Sunday, March 10, 2013

Their Success Is My Success

         I had a  conversation this morning with my sister Sheila, who has been an education professional for over 25 years. She started as a grade school teacher, advanced to a literacy coach, and now serves a large school system as a supervisor for grades k-12. It is a huge job to implement new standards for teaching in an aging population of teachers. No one, and I mean no one, is comfortable with change. When it comes, the resistance to change is great, and the person appointed to deliver the message is "persona non grata" for sure. The thing to know about my sister is, she is absolutely passionate about her advocacy for best practices for the sake of the students. If she were the manager of your child school system, you would lucky!
I bring this all up because I am new to the teaching process. I certainly share my sisters passion for sharing and communicating information with students. I am still new enough that I am working out the rudiments of this communication process. I am self conscious in my delivery, especially in lecture mode when sleepy eyed students don't seem to respond at all to what my conversation is. I know they've been balancing lots of plates on poles like a circus act, but just the hint of a smile at one of my jokes to acknowledge they are breathing would help!

I also have heard the stories of my teaching colleagues, and been told I'm too easy on my class. I freely admit that I am unwilling to adopt a sarcastic tone with my students. I stay as upbeat as I can in my conversations with them. Their backgrounds are unknown to me, and it is to easy to misinterpret shyness for disengagement.
   What I love about the process, and get a chuckle over, is how exciting it is to see people who have never worked in metal before, make a really beautiful solder. It is like magic the first time they fit everything well, cleaned, fluxed, and watch the solder run perfectly along a seam. I am standing right beside them with my finger crossed, holding my breath as they are heating the piece and adding the solder!
   As my students progress from learning basic skills, to planning and executing their first complex projects, I am right there in their corner. If I can find a way to help them realize their goal, I've achieved something too. I have had to rethink through and find a way to talk about parts of the craft that are intuitive or second nature to me, deconstructing all the steps that take me to a finished product again. The result is, in my own practice as a craftsman, I am remembering details of the process that I have glossed over, and am again refining my own craft. It's been an amazing awakening, and I am falling in love with the craft again.
   My hope is, that I will always feel the benefit that teaching has brought in regards to my own craft, and that I will always be open minded and hear what people suggest to help me be a better teacher and communicator. I truly believe my students success is my own.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

"Advance To Exciting Career In Jewelry!!!!"



  Those words "advance to exciting career in jewelry" used to make me laugh! That was how my boss at the manufacturer titled his want ads for bench positions followed by "no experience necessary...must be good with hands". At that time, I was learning the trade. My work would consist of days of long production runs performing the same task over and over again to hundreds of pieces! We had special names for some of those pieces. "The Dreads" stands out in my mind. They were little cluster earrings with a larger center stone surrounded by 8) .0075 diamonds ( for those of you not in the trade they measure about 1mm). I will never forget as long as I live, the day I tipped my tray of over 1200 of those tiny diamonds all over my bench and the floor, and had to find them all! CRAZY!!!

   I was reminded of those days today as I sat at my bench downstairs cleaning and polishing hundreds of castings to set and assemble for the upcoming gift buying season. The work is dirty, and anything but exciting. As the owner, CEO, artistic director, etc., etc., one would hope that these tasks would be handed to minions to perform. There's the rub in starting your own business. I am still at the stage where I do it all.  I often wonder what it is in me that would make a forty eight year old woman with a good paying job want to start from scratch? I remember being in the conference room with the woman who was my previous boss frustrated with me asking "why can't you just be happy collecting a pay check?". I don't know...I just can't!

  So that is how I spent my Sunday, cleaning and polishing castings. What gets me through the task is a vision of a viable business, where I can hire some students to work with me (we'll do the boring work together!) I have had many people tell me the best plan is to source the work overseas because the manufacture of jewelry is no longer viable in our country. I prefer to think of my business as an incubator where other creative people can train to develop their own micro businesses, hire a few students to help them and then pass it on!


Friday, June 22, 2012

My Favorite Tool

A couple of months ago I received an invitation from my alma mater to participate in a project in which I would do a short interview talking about my career and how my education at CCAD had helped me to achieve my goals in a self produced video. Because I am a little shy and not too tech savvy I didn't  participate. There were a series of questions that they wanted me to answer, one of which was, "what is my favorite tool?"

What is my favorite tool? I really didn't have an immediate answer because there are so many tools that I work with. At 48 years old, it should probably be anything that magnifies what I am working on! Optivisors, loupe, microscope...anything that helps me focus on those pesky little details that have gotten fuzzier over the years. The truth is that my favorite tool is the torch. It is where the magic of my craft takes place. I can anneal hard metal and make it pliant, take solid metal and make it liquid, and join two unrelated objects using solder that is alloyed to melt before the objects I am joining. It is amazing and often intuitive in processes...I love it!

What makes me laugh, is how afraid I was of the torch when I was first invited to use one. I am sure the fear was initiated by my first welding demo in a sculpture class in college. My instructor was a burly, irreverent fellow who started the conversation with all the ways you could blow the sculpture lab up because the equipment there didn't have the appropriate flash back valve protection! (At the rate of the tuition they probably could've afforded to do a better job with safety...) I was so intimidated that I chose a different means of assembly for my additive project!

Fast forward to my first day as an apprentice at the jewelry manufacturer that had hired me just out of school. To myself I remember thinking....anything but the torch! At 2:00 on my first day when my supervisor announced that it was time to sit down and learn to solder posts to earrings, I almost ran out the door! As he was demonstrating the technique to light the torch ( and I was thinking "without blowing the place up"!) and solder thin tiny posts that don't take a lot of heat to heavier pieces that need more (  I was thinking, you gotta do this 'cause you can't humiliate yourself by asking your Dad for money to pay the rent!) I don't think I ever would have imagined that I would ever love what you can do with a torch so much! I tell the story about tangling with that crazy torch that day. I must have melted two dozen posts to get 6 soldered on, and almost lost it when I knocked my jar of color saver over and caught my bench on fire! The woman sitting next to me laughed, reached over to pat the flames out and made some crack about they'd be calling me "Chernobyl Chris". I still wonder how I got it together to go in the next day and start all over again!

I kept showing up, and have learned to use that magic wand better than Harry Potter and his wand! Even with the addition of the laser, which I know many of my young associates prefer, I still prefer a torch weld  for assembly of parts even with platinum (absence of gems allowing). It is like so many things in life,  if you can move past your initial fears ( which are often produced by misinformation), and be patient, you may find that thing that you feared most will become your greatest ally, or at least your favorite  tool!


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Getting Our Bearings

This morning I woke up for the first time in forever that I have no pressing deadline I need to meet for tomorrow. No drawings, no item of jewelry, no anything! I fixed breakfast for my husband and myself and chatted to him about this miraculous thing of "how I could spend my day doing something I've been wanting to" because all my short term obligations have been met.

He and I are in the same boat. We are both artists who serve two masters. We have day jobs that provide the income that we need to live the life we want, and our vocation, the things we create that feed our soul. Often, the jobs that provide our income take precedence over the latter for obvious reasons. This is my husband's busy season in his landscape business, so that is running his life right now. As we finished cleaning up from breakfast, and he was preparing to head over to his studio, I asked him what he was planning to work on today. He is engaged in a series of wood block prints that are compelling and beautiful. I have to laugh a little, because if he'd asked me the question, he'd have got a very specific answer about what I was going to do, and in what order! Not him though. His calm and not specific answer was "I'm going to get my bearings".

Isn't this what we are all doing in our lives? It seems that we are all, no matter what stage of life we are in, getting our bearing to move forward. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of giving a workshop for the metals students at CCAD. Some of them are graduating in a couple weeks, so are at a point in life where huge changes and unknowns are on the horizon. That those individuals were able to contain themselves and focus for four hours on trying to learn the rudiments of gem setting is no small task! In addition to learning a new skill set, they had a few questions about my job. What was it like? What's the biggest diamond you ever set? They were checking a little to help get their bearings for what life outside of school could look like.

Conversely, I wanted to give a workshop, to find out what it's like to teach and share some of the knowledge I've accrued over my 27 year career in the jewelry business. As I move forward into the next stage of my life, what will help me find the best balance between earning enough money to care for myself and my husband now and in our old age, and feeding my soul? My heart, wants to be more deeply engaged in the artistic side of myself. There is a part of me that believes my studio business is the best place to find that, but the barriers to the model I first engaged in are high. How to modify that model is one question. Where does the "day job" fit in my life? To be relevant and successful there, I have learned, requires my full time presence, plus some of my studio time for design processes. The pay is good, but the cost to my artistic heart is very high. Where teaching and helping other fits in, is that it seems to help me reinvigorate mentally. I always seem to be able to enter my studio with a fresh perspective on what I am hoping to create. The question of what role teaching can play in my life is a big one. Could it replace my day job financially? Would it become burdensome when the novelty of something new wears off? Can I balance all three things for the perfect balance of earnings, creating, and giving that will give me the life I've always wanted?

So back to my day of no pressing deadlines. As usual, my longtime partner has it right. This is a day where I will follow his lead. I will head to my studio, play around with my projects that are on back burners, tidy up a little, and try to get my bearings for what is next in my life.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

CCAD Art Sale

   Big fun for me yesterday! At the invitation of my boss, I attended the CCAD Art Sale.  For those of you who haven't followed, CCAD is my alma mater. I moved to Columbus 30 years ago to attend this small art school and never left.
   I no longer live on that end of town, so have been only peripherally aware of the changes that have occurred at the school since I left. New leadership, more buildings, better communication with the community that surrounds the school. What was amazing was the quality of the work and the sophistication of the ways in which the students are representing themselves.
   Technology is certainly a boon to artists who are creating beautiful items and images. Everyone has their own websites by the time they're in their junior year. A reminder to me of the importance of updating and making my own current! (Working on it now...hoping to have it complete by June!)  My favorite was a young lady who had graduated, and rather than wait to find a publisher, is self publishing and marketing her own children's books! (Guess what my future nieces and nephews will be getting for Christmas!)
   I left the event to head back to work, but felt buoyant from being enveloped in all the creative energy of young people who haven't been told they can't, or aren't good enough, or right for that promotion, or all the things they will face in life that can grind you down. Next week I am teaching my first (hopefully not my last) stone setting workshop at CCAD for the students there who aspire to work in the jewelry industry. I hope I am able to give them one more tool in their arsenal to create beautiful objects. I know that whatever I can give to them, I will receive back in their fresher point of view!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Salad Days

I feel like I have entered into the magic period in life they call  "Salad Days". That magical place where good fortune seems abundant. My studio business is five years old, and I have reached the point where I can finally clear all debt. I have plenty of merchandise, and money in the bank to grow. It is unbelievable that I started my business at the beginning of " the great recession" and have any notion that I can continue in business at all!

 I have more custom work in my day job than I can figure out how to do. While normally that would be a source of great anxiety to me, we've added an employee who works in CAD. She is the greatest partner I could have ever asked for. Her ability to interpret designs and create models is a huge gift that frees me from much of the tedious work at the bench. She is talented and patient not to mention a pleasure to know. It makes that part of my life much more pleasurable.

As if all those things don't make life joyful enough, there is more! I have just  received confirmation that I will be giving a stone setting workshop at the Columbus College of Art and Design in April. With all I am busy with in life, I'm sure there are those that don't understand why I would want to add more. There is  something special about sharing information and helping others to grow. I've visited the college on two occasions to give critiques for the competition hosted by the Diamond Cellar. On both occasion I have found inspiration from the creative energy of these young artist that has helped me to return to my own work with a fresh point of view. I am looking forward to giving these students another skill set in their arsenal to grow in their own creativity! I look forward to this being something I can do with regularity, and hope that the process will help to give me open eyes were my own designs are concerned even as my experience can help others in their work.

Spring seems to be determined to come early this year and the awakening completely matches my mood.
After years of worry that the economy brought, and doubts as to how I would find success on my chosen career path, I feel like the winter is ending. The birds are singing, and the flowers are coming up! Welcome Salad Days! I love you!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Why DO I do what I do for a living?



I know most people can relate to the question "Why DO I do this for a living?". It's inevitable that we reach that point where one more straw and the camel's back will break. That's the last week of my life working on this bracelet in fifteen minute increments, between interruptions, as the due date loomed closer and closer!

I pride myself on my flexibility with people and keeping a positive attitude while I'm working, but as the deadline approached, and the inner grill to the bracelet had not arrived back from the caster, I could see my calm slip away. Then the nights that I couldn't sleep through started. When I did sleep the dreams were epic searches to find the one class I've missed all semester, or my locker in high school ( the last place I'd ever want to be again), or some crazy work dream where nothing is going right and I'm sitting naked at my bench. I got to the point, when I was remaking the catch for the third time (it should be easy, I've made a million!), and someone wanted me to drop everything to look at something for them, that I started thinking "I cannot stand this another second"!

Happily, I finished the bracelet today. The catch works perfectly... the grill installed beautifully...the opal set easily, and  it polished up to perfection! As I cleaned the bracelet off after polish and held it complete, it was no longer the difficult bits and pieces that needed to be fabricated and assembled. It was it's own complete object, whole and beautiful. It didn't reflect the struggle or worry that had brought it into it's own. I chatted with a few people about it, called the client to arrange for shipping, and started to relax again.

So this is why I do what I do. Because I am a maker of things, at the end of every project I have something tangible, durable, and beautiful to show for the efforts I have made.