Wednesday, 15 August 2007

I'm still standing... yeah, yeah, yeah...

*shudders* bad eighties music running through my head now. Although I think we're probably the luckiest generation.... born long enough ago to have had free reign and exploration encouraged, whilst modern enough that the positive side of feminism had left its mark. We're the far ranging, imaginative innovators :o)

Either way... as the title suggest, I am in fact, still here. And my workshop is looking a lot more Stephie-friendly now with all the crap removed and useful furniture of the we-had-to-put-it-somewhere variety all arranged. And a herd of My Little Ponies adorning the shelf. Absolutely essential.

My opals, tools and beads have been moved in there (I really ought to get my arse in gear and do some beadwork - which qualifies as 'real' work because I use my designs to sell the components). Although I'm still waiting for a couple of opal parcels - some cut Mexican and a lot of what should be extremely high quality Lightening Ridge black.

I'm not actually doing anything in there yet. Partly because I'm still stupid busy with real work, partially because I'm too broke to buy any equipment that I need. Although the nice people at eBay gave me a shiny £150 Powerseller Reward voucher which I promptly spent on a rolling mill (bargain - £250 list price, £150 best offer accepted so all I paid was the £30 shipping).

The good news is is that I'm one of those people who really absorbs books. I barely ever read fiction, because I become completely and totally immersed in it until finished (which is cool, but it don't half piss off anyone around you). Similarly, good techniques books are read from cover to cover, then sections that particularly interest me reread. Then I go to sleep and dream about working metal. You may laugh... but I've got a particular affinity for materials as far as shaping, displacing, bending etc go (I'm also one of those people who can tell by touch whether dye will leak from a garment, or if it really ought to be dry cleaned or if the label is lying). Had I followed my mother's physics-degrees footsteps, I probably would have excelled at an engineering discipline that required a lot of materials science. Sadly the same doesn't apply for carving, drawing or sculpting. I've got very little ability at creating from an empty space. The point being, that dreaming about metalsmithing is a perfectly good starting point for me.

I did have a fun hour or two with my mum 'opal dipping' - the idea being that when rough opal is wet it looks like it will when polished... so we sat dipping rough pieces or Andamooka opal into water in the sun. Its amazing :o)

So I'm thinking. Lots. And exploring websites (I've fallen in love with the work of Victoria Lansford - check out her site, she's absolutely amazing. And on top of the actual metalsmithing techniques, there's been some definite design tricks that have struck a chord. I already have various (scattered) folders on the PC where I nab images because I like the feel of the jewellery, or the colour mix or similar (I almost never copy... where's the fun in that?). Inspirational pictures is what I should refer to them as. But the very simple idea of keeping them and cutouts from magazines etc in ye oldey-fashioned-scrapbook appeals (and its not an idea I would have thought of - I've been surgically attached to computers since I was eight years old with a C64 and a BASIC programming book). But I like the idea of being able to flip through. The other, related, idea was to keep a looseleaf design sketches folder. While I can't draw to save my life, the idea is not to Make Friends and Influence People with my scintillating artwork, but to pin MY ideas down as and when I think of them. Especially important for me because I have a memory like a sieve.

Anyhoo... its 1am and I'm supposed to be getting some real work done (actually I'm supposed to be sleeping, but it just wasn't happening *shrugs* terminal insomnia sucks). So its bye for now but I will be back soon with pictures of my magically transformed workshop and my not-yet-magically-transformed rough opals.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Getting there....

Back to workspace. I wasn't joking when I said the designated room was a tip. Here's a 'Before' picture...

The grey bar in the forefront is a crosstrainer by the way. One of those 'I really need to get fit' moments several years ago that's sat collecting dust ever since. And underneath the pile of boxes and rugs at the back is a sofabed. Honest.

But I'm getting there. All of the kids crap is now out (you can't see it but the desk and surrounding floor area were covered in stuff). My sister's other half is coming up to collect rugs, crosstrainer, and sofabed, plus a spare cooker and freezer from our old house that were unneeded after we moved! She can use them or sell em or whatever. My time is worth more than I can make from them, hers isn't. I'll post another pic when I've finished sorting it out.

There is so much equipment I want. I need an anvil, and some jewellery hammers. A milling machine (I think thats what its called - has steel type rollers - mainly because I want to be able to texture metal sheet with it). A propane torch and something heatproof to solder on. A Genie has become my cabbing machine of much desire. It will be mine! Various other 'little' bits. And longer term a kiln and glassworking equipment. Oh and a safe... I'm impulsive, not stupid :p. Unfortunately they'll have to wait... Mr VAT man is owed £1800 and I owe quite a bit to my Big Sis Friend Georgie of so I have that as my main priority. So project Be-A-Jeweller will have to wait a little while so I can sort out urgent payments (not helped by the fact that I'm owed about 6k from the sale of part of my business earlier this year).

Therefore this week will, I think, be dedicated to real work (doubly important because eBay have decided to add item specifics to the jewellery making category *sigh*. I haven't finished adding them to beads yet and now I have a zillion other templates to edit. The only good point is that at least they did it when its quiet!). Unfortunately its August, the sun seems to have finally come out for summer on this little grey island, and that means folks aren't spending anywhere near enough shopping online! I also have an absolute shedload of unlisted stock to get up on my ebay site - just taken a massive load of glass beads (with lots of shiny gold foil beads - beautiful, expensive and hard to get over here!) plus I have a fair few new findings and bails that I haven't sorted out yet, including a lovely new range of gold filled items. Unfortunately gold filled is still relatively unheard of in the UK so I'll have the task of educating my customers on the value - approx 100 x more gold than gold plated, 5% of total weight is real gold and doesn't cause allergies, flake, or tarnish. Wonderful stuff!

If I do get a few hours to play with, I do have one toy I'll be trying out - my lovely dremelly-type tool - which while not what I want to use long term for opal cabbing, can certainly be used to play with until I can afford something better. Although having looked at all the zillion bits for it, I'm not sure I have a fine enough grit to get a really good finish. I do have stickyback wet & dry sandpaper though, so I can probably modify some of the bits. And I have some rough and valueless low grade opal to play with before I let myself loose on the good stuff!

Ad finally, to balance out the not-very-attractive picture above, here's a pretty one - this is one of mine, made with gold filled findings and Swarovski crystal (I sell lots of Swarovski). I really wish I could master photographing necklaces. I kick ass at tiny things - crystal & findings are a doddle - but anything bigger than a couple of inches and my quality drops. On my list of things I need to learn!

Saturday, 4 August 2007

For years I've been fascinated with precious metals, sparkly stuff and especially opals. I adore opals! And after years of hesitantly looking into metalsmithing and opal polishing techniques without actually DOING anything about it, I think its high time I started. I'm not a total novice to jewellery - I wire work and play with beads - and also sell beads, findings & other components for a living at so metalsmithing - and learning to polish opals - is the next big step.

Sure I could buy ready made settings and calibrated finished stones... but where's the sense of satisfaction and artistic achievement in that? I'm definitely borderline frustrated artist (albeit with an engineering brain!). Its a bitch being creative and not being able to draw for toffee.

So... the story so far. I've been reading lots and lots on metalsmithing. A whole load of books arrived from Amazon and as I'm a boring, read-the-manual type of gal, a mentally devoured them and took the bits that felt like me into my grand mental plan. Or possibly mental chaos. Kind of like a bubbling witch's cauldron with lots of unidentifiable elements in there, some of which are almost definitely going to have weird effects.

I've also scoured the web on info on opal polishing and found lots of very good sites, the best of which I'll get round to linking permanent links to at the side.

Finally, I spent far too much money on pretty rocks. Finished rocks, rough rocks, opal rocks and faceted gemstone rocks... you name it. My one point of validation is that they're most definitely a business expense and therefore reduces my tax bill! Surprisingly for me, I've thus far managed to be remarkably restrained on equipment - a dremel type pendant drill with a zillion different cutting, grinding and polishing attachments, and a stand for it. Embarrassingly, its the second time I've bought this model of drill-wotsit. I got almost to the stage of throwing myself at stone polishing in the past - and kind of got distracted by real work and ended up selling it unopened (in all fairness, I do work very hard, and have 4 kids, 7 cats and two blinkin' great german shepherd dogs. Oh and a husband but he's pretty low maintenance).

So, I got the rocks, the dremel and plenty of sources for precious metals and associated supplies (an advantage of trading in jewellery components for a living!). Next I need.... workspace.

I'm fortunate enough to own quite a large house (by UK standards anyway) - need it for all the horrible beasties. So I have a big room downstairs that doubles as my office and stockroom, and the kids had another 'spare' room downstairs for one of their computers & consoles & stuff. However after months of trying to get them to keep it even vaguely tidy, I feel fully justified in kicking them out (its not as mean as it seems - just means the PC goes into one of the boys bedrooms - and given that the wireless connection didn't work too well downstairs - the fault of a rather large aluminium backed magnetic board I have on one of the walls - the kids ain't complaining :-).

So my next step - again before even touching any jewellers equipment - is to clear all the 'spare' furniture and other crap that's been dumped in it - kids desk and computer was in one corner, the rest of the room was erm... pretty much temporary storage.

So there's the start of the journey :-) Its quite exciting really... I like new things!