Workshop Teaching – Creative Pressure

Vickie Hallmark workshop samples

workshop samples: metal clay + Argentium

I’ve been feeling the creative pressure, at least as it applies to teaching workshops! After several years of avoiding teaching engagements, I’ve done a few recently and booked a few more for 2017. I’m still on the fence about my suitability to this teaching long term. I can argue both sides.

Vickie Hallmark workshop sample

workshop sample: metal clay window with fused Argentium bezel used to tab-set enamel-painted glass

Teaching Pros

  1. I get to travel and meet wonderful people.
  2. It’s easier to sell instruction and supplies than finished jewelry. (Sad, but true.)
  3. Working out class projects forces me to clarify the processes that I use, to simplify and streamline as much as possible, to work out all the little bugs that inevitably arise with the development of new techniques.
  4. I learn from my students. They see things differently, and that can really stimulate new ideas for my own future work.
  5. Workshop income brings extra materials or new tools to the studio.

more complex workshop sample: metal clay window with Argentium decorative wirework and bezel, and tab-set enamel-painted glass

Teaching Cons

  1. Teaching is hard work. The pay doesn’t nearly cover all the hours invested in developing the project, making the samples, writing out notes, and travel before I even teach long hours at a workshop. I’m a bit obsessive about making multiple samples at different stages to show, an itemized timeline, detailed notes with photos,  and a comprehensive packing list, as well as taking every tool I can imagine that might be needed to solve a potential issue. Admittedly, if I taught the same workshop more frequently, all that work would amortize out and make more sense…a reason to stick with it.
  2. Showing how to duplicate my work is an artistic quandary. I sweat blood to develop my own ideas, an artistic voice of my own, and a complex body of work. When I teach, I strive to lead students to put their own personal twists on the class project rather than simply duplicate my sample, but exact duplication has to be inherently acceptable. Ultimately, I have to trust my own creative voice to always be moving forward. Realistically, I’m not teaching my latest discoveries or ideas because I don’t have those all worked out yet. I’m teaching older debugged techniques, which are second nature to me, but new to students. I release those ideas into the greater world, trusting that I’ll be rewarded with new ideas.
  3. I’m an introvert. That means that I can enjoy the group experience of a workshop, but it’s draining for me. I get my energy with solo time, not from other people. So a workshop is a one-way energy drain for me. I put my all into it, and I come out the other side exhausted. Normally, a full week afterward is needed for recovery.
  4. All that time spent preparing for workshops is time subtracted from my own work. A class sample is desirably something I as the instructor can knock out with ease. As an artist, I’d rather be pushing the edge with new ideas, some of which will inevitably fail. Time must be allowed for experimenting, but workshops are not experiments.

As we charge into the now-not-so-new year, I feel that I’ve spent the first six weeks working as much on workshop prep as on my own designs. And I have to ask myself what I really want from all of this.

Stay tuned for details about the upcoming workshops.

Creative Flow

How do the studio hours vanish? Getting into creative flow in the studio while making art is tops on my list of things to do, yet days go by where little of it seems to occur. If I’m not careful, my days vanish into body time (pilates and yoga, Redcord and PT) and head time (meditations, guided and written) and home time (spring cleaning and paleo cooking).

The point of all those good-for-me things is to make room for more creative flow, which makes me ecstatically happy. Yet hours in the studio can lack that sense of time loss and joyful floating where everything just works effortlessly and the results are gorgeous.

Mismatched Earrings

I did complete the mismatched earrings that I started right before Christmas, although there were struggles. I maintained calm and soldiered on, even when a bezel popped loose while setting a stone.

Mismatched earrings with rose cut sapphires.

Garnet Earrings

I also put together some January birthstone earrings, using some of the wren components. Who knew that Wren is a trending baby name??? Maybe those January Wren babies need garnet earrings for their mamas. And red stones work for Valentine’s Day as well.

Garnet Wren earrings with cab drops

Yes, there were hiccups. There were granules on the drops, and one popped off while setting stones. So I sawed them all off. Take that!

Garnet Wren earrings with tube set stones

Creativity Meditation

I made it through the first three weeks of Headspace (my meditation app) and started the creativity pack that’s only unlocked after the intro is complete. Part of the creativity meditation is to state an intention, which for me was to achieve flow in the studio more easily.

The very first session had me floating on air. I went out to the studio, slipped into flow and worked for several hours blissfully on a rose cut sapphire pendant…

Only to crash back to earth when I walked inside to find my husband asking me why I wasn’t where I was supposed to be (one of those body things – that I had to pay for, despite creative flow making me miss).

I guess I have to get clearer about my intentions. I need to be a river and creatively flow around obstacles.


2017: A New Year, A Renewed Blog

Welcome back, dear blog!

I originally started writing this blog as a creative journal for myself, to document what I was working on – and more importantly – why. Then a few years back, when social media took over the discussion bandwidth, I personally found myself unable to keep up with the blog properly. I devolved into sporadic posts here and there. It was easier to just post a photo to Facebook with a single line description than to craft an introspective and insightful blog post about my creative journey. However, it’s less satisfying as well. And since this is all by me, for me (although thrown out there to the few who might care to follow along), I’ve decided to try a big change. I want to go back to the more creative me, and short-attention-span social media isn’t really helping.

bird owl ceramics sgraffito

Persistence – handbuilt stoneware with underglaze and sgraffito, ready for second firing (Vickie Hallmark)


Goodbye Facebook!

I’ve flown the coop. I suspended my Facebook and Twitter accounts (I still have my Instagram account active), at least for now. Actually, it has been several weeks, and I’m feeling like it’s a very good thing. More time in the studio is really what I need to focus on – more sketching, more playing, more learning new skills. I’m reassessing this new year. Where do I want to go with my art? How do I go deeper and more intimately into connection with the muse? How do I achieve flow, rather than floating from distraction to distraction? How do I select my path through the myriad options to make art that truly speaks to me and to others?

I’m making time for my new agenda:

  1. Daily meditation (I like Headspace)
  2. Daily morning pages (kept from my foray through Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” years ago)
  3. End of day listing of accomplishments (back from the past, as well)
  4. Regular metal studio time, even if I only sweep and putter
  5. Weekly artist dates
  6. Weekly play time in a different medium (ceramics)
  7. Weekly sketching time
  8. Weekly study project (more about that to come)
  9. Weekly blog post
  10. Monthly newsletter (sign up here)

Please join my conversation with myself by leaving me a comment!


Creating an Inspiring Jewelry Studio – Work Zone Implementation

After brainstorming all those jewelry studio work zone layout ideas, it’s time to reorganize and implement!

jewelry bench at window

New jewelry bench location – facing the window!

Jewelry Bench

The big change is the jewelry bench position. This is where I spend most of my time now, so enough with facing a brick wall! I’ve turned the bench to face the window view out to the garden and stock tank pond. Two small banks of drawers (salvaged from my husband’s work when they moved) hold small tools and accessories right at hand, instead of behind me or across the room. My oxygen concentrator, with quick connects to run either the jewelry or glass torch, is just to the left of the bench.

Vickie Hallmark jewelry studio - wet zone with pickle, mag polisher, ultrasound & rotary tumbler

Vickie Hallmark jewelry studio – wet zone with pickle, mag polisher, ultrasound & rotary tumbler

Wet Area

With a slight step to the left, I can drop a piece into the pickle pot. I’m debating moving this area over to the top of the drawer cabinets for easier access, but I actually like standing up regularly when I’m working.

rolling mill cart


I moved all the punches and daps and such onto the lower shelves of the small wooden IKEA cart that holds my rolling mill. This old leather chair belonged in my father-in-law’s shop where he rebuilt antique clocks as a hobby.

Vickie Hallmark glass lapidary

Vickie Hallmark jewelry studio – glass & lapidary area, with grinders and cutoff saw

Glass and Lapidary

The glass and lapidary area hasn’t really changed, at least not yet. I’ve more organization to do in this area, as you can tell by the cardboard boxes of glass in the knee well.

Vickie Hallmark jewelry studio - kiln area with toaster oven, hot plate & guillotine shear

Vickie Hallmark jewelry studio – kiln area with toaster oven, hot plate & guillotine shear


The kiln area is the same as well. I may try moving the small kiln over onto the steel cart with the big glass kiln to clear some more usable counter. I’d love to move the guillotine shear down with the grinders, but that will leave some big holes in the counter if I unbolt it, so it may stay right where it is. The green bins in the knee well hold charcoal and wood for my husband’s grill – must accommodate food! The clock between the windows hung in my parent’s living room for 30 years, while the hot plate and 3-beam balance are more lab salvage.

The surfaces are now cleaned and decluttered, although there’s a lot of hidden reorganization still to happen. I think that I might be able to work again!


Creating an Inspiring Jewelry Studio – Work Zone Layout Ideas

My jewelry studio is like my garden – a living thing. When plants don’t get enough sun or they overwhelm their neighbors, they need to move or be eliminated for the whole to flourish. As I’ve noticed my studio isn’t serving effectively, I know it’s time to edit underperforming tools and review the work zone layout.

Vickie Hallmark studio garden view

The sunroom studio viewed from the garden.

When I originally converted my enclosed porch sunroom into my glass and metals studio, my needs were different. At that time I focused on glass with torches and kilns for that purpose. After installing three banks of least-expensive big-box-store kitchen cabinets, it seemed that I had more storage and counter than I’d ever use. That didn’t last long. Just like the gardener keeps tucking in interesting plants here and there, the maker keeps adding tools.

Vickie Hallmark glass studio

The old glass studio in the sunroom.

I added metal work to combine with the glass. The jewelry bench got tucked into a vacant corner, facing a small expanse of brick wall in a room full of windows. Soon the jewelry tools outgrew the three tiny bench drawers and started encroaching like weeds. Instead of moving glass tools out of the way, I just piled over and around them.

Vickie Hallmark jewelry bench old view

The old jewelry bench layout, facing the brick wall.

The time has come to reprioritize space to the current usage. That means rethinking my needs, and reworking the layout to maximize efficiency. I sat down and brainstormed ideas for collecting equipment into work zones by counter space, in order of usage:

  1. fabrication zone with hand tools, flex shaft & torch – the jewelry bench with extra tools nearby
  2. wet zone – pickle, mag polisher, rotary tumbler & ultrasonic
  3. metal cutting & grinding –  shear, grinder, chop saw, belt sander (and buffer, if I ever buy one)
  4. forming zone with rolling mill, jump ring maker, punches and daps, stakes & hammers, engraving ball, pitch pot (and hydraulic press, if I ever buy one)
  5. hot zone – large glass kiln and small metal clay kiln along with the toaster oven and hotplate
  6. glass & lapidary zone – convertible flat lap/grinder/saw & Genie lapidary along with glass tools & supplies
  7. glass bead-making station – glass torch & tools along with bead kiln and a lot of supplies

Now, to make it happen…



Creating an Inviting Jewelry Studio – Inspiration

This is my life – the studio beckons, I dive in and make something beautiful, and the ensuing productive mayhem trashes the place. I personally find that creating an inviting studio is itself an important part of my creative practice. It’s not enough to just have the right tools and supplies (and orders) and to tell myself to go make stuff. I need to enjoy the environment as well as the process. As a visual artist, the actual appearance of the place makes a real impression on my mood and ability to connect with the muse. Late summer is the perfect time for a studio reset, because that’s typically a slow time for artists, but a time to be planning for the holiday rush coming all too soon.

I’m breaking my “studio revamp” down into a number of steps, tentatively listed here:

  1. inspiration
  2. work zone layout
  3. storage and organization
  4. maintenance
  5. zing

Studio Inspiration

By its very nature, a jewelry making studio has a lot of not necessarily attractive equipment – shears and rolling mills and kilns aren’t particularly beautiful, but they are certainly functional. As I clean and brainstorm improvements, I’ve been browsing the internet for inspiration. I find it no coincidence that esteemed jewelers create in beautiful surroundings (even though equipment and clutter may be part of the mix).

First a little inspiration, and then a distillation of the important factors (for me).

Ted Mueling's studio

Ted Mueling’s studio


Gabriella Kiss’s studio

Judy Geib's studio

Judy Geib’s studio

Those three images really capture my desires for my own personal studio space:

  1. a roomy, light, airy space, preferably with high ceilings and lots of windows with lovely views
  2. large work and display surfaces – notice none of these famed jewelers use a commercial bench?
  3. clean, hard surface flooring

Technically, I have most of those. My enclosed sunporch has plenty of light and windows, with garden views. I have lots of work surface, although it gets buried with equipment. My jewelry bench is the place that feels tight and cramped, so maybe I should address that. While I don’t have those beautiful wood floors, I do have hard tile surfaces, so no fire worries. The bones are there, but it’s time for me to really update the layout and organization, while doing some much needed deep cleaning.



Earring Process – How Many Steps???

Vickie Hallmark flower box earringsAfter the compliments on my highly detailed jewelry, I often get dismay about the price. I understand that it’s expensive, and I offer less expensive alternatives produced in a more time conservative way. However, I think it might help understand the pricing to illustrate the many, many steps (and hours!) involved in my earring process, in this case the production of a small set of four pairs of Flower Box Earrings.
Vickie Hallmark hammered square rims

  1. Form each flower and leaf by hand in metal clay, then sand smooth & kiln fire.
  2. Cut sheet and wire materials.
  3. Form wire rings, fuse closed.
  4. Wind jump rings, then saw apart, flatten & close each one.
  5. Torch form each granule from a wire snippet.
  6. Shape each ring into a square rim, then hammer texture.
  7. Hammer texture the sheet for the flower boxes
    .Vickie Hallmark flower box earrings layout
  8. Layout the flower boxes with rims, jump rings, granules and flowers; fuse together.
  9. Layout the stone drops with bezel cups, leaves, jump ring and granules; fuse together.Vickie Hallmark leaf drop layout
  10. Saw out all flower boxes and stone drops.
  11. Sand all sides of every piece through multiple grits of sandpaper.
  12. Form ear wires from wire.Vickie Hallmark flower box earring back
  13. Sign the backs of flower boxes with an engraver.
  14. Heat harden and raise germanium to minimize future tarnish.
  15. Apply dark patina and then remove on highlights.Vickie Hallmark leaf drops with stones
  16. Set all the stones.
  17. Assemble the earrings.
  18. Final polish and detailing.

Vickie Hallmark flower box earringWhew! This week, I used Toggl to keep track of all the hands-on time for these earrings. I spent over 10 hours total to produce these four pairs of earrings, so 2.5 hours per pair plus materials. It made me realize that I probably have these particular earrings currently underpriced!! I have one pair of the ruby flower box earrings still available. If you’re interested, please contact me or see them in my Etsy shop.

Paper vs. Pinterest

magazine clipping scrapbook inspiration

A recent page from my third magazine clipping inspiration Book of Attractions, showing jewelry, metal and glass with emphasis on gold.

Paper vs. Pinterest

Paper vs. Pinterest – old-fashioned scrapbooks versus the electronic age. We all love our pin boards, right? Who would want to go back to paper? For years, I’ve maintained inspiration boards on both paper and Pinterest, but my recent spring/summer cleaning in the studio has found me with a renewed interest in the old fashioned paper kind of boards, which I keep in black scrapbooks.

An older page from my second Book of Attractions, showing a collection of neutral-color themed work.

An older page from my second Book of Attractions, showing a collection of white themed work.

Magazine Clipping Inspiration

I used to go through magazines, clipping the work that appealed to me and gluing it into my “Books of Attractions.” Then Pinterest appeared, and the magazine clipping inspiration work ceased. It was so much easier to sit in front of the computer and hit “Pin” (anyone else confused by “Save?).”

A page from my first Book of Attractions, featuring a lot of glass sculpture and watery colors.

A page from my first Book of Attractions, featuring a lot of glass sculpture and watery colors.

Books of Attraction

Occasionally, I go back and look at my three Books of Attractions, and I do find it interesting and inspiring. One of my rules is that I write a few words about why I chose the photo – the why of the attraction. It’s notable that I don’t do so in Pinterest, although I certainly could. What I find is that analyzing the work this way makes it obvious that there are patterns that appear. And those insights are actually useful for guiding my own work.

Another neutral page from my first Book of Attractions.

Another neutral page from my first Book of Attractions.

In an attempt to reduce piles of paper in the studio, I went back to tearing out pages that had images and articles that I was drawn to. I ran the articles through the scanner on my printer and put the articles into Evernote so that I can find them later. (I also read a lot of profiles that were inspiring.)  I spend a few hours a week lately cutting out images and pasting them onto the black page again. It’s helping my energy, as it reminds me of ideas that I want to pursue.

A green-and-orange themed page from the second Book of Attractions

A green-themed page from the second Book of Attractions

Somehow the act of cutting and pasting, arranging and analyzing is so much more interactive and productive for me than just pinning to Pinterest! It reminds me of vision boards. Perhaps I just don’t peruse my Pinterest boards properly after the initial pins? Perhaps I need to print them out and paste them up as paper versions? I’m reminded of the power of vision boards – I haven’t made one of those in years, but I might have to revisit that as well

The first part of my many beloved Pinterest boards

The first part of my many beloved Pinterest boards

That said, I still love my Pinterest boards! You can see my collection here.



Working in Series – Jewelry Collection Design

The art world uses the term “working in series,” while the business world refers to “jewelry collection design.” These are two ways to think about the same thing. As an artist, I build a vocabulary of elements that I reuse in my work in various ways. These elements are what makes my work instantly recognizable as mine. Even so, there are various groupings within my work, as my skills and inspirations and ideas evolve.

Vickie Hallmark - Acanthus jewelry collection design - earrings

Vickie Hallmark – acanthus earrings

Recently, I’ve been exploring ideas for a new series or collection. While I want to keep my general inspiration of nature and the studio garden, I also desire to move forward from the previous work. I really enjoyed the detailed pictorial elements that I hand-sculpted from metal clay and then added to fabricated pieces, but I also want to explore simplified forms. So I’ve been working on a new series that doesn’t have a speck of metal clay sculpture included.

Vickie Hallmark - Acanthus jewelry collection design - Moonleaf and ammonite necklaces

Vickie Hallmark – Moonleaf and ammonite necklaces

It’s both challenging and rewarding to place limits on the work. The rules for this series are:

  1. riff on acanthus leaf forms
  2. use only sheet and wire (maybe tubing for small stone settings), Argentium of course
  3. add gold accents
  4. include beautiful stones, especially ones I hand cut myself
  5. explore using “stones” cut from glass
  6. explore both light and dark patinas
  7. work toward simplified and elegant forms
  8. make only things I love, with no regard to how long it takes or how expensive they become
Vickie Hallmark - Acanthus jewelry collection design - Dark Moonleaf necklace with variscite drop

Vickie Hallmark – Dark Moonleaf necklace with variscite drop

I’m several pieces into the new collection now and I’m really loving some of the pieces. I’ve been wearing the acanthus leaf earrings and the long (30″) dark pendant as frequently as possible, because they really feel like my style. I wear a lot of black clothing, and while dark oxidized jewelry doesn’t appeal to everyone, I find it to be striking and fitting with my own wardrobe.

Jewelry School – Lapidary

Genie lapidary machine - the one I used most in class and the one that came home with me

Genie lapidary machine – the one I used most in class and the one that came home with me

I’ve done a lot of time in jewelry school, hundreds of hours. Learning to solder and fuse, saw and hammer, sand and polish. I always used stones produced by others – from tiny machine cut faceted stones to large specialty cabochons cut by lapidary experts. Cutting my own stones always seemed like just too much work, another distraction to keep me from bringing my designs to life. However, I’ve noticed that sometimes I just can’t get exactly what I want, stone-wise, for a particular piece of jewelry. I have a necklace in mind, just a hint from the muse so far, that would need a set of graduated cabs, at least five or seven. Try finding that! Even wandering around at the Tucson Gem Shows, that’s not something easy to spot. It’s enough to drive a person to learn to do it themselves!


Michael Boyd Jewelry

Michael Boyd Jewelry

Last year, I went to the evening slide show by master jewelry artist Michael Boyd when he came to teach a week-long lapidary workshop at Creative Side Jewelry Academy of Austin (I’m so lucky to have this jewelry school right here in my backyard!). His way of designing, using the stones as the main event of his work rather than as accents, was very intriguing. His background as a painter means that color is really important to him. I struggle with wanting more color in my own work – after all those years of thread painting and brilliant glass, metal is a bit monochromatic! That evening’s presentation left me wanting to take his workshop when he returned.

Vickie Hallmark with giant amethyst geode at Tucson Gem Shows 2016

Vickie Hallmark with giant amethyst geode at Tucson Gem Shows 2016

So this year, I did it. I got sucked into the lapidary world. I’d hoped to buy a bunch of rough stones in Tucson, but the combination of lack of knowledge and early illness meant I really didn’t buy much there. Still, I headed into class knowing that I could experiment with something and decide if this was for me.

lapidary saw used in Michael Boyd workshop

lapidary saw used in Michael Boyd workshop

The first day of class was spent learning to cut rough cabochons (cabs) from stone. From slicing lump stones with a lapidary saw to “dropping” the stones with super glue or wax onto nails to hold them while we shaped them with six grits of grinding wheels and a final cerium oxide polish takes all of about 10 minutes for an experienced stone cutter. What a revelation! All the students in class went wild with working. In the afternoon, we had design discussions with hands-on inspections of a large variety of Michael’s jewelry to see all his specialized tricks.

my very first experiments in lapidary - two days of class - the lightest triangle agate in the middle is where it all started, then I ventured into labradorite and druzy

my very first experiments in lapidary – two days of class – the lightest triangle agate in the middle is where it all started, then I ventured into labradorite and druzy

On Tuesday, we started exploring some of those concepts. We had demonstrations of making bezels and drilling holes through stones.

roller printed metal laminated onto stone via tube rivet

roller printed metal laminated onto stone via tube rivet

For the third day, we discussed selecting materials and design. We learned to mount metal on top of a stone, either a textured sheet or a bezel/tube setting. Bezel-set stone on top of bezel-set stone is a Michael Boyd trademark. Lamination was one of my favorite processes – using an archival epoxy to layer stones, metal, and/or natural objects that can then be cut as one into a cab. We also remounted stones to finish their bottoms and discussed different polishing compounds, including loose diamond powders.

Michael Boyd workshop rough stone for sale

Michael Boyd workshop rough stone for sale

Thursday morning found us on a field trip to the local rock shop, Nature’s Treasures, shopping with experts in tow to answer questions. This was in addition to all the stones that Michael brought for us to purchase from him in class, if desired. Laden with small but heavy bags of stones, we headed back to the classroom to learn to carve stone with diamond bits in the flex shaft.

stones piling up from the week long lapidary workshop

stones piling up from the week long lapidary workshop

On the final day, we learned to make our own custom bezel wire and watched another trademark mount – a saddle with drilled holes and rivets. An epiphany for me was watching Michael polish up a riveting hammer in about two minutes on the same lapidary wheels, which don’t become cross contaminated. The last demo of the workshop was hammer inlay, where wire was pounded into channels cut in the top of a thick piece of jade.

The workshop was so inspiring that I bought one of the demo lapidary machines for my own studio. I’m looking forward to seeing how this ability to customize stones impacts my design work going forward. If you ever get a chance to take a class with Michael Boyd and his oh-so-helpful assistant, Ryan Gardner, do it!