Come See Me in Person!

In the next few weeks, you will have TWO opportunities to meet me and see my work in person. I'm participating in The Hermitage Museum's Handmade Festival (in Norfolk, Virginia) on Saturday, Sept. 14, and the Yorktown Arts Foundation's Art Stroll on Sunday, Sept. 29.

During events, I learn a lot in a short amount of time. What sells? What doesn't? Who is buying my work? As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm a fan of Project Runway. One of the questions that the judges and mentors always ask is, "Who is your customer? Who is your girl?"

Based on who has purchased my work, my customer is pretty much just like me!

Good information, because I know myself pretty well. But it also shows that I have some work to do to if I want to expand my audience of potential customers.

So come see me this month. Look at my jewelry and tell me what you like (and don't like). Don't worry about offending me; as an artist, a thick skin is necessary. If you don't make it to these events, I’d love your feedback in the comments.

See you under the tent!

The Hermitage Handmade Festival happens on Saturday, Sept. 14.

The Hermitage Handmade Festival happens on Saturday, Sept. 14.

Cleaning copper

I use copper in most of my work, often in conjunction with sterling silver (The "kupra" in the company name means "copper" in Esperanto). In time, copper will tarnish and darken as it reacts with compounds in the air.

It's inevitable. The copper will darken, even if it has a protective layer or patina applied. You may like this, or not. I've found that Sunshine Polishing Cloths do a good job of removing the tarnish and shining up the copper. I provide a free sample cloth with every direct sale of $50 or more.

There are other ways to clean your copper jewelry. Nunn Design, which produces jewelry components, tried and tested several methods using household items. I've used a few of these myself.

  1. Lemon Juice and Salt

  2. Vinegar and Salt

  3. Baking Soda and Salt

  4. White Vinegar and Salt - boiled. This was declared the winner

  5. Ketchup and Water

Read about the testing on Nunn Design's blog.

Here's another technique I tried that produces a satin finish. Soak the piece in vinegar for several minutes, then clean with an old toothbrush and toothpaste.

One last thing. If you have purchased my jewelry and live in the Hampton Roads area, I will clean and polish the items for free. If you are out of the area, please contact me and I'll recommend the best way to clean your jewelry.

Lemons can clean your copper jewelry.

Lemons can clean your copper jewelry.

Let's talk about ear wires

In a previous post, I mentioned I would be discussing the very important subject of ear wires! For those who have been at the edge of your seats, please sit back, relax and read.

Ok. Ear wires are probably the most intimate component of the jewelry I make. You wear them in part of your body, not on it. It's important to get them right.

Sterling silver ear wires.

When I first started making jewelry (stringing beads and such), I would purchase my ear wires -- always sterling silver, to reduce the risk of reactions. On the grand scheme of things, they weren't too expensive and easy to use. The problem was that if I ran out of ear wires, then I could not make any more earrings.

Once I started in metalwork, I learned how to make ear wires myself. It's better this way, for a few reasons. First, I'll never run out, unless I run out of wire, and if that happens I'm really in trouble!

Also, I can make a pair of ear wires specifically for the earrings, complementing the design or adjusting the size at the request of a customer. Most importantly, if I'm hand fabricating the earring components, I don't want to put them on a mass-produced ear wire. I want the earrings to be made by me exclusively.

So how do I make them? For the most part, I make one pair at a time to ensure they're well matched. I start out with two equal lengths of 20g sterling silver wire. The gauge small enough to fit through pierced ears, and sturdy enough to hold up to regular wear.

I start out by marking where I want the loops and curves to go with a Sharpie. I make the round loops at one end, then curve them over a bail-making pliers, then use a flat nose plier to add a little kick at the bottom. I hammer the curve to work-harden, then file and finish off with a bur cup.

Voila! Ear wires!

Putting a name to my aesthetic

I am an avid watcher of Project Runway. As a maker, I love to see how the contestants interpret the challenges and incorporate their point of view to their work. Early on in the last season, Tessa Clark was criticized for the unfinished hems in the pants she made. Later on, she revealed that wabi-sabi was an influence in her work.

Copper and sterling pendant. Photo by Tracy Sorensen

Copper and sterling pendant. Photo by Tracy Sorensen

That same week, a professional acquaintance shared a photo of his night-stand reading material, which included the book, Wabi-Sabi For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosphers, by Leonard Koren.

The universe was trying to tell me something, so I listened. I turned my attention to learning more about wabi-sabi.

Wabi-Sabi is, according to Wikipedia, a traditional Japanese aesthetic centered on acceptance of transience and imperfection. Wikipedia says, "Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes."

There's a lot more to it than this entry, and not all aspects of wabi-sabi relate to my work. You can read more on Wikipedia or purchasing the Koren book (which I did). But it was those words that put a name to my own aesthetic.

My jewelry is simple. It's also imperfect, which shows the work of my hands. My jewelry is also impermanent, made to be worn often (and perhaps worn out). My hope always is that you wear my jewelry happily for many years, changing as you change. Perfectly imperfect.

Work In Progress: Copper and Sterling Earrings

At top, earrings and rings in progress; below, finished earrings.

At top, earrings and rings in progress; below, finished earrings.

I love earrings, which is probably why I love to make earrings! Here are a few I made last weekend.

First are the copper drops with sterling buttons. I made the sterling buttons first, melting scrap sterling silver ("scrap" is what we call mistakes, second guesses or practice pieces) into balls. Then the balls were cleaned up and hammered into nice round buttons. The copper wires were hammered for texture, and then I soldered on the silver buttons.

For the other earrings, I punched out the small discs then used a centering die to make washers (or hoops). I drilled holes for the ear wire and disc. Each hoop and disc was hammered or hand stamped, then domed in my dapping block.

There are also a couple of rings in the “before” photo — an experiment.

In the "after" photos are all of the earrings with their hand-forged ear wires attached (Look for a post about ear wires soon), finished appropriately in the tumbler or with patina.

You may say that these were not hard for me to make -- and you'd be right. It wasn't hard, because I've made a LOT of earrings and over time, with a lot of trial and error. I figured out the best materials to use and and have accumulated the tools I need to make them efficiently. Add to that my artistic point of view and you have a unique piece of wearable art.

When you buy handcrafted jewelry from the maker, you are benefitting from the time, experience, tools and artistic vision that all come together.

Thank you to all of you who admire and buy our work!

— Tracy

Jewelry is personal

Jewelry is very personal. You wear it on your skin. Jewelry is often imbued with meaning. Rings symbolize love and commitment. Heirlooms have family history. Jewelry may bring on sentimental feelings and overwhelming emotion. A piece of jewelry can make the wearer feel happy, powerful, beautiful or just normal. As a jewelry artist, I consider all of this.

A few years ago, two women came into On The Hill Gallery during an event. One of the women -- I'll call her Joan -- admired a pair of earrings I made, but did not buy them. They were a simple construction of lapis nevada stones and sterling silver, priced at $30. Her friend secretly purchased them as a gift, and she was happy to receive them.

A few weeks later, I received an e-mail from Joan. She had lost one of the earrings. She felt terrible that she had lost something her friend had given her. Could I make another?

Now, to make the one earring is not, let's say, a lucrative endeavor. Finding a matching stone and recreating the wire work, packaging it up and going to the post office....the time I would spend would not cover what I could reasonably charge.

I did it anyway. I wanted the PAIR of earrings to remind Joan of the generosity of her friend, rather than a single earring remind her of the loss.

Lapis nevada and sterling silver earrings

Lapis nevada and sterling silver earrings