Is it Art?

Recently, there was a suggestion to the Blogging101 class to write the first post that we would have written when we first thought about blogging. This isn’t really that post, but it is in a way. There’s a weasel for you!

By the way, if you feel like you need some help blogging, the wordpress Blogging101 class has really impressed me so far. I highly recommend joining a session and that’s a pretty unusual thing for me to do.

Way back when I was a little weasel, my parents set a pretty good example of being outside the box thinkers. Both parents found ways to
bring in a little bit of cash in addition to their regular jobs. Mom did some embroidery on shirts that my aunt sewed, Dad made some flowers out of wire and a liquid film and they both did some rug making with yarn, burlap and a metal punching device. Mom also painted. She mostly did Pennsylvania Hex Signs, but also some painting on shirts and mailboxes. The two of them would bundled us into the car on Saturday mornings and we would go to a local craft market and they’d sell what they could. It wasn’t a lot, but it did make a difference.

I always remember Mom painting, often taking classes or belonging to a national painting group. She entered county fairs and won in her categories, she sold her work often and really mastered many different mediums.

This was passed over as not right for a gallery.

This was passed over as not right for a gallery.

Both parents encouraged me to try different things – weaving, tatting, sewing, embroidery of many kinds, etc… Painting however was beyond me and drawing was a real stretch. The process of making something made all of us happy, even though none of us did the same things.

After a while though, Mom wasn’t happy about painting anymore. She had run into that segment of the art world that has definite ideas about what Art is and they had informed her that she was not an artist. Mom quit painting for a while, but eventually she started again. Again, she ran into people who told her that her work was not art, but it was really well crafted. Even to this day, her art gets looked down on as Quality Craft.

Apparently, not Art either.

Apparently, not Art either.

I’ve encountered the same prejudice many times, in many places. So many times, in fact, that I got fed up and decided that I didn’t want to make art; I wanted to make things that people use, things that people liked touching and wearing, things that people interacted with and felt good about doing so. And so I did just that.

Oddly, now I get critics who identify some of my work (usually things that I have to make for an actual class – things I put away and never look at again) as Art.

Fold formed Copper, glass pearls on stainless steel nuts, hand forged bar links chain and a 10mm Bar Cut Silver Topaz.  This is Art Jewelry -  as described by a teacher.  I won't ever wear it.

Fold formed Copper, glass pearls on stainless steel nuts, hand forged bar links chain and a 10mm Bar Cut Silver Topaz.
This is Art Jewelry – as described by a teacher. I won’t ever wear it.

I started WeaselWerks with William Morris in mind. Art Historians identify Mr. Morris as a friend of the group of artists who labelled themselves The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood when they think to include him at all. Sometimes he is identified as part of the founding of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Actually, he’s the man who created a business that brought the artistic endeavors of his friends into the homes of people as things to interact with, not just things that hang on walls and stand on tables or pedestals.

Morris felt that the things that are in your home should be beautiful and functional, well made and pleasing to see and use. This weasel couldn’t agree more.

Craft is so important, so critical to the process of creating Art that without Craft, Art wouldn’t be. Basic Craft is pretty identifiable, but as the creator persists, skill increases and the crafter masters the use of their tools, their perceptions, their medium and their bodies. Quality and Value are present in the crafted items of journeymen, while the items produce by a Master Craftsman are often breathtaking. Given the passage of time, those same masterfully crafted items get treated and displayed as Art, even if they are not actually labelled Art.

Without that first watercolor paint set in the hands of the child, without the sidewalk chalk drawings outside of family homes, artists never emerge. Every artist has to learn their Craft, even if it starts with gluing macaroni to construction paper to make a picture of a building.

I don’t worry about the label anymore – Art or Craft – I aim to produce value, quality and pleasure in items that are used because they are satisfying and fulfilling to the owner. I know that the value and quality are because of the craft and the pleasure is the result of the art.

People love these.  I love these.  They are fun to make, fun to see and fun to wear.

People love these. I love these. They are fun to make, fun to see and fun to wear.

Someday , if something of mine ends up in a museum as Art, I’ll probably be glad for the thought, but sad that the piece is just sitting there collecting dust instead of being used for its purpose and, in doing so, making someone a little happier.

After all, weasels hate dusting!

Why Weasels?

It’s got to be one of the oddest names for a studio – WeaselWerks.

In spite of almost always being misspelled in program books when I do a show, visitors to my table usually laugh and read the name out loud from the banner.  It’s nice to give people a smile even if that’s all they take away from my display.  Actually, especially if that’s all I can give them.

No one ever asks – why weasels?

There’s a lot of reasons, really.  I have the same coloring as several varieties of weasels (brown and tan),  I tend to be unnoticed in public and the alliteration factor makes me happy.

Additionally, weasels work pretty hard in the wild.  In the studio, we work pretty hard as well.  It’s sometimes a very long day with not a whole lot to show at the end, sort of like spending all day collecting tiny seeds and hunting down your dinner.  I imagine that sometimes even the smoothest weasel has moments of dismay when reviewing the day’s accomplishments.

Some of the work that an artist has to do in the current world of hyper connectivity has nothing to do with the art form itself.  There’s a ton of pictures to take, to post to the web on various sites, descriptions to write and then blogs with tutorials or updates about your work need to be done.  You need to have a presence on Twitter, Facebook, at least one online store front, keep up with your personal email, have a picture gallery on a site like deviantart and a blog.  It’s pretty hard to balance the online work with the actual production.

It’s easy to spend half a day just doing the outreach and not even picking up a tool and some metal.  That’s where werking like a weasel is really important.

Weasels spend their day doing the things they need to do to survive, but they take the time to be aware of their surroundings, explore the unusual and enjoy their favorite places.  Watching a weasel scamper on it’s way, you’ll see them stop and check out some new blossoms, run through a stream a couple of times and search out some tasty snacks, all while digging out a nest, grooming, hunting and soaking up some rays.

It’s a great reminder that I can get some work done, then take a break and work on a blog post for ten minutes while I enjoy a cup of coffee.

Not everything has to be done start to finish every time without any breaks.  At the end of the day, it’s important to have enjoyed the time I spent on the things I accomplished and on the things that aren’t quite done, but are further along than they were.    There’s always tomorrow to stop in on the things that still need to be done, and the things that need to be enjoyed.  Weasels werk every day, so they have to play every day too.  Those flowers aren’t going to last forever so you need to find them while they are there. 

Plus, those tasty snacks show up when you least expect them, so you’ve gotta keep an eye out for them. 

Final Countdown – well, not SO final….

Big Sigh.

Seems like there is never enough time in a day. Something has to be put off, and usually that’s taking pictures and online posting in the ‘Werks.

So, a quick update as to what’s been going on and what’s going to happen very soon:

1. ConDor Con in San Diego, March 21 – 23.

WeaselWerks is attending and will be hosting a table in the Dealer’s Room. There will be any number of things produced in the ‘Werks as well as some new landscapes from CalArt67. I think that the backgrounds that we did together are almost exhausted and we will be doing some more in June.

I looked around very carefully last year as I was out scurrying about and chose two artists that I will invite to do appearances with WeaselWerks all through 2014. These two artists make incredible art in very different areas than anything that we do in the ‘Werks, so it’s very much a sharing of inspiration and resources for all of us. Each of these artists spend a great deal of time crafting each piece and that means fewer pieces to display at shows and conventions. We know all about that frustration!

Natalie Ewert – working in pencil, ink, art marker, polymer clay, woodburning, watercolor pencil, watercolors and acrylics, she makes art you want to touch and hold. There is so much I want to say about how much I’m in awe, it’s best if you go visit her site(s) and save me the embarrassment of being a spaz. Which I totally am about her pieces and have to contain myself so as to not be annoying when I am around them. See what I’m talking about at http://www.creatornat.com/ and http://natamon.deviantart.com/.

Upon a Midnight – It’s leather, but not as we know it, Jim. Yes, it is leather; coiled, stretched, rolled, twisted leather in colors you never thought of leather in. Is that an eye? Again, yes! Or maybe a feather. A shell? Yes, yes and yes! Every item is unique, hand crafted and displayed with such amazing artistry, you just can’t compare the works from Upon a Midnight with the multi-run offerings that one usually sees at events. Upon a Midnight was invited to show at ConDor Con with WeaselWerks as I felt that more people need to see work that is truly extraordinary. Visit the website and view the galleries to see just why I’m so blown away at http://uponamidnight.com/welcome.html and https://www.etsy.com/shop/UponaMidnight.

Deeply Dapper: Better Living through Tentacles – Because better living through tentacles is what some days are all about! Located in the eastern part of our confederation, Deeply Dapper creates soaps that make me want to get dirty just to take a bath. Seriously, the ‘Werks has a bathroom best seen by candlelight and tentacles would seriously class the place up, so getting me to WANT to spend time there is a miracle. Even with plans to move closer to the rockin’ and rollin’ West Coast (there have been 3 earthquakes in the LA area in the last two weeks!), I loved the product descriptions, the scent blends and the idea so much that I contacted them about having their soaps for events. It’s been a great experience with Deeply Dapper so far and morning showers with coffee scented soap just rock the Weasel World! Visit the booth at ConDor Con to see and sniff or check out their websites if you have to stay home that weekend. http://deeplydapper.storenvy.com/ Also, read the blog at Deeply Dapper!

CalArt67 – as the sole rep for CalArt67, the ‘Werks will have the new landscapes on display at ConDor Con, but it will be an opportunity to order prints for mail delivery after convention for the most part. Here’s a sneak peek at two of the new ones:

Shades of Winter

Seasonal Shifts

As to what’s been happening the ‘Werks on the bench, I’ll close out with one lesson learned and a picture.

Lesson learned – getting a cut from Brass seems to be more prone to infection than Copper cuts. Maybe there is some truth behind the idea that Copper has antibacterial properties. Remember – Safety First! Sometimes that means band-aids and Neosporin.

Fold formed Copper, glass pearls on stainless steel nuts, hand forged bar links chain and a 10mm Bar Cut Silver Topaz.

Fold formed Copper, glass pearls on stainless steel nuts, hand forged bar links chain and a 10mm Bar Cut Silver Topaz.

What could go Wrong?

If you haven’t noticed yet that Sarcasm is also an artform practiced here in the ‘Werks, you’ve been missing an essential part of what makes a Weasel work.

I often comment wryly about Safety in the workshop, mostly that I have a random relationship with safety precautions when it comes to me. However, when it comes to the safety of others, property and myself in a group workshop setting, I’m extremely pro safety.

Case in point:

I was attending one of the larger bead shows in the Southern California area and attended two classes, both of which would involve the use of torches. I was not too worried since this particular show has been running for several years and I figured that they had a good control on the safety requirements from the hotel and the local fire department, not to mention their insurance carrier.

I also took a quick look at the teachers individual background on their personal websites. Both presented themselves as experienced metal workers, one even is a graduate of the Revere Academy in San Francisco, so my concerns were almost vanquished. Almost.

The first class was a disaster! During the safety part of the class, the teacher told us we were responsible for the THREE FEET all around us when using a lit torch. Mind you, I feel that the range of caution should be FIVE feet as I’m nervous about other people’s skill level until I can observe them in action. But, it was her class, so I go along.

Remember – we are told THREE FEET. I look to my right and left and approximate that the student on either side of me is SIX INCHES away from me.
This translates to 5 people within my three foot responsibility zone. The odds are not good so far and get worse when neither student next to me has experience using a mini torch, or any torch at all. Additionally, the student on my right announces they have had a recent brain surgery and can’t follow directions as well as they could before. I’m now exhibiting less weasel traits and more ‘deer in the headlights’ traits. But I go along.

During the next three hours, hot metal fell off stands, bounced off my leg twice from my neighbor on my left’s work area and my neighbor on my right knocked everything over, caught the table on fire, burned the carpet and couldn’t figure out how to turn her torch off. Oh, and we completed less than 1/4 of the project. In three hours.

I fled the classroom as soon as our time was up. Seriously – I was packed up and out the door within 45 seconds of the end of class. The table was still smoldering so I don’t think anyone noticed my haste or departure.

After a night of cocoa and calming down, I went to the second class. I was encouraged to see that the student to teacher ratio was much more reasonable and that the torch was well away from the class table. I thought I was in the clear.

Wrongo Bongo, Roscoe Bosco.

In the next hour, not only did we reinforced my bias against using scissors to cut metal (warpage of your piece, cuts on hands when turning corners, metal shards flying through the air, and so on) but I also saw a torch used in a manner that I hope never to see again.

When it came time to anneal the copper we were hammering the snot out of, the teacher called in her assistant to help with the torch. I thought that was odd, but eh, whatever. Maybe I was going to learn something innovative. Weasels are curious; I went along with it.

OH GODS – NO!!!!!

As the assistant held the lit tank torch, the teacher held the metal piece to be annealed with a pair of copper tongs. She held the copper tongs in her bare hand. She then held the tongs and copper piece in the flame that her assistant was holding. To anneal. To bring that hammered copper to a dull red glow. In copper tongs. With a bare hand.

Using a torch to heat copper scrap to an annealed state.  It's a dull red glow.

Using a torch to heat copper scrap to an annealed state. It’s a dull red glow.

Past the annealing stage, I'm melting this scrap into a ball.  It's bright yellow at this point.

Past the annealing stage, I’m melting this scrap into a ball. It’s bright yellow at this point.

To top it off, the quenching bowl was TEN FEET AWAY!

This is the maximum ideal distance this weasel thinks a quenching bowl should be from the torch area.  One inch.

This is the maximum ideal distance this weasel thinks a quenching bowl should be from the torch area. One inch.

I haven’t been so disturbed in over a decade and I read a lot of horror novels. Stephen King and Guillermo Del Toro need to take metal working classes at a convention. I’m just saying.

To put the icing on the cake, the two of them were working over a perfectly white asbestos pad that had a pristine charcoal fire block sitting square on it. Irony. Even my cat gets it.

I went and got the quenching bowl and brought it over to the torch area and another student gave an oven glove to the teacher who was insisting on holding those copper tongs in the freaking flame. She did this not once, but every time we needed to anneal something. Six times that I was present for. Holding hot copper tongs in a flame. My inner weasel was screaming “Darwin, where are you?!?!?”

By the end of an hour, I was done with as much as I could do to my project without annealing it again, since I was not going to be part of that train wreck, and even with another hour of class, I left. Mostly because what was covered was dapping and stamping, whereas the class I paid for was repousse. The teacher was passing the dapping off as respousse. She was unhappy and confused as to why I was working the front of my piece again after having domed it. That was when I knew that she really, truly believed that she was doing repousse and that I should just slink off without further discussion.

So…… what I can take away from this fiasco and pass on to you, citizen, is as follows:

1. Metal conducts heat. Copper is metal. Holding metal in your bare hand and putting it in a flame is going to heat your hand. Badly. Burnly.

2. When researching a teacher online, pay less attention to the printed words and more attention to the picture examples of their work. It might not be their work, but a picture is less likely to deceive you as to what was actually done. Who did it is still a matter for speculation.

3. If you see a situation that you think in unsafe, trust your reaction. Lawsuits might be fun for some (mostly lawyers), but I’d rather be forging in the studio than sitting in a courtroom trying to get compensation for pain and suffering.

4. Taking the very basic, entry level classes at conventions can be rewarding. Taking advanced classes at conventions – usually not so much. Take advanced classes from local artists, community colleges, teaching studios or the fabulous Art and Craft schools that are a great mini vacation to boot.

5. Use your tools. They look pretty when you first unpack them, but for the most part metal working tools are scarred, nicked, dinged and discolored when used properly. The exception to the rule is your chasing hammers. You should be able to use the hammer face as a mirror to see if your hair is pulled back.

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Because I USE them.  Pretty tools = never been used.

Because I USE them. Pretty tools = never been used.

As to the safety level in the ‘Werks, I learned a bad lesson. I now feel that I’m safer in my studio even though I’m still not wearing shoes most of the time, not always opening windows when I should (baby, it’s COLD outside) and have a huge mess on my tables. My Optivisor hangs on its peg most of the time and there is going to be a paper landslide off the top of the filing cabinet someday. It is really time to reorganize, but there is one more thing I want to finish before I clean. Maybe two things. Ok, ok, just three…

Much like a hoopy frood, this weasel always knows where their Optivisor is - hanging up.

Much like a hoopy frood, this weasel always knows where their Optivisor is – hanging up.

On the injury scoreboard, I must report that there has been a Weasel injury this week. As I was washing dishes, I sliced my thumb on the bread knife that was hiding in the sink suds. Pretty deep, but not enough to require stitches.

Of course, I was barefoot, still in my pajamas, hair not tied back and headphones blasting away. Situation normal for the kitchen.

Because really, what could go wrong?

What I managed to get done before I had a dish washing related injury.

What I managed to get done before I had a dish washing related injury.

The Consequence of the Unfortunate Hat

One of the best parts of being creative is that you can be as wacky and weird as you want and pass it off as being “Artistic”. You can also put off doing things like taking out the trash or getting to the dry cleaners before it closes since you were “In the Zone” and when you get caught watching totally unredeemable movies (Hell comes to Frogtown anyone?) you are either searching for inspiration or doing research.

It’s a little different once you’ve produced a piece and it’s wacky, weird, odd or based on the smallest detail from that one episode of Battlestar Galactica {and I mean the original series) where Starbuck and Apollo go down to this planet….. well, you get the drift.

BUT –

If you share the story that was going on in your head about this unique piece as you were laboring away, the listener is treated to more than just an appreciation of diligent craftsmanship; they get something special that is lacking from many of the objects that surround us. They get a little bit of magic, a little glimpse into a different world that other people don’t know about. Sort of a secret that only a few will ever share. It’s the kind of thing that many of us dreamt of as kids and as an artist, you get to create it. It’s awesome!

As I’m starting to prepare for my next public appearance with WeaselWerks, I’m thinking about all things Steampunk. WeaselWerks will be appearing at CondorCon in San Diego in March. Gail Carriger, authoress of the Parasol Protectorate novels as well as other fine literary works, has been announced as the Guest of Honor for the convention and I’m really looking forward to being able to say hello, just like all the myriad other fans.

If you are wondering, Weasel – what does this have to do with the title of your post?, I’m a getting there, just hang on to yer horses.

One of the characters from Ms. Carriger’s novels, a certain Ivy Hisslepenny, has the most unorthodox taste in hats. Ivy, it seems, has never meet an ugly hat. Other characters seem to take almost palpable damage from some of her haberdashery choices, which has always given me pause for thought. What history could a horrid hat harbor, if a hat could harbor horrid history?

I’ve collected some materials that are rather outlandish, put on my thinking cap and have started to produce a series of head wear that will be on display at my table at the convention. The collection will be titled “The Consequence of the Unfortunate Hat” and each piece of headgear will have it’s own short, tragic story.

Feathers, Flowers, Birds, Butterflies and Beads of unusual sizes and compositions - Oh My!!

Feathers, Flowers, Birds, Butterflies and Beads of unusual sizes and compositions – Oh My!!

I will put each one up on the blog here, along with it’s story, for those who will not be able to view these cautionary caps in person.

In the meantime, the ‘werks continues to work on new designs, both steampunky and not, for the New Year.

All the best from the ‘Werks!

UPDATE: Due to a number of unfortunate occurrences, I have not been able to get more than one hat done.. Additionally, there will not be room to display the hats as WeaselWerks will be quite full with diverse and sundry merch. I’ll back burner this idea for next year and send the completed hats as part of an art show at one of the southland Steampunk conventions.

When Good Weasels do Bad Things

Everybody has an off day now and then. It’s just a facet of Life. However, it seems when it’s a bad day in the ‘Werks, things go really bad.

I don’t mean that injuries occur; heck those happen all the time! It’s mostly small stuff like stabbing yourself with a file or stubbing your toes on the bench legs (Remember – Safety First! Always wear shoes in the workshop!) – I’m talking about projects that go bad.

Here’s a good example – I was working on some stuffed animals that I wanted to jazz up with some gears, chain and other odds and ends that accumulate in the ‘Werks. The test run was three items – a starfish, a seahorse and a bear. First off, I couldn’t get in touch with my sewing machine, so I ended up hand stitching on the starfish. After some decorating, Star ended up like this:

All decked out in his salvaged finery, Star Fish is ready for the Industrial Age.

All decked out in his salvaged finery, Star Fish is ready for the Industrial Age.

Sort of predictable, but sometimes you have to work through the obvious to get to the not so obvious.

I’m gathering things for the Seahorse, but all in all he looks pretty good. By that, I mean that he looks like a seahorse.

I'm thinking a monocle and a baldric are definitely in order for   Slim.

I’m thinking a monocle and a baldric are definitely in order for Slim.

So what in creation happened here?

Did I do that?????

Did I do that?????

I just don’t have words for this.

It’s going in the bag of tragedy along with bezels that just would never solder to their back plates, etched pieces that look like Saran wrap, chain links that make no sense and that one amethyst that split in half as I was cutting it. There are other misbegotten lurkers in that bag, but they are all best left undisturbed.

As for work today, I think the best bet is to clean up and make sure there will be lots of coffee for tomorrow.

W is for wire and Weasels

Wire. Wire, wire, wire.

Seems like that’s all I’ve seen this week, though I know that I also was working with some interesting beads and working on cutting an Amethyst cabochon.

For the last show of the year, I’m working on stock starting from both ends of the price spectrum.  The expensive things take a lot more thought, which I do while I’m making 20 or so wire elements for more reasonably priced items.

One of the wire projects is a butterfly design that I came up with a year or two ago.  The design has been kicking around in my brains, so I decided to do as much with that little butterfly as I could.

Butterfly

Each Butterfly needs two pieces of wire for the wings.  I clean up each wire end before shaping a wing and then I anneal the wire.
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Annealing make the wire soft again and I need it to be quite soft as I’m going to hammer it flat and then texture it.

If I had a hammer... and I do!!!

If I had a hammer… and I do!!!

Once it’s all textured (and I have hammered my thumbs a couple of times) its time to put these two wings together. To the solder station!

burnt wings

Yumm!! Extra crispy.

We’re looking ugly now.

Depending on what I’m going to do with the butterfly, I might leave them dirty and continue working on them (sometimes having a dark base is a good thing), but these need to be shiny. Into to the pickle pot for a bath.

clean wings

Better. But still not very appealing.

Got to clean these up and form them into a nice butterfly shape. This means sanding. I spend a lot of time sanding, which turns my fingers odd colors and I often sand off part of fingernails.

formed wings

Copper butterflies on velvet.

So much better! To keep these a bright copper color longer, they got sealed with an acrylic. Copper will oxidize, even when sealed, over time, so this really only postpones the inevitable. Still, even as these age, they will be pretty.

Ear wings

Barry Kripke says ‘earrings’.

Each butterfly gets a tila bead body and brass antenna. Suspended by silver plated wire s chain (more wire, filing and forming) from a Sterling Silver ear wire.

All that from two beads and some wire.

In the meantime my brain was working on the elaborate project. Here’s a sneak peek at what I’ve been thinking about

In progress, but most of the kinks are worked out.

In progress, but most of the kinks are worked out.