Friday, May 29, 2009

It's Your Choice

Laura was a great CPA. Probably still would be if that is how she had chosen to continue her life. 

Dating my stepson, Laura was an up and coming star at a large regional CPA firm and she was nearing the end of the grueling 80-hour work weeks that make or break young CPAs but which expose them to a wide range of businesses. College was paid off. The future was gravy. 

However, Laura was a victim -- a victim of a culture that says 18-year olds should know what they are going to do for the rest of their lives when they pick a college major. By the time Laura was a senior, she pretty much knew she didn’t want to be a CPA. But her parents had all that money invested in her (not a small consideration when one’s parents have sacrificed) and, well, she was about to get her degree. The time for choosing something else was over. 

Laura put in her time at the firm, working weekends and holidays when necessary…until gradually she came to a startling conclusion: she wanted to touch lives. Literally. 

She wanted to become a massage therapist -- specializing in pregnant women -- and a labor doula. So she saved her money, quit her job and did just that, enrolling in Seattle's Ashmead College, then continuing her pregnancy focus with Doula training from Seattle Midwifery School. 

Today, Laura’s dream has gotten even bigger. She’s now pursuing a degree as a Nurse Practitioner Midwife, still focused on pregnancy. Touching lives. She’s touched mine.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

‘Vision’ vs. Execution

From my first magical moment of clarity – not only seeing the path to which I was being called, but also knowing with certainty that I would be very good at it – I can honestly say I have never been without ‘the vision.’ Without any conscious thinking, planning or effort to ‘stir the creative juices,’ I am blessed to have more design ideas swirling in my head and crying out to my hands than I will ever have time to execute. When I purchase gems, it’s almost always because I can see the finished product. 

For someone whose previous professional life required living in a world of empirical data, rationality and business process, I still find this fact quite astounding. Not to mention that I had never thought of myself as particularly creative – certainly not in any ‘artistic’ way. I just greatly admired artists from afar because they had some magical thing IN them that the ‘rest of us’ did not. 

However – and that’s a big ‘however’ – what I want to pass along is: just because the vision is clear doesn’t mean the execution is. Vision is the easy part. That’s why it’s called ‘vision’ – because it’s mental, it doesn’t exist in the physical plane. Execution, on the other hand, is pure reality. It can be quite technical with lots of trial and error. And so one learns the many ways that something doesn’t work. Until it does.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pavo Cristatus, Monsoon Maker

Since one of my Elle Schroeder Collections, Ancient Splendor, features 20K-22K antique Indian plaque amulet pendants and Mughul jeweled pieces, I’m always curious to know the significance of what I’m working, both for my benefit and that of my customers. One recurring theme in Indian pieces is perhaps the most beautiful bird on earth, pavo cristatus -- or, as we know it, the male half of the peafowl, the peacock.

Called "the bird with one hundred eyes" due to the eye-like patterns on its tail, the peacock is the national bird of India. The Peacock Dance, sometimes called the Monsoon Dance, plays an important role in the Indian ethos. Believed to be a harbinger of the approaching monsoon and hence, fertility, at the sight of dark clouds the bird spreads out its tail and starts dancing in rhythmic fashion, strutting and displaying its feathers in an impressive fashion as if welcoming the gathering of clouds at the end of the summer (although he’s just trying to attract a mate). And for Indians, at the height of their sweltering hot season, there can be no greater joy than the beginning of the rainy season.  

Its scientific name, pavo, derives from the Sanskrit, “pavana,” referring to the Hindu deity Vayu, the wind who is also the breath of life and the father of Hanuman. The peacock is the vahana (vehicle) of Kartikkeya, the god of war; Saraswati, goddess of knowledge, music and the arts also rides a peacock in the entourage of the Goddess Durga. Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, fortune, love and beauty, is also sometimes depicted with armbands in the form of peacocks.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The ‘Mohs Scale'...and Why You Should Care

Devised by the German mineralogist Frederich Mohs (1773-1839), the oft-referred-to Mohs scale measures the relative hardness of ten minerals, numbered 1-10 -- chosen at the time because they were common and/or readily available.

The scale starts with talc (#1) a very soft and unstable substance. However, the scale is somewhat arbitrary and is not scientifically linear. For instance, while #9, corundum – a category that includes sapphire and ruby -- is twice as hard as #8 (topazes), the diamond (#10) is more than four times as hard as corundum.

  1. Talc (plastic)
  2. Gypsum (salt, fingernails, gold)
  3. Calcite
  4. Fluorite
  5. Apatite (copper coin, window glass)
  6. Orthoclase (includes moonstone & labradorite)
  7. Quartz (tourmaline, crystal quartz and all colored quartzes)
  8. Topaz (also beryl’s – emerald & aquamarine)
  9. Corundum (sapphire & ruby)
  10. Diamond

One can see why calcite -- #3 on the scale and therefore relatively soft -- was a favorite material for Egyptian sculptors. Also known as ‘Egyptian alabaster, calcite was used to create the canopic equipment that eventually contained the internal organs of individuals removed during the process of mummification (and which can be seen firsthand in many museums).

So – all very interesting you say…but why should I care about this? The biggest reason I think is the ‘ole gotcha, “caveat emptor.” Whenever one is purchasing gems it seem a good idea to be an educated buyer.

For instance, it’s become very popular for the public to attend gem fairs where they can purchase faceted stones to be set later. However, one should know, for instance, that although fluorite and apatite are both beautiful stones with a huge color range, they are not recommended for rings -- because they are soft enough to scratch easily or even crack. Therefore they should be used only for necklaces and/or earrings that don’t experience the same kind of wear.

On the other hand, quartzes (#7) are beautiful, come in a wide range of colors, are relatively inexpensive and -- can take a lot of daily wear.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Color is Transformative

It is magical. It is transcendent.

Ask anyone who's lived in the Pacific Northwest or New Zealand's South Island about the effect of color on mind and spirit. Listless flat gray skies move in like not-so-welcome houseguests who come for three days but stay for a month -- not only sucking color out of the atmosphere but our psyches as well. Days, feet and minds drag.

But, oh...when those gray skies decide to pack up and catch the next 'Greyhound' outta' town -- and the sun deigns to show its face once again -- we are warmly reminded that the reason nature has provided us with color is to feed our bodies and our spirits.

Color... the effect produced when lights strikes an object and then reflects it back to the eye... energies of differing light frequencies that the eye perceives as nerve impulses -- which our brain then translates into colors -- so simple, yet so complex.

Whether we think of in this way or not, each one of us has a personal relationship with color. Color can make us feel happy, glad, joyful, giddy, wistful, melancholy, sexy, pensive, wicked, tranquil, somber or at peace.

For example, warm colors -- those with longer wavelengths such as red and yellow -- stimulate the heart and nervous system, so we feel excited or anxious. Cool colors -- those with shorter wavelengths such as green or blue -- ease the brain, so they're more restful.

"There is conclusive medical evidence that color affects all our vital functions, biorhythms, body clock, hormone levels and ability to deal with stress," says Suzy Chiazzari, color therapist and author of The Complete Book of Color."

Color nourishes our whole system, supplying a vital energy that is an essential and wonderful part of life. Most of our reactions are, however, unconscious and it is only when we start to use the qualities of color in an informed way that we can harness this wonderful vital force to improve the quality of our life and our well-being.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Colored Quartzes - Sun Shy

I’m all for glamour, but when you’re lounging poolside at your favorite South Beach hotel, sipping Pina Coladas and stargazing, it’s not a good idea to wear your favorite citrine or amethyst chandeliers and bracelet – even if it does make the whole bathing ensemble thing POP.

The second most common mineral in the earth's crust, quartz is also the most varied in terms of varieties, colors and forms; it is also a relatively hard stone (7 on the Mohs scale) that wears well.

That said, most colored ‘gemmy’ quartz on the market today is heat-treated to achieve a particular color. Popular colored quartzes include amethyst, citrine, ametrine (a hybrid of amethyst and citrine), rose quartz, smoky quartz and prasiolite; all of these are heat-treated to achieve color or intensify color. (For instance, although citrine does occur naturally, the majority is the result of heat-treated amethyst.) More recently on the market are subtly colored neutral quartzes in pale yellowish-to-brown shades that go by names like "cognac quartz," “whiskey quartz,” “beer quartz” and “champagne quartz,” all of them heat-treated.

And ‘heat-treated’ means that heat -- from whatever source, including solar – can, over time, cause a quartz's color to either change OR remove the color altogether, leaving a muddy hue. 

Learn more about colored quartzes at Glimmerdream's Gem Journeys.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pearl Knotting and the Art of Being Present

Good pearls need to be knotted. With a surface hardness of only 2.5 - 4 on the Mohs Scale, having an appropriately sized tight knot between pearls keeps their fragile surface of nacre from wearing. The knot should be just big enough to create the space but small enough to be unobtrusive.

I do not like knotting pearls. Why? Because every knot is a potential problem. If, in the process of trying to tighten a knot against a pearl the cord slips off the knotting tool -- leaving a tight knot with space between it and the pearl -- there is no “undo.”

There is only start over.

And at what point in the process is this most likely to occur? Toward the end, of course -- because the motions have become routine. My mind wanders. 

I have ceased to be present.

So each knotting session becomes a lesson in being present, one I have ample opportunity to practice over and over.

The above is an example of a piece in my Ancient Splendor Collection that I redid 6 times. It’s an antique Mughul pendant with table-cut diamonds and red spinel cabochons that make up a seated Ganesha – on very lustrous cultured baroque pearls accented with 

18K meenakari* beads. The back of the pendant also displays meenakari work.

*Meenakari is the Indian art of fine enameling. Because a shallow layer of high-carat gold was used in Mughul pieces, and is therefore soft, the back of pieces were enameled to prevent the gold from wearing off on the wearer’s skin.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

If I Only Had the Time

In a perfect world, I’d have the ability to clone myself like Dolly the sheep.

Have you noticed that whenever you begin stimulating your creative juices in one area, you start feeling creative in many other aspects of your life? Seven or eight years ago, shortly before I started my jewelry career and a couple of years out of high-tech, I would have told anyone who’d listen that I didn’t have a creative bone in my body…well, maybe a smidgen, une poco, and I would have thought it centered around writing – not that I could have made a living a it. Now, six years into ‘this’ life, there are so many things I’d like to do that I get dizzy just thinking about them all.

There’s a string of nouns that for me describe the heart of the creative process when I’m working on jewelry: rhythm, balance, color and flow. The same words relate to so many other areas that I’d love to delve into…if I only had the time.

If I only had the time, I’d be a clothing designer; the clothing lines and fabric designs are already in my head. I’d be a turner of wood – in fact, I was already signed up for a lathe class when my fate turned in the direction of jewelry; however, the vision is still there on a back burner, simmering. I’d be a potter; I love ceramics and my few hours at the wheel were pure therapy. I’d be a spinner of wool, doing my own dying and knitting up heavenly visions – my first and only beading class was to learn how to embellish knitted pieces with beads; but the teacher said we HAD to make a bracelet and a necklace and, well, you know the rest. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I Guess It'll Do...

“Good decisions are based on experience. Experience is based on bad decisions.” One of my favorite aphorisms, as a jewelry artist, this saying has never been more applicable than to the experience of buying gems. There are costly gems, there’s junk…and there’s a lot of stuff in between. 

I know. I own products in all three categories.

It took a while after I started designing for me to realize that when I’m at a gem show or vendor’s showroom and I hold up a strand of beads and think, “well, I guess this’ll do,” that I should just flush the money down the toilet and be done with it. Because every couple of weeks, I find myself throwing away a strand or two of something I paid good money for but now wouldn’t think of passing on to my customers.

At a gem show, standing at the booth of one of my favorite vendors, the person next to me asked, “does he have good products?” I said “yes, the best.” She asked, “does he have good prices?” I said “no… because he has the best products.”

So the next time you’re in a situation that you find yourself thinking, “I guess it’ll do,” don’t. Insist on/wait for the best.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Peculiar Path...

As a jewelry artist, my inspiration comes not only from my day-to-day life but all the encounters I’ve experienced in a pretty  unconventional and peripatetic life.  My father traveled – and we with him -- to where there was work. Farmwork in southern Minnesota; orchard work in Washington, haying  in Yuma, logging in Oregon, carpentry in Idaho...and so on, often housed in our 40’ x 8’ Spartan trailer house, our home on our backs, so to speak. Attending 14 schools in 11 years, I completed four years of high school in three. College was equally spread out: Texas, Oregon, Hawaii and California – finally graduating close to my 40th birthday.

Workwise, I’ve picked beans and hoed strawberries, been a teaching assistant, a secretary, an accounting clerk, an entrepreneur in the food business, a cocktail waitress and bartender, worked in Apple Computer's business development and sales, managed a quaint off-the-beaten-path resort in the South Pacific, worked in Hewlett-Packard's channel marketing and distribution...and now I'm a jewelry artist.

As Raul Malo from the band, The Mavericks, has said, "if most people did what I've done in my career, they'd be driving a taxi by now." 

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Beginning of the Beginning

Working at Hewlett Packard included ‘offsites’ – gatherings that occurred somewhere other than the workplace where groups often combined some work with play.  At this particular 2-day offsite, our group participated in a questionnaire that evaluated key strengths and profiled each of us into one of 16 different categories such as “developer,” “implementer” and so on.

On day 2, I was the first to show up. The facilitator asked if he could use my ‘profile’ as an example when results were passed out. He said, “This is a profile we hardly ever see in a corporate setting…that of an entrepreneur.”  I shared with him that I was completely dissatisfied and bored in my current job – even though it paid well. He said “this shows it,” adding, “you have the potential to be a millionaire, to be successful at whatever you do. You have what it takes to run your own business.”

A couple of months later, I tell my manager “I’m giving HP two more years and then I want to do something on my own.” I just have no idea what it will be.

Two years go by, then two more…and two more. Too many…unless you subscribe to the idea that all things happen when they’re supposed to. 

Still at HP, neither my girlfriends L. and C. or I have been to a psychic before. We’re hesitantly open to adventure. We draw straws. I go first. The psychic introduces herself and talks about how she works. We shuffle cards, I cut, she lays them out. The very first thing she says to me is “Have you ever thought of running your own business? You’d be very good at it -- not that it wouldn’t be a lot of hard work -- but you’d be very good at it. You should think about this.” I stare, gobsmacked. “Who have you been talking to,” I think. “How on earth do you know this?”