Sunday, May 17, 2015

Hello from Austin

I arrived in Austin for Tom Herman's workshop on carving precious metals. It starts tomorrow and I am so excited! Tom is a master jeweler and his work is simply amazing.

Tom Herman -

Austin has been getting more than its share of rain and storms lately, so I am taking a day in with my sketch book and some tea. My lovely hostess from AirBnB also has a lovely cat and friendly dog, so I am in excellent company.

I was able to take a nice long walk yesterday, when I arrived. After 10 hours in a plane plus too many hours to get to the airport and waiting around, my legs needed it!

Thursday, April 9, 2015


Should I keep the book reviews here or spin off a separate blog? I am thinking of spinning off since they usually have nothing to do with my usual topics but I will keep them here if you guys want me to.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

New works and works in progress

While I have plenty of new work, I have been very lazy about photographing and sharing it. Most of these pieces have remained my preciouses for now but just for a little while more.

Just some of my new pieces

But all that backlog doesn't mean I am not working on others. Right now, I am exploring these shapes

These are formed by dropping molten metal into water, creating soft, organic shapes. By varying the amount of metal, the height and the water temperature, different effects are achieved.

And here are some of the pieces they were made into. I combined them with pearls, harmonizing the shapes and soft textures.
Sterling silver and Tahitian pearl

Sterling silver and freshwater pearl

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The essence of art

I recently found out that there are people who debate whether ballet is an art or a sport (yes, I have been reading YouTube commentary again - bad, bad me!).

The argument for sport seems to center around the physical effort required of dancers and that seeing it as art would diminish that effort (as I said, I am going by YouTube comments so please feel free to correct me or to expand the argument).

I am no doubt in the art side of the argument. It seems hard to relegate artistry to second plane in dance. Even the more abstract choreographies still attempt to transmit ideas, explore artistic concepts, etc. If we compare a gymnast's routine with a dance, the former is focused on the physical accomplishments with the aesthetic as a second thought. The later is focused on the expressive and the physical is a means for this.

Top Gymnasts in action

In the video, we can see what the athletes are being judged on: strength, precision and formal perfection. We can see that the movements are in a sequence but not necessarily an artistic sequence.

Let's look at a review of a ballet performance:
"She then joins the vengeful ghosts of jilted brides in the forest as a mature woman who defends her beloved betrayer long enough to save him. Eastoe's portrayal is an emotional journey in which every changing aspect is believable. She has always been a strong actress; now, as she ends her stage career, her technique and ability to convey meaning through body language are at their peak. I am sorry to see her go.
[...]The corps de ballet is in top form: vivacious and communicative in Act I, softly synchronised in Act II. Peter Farmer's traditional designs, lit by Francis Croese to William Akers' original plan, look good. Adolphe Adam's music gets melodious treatment from the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Nicolette Fraillon."Read more:
The critic focuses on communication, emotion and storytelling. He doesn't ignore the technical side, of course, but as a mean, not an end. Of course virtuosity has an important place on the stage. But a dancer doesn't just go on stage and do . That would just baffle the audience. In the context of a choreography, though, such a display of technical mastery is breathtaking.

Ballet video, just because

Another difference between ballet (and other dance forms) and sport is the choreographer. If we see dancers as athletes, what are choreographers? Their entire role is to develop an idea and communicate it through movement and music. A brilliant choreography will be picked up by other dance companies and still have meaning a hundred years later, while a skating routine (which also integrates music and movement) is disposable and will be forgotten after a skater moves on to a new routing.

But why did this debate resonate so strongly with me? It goes back to an idea I've already written about. Saying dance is sport because it requires training and strength goes back the idea that art is effortless. And art is never effortless.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Better than Before - Book Review

Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Sometimes, I am a sucker for punishment, I have never been fond of self help book but I have been thinking of my habits for a while. When I saw this title at BloggingforBooks, I decided it might have some interesting information and might help me. It does but you have to put up with the author along the way.

Gretchen Rubin reminds me of a cross between an over eager puppy and a second rate business consultant. Once she takes hold of a subject, it seems to become her life. So far, that is her problem (and her husband's - I feel a lot of pity for the poor guy!). But she also wants to spread her new revelation to everyone around her. Habits! Habits are good! Habits will solve your problems. Let's push exercise and diet on her sister, house organization on a friend, etc. Any conversation seems ripe for her to introduce a new habit on someone (ok, there is a bias here, since conversations that are not about the book's subject would not be included in the text, but...). Her sheer enthusiasm can be exhausting.

She also takes things to extreme. She is nice enough to answer reader email and comments on her blog. However, she decided to save time by cutting out salutations and closings on her messages (no saying "hi" or signing off since those must take all of 10 seconds and are a habit for most adults). When someone mentions that her emails sound unfriendly this way, she argues through that the time saved is more important (saving all of 5 seconds per message at the risk of sounding brusque).

She also reminds of the worst kind of business consultant: her book is filled with "The 4 Tendencies", "The Essential 7", "The 4 Pillars ", etc. She also likes pompous titles: "Strategy of Monitoring" or "Strategy of Convenience". I haven't seen so many lists of all encompassing principles since the last management seminar I went to. Some are explained in the book but I suspect others were introduced in her previous works and just tossed in casually.

However, there is also good advice in the text (but don't get pressured by Gretchen to see things her way - she acknowledges that different things work for different people but she also tries to push her on the reader). I enjoyed her analysis of rewards, where the motivation for the habit becomes the rewards and not the result of the new behaviour, and of loopholes (guilty as charged!).

Overall, when I think back on this book, I remember my annoyance with the author and not the good parts of the book. I do want to go back and reread specific parts. Would I recommend it? I am not sure. I am not going to read another book on habits, though.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

This is What You Just Put in Your Mouth

Another review for BloggingForBooks

This Is What You Just Put in Your Mouth? From Eggnog to Beef Jerky, the Surprising Secrets by Patrick Di Justo 

A friend once forswore gelatin forever when she found out it was made from animal carcasses (like a good friend, I decided not to tell her how broth is made, as that would have too much of a negative impact on her life). She is the type of person who would hate this book.

Based on the author's Wired column, the book consists of many very short chapters, where the main ingredients of a food or other product are shown, discussed and analysed. Sometimes, there is a short background section as well. The writing is always casual and fun. The author's sense of humour runs along similar lines to mine, so I really enjoyed myself.

For me, it was interesting to understand more about about ingredients such as taurine or calcium phosphate. Yes, many of those are also used in other products (such as Plaster of Paris) but there is a huge difference between eating a food grade ingredient and Plaster of Paris. Of course, not everyone agrees with this view and they may have very different reactions to this book. The author himself has a very balanced view, showing why an ingredient is used but, at the same time, often not hiding his reaction of "I am eating this?"

Part of it may be that we are very distant from our own food. Not that long ago, most cooks would know what gelatin and broth is made of. Using every part of an animal or plant was also seen as positive. Today, we seem to think that any part of an animal that isn't a steak shouldn't be eaten or that all plants should be pretty to be eaten. For some reason, it seems more reasonable when the little old lady makes tortilla the traditional way (with lye) than to read that an industrial plant uses the same chemical.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Work in Progress - New Weave/Braid Pattern

I haven't posted any work in progress in a while, since I was too busy churning out new work for the exposition last weekend. It is hard to stop to take photos when I am switching from one project to the next non stop.

See what I mean? Yup, all those bits and pieces were projects underway.

Now that that is over (for now!), I decided to take up the textile techniques again. These pieces take a long time to finish and it just wasn't the best use of the limited time before the show.

First, some new information. Much to my dismay, I figured out I have been using the wrong terminology. My bracelets aren't woven, since there isn't a warp and a weft. They are braided: the strands alternate between acting as a warp and as weft. Sorry.

Now, to this week's project. My previous braided pieces were all balanced: one over, one under. I experimented with different braids (single, double, triple), with forming and with multiple metals but it was always balanced. My new experiment was to do a tweed style pattern, where one wire goes over two, under one, creating a diagonal pattern. In a tweed cloth, this direction is usually reversed at points, creating diamond patterns.

I wasn't sure it was going to work out well in a braid, though. But I decided to forge ahead. Keeping track of each wire was not easy and the edges were a real issue, since the wires kept coming from alternate directions (you can see how the edge isn't as neat in the photo). But, overall, it did work pretty well. The tweed pattern is clearly visible despite the edge issues. I didn't reverse direction this time, that is for the next project.


Curiously, I like the back as much as the front, since the pattern seems to be more delicate. It shows under two, over one. I may just form the bracelet back to front. Or maybe I should do it the traditional way, since it is the first tweed sample. What do you think?

Next steps: anneal, form the bracelet and fuse the edges. Hopefully, without melting or cracking the wires!

Book Review - The Reputation Economy

A BloggingForBooks post.

The Reputation Economy, by Michael Fertik and David Thompson

In a few words, the book discusses how large scale data analysis will be able to correlate everything about you online, seriously impacting what jobs, dates and perks you get in real life. If you are a loyal customer, you may get attractive offers to switch but none once you are already a client. However, a disloyal customer will be identified as such and will either consistently get good offers (to hold him) or the company will just let him go to whoever wants to woo this hard client. The same thing will happen in all spheres of life, from finance (credit offers and interest) to dating websites. Everyone will be looking at huge data banks and specific scores (dependability, social, financial and whatever metric a company decides to create in order to identify the best clients for their strategy) so that the individual will not even be able to tell why they are treated the way they are.

Overall, I enjoyed the book more than I expected. I found the descriptions of how this kind of data analysis actually works fascinating and I developed a deeper understanding of how scoring works. However, I think the authors severely overstate their case. They rely on how one single action might have huge impact on your score, which could radically change your interest rate or job offer. That overlooks the fact that it isn't in the lender's best interest to radically change interest rates at the drop of a pin (the client won't be happy and that will affect the lender's reputation right back, since this works both way).

Also, it is important to remember that no one is perfect, no matter how perfect their "life curation" is. If we know everything about everyone, we will have to come to terms with the fact that everyone rants sometimes, everyone farts, everyone does somethings they shouldn't. It is already possible to see this: things that would be absolutely shocking 30 years ago (when it was much easier to keep some things quiet) are now more of a "they shouldn't have done it." My own prediction is that it will soon be easy to identify (using the same methods and processing power the authors describe) over curated profiles, which will raise the "what are they hiding?" flag. Anyone who has conducted a job interview has seen the too slick, too good candidate which sets off the hinky meter, even if we can't place our finger on the problem.

It is pretty obvious why the authors take such a radical stance on this: Fetik is the CEO of a company that does online reputation management - each reader that gets shocked into fear is a potential client. So I decided to take the worst case scenario with a grain of salt.

Monday, February 23, 2015

What makes an artist?

This post began as a Facebook status. It sparked some interesting conversations and I wanted to elaborate further.

It started with this image:

(sorry, I do not know the original artist; I found it floating on FB.
If you know the photographer or captioner, please let me know)

You know the old cliche about artists as free souls, beating to their own drums, etc, etc, etc. Of course the artist is the one that doesn't conform to the rules while the others are just boring, conventional people who will have boring conventional lives.

No. If you ask me which one of those little girls will be the dancer, I would answer the one that is concentrating, paying attention to the teacher and practicing her little heart out to attain perfection. The one who loves dancing so much she is willing to give up almost anything to dance, who will train every day until her feet bleed.

This is what a dancer's feet look like. This isn't someone who is just goofing off, this is someone who is willing to hurt a lot for her art.

Who will be an author? The one who not only observes people and lives, who has great creative ideas for a story and has something to say about both, but, mainly, the one who sits down and writes. Their first story will be terrible, their second story will be terrible and so on. But if she practices her craft, if she is willing to read over her work (painful as it may be) and evaluate it objectively, if she is open to advice and weighs that advice, she will improve.

Which one will be a painter? The one who works all day at a job to pay her bills but gets home and sits down in front of the easel for a solid 4 or 5 hours of work, dreaming of the day she can support herself with her art. The one who can hear 50 "nos" but take it as a learning experience, to improve her form of expression.

It isn't enough to "have something to say" in order to be artist. It is also necessary to be able to say it. That requires practice and hard work to develop your skills. Goofing off doesn't make an artist, it gets you kicked out of a serious class.

Pure technique also doesn't make an artist, it makes a craftsman. Artistry is combining what your soul wants to share with the skills to make it come true.

Artists may be introverts or extroverts, the class clown or the bookworm. The class clown may become a lawyer, a doctor or an artist. In the end, it is about having something to communicating and working hard to express it, understanding a chosen medium so it can share the message, knowing the rules well enough to break them for a cause and observing the world to extract that one new thing, large or small, that no one had noticed before.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Little Art from Unexpected Places

We often see a great divide between scientists and artists - one is cold and distant, the other passionate. They see the world in different, irreconcilable ways.

At this point someone will mention how Einstein played the violin. He did - quite badly according to some (others thought he was a good player, so I will leave it to the gentle readers to come to their own conclusions). I want to share a different scientist who was also an artist.

Richard Feynman - physicist, Nobel prize winner, elected one of the top 10 scientists of all time, lifelong curious guy - was also a bongo player (pretty well known fact) and a semi amateur visual artist. His views on beauty and art was simple:

I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. Then he says “I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe…

I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.

You decide if he was any good.

One minute line drawing

And some more here:

Book Review - Provence, 1970

This is a review for Blogging For Books.

Provence, 1970 is about a group of influential American cooks and food critics (Julia Child, Richard Olney, James Beard, Judith Jones and M.F.K. Fisher) travelling to Provence in 1970 and how this ended up changing food culture in the USA. The author is MFK Fisher's great nephew and uses her diary as a basis for the book.

I wanted to like this book. I wanted to like it a lot. I wanted it to show me how cooking changed in the early 70s and how this group of people did it. I wanted to see cooking through their eyes and experience

I did not like it, though. The book assumes the reader knows who all these people are. Forgive my lack of food history, but I only knew Julia Child and only because of the movie Julie and Julia. So the whole narrative is structured around people I didn't know and mentioning all their important, influential works I had never heard of. 

From the blurb in the back, I knew something huge was supposed to be happening but I had no idea what. I felt I was reading about several people I did not know, without much character detail, talking and complaining.

Not only that, but I also have to ding some points for the writing itself. I am not particular about writing. I appreciate a well crafted sentence but I won't notice awkward ones until they get very awkward. For example, a paragraph tells us about roasting chicken and serving it. Midway through, "it" starts to refer to the pasta the chicken will be served with. Colour me confused when the author mentions boiling "it"!

If the reader is already well acquainted with these people, I am sure they will think this a fascinating behind the scenes look. For me, it just dragged. On the bright side, several of the cook books mentioned are now in my to-read list!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Another book review and random musings

This book was provided by Blogging for Books. A good side effect of Blogging for Books is that I am finally blogging semi regularly. The downside is that I may need to rename my blog, since it is being overrun by book reviews. 

This week's book was Inside the Criminal Mind, by Dr Stanten Samenow. Dr Samenow is a psychologist who works with criminals and chronic law breakers. His basic thesis is that criminals act based on choice: they know they are harming others but don't care. The criminal mind is basically self centered, acting for their own benefit regardless of others. In the author's view, this is as true of a petty street thief as of a white collar crook and not everyone with a criminal mind is in the criminal system. This book is a revised edition of the original 1984 text.

The opposite view is the one that criminality is a result of poverty and circumstance. In this case, the way to end criminality is to attack poverty, to educate everyone and guide them to proper jobs.

Personally, I take both views as right and wrong. There are people with criminal minds and there are people who are the result of circumstance. There are people who see stealing from a corporation as a "victimless" crime and, therefore, justifiable. There are those who see some criminal actions as retribution in an unjust system. 

As an insight into a particular type of criminal, the book is fascinating. As a generalization, it leaves a lot to be desired.

Now, to other subjects.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Book Review - Lincoln in the World

Another book review and, this time, I am back in my milieu - non fictional (and non speculative) history. This week, I read Lincoln in the World (once again provided by Blogging For Books).

One thing that always puzzled me was why Britain didn't enter the Civil War, since the South provided most of the raw cotton needed by Britain's huge cotton spinning and weaving industry. On the other hand, Britain was also strongly anti-slavery. Had they entered the war defending the South, there is little doubt that the North would lose. So how was this accomplished?

The book, however, has a wider scope, trying to show how Lincoln's foreign views worked through out his career. It includes the French invasion of Mexico and even adds a (very weak) chapter on Marx. Some are intriguing, others puzzling. The French invasion is more properly tied to Jackson (Lincoln could do little more than send a telegram), the Marx chapter does stretch credulity. 

The best part, however, is the entire cast of characters, from Seward (the Foreign Secretary) to Napolèon III, including an interesting and little explored side to Mary Todd Lincoln.

Veredict: well worth the read

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Kicking off 2015

Now that I've wrapped up 2014, let's get 2015 started.

I like to start a new year with an experiment, something I've never done before. This year, I attempted to use a braided shank for a ring. I've been mulling over this idea for a while now and it was time to get it down in metal.

Yeah, I won't call that a success. The ring ended up bulky and awkward. But the idea is out there. A thinner braid would probably be better but I was very happy at how sturdy the shank is after heat treatment. Also, a lesson learned: don't ever quench argentium wire, even if you think it has cooled enough. If just one point is still too warm, it will crack and cracked wire is broken wire. On a ring shank, that isn't a big loss. On a neck piece, that would be 15-20 hours of work ruined. Not good.

My main worry in this project was soldering the braid to the bezel. It still isn't perfect, as you can see, but I got the knack of it. Next one will be perfect.

So, what now? I am wearing this ring for several weeks, so I can be sure the braid is comfortable and that it will withstand abuse. Then I can create a more fluid, delicate piece.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Wrapping up 2014 - part 2

I've shown the last piece of 2014, the pearl necklace. But, of course, that doesn't mean that everything was neatly wrapped up in 2014, leaving 2015 a blank slate. Quite the contrary; there are several (ahem, nice understatement) unfinished projects around to be taken up this year.

Most of the unfinished projects have a clear direction and I just need to sit down and finish them (the nice rubellite cab ring, the large gold rose, the silhouette pendant, etc). This is the big unfinished project, though. It was an answer to Peter's challenge for us to slay our beast and face the design and fabrication issues we most avoid. In my case, it was asymmetry, multi metal and ornamental. A quick look at my work will show that I tend to symmetrical pieces, in a single metal and a somewhat minimalist look.

The first challenge was braiding the neck piece. It is significantly more complex than braiding a bracelet. The wires are much longer (hello, safety glasses!) which make them both harder to control and the ends get quite work hardened by the time they are braided. The shape has to have more curves to sit correctly - they have to curve around the neck as well as over the shoulder and over itself, so they look rounded. The braiding itself is quite time consuming.

The first attempt was an unphotographed failure. I have some pride and I won't share that one with you. I tried to mock it up with copper wire but the wires hardened much too fast for the work. Then, I tried argentium silver, so the entire thing could be heat hardened at the end. Have you any idea how easily argentium wire will crack when annealing? Yup, another attempt bit the dust.

Over and under, over and under, over and under ad nausea

This was my final try. I am not completely happy with it but it is decent and very wearable. The photograph greatly magnifies the unevenness at the back - by the time you consider all the curves plus the distortion caused by the wires, it looks a mess even though it isn't. Really, I promise.

One semi finished neck piece, ready for ornamentation
At this point, all I can say is that it is neither asymmetrical, ornamented or multi metal, which means it is time to get to work to make a profusion of flowers and gemstone settings to adorn this basic shape. And that is work for 2015!

The Woman Who Would be King - Book Review

This review will be short and bitter - just don't waste your time

I am not going to go into a detail oriented rant, since I am working on my self control. Sufficient to say, this book should not be classified as non fiction, since nearly all of it is speculation. It would have been a better book if the author had just decided to plot out the story line, add dialog and call it fiction. Of course, in that case, she would have had to learn how to write dialog, character development and how to drive a plot.

A short summary: the book proposes to tell the story of Hatsheput, the queen who became a Pharaoh in her own right and how she built her own characterization to support the Egyptian political and religious views. The difficulty lies in that the Egyptians did not record the details of political chicanery, so there is almost no detail about her rule or why it was almost completely erased some 20 years after her death. That is where all the author's speculations come in play.

Leaving aside the speculation, the book is also extremely confusing. Dates are left very vague. In part, this can be attributed to the lack of source materials. However, a better structure would have solved this. Much is said just in passing but later referenced as important events. One line of speculation is used in one chapter (Hatsheput's daughter pre deceased her) but then a different one is taken up on the next chapter (Hatsheput's daughter may have officiated at her burial). A lot of the book is dedicated to how Hatsheput built her political power but almost none is dedicated to why it unraveled still in her lifetime

The best part of the book were the foot notes, which points to many interesting scholarly works.

Once again, this is a review for Blogging for Books, who provided me the ebook.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Wrapping up 2014

Wow, 2014 was a roller coaster year. Between moving cross country, getting married, family health problems, Etsy issues, etc, it was anything but boring! Overall, I will say it was an awesome year. I feel I made huge progress artistically, in no small part thanks to Michel Sturlin for guiding me in developing my artistic vision (yes, I do have one! I think of myself mainly as an artisan but now I can see how my design sense works and that there is a strong artistic core there) and to all the wonderful people I met online, way too numerous to name individually.

Don't these pieces look coherent together?
I admit I am somewhat ritualistic on occasion. For example, I didn't want to end 2014 just working on humdrum things, I wanted something special to close it off. Since I discovered how gorgeous and varied pearls can be, I decided on a pearl necklace. Since I had this gorgeous strand of button pearls waiting for something unique, I decided I was on the right path.

Isn't the luster nice? It is almost mirror like and, yes, I have a black camera.

I also wanted to balance the classical with something a little edgier. Instead of using a white silk to knot the pearls, I chose this beautiful navy. The navy adds contrast and helps to visually separate the pearls, so each one can shine on its own, instead of blending together. I also double knotted for heavier knots, to help the navy stand out and further separate the pearls.

Button pearls separated by navy silk

And, finally, I needed a clasp. Better yet, I wanted a versatile piece that would work with multiple clasps.

My first inspiration were the 18th century pearl chokers. They are so elegant! Some were worn impossibly high (giving literal meaning to "choker") while most were just nicely nestled in the curve of the neck.

The French must have used anti-gravity technology to keep that necklace there!
That line of research led me to a simple navy blue satin ribbon, tied in a bow and streaming down the back. To avoid looking over the top, I used a thin ribbon, but a wider, shorted one would also look great.

Then, for the second look. I wanted a stone clasp, with small hooks to hang from the jump rings used for the ribbon. Lo and behold, I had the perfect lapis lazuli just waiting for this project. Rarely does a project come together so easily, with everything already in hand.

Lapis Lazuli in lightly hammered setting

Isn't this a lovely way to end a year?