25 July 2018

Twenty Five Rings in Seven Days and What I Learned


I heard it used in a podcast I was listening to late last week while buried in my studio, having embarked on a week long mission to design and construct twenty-five gemstone rings.

A literal combination of "beautiful" and "brutal", this word nicely sums up my experience.   


Why did I do it?  It's a good question.  For starters, I had been toying with the idea for awhile now.  Not specifically a 25-Ring Challenge, but the notion of wanting to see and measure exactly how far I could push myself within a given window of time.  An Act of Disciplined Design, let's call it.  One hurdle for me in being an entrepreneur and artist is the frequent lack of routine, which trickles down into a seeming lack of accountability and structure.  I thought if I gave myself some parameters and a project with a deadline, I could better gauge my strengths and pinpoint precisely where I stand to improve.  After all, if you can measure it, you can manage it.

Additionally, it is my very personal belief that art is therapy.  In my world, construction is cathartic.  Two weeks ago brought an ending to a nearly eighteen month long war and two weeks ago, I lost.  The details here don't matter as that's not the point of this post, but I will share that I don't feel the timing of this challenge was accidental.  I needed to bury myself alive in my work.  To make something lovely in the face of loss and assign some purpose to my pain.  I didn't give much thought to it other than realizing that, last Monday night, I had nothing to lose but myself in a sea of silver and stones, and that's what I suddenly needed to do.  I try very hard to let my work speak when my words fail.  I had a lot to say.  "Why wait?" I thought, so I posted a video announcing my task, and I began the challenge Tuesday morning.

Why 25 rings?  
I don't know.  It felt impossible and scary, so probably a good thing to attempt.

Why 7 days?
Why not?

Though I didn't manage to finish setting the stones, what I did manage to do was create a collection of greater scale and detail than any I've put forth before.  I did manage to push my own limits and exceed my own expectations.  I managed to make something out of a time of sadness and anger, and I managed to manage my pain in a productive, purposeful way.  

So how did I do it?

The technical side of things was relatively streamlined.  I built all the bezels at once, wrapping, cutting and soldering them in succession.  Then I made a mountain of embellishments without giving so much as a thought as to where they would go or with what stone they would live.  Then, all the ring bands.  All the hallmark buttons.  Everything sawed or cut, sweat soldered, filed, domed or dapped if I so chose, scraps melted and hammered into shining pallions of silver confetti.  Putting all these pieces together into intensely detailed designs was a choice I made so that the challenge was valid.  If I were just starting out or hadn't been a silversmith very long, simple bezels and set stones would have been a sufficient provocation, but I knew I could do more.  I wanted the effort to be visible, unquestionable- not by others but by myself.  I wanted to know how far I could push.

Then I just sat down to PLAY.

I'm a huge subscriber to the notion of play.  I don't sketch.  I often write my ideas, jumbling up design lingo and technical talk with feelings and goals and even memories.  I arrange components on paper and trace around them to test silhouettes, I take photos so I can remember my options.  It's really a modular process where I have numerous piles of color and texture to choose from, building concepts and creating small sculptural elements, combining them and recombining them until something clicks and my insides whisper an affirmation.  

This has always been my process and the longer I am a maker, the more settled into it I become.  It used to be that I felt I wasn't "real" or hadn't "arrived" because of my lack of sketches or my frequent inability to fully articulate a design on paper or in words prior to birthing it through my hands.  Over the years, I've come see my point of origin, like my point of view, is valid.  So what was it I really learned last week?

A lot, as it turns out.  Some really obvious, some not so much.  Most of these lessons I had either heard before somewhere in my life, or had otherwise been familiar with from TED talks, books, or my passion for philosophy.  Nevertheless, these five points really crystallized for me during this challenge, and these are the main five points I want to convey to you, should you ever opt to do something like this... which I really hope you will:

1.  The goal isn't the point.  The goal is just the visual or tangible result of your WHY.  Your WHY is what really matters.  You want to lose weight?  That's the goal.  But why do you want to lose weight?  To feel happy?  To be healthy?  If your why isn't strong enough or, quite honestly, important enough, your goal is irrelevant, because you aren't going to get there.  A weak WHY makes a goal nothing more than a pipe dream.  Work is valuable, of course, but work won't be enough to carry you to your goal without a solid WHY- you'll run out of motivation long before your arrival.

2.  Be ready to sacrifice.  I'm serious about this.  An all out effort into doing something difficult and meaningful in your art requires boundaries and self-discipline.  I forewent time with family and friends, declined sugar, alcohol, and anything else dietary that might slow me down.  I skipped the gym. I pulled a couple of all nighters in the studio and ate most of my meals at my bench.  I largely disappeared into myself for a week, getting on my phone only to let my parents know I was alive and to post my progress to social media.  Even my hygiene took a hit- which honestly, made me chuckle as I remembered UmberDove once making the same observation.  As you get further into your work, though, I do believe you'll also- as I found myself doing- begin to sacrifice a lot of other things you hold onto: self-doubt, excuses, what Stephen Pressfield refers to as "resistance" and all manner of other unhealthy self-talk and action as you deliberately place your WHY ahead of your weaknesses.  I let go of my crutches in favor of controlled and deliberate action, and in that action I found I could build up a creative stamina.  Here is artistic endurance.  We can go so much further than we initially think we can.

3.  It's going to suck.  It just is.  At least parts of it will.  You know why?  Because late nights hurt.  Bench work can hurt.  Burns hurt, cuts hurt, backs hurt, getting so close to being done then cracking a stone or crushing a bezel can hurt.  Growing pains hurt, y'all.  But they are a sign that we are becoming more.  Embrace the sucky moments- they are good for you.  The hard stuff just provides a perfect backdrop for all the beauty you're bringing forth.  Seriously.

4.  Be prepared.  If you're going to endeavor to do something massive, make sure you have the artillery you need before you get started.  Don't haul off into battle with your pants around your ankles- you won't get very far, or at least you won't get very far efficiently.  Don't do what I did and not check to make sure you have enough acetylene in your tank.  Don't start cutting base plates and run out of metal.  Or solder.  Or whatever.  Line up care for the kids.  Let your spouse know he or she will be taking over your chicken-cuddling and egg-collecting duties for the next few days.  (Wait, is that not something everyone does?)  Set yourself up to succeed is all I'm saying.  Don't give yourself an out.  Fortunately, I was able to dig out some student torches and butane canisters and get back to work.

5.  Finally, have fun.  Don't worry about the work's ultimate illustration.  Worry about the process- and by that I mean DON'T worry about the process... enjoy it.  You're giving yourself a little tough love by testing yourself, pushing yourself, growing yourself into a slightly more confident, capable space.  I really and truly believe that you can astound yourself if you earnestly and wholeheartedly attempt to.  For years, I've watched students struggle and soar and many of them are doing far, far better than I am in sales, social media, and even skills.  I thinks it's fantastic.  Go back to number one and remember why you wanted to be an artist and/or entrepreneur in the first place.  Freedom?  Expression?  Flexibility?  Fun.

I hope, more than anything, that my experiment has served some purpose in the world for others even as it has also served me.  I hope you'll take whatever advice is here as simply my two cents and nothing more, as I certainly cannot speak for everyone's process, ability, or priorities.  I also hope that you can find some inkling of inspiration in this post.  As I get older and grow softer, I find myself wanting more and more to be a source of joy and stimulation in this world.  Know I believe fully in you.  You are brimming with good and valuable works, untapped talents, limitless ability.  Let's make more things, and let's make more makers.  There is so much good here in our hands and in this world, despite the difficulty that often comes with growth.

It's brutiful.


All rings will be posted tonight at 7pm EST.  Find them {here}

Recommended reads:
The War of Art- Stephen Pressfield
Turning Pro- Stephen Pressfield
Art & Fear- David Bayles & Ted Orland

15 June 2018

Construction and Reconstruction

It's Friday!  Who else has fit two or three work weeks into this one?!  Life here is a gorgeous tornado these days.  The kind of life that leaves you tumbling into bed with bandaids on your fingers and gratitude on your lips for all the busy-ness and the chaos that, despite the effort and the fatigue, make everything good both possible and present. 

For those of you who may be new here or who didn't know, there is a little cottage on the back of my property.  It served as a rental unit for me until a few years ago, when my tenant (ahem, now my husband... ) moved out... to move in with me (but that's a whole different post).  Now, we are gutting the structure to make space for an open, airy teaching studio, fully equipped with metalsmithing tools, an inspirational reference library, an inviting atmosphere and ample work space for small groups of six or so students.  


So far, we've uncovered a brick ventilation column which I had hoped would end up being a fireplace.  Sadly, it wasn't so.  Also under the surfaces: hidden doorways, a fruit cocktail wallpaper, a snake or two, and even a really creepy stash of old stuffed animals up in the attic.  I have to say that construction excites me, and reconstruction excites me even more.  I'm not one of these that has a natural eye for potential, meaning that I can't really envision what a space could become until it's empty.  Watching the rooms slowly clear out has been such a thrill... sort of exciting and intimidating and full of prospects all at the same time, like a blank canvas or an empty page.  Sheer possibility.

With the tearing down of the old, though, comes a lot of mess.  There's a lot of history to be sorted through, some of which I'd like to save to add to the character of what is being redone, and much of which just needs to be released to the garbage or Habitat for Humanity.  Living in this dusty span of time is chaotic and my stress, like my joy, soars... something about my anxiety over loose ends and unknowns and just general chaos, everything scattered around my feet and the knowing that I'm half way in... just as far to go to get out, and the best way to do so is through!  Now we're committed.  I look at the piles of shit laying around me and grin-wince: it's SO good, and it's SO terrifying.  It's all just making me grow.

On a parallel note... I'm tearing myself apart as well.  I haven't talked too much about it outside of my family and closest friends but I promised myself back in January that this, THIS, was going to be the year of radical self care.  Last year brought too much loss, and despite all the blessings that have been bestowed upon me in this life, I felt myself slipping into something darker than my vision could penetrate, heavier than I could carry.  No amount of reassurance, "perspective" or pep talks could pull me out of it and on some deep level I knew faintly that the only one who was really going to save me from this depression was myself.  It took a few months and many false starts, but I feel I'm gaining some traction now.  

As such, it's been a season of refinement by fire.  My time has been spent more on writing, more on making and experimenting with techniques and even new materials (I'm falling in love with textiles, so... that might be something), creating new samples and projects for upcoming silversmithing classes, cooking new recipes, tending to climbing rose vines, reading books on Stoicism and Highly Sensitive People and God and Ketogenics and Boundaries and The Human Species and Indoor Plants.  I've spent four days a week strength training as if it were my religion, convinced that any weakness I feel inside is worn on the outside.  I've taken to braiding or curling my hair just to show myself a bit of love, to moisturizing my cracked hands, to adding supplements to my daily vitamin, to journaling everything that feels good and everything that still guts me.  I tickle Jovie Rose.  I design dream homes with The Monkey.  I literally, quite often, sweat and bleed more than I have been accustomed to.  Callouses are forming on my hands and soul- not in a negative way but in a protective, productive way that says these parts of me are getting a lot of use.  Mostly I ask question after question as the days go by, and with every honest answer, a surface layer falls aside and I'm a bit more hollow... much in the way that a little cottage might become while being gutted to make space for a grander purpose. 

This is emotional demolition.
This is bulldozing through my own dated patterns of behavior.
I look at the piles of shit laying around me and laugh.
I laugh a lot.
Because it's ALL a LOT.
And it's all helping me grow.

Interior heart spaces, hallways of memory, exterior structures, future goals... all the areas of my life that serve as a foundation for whatever dreams I plan to see through, whatever steps I choose to take? We have to take care of these arenas, nurture the ever loving hell out of them. More and more I see the responsibility that I have not just to my children, to my husband, to my students, to my patrons and parents and friends, but to myself.  It's so much easier to live and die for others.  It's so much harder to do it for yourself, and yet in the "for myself", I'm finding my power... Trying harder each day, and granting myself some grace.

How are you doing, Sister?  How are you Growing?

Image via Pinterest