Thursday, November 27, 2008

Keepin' it Real

It has been way too long since I posted something here, so in the spirit of the upcoming holiday season, I thought I would talk a little about the real vs. fake options in semi-precious stones used for jewelry making these days.

I just took a quick trip to Toronto this past weekend to pick up a few more strands of beads (can NEVER have too many!) for the pre-Christmas jewelry-making blitz, and was again dazzled by the array of different "semi-precious" stone beads available these days. I have only been making bead jewelry for just over a decade, but in that time I have seen a whole lot of new things become available that I never even heard of when I started!

Once I do a bit of reading, however, I begin to find that not all stones are what they seem. In fact, some stones aren't even stones at all, but composites of glass and stone bits, irradiated or heated or dyed to take on various colours and qualities! And some cheaper stones are dyed or processed in order to mimic the look of more expensive and rare stones - case in point - Howlite is often turned into "poor man's Turquoise", and is sometimes even sold as Turquoise. I guess a good rule of thumb is if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is! Definitely a "buyer beware" situation out there in the world of stone beads, so be careful!

I have always been a big fan of "keeping it real" with my stones. I like the idea of a rock being dug out of the ground or the side of a mountain, and then cut and polished into a bead (or beads!) and then nicely drilled so I can string it on some jewelry wire to make something fabulous. Natural stones are thought to have their own special healing qualities. I do NOT like the idea of someone using stone scraps and glass and glue to create the "spam" of beads. What kind of healing qualities would something like that have? And it just wouldn't be a REAL stone bead! Or, would it?

After giving the matter some thought, I have lately come to the conclusion that, although a bead may have had dubious beginnings, there really is a place in the world for something that just looks good. Not everyone believes that stones have special powers, so what difference would it make to them if it was dug out of a mountain by Juan Valdez or not? They just want something that is budget-appropriate, and that adds spark to their outfit!

So, maybe there is a place in the world for all beads - be they real, or fake, or really really fake! Vive le difference!!! (Pardon my lack of French...)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Ideas for makin' stuff

People always wonder where I get my ideas from, and I'm really at a loss as to how I explain it. Ideas just "come" to me - but if I try too hard, the ideas can retreat just out of reach. I'm usually FULL of ideas for what other people should do, but when it comes to my own work it can be a bit more challenging.

Ideas tend to flow more freely when I am immersed in creative tasks over a long period, like when I first started working on setting up my own store. I found it to be a very spiritual experience, really, and I would describe the feeling as being a conduit for creativity. I have never felt that the ideas I receive have been my own, but rather a gift from a "higher power". The more you open yourself to receive, the more the ideas begin to flow! Very new-age-y stuff!

Anyway, I've been craving more dedicated creative time lately, but the pressures of daily life do intervene. It is certainly difficult to balance all the day-to-day pressures of work, home life, family, social obligations, and if you are like me, wedding planning! Like anything, some discipline is required. I had grand intentions of working on some new jewelry pieces on the weekend, but I got gardening while the sun was shining, and then when the thunderstorms drove me inside, an unexpected flood cancelled out my plans. When things go like this, the ideas sometimes dry up.

I have often found it is a good idea (!) to keep a notebook and/or scrap album when the ideas are a bit more plentiful. That way, you can always go back and pick up on ideas that never quite made it to fruition. But do yourself a favour, and leave detailed notes - I have sometimes gone back and wondered what the heck I was talking about, because over time we can forget wisps of ideas we once had!

I have found inspiration in nature, books, magazines, online, and in the works of others, but there is a rule about "borrowing" - never duplicate someone elses' idea EXACTLY!!!
ALWAYS change something and make the new item your own creation! Otherwise, there is no creativity involved - you have merely practiced your ability to mimic someone else.

This is one of the high points of Textures Craftworks, where I sell my creations. All work is juried for originality and creativity, and NO COMMERCIAL PATTERNS are allowed - all work must be designed and created by the artist. There is a time and a place for patterns, and that is meant for newbies to practice and improve their skills, or for people who just want to try something they haven't done before. After that, it's time to come up with some ideas of your own!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Have it YOUR way!

Several of my co-workers at my "day job" have recently learned about my secret life as an artisan. This has had the delightful side benefit of generating a little more business for me because, like many of my fellow Textures artisans, I do custom orders!

If you are ever looking for a particular thing, in a particular colour or style, and would like to have it made just the way you want, look no further than our little cooperative! Not only will you be getting a handcrafted, one-of-a-kind work of art for yourself or your loved ones, but you can shape the final product. Once and for all, you can go to one place with your colour swatch, and ask someone to make you your very own 3 ft. tall, lime green steel widget with purple feathers and silver sparkles! No more traipsing all over town, desperately trying to match up your swatch with all the other wrong green shades of widgets out there - you will save time, energy and gas by stopping by, and will get exactly what you want!

And if it's a pair of earrings or a necklace you want, in just the right shade of blue - give me a call!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Only in Canada, you say?

I worked my second shift at Textures for the month of June this past weekend. Father's Day did not prove to be a big draw for bringing hoards to our doorstep, but I did have an interesting chat with one gentleman who was in town from Los Angeles to work on a film.

After making out like a bandit in our store choosing handcrafted pottery, silk scarves, jewelry and notepads, my visitor said how delighted he was to find an artisan shop here. Being in the film business, he has occassion to travel all around the world, and he likes to pick up handcrafted items that are unique to the area he is in to take home as a momento, and also to give as gifts. Sounds reasonable to me!

He related the story of going to Belize, and how excited he was to go out and look for something really special, that was only available there. Unfortunately, all he found were mass-manufactured items for Sears! Not to bad-mouth Sears, but when you go somewhere exotic, you want to be able to find some exotic trinkets to take home and make everyone else jealous that you were somewhere exotic, and they weren't! Items from the latest Wish Book just aren't going to cut it. May have worked when you were 8 and waiting for Santa, but not now.

Visitors to Hamilton are not as unfortunate as those who go to Belize. They can come to Textures and find a beautiful turned wood bowl made from an old butternut tree that fell down in someone's backyard just a few blocks away! Or at least, they can find it until I get back to the shop to buy it myself... ;-)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Star for a day! The joy of free publicity...

Every artisan must have their day, and I guess today is mine! Check out some of my necklaces that appear in today's Hamilton Spectator - "The Shopper" feature:

It has been a while since my work has received any publicity - last time I appeared in the paper was last fall, as part of an article on the changing face of the Canadian family. Andrew and I were the "shacked up" couple. But now we're engaged to be legally wed, so everything is good, and we will no longer be going to that "extremely warm place" waaaaay down south.

As a working artisan, every little bit of publicity helps the cause. Before moving to Hamilton and becoming a member of Textures, I owned my own gift shop called "FRED- a store...", and I found out what a struggle it can be to get the word out about one's creative activities. I had been unemployed for a year before opening my store, so there really wasn't any money for promotion and I had to get really, really creative. It became my mission to get my name and/or picture in the Sarnia Observer as often as I could, and I did pretty well.

The trick was to take part in some sort of charity or benefit event, so I teamed up with a friend who owned a nearby cafe, and another acquaintance who ran a clothing store, and we organized a charity fashion show featuring one friends' clothing from her store, accessories that I created, and located at the other friends' cafe. We got free event postings in all the local daily and weekly papers, as well as a pre-event photo, and when it was all over, we got another photo in the paper as we handed over the cheque to our chosen recipient organization!

Another thing I did to get my name and location out was to call in to the local radio station's all-request hour to request a song. When the DJ would answer the phone, I would say something like, "Hi, it's Sandy calling from FRED- a store... on Ontario Street, and I'd like to request I Think I Love You by the Partridge Family."

I met people around town later on, and when conversation got around to the "what do you do for a living" question, and I said I owned the gift shop, FRED- a store..., I had more than one person exclaim, "Oh! I've heard you on the radio!" So never underestimate what people will hear and retain. Remember to use your powers for good, not evil.

Another idea is to celebrate your "Grand Opening" waaaay long after your actual business opening. Small town newspapers will usually run a story or a photo when you are opening a new business in town. But they will also come out to photograph a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a "Grand Opening" a year later! Who knew?

But then again, the Sarnia Observer used to run a local news column back in the late '70s that featured such colourful items as "John and Jane Smith recently had a visit from their great aunt Ethel from Kalamazoo. They served tea and crumpets." So maybe my little gift shop opening seemed like the big time. Or, they would just print anything...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Other places to visit us!

Facebook Group: Friends of Textures

I Highly Recommend

My Hamilton

Ontario Tourism

A few examples of my handiwork...

Let's get this party started...

As the inaugural posting for our artisan cooperative, Textures Crafworks, I have been finding the blank page a bit daunting. So much pressure! Where to begin? Starting a blog for our shop in Hamilton seemed like such a great idea at the time! Profit magazine said so! Oh well, I guess I'll just dive in...

A bit about our group-
"Textures: a combined effort of area artisans" was the brainchild of textile artist Margo Griffith, bookbinder Sharon Beasley, and silk painter Janne Hackl. In July 1983, these women realized there wasn’t a year-round outlet for Hamilton-area craftspeople to sell their work other than government-supported galleries, or small owner-operated shops. They dreamed of building a business that would be totally self-sustaining in an environment where most artisans relied on government grants.

One month later, six craftspeople were on board to invest in opening and operating a shop in Hamilton’s Hess Village, becoming the Core Members of the fledgling enterprise, “Textures…a combined effort of area artisans”. Eleven additional artisans paid a small yearly membership fee to join the newly-formed group.

Twenty-five years later, Textures has changed locations twice, but the original philosophy of a not-for-profit shop that is managed, stocked, and staffed by member artisans remains the same.
“While sales in the early years were made up mostly of silk and woven clothing, and pottery was basic brown, we now offer a wide range of items including slick city ware in current colours and designs, high quality jewelry in sterling silver, gold wire and dichroic glass, and unique items for babies and pets,” says Core Member Margo Griffith. “Bookbinding still has a large following, and quality leather mitts are perennial sellers”.

Loyal customers have supported Textures and helped it grow. From an initial membership of seventeen, Textures now boasts more than fifty talented craftspeople between 18 and 80+, and members continue to work together to guarantee a broad range of fine-quality, original craft pieces in a welcoming environment. "Part of Textures' success is the fact that we provide personalized service and information, and treat the customers very well," adds Core Member Sharon Beasley.

Custom orders are encouraged, and the Happy Endings service can even complete that expensive craft project you began so long ago, but never quite seem to finish.

Visitors are welcome to drop by the store, which is currently located at 236 Locke St. South (at Charleton) in Hamilton. One of our artisans will be on hand to greet you daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., unless you show up on a statutory holiday when the store is closed. If you come by this Sunday, you will find me there for my second shift this month.

"Enough about me, more about you - so what do you think of me?" Or, who the heck is Sandra, and why do I care what she is writing?
I usually only work in the shop once per month, since I also hold down a full-time job at McMaster University. However, I happen to be getting married this fall, so I have opted to work extra shifts over the summer so I can take care of other things closer to the "big day" aka Halloween.

I have been a member of Textures for 10 years now - also the length of time I have lived in Hamilton! Hard to believe it has been that long already. Back then, I was creating a whole line of jewelry from pumpkin seeds, beans, twigs, and other assorted seeds under the name, "Seeduction". (Yes, I am indeed a punny girl.)

Before moving to Hamilton I lived in Sarnia for two years, where I owned and operated my own gift store called "FRED- a store..." on Ontario Street. As with many creative ventures, I was forced to give it up and get a "real job" again, so I moved back to Toronto for a few months, but found I couldn't go back to the big smoke after gearing down in Sarnia. If you've ever lived in either place, you'll probably understand. So I decided to give Hamilton a try. Didn't know a soul there, but got on the GO bus one day and came to check it out.

I found an apartment, and then collected 3 part-time jobs within a week to enable rent-payment, and then maybe grocery purchase if I was lucky. Shortly after arriving in Hamilton, I checked out the arts scene and discovered Textures, which was located in Hess Village then, mere blocks from the new apartment. Although Textures does not usually accept new members after October because it is too difficult to train new workers right before Christmas, they made an exception for me - they liked me! They really liked me!

And so I was a member. Over the years, I expanded my product line to include painted floorcloths, greeting cards, and all manner of weird and wonderful ornaments because one can only make so many fruits, veggies, flowers, insects and creatures out of pumpkin seeds before the idea gets a little old. In more recent years, I have been concentrating more and more on fine jewelry made from more traditional materials such as semi-precious stones, crystals and sterling silver. Frankly, I make more money now, so I can afford better craft supplies!

Anyway, now that I have a (surprise) wedding to plan and pay for at the age of 44, I need to get cracking and make jewelry for all of you out there! After 9 years with my beau, I certainly wasn't expecting the Christmas day proposal - must explain why I burst out laughing when he got down on one knee in front of me (sorry Andrew - love ya!). Since my father passed away a few years ago, I guess I have to make enough jewelry to pay for the ensuing shindig, so any help you wish to provide in the form of custom orders will be gladly accepted.

If you wish to see some examples of what I can do for you, check out my photos on the Facebook group, "Friends of Textures", or keep an eye out this week for the "Shopper" feature in the Hamilton Spectator, which will be featuring a selection of my chunkier necklaces...