Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Is Over But My Dreams Live On

Have you ever had an idea that just wouldn’t leave you alone? Or one that you dreamed about? It doesn’t happen to me very often but when it does, WOW!

Before Christmas I made several blown glass ornaments. On one of them I ‘drew’ a poinsettia on a blown ornament and it didn’t crack while I made it or break from thermal shock in the kiln. I was elated. This success gave me so many ideas that I wanted to try and one of these ideas I actually dreamed about the other night.

Yesterday I was able to torch for the first time in weeks. The day was cool and the studio was about 55 degrees, a perfect starting temperature since the torch and kiln will raise the temperature in the studio by at least 10 degrees during the course of working at the torch. I knew I was almost out of oxygen so I knew that once I ran out of oxygen I might not have another chance for a while. So I got busy. I had to dip my hollow mandrels and get them ready, and I had to wait for the kiln to warm up enough for what I would feed into it so I made a red, white and green twistie to pass the time.

In my mind the ornament would have a clear base with grapes and vines decorating the top. I didn’t have any dark purple cane pulled so I created one with periwinkle as the base and dark amethyst transparent encasement, pulled out to about a 2 mm thickness. I cleaned a rod of clear glass and got ready to make the ornament.

Heating a freshly dipped hollow mandrel will sometimes cause the bead release to pop, so I carefully introduced the mandrel to the back of the flame and wafted it there for a few seconds. When I could see that there were no pops or cracks in the bead release I brought it forward in the flame and started heating the mandrel and also the clear glass rod. When the clear glass was liquid I applied it to the very end of the mandrel, and then marvered the glass to press it onto the mandrel and give a better neck to the ornament; and then I began to wind on the glass to form the hollow blob of glass that would be blown out later. As I wound the glass on, I brought it out until it was about double the diameter of the neck and then I wound it back down so that it had a roughly sphere shape to begin with.

Next I heated the glass until it was glowing and puffed a small amount of air into the ornament to expand it very slightly. This is to help center the bubble inside the ornament so it is a better final shape. Then I added another wrap of clear glass so that the glass is thicker and will make a sturdier ornament.

Now that the glass was thicker it was time to blow it out to make the ornament shape. I heated the glass until it had a uniform orange glow, and then I raised the blob straight up over my head and begin to blow through the hollow mandrel. Understand that when I say blow I really mean just little puffs of air, not like I’m blowing out birthday candles but more like saying “puh puh puh”. Watching the ornament grow with the air that I’m puffing into it I am aware that the ornament needs to be centered by turning the mandrel and also by lowering it to a horizontal orientation so that the heat of the glass will cause it to droop floor-ward but turning the mandrel keeps the ornament centered by using gravity and turning to offset each other and give a good shape to the ornament.

The base of the ornament was made and I really liked the shape of it. It was centered and a nice round shape. Now to decorate!

I used the purple cane I had pulled earlier to make dots in a grape-cluster shape in three places on the shoulder of the ornament. I didn’t concentrate on finishing one cluster before moving on to the next, but put two or three dots on one spot and then moved on to the next, continually turning the ornament and wafting the whole thing in and out of the flame to keep the whole thing warm. Putting the grapes on was definitely a stressful thing to do, and then I needed to put on vines and leaves! I found a piece of yellow-green cane and spiraled it on the shoulder of the ornament just above the grape clusters, making small loops that would suggest the tendrils of a grape vine. Next came leaves that I made using some vine cane that was on the bench. I added two or three leaves to the top of each grape cluster and then a few on the vines. I felt that it still needed something so I found a piece of goldstone cane and used it to suggest a stem on each of the grape clusters.

WOW! The ornament was complete. I couldn’t believe that I had put the decorations on the ornament without it cracking or the bead release breaking. I looked at it and decided to blow it out a bit, so I heated the ornament and puffed a couple of times into it. That made the clear glass at the bottom grow down instead of out, making it more of an oval shape. I knew that it was a good shape and I was afraid to take the time to check for any gaps or misshaped grapes, so I put it in the kiln.

Then I took a deep breath!

The annealing process takes several hours and when I checked on the goodies in my kiln during my nightly dog-walk, the temperature was still 125 degrees. I pulled each item out and looked at it, but didn’t keep them out long, and I returned them to the kiln to cool completely. At this first look the ornament seems to be okay, but the only way to tell is to check on it the following morning when it is completely cool. This morning I removed the ornaments and other beads I had made from the kiln and examined them closely. Unfortunately the grape cluster ornament has a very small crack under one of the vines but it is hardly visible. Overall it is in good shape. I won’t ever sell or give this ornament away, since it was my first grape cluster ornament, so it is definitely worth keeping.

Let me know what you think!
My first grape cluster ornament!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What Can Eclipse An Eclipse?

So, how important is it to stay up half the night for an event that hasn’t happened in almost 400 years and won’t happen again until 2094? I’m not so sure.

I thought that the news reports said that the eclipse would start at 12:00 and take over an hour to reach the full eclipse but at 12:15 there was no sign that I could see that anything was happening. I figured that I was up anyway, so I might as well stay up and see what it’s all about. A few hands of solitaire or a bit of web surfing would kill the time.

Well, at 12:29 I noted that the moon is getting a bit greyer, probably about 40%.

But. . . I was wrong. Upon checking at 12:49 I could see the edge of the earth’s shadow start to cover the moon, and I could see why they say it will take so long for it to take place. It was going at a snails pace!

At 1:35 I walked up on the hill so I wouldn’t be in the trees that surround the house, and the perspective is much different there. The constellations Orion and the Pleiades were visible, but clouds obscured the big and little dippers. The light cloud cover didn’t cover the eclipse but did provide a dramatic backdrop for it. I saw a ghost ship in the clouds, and the face of an old man waiting for the show.

The night sounds greeted me, the coyotes in the distance, the hoot of an owl, neighbors’ dogs barking, and the screech of an unknown bird, all accompanied by the bump-bump-bump of the gas well pumper just up the road

The cats and dogs joined me and I stood there for a few minutes watching the shadow creep onto the moon. I turned off my flashlight and stood surrounded by purring cats and nuzzling dogs and watched as the sliver of white disappeared from the moon, turning it a burnt orange color.

Was it worth it? I would say yes. Not just for the eclipse itself. It was worth it to catch a bit of the life I don’t experience because I’m usually tucked warmly in my bed at this hour. It was like going to a foreign place by just stepping out my front door. A place that I don’t visit often but when I do it’s always thrilling.

Monday, December 20, 2010

What’s There to Crow About?

I’ve mentioned before that I started keeping chickens and guineas. I bought them as one-week-old chicks and keets from Atwoods. There was a very helpful and knowledgeable lady there that answered all my questions and guided me on what I would need to start my chicken-guinea adventure. Four of the chicks I bought were ‘sexed’, meaning that they were supposed to be all female. I bought two others that I told the lady I didn’t care if they were male or female because I did want one rooster. The keets came as straight-run, meaning they were (probably) 50-50 male/female.

Fast-forward 15 weeks.

My routine each day starts with a walk up to the road to let the birds out of their coops and then on to collect the newspaper. The dogs and cats usually make the trip with me. It’s not a long one in distance but time-wise it can take quite a while, depending upon what I find to slow my progress. I have paused on my route for sunrises, flowers, birds, turtles, and anything that sparkles on the path.

This morning started like most others. I let the chickens and guineas out of their coops and checked their food and water and then made my way up the driveway. Anna, our beloved Pyrenees, was ‘guarding’ the driveway from a depression in the grass, so I made my way over to pet her and say good morning, and the other dogs joined me, nuzzling her to say ‘hello’.

Then we heard it; a strange sound. Something I had never heard before. I paused, and the dogs did too. Waiting to see if the sound happened again. Yes, there it was. What was it? It was coming from the chicken yard. Could it be? But that’s not what it should sound like. And again – the sound. Yes, yes, yes!


I walked up to the yard and watched as one of my ‘guaranteed female’ hens was crowing. I have wondered about this particular chicken for a few weeks because it was much larger than the other hens and it’s comb and tail feathers were larger. I have read that if one has only hens that one of them will take on the role of the rooster, crowing and acting more rooster-like and giving up their egg-laying role. But I don’t think it alters their physical appearance and starts at this early age, and especially since they haven’t started laying eggs yet.


So, I do have my rooster. It’s not one that I expected, but I’ll take what I can get. As to the crowing, I think it’s one of the sweetest sounds I could ever hear.

What a way to start the morning!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Plug Into Your Creative Process

Exactly what is the “Creative Process” and how do we plug into it?

Much of my work requires that I know how I want the finished product to look or work and then work backwards to achieve that. This works for my jewelry pieces as well as my programming tasks. To me, this is fascinating; working backwards to achieve the goal!

For a program I’m writing I need to know how the user will use the application, with needed input and desired output, then breaking that down into the steps it takes to go from one to the other.

For a jewelry piece I envision how I want the piece to look and then figure out how to put the components together to achieve this.

In either of these endeavors I usually sketch what I want, literally writing down steps of a program, or drawing the finished jewelry piece then figuring out how the wires will work together by drawing the wires as they are bent and woven. Some of my sketches literally look like scribbles because I ‘wrap’ the line I’m drawing on the page around the last one drawn. I imagine that these little sketches wouldn’t make much sense to anyone but me, but even months later I can look at the sketch and see what the wire would be doing in that piece. Often I can see that what is in my head doesn’t work with the wire, so I literally work it out on paper, saving time and effort, not to mention precious silver! Many times one sketch gives me an idea for another piece or a different way to do something, so they help me to come up with new ideas for my jewelry, too.
Sketch of a ring design idea.

These sketches are very important to me and to my creative process. I have sketches for wire wrap ideas going back years, to when I first started making jewelry. These ideas are still useful to me and I do refer to them often, especially when I want to make a piece similar to one I’ve done in the past.

So, for me a large part of the Creative Process involves putting a pencil to paper and actually drawing what I want my jewelry piece to look like. I would recommend that if you get in a rut design-wise try sketching your idea. The sketches don’t have to be frame-worthy, just enough for your ideas to come together in a finished piece.

Sketch and Pendant
Sketch and Pendant

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Greet the Morning?

So what’s so special about dawn that all the animals in the house want out and all the animals outside want in? And why can’t I sleep through it? I know the answer to the second question, but will I ever know the answer to the first? Probably not.

I do know that animals have an internal clock, humans included, which is pretty accurate. Our kittens have (for months now) started playing and jumping up on the bed at almost the exact same time every morning, attacking my feet, jumping on me, trying to rub their whiskers on my face, wanting me to get up and feed them. Coco, one of our dogs, starts whining at about the same time. Not to go out and ‘do’ anything, but to sit on the front porch and bark at the morning. 

I’m not opposed to the morning. In fact, I love the morning and I am usually an early riser anyway, but this morning I wanted to sleep in. Just a bit. I had stayed up late last night working on the computer and wanted just a bit more sleep this morning. But, it wasn’t to be, and I did finally get up and start my day.

 Sunrise Over the Pond
So, I hope your morning was a bit gentler than mine, and that you were allowed to sleep as long as you wanted to this morning. And if not, you have my sympathies. In any case, get out and enjoy the morning. The streaks of pink, gold, and orange painting the sky. The smell of the crisp, cold air. The birds chirping their welcome to the morning.

Have a wonderful day!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My, how time flies!

It’s been almost exactly a year since I posted and I can’t claim any great endeavor that kept me from it. Just life. A busy life. So much has happened that it can’t really be condensed into a paragraph or two, so I won’t even try. And while it does seem like that might mean great, or life changing, or catastrophic events, it wasn’t. It was just life.

So, here is another attempt at keeping a blog. I have questioned my motives, wondering why bother, but in the end I would just like to share. Some of my insights and techniques and thoughts. It might not be interesting to anyone but me, but who cares? If you want to join me on this venture, please do. If not, have a great day. So here goes.

I started keeping chickens and guineas this past year, and while there is a lot of information on the web about that, there are little things I’ve learned as I went along that I wish I had known. One of our cats had a litter of kittens, which are now almost grown. Even now I’m trying to type with two cats in my lap. Big, purring, male cats. More on all the antics of the animals as the blog progresses.


Guineas enjoying their millet

Also, I would like to share some of my thoughts on the creative process and share how I go about creating, be it a guinea house, a piece of jewelry, a lampwork bead, or another artistic effort.
One of my hand blown Christmas ornaments.

So, come and join me as I sip my coffee and muse about life.