Thursday, October 27, 2016

Inspired by Reading: Vampires in the Lemon Grove

The October selection for the Inspired by Reading Book Club was the suitably creepy short story collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell.  I can't say that I was overly excited to see this title on the year's reading list.  Strike one: I previously tried to read the novel Swamplandia by the same author and just couldn't get into it.  Strike two: I'm not really a short story fan in general.  But being a good sport and general team player when it comes to this sort of thing, I gave this book an honest try.

I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed reading this collection... and even made it all the way through!  Many of the stories left me scratching my head a bit and wondering what actually happened, but that didn't bother me too much.  The tone in many of the stories was almost otherworldly and absolutely eerie... they all had a strangeness to them.

One of the beads that Eric and I picked up at Bead & Button was a wonderful bronze bat bead made by the talented Bob Burkett.  Inspired by the titular story, I thought this would be an appropriate time to make Eric a necklace with his bat!  The main character can no longer transform into a bat, but his wife Magreb can... and uses that ability to fly beyond Clyde's reach and spend her nights in the cliffs.  I used some steel wire and some crusty looking Tibetan agate beads that I just acquired and kept the rest simple with black chain.  I often get in trouble with my otherwise patient husband for not making him jewelry.  I'm hoping this little Magreb necklace gets me off the hook for a little bit!  And an added bonus... Eric now has a new bat necklace just in time to wear to the Twin Cities Horror Festival that starts this Thursday!

I also kept thinking about the second story, "Reeling for the Empire."  I really wanted to try my hand at needle felting some oblong, cocoon-like beads out of the colorful wool roving in my stash.  (I've actually been wanting to make some beads ever since I took Heather Powers' needle felting/bead embroidery class on the Bead Cruise a couple of years ago.)  I was originally thinking of making some earrings... and maybe I'll revisit that idea the next time I'm feeling stabby.  Since I waited until the last minute, I wasn't feeling up to trying to get two "cocoons" of the same size and decided on making a charm style necklace instead.  I used two different colors of wool roving to represent how each girl spun silk in a unique color.  The felt is so light that I needed to add some weight to the pendant so I used one of Andrew Thornton's funky porcelain beads (also picked up at B&B) and some Czech glass.

The felted "cocoons" seemed a little naked and boring on their own so I decided to try out my rudimentary bead embroidery skills to add a little more visual interest.  (The lesson learned here is that it's much trickier to do even simple bead embroidery on a 3D object than a flat one... especially when it's so small!)  The green cocoon might look a little more like an acorn now, but that may not be a terrible thing for selling this long necklace.  I think the market for cocoon jewelry is a fairly narrow one!  The embroidery took me WAY longer than I anticipated, but I think the results were worth it.  I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and tried something new... so I'm calling that a win!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Honey Do List: October 2016

This year, my husband Eric has decided to issue me a design challenge each month to get me out of my comfort zone and to help clear out my bead stash... we're calling it the Honey Do List.  I know that I'm not the only one who loves a good design challenge, so I'm inviting folks to play along!  

Here's this month's inspiration and what Eric had to say about it:

For this month's challenge I wanted to use a shot from our recent 15th anniversary trip to Disney World in Orlando.  As part of our trip we did the Wild Africa Trek in Animal Kingdom--a special tour that gets you even closer to the animals!  I have plenty of pictures of rhinos and hippos but they just weren't colorful enough for a jewelry making challenge.  Enter this photogenic giraffe who kept sticking his tongue out at us...

Eric's desire to get me to clean out my bead stash may have backfired this month!  I didn't have much that really screamed "giraffe" to me in my considerable bead hoard (although I did have one semi-formed idea surrounding some faceted caramel agate beads).  But when I went to a local bead show with a couple of girlfriends, I found the perfect Tibetan agate beads and I just had to have them!  (I also bought some of their other friends... have I mentioned that I'm a bead addict??)

Part of me really wanted to make some sort of necklace with my newly acquired "giraffe" beads, but I couldn't figure out a suitable focal.  Instead, I decided to stick with my favorite thing to make... earrings!  I thought it would be fun to hammer some copper wire and then dangle the beads from the bottom.  I think I need a wee bit more practice with this technique!  I hammered two different sets and both curved more than I wanted them too, but I'm still happy with the overall results!  I added texture with my ball peen hammer and gave them a little patina with liver of sulphur.

My first attempts got way too thin at the ends but they really looked like long, spindly giraffe legs to me.  I found a way to still use them though.  I ended up riveting them to some long, skinny brass blanks and then wire wrapping the agate beads to the top.  These will probably have to find that special customer... but you never know!

My second try was a little more even , but still too much curve to them.  At least they were pretty even so they worked for my original vision.  This time, I was slightly thwarted because the scale of the Tibetan agate and the hammered copper just wasn't quite right.  No problem though... remember those agate beads from my stash that I mentioned earlier?  They ended up being just the right size.

In addition to the fun agate beads, I also scored a couple of pairs of matched Septarian pieces that had a giraffe-esque feel to them.  Even though I waited until the last minute to start making my Honey Do List projects, I was determined to use these stones since I bought them specifically for this purpose.  (Plus, I didn't want to have to put them properly away if I didn't get them finished!  The truth comes out!)  

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Friday, October 21, 2016

We're All Ears: October 2016

For this month's We're All Ears challenge hosted by the Earrings Everyday blog, Erin has chosen a fascinating topic... the weather!  She chose some fascinating pictures to get our creative juices going but left things pretty wide open.  She encouraged us to work with whatever weather topic we were inspired by... wind patterns, cloud formations, precipitation, or anything else!

As always, Erin shared some images for inspiration.  I was particularly taken with this illustration from a German cloud atlas book.  This was where I started with pulling beads and findings.  I have to admit I was a little surprised since this is a much more subdued palette than I normally am attracted to!

First up, I made two pairs of earrings using some of the teardrop beads that I picked up from Unicorn Beads.  Most of what I bought was in a teal/blue/green color palette, but I did get one neutral mixed strand that I put to use here.  I haven't been entirely sure how I would use all the pretty little teardrops I bought, so I was happy to make two variations on a theme here.  I simply strung three beads on large brass jump rings so that you could see the colors inside.  For one pair I kept it super simple and just added ear wires.  I got a little more fancy with the others and did some wire wrapping around matte red creek jasper barrel beads in a nice grey.  It's hard to tell in the picture but the beads have some subtle patterns and swirls in them that remind me of the clouds.

Staying with the same inspiration artwork, I picked out a pair of Firelily Glass lampwork beads in a nice mix of amber and tan/brown that reminded me of the colors in the bottom portion of the picture.  My husband thought the beads' pattern looked more snakelike, but I saw swirling clouds.  I added in some matte bronze Czech glass and vintage plastic and hung the wire wrapped bead units from some fun twisted copper bars that sort of reminded me of the jagged lightning.

I was also inspired by the swirling clouds in this Van Gogh painting...  Such amazing movement captured by a Master!  Now I'll admit that my colors weren't spot on, but I'm going to claim creative license on this one.  :)

I decided that this would be a good time to use some of the polymer clay beads that I made last weekend at the Inspired by Nature Retreat (you can read about that HERE if you missed it) to create earrings.   The marbled effect of the beads with their bands of colors mimics the clouds.  I added in some faceted labradorite rounds that my picture doesn't do justice to at all.

I also found some ceramic charms in my stash by Michelle McCarthy of Firefly Design Studio that had wonderful green swirls on them.  I added some sparkle with some fun rhinestones rondelles and vintage plastic with some metallic sheen to it.  I topped things off with a little Czech glass bead.

Lastly, I made two pairs using some new Czech glass teardrop beads that reminded me of big, fat raindrops.  The ones on the left have a Mercury Glass finish that I just love.  I decided to keep these pretty simple, just adding some small silver spacers and Czech glass or crystal beads.  I suppose that the pair on the left fits in with the colors of the first picture... but that wasn't what I was thinking about when I made them!

Thanks for stopping by to see my newest earrings today!  You can check out what the weather inspired others to make over on the Earrings Everyday blog HERE.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Inspired by Nature Retreat

I have been dreaming of attending Heather Powers' Inspired by Nature Retreat for several years.  Events have conspired to keep me from making this particular beady pilgrimage, but this year I finally made it happen!  Heather hosts this awesome weekend retreat in her hometown of South Haven, Michigan each fall and I feel like each year's classes and projects top the last!  (At least that's how it looks from what I've seen online!)  I'm going to apologize right now that this post is going to be a little on the long side, but there's so much to share...

My weekend adventure started out a little bumpy with a delayed flight to Chicago due to having to change aircraft.  Why do these things never seem to happen when you aren't on a tight timeline?  Or is it just me??  Luckily, I was still able to get to the Windy City in time to meet up with some of my fellow jewelry makers and bead addicts... Loralee Kolton and Martha Scott.  Even though we've only met in person once at Bead & Button, these awesome ladies were willing to let me in on their road trip fun!  They scooped me up from O'Hare and we hit the road to South Haven... getting to the retreat just in time for class to start.  Whew!   

Loralee, Martha, and myself ready to hit the road!

If you don't already know, Heather is an absolute magician with polymer clay.  Not familiar with her work?  You must check out her website, Humblebeads, and see all of her gorgeous beads... you'll be drooling in no time!  Anyway, as I was saying, Heather does amazing things with polymer clay but also has such creativity with how she works with metal and combines different elements for one of a kind jewelry... and the wonderful thing is that she's willing to share this wealth of knowledge with her students at her various workshops and retreats.  (Seriously, if you ever have a chance to take a class from Heather just do it!!)

So, true story: I am a total newbie when it comes to making anything with polymer clay.  While I was excited to learn more about this medium and get to play with new techniques, I was also a little nervous.  I shouldn't have worried since Heather is such a great and patient teacher... and I had a group of supportive ladies at my table too!  But you be the judge of how this beginner did as I show you what I made over the course of the weekend.

Friday afternoon was all about making our own molds using leaves and other forest treasures that we found around the grounds.  Some of mine were more successful than others, but I can totally see myself using the molding putty to make some more molds with some Minnesotan foliage and such.  I've got my eyes on you tiny pine cones!  After our molds set, we made buttons and pendants using a lovely bronze metallic polymer clay.  Some I added color to using Swellegant patinas and dyes and some I left plain... for now.  I'd like to play with some other ways of adding color!  

Left: my molds and first couple of pieces; Right: My finished products... the bronze one used one of Loralee's molds.

Saturday was a marathon day of multiple polymer clay techniques and metal work that ended with us finishing our lovely "Woodland Treasures" pendants on simple chain.  This finished piece of jewelry incorporated one each of the three types of "faux stone" beads and pendants we made during the first part of class with our own versions of marbled polymer clay.  This was my favorite part of playing with the polymer I think... I loved being able to mix my own color palette and am itching to combine the colors in different proportions next time!  We cut, hammered, and filed (and filed, and filed!) our copper house shapes to make the backing of our pendants and then used Heather's enchanting metal sketches technique to make the backside a work of art too.  I hang my head in shame to admit this, but while I was hammering my designs into the back of my pendant I had moments of questioning how good the final product would look.  I should know better than to doubt Heather by now!  After dipping the copper into liver of sulphur, our pieces were transformed.  I couldn't be happier with how my pendant turned out!

Day Two's finished necklace... handmade except for the glass and findings!  I even made the tassel!

Sunday morning we had one last project to learn before lunch and hitting the road back home.  We had a fun time making a trio of adjustable bracelets using copper wire and just a few simple tools.  I had a little trouble shaping my bracelets, but I think that with a little practice, these would be super fun and fairly easy to make.  They are also a perfect use for those orphan beads we all end up with!  I made some substitutions and additions to my charms when I got back home.  I'm not much of a bracelet wearer, but these may have me changing my tune!

My finished bracelet stack

Here are a few more pictures from the weekend.  As you can see it wasn't all bead and jewelry making.  We took time out to share meals together, chat, and drink wine... so much wine!  Many thanks to Loralee and Heather for letting me share some of their photos with you!  Of course no retreat would be complete without goody bags filled with new beady treasures from some of my favorite artists: Heather, Gardanne, and Michelle McCarthy!  Friday night's agenda included a tasty dinner out on the town in South Haven and there was plenty of time throughout the weekend to catch up with old friends (several familiar faces from the Bead Cruise) and get to know new ones.

Goody bags; the whole gang at our group dinner Friday night; me, Beverly, & Loralee; Susan & Heather

On Saturday afternoon many of us took a field trip to the shore of Lake Michigan to look for stones and beach glass.  The day was absolutely beautiful and I was in my happy place looking for rocks and enjoying the sounds of the waves on the beach.  The tide was coming in and I got a little wetter than I had planned, but I'm not sweet enough to melt!  (Plus I wore my Keen sandals for a reason!)  Heather did a rock drilling demo on Sunday... I'm hoping some of the stones I collected will work!

Lake Michigan at Deerlick Creek!

Sadly, all good things must come to an end.  After lunch on Sunday it was time for a group picture and to head home.  I feel so blessed to have been a part of this weekend... it's always wonderful when like minded folks come together to create, share, learn, and just connect with one another.  I've come home from Michigan inspired and re-energized... ready to make pretty things that I hope others will love as much as I do!

A bevy of bracelets!  And the whole group before we had to leave to go back to the real world.

While I was incredibly excited to attend the Inspired by Nature Retreat, learn new things, see old friends and make new ones, I have to admit that I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy polymer clay.  I was pleasantly surprised that I really liked playing with this new medium and can see a lot of possibilities down that road.  I'm looking forward to clearing some time on my schedule to play with different ways to add color to the clay and texture to metal after all the new skills, tips, and tricks I picked up.  Unfortunately, my list of new tools and toys that I want is growing... I'd better start that letter to Santa Claus soon so he has plenty of time to track things down! 

Thanks so much to Heather for hosting such a wonderful event... I can't imagine how much goes into planning and executing such a well run and fun weekend!  And thank you to the other participants (many who have been coming back year after year) for making me feel so welcome.  After reading this (or at least skimming it for the pictures!) are you wishing you had gotten to go too?  Never fear!  Heather is offering an online version of the retreat and you can still sign up for that HERE!  I promise you will learn a ton and have fun doing it!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Art Bead Scene: October 2016

It's no secret that I adore glass in all its many forms: stained glass, lampwork glass, glass sculpture, mosaics, beads, artwork, and oh so much more!!  Bearing that in mind, you can bet that I was thrilled when I caught sight of the October Art Bead Scene challenge inspiration... it's a gorgeous Art Nouveau cameo glass lamp by Emil Galle.  Seriously, check out this beauty!  You can read more about the artwork and the artist over on the ABS blog HERE.
"Dragonfly Lamp"
By Émile Gallé, late 1800's- early 1900's
French Art Nouveau, Cameo Art Glass

The shades of purple and amber feel a little unexpected to me, but I think it's perfect for fall.  I wish I could see it lit up in person... I bet it gives off a lovely glow!  I recently painted a new batch of large dragonfly focal pendants and I thought it would be perfect to work one of those into a design for this challenge.  Now to just find an art bead to use!  I quickly solved that dilemma by looking in a little box of lampwork beads by Sheila Davis of Stone Designs that my husband bought be for Christmas.  My photos don't do it justice, but the lampwork bead has a luminescent glow to it and includes a mix of the colors present in the lamp.  I added an amethyst and Czech glass bead along with some brass bead caps to complete the pendant.

I may have taken some liberties with the color of the dragonfly focal, but I think that the mix of components works overall.  My normal necklace design uses a plain chain but I wanted something more exciting and colorful for this challenge.  I mixed in some rutilated quartz beads in a pretty yellow/amber color along with some green gemstone rounds.  To bring in more of the purple and to echo the pattern around the bottom of the lamp shade, I added some purple Czech glass maple leaf beads.

Thanks for stopping by!  You can see what other jewelry makers are inspired to make this month (and past month's too!) over on the group's Pinterest board HERE.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Some Sunday Earrings!

I had a good time this weekend making my favorite thing... earrings... and I wanted to share with you in a quick post!  I'm going to be heading to Heather Powers' Inspired by Nature Retreat on Friday morning for a weekend of beady fun, but that means that I've got a lot to do to get some jewelry delivered to Unearthed Arts before I leave.  For the second year, Unearthed Arts, the gallery where I sell most of my jewelry, is going to be setting up an exclusive shopping boutique during the Achieving a Healthy Balance event sponsored by the Ridgeview Hospital Foundation on October 15th.  Anyway, my point being that all of these earrings are headed to this great event to support a great cause in our community!

I finally made a couple of earrings using some of the beads from Allegory Gallery's Mermaid Lagoon challenge.  (You can see the necklaces and bracelet I made with the kit HERE if you missed it!)  First up is a pair using glass beads from the kit paired with brass beads and findings.  The idea is that these would go with the starfish necklace that I made.

Next is a pair that features a gorgeous pair of ceramic charms made by Marsha Neal that I picked up at Bead & Button.  I added some recycled glass, more brass, and some funky glass beads from the kit to top things off.  Now I'm itching to play with more of Marsha's pretties that are in my hoard... we'll see what the week ahead brings!

It wasn't all mermaid colors this weekend... I also whipped up some more earrings with hand-painted brass elephant charms!  I had a recent playdate with my friend Marcia where we broke out my collection of Vintaj patinas and I got a few pairs of charms painted and sealed.  I love the green and purple color combination!  I made another pair in turquoise and red like I sold during the Art Wander.  I want to try these in some other colors soon because I think they are so cute!  

And for my last pair, it's back to the beach!  (Seriously, why am I in the mood for beach and ocean themed jewelry when I should be in fall mode??)  More charms that I painted with Marcia.  The base color is really a turquoise color, but I wanted to demonstrate how to mix the metallic patinas with the glaze for a nice overcoat and she'd already poured out some gold.  The result is was a happy surprise that turned out a cool and weathered greenish color.

I hope you enjoyed my newest earring creations!  It was fun just to get to play around with some things with no real direction... just following my muse this weekend.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Allegory Gallery Mermaid Lagoon Challenge

For some reason, perhaps my friend Carrie's influence, I just couldn't resist snatching up a Mermaid Lagoon mystery challenge kit from Allegory Gallery when they announced it!  I'm often leery of surprises or "mysteries" because I want to know exactly what I'm getting, but I have a high level of trust when it comes to Andrew and William at Allegory... and, you know, mermaids!  As always, the kit included a lovely and fun mix of materials for participants to play with.  Also, we got not one but TWO pretty focals made by Andrew... I was certainly not disappointed with my "mystery" purchase!

The first thing I made was a fun multi-strand bracelet using a design by Lorelei Eurto.  I picked a large lucite (?) bead to anchor the design and added some other beads from the kit and my own stash to complete the design on teal waxed Irish linen and brass.  I had some tiny Czech glass fish shaped beads that were the perfect thing for one strand!

Next up, I pulled together the Swarovski pearls and large lucite beads from the kit and strung them simply with copper saucer beads in between.  I finished the back with some fun new chain that I just picked up from the G&LW show that was just in the Twin Cities this week.

I'm notoriously bad about buying the kits for the Allegory Gallery design challenges and then not making anything with the mystery components.  I blame my hoarding tendencies for this!  This time I was super determined to get something done with at least one of Andrew's pretty pendants!

I grabbed the mermaid pendant and was thinking of doing a multi-strand necklace with a variety of seed bead strands.  As I started working on my first strand, which alternates plated hematite corner-less cubes with the pearly seed beads from the kit, I decided that simple might be better this time!

This may be a sign of the coming apocalypse, but I actually made a necklace with the second pendant that Andrew sent along too!  I wrapped a brass filigree piece around the starfish pendant and made links from a variety of glass, gemstone, Swarovski pearl, and crystal beads both from the kit and my own stash and finished the back of the necklace with brass chain.

My brain hadn't totally let go of the multi-strand idea even though I didn't use it for the mermaid necklace.  Last Friday during a jewelry making playdate with my friend Marcia I painted a Vintaj Arte Metal pendant with an ocean wave design unintentionally (unconsciously?) in colors to match the seed bead mix from the kit.  I used the mix for one strand and seed beads from my stash (which is stupid large for someone who doesn't do bead weaving or embroidery) for the other two.  Full disclosure... I haven't finished the back of the necklace just yet, but you more than get the idea of where I'm going with the design.  I'm planning on finishing the back with some silver plated hammered cones.

Even after making all these designs I still have tons of fun goodies to play with!  I had set out some items for earrings, or at the least the start of some earring ideas, but haven't completed any of those yet.  I'll try to get a couple of those done before I move onto other projects and deadlines since they are still on my bead board.

Thanks for stopping by to see what I've been busy making.  Check out the Allegory Gallery Design Challenge Facebook group HERE to see what other participants dreamed up!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

October 2016 Inspiration for the Honey Do List

This year, my husband Eric has decided to issue me a design challenge each month to get me out of my comfort zone and to help clear out my bead stash... we're calling it the Honey Do List.  I know that I'm not the only one who loves a good design challenge, so I'm inviting folks to play along!  

Here's this month's inspiration and what Eric had to say about it:

For this month's challenge I wanted to use a shot from our recent 15th anniversary trip to Disney World in Orlando.  As part of our trip we did the Wild Africa Trek in Animal Kingdom--a special tour that gets you even closer to the animals!  I have plenty of pictures of rhinos and hippos but they just weren't colorful enough for a jewelry making challenge.  Enter this photogenic giraffe who kept sticking his tongue out at us...

The reveal date will be Monday, October 24th.  To make it super easy for you to participate and share your creations, I'll set up an Inlinkz link up so folks can add their blogs as they are ready.  Just stop by my blog on October 24th and join the fun!  I'll leave the link up open for a while... so you have plenty of time to add your links.  (Last month's is still open... check it out HERE.)  No blog?  No worries!  Feel free to send me a picture of your creation and some brief comments and I'll happily share in my blog post.  You can reach me at  The more the merrier, so I hope you'll play along with me this month!