Studio Musings

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Happy Halloween Pumpkin Rings

Fall is my favorite season.  Halloween runs a close second to Christmas for my favorite holiday, and I absolutely adore the soundtrack to Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas.  Costumes, magic, a little spookiness, a chance to be someone else for a night?  I'm so there!   So the question wasn't 'do I want to work with a Halloween theme' for my Freeform Peyote Rings workshop at Fusion Beads earlier this month, but rather "what Halloween theme do I want to play with?"

My first thought was Disney villains - a ring for Maleficent or Cruella Deville perhaps? I could see a fiery crimson red jewel for Malificent, while Ms. Deville's would have to be in her iconic monochrome black and white.  Or maybe a witch's ring?  What would I do for that?  Instead, I opted to make myself a pumpkin patch ring.  Jack Skellington might be the Pumpkin King, but I could wear a Pumpkin Ring!  A magic pumpkin ring, wouldn't that be fun?  I'm sure I need a magic pumpkin ring. 

Ring #1 with a Carnelian focal
I ended up making two rings.  The first is a little more subdued, with a 15mm round carnelian stone that doesn't immediately scream 'pumpkin', but definitely plays to the autumnal theme with its muted color tones.  The little pressed-glass flower reminded me of pumpkin blossoms, so I decided to add it, but liked the violet color better than yellow.  So now I have a purple pumpkin blossom.  Let's hear it for creative license.

It also let me demonstrate the stages of work when adding the focal bead from the very beginning.

Perusing Fusion Bead's selections before class, I came across these fantastic orange and blackish-brown enameled beads.  I don't think they were originally designed as pumpkins, but aren't they perfect? 

I thought the apple-green & coppery-orange flowers might work as pumpkin blossoms and or a pumpkin cap.  While I was at it, I picked up a couple of different strands of daggers and spiky fringe beads, too.

Time for embellishments!
For this ring, I wanted the pumpkin to sit atop its 'field' at a jaunty angle, surrounded by vines.   

Working almost entirely with size 11s, I stitched my background.  I couldn't resist adding a few small accent beads - 3mm glass pearls, 4mm crystals and another pressed glass flower.  If I'd wanted a very simple ring, I probably could have stopped here. Or maybe right before I added the pressed glass flower.  If I wasn't going for a Pumpkin ring.....

A lot of the fun with freeform peyote rings is allowing yourself to go over the top.  With that in mind, it was time to embellish. 

I love how it looks perched on the graphite sphere
here it is on my hand - hard to photograph one handed
another view on my manikin's finger
you can see the little flower from this angle

Now I have two pumpkin rings.  As for whether its magic, I'll have to wait and see about that.  :)

Happy Halloween! 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Creative Cross-Training: Book Making

pulling out one of my old hobbies - book making
This past year, my beading has felt far more like 'work' rather than 'fun'.  It's the hazard all working artists face.  We go into our chosen field because we love what we're doing, but sooner or later, the 'shoulds' catch up to us, and attempt to leach the joy out of creation.  While I still have plenty of ideas, and get excited thinking about them, it's been hard to stay motivated and get started.  All the old fears including "what if it's not as good as it should be?", come climbing out of their dark corners.

Sound familiar?  At this point, I know the routine;  this always seems to happen after I complete a major milestone.  Burn-out combines with the impostor syndrome to sap my energy and drive.  I've learned to work through it, but it's still hard.  Especially when it lasts as long as this particular round.  

One of the ways I've learned to deal with this is to indulge in some creative cross-training.  Turning my hand towards something totally different for a little bit as a way to jump-start my creativity, or more importantly in this case, simply to refill the creative energy well.  This past summer, I decided to participate in a gift exchange with fellow cruisers on Septembers' transatlantic journey, and that my gift would be little handmade, travel sketchbooks.  Then I got carried away, and somehow found myself needing to make thirty of them.  Yep, 3-0, thirty books, each with handpainted paper covers and sewn signatures. 

It was only mid-July, and I had until mid-September to complete the project.  If I made a book a day, I'd be set!  But since this was supposed to be a fun little extra craft project (an addition to my regular work, not a substitution), I set myself a rule:  I couldn't work on the books between 7am and 6pm Monday-Friday, as those are my normal 'working hours'.  As an extra little challenge, I decided that I'd use a different stitch pattern for each book.  If the goal was to stretch, then I should really stretch, right?

One of my all-time favorite books on book-making
Pulling down my sadly dusty copy of 1-2-&3-Section Sewings:  Nonadhesive Binding Volume II by Keith Smith, I set to work.  If you have ever had an interest in bookbinding, you want this book!  It's not one of those 'sexy' books with lots of color photos of other artists' creations - I don't think there's a single color photo in the entire book.  But if you want detailed diagrams and instructions for more sewn bindings than you can easily count, then this is the book for you.  I'd forgotten just how much I love this book!

Bookmaking doesn't require a lot in the way of tools:  an awl or large needle for punching holes, something to cut your papers to size, a bonefolder for creasing the pages, and a large-eyed needle for the sewing.  Everything else is just extra, or ways to make things easier.

scoring the spine with my bonefolder before folding the cover

stitching a section - the needle is so BIG!

continuing to stitch

Since the books were for a cruise, I went with 'oceany' colors for the covers and had a great time playing with acrylic paints using my collection of brushes, scrapers, sponges, even finger painting.  I made a complete mess of my studio, and it was totally worth it!  For the interior sections, I sacrificed a couple of blank sketchbooks, cutting and folding the pages to size.  For the stitching, I used cotton rug-warp leftover from my long-ago weaving days.  (A side goal of this project was to use up 'stuff' from my collections).

I sewed this one onto 'tapes' so show the ridged design of the cover
 A couple of my painted pages had these raised designs that I didn't want to hide underneath my stitching, so I decided to sew the interior sections onto paper 'tapes' that I then wove into the cover.  I felt particularly clever, figuring these out.
Thirty finished travel sketchbooks

The first several books; everything felt really awkward.  I had to really think about each step to make sure I did it right.  With each book it got a little easier, and before long, I found myself riffing off themes.  One stitching pattern would inspire the next.  And a week before my deadline, I had a stack of thirty little book (thirty-one actually, as I made an extra for another friend).

Did it help my issues with beading?  I fear the jury's still out.  But it was definitely fun; doing something crafty purely for play.   For the reasons I started crafting in the first place, way back when. 

Have you indulged in any creative cross training lately?  I'd love to hear about it! 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Crossing the Atlantic on the Magic

"One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time." - Andre Gide

There is something magical about sailing across the ocean, completely out of sight of land and civilization.  Standing on the top deck, looking out at the horizon and all you see is ocean and the curvature of the earth along the horizon.  For years I'd dreamt of crossing the Atlantic by ship.  So much of our history as a nation was founded on such voyages; I wanted to take one of my own.  Last September, I had that chance.  It was truly magical.  So much so, I managed to plan, scheme and finagle a repeat trip.

Our itinerary, on a magnet I received in a gift exchange with other cruisers
This year's crossing was a couple of days shorter than last year's, with far fewer port days, but additional sea days - eight all told.  Sailing from Barcelona, we rounded the southern coast of Spain, sailing out through the straight of Gibraltar just as the sun was starting to set.  Heading out across the Atlantic, we stopped briefly in Funchal, Madiera, then continued on to the Bahamas, with six consecutive sea days, before fetching up in Miami, where we disembarked.

Lost my shoes, but have champagne as we cross through the Straight of Gibraltar

Despite the fact that Joaquin was slowly building in the Atlantic during our crossing, the weather was picture perfect. Sunrises of molten orange, neon pink and brilliant gold were followed by days of crystal blue skies with those pretty, wispy, white clouds, and ended with sunsets of golden magenta fading to soft lavender, periwinkle, then midnight blues.  Crossing the Atlantic, the daytime temperatures hovered in the high 70s to low 80s.  Interestingly, things heated up by about ten degrees as soon as we crossed into the Caribbean Sea, well before we made land.  There's no visible line of demarcation, but if felt different.

The sea days were glorious! Open-ended days where you could do as much, or as little as you wanted. Lounge by the adult pool, watch a movie while swimming in the family pool, attend behind-the-scenes talks and interviews by some of the movers and shakers inside the Disney family, learn to draw Disney characters, learn ballroom dance, watch first-run and Disney classic movies, read a book, meet new friends, laugh (a lot), work out at the gym, take a stretch class, walk around the promenade deck or play shuffleboard, even enter a shuffle board tournament.  The list of possibilities just goes on.  And on.  One of my personal favorite things to do was to spend part of each afternoon beading, sitting in the shade on the top deck while watching movies on the big outdoor screen, with cool ocean breezes drifting by.  Here's a new pair of earrings I made one afternoon for the Frozen party scheduled for that night.

Personally, I spent most of my days up on deck enjoying the sun and the breeze.  I knew it would be full-on Fall by the time we made it back home to Seattle, so I reveled in the warmth.  That said, I'm not a direct-sun sort of girl, so I appreciated all of the shady, covered areas.  It's nice being able to nap in a lounge chair without worrying about waking up beet red!

When I tired of lounging, one of my favorite organized activities was attending the behind-the-scenes lectures.  Amongst other things, each of the people interviewed shared background on their often-circuitous career paths.  While I'm pretty sure I know what I want to do when I group up at this point, I found it fascinating; the myriad paths they took to get where they were as artists, dreamers, performers and business people.   My biggest take-aways were, there is no one path to any destination, but you have to have passion and drive to get there.  Oh, and one of the lecturers mentioned that in hiring, if he had two equally qualified candidates and one smiled during the interview and the other didn't, he'd hire the one who smiled.  Because smiling is part of the whole personality-type and mindset that he was looking for.

We also caught up on our movie watching, something we don't have much time for at home.  Besides the big screen by the adult pool, the ship also had a state of the art movie theater, and some movies were also shown in the big theatre, after the evening stage productions.

The Disney Magic is a gorgeous ship, and the cruise staff is wonderful.  From our stateroom host and dining staff, to the recreation staff, to the deck hands always hard at work maintaining the ship in tip-top order, everyone was so obviously proud of what they do, and interesting to speak with.  Simply touring the ship itself is fun, and the recreation staff put together daily photo challenge quests for those so inclined towards scavenger hunts.

And every once in a while (or so it felt) we'd pull into port and have a chance to get off the ship to explore.  I love the port days, because they give me a chance to explore places I'd likely never see otherwise; if the ship I were on didn't happen to stop there.  That was definitely the case with Madiera!

Madiera is one of those islands where steep, often sheer cliffs drop almost directly down into the sea.  The city of Funchal is terraced into the side of one of these cliffs, with only a couple of blocks of flat around the port before the city begins to rise up the mountain in a series of terraces and bridges. 

Sunrise as we sailed into Madiera, Portugal
View from the waterfront
View from the venicular
The shots I took from the funicular really don't do Madiera justice.  I wish I'd caught one that showed the terraced bridges that laced the city together.  Besides simply enjoying the view, we rode the venicular to reach the starting point for one of Madiera's most unique tourist attractions.  The toboggan ride back down the hill through the narrow, twisty city streets.

My first sight of the toboggans - extras awaiting use

I really wasn't sure I was up for it;  I am NOT an adrenaline junky (there was the very real possibility that I'd be one of the few people to ride the venicular back down the hill).   But I put screwed up my courage and hopped into one of the wicker and wood sleds beside my love.  We were guided down the hill by two gentlemen who alternately rode the back of our sled and pushed us away from what seemed like imminent danger around every curve.  They laughed and laughed as I squeaked and squawked with each new turn!  

Perched in the toboggan with one of our guides

Talk about scary fun.  If you ever find yourself in Madiera, I'd definitely recommend give it a try.  The toboggan ride takes you about half way down the hill; from there you can either catch a taxi ride (the cabbies are waiting right there) or walk down the narrow, steep twisting roads.  We chose the taxi and it was an adventure in and of itself, especially as we'd run out of Euros and had to take a detour to a cash machine so we could pay our driver.

And of course, Madeira is known for it's wine, so we had to do some wine tasting!  We decided on a single 'flight' of 15 year old wines.  The sercial was the biggest surprise to me; it started out almost sour, with a bit of a vinegary bite, but blossomed into surprising sweetness. 

A handy guide on the winery's wall
Poised to begin our wine tasting!

Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas, was our next port of call (following six consecutive sea days crossing the Atlantic).   Again, the weather couldn't have been more perfect.  The island is one of my favorite places on earth, so it's no surprise we were one of the first passengers ashore.  Ignoring the tram, we enjoyed the walking path around the lagoon to the family beach, where we were able to score two hammocks nestled together in the shade.  To good to pass up, we spent the early morning lounging, napping, staring up through the fronds of the palm trees at the brilliant blue sky and enjoying the live music wafting our way from further down the beach.

The morning view from my hammock
When the sun shifted enough to deprive us of our shade, we wandered down to the water, and played for a while there at the family beach before making our way over to the adults-only beach, Serenity Bay.  Since it's not protected by a breakwater, the surf was considerably higher than at the family beach.  Joe and I swam out beyond the breakers where we could enjoy the swells.  The water wasn't quite as clear as it's been on other visits, especially closer to the shore, but that was almost certainly due to Joaquin's approach (we could see the clouds building off in the distance).

Walking along the family beach lagoon
Several year's ago, Disney expanded the Family beach area of Castaway Cay to accommodate the visits of their new, larger ships the Dream and Fantasy.  We visited the island a couple of years ago on the Fantasy, and were pleased that it did not feel 'crowded'.  This was our first visit on the Magic since that expansion, and it was incredible, the feeling of space!  The only time it felt crowded at all was waiting in line for lunch over at Serenity Bay - it definitely paid to get in line early there.  Walking back towards the ship, the hammocks where we started the day were open, so we ended our beach day where we started; enjoying ocean breezes and the drifting sounds of live music before heading back to the ship to pack for disembarkation the next morning.

A squall along the horizon
About a half hour after we returned to the ship, we looked out our stateroom window to discover it was pouring, POURING rain as the ship prepared to leave port.  The seas remained relatively smooth for our last evening as we sailed to Miami, but Joaquin hit the Bahamas, and Castaway Cay, the next day.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Traveling Lightly with Beads

September was a crazy-dazy month with not one, not two, but three of out town trips.  These included a visit to family in Southern Oregon, the bead retreat where I made Dali, and finished up with a transatlantic cruise (more about that in an upcoming post).  With all of this travel, I've had a great deal of incentive lately to rethink the way I travel with beads.

One of my 'problems' is while I think I know what I want to work on, my ideas often change as I get into a project.  It's so frustrating when I know I have the perfect beads for the piece I'm working on; in my studio a hundred (or a thousand) miles away back home.  The obvious solution is to bring LOTS of different types of beads, right?  Except for the little problem that beads get heavy fast!  This might not be a problem if you're traveling by car.  But we were planning a two-week trip for two with minimal luggage: two suitcases total (one carryon-size), plus backpacks. 

To make it a little more complex; I never know when I start whether the piece will later become a tutorial, or possibly even a kit.  Just in case, I need to be able to figure out not only what beads I used, but how many of each. 

Oh, and I also wanted to be able to bead wherever I was, so I wanted to bring some sort of rigid beading tray as well as my bead mat. 

My Goals

  • Bring as many type of beads as possible
  • Keep their weight and packing volume as low as possible 
  • Ability to track/guesstimate the amounts I used in any projects while away
  • Bead storage should also serve as beading tray, protect finished projects
  • Make it as easy as possible to see the beads (I just added this one!) 


The Solution:  Beading "Kits" and a Repurposed Beading Box


weighing out beads
For bead storage, I decided to make up 'bead kits', using little plastic baggies for each bead type. The largest bags I used were 2x3"s. These larger bags I reserved for the sea glass which wouldn't fit safely into smaller bags.  I wanted everything to lay as flat as possible to reduce the chances of breakage in transport.  Most of the baggies were 1 1/2" x 2".

Compact, but jumbled
Using my little scale I measured out my seed beads; 5-12grams each for most of my size 11s and 8s, about half that for 15s. Then labeled each of the baggies with bead types and weight.  This way, when I returned, I could re-weigh any beads I used and simple subtraction would give me amounts used!  This took me the better part of an afternoon, but it went fast, especially as I spent the time listening to an audiobook.  But lots of little baggies are hard to track; they can get lost and it can feel like searching through a needle in a haystack to find anything.

Kit Building Tip: put the tape on the paper, not the baggie 
 The next step was to find a way to organize and store the beads so I could quickly see everything.  For this, I used half-sheets of heavy cardstock and double-sided tape.  Working up from the bottom of each sheet, I arranged the baggies in color families.  The finished 'kits' it incredibly easy to see everything. And they look pretty too!  Best yet, I've found if you stick the tape to the paper first and press it down well, it makes it easier to remove and return the baggies, and the tape will continue to hold them securely in place through several repeats.

re-purposed as a beading box (thanks John!)

  That just left the question of what to do for my beading surface.  The solution here was much simpler - a beautiful cigar box a friend had gifted to me.  Made from an extremely light-weight wood, the box is quite slim, less than two inches tall.  Opened, both sides lay almost flat.  I cut Vellux beading mats to fit both the lid and the bottom.  I prefer working out of the lid, as the lip is not as deep.  The box holds all of my beading tools, and two-three of my beading kits or finished pieces. 

Inside the box, with stored kits & beading supplies
Using the lid for a beading tray and the box for storage
The beads that traveled with me
Stacked, the five kits are still smaller than most hardcover books
Every time I travel, it seems I try different storage solutions, looking for the 'best' way to carry the widest variety of beads.   I've been working through iterations of my current system for the past year; so far it seems to be working pretty well.  On this latest trip, I brought eighty-nine baggies filled with different types of beads and findings organized into five 'kits'.  The whole kaboodle (five kits, bead box and beading tools) weighed in at just under 2lb, 6oz (just over a kilogram).   Not too bad! 

So that's my current solution.  What are your favorite ways to travel lightly with beads?