Metal in Massachusetts: Textures at Snow Farm

August 7th, 2018

Very close photo of the bark of a tree.

Wood by Patricia C Vener

It was my habit, almost every morning, to take an early walk around the dirt drive of the Snow Farm compound. On this walk I would pass a very knarled, possibly dying, tree that looked like it had been attacked by a fierce wind. Every morning I’d say to myself, “gotta take a picture of that before I leave.” So I did, as you can see by the image at the top.

The photo shows a contrast of not only color, but of textures as well. And that leads me to today’s topic.

Start with a small sheet of metal. Copper because we’re novices and while silver is not as pricey as gold, why waste the stuff?

A sheet of metal can be textured, oxidized, soldered onto, milled, cut, reformed into shapes. I’m thinking that if I can imagine it maybe I can make it. Well, I learned how to drill holes, cut out circles and rectangles, (well, I meant for it to be a square, but the rectangle worked great), saw curves and ovals. Cool. I also learned how to dap. Now there’s a technique that could be fun to experiment with (copper first!).

For one pair of earrings I textured the metal both before and after oxidizing. I gave those to my sister as an early birthday gift. Another pair was oxidized and then the edges were sanded for a black and white effect.

Smoothness can be somewhat controlled by polishing. Or not polishing. The finer the grit the greater the polish. I’m a shiny sort of girl so when I made my spinner ring not only did I sand, but I also polished on the big machine with Zam, a polishing compound that is less messy than rouge. Alyssa told me I can get the same effect by hand polishing with finer and finer grit and finish with a polishing cloth. I’ll try it. I love my shine!

Metal in Massachusetts: I Love Soldering!

July 31st, 2018

Who knew?

The ultimate project at Snow Farm, my spinner ring.

Spinner Ring, My First!

The full solder technique is clean, slump, solder, pickle, clean. Not everyone slumps but Alyssa showed how it’s very helpful, making the whole process fairly easy and straightforward with a lot less extra work in the end. Slumping is the process of painting flux onto the metal and heating it (until it slumps or as my class termed it, “schlumps”) before placing the solder. We actually did some soldering early on when we soldered ear wires (that we made) to some worked silver shapes. But it was the making of our rings that we really delved into soldering tasks.

We used mostly easy solder because it melts at a lower temperature than the sterling silver we are working with. I did once accidently use medium which took longer but was not a problem because I managed to not melt my metal.

Anyway, back to soldering (and slumping). Really, it’s too cool. The metal heats up and the flux bubbles away then I put the solder bits down and apply heat to where I want the solder to flow. Not to the solder! First, the scary bit: the solder pulls up into itself as if it’s trying to shrink away. Then suddenly it’s liquid flowing to wherever there is heat! By the last day, I could make the solder move up or down flattened wire without a solder pick! Woohoo, it’s dancing!

One of the attractions of this work is that it is subjective. The materials do something or they somehow change and I have to keep my eyes on whatever I’m working on so I can react and take the next step before disaster strikes.

Once I accidentally melted a section of my silver when I was annealing it, (making the metal more malleable for shaping and forming). I still managed to recover the piece for working and Alyssa said that melting was (another) way to learn about the limits of our materials.

As much as I enjoy soldering, though, it’s going to have to wait until I can set up a soldering station in the garage. I think my garage could be pretty good metal work studio if I can regulate the temperature.

Metal in Massachusetts: Wire At Snow Farm

July 24th, 2018

Free Form Twisted Wire Earring that I made at Snow Farm Craft School

Free Form Twisted Wire Earring by Patricia C Vener

Snow Farm has a dedicated metals studio. I love that it is old and well used and that they seem to have everything! (Or almost lmost everything. Well, everything we needed, anyway. Or Alyssa had it in her on tool box – and she shared! )

The instructor, Alyssa Dee Krauss, begins with introductions then segues into the first demonstration and tool introduction. I’m hooked! We are starting the course with copper wire, quickly followed by sterling silver. And the first thing we learn is how to straighten curled, bent, and kinked wire. It is one of the most relaxing and satisfying tasks ever! Imagine, you clamp the end of your wire in a vise. You grab the other end with chain nose pliers. And you pull; ever so gently at first, (because this is new and you don’t know what will happen). Pull more! Gently you increase the force until the wire seems to sigh as it straightens. You can feel it give!

When I feel the wire relax and stretch any tensions that I am feeling, dissipate as well.


It works not just with copper wire but with the sterling silver wire, too. Alyssa suggests that breaking the wire by over pulling is fine because this teaches us something about the metal’s limits. Copper is softer than silver but the pulling technique works for both metals. This does also harden the wire a bit so we don’t do it over and over and over.

Wire has many possibilities. We practiced forming head pins ear wires, pin backs, and (especially in my case) other free forms. Alyssa suggested I could do production pieces based on one of the free forms, especially if I build a jig so I can repeat the wraps consistently. (I’m planning on reading up on how to make my own jig at some point.)

Using copper wire I even came up with designs that can go from earrings to tabletop decor. Wear ’em then display ’em. Cool.

My Copper Wire Free Form Experiments

My Copper Wire Free Form Experiments

I also learned how to make hoop and loop earrings. Also how to make the little catches which – oops – I put wrong way around on one of my earrings. Thankfully, I was able to fix that!

This is fun stuff! I am going to start replacing the mass produced earwires on my ooak bead woven earrings with my own handmade earwires. I am so excited about these new skills!

Metal in Massachusetts: 5 Days at Snow Farm

July 17th, 2018

Pond at Snow Farm ©Patricia C Vener-Saavedra taken May 2018

Pond at Snow Farm ©Patricia C Vener-Saavedra

It was my sister who convinced me to go after the Road Scholar grant when I was suffering uncertainty. “If anyone deserves this grant, it’s you,” she said. I guess I should not have been surprised when I was notified that it had been awarded to me. The grant is awarded to family caregivers (or those whose loved one has died within the past two years) who also demonstrate more than just “I want to get away” in their application essay. As an artist, my choice of the jewelry metalwork workshop was based on its potential to move my work into new heights of expression and experiment.

Even now, after the experience, I am excited. This could be life changing! This will be life changing.

Five days and a lot of learning. The way the instructor presented the course seems to have encouraged assimilation of the techniques we studied. Our teacher, Alyssa Dee Krauss, is an artist whose work is internationally known and collected. More than adept at her art form, she is a thoughtful and talented teacher.

The venue was Snow Farm, an art/craft school in Williamsburg Massachusetts. The setting is beautiful though a bit rustic, (which, really, is fine given that the showers were hot and the rooms had heaters. May in New England can still be quite cold!

My expectations were high and I was not disappointed. I learned so much in such a short time. My only regret is that I didn’t take notes and the names of some tools and techniques did not make it to long term memory. (Was that filing technique called “cabon, cabron? Something about a goat jumping.) Well, at least I have the muscle memory of how to do the techniques.

I am grateful to my sister, to Road Scholar, to Snow Farm, and to the unknown sponsors of my grant for the amazing opportunity, and to Alyssa Dee Krauss for being the excellent teacher that she is.

Waterfall, First and Final Process Pictures

July 10th, 2018

"Waterfall" first and last sessions ©Patricia C Vener, 2018 Beads and Acrylics mixed media

“Waterfall” first and last sessions ©Patricia C Vener, 2018

What you see at the top of this post is the evolution of the first painting in my new series that combines paints and beads. The drapery of bead fringes is not embellishment but rather as much an integral part of the painting as any of the paints that were applied by knife or brush.

I started with a quick sketch and some underpainting. Everything was built up in layers and changes of lighting to get the late evening high contrast effect that I envisioned. I was tempted to add more detail but as soon as I did that, the painting lost its focus. Thank heavens this wasn’t watercolor! Acrylics and oils can be painted over. Watercolour, not so much.

While the use of non-paint materials is not new to the art world, my innovation seeks to include bead weaving on equal footing in the same vein as the ballet scene in the play, “Oklahoma,” was not an embellishment but rather a scene that moved the story forward as all the others of the play’s acted scenes. To this end, the beads that make up the waterfall are overlain as the topmost layer of the painting, hiding almost all of the paint underneath.

I kept a snapshot log of this painting’s progress and plan to make a slideshow/video of the whole process from start to finish. Four other paintings are in the queue now, and I plan to do the same for each of them. I envision an exhibit of the paintings with the videos of each playing on the side to demonstrate the creative process going into each one of them.

Silver Care Update

June 21st, 2018

Need some information on how to clean silver? I’ve recently edited my page, Updates on Silver to include three cleaning methods. One of these is meant to be used only if you positively have no other choice. You’ll have to read the page to find out why. As I work more with silver, I expect I’ll have a lot more to say about this lovely material.

For now, enjoy some silvery snapshots of looped earrings and my experiments in one off abstract wire earrings.

Silver Loop earrings with beads

Inspired by Solstice

June 19th, 2018

Here in the Northern hemisphere the Summer Solstice is just around the corner. 21 June 2018 at 6:06:39 AM Eastern Daylight Time. If you are in the Southern Hemisphere this is your Winter Solstice. Summer Solstice inspires me to change up my art to reflect the season. Later, as Summer becomes unbearably hot, I will be tempted to focus on Winter themes as if they could make me feel cooler! For now let me present my very Summery necklace, “On the Beach.” It depicts a beach but not in a representative way. Rather it gives hints. Broad hints, because it’s too hot to have to think too much. Can you see the beach? What gives it away for you?

Bead woven work of art to wear abstraction of a beach in Summer.

On the Beach ©Patricia C Vener

If you want to see other pictures, please visit it’s web page at “On the Beach” web page.

Beyond the Looking Glass

June 14th, 2018

Spinner Ring, My First!

When I last posted here, I talked about coming out of my grief of losing my mother and advancing back to the world where I am not her primary family caregiver. That was in October of 2017 and it’s now just June of 2018.

There has been progress! I’ve begun a new series of works that combines painting and bead weaving (and I am considering adding some metal work to the mix) and I’m in the process of revamping my studio and office. Last month in May I was given a grant to learn basic jewelry metalwork which is so exciting. Who knew I’d love soldering and annealing silver so much!

I made my very first ring, a spinner ring, in that class and I adore it! I can’t wait to do more silver work and have starting amassing tools to help me do this. Starting small though, I am going to concentrate first on working with wire.

I hope you join me on this creative and constantly evolving journey!

Are you making any changes in your life? Share below in the comments section if you like.

Exit the Looking Glass

October 21st, 2017

What the past year has taught me, most of all, is that I am stronger than grief. Not that I am stronger alone – no one is. I am strong because I sought out, found, and accepted support; I crumpled, but I persevered.

I am still grieving – grief does not have an expiry date. But I am not completely overwhelmed.

Being my mother’s primary family caregiver was a choice I will never regret, and while I miss her deeply, I am ready to emerge from that part of my life and enter whatever new adventure (adventures) I choose. I’m exiting the looking glass behind which was this agony filled universe of grief and coming out a woman with purpose.

7 Ways to Overcome the “Keep Busy” Gene

August 25th, 2016

Packing too much for a short trip

Packing too much for a short trip

When you pack for a trip, do you find yourself adding “just one more?” You know, one more shirt; one more pair of socks; another pair of earrings. I do. And then I have to either try to stuff all of it into a case that has somehow gotten smaller. Or I have to start all over.

Recently, I noticed that this tendency towards over stuffing bleeds over into other aspects of my life. Sometimes it works: one more dash of paprika on my eggs. More often it doesn’t. I add project after project, task on top of task. Until my do to list is longer than the hours in a day. I think this behavior may be hardwired into the human psyche. Is there a “keep busy” gene?

Here are seven overload traps I’ve either experienced or heard about from others. Is yours here?

  1. You sign a petition. Emails start coming in
  2. There’s an offer of a free white paper – if you leave your email address. More email to read.
  3. Take a class. And another class. Not only do you have more homework, but if you are in university, you have to worry about your GPA. (Not to mention your social life.)
  4. Teaching another workshop
  5. Doing another festival – before having a chance to unpack from the one last week
  6. Agreeing to not only serve on the comittee, but also to chair it. Again.
  7. * Getting yet another idea for a major series before you’re even halfway through the paintings you promised your best gallery

Yes there are some remedies. The first is to be firm and unsubscribe from every email list you aren’t actively using (or that doesn’t make you smile). No matter how interesting (and you might need it in the future). If you do need it, you will find it again. Or something better. Don’t go looking for these emails, though. Just when they come into your inbox, scroll all the way to the bottom and hit that unsubscribe link. Here are seven more remedies to the “keep busy” gene.

  1. Meditation – yes, I know it’s obvious and you knew you were going to see it here. Try five minutes of sitting still. Focus on your breathing. Calm breathing. Deep breathing. Whichever seems most compatible with your own preferences.
  2. Mindfulness practice – similar to meditation, this calls for you to be focused on some very small action. Say, chewing a dried cranberry. Or a nut. You close your eyes and before chewing anything, roll the nut (or whatever) around in your mouth, using your tongue to explore the surface of the food. Then take one slow bite – one! Listen to the crunch, think about the sound and the pressure of your bite… And so forth. It’s agonizing not to chew the whole thing down. Especially trying this with a dried cranberry!
  3. Go to bed without any reading material, without your phone or tablet or laptop.
  4. Do five minutes of really gentle yoga.
  5. Go for a short walk. Best if there is nature or interesting architecture to look at. Bring only music no work related recordings.
  6. Read a funny or interesting article or book not related to work.
  7. Take a nap.

Why do these work? Because they recharge your brain and body. Do you have a suggestion? Have you tried any of these? What works for you? The comment box is below and I can’t wait to read your responses.