Wednesday, October 27, 2010

100th Blog Episode!

I’m having an episode of writer’s block, stuck for an opening line to begin this week’s entry. I’ve typed just as many words as I’ve deleted, the cursor sweeping up the unused words into a pile of nothing, the blank white screen staring back at me like a threatening ghost.

It’s because this is our 100th blog entry and I’m making it out to be super important in my head; a milestone which I’ve turned into a millstone, you know, the really bad kind of jewelry that gets fastened around the neck and causes drowning. Not my kind of necklace at all, thank you.

So I shall remove the self-imposed yoke from my shoulders and instead of mixing metaphors, mix up the blog routine.

For the past two years, every Wednesday, including when we’ve traveled as near as Corvallis or as far as Japan, we’ve met our deadline, which was the original challenge when we launched it back in 2008.

Having been under the spell of “wanting to be a writer” since I could hold a pen, I wondered if I could actually set a goal for myself and then keep it no matter what was going on in my business or personal life. The answer is happily yes.

I was under the misguided belief that designing jewelry was our temporary thing until I could become a writer full time and sadly, I must confess I’ve wasted an awful lot of energy resenting what I thought kept me from being a real writer. Guess what? That was me!

While I do enjoy splashing the page with words, I don’t love it enough to work at the business end of writing, which in this day and age, is the majority of it.

When I decided to create a blog, a venue where I could write about anything I wanted and to illustrate it with our photographs, I soon discovered the weekly experience more than scratched any chronic writing itch I may have had… and then some.

Creating the blog has required two days of work for me and one for Groom each week. Tuesdays have been set aside for writing the initial draft and selecting the photographs. I marinate the composition overnight and then spend Wednesdays editing while Groom sizes the images and formats the text. Phew, talk about time consuming.

Yet a funny thing happened on the way to the computer. As I committed to writing this blog, I discovered I no longer spent any energy resenting the jewelry and in fact, I fell head over heels in love with it, unearthing a growing passion for design and metal.

So I gratefully thank the blog platform for giving my writing an outlet and harnessing the creative power that we’re now channeling into our new line of bricolage jewelry. And I wholeheartedly appreciate all the followers, the long-term ones who have actually read all 100 and the new ones who pop in every now and again. Thank you.

Having said all that, the blog is changing. Into what, we don’t know yet, but the idea that is forming is taking shape in shorter, perhaps more frequent entries: Maybe a photo or two at a time with a paragraph ---but not on any rigid schedule, so you’ll get to check back anytime to see what’s new.

As for this week’s photographs, they were all taken last Sunday on our walk. It felt like we traversed all four seasons in the span of 45 minutes. Starting from the top, it seemed like spring with the blue sky and the tree still in possession of all its green hair.

We were thrilled to find flowers in bloom, their bright petals representing the transition from spring into summer.

And then we ran across this little vignette, an old-fashioned typewriter hanging out between a brightly colored beach ball and picnic table and a pile of pumpkins. This photo is a bridge between the joys of summer and the harvest of autumn.

These pictures are set up for you to click on them to enlarge. Just hit the back button to return to the blog.

The sand dollar paired with the leaf imports more seasonal changes, images of playing on the beach receding into happy memories as the falling leaves become more immediate, but all of it transient.

The progression of photos leads us into winter, but before all the trees are bare and we’re full force into Holiday Market, we must stroll along the calendar pages, stopping at Halloween for a little spooky fun.

For thousands of years, frogs have been associated with myths, folklore and magic. Looks like this poor little fellow escaped being the secret ingredient in a cauldron full of swamp punch, only to be struck down on a side street. RIP little froggie.

Of course the Halloween season, full of cats, jack o’lanterns, candy and costumes, falls just before All Saints Day, November 1st. So whether you party, pray or do both, please remember to clean up the rotting pumpkins!
So stay tuned as there could be a brief entry tomorrow, who knows?

Happy Halloween and an All Saints Day to you! Stay safe.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

We The Jury

The early years
For most of us, the word jury conjures up the official summons for civic duty, a mandatory “request” temporarily inviting us to join a group of our peers for the purpose of pronouncing guilt or innocence upon the accused.

For artists who’ve run away and joined the festival circuit, the term jury means almost the same thing.

A later incarnation
 Many times over the years, while Groom and I have been in our jewelry booth, innocent customers have asked the question, “So did you guys just show up here and set up your tent?”

Yep, that’s exactly how it happened, except for NOT.

Let me tell you how it’s done. First, we have to cultivate a list of viable shows. This requires a lot of research and sometimes money, because a few smart people - after having discovered how much effort it takes to track down the names of art fairs and festivals, who the promoters are, the dates of the show, the application process, the jurying fee, the deadlines, the criteria and etc., ad infinitum - have decided to keep this information secret and sell it for a lofty price.

Just because a person now has possession of the coveted list does not necessarily mean all of the shows are practical or profitable. More research is required, picking the brains of other artisans who may or may not have previously participated.

So much of one’s success depends on weather, the economic status of the town (or state as we have recently learned on a trek to California), the location of the show (shady park or sizzling street), the length of time it has been operating, how much advertising the promoters are willing to do, well, you get the idea.

In the Pacific Northwest, climate dictates the relatively short show season, so as is often the case, several prime shows occur on the same weekend which quite frankly is heartbreaking. If only they would stagger themselves on the calendar for a more user friendly dance card. It seems as though they all get bunched up at once, having us travel from one corner of Washington to the mid-section of California within the span of a week, leaving no time for rest, stock infusion or petting the cat.

Once the list is in hand, the calendar looking like a drunken game of connect-the-dots, the application process begins.

When we first made our debut, back in ‘91, we were selling exclusively at the Eugene Saturday Market. One day, a promoter of a local show invited us to participate and we were given a lovely booth spot and some column inch space in the newspaper as an “invited artist.” Wow, that was easy.

A promoter of another show saw our work and invited us to apply to theirs up in the Portland area, but said we’d have to take photos and fill out a form. Well, okay. So I just rifled through our box of stock and selected a few pieces that seemed intent on becoming our “best sellers.” Holding them in one hand, I just went out into the front yard and took the photo myself with the other.

Yes, I had to take the film to the drugstore and have it developed, but that was it. I simply dropped five pictures and the application form into whatever envelope I had and mailed it. We got in. The early 90’s were like that.

Nice hair shadow!

In some cases, we actually had to drive to the host town, such as Bellevue, Washington, months prior to the show so that the promoters could take a look-see at our work. If they liked it, we were in, which they did and so we were. Of course, this was expensive as we had to spend money on gas, hotel and food, plus take the time out of our creating schedule to do it, but that’s how it was done so we did it.

After a few seasons applying for shows in that fashion, things began to change. Instead of print photographs, some shows were starting to demand slides, so we had to invest in double the film and developing. After a couple few years of that, most of the shows got on the same page and they all went to slides.

Instead of a local promoter simply looking at the photos included in the envelope and deciding upon which vendors to include, now a bunch of slide projectors had to be set up, all the multitudes of little slides had to be placed into the slide projectors right side up and time set aside to look at them all, one right after the other.

Photographs allowed the promoters time to think, as they could look at them one by one as the mail brought them in until the deadline. They could put them in different piles to mull it over and see what else showed up. We usually got in.

When they switched to slides, suddenly the promoter (and probably some friends or family) had to sit in the dark and see one image after the other, or perhaps all of one artist’s projected simultaneously. Whatever the case, it was overwhelming and after awhile, they all sort of ran together and they got tired and we started not to get in.

After panicking a bit, this is our living after all, we learned that a panel of professional artists had been hired to look at the slides and weed the good from the bad. This was called a jury. Yep, they would pronounce sentence on our artwork and we would be allowed in the show and make some money, or rejected and allowed to starve.

More panic and research ensued. Those who were getting in were paying professional photographers to take the slide shots. For those in the jury, the quality of the slide is what became noticeable and separated the chaff from the wheat.

Suddenly, we had to fork out hundreds of dollars for what we’d been doing ourselves. But the quality of our slides went up and we were getting into the better shows, so it all paid off. Phew!

But evolution marches on and the digital age encroached upon us. Now, it seemed, it was easy peasy to take digital shots of one’s own work. This opened up the field and more and more people started applying to shows, creating a shortage of spaces compared to the overwhelming number of applicants.

We still managed to get in, until… Until those with advanced computer skills raised the bar and now the quality of digital shots had to be flawless. Until a company called Zapplication became the standard by which we all have to apply. Until we started not getting into as many shows.

More panic and research. One now cannot just have flawless digital images. One must create a body of work that has theme and focus. A collection, if you will. We cannot submit work that the customers like, no, because what do they know; they’re just voting with their money.

Insert ominous music here. THE JURY. A panel of our superiors passing judgment on those who will live and those who will die.

Even if the craftsmanship is impeccable, the theme must pass muster. As the jury has between 5-6 seconds (seconds, not minutes) to make their decision, they have been given a point system to use. They judge on a scale of 1-5 with no three’s allowed, which means when they see an image they either give it a one or a two or a four or a five. No middle ground, they either like it or hate it. At the end, those artists with the highest scores are in and those with the lowest…must I say it?

I have since learned that many themes are passé, such as dragonflies and hummingbirds. Juries loathe cute. If it’s popular, fogetaboutit.

The work must be evocative, but not provocative. Any religious imagery is out, for one member of the panel might be very religious and think the work is sacrilege, while another might be an atheist and find it offensive.

One cannot pull from pop culture like Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz or Marilyn Monroe for they’ve been done to death. Or say familiar like the Eiffel tower, for one juror might have been engaged near the iconic structure and smile with passion at the reminder while another might have been jilted by a lover in Paris and seethe with anger and take it out on the applicant stupid enough to use it.

The secret unknowable list goes on, topics that are permissible and more that are not. The photographs also have to be composed in such a way that the first image points to the right so that the juror’s eyes follow naturally to the next, while the last image must point up and to the left so their attention does not wander. In the 5 seconds!

Also, all components must be handmade; no more commercial parts such as earwires, jumprings, chain, charms and beads.

And the background. Phew! One must know what the color du jour is a la mode before hand. One season it was all white, but now, any artist who has their work photographed in white does themselves and the artist following them in the lineup a disservice. Why? Because in the dark, a white background is so bright, that the jurors eyes don’t have time to adjust before the next set of slides appear and even if the next artist has done everything exactly right, they may still get penalized on the basis of pupil dilation.

Another year it was all black. Now the trend seems to be a gradient from white to black or some such thing. How to learn all of this before forking out the cash?

Even after the collection, or body of work has been artfully and creatively thought out, photographed by the best in the biz, the images must then be sent to another enterprising fellow for professional cropping, Photoshop magic and layout. Then those images must be sent to another consultant on the east coast for his opinion as to their merit.

It’s all so bloody time consuming and expensive.

And so, to answer that innocent question, “Did you guys just show up here and set up your tent?”

We wish.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Salley Forth

I received an email this morning containing the following message:

This October is very special. It has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays all in 1 month. This happens once in 823 years. These are known as money bags. Pass this along to 8 good people and money will appear in 4 days based on the Chinese feng shui. No pass backs. Those who stop it will experience none.

Really? I opened my calendar and counted, and sure enough, five Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. But I also happen to have my 2004 calendar open to October and guess what? Also five Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. I did the math and came up with only five years since the special, lucky “money bags” month occurred, not the reported 823. Wanna know something else? If any of us are still breathing, it’s supposed to come ‘round again in 2021, a mere egg short of a dozen years from now.

Of course, I do love fun numbers and alignment and had one of my heart’s desires come true last Sunday, on 10-10-10.

Last year, I bumped into a photo of a necklace that made my heart skip a beat. For years, customers have been requesting that I design necklaces and all I could imagine was taking one of our finished postage stamp pieces and stringing beads and the thought made me queasy.

You see, I didn’t want to make matchy-matchy and got stuck in my own mind’s quagmire that that’s all I could do. But when I discovered this photo of Richard Salley’s art, it broke something loose in me and like a warm summer rain, washed the mud away. When the rain stopped, my internal atmosphere cleared and I found a path to my own designs.

The term “sally forth” means to begin an adventure and for those of you who have recently discovered our blog, Groom and I set out on a new adventure this year in designing our 2010 collection, taking metalsmithing classes and setting up a working studio in our basement.

In the jewelry world, Richard Salley is known as a rock star. In all the time of staring at his work published in books and magazines (I’ve been carrying around this particular photo in my purse for over a year), it never once occurred to me that I might meet him, much less take a class from the metal genius, or even, hold my breath, ever have the opportunity to own a piece of his original artwork.

All I knew, while meditating on his stunning artistry, is that I desired knowledge and felt if I stared long enough, I would summon it to me somehow.

About six months into our new journey, led by the brilliant star of Mr. Salley, it finally occurred to me to see if he had a website. Duh! The first thing I noticed was a tab for “workshops.” I clicked on that page first and was thrilled to learn that this Santa Fe jeweler would be teaching a class, “Skulls, Wings and Rusty Things” at Art & Soul in Portland, Oregon during October. Groom and I immediately signed up, postponing our trip to New York until February 2011.

The highly anticipated day finally arrived last Sunday and we couldn’t have been more delighted (except for the getting up at O’dark-thirty and driving two and a half hours in the rain), but Richard Salley’s teaching style was relaxed and my hunch that he’s a bit of a rogue cowboy proved true in my eyes.

Taking his inspiration from wrought-iron work, he has such a high level skill set and knows intimately the rules of design, that he can bend them at will with fantastic results.

Not only did we have a chance to meet him, but we learned several valuable techniques including the very specific one I had hoped for all year, and I had the opportunity to purchase a necklace from him directly. Jackpot!

While planting seeds in the pure fields of possibility, we also learned that Richard, and his brilliant wife, Jane Salley, are co-teaching a week long workshop in sunny Mexico in January of next year. Oh shazam, would Groom and I like to attend…

The magic continued. For our anniversary last August, a photographer friend of ours in Portland, Miss Bee Bugg as we affectionately call her, gifted us with an overnight stay at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, which included the $12 a night parking fee and a lovely complimentary breakfast. We decided to use it after the class Sunday evening.

So on 10-10-10, we stayed on the 10th floor in a beautiful suite with a sweeping view of the City of Roses.

The artist Tim Lord (that I wrote about on August 4, 2010), and his wife, Mary Gayle, on their way home to Spokane after another opening for his artwork, this time in Astoria, met up with us.

We had a chance to see a fresh print from his latest painting, Day of the Dead at the Deadwood Cemetery, a companion piece to his Wild Tea Party at the Deadwood Cemetary Alice in Wonderland themed painting.
We toodled up to Northwest’s Trendy-Third neighborhood and all agreed on the Chinese restaurant August Moon because of the red lanterns hanging in front. As you can see from his paintings (just click on them to enlarge), Tim Lord likes red lanterns.

Parting is such sweet sorrow, but it had to be done. Saying goodnight, Groom and I spent a lovely evening in our fancy digs and enjoyed breakfast the next morning in the Crowne Plaza’s restaurant. As we were leaving, the server brought us to-go cups and filled them with fresh coffee - what a thoughtful gesture.

What trip to Portland is complete without a stop at the famed Powell’s Bookstore in the Pearl District? Touted to be the largest new and used book store in the world, it’s always a thrill to saunter through the maze, drooling at the sheer volume of books, suddenly in need of titles one never knew existed.

We finished our mini-working vacation with a mango bubble tea from Boba Tea and a bit of a shopping spree at Dazzle and Galore before heading home.

To close this interesting week, Saturday, October 16th is Sweetest Day. The purpose of this holiday is to make other’s feel special. It is a time to acknowledge family and friends who make your life special. I want to take this opportunity and wish all of you the happiest of Sweetest Days.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lost in Folsom

Ignorance did not prove blissful this week. Groom and I just returned from a seven day trip participating in the Sacramento Arts Festival. Our best two shows this year were in Boise, Idaho’s capital city, and Salem, the governmental seat of Oregon. Our logic was that Sacramento, home to California’s beautiful capitol building, would round out the trifecta, making our last out-of-town show end with a big bang.

How about a less than impressive fizzle?

Fraught with tension just a few blocks away, Governor Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders were locked in a five-hour meeting spilling into Friday evening, October 1, 2010, attempting to end California’s record-long budget stalemate that has been continuing for more than 93 days.

Rumors of a hand-shake deal spread throughout the Sacramento Convention Center by 7:30pm. The show went until 9pm. In other words, a loooooooooong day.

Unbeknownst to us, government workers have been made to take Fridays off without pay, called “Furlough Fridays.” The trickle-down effect has been fast and furious.

In its 13th year, the Sacramento Arts Festival was unfortunately in the line of “friendly fire.” Without enough money to pay their bills, most people stayed home, choosing not to fork out the $15 per day parking lot charges and $7.50 entrance fees (and I thought parking in Eugene was an issue). As we were downtown four days in a row, we did not budget $60 to park our van so that stung a little. Blissless.

In its defense, the Sacramento Arts Festival is a beautiful show, one of the most diverse collections of artists and artworks under one roof that we’ve seen. With plenty of time to walk the show, it didn’t matter how many times we wandered about, there was always something new to see. The layout was great, the colors bright and the art complementary; but hardly a customer to be found.

The promoter, Warren Cook, is beloved. More artists told me that they do his shows simply because he’s Warren. He was a joy to work with and I can see why he’s so well liked and respected.

As happens at a slow show, there’s not much to do but visit with each other, so on a fonder note, we met some fun vendors. One couple from California boasted quite emphatically that Stanford was going to kick the University of Oregon’s, and therefore, our behinds during Saturday night’s big game. While he said it with humor and swagger, we kept checking the score. By 7 o’clock when the show closed for the evening, the game had not finished but Stanford was up 31-24, so the butt-kicking would have to wait until Sunday morning.
My cousin, who lives near Fresno, took a vacation day off from work and drove up to meet us. She booked a room next door in the same hotel, so we turned the weekend into a fun slumber party of sorts, staying up late, visiting and eating yummy food in our pajamas.

Perusing the Sacramento magazine in our hotel room, I noticed an ad for “the largest collection of antique shops in California.” So Cousin and I decided to play hooky from the show Sunday morning and go on the hunt for jewelry-making parts while Groom opened the booth.

What started out as a simple plan…

In spite of using her GPS, we still ended up lost, because the address given in the ad did not match the photo or the description. It was an empty building up for lease. I Googled the place on my handy dandy new Internet phone and we called the number listed. The message went to voicemail, a young girl wishing us a nice day.

While lost, we ended up in Historic Folsom, the city made famous by Johnny Cash and his 1956 trademark song, Folsom City Blues.

Early on Sunday morning, most shops were closed, but we did notice three different signs about karma, the Eastern philosophical concept of action and deed, cause and effect. Hmmmm….curious.

Walking back into the show, we encountered Mr. Stanford. As soon as he saw us, he covered his face with his hands. As the UO beat Stanford 52-31, he apologized for his arrogance and offered me a fabulous glass of wine to go with his humble pie. For you wine-bibbers out there, do I have a tip for you: Heringer Estates 2006 Petite Sirah. I finally understand descriptions like ambrosia or nectar of the gods. Aah, Bliss.

While the profits from the show were not what we were hoping for, we did get to visit with my cousin, see my parents and hang out with friends on the way home, so all was not lost.

Driving down I-5, we pulled into a rest area for a quick stop. Three nuns in full habit emerged from the vehicle next to us and proceed to amble toward the women’s room. Respectfully, I was not going to rush so that I could push ahead in line of three nuns, nope, wasn’t gonna do it. Turns out, there were four stalls, three of which had doors and the fourth one did not.

I giggled to myself, that here I was, the only other person in a room with nuns and my stall did not have a door on it. Whatever your belief, nun’s are a pretty significant symbol of religion and in the ongoing conversation with the Universe, it was not lost on me that I had an “open door.”

Hmmm, let’s quickly retrace. Getting lost in Folsom which is represented by a prison song, three signs of karma, a trinity of nuns and me with an open door. These things might make you nod off, but they certainly had the power to catch my attention, so while you’re looking at these photos, I’ll be a pondering.