Dialog with the Muse

Vickie Hallmark bracelet sketch 1

bracelet sketch, variation 1

For many years, I experimented with the morning pages from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way,” as a means to open a dialog with the muse. There was really something there – writing, by hand, three pages first thing in the morning was so artistically freeing. Brain dump at its finest. Somewhere within those three pages, usually a couple of pages in, the voice would change. “I” would disappear, and “you” would appear. It was as if my subconscious mind took over my writing hand and started doling out advice. Ideas and solutions would appear from the blank page. The muse is in there somewhere, but can’t speak to me directly. I need to open up a conduit whereby she can convey her ideas.

bracelet sketch, variation 2

bracelet sketch, variation 2

One thing always bothered me about the morning pages. They always seemed more appropriate to writers, which is of course Julia Cameron’s world. What about us visual artists? It’s not that words can’t work for us. Yes, we can listen to that muse talk to us and guide us through creative issues. I find the wordy morning pages helpful. But I keep thinking that there’s more. What if I approached sketching new ideas in a similar way?  Let the subconscious draw me a picture instead of write me directions?

bracelet sketch, variation 3

bracelet sketch, variation 3

So, I’ve been experimenting with the sketchbook version of morning pages. I haven’t gotten into a good flow yet. I can’t say that I’ve been as dedicated to it as I would like. But on the days when I actually vacate my studio, wander into the bedroom where I have a cushy armchair with ottoman for my feet, with a nice iced coffee in tow (it’s Austin in spring, and warm already!), and sit down and work, something happens.

bracelet sketch, variation 4

bracelet sketch, variation 4

Often, I’m just drawing variations on a theme. Say I need a new design for a bracelet, with a bezel set stone, suitable for a workshop (current issue) — then I just start working it through. The first design is inevitably not right. It might be too difficult for students, too large for the limits of butane torches in a nontraditional jewelry studio setting, or just plain unattractive in design. But the second and third and fourth designs might move in the right direction. One idea leads to more ideas. The freedom to just draw it out, without any expectation that I actually will make this particular design, is just that – freeing. I’m just talking to myself in pictures. And if I don’t find the solution on that particular day, I may find it on a subsequent day. It’s as if the muse worked on it while I was off rounding up the falling live oak leaves or repotting the water lilies while chatting with the goldfish. More ideas pop out of the ether.

bracelet sketch, variation 5

bracelet sketch, variation 5

Dialog with the muse is what’s missing when we get creative block. Figuring out a way to reopen the dialog is key to opening up the artistic floodgates. I’ve been attacking this in multiple directions, including working with ceramic clay. Block is part of the process, but I have to keep working it through. Every aide I can get, I’ll take. Even writing this blog.

Back on the Blog Horse

Where did the past six months go?? In reality, I’ve written a few blog posts, but then I put them aside to think before hitting the post button, and suddenly they become totally out of date. I think it’s a bit sad that blogs have faded with the advance of other social media. Facebook is so immediate, Instagram is so visual. I’ve succumbed to posting in those places more frequently and here less. It takes so much less thought.

druzy pairs for earrings

druzy pairs for earrings

But I’ve begun to think that very lack of thought is a major loss for my own artistic progress. When I began this blog so many years back, it was simply a personal journal of my creative process. It served as a place to document my experiments, successes and failures. Connections with other makers blossomed and I met many fellow creatives who became close friends and regularly commented on my posts. With the move to Facebook and other platforms, the response went quiet, and I lost the conversation. The blog dwindled.

cobalto calcite druzies

cobalto calcite druzies

In reality, I love reading blogs. I have a huge blog roll in Feedly that I follow regularly, and I especially treasure the bloggers who post regularly. Unfortunately, most of the jewelry bloggers that I followed who became my friends no longer write. However, in other fields of interest to me – home decor and paleo food, for example – the blogging world is super strong. Why the difference, I have to wonder?

carved lemon quartz ovals

carved lemon quartz ovals

I’ve decided to attempt to begin anew with the brain dump nature of my original blog. It doesn’t matter if anyone actually reads or not. I’m just thinking out loud. What am I up to? Recovering from a bout of flu caught during my first trip to the Tucson Gem Show (who would have thought to check if Tucson was one of the top places in the country for flu at the moment?). Evidently it’s a variant of the rather virulent swine flue from 2009 – three days in bed with fever, and now on the third day after I’m still dragging. I’m slowly regaining strength while petting some of the treasures I bought and trying to find inspiration for new work as soon as I can actually get back into the studio.

The first thing I bought was this pair of carved lemon quartz ovals – they are largish for me, about 12x18mm. I think I will use them separately, with the carved side up. Perhaps as part of the leaf necklace that is still unfinished on the bench. And the druzies are something I use regularly, so they will most likely get bezels made and then sit awaiting just the right piece to come along.

Ceramic Clay vs. Metal Clay

Taking up ceramic clay as a supplement to metal clay has been an interesting diversion. The notion that I can buy 25 POUNDS of ceramic clay for $28, which includes firing and glazing costs as well, is mind boggling. At the moment, the spot price of silver is hovering around $15 and the price of PMC3 (my usual clay for fusing with Argentium) is approximately $65 — per OUNCE!!

sgraffito fuchsias dish

first attempt at sgraffito – slip layer should fire brown black

Working in ceramic clay is clearly very freeing. I can work large scale without any concerns for the price of materials. After six weeks of class, plus going to open studio hours another 1-2 times per week, I have yet to consume that first 25 pound bag of clay. I went in with certain ideas about techniques of interest – sgraffito and mishima in particular – so I’ve just been playing around without any expectations. I totally hope to generate some ideas that will then transfer to metal clay.

second attempt sgraffito - jet black velvet underglaze

second attempt sgraffito – jet black velvet underglaze

Sgraffito was my first choice of technique to try, although I was limited at first to just plain carving. In sgraffito, a dark layer – colored slip or underglaze – is painted over the greenware which is then carved away to reveal a color contrast as well as texture. This technique is “banned” at my clay studio, because some previous attempts by other students/instructors had contaminated shared glazes and hence the work of others. I have a dispensation to experiment as long as I don’t risk contaminating those shared glazes. That means stopping at the bisque stage, with no clear overglaze, or perhaps waxing the slip/underglaze to dip the remainder into a final glaze. In either process, the dark layer will remain matte (which I like, so it’s fine).

My first attempt used a red-brown slip that should fire brown-black, while the second attempt used a black velvet underglaze instead of slip. Carving away large areas of dark cover is a bit tedious, although it looks nice. I’ll have to think through designs for the future.

I’m not clear how I would utilize this technique for metal clay, although it might be possible to combine a bronze or copper slip on top of the other base. Ideas for silver elude me. A gold slip would work, if that were remotely affordable, and if the gold layer would not dissolve into the silver.

It is interesting that my understanding of working with metal clay has mostly transferred to ceramic clay. The instructor says I know more than I realize. So far, I haven’t had any kiln casualties. I have yet to get any of my early glazing attempts returned though, so I might be speaking too soon. More experiments to come.


Creative Block or Creative Exploration?

I’m still fighting the creative block that claimed me this spring. It’s not that I don’t want to work on something creative, but rather that I’m more interested in something different. Jewelry is just sitting there, calling to me. There are great ideas available. Work in progress, too. Still, not working for me.

Vickie Hallmark ceramic vase, carved.

Second vase ever hand built. High fire white stoneware. First carving. Not fired yet, nor even dry.

I had a tiny health scare, which just added to the distraction. I’m fine; I always thought I was fine. It’s just that doctors have that way of wanting to be sure that involves scaring people and forcing them into getting tests. And being a Ph.D., I have to research. And research. And research. And understand all the possibilities and options, so that I can make an informed decision. Which in my case meant no MRI contrast agent.

Vickie Hallmark ceramic vase, carved.

Bottom of first carved vase.

The best solution is to work on something distracting and exciting while waiting for the all clear. So I looked online at the ceramics classes that have always sounded like fun, and found they were starting very soon. Signed myself right up, and dove in.

Second carved vase. The flowers are abutilon, which I keep wanting for my garden. Greenware.

Second carved vase. The flowers are abutilon, which I keep wanting for my garden. Really too wet to carve greenware.

It’s fun. It reminds me of metal clay and gives me ideas for projects to work on there, when I get myself back in the saddle. It even gives me ideas for repousse in Argentium. Things will happen in due course.

The good thing about a health scare is that it makes you really think about what you want to do. Have fun and make things come to the top of the list for me. Learn better business skills and make sales calls do not. So here I am, having a creative exploration in the middle of my creative block. And pretty happy with the whole thing.


Creative Distractions – Remodeling

Over the years, I’ve come to accept that creativity ebbs and flows. Some days I can’t keep up with the creative energy focused on my goals, and some days creative distraction pulls my attention away to another area. This spring was overtaken by a home remodeling project. Along with the mess and frustration of repeated errors by the team I chose to do the work (this is the fourth remodel, so you’d think I’d be better by now), the need to make selections for everything from a drawer pull to a light fixture to a tub just proved too great a creative distraction to be able to continue the jewelry making full steam.

bathroom remodel

bathroom remodel

Luckily, the project is complete (with a few minor repairs to come), and my mind is going back to making jewelry. But since I consider this blog a personal journal of my own creative journey, I figured I’d throw in this summary of my creative life for Spring 2015.

17 year old builder grade vanities, before

17 year old builder grade vanities, before

We started with a seventeen year old builder grade master bath – spacious, but boring and falling apart. Melamine coatings were peeling off the cheap particle board cabinets, the never used jets in the whirlpool tub were weathered yellow, and the shower was too tight to even turn around.

builder grade shower and tub, before

builder grade shower and tub, before

After hours of perusing the internet, pinning bath ideas and shopping online, it was clear that I still wanted a white bath. The contractor came out in January to discuss the project, and we went back and forth over the scope of the project for a few weeks (the closet make overs I wanted got eliminated due to cost) until the demo date was set in mid-March, not long after I returned from my Baltimore trip.

remodeled bath - mother of pearl penny and subway tile, external hardware shower, frameless glass, free standing tub, wall mount handset tub filler

remodeled bath – mother of pearl penny and subway tile, external hardware shower, frameless glass, free standing tub, wall mount handset tub filler

Although scheduled for 4-6 weeks, the project stretched interminably to 12 weeks, due to recurring issues: tile mishap after tile mishap, plumbing mistakes, paint color errors, broken mirrors, and mis-measured everything. The good news is that the contractor did make good on everything that bugged me, although it became the joke in our house that it wouldn’t be right until the third try. Although I trusted in the process, the tripling of the time frame was very stressful for me. Constant interruptions and frustration with backward steps kept me from being able to focus on my regular work. I’m SO glad it’s over!!

vanities finished - mirrored towers, semi-recessed sinks, sconces, lots of storage

vanities finished – mirrored towers, semi-recessed sinks, sconces, lots of storage

This past weekend was spent moving back from the guest bedroom and bath, filling all those many, many drawers with supplies and shopping for new towels and rugs. I’ve started purging the closets as a precursor to my pet project of updating them myself. Most importantly, I finally have some energy to consider jewelry. New work coming soon!

finished bath remodel

finished bath remodel


Metal Carving Class – Punches and Gravers

I signed up for a week-long workshop last week with Tom Herman because his work amazes me. He uses the same nature for inspiration that so many artists do, but of course his interpretation is totally original, gorgeous, and very true to detail. His technique is bas relief, carved directly into thick metal. Crazy!

Brooch by Tom Herman

Hydrangea Brooch by Tom Herman

I know I’m not going to make jewelry this way, but I felt irresistibly drawn to the class, as if there was information there calling my name: “Vickie, you need to know how to do this!!!” After all, I do all my metal carving in the clay state, but the idea that I might make modifications at the fired end was tempting. So, off I went, expecting to at least learn a tremendous amount about making custom tools and using them. And that I did.

learning to carve metal

learning to carve metal

I started off by drawing a leaf design onto a piece of nickel silver glued to an aluminum plate, using a metal “tracing punch.” After removing from the plate, I drilled many tiny holes and sawed out excess metal with the new saw frame I purchased (levers on both ends, so fast change blades). I then glued it back to the plate and mounted it in an engraving ball to allow firm access at any angle. Then began the challenging task to learn to move the metal, smoothly and in the desired way, with tiny metal punches called planishers. First, can I just say?  I hate nickel silver! It’s hard!  I was longing for my buttery soft Argentium sterling silver. Learning to sharpen drill bits that dulled immediately will come in handy, though.


gravers made in Tom Herman class

After that experience with a set of four punches provided by the instructor, we began to make our own tools, in earnest. First, a set of six gravers – think of tiny chisels on handles, used to whittle away bits of metal. Six different shapes, each ground and mounted into its handle and sharpened to dangerous levels. I have three other gravers in my drawer from previous classes, but now I feel a lot more comfortable with these tools.

punches made in Tom Herman class

punches made in Tom Herman class

Then we learned about punches. I’ve made a few before, but this was an intensive for me. I made it my goal to consume both three foot lengths of tool steel provided to me, and I came very close. At just over 3″ per punch (customized to my grip), that was 22 punches, and I made 20. Cup punches. Tracers. Planishers, rounded and not. Saddle punches, liners, and chisels. Tiny punches with parallel lines carved into them with liner gravers (I made sets with the lines at angles to make feathers). Mill grain liners – OMG, I’m in love! After a lot of sore muscles from filing steel, we water hardened the punches by heating in the torch and quenching, then tempering.

bird 2

carved bird, using custom punches for textures (still glued to the steel bench block)

Finally, it was time to work on a design of our choosing. Many in the class made Tom’s class project – a ring with carved leaves and smooth borders, some with 2mm stone “berries.” I began my design from the previous post. Although I started out with the border as drawn, I quickly removed it, as it was hard to work with Tom’s methods and I disliked the suggestion that the shape referenced a mouth eating the bird. I left a tiny bit on top of the bird for a possible bail, but I think it will come off at the next saw session.

Of course, I don’t ever consider my class samples as real work, so this will probably never be finished. But I learned a lot about making custom tools, about moving metal in a sculptural way (in a different way than with regular chasing and repousse), and about giving a sense of volume with a thin piece of metal. I also used the tools to modify a metal clay bird (fired), which is where I think think this class will take me. And I begin to really understand that an original jeweler has original tools, customized for particular needs. Tom can make a punch in 10 minutes. I’m much slower, but even so the idea that I just make the tool I need on the spot is revolutionary to my thinking.

Jewelry Design Process – Photo to Sketch to Design

One of my favorite things is designing new jewelry. I have different jewelry design processes for different types of work. Sometimes I just work freely, arranging separate components on a background. Other times, I need to plan the design as a single piece. In that case, I work from sketches in a series.

sparrow ogee design

sparrow ogee design – ©2015 Vickie Hallmark

I thought I’d share my latest sketch process to illustrate how it works. I’m taking a workshop next week where I need a design that will accommodate pierced areas as well as detailed carving. Not knowing exactly what the constraints of the work will be, I’ve just gone with my gut. I’ve tried to draw up a plan that reflects many of my design motifs, but allows for these new explorations.

sparrow photo from online

sparrow photo from online

I started with a Google search for a bird photo that I could work with. I chose this simple sparrow.

simplified sparrow sketch

simplified sparrow sketch

I quickly freehand sketched the sparrow in ink in my journal – about 4″ in size, and then scanned it into my computer and reduced the size to about 2″. After printing it out, I started to experiment with additions to the bird, my usual branch with leaves and maybe a flower.

adding branch to sparrow

adding branch to sparrow

At each step, I traced the original sketch and simplified as I went. The repeated tracing gives me a feel for the main elements of the design, and it gets crisper, more essential, with fewer difficult to realize details.

a longer, curved branch with flower

a longer, curved branch with flower

Eventually, I started to consider the overall edge of the piece and how I could incorporate the design into that edge. First I tried a simple square border, but that felt awkward. I also realized that I needed to remove excess leaves.

sparrow with square frome

sparrow with square frome

Then I had the idea to use my common ogee shape. I started to draw it in on top of the square frame above, but then I pulled out some paper and cut several size templates to audition. Because the design seemed wider than tall, I ran the ogee horizontally. Then I filled in the breadth of the frame.

sparrow with ogee frame

sparrow with ogee frame – ©2015 Vickie Hallmark

As of now, this is the final design. I will sleep on it overnight and inspect again tomorrow, as I often notice details later that escape me at the beginning. For example, the leaf that has no support from the frame seems like a problem waiting, so it will probably get redesigned. But for now, I feel like my work has been successful – I have something to take to class, where I’m sure modifications will ensue. I derived my design from a photo, which might have originally been copyrighted by the photographer, but by the time I’d done the rest of the design, it clearly only an inspiration. As it should be.

If you are interested in a custom design to celebrate a special moment, pleas contact me to discuss the process.

Lavender Memorial Earrings

Are you planning a special Mother’s Day event or just a simple call to your mother? I wish I could do the same, but unfortunately my own mother passed away five years ago. I think about her all the time.

She would adore my Knock Out roses that are immune to mildew, bloom crazily even in the heat or cold, and just keep growing taller those years that I miss pruning. Although she loved to bake bread and slather it with homemade butter, she had a history of stomach issues (as do I). My abandonment of wheat and all other grains to go on a Paleo diet might even have inspired her when she saw that my health improved. I know if she were still able, she would alternate between a book to read and a hand project to work on, mostly needlework. That’s where I got my love of reading (and now listening while I work) and my handwork skills that I use for jewelry.

Triangular drops, handmade bezels, and purple chalcedony.

Triangular drops, handmade bezels, and purple chalcedony.

Thinking about her this year, I decided to make a special pair of earrings dedicated to her memory. Her favorite color was lavender, so I perused my collection of stones to find these lovely purple chalcedony cabochons.

Lavender Earrings 1000x1000

Lavender Memorial Earrings – Vickie Hallmark – Argentium sterling silver, fine silver, purple chalcedony

I used a favorite shape for the body of the earrings – this softly curved triangle lends itself to my treetop vignettes with plenty of room for a detailed bird and branch. I also used some new flowers (I’m currently working on a class curriculum which includes cutting shapes and then modifying them into more interesting botanical elements).

bezels and cabochons for upcoming projects

bezels and cabochons for upcoming projects

I also took a few hours to focus on one thing and prepared a lot of other bezels for new designs coming up soon.

While these memorial earrings are meant to stay in my personal collection, I’m happy to make something similar. Just contact me to begin a discussion about a design just for you.

Silver Cloud Quote Charm Jewelry

Hello, long lost blog! After ACC Baltimore, I returned home to find my long-awaited master bath remodel was suddenly on the near future schedule and decisions were required ASAP. It has been a roller coaster ride ever since, as those of you with remodeling experience will well know. Although I have the best of plans each morning, questions and chaos interrupt each day and it seems that I’m going nowhere on the jewelry front. The best I’ve been able to do recently is to slowly upload some of the new work to the Artful Home site for review before it moves to listed status, available for sale.

Silver Cloud Quote Charm (front)

Silver Cloud Quote Charm (front)

Silver Cloud Quote Charm back

Silver Cloud Quote Charm (back)

Back in those late winter days while I was working long hours in the studio, I photographed quote charms in various states – free, strung on a simple cable chain, or suspended from my signature ogee link.

Silver Cloud Quote Charm Pendant

Silver Cloud Quote Charm Pendant – “Every cloud has a silver lining”, simple cable chain

The Silver Cloud charm is one of my favorites. Everyone is familiar with the saying “Every cloud has a silver lining.” Perfect for an inspiration boost in a trying time (maybe I should be wearing this daily through my remodel!), this verse is inscribed on the reverse side of the cloud shaped silver charm. A tiny bird perches in the night treetop on the front.

Silver Cloud Quote Charm Ogee Necklace

Silver Cloud Quote Charm hung from my signature ogee bar necklace

Each charm is made completely by hand, from the hand-sculpted birds and leaves to the delicately hammered wire edging to the ogee bar, in a combination of low-tarnish, recycled, hypoallergenic Argentium sterling and fine silver details. No two are exactly alike.

Which do you like best – the free charm, the simple pendant, or the ogee drop necklace?

Charm Jewelry – Charm Bracelet

A few weeks ago, I posted a design sketch and inspiration details for a charm bracelet, part of the requirements for my participation in the American Craft Council Charm Collection to debut at the ACC Baltimore show next month. Most recently, I’ve shown other pieces from my charm jewelry collection, the stand along quote charms, and a charm pendant.

Today, I have the charm bracelet itself. While the sketch had five different charms, I settled on a consistent teardrop shape, just flipped up and down for rhythm. Each charm bears its own nature vignette on the front. I experimented with different chain link styles, but finally settled on this ogee link that I’ve used a bit before. I made the first bracelet with lighter weight links and it just seemed too delicate, so I had to pull out some heftier wire and recreate it to make this more substantial piece. The links are slightly curved so that the bracelet hugs the wrist beautifully.

Hope Quote Charm Bracelet - ©2015 Vickie Hallmark, Argentium sterling silver and fine silver, Emily Dickinson quote

Hope Quote Charm Bracelet – ©2015 Vickie Hallmark, Argentium sterling silver and fine silver, Emily Dickinson quote


Hope Quote Charm Bracelet – ©2015 Vickie Hallmark, Argentium sterling silver and fine silver, quote side

The back of the charms bear quote plaques with the full first verse of my favorite Emily Dickinson poem

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops – at all.

Yes, that’s the same quote that is excerpted on the pendant, obviously a special affinity for me. The fifth charm was supposed to bear a plaque that said “Emily Dickinson,” but I lost focus while soldering it in place and slightly melted the surface enough to blur the text. Real life in the jewelry studio! Since I was up against a photo deadline,  I replaced that plaque with my hallmark tag. I’ll try again later.

To see more of the American Craft Charm Collection, see their Pinterest board or last year’s catalog