Monday, November 21, 2016

Why We Should Support Handmade, Local, and Small Business

Every year around the holidays my artist friends start creating and sharing posts in support of buying handmade, supporting local retailers, and paying attention to the processes and materials that are used to create the many many items that fill our lives. Every year I click the like button. This year I decided to share why supporting handmade, local, small businesses and artists is important to me and why us artists and artisans are often so relentless in encouraging others to do the same. 

"Printed Today" Dick Taylor wrappers from Just My Type Letterpress

Buying handmade means supporting small business which keeps money in the local economy, creates local jobs, and leads to a better quality of life all around. A perfect example from my community is Dick Taylor Craft Chocolates. These tasty treats are made locally from "bean to bar" using fair-trade cacoa, they can be found on the shelves of several local markets and shops (as well as across the nation), and the wrappers are printed in town on an antique printing press. Just My Type Letterpress is the maker behind that press and they are opening a letterpress and paperie downtown this month in the Carson Biulding, which has just been restored to its original 1892 grandeur. Even the addresses on the windows of this building were hand foiled by local master Chuck Ellsworth. If this isn't an example of building community through small business I don't know what is.

Chuck Ellsworth at work. Photo courtesy Just My Type Letterpress

Buying handmade and supporting small business means supporting our neighbors. It not only puts food on their tables and keeps them warm at night, it also allows them to live their dreams, which in turn sparks others to envision a world where that is a reality, not just a possibility or something that is only accessible for others. Makers like my friend Jillian of Telltale Trinkets, whose work focuses on creative reuse, are putting in long hours after their full time day jobs and on the weekends to take a step towards their ideal lives as creators and entrepreneurs. It's not easy, but it is so very worth it!

Up-cycled Post Earrings from Telltale Trinkets

Buying handmade provides a personal touch. The products of artists and artisans are influenced by years of study and life experience. You can't get much more personal than participating in the act of hearing, understanding, and telling the story of another by giving, or receiving something born from another's imagination, experience, and skill.

Buying handmade means buying something unique. When something is handmade it is often one of a kind. Even small runs of multiples will each have their own distinctive marks from the hand of the maker. Not only will the pieces be unique, the experience will most likely be unique as well because handmade items are generally purchased from the artisan themselves or in a shop whose owner has curated pieces based on the stories they tell and a personal connection to the creator or the work.

For instance, I know every time I walk into The Bodega, a local shop with just the right amount of attitude, I am bound to come across something new and incredible from one of the many makers shop owner H.A. Pearson has pulled together from her years on the west coast craft fair circuit. I also know that she'll take the time to tell me about the process behind the work, that she'll be able to find and stock unique requests, and that Olive (her furry sidekick) will be down for a snuggle.

Olive is waiting for you at The Bodega

Buying handmade also means supporting the arts. Purchasing work from artists and artisans not only adds value to our own lives, it also sends a message that art education and access to the arts is important to our communities. Research shows that art plays a valuable role in mental health, creative thinking and building work force skills. For a host of information on this topic visit the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.

Putting our dollars behind the arts by participating in a facet of the economy that provides a high level of value, but receives a low level of support is a great start, but we can always take it a step further by supporting local organizations that work everyday to bring art into our communities and the lives of our youth. Two of our fantastic local organizations on the north coast, the Ink People Center For the Arts and Blue Ox School are working  to preserve culture, to educate the community on the value of the arts, and to provide young people with the tools to build a successful future.

Am I biased? Of course I am. I'm an artist and a maker. I work part time at a university and I personally know several of the people mentioned above. But these are only a few of the stories from my small community and every community holds many varied and inspiring stories of their own.

Supporting creative entrepreneurs means making connections. Connections between businesses, neighbors and the economy, connections between the arts and education, creativity and critical thinking, individuals and experiences. For me making small connections in this way fosters empathy and generosity which in turn makes the world a much richer and more inviting place.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Beach Jewelry

The Seaside Collection is a tribute to days spent wandering ocean shores.

 Whether it be the foggy beaches of northern California sprinkled with sand dollars and ocean tumbled stones,

Beach Pottery and Sterling Silver

the sunny beaches of Southern California where a seashell find is a rare treasure,

Fossilized Coral and Sterling Silver

or the lava-laden shores of the Big Island, 

Fossilized Sea Urchin, Amazonite, Pyrite, Sterling Silver

beach combing and tide pooling have always been a way for me to recharge and connect with nature.

Fossilized Palm, Chrysoprase, Sterling Silver

It's no wonder that the influence of ocean treasures makes it's way into my work so often.

Thanks for reading! 

Monday, October 31, 2016

New Work: Handcrafted Botanical Jewelry

 I'm really excited to announce that the first pieces in the new Botanical Collection are compete!

These pieces are more ornate that my previous work and I really enjoyed making them. 

Drawing from my love of gardening as well as abstraction this collection is whimsical and ornate. 

Several of these pieces are available now in my Etsy shop with more to follow!

For a look at the process behind these pieces check out my post on how they were made.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 24, 2016

How It's Made: Handcrafted Botacnical Necklaces

If you follow my instagram feed (@metalmusing) you know that when I'm not at my bench I am usually in the garden, so it makes sense that botanical themes pop up in my work from time to time. Last month I drew up a few new botanical pieces that are a little more elaborate than my usual work.

Next came cutting out, filing, and sanding all the tiny parts and pieces.

Some of them were so tiny!

Here are the first three soldered together and fresh out of the pickle.

At this point, as is often the case, I was so excited about them that I set these three aside and started on several more!

When they were all finally assembled they had a dip in the patina and are almost ready for stones.

With any luck I'll have the necklaces (12 in total!) finished, photographed, and ready to find new homes this week. Rings and earrings to follow!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Creepy Crawly, Just In Time For Halloween, Jewelry

It might be an understatement to say that I am not a fan of the eight legged. In fact, there are more than a few people who tear up with laughter describing my behavior during spider related events.

 If these special people didn't also understand the great joy that Halloween brings me I'm sure they would be wondering how I made it through the creation of these pieces.

 I have to admit, I got a little creeped out more than once. 

But Halloween is so worth it! It's an opportunity to embrace whatever it is you want to embrace whether it be creepy, or unrealistic, or inspiring, or wonderfully weird.

It's a day to be subtle, to indulge in a pun, or to take it over the top. 

This year I am embracing the season of the witch and we all know that a good witch befriends a great many spiders.

Thanks for reading! 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Space Inspired Jewelry

New pieces from the Orbital Collection. Bold necklaces featuring stunning Ocean Jasper cabochons. 

Sterling Silver, Ocean Jasper, Pyrite, Onyx

Loaded with colors and patterns that evoke star studded skies, galaxies, and nebulae. 

Sterling Silver, Ocean Jasper

The perfect pieces to get lost in while pondering the vastness of the universe. 

Sterling Silver, Ocean Jasper

Excellent pieces for stargazers and daydreamers alike. 

Thanks for reading! 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Craft Fair 101... Craft Fair SOS... I Can't Decide

Now that I have more than a few craft fairs under my belt I know one thing for sure: they are not my favorite.

It's not that I don't like selling my work, or that I don't enjoy meeting the people who bring it into their lives (without whom I wouldn't be able to do what I do), or even that smiling all day makes my face hurt. It's more about that good old Murphy's law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

In the hopes that anyone thinking about selling their work at craft fairs will be able to avert disaster I'm sharing my short list of  do's, don'ts, and must haves, because the long list might break the internet.

Use tiers to raise items up to eye level. 

Do: READ. Read all the things. They are written down for a reason.

Don't: Be inflexible. Remember those things you just read? Half of the other people involved did not read them and it's a good bet that the organizers have taken on way more than is humanly possible.

Do: Have a good attitude. Figure out how to laugh off the little things and present yourself as though you are having a great time to anyone that enters your booth. No one wants to hang around a Grumpy Gus. I think I've got this down to 80% Positive Polly, 20% Grumpy Gus. What can I say. I'm a work in progress.

Don't: Let people walk all over you. Confrontation is hard/horrible/yucky, but so is putting in a bunch of time and energy only to allow buyers to haggle away your profit, or a booth neighbor/partner to sprawl into your real estate. This is a business after all.

Do: Be prepared to talk about your work (repeatedly). Compile a short list of selling points that you can work into conversations naturally.

Don't: Be overbearing. Not everyone wants to hear the conception story for every piece, or even talk to you at all. This takes practice, but reading the room is a great skill to have.

Do: Stay organized. Have everything priced and inventoried before the fair starts. Make sure you have all necessary permits, licences, and insurances well in advance. Keep good sales records, you'll need them for tax time!

Don't: Think you can do it all alone. Fair days are long. Ask a friend to help out for a few hours, or to swing by with a snack. Ask the event coordinator if anyone is available to cover short breaks. If all else fails ask a neighboring vendor to keep an eye out while you make a run for the restroom.

Secure items to displays whenever possible to avoid theft. 

Must haves:

Water. Bring more than you think you will need. Nothing works up a thirst like talking and showing those pearly whites all day.

Weights (if the fair is outside). Bring more than you think you will need. Weigh down the tent, weigh down the table cloths, weigh down the displays. Wind is a powerful thing.

Pain relievers. A headache can really ruin a good time.

Snacks. Quick bites make it easy to stay in the booth and still look professional.

Change! Bring more than you think you will need.

Credit card reader and back up battery or solar charger.

Note pad. So you can write down all the things you want to do differently next time. You wont remember later. Write them down.

Alternates. Displays don't always work out the way you envision them. Cell phones don't always get great service. Run through your list and fit in a plan B wherever possible.

Alright. I think that covers the bare basics of preparing for a craft fair. There are a ton of great check lists out there that pretty much cover everything else, so get your Google on and good luck!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Something Nostalgic: From Other Jewelry Artists

On a recent trip to the SFMOMA I was struck by a piece by Jim Dine entitled "The Yellow Painting", a mixed media piece consisting of various hand tools on a thin wooden shelf, mounted to a canvas bathed in yellow paint, each of their places numbered by hand. The placard below indicated that his grandfathers tools had had a steady presence in his youth and influenced the work. 

Two of my Grandfathers tools: screw driver and light meter.

This piece stuck a cord with me because of my love for tools and old objects, but also because of the mystery in the numbers. Were they a reminder from a strict craftsman that tools are to be respected and returned to their rightful place? Are they markers of specific memories bound to each tool that is safely mounted in a sort of reliquary on an almost dingy yellow field that is surely reminiscent of garage and basement walls across America? Each one tempting the viewer to reach out and grab hold of a time and a place lost to the past. And what of the missing tools? Where they removed by the artist? Walled into the house as the last of the sheet rock was installed only to resurface again years later during a remodel to remove the tired old fireplace? Or are these tools simply what the placard implied, tangible reminders of a childhood. 

Ted, the first toy I ever received.

After writing about the childhood influences on my current work here, and wrestling with Dine's mysterious numbers, I began to look for other jewelry artists whose work was also influenced by their childhoods. A quick google search resulted in artist statement after artist statement referencing childhood past times, struggles, and influences as artists attempted to reconnect with their youth or make sense of its bearing on their adult lives. I hope you'll also enjoy some of my favorites both old and new. 

Margaux Lange. Her Etsy shop, while on a break, is titled "Re-Membering Barbie Fondly". Could there be a better tag line for a collection composed of Re-purposed Dis-membered barbie parts? So good. 

Nathan Dube. His statement on the Houston Metal Arts Guild website says his work "uses childhood pranks and toys, reinterpreted as high-end adult objects, to highlight the aggressive and sometimes violent ways in which men interact" and this interview from the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft highlights some of his more irritating and inspired pieces. 

Isabella Liu. Scar is No More a Scar, is a collection that transforms a childhood injury which resulted in a scar into an opportunity for growth and courage. 

Amy Tavern. I Live Here Now, a body of work completed during her residency at California College of Arts and Crafts, focuses on the nature of home and whether or not it is a physical place, something we hold with in ourselves, or perhaps a bit of both. 

Thanks for reading! 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Motivation After Vacation

The Monday after a vacation is the worst! Who wants to go back to work after lounging at the pool or hiking in the woods far far away from the hustle and bustle of the daily grind? Even a long weekend getaway can have the best of us thinking about calling in sick, or for those of us that work from home, crawling back into bed and pretending Monday just doesn't exist. I love my job, I mean, I really LOVE it, and I still hate the Monday after a vacation!

I recently returned from a week of camping at the beach. Not only did I play more paddle ball and do more swimming than I've done in 20 years, I began and ended the trip with a 10 hour drive. Needless to say I was stiff, tired, a little sun burned, and not into Monday at all.

Luckily, I had a three step plan that was so strategic I didn't even know I planned it!

Step One: Order something fun and work related that will arrive while you're away (don't forget to ask someone to pick up the mail or have it delivered to a P.O. Box so it doesn't get swiped). Big or small, this should be something that will make you want to pull yourself together and get back to work. A new coffee mug, that pair of shoes you've been eyeing, or a new CD (CD? who listens to CD's anymore!? I know. I really need to up my media game.) to jam out to during the commute should do the trick.

I was lucky enough to have some new cabochons from some of my favorite Etsy suppliers waiting for me that had me anxious to get back to the bench. But before I could start sketching I needed to take care of something I started before I left.

Step Two: Schedule something for the Monday you return that is still in need of a couple of tweaks. Keep this simple. We want to ease back into a routine not stress ourselves out!

In this case the bulk of my post on stacking rings was complete all I needed to do was complete a few new listings in the Etsy shop and add the links to the blog post. Boom! I updated my shop and had something new to share on social media.

Step three: Share a photo of your trip. Not only will this put you back in a relaxed state of mind, the idea of returning will be a great motivator to get back to work and make it happen. Bonus points for using a new program to create/share the photo. I made this collage with Layout for Instagram.

Even though I didn't actually formulate this plan as a way to beat the Monday blues ahead of time, it worked so well I'll be putting it into practice for all future vacations!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Everyday Earrings: The Simple (or maybe not so simple) Stud Earring

My absolute favorite form of jewelry is the stud earring. So straight forward. So simple. Perfect for everyday wear. 

What I am not so fond of is "same old, same old". Which is why I love making asymmetric studs. 

Mix and Match Sterling Silver Studs from the Orbital Collection
Not only do these studs allow for mixing and matching, they also add just a touch of rebellion. Creating a look that is truly unique.

Sterling studs from the Fractured Collection.

 Making that look eco friendly by utilizing scrap materials? Even better!

Eco-friendly studs created with sterling silver scrap. From the Remnant Collection

Sometimes the studs drive the collection as with the Remnant studs above, and sometimes the collection inspires the studs, like with these studs from the Seaside Collection

Sterling silver and Aventurine studs from the Seaside Collection.

No matter the influence, these earrings move away from the ordinary and into something a little special. 

Thanks for reading! 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Endless Summer Sale

Summer is winding down and school is back in session. I've had plenty of time at the bench creating new work which makes it the perfect time for a sale!

Promotion not valid on custom orders or past purchases. Discount only available in the Erin Austin Etsy shop.

Go ahead, take one last camping trip, make time to soak up some sun at the beach, and treat yourself to something special from me to you!

Thanks for reading!

Something Nostalgic: The Delicate Nature of Eyelet Lace Updated in Sterling Silver Jewelry

A lot of my work in college dealt with childhood memories and the strange microcosm of the nuclear family. I'm pretty sure everyone in my sculpture class thought I came from the weirdest family ever as I unveiled "The Tickle Bug", "Skin The Bunny", and "You've Got A Tail".

As much as those family sayings, or Roller Racers, The Goonies, Garbage Pail Kids, Rainbow Brite, Popples, Pound Puppies, or Punky Brewster take me back, nothing screams childhood to me like eyelet lace. I'm pretty sure that 90% of my dresses had sleeves that were trimmed with it and somewhere out there is a Cabbage Patch Kid with sleeves to match (thanks mom). 

As I began to focus on metalsmithing I left the more abstract concepts from my childhood behind and focused in on something that was always tangible, the repeating eyelets that provided welcome distraction during adult conversations as I counted the clusters and marveled over the way they lined up, just so, at the seems. 

As I continue to create pieces for the Eyelet Lace Collection I waver between the delicate airy nature of open eyelets like those pictured here and the more sturdy and chunky nature of pieces that are backed with silver sheet. I can't help but wonder if it's the continued struggle of a 7 year old girl in a dress trimmed with eyelet lace that desperately wants to be outside hunting lizards. 

Thanks for reading!