block away from each other in Utah, and she has also moved to Southern California.  We got together for lunch a little while back and she ordered a few pieces.  The "loved" charm bracelet is for her daughter, Caitlin.  With a doubled link-style chain, she can gather all kinds of special charms.

Below is a silver stick style necklace for Tracey.  This includes her wedding date, her three daughters, their wedding dates, and three grandchildren.  This is a necklace that will grow as her family grows.

Soft Leather ID Bracelets

It's no secret that my favorite jewelry clients are a group of 3rd grade teachers in Temecula.  Sandy, Michele, and Karen are some of the loveliest people I know.  I kind of wish I was one of the teachers on their team (or a kid in their class) because they are so full of love and warmth.  The highlight of my week is stopping by on their lunch hour to deliver jewelry.  I always come away feeling a little bit taller and like I can conquer whatever curve ball is coming my way next.  These bracelets started out with the one above, a gift that Sandy ordered for Dana, at Christmastime.  Well, guess what . . . they all needed to have one.  I put them together and then met up at lunch to measure their wrists and finish off the clasp.

This is a hand-cut sterling silver oval, gently hammered on the edges and stamped with their name.  It is strung on the softest deer skin leather cord.  The ends are wire-wrapped and finished with a sterling silver clasp and sweet little freshwater pearl.

The bracelet wraps around the wrist 3 - 4 times. (Michele added the words "accept" "faith" and "peace" to hers).  They make everyday lovely.


This sweet peek-a-boo heart pendant is for a friend of mine who was just diagnosed with breast cancer.  In a matter of moments, it seems, she is having to make some really tough decisions.  With major surgery and chemotherapy on the horizon, I just wanted to do something to help her feel special and give her a little boost of love.  I know I can't really do anything to lighten her load or change her circumstances, but making jewelry is one of my special ways of turning anxious energy into something beautiful and positive.

I set out searching the inter webs for an idea to spark my imagination . . . and came across a sweet little heart pendant made by an artist in Slovakia.  This is my version.  It's a pierced copper heart square soldered to a hand-cut sterling silver disc, ever-so-gently-hammered, and layered on top of a larger hand-cut sterling disc that is stamped with a secret message.

I am truly blessed to know my brave friend.  She is such an example of strength and faith to me!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

"To the Moon and Back" Necklace

My friend, Jana, wanted me to make her a special necklace to remind her of her grandchildren.  We got together and collaborated and here's what we got . . . quite possibly the cutest necklace I've ever made!  This is a giant (2" x 2") hammered sterling silver heart with her grandchildren's names stamped around the edges.  Their birthstone crystals dangle from the middle.  The sweet moon says "I love you to the moon and back," and the circle charm says "NONNIE."

Custom Jewelry for Christmas!

Here's a look at some of the jewelry I completed this week as part of the show at the school.  First is a necklace for a new dad.  The chain is heavily oxidized and the edges of the name stick are hammered.


Next, a hammered brass heart with "my love" stamped in French.  This heart has a riveted bail and a soft leather cord hand-wrapped in silver wire.  I've used a precious faceted natural ruby and a beautiful pearl to symbolize love and purity.

A hammered circle pendant with a coin pearl.

A mother's necklace accented with a pearl.

"Strength" and "shine" necklaces with copper.

A hammered mother's necklace with a coin pearl.  
These are so fun to make, I love it every time.

Here is another one:

A "shine" pendant with a brass star.  
The leather cord is finished with silver accents.

Another circle pendant, this time for a grandmother.

Here's a bracelet for Kelly.  I made one for her mom a while back.  This shows the names of her kids on the circles, and her husband's and her initials on the square.

On the back are their birth dates and wedding date.

An initial necklace with a pearl.

This is a "family" necklace for Jessica.  It includes her three children and their birth dates, a stick representing her marriage, and a precious pearl.

I love this "shine" pendant and had to snap a photo of all three metals together: copper, silver, and brass.  Each star is hand cut and seems to have it's own personality and movement.  In my mind, the stars are jumping with great enthusiasm!

Here's a great necklace for Susie.  It has the initials of her children and their birth dates wrapped around the edges.  SO cute!

A lovely gift for Tim's wife.  
This is a bracelet with their three kids' names.

Birth dates on back:

And a fun necklace that includes their wedding date.