Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Top Five

Everyone has favorite tools and materials, but sometimes we take them for granted.  Since we use them every day, we don't actually notice them specifically, and we certainly don't give them the credit they deserve.  Here is my attempt to remedy that oversight.  These are my five favorite tools and materials, as of today, in no particular order of importance:

1.  Mod Podge.  Despite its unfortunate, cutsey name, this stuff is amazing.  It is a glue and a sealant.
It's water-based, and it's also nontoxic.  The matte MP, which is what I use 99% of the time, has no appreciable odor at all.  It goes on white, dries clear.  It adheres over almost any surface material, and all the other materials I use adhere to it.  MP is very useful in collage.  A layer of it over an image just adhered (with MP, of course), when dry, seals and protects the image from being ruined by any succeeding layers of stain or sealant.  MP is not water-resistant, but the things I make shouldn't get wet.

MP comes in different varieties.  Many people say they prefer the gloss MP, claiming it is clearer when dry than the matte.  I've never found this to be the case, and the gloss stinks to high heaven.  It is a heavy, plastic yeasty smell, and is just as objectionable as it sounds.  There is a satin MP which can sometimes be found, and I prefer it when I need just a bit of shine - but it has the same rank odor as the gloss.  I don't do a lot of gloss work, anyway.

I use so much MP that I pour it off into a container with a flip top.  That way, if I somehow dip a dirty brush into it, the entire bottle isn't ruined.

2.  Annealed steel wire.  When I started making jewelry, I went to the craft store and got some pretty wire on small spools.  It turned out to be aluminum, sometimes coated with a painted finish that
flaked off.  It was horribly soft and good for almost nothing.  I still am not sure why it's sold, because I can't think of any use it could be put to.  I still have it in a drawer somewhere, in case I find a use for it.  I then switched to copper, and while I liked it for the ease of working it, I did not like the color of it one little bit.  I mean, orange?  I was able to dull it down a little bit with sanding and judicious use of purchased tarnishers, but I was always going to be fighting the orange.

(The standard oxidizer for copper is liver of sulfur.  But  stinks to high heaven, and it is toxic.)

I was introduced to steel wire by a book I found which touted its use.  The book said I could find it in any hardware store, so off I went.  At first I bought small packages, reminiscent of the packaging at the craft store.  After using it a few times, I splurged and bought a huge spool.  I believe it cost less than $15.  I've been using it for over a year, and I'm just now thinking of buying another spool.

I've settled on 18 gauge wire.  This is about the thickest wire I can work with and not break my wrists.  It's small enough to go through a lot of bead holes, and yet strong enough (when work-hardened) to hold as an eye pin without being wrapped.  I make all my chain and jump rings from this wire.

The thing about steel wire is that it's filthy.  It comes that way.  It's black and gritty and greasy, and you have to run each piece you cut from the spool through sand paper several times to get the black stuff off.  At the end of each session my fingers look like I've been playing with dirty metal.  Forget the fingernails.  (If you want your fingernails to be clean, wash your hair.)  But under that black gunk is the lovely, dull silver of steel.  It doesn't need to be oxidized, because it's just the right color.  It somehow feels warm to me, and it loves to be worked.  Note the beaded chain and the hook and eye on "Steamship Brand" at right.

3.  Bamboo skewers.  These are a true workhorse in the studio.  When I saw my first package at a
thrift store for 50 cents, I thought "why not?" They looked useful.  I had no idea.  These guys are very strong, as bamboo is by nature.  They have a pointy end and blunt end, which are useful for poking and pushing, respectively.  I usually have something drying or curing, and that thing cannot lie down.  It has to hang, and it hangs suspended from a bamboo skewer over a deep vase or other contraption.  I use these over and over, and most of the skewers currently in the skewer container are stained and gnarled.  But they still work.  And one day I'll probably notice that some of them are so gunked up that they're gorgeous, and use them in a piece of jewelry or assemblage.

4.  Walnut ink crystals.  I bought my first jar of these from Sara at Manto Fev.  (She doesn't have
any more at the present time.)  I wasn't sure what they were or what I was going to do with them, and they sat on the shelf for a while.  Then one day I decided to play with them.  They are magic.

Walnut ink crystals are exactly what they sound like.  The ink is made from walnut shells, and if I had a walnut forest I could probably make a cup or two of ink from it and maybe a tablespoon of crystals.  So why not let other people do it for me?  The crystals are soluble in water and - here's the kicker - just about any other liquid!  So far I've used them straight from the jar in ModPodge, Diamond Glaze, and with Ice Resin.  They are very concentrated and produce spectacular results.  I've made up a little spray bottle of walnut ink solution that I keep at my workstation.  One time, when I was playing around, I found that if I painted a heavy glaze of walnut ink onto strong watercolor paper and then spritzed alcohol onto it, a fascinating marbling effect happened right before my eyes.

Walnut ink is a major ingredient in my proprietary glazes.  I love its warm, brown color, and the fact that it is totally and completely natural.

These crystals go a long way.  If you use them, add them very gradually to liquid.  They are strong.  They are powerful.  And they are available on Amazon, last I checked.

5.  Inktense pencils.  You've tried the other coloring pencils.  They are all fun.  Now try Intense, and that's all you'll use.  These are wonderful.  Are they paint?  Are they ink?  Who knows.  Who cares.
Inktense pencils are soluble in water when wet, but they dry to a rock hard but soft-looking impermeable finish.  They have the best properties of acrylic and watercolors combined, in that they can be diluted to a vague wash, but they also provide the most intense translucent color with a heavy application.  I often paint with them, which is to say I load up a damp brush right from the pencil.  That gives me a lot of control and I can choose the brush size.  Then, if I need a bolder color application, I draw on my project with the Inktense pencil and immediately wash it down with the brush.  Fun with both hands at once!

I noodled along with a basic set of Inktense for over two years, but I recently sprung for a 24-pencil set when there was a sale at the art store. These are not cheap, but they last forever and they are worth every penny.  They are also available singly - at least at my local store - so you could dip your feet in the Inktense puddle gradually if you wanted.

So, for today, those are my five favorite things.  I use each of these in every project.  I wouldn't want to be without them.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Tubes

Let us suppose that, in the not so recent past, a defunct control center was found on a dead planet. Floor after floor of levers, wires, dials, sprockets, tubes.  The original inhabitants left no written evidence to provide clues about the center's function.  Scientists spent years studying the various machines, but without any understanding of their purpose or power source, they were left with more questions than answers.  The site was officially sealed, with only one lone scientific team left to ponder the mysteries. The public forgot the discovery.  

A few of the smaller tubes eventually showed up in the hands of questionable vendors in small, dark shops on certain grubby streets.  A call was made.  I was shown the tubes on the condition that I would conceal their location.  

Years later, I have recreated the tubes from memory.  I have named them according to the powers and purposes I suppose they might have originally had.


I will reveal some, but not all, of the ingredients that go into many of the tubes.  

1.  Vacuum tubes.  These are not especially fragile objects.  Vacuum tubes usually failed in use due to overheating, and even then they didn't break.  In constructing the tubes, I seal them with at least one coat of epoxy resin, which makes them even stronger.  The glass nubbin at the bottom is always covered with a protective nut or other device.  

2.  Embellishments.  The sky is the limit.  Examine individual tubes.

3.  Coatings, stains, resins.  Most of these are proprietary, which means I could reveal the ingredients, but then you'd have to disappear on a deep space run to Rigel Prime.  No one wants that.

The process of creating each tube takes several hours, not including drying times of various coatings.  Every tube is unique, but they are all embellished with wraps, glazes, washes, collaging, jewels, antique and vintage beads, vintage wires and strings, and any other item which needs to be added for them to be complete, in order to fulfill their nature and function.


Before listing, each tube is attached to a custom hand-created cord which complements the tube and augments its abilities.  The end product is an eminently wearable complex encrustation of fiber, metal, paper, jewels and words -- a fascinating baroque jewel. 

I offer these tubes in my Etsy shop.  See the "Tubes" category to find all of them at once.  New tubes will be uploaded frequently.  Here are a few of them.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

February 17, 2015

On February 21, 1924, Vera Crichton was arrested with another woman by the New South Wales police and charged with "conspiring together to procure a miscarriage" for a third woman.   She was released on bond, with orders to appear if needed in court in the next two years.  

That, along with what is probably her mugshot at right, are all we know about Vera Crichton.  

What we don't know about Vera Crichton is everything else.  Where was she from?  Did she have a lovely singing voice?  Were her hands huge and red from doing manual labor?  Did she smell like violets?  We can't know.  

What does "conspiring to procure a miscarriage" mean? Anything, really.  It could mean talking about the possibility of obtaining an abortion, or obtaining information about an abortionist, or walking a friend to the abortionist's office. Then, as today, "conspiracy" means whatever the authorities decide it means in the moment.  Whatever Vera and her friend did, they were unlucky enough to be caught.  

Vera's overwhelming allure rests on the beauty of this photo.  She looks directly into the camera, without guile or reserve.  Her oval, symmetrical face is entirely without emotion.  She is beautiful.  She has amazing wild hair, which appears to be either brown or red.  Her eyes are pale.  She wears a lovely crocheted top.  She has the certainty of youth.  

"Free Vera" by Lizbeth Turner
Many people have been inspired by the stark simplicity of this photo.  Several years ago I created a piece I called "Free Vera."  Vera does seem to be free, even though she was in jail at the time the photo was taken.  She is clear, determined, full of a quiet energy - all qualities I admire greatly.  I created this monotone assemblage on a 12 x 12 inch reversed cradled board.  Vera looks out from beneath a frame of wire mesh.  The number on the antique envelope scrap symbolizes the dehumanization of the criminal system.  I used antique papers in collage, along with molding paste for relief.   With all of this going on, Vera's face is still the focal point.  She commands attention.

"Free Vera" closeup

When I was choosing a thumbnail photo to represent me in my Etsy shop, I immediately thought of Vera.  My choice had nothing to do with the reason she was arrested, or with the time or place in which she lived. 

Everything I perceive about Vera rests entirely on this one visual image of her, captured in that small moment of her life.  What I feel about her comes from within me.  I recognize myself in her.  

She is resolute, offbeat, and entirely focused in the moment.  In my better moments, I am like that.  

Vera represents the part of me I value the most.  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

February 10, 2015

I will never have the perfect studio.  There will never be enough storage of the right kind, enough light, enough supplies.  The tool I want will always be over there, and not right here.  My chair will squeak.

I would say I know exactly where 98% of my supplies are at any given moment, but I admit I wish I could find that thing I keep thinking about that I want to use right now.  I tend to do the zen thing in regard to objects that disappear:  I wait until they re-emerge.  There are several elements that keep popping up ("There it is. I'll remember where that is now") and disappearing repeatedly.  I tell myself they are needed more in another dimension, and when the time is right they will return to me.  Sometimes that works.  Usually I move on to one of the other ten projects I'm working on at any given time.  This is one of those lessons in acceptance that I hate so much.

As empty as his wallet.
The lovely people who make specialized studio furniture want us to know that the only reason everything is not absolutely right in our studios is we don't have their $2000 storage units.  Apparently at least a few people are taken in by their ads, because they're still in business.  All those tiny drawers, those little doors to put things behind.  This is intriguing furniture, like a finely crafted Japanese puzzle box.  But how would I feel if, after purchasing a whole row of these in a fit of insanity (did I swallow some Titanium White?) one of the solid maple doors got dinged, or I splashed some paint on a brass hinge?  And does this furniture actually hold supplies better than a plastic drawer unit from Target?  In short, is it worthy of my admiration, of my desire?

All tidy and well-labeled.
No.  The purpose of my work is to create, and I can do that even if all of my supplies are in one pile on the floor.  It's a step up to put them in cardboard boxes.  And having them in plastic drawer units, old desk drawers and metal filing cabinets, as I do, is working well for me.  At the right you see one of two walls of varied storage.  I found the green unit, which holds my beads, charms, sprockets and embellishments, at a local antique store for $80.  It was that inexpensive because the store sells antiques and didn't know how to price it.  The wood tower in the middle is composed of two sets of drawers from each side of an old desk. The desk was left in my husband's former house by an old girlfriend, making both of their losses my gain.  I stacked one on top of another, gluing them together and reinforcing with a steel rod (the drawer units, not my husband and his ex-girlfriend).  It has worked for me, holding glue, tape, brushes, pencils, and so on for several years.  The drawers need to be reglued, but I'll get to it.  The plastic storage bins to the right hold all of my paper supplies, stamps, inks, waxes, clips, note cards, etc.

I had to put waxed paper over the window because one time I looked up and saw a bird looking down at me. The bird at outside ground level made me feel suddenly trapped in a hole.   That was so disorienting that I couldn't let it happen again.  In order to combat the normal basement darkness, I had my handyman install a massive array of extra lighting and with the addition of task lighting I can work there in the middle of the night if I want to, which I don't.  The area is clean and dry and very climate-controlled.  The spiders are gone now because we spray-foamed the heck out of all the cracks.
Further storage, with supervisor.

The one essential thing that is missing in the studio is water.  There are no toilet facilities or water source.  I have to take all the water I use down with me in containers and bring up the used water when I'm done.  Then, because we have a septic system out here in the wilds of Ohio, I put all the containers of paint water out with the trash.  Even though it's acrylic and therefore essentially nontoxic, the paint in the water would certainly do damage to our septic tank, because acrylic is an adhesive.

No space is perfect.  But in the five years or so since I set up this studio I've realized what is truly important about any studio or workspace: The space is totally mine.  And that is pretty much it.  All other issues are so secondary as to be nearly tertiary.

You might be able to turn out a necklace or two at the kitchen table, but - for safety's sake if for no other reason - you can't cut bits of wire or set sticky things out to dry where people are going to be eating and playing.  A working craft/art area is not pet- or child-friendly.  It's not a public space, by definition.  The only thing a studio really needs to be, in order to be a success, is private.

Gustav Ignatius Turner ("The Goose"),
eater of plastic and tape.  
There are always challenges to my privacy.  Any workmen who need access to the furnace must walk past the studio area.  I only hope they aren't looking, or that, while looking, they cannot perceive my essential self embodied in the space.  It always feels like an invasion, but I haven't thrown a tantrum about it yet.

The storage and packing areas for our two Etsy shops are downstairs now, right next to the studio, separated by shelf units. That's the only place for that kind of thing, because one of our cats eats things he shouldn't.  The other day Spousal Unit "borrowed" some scissors from my studio for the packing area.  He "forgot" to return them.  Yes, I was outraged.  No, it will not happen again.  Now he has his own scissors.  My scissors are too sharp for him, anyway.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

February 7, 2015

Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question. . . 
-- T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

At my advanced age, I begin making beads.  

My main ingredient and one true love, art-wise, is Apoxie Sculpt.  I've been using it for years as an adhesive and general joining substance.  This two-part epoxy putty is nontoxic, has almost no smell, and dries to the hardness of concrete.  When it's wet it can be cleaned up or smoothed out with water.  When it's dry it can be sanded, painted, stained.  I cannot tell you how much I adore this stuff and how integral it has been to my work from the start.  

An early bead - I used it in a necklace which you
can see at my Etsy shop by clicking here.
Now to the beads.  Apparently one of the laws of physics states that I will always mix up too much any two-part substance.  I do this with resin as well.  So in the past when I've had a bit of Apoxie Sculpt (AS) left over, I've made a little pea-sized bead or two.  These beads were not impressive because they were unintentional afterthoughts.  They looked like nothing more than left-over lumps of clay.  At least they weren't putting on airs.

I soon moved on to deliberate AS beads like the one at left.  I was inspired by very early beads from the Iron Age, when people were using just about the same tools I have at my disposal - clay, their hands and the implements already around them, and a stick to dry the bead on.  I also used - and still use - earth pigments to a large degree.  The ochres, umbers, and oxides. The colors that were used in cave paintings.    

I like big beads, and one of the few issues with Apoxie is that it does have weight.  A couple of weeks ago I thought about using a wooden bead as a center, to make the bead lighter.  It worked.  Then I decided to try a 1" styrofoam ball as a center (they're unusually expensive for some reason).  It worked even better.  To date I have made two of the Big Beads, pictured here. 

Big Bead #1
Big Bead #1 is just a bit over 1" in diameter, but he's very light.  The AS is forming a thin shell over the styrofoam, but since the AS is so very hard this isn't a fragile bead.  I guess a hammer blow wouldn't do it much good, but what kind of psycho hates beads that much?  

After mixing for about 90 seconds, I rolled out the AS between two silicone sheets.  It still stuck a bit as I was trying to pick it up, so I layered it on the styrofoam in sections.  This made nice, crusty edges that I liked a lot, so I left them.  When the bead cured - which takes 12 hours - I decided to put this guy through his paces.  I applied some of Susan Lenart Kazmer's "cold enamel" powder with a heat gun to create the silver continents on this tiny planet.  I painted the rest of it with white gesso, then a buff undercoat, then layered various stains, walnut ink, etc. on it until I got the look I wanted.  The bead went through various permutations along the way.  I think at one point the bead was green, but I won't testify to that under oath.  I put a final coat of Diamond Glaze on the silver areas and then covered the bead with matte Mod Podge as a sealant.  I wired it up with some washers and tiny silver beads, and voila.  The Big Bead was born.

Typing this up, it seems like it took a lot of work and time.  On the one hand it did, but on the other hand there were many other projects going on in the studio.  Altogether this took several days, but that's part of the process.  I find that the time spent waiting for something to cure or dry is often very productive, because it allows the project to breathe and rest and eventually tell me what it wants to be.  Very often the end result is nothing like I thought it would be.  

Three fat beads - Big Bead #2 is the blue one on the left.
I know I'm really getting into the swing of things when I start making several at once. That was the case the other day when I started making these three beads.  The blue bead with holes around the center is made over a styrofoam ball.  The green and red beads are made over wooden bead forms.  (These can be bought in a bulk bag in the children's department of any craft store.)  In each case I put the form onto a toothpick or skewer and molded away.  AS is very sticky when first blended, and that is the time to get the basic shape formed. The manufacturers say it has an "open time" of about three hours, but if you think of it as a door that is slowly closing from the moment you mix it, that will give you a more realistic picture.  This comes in handy, because after I initially formed the beads I set them aside (dangling as if on a spit over the open mouth of a vase or jar) for about a half hour, then went back and put in some finer details.  This is when I added tiny circles of AS to the blue bead, flattened them, and poked the flat end of a skewer right into the styrofoam beneath.  This is also when I used a pen cap to make circles on the red bead and then a toothpick to make the holes in the circles. After two more hours the basic form can't be changed, but a sharp object like a needle (see the green bead) can be used to add texture or draw fine lines.  Before leaving the beads to cure thoroughly, I made sure the skewers turned freely, enlarging the holes by rotating the skewers where needed.  AS sticks to everything, and those skewers have to come out eventually.  You can also use a nice thick wire for the center hole and suspension device, so long as you make sure it moves around freely before leaving it to cure.  

The final process involved a lot of painting, staining, etc.  I have always used the plain gray AS, although I recently ordered both white and black to experiment with.  The gray takes paint wonderfully.  I won't tell you the process with these beads, both because it's long and convoluted and because I don't remember a lot of it.  I had the music turned up very loud.  There were many layers, and I didn't like some of them.  I will tell you I used my favorite green, Jenkins Green.  Whoever invented that (Mrs. Jenkins?) is my hero.  That is one lovely color.  Also red oxide.  Beyond that, I will not say.  

I think these beads need to be toned down a little in order to look truly old, but I'm not sure if that's the look I'm going for.  I might consider taking some dirt from the garden and rubbing it in, then rubbing it off with a cloth and putting a layer of sealant over it.  I would consider that if the garden were not under several inches of snow and the ground weren't frozen as hard as Apoxie Sculpt.  This is another reason to look forward to spring.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

February 4, 2015

It's rude to point.  
I was not inspired this morning  The boring ever-whiteness of winter was getting to me, and I'd been thinking about joining the circus.  The only thing stopping me was my utter lack of circus-related talents.  When it was time to go to the studio, I thought "Oh, what's the use?  Nothing good is going to happen, the way I feel."  But I couldn't think of anything better to do.  I told myself I could clean up something.  I could make jump rings or clasps .  And if my suspicions were right and I ended up sitting there and feeling lost, I could leave.  That's what it took to get me there.

A half hour after my inner motivational speech, I was scooting around my workspace on my comfy chair at a good clip.  (I have everything set up so I don't have to stand much.  I roll.)  I aged one thing and set it aside, drilled a part and fit it into a component, and selected beads for something else.  Before I knew it an hour had gone by and I had accomplished several worthwhile things.  What I did wasn't amazing, but it didn't have to be.  It was something, and that was more than I'd thought I was capable of.  

That's when it occurred to me that waiting for a time when I feel creative probably is a very silly thing to do.  There is never an hour in any day when, as a human being, I am not dealing with some kind of worry.  I have aches and pains and worries which are private and bothersome.   This is true of me, and it is true of you and every other human who ever lived.  Ergo, it is true of Leonardo and all those other famous guys.  Surely they worked through stomach upsets and disappointments.  They went to work when they had financial difficulties and they worked with a pulled leg muscle.  (To be fair, Leo was employed by the Pope and other rich men.  He couldn't say "You know what, yer highness?  Not so much today.") 

For me, the answer to not feeling motivated seems to be "just do it."  One foot in front of the other, baby steps, etc.  There is always something I can do.  For one thing, the scissors are forever somewhere they shouldn't be.  The trash needs to be emptied.  The vintage string drawer should be reorganized.  (I do have a drawer for vintage string.  I love the stuff.)   

It's also possible that when I least expect it something truly creative will happen, as if by magic.  I might paint my version of The Last Supper, or invent a flying machine.  

Here is a picture of my latest listing on Etsy.  It's called Nokkelring, and you can view it by clicking here.

Monday, February 2, 2015

February 2, 2015

After many sleepless hours and burnt out sprockets, our new shop is finally live on Etsy (see link at left of page).  Okay, I only listed 15 items, but they are quality items which I made myself.  I'm so proud of myself for living through the software nightmares involved in linking various sites and the torture of writing about MYSELF (eek).  That's hard for anyone to do, but it's especially difficult for a hermit.  More items to follow, and our other shop, Fiona Dorothy, is open for business as well.  I keep hoping I'm doing all of this "right," and it feels very complex and tortuous, but it feels creative and rewarding as well.  Onward and upward!  Sprockets ho!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

February 1, 2015

                                                                A massive find, right in our basement! It turns out the Eberhard-Faber crayon boxes we've had for a while are valuable. Because they are marked "New York" at the top and Eberhard-Faber was only in New York for a certain number of years, they can be dated to 1910 to 1920.  That's antique in anyone's book.  They have dovetailed (finger-jointed) sides, and the lid slips off.  At one point these held crayons, but no more.  They are available at our Etsy sister site, Fiona Dorothy.  Click here to see these nice boxes.