Monday, May 21, 2012

Notan - the balance between light and dark

The concept of Notan comes to us from the Japanese, where it literally means Light-Dark. It is the balance between light (white) and dark (black) in a figure, where neither color dominates or is subordinate to the either. Each is defined by the other and the viewer can switch between looking at the black or white figure, without a clear right way.

The most familiar Notan image is the Ying-Yang symbol and the philosophy it symbolizes also fits perfectly with Notan: male and female, light and dark - they complement each other and lose meaning alone. If we remove the white from the symbol, what would we have left?

This vase shows a beautiful balance between the shape and the spaces left empty - 3D Notan

The concept of "switching" the views was not natural to me and I struggled with the concept until I remembered this figure. A simple representation of a cube, made from lines or wire, known as a Necker cube. Is it facing up or down? I love this image and I never had any problem switching between the views. Once I had this in mind, I was able to see both values in Notan with no difficulty.

The concept of Notan can also be used to analyse Western art - how the light and dark shapes in a painting, for example, interact. I find Van Gogh a great example of this. In this oil painting of a field, we can focus on the lighter paths or concentrate on the dark figures and fields.

From here, it is simple to extend the concept to sculpture (the solid spaces and the empty spaces of a piece), to architecture, to quilting, etc.

Notan in jewelry --   

Friday, April 27, 2012

Circus of light and darkness, dreams and magic

I haven't mentioned books often in this blog, although they are as central to my life as my jewelry. My childhood revolved around books and my little apartment is lined with books. I find that books show me new worlds, beautiful ideas, the gossamer connections around us and the solid fantasies of what could or could never be.

I recently read Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. I was captivated by the dreamlike images and the weaving of magic and reality. While the characters are interesting and likable, it is the circus itself that captured me. A black and white circus that appears unannounced around the world, opening only at nightfall and lasting until morning. There, reality and magic combine, creating experiences that are hard to say if they were real or not.

The circus, however, is only a setting for a challenge between two magicians, who expand it with ever more amazing features, with delicate frost worlds, illusions, excitement and reflection. One works from a distance,
with careful models; the other is at the center of the circus, disguising her magic as mere illusions.

This is a book worth reading twice. The first time, you discover this beautiful, seductive world. You see a mystery unfold and are drawn in by the characters. The second reading shows how beautifully the story is constructed and how the main characters are often the only ones blind to the true meaning of what is happening. As the book unfolds, the true meaning of their challenge becomes clearer, as does their relationship with their mentors, circus members, each other and the Circus. Some of it is unexpected, some is heartwarming and many are heartbreaking.

The two competing magicians are wonderfully balanced. Marco is meticulous, careful and maintains careful control of his creations. He can also be cold, calculating and manipulative of the people around him. Celia is warm, collaborative and sparkling (perhaps not the best description, but sparkling is the word that comes to my mind when I think of her). However, she also tries to hold on to too much and won't let her creations have a life of their own.

One of the images that most struck me is quite simple and unobtrusive, in the middle of such glorious inventions. Marco is trying to explain the nature of the contest to a friend, even though he hardly understands it himself. He says it is like a balance and the contestants' achievements are placed on the plates and weighed against each other. Therefore, each one must keeping doing more and more, trying to outdo themselves and the other. At this point, the friend asks if the balance won't eventually break from the combined weight. Marco brushes this off, saying that she didn't understand it.

This image of always trying to surpass the other, until we break, seems to me to be at the center of our lives. We are always trying to be more, to do more, to be more that we do break. Instead of always competing, stop and enjoy this dream circus around all of us, called life.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Seasons are turning

The summer days are fading away. While I welcome the cooler days, I find myself missing the long days. It is getting dark too early for my taste.

While I enjoy a cool breeze, many of my online friends are talking about spring planting, flowers and the end of winter. It is a curious thing, living two different seasons at the same time, one here and another, vicariously, through the internet.

Living in a tropical country, seasons are not very clearly marked. While the temperature does vary from very hot in summer to reasonably cool (around 12 or 15C) in winter and the humidity goes from too much to too dry, there aren’t clear signs of each season. If I took pictures from my window throughout the year, it would be hard to tell the season.

I would love to live in a more temperate climate again, where each season is very clear and can be easily characterized. It adds a different rhythm to life. I find it hard to be inspired by seasons, when they are so indistinct locally.

Check out what my metalsmithing friends have to say about the seasons:
Steph Stargell 
Pennee - All Wired Up Jewelry Designs 
Autumn Bradley 
Contemporary Jewelry by Beatriz Fortes 
Jessica @ Abella Blue 
Sylvia Anderson 
Amy Estelle 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Atomic number: 79
Atomic weight: 197
Electronic configuration: 4f14 5d10 6s1
Tensile strength: 120 MPA
Mohs hardness: 2.5

While scientifically exact, the numbers and figures do little to describe the appeal of gold and why it has been synonymous with luxury and wealth since antiquity.

Gold occurs naturally in nuggets, often mixed with a little less than 10% of silver to form an alloy called electrum. There is no set formula for natural electrum and it can vary widely from place to place. It is easy to imagine the bright colour and shine of the high karat* gold catching the eye of one of our antecessors. A gold and silver alloy is also easy to work, so our sharp eye friend could easily hammer it out into a wearable disk or just keep it as it was found.

My over active imagination aside, gold has been used by humans for around 6 thousand years,  but became more common in the Bronze age. It makes sense that as we started exploring the properties of metals and discovering metalworking techniques, we would also learn how to use gold.

Unlike bronze, gold was used mainly for ornamental, not practical, purposes. Early pieces include the Mold cape and this bronze and gold sky disk:

From then on, gold has been used in jewelry and coins, to guild wooden statues and furniture, even for plates and cutlery. In modern times, it has found a variety of new applications in electronics, chemistry and the automotive industry. In fact, cultures who do not value gold are the exception and generally have a different material that has similar functions in society.

There is plenty more I wanted and planned to say about gold: more technical explanations, demystifying gold carats, talk about white and other coloured gold and share a ton of trivia about gold. This post is already pretty long and I don’t want to bore you, so expect more golden posts in the near future.

Curiosity – the Aztecs called gold teocuitlatl, which translates to, ahem, excrement of the gods.

*watch this blog for a post explaining everything about karats and gold alloys

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Healing Broken Hearts

Recently, someone very sweet mentioned how she had noticed several broken or beaten hearts in my work, but never a whole or a healed heart. She said she was sorry I was so sad and hoped things would improve. I was very touched, but I have to tell the whole story about the hearts.

The broken hearts were, indeed, designed at a very difficult time for me and they reflect that. I think that is why those designs are so effective. However, that time is (mostly) behind me. I have healed, grown and learned a lot in the process. Yet, the symbolism of the whole or healed heart hasn't shown up in my work.

The answer is simple. When I was hurting, I was focused on the hurt and pain. As I healed, however, I was looking out to good things. I wasn't thinking about healing, it was happening as I was busy doing other things. Those things are in my jewelry as well - flowers, paintings, pets, etc. Perhaps they don't scream "healing" but they are things that helped me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Freedom isn't something to be taken for granted. We have to fight for it and to maintain it. Too often, the easiest "solution" to a situation is to let go of rights, increase control and tighten "security" on everyone.

I take intellectual property and rights very seriously. I depend on it, on one hand, and I want other people who also depend on it to continue creating beautiful, disturbing, intriguing ideas. Even those annoying, low, cheap ideas that all of us complain about (but often direct at different targets) deserve to be protect. However, the way to do this is not to stifle the exchange of ideas and information.

Yes, let's stop online piracy.

No, let's not do it by constraining the flow of thought through out the world.

Piracy is a huge problem and needs to be fought. But it needs to be fought in a different way. Let us all demand a new solution and let us all be clear that freedom is something we value.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Random Posting

The main reason why my blogging is so sporadic is that I want to write beautiful, insightful posts, preferably with some wit and well developed and articulated thought. And with beautiful photography, just like I see in some artist blogs. Which means that it never gets done.

This little post is unpretentious and it exists to remind me that we can't let the dream of perfection get in the way of doing what we want. The next post will not be perfect either but, hopefully, it will be a little better.

This picture was taken in 2010, in Guatemala.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Old Year, New Year

Yes, another New Year post for the blogsphere. No new concept here, just my own reflections on the closing year and the new one.

I love the holidays: selecting gifts, planning activities, decorating, making special meals, etc. I really do. But today I was finally able to sit down with a mug of tea, a bowl of ice cream (vanilla with maple syrup and peanuts, for the foodies), some quiet music and think about this past year and start thinking about the next.

2011 was a turning point for me. A little background: I quit my office job in 2010, after a very painful period. I spent that year travelling, thinking, I started therapy and just plain tried to put myself back together before going back to the workplace. In the beginning of 2011, I started looking for the same type of job I had before and it took me a few months to realize that I was doing a lot of sabotaging myself, because I simply couldn't face that reality again.

That was a very painful moment for me. My career was very important to my sense of identity. I felt I couldn't go back yet that everyone would look down on this decision. It sounds silly now, but I felt I couldn't talk about this decision with anyone, specially my own family. I could see their reaction, their disapproval and disappointment so clearly in my mind. Yet, in the end, I found nothing but support. I was never quite able to make an announcement but it slowly trickled around. Even now, writing about it, I get choked up and teary from how hard it is.

Once this was clear in my mind, I had to figure out how I was going to earn my keep. I knew that I wanted jewelry making to be my focus but, at the moment, it just isn't enough to pay my bills. What else could I do? I can tutor young people, I can teach languages, I can translate. I can do a lot of other things, but these are my focuses at the moment.

In 2011, I saw my Etsy sales grow impressively, as I invested in marketing and new pieces. I started working with gold, including my sister's wedding ring, and I registered my own domain and got my own website working ( - shameless plug), which was incredibly exciting. I also was accepted for a jewelry project book and pitched an article for a jewelry magazine.

There is so much to do in 2012! It is going to be an exciting, busy year.

First of all, I must continue to nurture my business. I want to make more pieces, beautiful new designs and learn new techniques. But I must continue to advertise, grow a customer base and keep my existing clients as possible as I can. I must also take a lot of decisions and actions that come from being self employed: find a decent health plan, re do my retirement figures, straighten out several tax and registration issues, etc. Not exciting but absolutely necessary.

Since translating is going to be an important part of my income, I want to take a full course on it. However, it is expensive and a big commitment (2 years) so I am still hesitant. I am trying to pick up some projects to help out (so if you know anyone who needs to translate anything to or from Portuguese, let me know! And I swear this is the last shameless plug).

In 2010, I spent 2 weeks in Penland School of Craft. I now see how crucial that time was in helping me grow confident in my skills and how much I learned there (a lot of it wasn't technical skills at all). I can also see how much more I could have taken away, but my broken state of mind didn't allow me. I want to go back in 2012, if at all possible. I am counting my pennies for this.

Finally, I am going to strive to make my peace with letting the world know about this new path I am taking and how proud I am of what I have achieved so far.

And I want to lose 10 pounds.