No-Work Weekend Jewelry Making

I'll be making jewelry on the weekends...

...but it won't be for sale.

I can’t believe I just typed that. Being a working artist, everything is always for sale, isn’t it? Well, I learned the hard way that that’s the fastest way to take something that you love and turn it into a j.o.b., which leads to b.o., I mean, burn out.

On top of that, if you’re like me, when you’re not making stuff to sell, you’re always thinking about new ways to sell it.

You may rationalize with yourself and say, “But really, I *do* like doing it all.” And I wouldn’t argue with you. I love being immersed and as passionate just as much as the next guy, and it’s all good…until it isn’t. It creeps up on you and once you get to that point, it’s H-E-double-hockey-sticks getting out of it.

So, this weekend, I proactively said no more. Or in the wise words of Beverly Hills Chihuahua: NO MAS!

I declared a no-work weekend.

I argued with myself over this, and whined a little, “But I looooove making jewelry…I don’t want to stop on the weekends.” So, I came up with a compromise I could live with.

I recently took a class with Cynthia Toops, the master of the polymer clay micromosaic. Y’all know I love me some micromosaics. Did you know I used to do polymer clay? Yep. Back in the day that was my first bead making and selling gig, before I got into glass. I feel like I’ve come full circle.

Anyway…spending time making something that someone else taught me will guarantee that I won’t turn it into a product line. Why? Because that’s just damn tacky. Cynthia is right when she says that the technique isn’t hard, it just takes a lot of time. Just how I like it.

I had this setting laying around from a failed glass stone setting attempt so I used it for my second polymer clay micro mosaic. The one below is the first one I made, in class, with another bezel that had a snafu with the stone I was going to set.

So, Friday came and I thought, I need to get a bezel made for my no-work jewelry making weekend! I’d spent a lot of the week working on designing an upcoming collection and I didn’t have it in me to toil with more. So, if it’s not dots I’m falling back on, it’s eyes, of course.

I liked the setting I’d already worked on so I set out to create one that was similar.

I realized that the method I use for creating the decoration around the edge is also mosaic-like. At this point I’m thinking I can probably relate anything in life to something to do with mosaics. Art mirrors life. Or the other way around?

I like it. I think it’s going to be a good one.

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Sterling Silver Necklace – See How I Make Them

I made a sterling silver necklace just for me. Recently I’ve been feeling the need for some ME time. Normally, when I feel that way my go-to solution is a massage but this week I decided to so something fully indulgent, and decadent. Probably the most indulgent thing an artist can do for themself is to create without the thought in the back of their mind of who will buy it? Will someone buy it? How soon can I sell it?

Handmade Sterling Silver Necklace

Usually, the only time I really wear my jewelry is if there is some flaw and I don’t see it as fit to put out into the world to a paying customer. Everything that is an A grade is usually filed away neatly in my inventory waiting for someone to buy. I decided to change that, maybe for the first time ever in my art career.

I’d previously used these silver bubble-looking links in bracelets, and a pair of earrings at the request of a customer. One of my long time patrons fell in love with the links as much as I have and requested a necklace. Now, they’re pretty time consuming to make but how could I say no? I knew it was going to be awesome, and she deserved it. So, I made it, then had to pry it from my fingers when it was time to deliver.

So, this week I decided that a massage was not going to fill the nurturing hole that I was feeling, and I decided to take a couple days to create one for myself, and I thought I’d give you a little peek at what it takes to make this sterling silver necklace.

Cutting out the Bubbles

The fist step is getting the bubbles made. Shown below is one size out of 3. I started out thinking I needed 18 links. Who needs the gym when you wield a hammer to punch out 180 silver circles?

sterling silver discs

Preparing the Back Plates

Those little dots don’t just float on their own. The needed a base so I measured, cut, and cleaned up little rectangles of silver sheet.

Soldering the Circles

Then I fluxed my silver, placed the dots, and soldered them.

This is where I start to get excited. I hand stamped (more hammering…see my muscles bulging?) tiny little circles on the disks and they start to look like bubbles.

stamping the dots for more depth of design

The next step is sawing away the extra silver around the bubbles with a jeweler’s hand saw. Some think that sawing is tedious, especially for little areas like around the curves of the bubbles but I find it relaxing. After I cut them out I file around the edges to get rid of any sharp edges, and then go over them with a grinding wheel to take off any sharp edges.

precise sawing with a jeweler's saw

I forgot to take images but the next step was making the round rings our of silver wire and hammering them flat. I don’t know why but hammering them flat feels like I’m giving it a nice little touch rather than using just round wire. Of course, it adds more time to the process because you have to solder them shut before you can hammer but oh well. It’s a special piece and it deserves special touches. After they were hammered I soldered them to the backs of the bubbles, making them into links, and ready to attach with more soldered links.

silver links ready to be joined into a necklace

Then, a lot more skipped steps because linking them all together, putting on a black patina, and polishing it through four polishing grits is kind of boring. But, there you have it. I’m wearing it now and I feel so fancy!

finished sterling silver necklace

A Walk Down Silver Memory Lane

I was thinking back about my journey in silversmithing and went looking for photos of early work. I was very surprised that my first silver jewelry piece was thirteen years ago. I thought it had only been about 5 years.

That was one of my Monet beads. At that time I decided that silver wasn’t for me. It didn’t come as easily as the glass did and I didn’t really have time to take on the amount of hours necessary to get up to speed because I had to keep selling beads.

I tried a few more pieces and then hung up my metal tools for a while. Five years later I visited my friend Chris in Wisconsin to help her with a class at the Bead & Button Show. After the show she gave me some pointers and when I got home I picked up the Little Torch again. This time I went a little crazy and tried to set into silver everything I could find in the studio.

I was having a lot of fun but I felt that something was missing. Mainly, it was my skill that was missing but, I kept at it and tried a few more.

Pretty ragged lookin, but that is how you get better.

This was the little area when I played with metal back then:
You really don’t need a big space to get it done, and it suited me just fine. Since that time I’ve upgraded the studio, a lot. As in, we built on another addition, and I got an official jewelry bench. I still use a lot of the same tools with which I started. The original plan for the new studio space was to be for additional torch stations, my jewelry bench, and maybe some woodworking equipment.

Guess where my jewelry bench ultimately ended up?

Right back in my old glass studio. I love how I can rotate my chair to access soldering and polishing equipment however I do feel a little boxed in. I’ve been brainstorming how I can feng shui it but the room dimensions are posing a challenge so I’m trying to get used to it. (you can click on these last two pictures to see a larger view).

I’ve since gotten rid of all of my glass and most of my glass tools and transformed the former torch station into a lapidary lab.

I’ll continue this little walk down silver memory lane in my next post, and show you how my work has gotten to where I am now and a little bit about where I want to go with it.