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Back at Rio Again

While I didn’t blog it daily like I normally do, I was back at Rio Grande again this past week, for a three-day intensive on “Smart Tools to Help Grow Your Business,” taught by Marlene Richey, Julianna Silva, and Eugene Brill.  This wasn’t the kind of class where I had pictures of projectsI had made to put online each day, so I saved my commentary for one post now that I am home again.  This class, instead, was all about the business end of things.  I learned a bit about marketing, especially for when I start doing some actual “collections” – something I’m working on quietly in the background right now.  I learned a bit about finance, and I know have a vague understanding of what a T-Account is and a Profit and Loss Statement.  I also learned a bit about internet marketing as well – Eugene Brill’s end of the class – and found out that not only am I supposed to move this blog over onto my business web site (which I will do at some point soon), but I am also supposed to be posting on it at least weekly.  Which I’m terrible at, but I promise to make the effort.  I’m just like every other artist out there – more interested in the art itself than I am about marketing and selling it – so these tools are very useful for me to have.  Now I have a clue on what I’m supposed to do to get my finished pieces into the hands of buyers.  I also have a clue about pricing said pieces, and have learned that I was not charging nearly enough for what they ought to be worth.  Yikes.  The folks who have bought from me before now have been getting quite the deal.  However, I’ve got the skills set to produce some production pieces and now I know I’m going to need to do that if I want to be able to sell more affordable pieces to keep myself in in multiple price brackets.  I want to make my work accessible to as many people as possible – and that’s MY desire, not something I learned in the class.

For anyone going into the jewelry business, I highly recommend the class.  Marlene Richey and Julianna Silva did a marvelous job of going back and forth in sharing their expertise as it was pertinent.  Eugene Brill managed to pack a lot into just a half of a day, but has also made resources available online and was kind enough to take a look at the web sites the students already had to give some insights into what we are doing right or wrong.  Marlene Richey has, quite literally, written the book on the subject of making a profit in the jewelry business – I know, I read the first three chapters of it on the flight out to Albuquerque.  Although I linked to it on Amazon for you, I purchased it directly through Rio Grande myself.  Julianna Silva works for WESST, a company that helps small businesses and startups with classes and consultation so that they can succeed.

I so LOVE getting to learn directly from experienced industry experts!

Next Class Booked…

I know, I’m terrible at keeping up to date on this little blog.  I was going to do a review on the entire trip to Rio Grande but getting online isn’t as common as it used to be when I was only doing the stay-at-home mom thing.  It was easier once I started moonlighting in web design, but then I was doing so much on the computer I stopped wanting to blog much at all.  Nowadays not only do I want to spend my time in the studio instead of at my computer, but I’ve gone and given myself a “work schedule” for the time when the kids are at school and I’ve been much better about actually sticking to it since I came home from Albuquerque.  The kids are on break this week and yesterday they were in the studio with me.  I think at least one of them has an artistic future.  My daughter is too young to determine yet, but my son already wants to learn all about metal.  He is nine.  I love him so much!  I have to do the annealing for him (obviously!) but he’s already loving fold-forming…

In other news, I spontaneously sold a piece of jewelry recently.  This time it wasn’t to someone who already knew me, but a woman who had come to our house for one of my husband’s drum circle events.  There were three new women who attended and somehow my jewelry came up in conversation.  The next thing I knew, they were in my studio, admiring my work and counting the cash in their wallets!  One of the ladies DID buy one of my more recent pieces, and all of them left me with that warm feeling that comes from having total strangers saying encouraging things about your work.  It has given me a boost to help in the forward motion I’ve been continuing on since coming back from classes, and is much more powerful than any of the caffeine I’ve been consuming.  I’ve got more pieces in production at the moment, and my husband has said that I should consider putting some out for the drum circles now.  I’ve been leery – I’m not the in-your-face type of salesperson, but I’ve also been asked to perhaps put some of my items in a local business for her clients to be able to purchase there.

Also continuing on the forward momentum, I’ve just signed up for another class – this one on business aspects – at Rio Grande.  This should definitely cover some of the things I worry I’m lacking – knowledge about how to do the business end of things.  I need to have a lot of things ironed out and ready before the big move this summer.

More another time, but I’ll leave you with this image of my son’s work in my studio yesterday…

Fold Forming by my nine-year-old son (with some assistance from me)

3rd Class: Casting – Day 2

Today was the last day of classes for this year’s Winter Workshop at Rio Grande in Albuquerque.  For me, that meant the second day of the Casting Class with Phil Scott and Gregg Burgard (who has another web site out there too, for his beautiful glass art, but it is still trying to load in the background as I type this, so hopefully it will load faster for you.    I’ll have to try again when I get home.  That being said, you can also find some of his work over on his Facebook page too.)  In today’s class we took the wax pieces we’d invested and cast them, as well as learning about how to make silicon molds to use in duplicating a pattern.  The silver pieces we cast were then cleaned and dropped in a pickle solution to clean off the metal, leaving it a whitish color.  We did not have time or handy tools to shine them up today though, so they will still look white in my photo.  This meant that I had to put them on top of the little green box that Rio had provided us so that you could see the contrast.  The other pictures I’ve been taking on the bedspread in the hotel room this year, and the white on white wouldn’t have shown up as well:

Three sterling silver charms and a wax arrowhead pattern with dime for size comparison

Three cast sterling silver charms and a wax arrowhead pattern with dime shown for size comparison.

I threw a dime into the image so you could see the size of the little charms we cast.  The red arrowhead was one I made that I used one of their demo molds for, to try out the wax injection system, after Gregg had shown us how to make and cut the molds.  That is something that has intrigued me for a long while now and it was very exciting to learn it.  The arrowhead got a bit smooshed on it’s way back to the hotel though, so if I decide to cast it I’d need to repair the bail and add a sprue first.  Both were already on there when I pulled it from the mold though.  Mind you, it took three tries before I managed to get one of those out of the mold with a bail intact.  There’s a little bit of a learning curve in bending the silicon enough to get the piece out safely when there are looping bits like that.

The bulk of the casting was shown using a centrifugal casting machine.  I love centrifugal casting, but had only seen huge machines for it and didn’t have the space to consider that for my studio.  The one I linked is the one they used today, and it is much more compact and far less dangerous to manipulate than the huge ones I was accustomed to.  The machine I purchased a while back was, instead, a vacuum casting machine that looks similar to this one, that I’ve had some problems with.  So, when I asked, I was one of the people who were allowed to do their casting on the vacuum machine they were demonstrating on.  I was also able to get a few insights on what might be the problem with mine, so maybe when I get home I can get it running properly.  If not, I’ll just call Rio and their techs can help me figure it out.  Yes, this week I am a walking, blogging, neon advertising sign for all of Rio’s capabilities.  lol.  Now if only I was so good at marketing my own stuff…

Today was a bit frustrating for me as I realized that while I hate to have classes be over, I don’t know that I could do one more day in a row without a break.  My health isn’t always the greatest and today the week caught up to me.  But I did manage to get through it without stopping.  I did slow down a couple of times though, to the point where a couple of people noticed.  I’ll be glad to get home and spend Sunday resting with the family and getting back into my rhythm.  Once we make the move out to Colorado I hope to see my health improve with the dry air and altitude there.  Not to mention the mountains that just call “Climb me!  Come explore!” to me whenever I see them.  The exercise from that ought to toughen me back up.  Not to mention be fuel for my creativity in making new jewelry.  Not that I haven’t had several design ideas during this week alone.  Perhaps Rio Grande is my muse… 😉

I need to let this week percolate a little before I try to sum it all up.  Tomorrow will disappear in travel and Sunday will be “family time,” I’m sure.  So, sometime during the week I will have to get another post in on this trip.  And now that I’ve started blogging here I will hopefully keep up with more posts on the progress as I take my little home studio and turn it into my career.

3rd Class: Casting – Day 1

Today was the first day of Casting class at Rio Grande‘s Winter Workshop, being taught by Phillip Scott (who taught Intermediate Stone Setting when I was here last year) and Gregg Burgard.  Phil’s link only takes you to his Rio Grande bio page, because Google didn’t want to yield up any other results for the most part, but he is still a great teacher and full of fun stories he shares with the class along the way.  He also helped me out the other day when I made an inquiry about a stone setting I’m doing on a ring for a friend of mine, and even though I was worried I’d screwed it all up I was relieved to find out that I was on the right track with what I was doing – I’d just let my own timidness get the better of me once again.  Note to self: trust yourself already!  Gregg Burgard DID have a website for me to link to, and I had the opportunity to chat with him quite a bit today – he even pulled out one of the rings he has up on that website (which he designed and patented) and let me see it up close.  Both of them are great guys and full of knowledge and helpful tips to share.  In addition, we have  Chris “Ninja” Nigh assisting in this class – the same great guy who was assisting the Soldering class I took the last two days.

Despite some unhappiness, we won’t be casting the actual pieces of wax we worked on today:

rough wax ring for casting (after some finishing work)

The main reason being that it is a Casting class – not a wax-working class.  They offer a wax-working class, with Kate Wolf, but I have yet to be able to fit it into the schedule.  I did get to watch her do some demonstration today in the lobby though, which was cool.

We started off working on the wax a little because it IS a part of casting and they wanted us to get the feel of the wax.  So the piece I’ve got in the picture there isn’t finished – there just wasn’t enough time to work it enough to have it cast-ready.  We were, instead, given some small wax charm patterns to set up for casting tomorrow.  I’ve got two little key charms and a flowery charm in mine, and the investment was hardening around them when I left.  Overnight they will have the wax burned out of them and tomorrow we’ll cast the metal and all of that.  While I’ve done casting before, I haven’t done it in quite a while and I am not only getting some great reminders, but some information that I didn’t have to work with already.  Again – I’m taking copious notes on everything, despite the fact that most of the info in this class has been provided in the handouts we were given too.  I find I learn better when I’m taking notes.

I’m very excited that tomorrow they will demonstrate mold-making.  I’ve been very curious as to how it is done for a long time now.  Technically I think I even have a mold of some arrows (and some resulting wax arrows as well)  for casting that my mother once had commissioned someone to make her a long while ago.  Seeing how to make them and how to inject the wax ought to be very interesting.

What I’m most frustrated about, however, is that I have managed to find yet more tools I want to add to that growing shopping list of mine.  Soon enough, I’ll have to start finding it all in Rio’s online catalog and make some decisions…

Okay, another short post tonight as I’m exceptionally tired again.  This class, like the Soldering class, has us dead last on the roster for lunch – which means we’re eating late.  I think it’s having an odd effect on my blood sugar because I’ve been feeling off the later half of the day.  I am looking forward to getting back to some things – my own bed to sleep in, normal meal schedules, and my studio.  I can’t wait to start putting all these things I’m learning into practice!

2nd Class: Soldering – Day 2

Today was Day 2 of the Soldering class at Rio Grande‘s Winter Workshop, again taught by the incredibly clever (and easy on the eyes) Mark Nelson.  While today only yielded one overall piece of jewelry, it covered a variety of techniques, solders, and more information on flux capacities  (yeah, the geek in me almost typed flux capacitors instead – I just can’t let it go).  While I’m finding that I’m still a bit heavy-handed with the torch heat, my “mistakes” aren’t coming out nearly as dramatic this week as they have been back home in my studio.  Here is a picture of today’s project.  I’ll let you admire it BEFORE I tell you where my mistakes were…

Silver Hematite Pendant with Silver Chain

Silver Hematite Pendant with Silver Chain

I have to admit that one of the neatest tricks I learned today was how to easily make the bezel bigger if you accidentally make it too small for the stone.  This is a problem I’ve had happen on multiple occasions and finding out that I don’t have to waste the bezels anymore is brilliant.  I also learned tricks about soldering the bezel to the base that made this one turn out crisper than any I’ve done in the past – even though I DID technically overheat it in the process.  You can’t tell unless you look at the back of the pendant though – conveniently enough for me I didn’t photograph THAT side.  We also soldered the bail at the top of the pendant with a paste solder – something I hadn’t used before and we later used that same paste to solder the loops onto the end of the chain and to close the jump ring that the clasp catches onto.  I liked it for the first two tasks, but nearly botched the jump ring entirely.  I don’t have a “feel” for how much of the paste is solder and how much is flux so it feels like an unknown element, whereas actual snips of silver solder are more predictable, in my opinion.  However, I will probably pick some up of the paste soon anyway, as it did make the more complicated joints much simpler to circumvent.  I figure that after some time and practice I’ll start to understand it better.  Fortunately for me, you can’t see the botched up part of the ring in the image I took either, although that was sheer luck instead of deliberate placement.  So… as far as y’all can see?  It’s perfect!  😉

I don’t want to forget to throw a mention out here for the handsome classroom assistant – Chris Nigh.  The man must have some ninja in his blood, as he would slip the kits with the next part of the project onto our benches with catlike stealth (although actually, there must be something wrong with our kittens at home, as they sound like a herd of elephants half the time).  He may have been quiet on his feet, but he was quite observant and always on hand to help us  with a question – whether it was a query about the project or the local restaurants.  🙂

I could say more, but I’m going to keep this a bit short today.  Honestly, my life doesn’t normally involve this much intense cognitive function.  I usually have my brain geared us to handle the 6 and 9-year-old mentalities of my children.  Even on the days I get to spend most of my time in my studio – the majority of it is creative, not cognitive.  I’m getting quite worn out by this week and my body has become very adamant that I need to cash it in early tonight.  A good night’s sleep should do wonders though.  Once I’m done skyping with my kids, I’ll brew a cup of decaf tea and settle into wind-down mode.

Tomorrow – Casting class begins!

2nd Class: Soldering – Day 1

Today was the first day of my Soldering class at Rio Grande‘s Winter Workshop.  Technically you might say that I already “know” soldering, but after having taken classes at Rio Grande last year I became fully aware that what you can learn there is a different caliber of knowledge than what I was learning back at my community college classes.  Not to put down the community college classes, mind you, but they are sometimes (not all the time – I’ve had good teachers too!) being taught by people with less expertise and they certainly don’t have the equipment available that Rio can offer their classrooms.  I learned a lot of things from the classes I’d already taken.  Here in Albuquerque I’ve been taking it to the next level and correcting some incorrectly learned techniques along the way.  Not to mention finding out about all the new and snazzy things I could potentially purchase to make my life easier.  I have a list growing and it’s going to be hard to pick and choose which items are going to make it into my “shopping cart” at the end of the week.

The class is being taught by the ever-knowledgeable Mark Nelson, whom I had two classes with last year.  We worked on three projects – two bracelets and a pair of earrings:

silver soldered pieces

The bracelet on the left was the first project, and while all the square links were solid, the circles were split rings that needed to be soldered shut to complete the bracelet.  While on some of them I did use more solder than I needed to, most of them still came out reasonably well I think.  One ring came out just a little deformed though, and I was able to find out from Mark that I had used too much heat.  I think that has been one of the problems I’ve been running into in the past.  Today went a lot smoother than my past soldering experiences overall.  By the end of the day I seemed to be getting a handle on how much flame I needed for different tasks.  The second project was the earrings – we had to solder the posts on the back before we could clean them up and pop the stones into them.  Again, I was using more heat than I needed and melted two posts before I started to find  the groove.  Then we did the bracelet on the right.  We started by soldering the bit of design down onto the charm – something I would have messed up normally, but Mark’s demo helped me figure out how it “should” be done.  It’s probably the most perfect solder of that type that I’ve done.  We also soldered up the ring holding the charm onto the chain and a ring on the one end for the clasp to latch onto.  I’m very pleased that I managed not to melt a single jump ring into mush today!  It’s gratifying to feel as if maybe I CAN handle myself with the torch and should give myself just a little more credit.  Knowing proper technique can really make the difference!

I have to lodge a complaint with the state of New Mexico, however.  It’s colder here today than it is back home!  The temperature back around Cary, IL is 55 degrees.  Granted it’s foggy and rainy, so I’d probably be miserable, but it’s COLD here today in the 20-30 degree range.  **pout**  The weather worked more in my favor last year.  But this year I was so distracted by my wandering suitcase that I forgot to put in a request for warmer weather…

More tomorrow – day 2 of soldering class should be fun!

1st Class: Fold Forming – Day 2

So this is the first new post being actually put up on my jewelry blog here at The Orchid Blogs Network.  I hadn’t realized just how long I’d been neglecting it.  Good thing it’s not a plant.  I figure it’s appropriate that I don’t delay another day since I was in day 2 of Charles Lewton-Brain‘s Fold Forming class and he’s one of the forces behind The Ganoksin Project that hosts these blogs.  And since I may well be developing a teensy little schoolgirl crush on him… **winks**

Today’s class was in some ways just as overwhelmingly full of information as the first day was, but at the same time I wasn’t the only one of the students who had been letting yesterday’s demonstrations percolate in my mind overnight.  I’ve realized that I not only like the way this particular form of metalworking appears to so easily look like fabrics and items found in nature but part of the way Charles is teaching it gives me that feeling like I need to just play with the metal and take what I’ve learned and try things to the point where I can let the metal tell ME what it wants to be based on how well it chooses to behave when translating my intent.  It almost has the feeling like the metal is another slow-moving liquid, like glass – which I don’t like as a medium generally.  You heat glass and you can manipulate it as a liquid.  You heat metal and it becomes more pliable as well.  Maybe overly thick clay would be a better example as that one was used by Charles when he talked about metal “squishing” when it is manipulated to move one way or another.  Metal was already a vibrant and beautiful thing before, but now it seems so much more potentially malleable.  And while the next two days of classes are about to be full of information on soldering – I am very excited to find additional ways to create dimension in the metal without having to light up the torch quite so often.  I only had time to work on one piece today in class, but incorporated two different folds in the process and took a little time to shine it up a bit to make it pretty…

Fold Formed Copper Piece

 It wants further work done with it.  I’m not sure exactly what yet, but the piece isn’t finished.  The fold forming part of it is done, and I believe it wants to be incorporated as a pendant, but I’ll have to decide what else to do with it once I’m home.  Meanwhile, the class has left me with a TON of new ideas of things to try.  I’m going to need to get more copper…

I took copious notes that will hopefully help me remember as much as possible when I am home in a week, practicing, but to be safe I expect I’m going to need to order his book as well.  In the meanwhile I did make my first Rio Grande purchase of the week today in the form of two hammers.  More importantly, I picked them up during class so that Charles could show us how he alters hammers for use in form folding.  He helped us get any that we purchased for form folding modified and ready for use in our studios.  I bought two different hammers:Fold Forming Hammers
I am hoping that I will have another opportunity in the future to learn more about fold forming from Charles.  It was two days well-spent and I definitely want to learn more!  On top of everything he also had tons of tips to share on web sites, suppliers, tool-making, and what-not.  I highly recommend anyone take one of his classes have a nice thick notepad on hand.  It kind of made me wish I still remembered shorthand from that class I took in high school so many years ago!

Honorary mention should also go out to Anthony Rocco of Rio Grande who assisted in the class these past two days.  He was kept on his toes helping everyone out – from fetching pliers and materials that Charles spontaneously requested (although I think he was swiping the pliers from the Swanstrom class next door mostly) to holding down a traveling lathe that wanted to vibrate right off the counter while we sanded and polished.  Somehow, when we were working on testing the techniques we’d learned, he managed to be everywhere at once and always seemed to be available if we needed something.  On Sunday he even hunted me down a band-aid after I managed to whack my left index finger with a hammer.  It wasn’t too bad, but I’d torn the nail the day before moving my suitcase about and hadn’t had a chance to file it smooth (my nail file was in the suitcase that had flown in on a later plane), so it drew a little blood at the sharp edge of the nail.  Nothing serious, but I’m hoping I’ve had enough minor mishaps for this trip by now-  especially since tomorrow is about soldering and thus – torches.  I want to avoid mishaps with fire, please!

The last bit of note is that I picked up the resin demo piece I put together at the end of the day yesterday.  It was a bit of a rush job, so there ended up being a couple of bubbles that we hadn’t had time to wait and smooth out before things were shutting down for the night, so it’s not perfect, but I think my daughter will like it…

Resin piece with shells and more

It’s hard to tell in the resin, but that’s a shell in the bottom left corner, along with two more in the top and a couple of inexpensive gems on the right to add a little sparkle.  This was thrown together with the stuff they had on hand, but some of the techniques we learned in fold forming will actually yield some potential sources of framing for stuff like this if I want it to.  I have so many ideas rattling around in my head right now.  I can’t wait to get home and play, but I wouldn’t miss one minute of these classes for the world!

Tomorrow – soldering!

Please note that previous entries from my classes at Rio Grande from this year and last will be copied to this blog at some point, but until then they can be found on my personal blog here:

Gold Selling & Reconstituted Turquoise

My husband sent me this article on CNN ( that tries to warn the general populace to be careful when selling off gold to all the buyers who’ve sprung up over the last year.  I’ve heard of “Gold Parties” in my area, where friends of mine are selling off their gold over drinks and hors d’oeuvres to someone who supposedly knows the industry.  The moment I heard that, I went sick in the stomach, worrying that my lovely stay-at-home-mom friends were getting ripped off.  On the other hand, I will admit that a small part of me almost feels like I’m missing the boat by not snatching up the chance to get in on the profit.  But, it feels wrong to take advantage of this poor economy by offering up pennies on the dollar to folks who need to supplement their cashflow to pay for schoolbooks, diapers, or even groceries.  Kudos to those who are offering up a fair price though.

Meanwhile, time in the studio is still slim, (I’m a stay-at-home mom myself, but my youngest only has school two mornings a week), but I do have four pieces in various stages of progress at the moment.  I’m trying my hand at cabbing some reconstituted turquoise I picked up a few months back, and the stuff looks so vivid I keep wanting to eat it…

Reconstituted Turquoise in progress.

Reconstituted Turquoise in progress.

 Yummmm!  It’s going to be hard not to just paint an “m” on it once it’s finished.  Meanwhile, I’m curious how this stuff is made.  I’d love it if anyone out there has some links to info on it.  The vendor explained that it is supposedly made out of the left over turquoise after the stones have been cut.  I thought I’d play around with it as a friend I’m working with is starting up a web site devoted to natural and organic products and this might fall well into one of her categories, since it uses something that would otherwise just be left as waste.  But I haven’t had time to really dig into the internet for more info on the stuff.

Welcome to the Blog!

Welcome to the new blog for RaynStones!  I find it ironic that I’m getting this blog up before I’ve finished the new design on the web site, so I’m not going to link to it just yet.  Suffice it to say that I was doing web design before I started to make the move into jewelry, and old habits (like doing web sites for other people than myself) die hard.  I’ve been busy at work on a web design for a friend of mine who will be selling some of my jewelry work on her site once it’s done, so I haven’t finished my own site yet!  But I can avoid the messiness of having to manage yet another installation of WordPress, courtesy of the wonderful people over at Ganoksin.  Thanks guys!  You rock!!

More to come soon, I promise!