Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Wibbly wobbly seed beading attempt

I made these earrings following a pattern in (I think it was) Bead and Button. My son had the idea of displaying it hanging from the hole in a CD, which made a nice picture. But I did take another photo to show you the lattice-like back of the earrings, too:
I am not sure what the Bead and Button beaders would have thought about my efforts here - these certainly aren't as neat-looking as the ones in the magazine. In fact, I would say that my attempt is distinctly wibbly wobbly, although luckily you can't tell that so much when looking at them from the front. Also, somehow they did not turn out exactly as I had thought they would: when you actually wear them, they are rather too unsubtle. I think in retrospect maybe a more interesting colour for the crystals would have been better; also, possibly not using sixteen crystals per earring might have helped too!

Trouble is, it always takes me so long to do seed beading that now I want to keep these earrings just to prove that I finished them. So here they are. Wibbly wobbly beading and all.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Spring flowers bracelet

The spring flowers are coming out in force now around our village, with profusions of golden daffodils. I've got a few pieces on the go at the moment; this is the only one I have actually finished so far! I designed this bracelet around a lampworked focal with pale pink and blue "flowers" beneath the surface against a dark blue background. You can kind of see it in this picture here, but in real life it has a lot more depth to it. I am ashamed to say I can't remember where I bought this bead; I think it was from someone at the Bead Fair. Now that I'm blogging, I'm going to try and keep better notes of who I buy my beads from!

I used a dark-pink glass pearl and a bright blue bead to match the colours in the focal bead. Previous bracelets that I had made from beads of this size had suffered somewhat from lack of flexibility - in retrospect, they might have been better strung on elastic rather than beading wire. So this time I decided to use a mixture of different small "spacer" beads between each of the larger beads: tiny glass pearls, gold-coloured spacers and glass beads with a peach-coloured core (from Viking Loom again, did I mention this is one of my favourite shops in the world?). So of course I had to use my last gold-plated clasp to complement the gold spacers. The warmth of the gold also goes very nicely with these shades of pink.
I found two pink lampworked beads; their weight balances out the lampworked focal so that the bracelet hangs evenly. I added in a couple of very pale pink glass beads, and two trios of iridescent leaf-shaped beads (which are a similar dark-blue shade to the dark blue background in the focal).

With the small spacers in the design, the bracelet is quite drapey and feels nice to wear; I was careful not to put too much tension on the beading wire this time. The colours also work well; the bright blue really "pops" out amongst the pinks and golds. It is quite good for a bracelet to have the different shapes and textures of the beads: you can fiddle with them during boring moments!

Friday, 16 March 2012

Doesn't this make you want to make polymer clay beads?

Rebekah at Tree Wings Studio is doing a giveaway of some of her polymer clay beads. They are so gorgeous! My favourite is her "sleepy woodland creatures" set. Don't they make you want to make polymer clay beads yourself? But you know, I remember trying to make beads out of Fimo when I was a kid, and they never came out anything near satisfactory.

From Rebekah's giveaway at Tree Wings Studio
But! That was in the days before the internet! A quick googlesearch (and I'm posting the links here for my own reference) reveals several websites with tutorials and instructions for making polymer clay stuff, from a basic intro to polymer clay, a description of basic bead-making, a blog with lots of clear tutorials, and even a polymer clay "encyclopedia". Gosh there is a lot of information out there... but look! there's even a guild of British polymer clay artists!

Well, this is all very exciting, and I might get into polymer clay one day, but I'm getting waaaaaay ahead of myself as I also love glass beads and the way they both transmit and reflect light. Back to the beading table...

Ice-cream necklace inspired by Ruth

So: my friend Ruth loves green and pink, as well as clothes and fashion generally, and she was complaining to me that there aren't many necklaces around in that colour combination. I met up with her recently (it was so lovely to have a good old chat while our children ran around together!) and this inspired me all over again.

Starting with the idea of pink, I chose two beautiful lentil-shaped glass beads I'd bought at the Bead Show ages ago, and also picked out a large pear-shaped pink-purple Czech crystal. These colours and shapes made me think of ice-cream, so mint green was the obvious green to add in.
Pinks and greens
Then I started to get inspired and began to take apart items of jewellery I didn't wear anymore - in the picture above, you can see the corner of a large foiled green glass disc-shaped bead and a tiny silver rose - each from a different necklace. Those two necklaces were both bought at a craft fair some years ago from a local jewellery artist, but I don't really wear them so much now because the pieces don't quite fit my style anymore (I'm actually not sure whether I have become more boring-and-staid, or less so; I think it's just that since I started making my own jewellery, my jewellery tastes have changed a bit).
Some more pink and green hues - all  jumbled together
Then I linked them all up with chain. I used a sterling chain as an extender, but for the main necklace I made my own chain out of single wire-wrapped loops and solid oval "quick links". I cannot tell you how many times I forgot to actually link the wrapped loops with those oval links. I think I am a bit sleep-deprived with the combination of holiday jet-lag (yes, I'm back home now, and really missing my sisters) and my new resolution to get up at the same time each morning to avoid confusing my body clock further.
The finished article - an opera length necklace
And this is the final creation! It is opera length, too - I'm challenging myself to make long necklaces at the moment - but it's very strong because of all those wrapped loops (no jump rings at all).

Monday, 12 March 2012

Never work with Ladies in Hats. You have been warned.

We have got a new camera! Woo! It has a zoomy lens and a screen with icons and everything.

However. Its inaugural run was not an unqualified success.

I'd made this really pretty pair of earrings for my sister based around two purple Czech glass hearts she'd picked out when we visited the Bead Shop on my recent visit. I had designed them really carefully, adding in crystals and a contrasting colour to bring out the purple. I also used my new sterling silver earwires, with special anti-falling-out-of-ears feature. All was set for a really nice photo.

So this is what happened next. First of all, I couldn't figure out how to get macro! Arrggh! No matter how often I pressed the "flower" button on the back of the camera, the screen kept showing me a little icon of a Lady in a Hat. I kept trying, but that Lady in a Hat just refused to budge from the screen. Then when I pressed more and more buttons, just for variety, other icons appeared. They seemed to be of the "look, you are not doing this properly, you really need to read the manual, idiot" variety, rather than anything  useful. It was when all the icons started to flash at me, in a telling-off sort of way, that I got really cross. Why was macro not in the quick start guide? Everyone knows that macro is the thing you really want to play with when trying out your new camera - don't they? Aarrrgh!
These are the colours under natural daylight

Some hours later, I climbed up and got the CD-ROM manual from the very top of the wardrobe. This was, I felt, a rather drastic step. But it did actually have a whole page on macro, so it was worth it. Hurrah! ... But by this time, it was evening, and we were now under artificial light. Nasty sharp shadows! Aarrgh! I eventually solved this one, sort of, by putting a sheet of white paper in front of the table-lamp.

But now I also had to sort out White Balance - aarggh again! It turns out that White Balance is pretty tricky to get right, if you aren't under natural daylight and don't have special picture editing software installed on your computer. First, I tried the camera's auto white balance setting, which the manual assured me "performs best under most conditions". Clearly, "most conditions" did not apply to my living-room after 7pm: auto white balance produced a very pink image. I'm not even going to show you that image. Suffice to say: it was very, very PINK.

Then I tried the "incandescent light" white balance setting. This was slightly better - a bit yellowish, but a definite improvement on the pink. Now I need a daylight bulb, or better: actual daylight.
Evening lighting conditions; macro now working
On the plus side, however, when I was rooting around in the top of the wardrobe to find that CD-ROM manual, I did find a long-forgotten chocolate stash. Which is now considerably reduced in size. It was that Lady in a Hat, I tell you. She drove me to it.

Friday, 9 March 2012

A necklace in two parts

I am feeling pleased with myself about how this one turned out.

For this necklace I started off by dividing it into sections. Between each section I put more or less the same beads (the middle two sections got some extra silver beads to draw the eye down to the bottom of the necklace). Within each section the beads were arranged in a semi random order. I wanted to finish with a clasp so that it would be easy to tell which part of the necklace was the middle bit that should hang at the bottom of the necklace.

Part the First: necklace
But then - I tried the necklace on again, and thought "wouldn't it be cool if it were a bit longer?" But I didn't have enough of the other sorts of beads to add more of the same sections. So instead, I used the same type of clasp to make a bracelet with some of the same beads, but this time with stricter rotational symmetry:

Part the Second: bracelet
So the necklace and bracelet are different designs, but because they have some of the same beads they go together quite nicely -

The two parts compared
So then what you can do is link the necklace and bracelet together to make a super-long necklace, with the bracelet part going round the back of your neck. I've laid out out here to show how the join goes, but when it's being worn it straightens out into one long swingy necklace. Hurrah!

Two parts linked together!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Flow and creativity

Kelli over at Love My Art Jewellery posted her thoughts about how she "gets lost" while creating: she talks about "a magical place where time and responsibility do not exist". I think I have experienced something like this.

I've heard this type of experience referred to as a "flow state". Wikipedia lists some typical characteristics of flow:
  • High challenge, high skill level
  • Concentration and focus
  • Loss of self-awareness 
  • Time becomes irrelevant
  • You are in control
  • Intrinsically rewarding activity (and so can be perceived as "addictive")
  • You forget to eat and sleep
The person who first tried to explain flow to me started by asking if I played sport or music. He went on to explain that people who play sport or music tend to experience flow states while doing this (although I think that the range of activities that induce a flow state is much wider than this; one of my motor-cycling friends describes something very similar, for example). This interests me because I've observed that high performance in sport, music or similar "extra-curricular" activities tends to be a predictor of success in other sorts of challenging environments, like study and work.

Playing is an interesting word to be used for both music and sport, isn't it, because small children when engaged in play can appear to be in a very similar sort of state to what we call a flow state. Playing is the major way that kids learn new skills, and it seems to be also that the play they are drawn to reflects whatever skill they need to work on at the time.

I think that the ability to enter the flow state, whichever activity we choose as a way in, is necessary for us all. It quietens the endless low-level chatter of the conscious mind. All very well, but why might this predict success in other areas of life? Perhaps because the sort of person who achieves a flow state has the sort of personality to stick at something, practising over and over until they achieve a high skill level. Or perhaps it's also that the flow state itself brings direct benefits, similar to those brought about by meditation, such as reduction in anxiety and stress, as well as a reduction in blood pressure and improvement in vascular health. Or perhaps the suppression of the chatter actually helps important ideas "rise out" of the subconscious and stimulates creative problem-solving and lateral thinking.

So there you are. Playing - whether creative pursuits, sport or music - could be good for your mental and physical health and maybe even help you achieve in other areas of your life too. Especially if you practice, get really good at it, and keep challenging yourself.

Friday, 2 March 2012

A garden running riot

This is a bracelet I made for my youngest sister. She is a real nature-lover and cares passionately about conservation and sustainability.

In her bracelet I attempted to reflect this, using warm pinks set against a background of different shades of greens with occasional splashes of red - like the bead at the bottom of the dangle, which is a red Czech glass heart bead. Frustratingly, the copper wire I originally chose to make this bracelet turned out to be too thick for some of the beads, so I used beading wire for stringing the beads and antiqued copper for the charm and clasp.

I was thinking about the richness of nature when I made this - but did I over-egg the pudding? Should I have restricted myself to just one shade of green or just one shade of pink? I hope that the wild profusion of colour is balanced out by the overall symmetry of the design: I was originally aiming for a beautiful garden more than for an unkempt wilderness, but I'm not sure whether this was entirely successful.

I guess the trick is to work with nature rather than attempt to suppress it.

On the plane trip over here, in an attempt to come to grips with the current political Zeitgeist, I read a book which Wikipedia tells me was "recommended" by David Cameron as essential reading for the entire Cabinet. The author, David Brooks, is a columnist and political commentator by trade, and clearly has his own angle on the world (much of which I don't necessarily agree with). He does however have a punchy, clear style of writing and alludes to peer-reviewed literature to support his arguments. I use the word "alludes" because he doesn't critically appraise this literature, but he does at least provide full references.

I discovered when I was starting out in watercolour painting that the main danger is in over-working a picture, and that the most important skill (once you've mastered the basic techniques) is knowing when to stop. In jewellery-making, similarly, it seems to me that it is important to guard against over-thinking and over-elaborating. According to David Brooks, the unconscious part of our minds, the part we have inherited from billennia of evolution, provides the essential contextual information which the conscious part of the mind relies upon to make its decisions. Which would explain why I feel that these things I make somehow say something about me and my life, and that each carries a message that can't be expressed in words.