Men Have the Coolest Toys


I’m so jealous of men. As little boys, they get to play with weapons and take wood shop classes at school. This prepares them for pocket knives, hammers, saws, and maybe even matches if they promise not to burn down the house. The closest I ever got to playing with matches as a child was an EasyBake oven!

If you imagine jewelry-making as work for dainty girls dressed in pink, you’ve got a lot to learn. It’s true that my first forays into jewelry-making were with stringing and crimping. These were activities I could do while sitting pretty at the kitchen table, and my worst problem was having beads roll off. Then I got into wire-wrapping and my life began to change.

copper_wireSuddenly I needed 10 different types of pliers, and wire cutters, and metal cleaners. Then I heard about metal stamping, and I found myself at Home Depot looking for hammers and at Harbor Freight looking for metal letter stamps, after realizing that hardware stores sell hardware much cheaper than the sissy craft store. Recently, I learned about precious metal clay, and my obsession has reached new heights. Now I need solder, flux, torches and maybe a kiln. All of this has me wishing I was a man.

It’s not that women can’t do these things, but like many women I feel hesitant to try “manly” things on my own. In spite of my being a girly girl, I’m not useless by any means. I learned to solder circuits as a teenager, and I can build you a PC in no time flat. But there’s a big difference (at least in my mind) between techy and manly. Techy-ness requires skill, manly work requires brawn and knowing how to not slice off your fingers or burn off your face. The only men in my life are my brothers, and they don’t live near me, so I have to ask the salesmen at Home Depot for advice, which doesn’t always work out.

Tool bag

My tool bag

I wish that I’d spent more time with my dad when he was still alive, and that he’d taught me how to build stuff. I wish I’d bugged my brothers more when they did boy stuff. Maybe then I’d have grown up being comfortable with hammers and knives and fire. And though I won’t let my discomfort stop me, it makes my progress slower. So if you have daughters, try to teach them “boy stuff.” They may appreciate it a great deal when they grow up. Don’t presume that they’ll always be dainty girls dressed in pink, because one day when you least expect it, they might be swinging a hammer. And if they go all out and get themselves a torch, you’ll want them to know how to not set the house on fire.
–Click on the button below to get $5 off any order of $35 or more in my Etsy Store before Mother’s Day.Etsy Coupon Codes for ArtsyGeniusJewelry

Happy Communist Day! Go Wear Something Red!

ImageI’m not a communist, nor do I play one on TV. I’m just a joker who uses any excuse to don costumes and colorful clothing. And if you think about it, would the communists have been so popular if they’d worn something sedate like flannel grey or brown corduroy? Red makes a statement. It is bold and emotional.

Red is dynamic. It flows like hot lava and overtakes your senses. It is the color of love and passion.royal red-701 I made a red necklace about a month ago, which I displayed 2 weeks later at a networking event. The director was a stylishly sedate woman, the kind of woman who feels most comfortable in beige (not knocking beige, but you know the type). She told me she didn’t like dangly things and since most of my necklaces have pendants, I told her I’d be happy to remove the pendant or turn it horizontally. I was slightly surprises that she’d kept this red necklace in her hands, but even more surprised when she said she loved it the way it was, and wanted to keep the dangle. So now she’s out there in the world, wearing red! I wonder what emotional response she’ll evoke in those around her.

Valentine Flower-524I just made this necklace. I’m going to call it Valentine Flower. Perhaps I should have made it in February, but oh well. My sister gave me the red flower. It was on a necklace that she picked up from some Chinese wholesalers in Los Angeles. It was clunky, mismatched and absolutely horrible. Chinese make great food, but I gotta wonder about their style choices sometimes. I cut up the necklace, kept the flower and tossed the rest. I combined it with stone jet beads, glass pearls, red glass beads and brass wire. The result is beautiful, I think. What does it evoke in you? Does it make you want to turn communist?! 😀

If you like my jewelry, please check out my Etsy store or drop me a line if the piece you like isn’t there. Thanks!

Thank Heaven for Little Girls, Who Love Art

ImageMy cousin Hector has been making Stained Glass art (Tiffany lamps, jewelry boxes, mirrors, stained glass windows, etc.) for decades. He created this recently, out of art glass. It was purchased at an art fair by a little girl, who will undoubtedly treasure it for the rest of her life. Fortunately for the little girl, her grandmother loves art and didn’t think $150 was too much for a jewelry box for a 9 year old.

A Plier Primer

Bent nose pliers

Bent nose pliers

New to beading? Confused by pliers and the fact that each beading book refers to them differently? Here’s a list of the most essential pliers and tools needed, and information on how to use them. See the gallery below for tool pictures.

Essential Pliers

  • Flat nose pliers are flat, with squared ends. You can use them to open jump rings and attach your findings. Since the edges are square, you can also use them to bend wire at right angles.
  • Chain nose pliers have tapered tips, which let you squeeze into tight places, like in between chain links (I’m guessing that’s why they’re called chain nose). Note that chain nose pliers are not the same thing as Needle nose pliers. The latter have longer jaws. Needle nose pliers are used by electricians and other people needing to reach spots that are obstructed by something in front of them. I haven’t seen a jeweler use them, so don’t worry about buying a pair.
  • Round nose pliers, also called Rosary pliers, have cone shaped jaws. These pliers are used to wrap wire in circles, coils or for bending wire in rounded angles (as opposed to a 90 degree angle). You’ll need to do this to make the loops that will attach pins onto a chain, or when you become more advanced and want to connect one piece of wire to another, or when you want to make swirls or clasps. The tips are very small, and can be used to make tiny loops, but generally, you’ll be placing the wire somewhere near the middle. Try to loop your wire in the same place so that your P-loops are of a consistent size.
  • Flex wire cutters – These are side cutters for thin gauge flex wire). If you bought your side cutters as part of a kit, they will be appropriate for thin gauge (flex wire) or medium gauge wire. Flex wire is nylon coated wire, which is about the same thickness as fishing wire. It is most commonly used for making illusion style necklaces. The light lime green pliers with black tips, seen in the gallery, are thin gauge cutters. Do not use these pliers for cutting anything other than flex wire or you will damage them. They are not strong enough for cutting medium gauge wire.
  • Side cutters (also called straight cutters, and sometimes mistakenly called flush cutters, see below for the difference) -This is the other wire cutter that is frequently included in a kit. These cutters are for cutting thicker wire such as 20 gauge wire that is frequently used for wire wrapping. The lilac pliers with the stainless steel tips are for medium gauge wire. If you are cutting wire that is heavier than 20 gauge, the pliers that come in kits are probably not strong enough. I’d suggest going to a hardware store or the gardening section of the department store for heavy gauge cutters. You should have at least two side cutters, one for flex wire and one for wire up to 20 gauge. **Note that neither of these pliers should be used to cut memory wire, which is made from stainless steel. Cutting memory wire with regular pliers will break your pliers, so only use memory wire cutters for cutting it.
  • Crimping pliers are used to squeeze metal crimp beads onto cords or nylon coated wire when making “illusion” style necklaces. If you squeeze crimp beads with chain nose pliers, they won’t maintain their rounded look and might slip out of your grasp or even break. These pliers are a bit costly, but totally worth it.
  • Bent nose pliers generally don’t come with most kits, but they are incredibly useful since they make it easy to see your work because the bent tip means your hand is out of the way. They are also more comfortable for turning your wire (rotating whatever is held between the jaws) during wire wrapping.
  • Flush cutters let you cut wire very closely at a 90 degree angle. This is useful when you want to cut wire close to a loop during wire wrapping.
  • Nylon Jaw Pliers have smooth nylon tips on top of stainless steel jaws. You can use them to make smooth bends in your wire, for claps or other decorative wire wrapping work. You can also use them to straighten wire, but the nylon is not very tough, so don’t pull the wire taught or it will cut grooves in the nylon tips.

Non-Plier Necessities

  • Calipers are needed to measure your beads and often come with plier kits.
  • Tweezers are useful for picking up or placing small beads. Tool kits often come with tweezers that have a bead scoop on the other end.
  • Files are essential for getting rid of the sharp bits of cut wire. They come in many different types. You’ll usually need 2-3 to smooth out the sharp spots.
  • Bead reamers are like a file, but used to sand the inside of beads. This makes the hole in the bead bigger so that thicker cord or wire can go through it. Be careful when using a reamer with glass beads or pearls. It can cause them to break.
  • Tool Box or Bag – You’ve got to keep your tools somewhere right? A small box or bag is great because it provides protection, organization and lets you grab-and-go for those times when you want to take your tools to a class or work with other crafters. I keep a 2nd set of tools in my car so that I can always make adjustments for my clients on the go.

Etc., Etc., Etc.

This list does not contain all of the pliers you’ll ever want or need. There are several others that are very useful (like Split ring pliers), which I haven’t included. I will write a separate article on those as time permits. In the meantime, these will get you started on your beginner beading and wire work.

Happy Crafting!

Wire Wrapped Czech Buttons

wire wrapped buttonI’m teaching wire-wrapping to a local artist (yes, I’m aware it means more competition!), and today she brought me some Czech buttons that she wants to incorporate into her jewelry. I wrapped this piece for her from a single, uncut length of brass wire. Because the button already had a flower-like design, I decided to follow the lines of the leaves/feathers.

The brass wire she brought me was considerably harder than the silver and copper wire I usually use for wrapping. I actually hurt my thumb from pulling the wire with it. Since I avoided cutting the wire, the wrapping was a little harder when wrapping the sides, top and bottom, but having the length needed for following the lines and making my swirls was easier. It also helped to reinforce the back of the button and keep it in place.

I was happy with my results. It reminds me of old jewelry worn by the Czar. I’d say it was a productive day. And since I did all the wrapping (my student insisted on waiting to do her wrapping at home), I’m no sure how much she learned, so maybe I won’t have too much competition after all! 😀


The Cost of Beginner Beading

tool bag-244Maybe you’re the kind of person that enjoys crafting. Or maybe you’ve seen jewelry someone else made and wondered if you could do the same. Or maybe you’re a Do-It-Yourself type that likes to save money. Or maybe you’re thinking you could earn money by making beautiful things and selling them. If any of these apply to you, here’s a list of what you’ll need to enter the wonderful world of jewelry-making, and a few pointers to start you on your way.

The following list of items contains everything you will need for your first beginner projects. There are many more tools than the ones I’ve listed below, but this will get you started without making you go return to the craft store every 5 minutes. I recommend buying these items locally at a Michaels, JoAnn, or other craft/bead store, so that you can return/exchange any problem items. Once you’ve become very familiar with beading, you can order supplies online, but keep in mind that small items ordered online may be even more expensive than in a local store because of shipping charges.

Beginner Beading Tools/Supplies

  • Plier set – If you’re starting from scratch, you might as well buy a set of pliers instead of getting them individually, since you’ll need several and it will save a little money. A set with 1) chain nose pliers, 2) flat nose pliers, 3) round nose pliers, 4) side cutter. Some kits come with useful extras like tweezers, bead scoops, or bead reamers. Cost is about $10-15.
  • Tweezers, bead reamer, and bead scoop, if they didn’t come with your kit.
  • Caliper – A bead-measuring tool. Cost is about $2-5.
  • Bead mat – A soft mat made from velvety material. Absolutely essential for keeping your beads from rolling off your table and onto you floor. Cost is about $3-5.
  • Bead design board – A tray with indentations/grooves in which you can place your beads and get an idea of what your finished jewelry will look like. Cost is about $7.
  • Crimping pliers – You’ll need this for crimping crimp beads onto nylon-coated beading wire. Cost is $12-15
  • Nylon coated wire – Used for stringing beads and making illusion necklaces. Cost is about $8.
  • Crimps – Tiny metal beads that grip nylon-coated wire when you squeeze them with crimping pliers. They keep your beads from falling off the wire. A package of 4 colors (gold, silver, copper, gunmetal) is about $9.
  • Toggle claps or magnetic clasps – Used for keeping your jewelry on your neck or wrist. You can also use lobster clasps or screw clasps which are cheaper, but they are somewhat inconvenient and much harder to operate one-handed, which is especially important for bracelets. Cost is about $6 for a pack of 5-8 clasps.
  • Jump rings – These little rings connect wire to clasps, making it very easy to lengthen your necklace or bracelet without having to re-string your beads onto new wire. Cost is about $4 for a pack of 80-100 rings.
  • Head pins – These are used to hang one or more beads from a chain, or perpendicular to your wire. Cost is about $4 for a pack of 50-100.
  • Ear wires – These are used for making earrings and come in several colors (gold, silver, copper). The least expensive ear wires are made from brass, nickel and copper. You can also buy them in gold and silver for people who are allergic to base metals. Cost is about $5 for a pack of 50.
  • Seed bead kit – Required for bead weaving projects, otherwise optional. Contains an assortment of basic colors and will save money over buying seed beads individually. Cost is about $10-25
  • Bead loom – Required for bead weaving projects, otherwise optional. Used to weave beads in certain patterns. Cost is about $10.
  • Strings of beads – This is the single item that you will constantly be buying, but you can start your first projects with 2-5 strings of beads. Buy more when you run out. The cost of a few strands is $20-50.
  • Beading reference book – A good, printed (non-digital) book is best, so you can easily flip through the pages. I recommend The Beader’s Bible or Beading Basics. Cost is $20-30.

Total cost = $140-200

As you can see, the initial cost is significant. You’ll need to make several pieces of jewelry before you begin “saving” on the cost of jewelry you might have purchased from a store or another craftsman. And if you’re planning to make items to sell, you’ll probably need to sell a few dozen before you recover the cost of your investment and your time (remember to account for the time you work on your jewelry when pricing it).

Many people just bead for fun and the love of crafting. They might sell a piece here and there, but most never recoup their costs. The reason for this is simple… Beading is addictive. The beads come in every color and texture under the sun, so you’ll always want more. It’s a bit like crack, except you won’t die from it. Once you’re hooked, your life will never be the same. Fortunately, it will at least be full of color and beauty.

Best of luck in your endeavors!

How to be creative…

stained glass hummingbird

Stained Glass Hummingbird and Butterflies

My college boyfriend was a dark, brooding type, who thought depression lead to creativity. Then again, all his songs were depressing, and I really didn’t like them. If I was making Goth jewelry, dark thoughts might help, but in my case, I turn in a different direction. Some of these tips are common sense and some are a bit more abstract. I hope they will help you become a better artisan.

1) “Think of a wonderful thought.” That was Peter Pan’s advice to Wendy, when she wanted to learn how to fly. So if I start thinking about space, or fairy tales, or the islands of Greece, it will naturally evoke images of glowing light or twinkling tiaras or swirls of sea foam. If it’s hard to picture your wonderful things, grab a book or find images on the internet. Then sit down in fro

nt of your bead box(es). Something will often “jump out” at you, because half of the idea was already in your mind.

2) Begin with stealing. Didn’t someone say great artists steal? Sure, we’re supposed to aim for originality. But when you sit down to copy a design, you might start to think, “if I do this or change that, it will look much nicer”, and once you’ve got the creative process going, you’ll get even more ideas.

3) Grab 10 things in the same color family and put everything else away. Or grab 5 things at the opposite side of the color wheel. From the 10 things that are similar, place a few of them together and switch them out until you have 4-5 favorites, then put the rest away. If you’re the type who likes to be matchy, chose wire or string with a matching warm or cool tone. If you picked 5 items on the opposite side of the color wheel, narrow your choices down to 2 or 3. By having a spectrum of matchy items, your piece will gain depth. Conversely, by having 2-3 items on opposite sides of the color wheel, your piece will achieve contrast. Color opposites may feel odd at first, but keep in mind that holiday colors are  made from pairs or sets of opposite colors (red/green, yellow/purple/pink, orange/black), and make great decorations. Some holiday tones are great for babies (Easter colors), some for young children (Christmas colors are primary), and some are great for even the most Gothic teens (Halloween anyone?).

4) Watch a period film or documentary. Style evolves, but it also cycles. What’s old will become new again after a few decades. Additionally, there are always hopeless romantics that like to look back on thepast and wear trinkets or jewelry that evoke bygone eras. Maybe you’ll get ideas for a new choker based on Victorian times, or footless sandals inspired by Cleopatra’s elaborate jewels. Even if nothing strikes you immediately, you’ll feel more relaxed and hopefully re-energized and creative.

5) Clean your workspace. It may not be fun to pick up each tiny bead and file it away, but it is extremely helpful in the creative process. If you were a painter that didn’t start with a clean canvas, you might get confused as you try to brush a stroke of golden hair over lines of brown or green. In that same way, we can be distracted or confused by seeing too many colors or materials on the table. By cleaning your space you make room not just on your table, but in your mind, leaving more room for inspiration.

Inspirations from The Little Prince

“You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them… In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You – only you – will have stars that can laugh.”
Antoine de Saint-ExupéryThe Little Prince

ImageNecklace available on Etsy. Click here

On designing jewelry…

page0-1022-fullPeople ask me if making jewelry is hard to do. On a purely mechanical level, I’d say no, provided you have nimble fingers for detail work. You also need to be meticulous about finishing off your pieces properly so that they don’t unravel, poke you, or cause some other problem. But on an artistic level, it’s like any other art. You have to love it to be good at it, because otherwise it doesn’t make any sense. It’s like staring at an abstract art painting when all you know is classical art.

Designing jewelry is about form, color, composition and the texture of the media. In spite of it’s inherent beauty, a gem can look boring if the composition of the piece was uninspired. No one will want to wear it, much less buy it. I’ve heard about sculptors saying that a particular statue was already inside the stone and they simply let the sculpture out. Sometimes I feel like this happens to me with the beads and metal in my hands. I often don’t know what a piece is going to look like before I design it. I think about my mood and check myself to see if I feel inspired, because without inspiration, the piece will be uninteresting and I might as well spend my time watching a movie or reading a book. Seriously, if you don’t feel inspired, walk away, you can always come back later.

From a practical standpoint, making jewelry can be quite expensive. You’ll need to invest in tools, materials, and at least a few good books. It also takes up space in your home or office that you’d otherwise use for something else. When I was just out of college, one of my friends said jokingly about my hobbies, “You should take up cocaine. It would be cheaper!” And though I laughed at the time, there’s definitely much truth in the idea that even good habits can add up. So if you don’t have the patience and the passion, it’s best to find something you like and just purchase it. But if you love creating new things, I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors.