Monday, January 27, 2014

Four, and What They Did, In Progress.

There are pieces of artwork, once things are in full swing in Studio Stuffsmith, that seem to make themselves as I stand, conducting the players but bystander to the unexpected outcomes.

This is such a piece.

I select this magnificent steel spigot handle, layers of paint exposed through years of weathering the elements, and it sets me in motion. I've wanted to tuck into this particular object for about ten years, and this is the time to act on it. I also mentally take note of a very special object that I'd like to use as a 'chain', but it's too early to think about just yet.

The spigot handle is pretty heavy, so I decide to remove the center struts and therefore take half of the weight with it.


The removed element is beautiful on its own, and will be saved for a later opportunity. Rummaging through my trove, I carry my newly-liberated spigot with me to see what transpires.


It doesn't take long: a beach-worn aluminum bottom of a soda can, encrusted with fragments of sea life, catches my eye.


 I will never tire of this work, for it is this 'click' moment that energizes each act in the studio. The fit is exact, and they speak to each other like old friends.

And so they are lashed together, these survivors of the scrap heap.



 I then decide to make a chamber inside which I can build my composition, and it must be watertight, as I have the thought to encase the center in resin.

I select four of my precious 'gem' size tintypes from the 1860's, each one-of-a-kind image no bigger than a postage stamp.

Two men and two women, all from the same photo album (family? good friends?), who will also be tied to each other with thread.


As a central focus, this is so strong for me, that I stop and begin to search for a title. An hour or so later, I've found it, and it too is one I've hoped to use for many years.

Some epiphanies over the course of making shout loud and clear; others are quiet but no less powerful for their impact. This is the first time I've chosen, instead of tearing my title organically, to carefully cut it out in a 19th-century fashion. I'm a bit shocked this has never crossed my mind to do, with the thousands of pieces I've made in the last quarter-century!

The first layer of resin is poured.


The title is laid, and will float, suspended, in the center of the mix.


48 hours later, I can continue work on the piece. I drill recesses into the four main compass-points of the spigot in which to set opals.


The opals in place. Now to complete the resin structure.

A large mold I made earlier will become the dome of the lens.

It's a delicate operation to join the two resin halves together without air bubbles being trapped.


Pressure is applied and the piece remains clamped to set for about 72 hours.

My attention can now turn to the delightful, if extreme, choice of hanging elements: a Victorian-era masonic ceremonial sash, which I slightly modify to feature the spigot as its 'medallion.'

The almost impossible intricacy of the sash seems to lend the focal point a pathos it didn't have on its own. I love them together. After completing the back of the piece (I sadly did not have my camera to record this part), it calls itself done.

To view the finished piece:

Or, for purchasing information:

 Thank you for joining me!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

LIFE'S RECORD, In Progress, Part 2.

Last time we sat down together I was ready to create a wooden body for the inside of the fork's 'bowl.'

Getting roughed out.

A large hole is marked and two points where I will recess the wood so the fork will 'set' some dichroic glass beads I'd like to use.

After that is prepped, I mark out where I'll be able to peek through the fork tines.

Now turning back to the fork, I create lateral piercings to accommodate two more of Mira's teeth.

These teeth are set in place as well as the glass beads.

The wood is now painted a deep brown.

My hope here is to build a chamber that will contain several more of my daughter's teeth, while having an active rear view. This lens with plated brass housing is almost pitched back in the pile when I spot an uncanny fit that keeps it in play:

This small pocket watch face slots inside the lens assembly as if it were made for it.

Now the fitting is ground down save for three small tabs which will prong into the wood body.

The lens fitting is sealed to make it watertight, and a beautiful 1860's color lithograph becomes the face of the face, as it were.

A nest of teeth are affixed in place with resin. They will next be completely encased in the resin once all elements are together and ready.

One of my resin lenses is made for the hole in the fork, and sea urchin spines are arrayed around it. These spines will share the resin bath with the teeth.

A last minute decision is made - as the resin is setting in the lens fitting, I apply pressure the center of the crystal, shattering it, but the lens remains in place.

Next an engraving is selected that will peer out from the fork's tines.

The hands, holding a mask, become the image surrounding the watch face on the back of the piece.


An inscription is made and tiny opal set...


...and keys are riveted to some beautiful antique green elastic cord.


My wild-card choice is to use waxed linen thread between the pendant and cord. This last shot of color and texture finishes the piece out.

To view the finished piece and to see Mira enjoying it:

See you next week for a piece that, even by my standards, is over the top!



Saturday, January 18, 2014

LIFE'S RECORD, In Progress, Part 1.

Some projects lie close to the heart from the inception, and form more as an act of joy than anything proscribed or pre-meditated. This may well be the piece of artwork with the longest gestation period of any in my career.

Sixteen years ago I made a promise to my then-newborn daughter Mira: on your sixteenth birthday, I will make a wearable work incorporating your baby teeth. So I worked diligently in collaboration with the Tooth Fairy, collecting the tiny jewels as they fell like ripe fruit from her little mouth.

The years have flown by, and I find myself in the delightful situation of locking myself in Studio Stuffsmith to actualize this long-held promise.

My generative impulse kicks into gear as I choose for the opening gesture an implement of eating: this beautiful Art Nouveau serving utensil set made from an early plastic called Pyralin Ivory. The fork is particularly pleasing as my housing, and I set upon it.


The bowl is separated from its handle with a quick cut from the jewelers saw.


The raw end is now shaped to a decorative terminus as I opt to have that end as the bottom of the piece.


Scooped from behind,


...and polished. The visual and textural similarity to tooth enamel is striking, and prompts the first tooth out to play.

Although some have been squeamish of the idea of using teeth in jewelry making, there is a long and venerable history of the practice throughout the ages and in many cultures, all the way to the present day. 

I have always felt that teeth are the most jewel-like parts of the human body; sheathed in enamel and resistant to corrosive forces. The key for me here is to avoid the piece becoming too macabre or ponderous, while indulging Mira's aesthetic leanings towards Gothic fashion.

The substantial molar takes center stage here, as I choose the placement. This also marks the back of the fork as the front of the piece. I'm chuffed by the color integration of these jarringly different materials.


Now, Dentistry, Lo Bue-style.


A circular 'bezel' is drilled into the center of the molar to affix a jewel later.


Now to hollow out a recess for the molar to inhabit.


Wet work with a diamond bur.

The shape made, it is now decorated with radiant lines and pierced with setting holes.


Now an aperture is decided upon and drawn in place. I cast the lens to the left from resin.


Despite the respirator during this sawing, the scent of camphor fills the studio as the early, organic plastic gives way.


I decide at this stage to create a solid body that will fill the cavity (pun intended) of the fork. Keeping my children close, I choose this slat from my younger twins' crib to perform the function.

Join me next time as I set Mira's teeth on edge, as it were!