Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Jewelry + power

Madeleine Albright has a new book out about her collection of brooches and how she used them to good effect in her diplomacy-- and it seems, her messages always came across loud and clear. Here's a woman who knows that jewelry can be used for a lot more than looking pretty! I'm putting this one on my wishlist for sure.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Whence 'jewelry'?

Yesterday someone found this blog by searching for "where did the word 'jewelry' come from?". I realized that they had probably gone away unsatisfied. Since I do have full access to the Oxford English Dictionary online, and since this is a nice intersection of linguistics and jewelry, I'll answer! (Although, please note, I never really did etymology, even though etymology questions are the ones I get asked most frequently. Well, etymology and, "Do you have this in a different color?" But since I'll be here till my dying day waiting for someone to ask me about, say the semantics of temporality in Swahili, which was what I used to spend my time on, linguistics-wise...well, I'll take it where I can get it, is what I'm saying.)

'Jewelry' is historically composed of 'jewel' + 'ery'. (The British spelling makes this clearer, 'jewellery'). 'Jewel' in turn is from Old French joel (found around the 12th century). Where the Old French came from is still a bit of an open question, but probably from either Latin gaudium or jocare . '-ery' just turns a verb into a noun-- originally it was used with only words of French origin, but generalized a bit after that to words of English origin, too. It's the same -ery you'll find in 'bravery', 'cutlery', 'treachery', 'bakery', 'pottery'....

There you go! Here at My Word! we have (or can find) the answers to all your linguistics-related jewelry questions, and your jewelry-related linguistics questions.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Overthinking Jewelry

Time for everyone's favorite feature of the week-- overthinking jewelry! I've noticed a decided dearth of (readily findable) jewelry research that I can really sink my teeth into. But it turns out that I might be a researcher myself: a practicioner of performative research. The description sounds good: "(practice-based researchers) may be led by what is best described as 'an enthusiasm of practice': something which is exciting, something which may be unruly, or indeed something which may be just becoming possible....Practice led researchers construct experiential starting points from which practice follows. They tend to dive in, to commence practicing to see what follows. They acknowledge that what emerges is idiosyncratic and individualistic." That sounds like me! Unfortunately, the article is a bit vague with respect to what the goals are supposed to be, what the output might look like, and of what use it might be in the end. I was confused. What I got out of it, though, is that me engaging in the practice of reflecting in writing about jewelry, may well count as research in this paradigm! Good news.

(I'm sorry, I'm being totally sarcastic. I love me some quantitative research methods, I can't help it.)

So anyway, back to the jewelry. Just an observation, really. There's this widespread idea that the meaning of a work of art resides in the intent of the artist. Or writer. The assumption is that art is an act of communication, and in order to understand the message, we have to be able to get at what the artist/writer was 'trying to say'. I think this idea goes away pretty quickly (or at least becomes disputable) with some careful reflection, but nevertheless, it's out there. For the 'fine arts', anyway, it's out there. Shift focus to jewelry. As often as I have people enter my booth and tell me that my work is Art, only very very seldom do people ask me to tell them about my intent with a piece. Actually I think it happened just once (yes, I was gratified). The rest of the time, they freely engage in discussing what the piece means to them, without any reference to what I may have been "trying to say" or asking me "what it means". I think that's wonderful! After all, that act of personalization and interpretation is exactly what much of my work is about. But it's an interesting contrast. I'd be interested in knowing whether it has to do with the marketplace where they find my work-- perhaps abstract oil painters exhibiting at art fairs have noticed the same contrast, and the main difference is between works that have entered the canon (by being chosen for exhibit in a museum) and works available for purchase, where a person does need to think explicitly about how it will fit into their life and their home before buying. Or maybe it's a fine art vs. fine craft contrast: perhaps in Art, the artist as auteur is more salient, whereas the functionality of craft makes the end user the more relevant member of the pair. I don't know! But I think that there is a difference between where people instinctively locate/construct meaning in one type of artistic product versus another.

I'll close with a bit of Billy Collins (it's only half the poem, forgive me, but go buy the book it's in if you want to read the rest):

Would anyone care to join me
in flicking a few pebbles in the direction
of teachers who are fond of asking the question:
"What is the poet trying to say?"

as if Thomas Hardy and Emily Dickinson
had struggled but ultimately failed in their efforts--
inarticulate wretches that they were,
biting their pens and staring out the window for a clue.

Yes, it seems that Whitman, Amy Lowell
and the rest could only try and fail,
but we in Mrs. Parker's thrid-period English class
here at Springfield High will succeed

with the help of these study questions
in saying what the poor poet could not,
and we will get all this done before
that orgy of egg salad and tuna fish known as lunch.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Cat Blogging

Snoogly kitties! Snooglysnooglysnoogly! In case you were wondering how Ballyhoo and Persistence get along with each other.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The occasional real leaf

Wish I could get this color red with the pigments I use. Alas, the only thing that does the trick is cadmium red-- a carcinogen. So no bright reds for me! (At least not without dye)

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Remember how the other day I was talking about my approach to words on jewelry, and how some parts of speech/ phrases require that the viewer/reader fill in context and make their own personal interpretations of the piece? (If not, go reread it.) Well, today I was perusing one of my regular blogs-for-perusing, and the guy talks about the exact same thing, except with blog pictures. He also does it less pedantically.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Some calligraphy for late summer

Here's that calligraphy piece I did the other day-- I never did get the scanner to work, but by some miracle I was able to take a decent photo of it. (Good thing it's not too big (6x8) or I never would have gotten the whole thing in focus).

I started with a segment of dyed paper in rich late-summer colors, and then went on a search for the right words. I ended up with a portion of a poem by John Gould Fletcher, courtesy of Project Gutenberg. I had not previously been familiar with his work, but am glad to have discovered it. I'll definitely be coming back to him again.

The text reads: "I wait here dreaming of vermilion sunsets:
In my heart is a half fear of the chill autumn rain."

Captures perfectly that mood of hanging on to the last remnants of summer while knowing that soon it will be gone. September always feels like that.

A side note: I seem to use this hand a lot (for non-calligraphers, I mean the lettering style I used there)-- it's the one I use most often on my jewelry, too. Well, in case you think I'm not trying to extend myself, I did try several other hands before finally settling on this one. I see it as very personal, based as it is on my own non-calligraphic handwriting. Very well suited to first-person, subjective sorts of texts.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Cat Blogging

Have I told you about Vindaloo and her obsession with mint? I may have mentioned it in passing, but here's the whole story: It started with some mint-scented soap I bought a while back. I'd catch her on the edge of the tub, licking it. Seriously. It was handmade, natural ingredients, so I didn't worry about it. (She still does it when I have minty soap, and also with cinnamon soap). Then, after that, she began to come after me when I go to bed. You see, just before I lie down, I put on some lip balm, also mint-flavored. If she catches me right after I've put it on and it's still very strong-smelling, she'll actually try to lick my lips. I'll be laying there trying to sleep, and here comes this cat, sticking her nose in my face. I do try to discourage it. Ok, last piece of evidence: now that I'm letting her out on the deck, with supervision, she's discovered my mint plants. Here she is this morning, nibbling at my chocolate mint. It needed a trim anyway, it's ok. Yo'd think her breath would be much improved, but no, not really. Maybe I should try giving her Altoids.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Something I made recently

I call this one "Shadows". It's another piece I made during my recent bout of productive creativity-- the same bout that produced the ginkgo set, the super-dangly leaf earrings, and the Three Petals necklace. Man, that was a good week.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Overthinking Jewelry: some navel-gazing about text selection

Wandering off the topic of jewelry a bit...but we'll start there.

Much of the time I feature single words on pieces, for practical reasons-- the pieces are small, a single word of reasonable length is all that will fit! But I also do larger pendants sometimes, or multi-tile necklaces, and then I have more room to play. But the principle is the same-- I like to choose text the full meaning of which is somewhat open to interpretation. It may just be a phrase, but if I can (if I have room), I like fragments of narrative that invite the reader/wearer/viewer to fill in the rest of the story for themselves. This makes the meaning very subjective-- I lose some control, since you never know how people will fill in the blanks, but often the piece ends up with a very personal meaning for the viewer, a meaning I'm not privy to. I love that.

Venturing away from jewelry, I have the same approach to calligraphy. I'm always interested in the creative process of calligraphers-- do they start with a text, or with a visual image, or do the two co-evolve? I have trouble being inspired by the Words Of Wisdom so often chosen for calligraphy pieces. You know, of the form "X is Y", e.g., "Wisdom is..." or "Art is...". Not that there aren't beautiful pieces that revolve around such text, but I myself can't find that I get anywhere with an incipient artwork when starting with a quote like that. I prefer an evocative fragment, torn from the middle of a story. A landscape, a characterization....

Often I start with a piece of my decorated paper, and search for a text that will fit it best. I can delve into my own journals, into my own imagination, into my files of quotations-- sometimes coming up empty-handed, or with not enough. Lately I've come upon a different way to locate text. After staring at my blank paper for a ridiculously long period of time waiting for something to come to me, I pick a phrase-- a short snippet is all that's necessary-- and use advanced search on google to search the Project Gutenberg site. It brings up all texts containing the phrase, often in interestingly elided forms, and I browse through to find one that I like. I can use it as google delivered it, oddly truncated, or I can search through the entire file to find the complete quote (or to discover something even better in the text). It's wonderful-- if you like unusual, decontextualized text fragments as much as I do, anyway.

I did a very nice piece yesterday with this method of text location, but I can't show you-- my printer has decided to deny that it has ever had scanner capability. Grrr.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009


First, some belated Friday Cat Blogging. I took these pics as I was getting ready to leave for Penrod. Persistence was being very helpful (the box she's sitting in formerly held my jewelry boxes, fortunately put safely out of the way of cat butt before she arrived). And Ballyhoo was supervising. Thanks, cats!

Here I am, after most of the work of setting up was done, but before the crowds arrived on Saturday. (My belly is supposed to look like that, by the way-- I'm about 5 months pregnant.)

Here's the philosopher, in his role as Carrier of Things, Fetcher of Snacks and Water, and Provider of Moral Support and Occasional Breaks. Note how he fits so well into the art show setting in that Hawaiian shirt.

And in the calm before the day begins, the artists put the final touches on their displays, drink their complementary coffee, and take the opportunity to walk around and look at each others' work while they have a chance.

It was a wonderful show! The weather was just perfect-- sunny, calm, not too warm. It did warm up in the afternoon, but not enough to send people away in large numbers in seach of air conditioning. I was busy all day, until the crowd began to thin out in the late afternoon. I hardly got a chance to eat my lunch! My fried-cheese-on-a-stick sat there forlorn and neglected for much longer than it should have. No complaints, though. I got to meet all kinds of nice people, saw some previous customers again, and generally enjoyed my day at the festival.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Something I made recently

In the category of new designs that I'm very excited about, I must show off these earrings. More leaves! This time, long and ever so danglesome, and with a generous scattering of 24k gold leaf.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I'm getting ready for Penrod! It's this Saturday, September 12, from 9-5, held at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Well, I have been getting ready for Penrod for the last month or so. I haven't done the show before, but I've wanted to since before I even left grad school and started doing shows. I'd walk through every year and sigh wistfully and dream about how great it would be to be a show artist, displaying at Penrod. (I know, I know-- any show artists reading this are now snickering at my idealism. I really like doing art festivals though, ok?) And now I am! Now my concerns are more practical (will I have enough earrings? Will it be windy? Will it be rainy? Too hot? Will people buy as much as I'd like them to?), but I'm no less thrilled to be in it this year. (Happily, the forecast for Saturday currently contains no mention of excessive heat, wind, or rain. Let's hope it stays that way.)

Penrod is one of the largest one-day art festivals in the U.S. It is HUGE. Walking through it, it's easy to get art overload before you even see all there is to see (lots of entertainment as well as art, plus all the yummy food). So when you come, make a beeline to my booth first: I'll be in the Yellow section, booth #56. See you there!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A real leaf

In honor of the rapidly approaching fall, I'll be photographing a leaf every now again and posting them here. Yes, it's a new blog feature! Exciting, no?

I love using leaves as inspiration for my Wabi-Sabi Collection designs, as you may have noticed, and as I was out for my morning walk today, I kept noticing all these beautiful leaves that had fallen, and thought it would not be difficult to document them and save the photos for purposes of future inspiration. So here we are, with our very first in the series!

What counts as a beautiful leaf to me isn't your usual autumn leaf caught mid-transformation between red, yellow, orange, and green-- although those are very nice--I like them with even more character. I suppose any fall leaf is a bit wabi-sabi, but I especially like the ones that have been chewed by insects, trodden upon, whipped by the wind, colonized by fungi (like whatever's causing the black spots on this one). These are leaves that have really lived, if you'll allow me to anthropomorphize.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Useful Tip

One more resin-related tip, and then I think I'm out of tips on that subject.

You can of course cast resin, as the photos on the resin box probably advertise, but you can also brush it on-- that's what I do to coat and protect my pieces. What to use for the brushing-on, though? You can't really clean resin up very easily, so you don't want to use a regular paintbrush. Sponge brushes are a good choice, but if you're doing it often, at a single use each, that's wasteful and will quickly become expensive.

My solution: Go to a local furniture store and be nice to the salespeople (who will be very disappointed that you aren't there to buy something), and ask if they have any scrap foam padding you can have. They use it for moving furniture, and usually there's a pile of it in the back room somewhere. Once you get this foam, a) store it in a closed trashbag so it doesn't get lint on it, and b) cut it into pieces and use them as little foam brushes. There's no handle, of course, so you fingers will get all up in the resin-- but you're wearing your trusty nitrile gloves for safety, so that doesn't matter, right?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Overthinking Jewelry: words

Back to words, then. Words on jewelry. Here's my approach:

Words have what linguists call 'argument structure'. 'Argument structure' refers to what goes with a particular word in a sentence. For example, some words need an additional word to go with them, as an integral part of their meaning-- you might see such words as carrying an empty slot along with them that has to be filled with another word. Verbs are the best examples of this: if you hope, you're hoping [for something]. If you create, you're creating [something]. There's a little empty piece that can be filled in. Not just the object, in fact, but also the subject: [You] are creating [something]. And also indirect objects are sometimes required: [You] give [something] [to someone].

Ok. So, nouns generally don't have much argument structure. Most nouns are ok just floating out there on their own, and they're complete that way. They make great labels, but they don't leave much to the imagination. There's not much crying out to be filled in, meaning-wise. I generally stay away from nouns on jewelry for this reason.

Verbs, on the other hand, have one or more empty slots in them that have to be filled in at least subconciously in order to make much sense: subject, direct object, indirect object. All of these are things that a person reading the word will have to supply in order to make sense of the word. On jewelry, this can be wonderfully imaginative and unique to each person. So I love using verbs on my jewelry! When you see a pendant that says give, you still have to do some work: give [love] [to everyone]? Give [money] [to the needy]? Give [time] [to your family]? All of the above? It gets you thinking a bit, and allows each person to come up with an interpretation that's meaningful to them personally.

Next we have adjectives and adverbs. These are interesting because they too 'require' things be filled in-- nouns, of course, in the case of adjectives, and verbs in the case of adverbs. So that takes us back to my stance on nouns and verbs-- I will use both adjectives and adverbs in my work, but I'll take an adverb over an adjetive any day. If you put an adjective on a pendant, it's sort of taken by default to refer to the person wearing it. "Brave", for example. "Ok, the wearer says she's brave." And that's kinda the end of it. Turn it into an adverb, though, and suddenly all sorts of questions are raised-- do what bravely? You understand there to be some verb lurking there. Then you have to fill in its argument structure. The imagination is fully engaged at this point. It's a bit more work-- ok, a lot more work-- and some people may simply choose not to engage with the piece, but others (especially the verbally talented among us) become absorbed, as they create meaning, and build a little world around the verb I've given them.

My absolute favorites are the prepositional phrases that describe manner or time. The principle is the same as for adverbs-- they evoke an event, the contents of which is left open for the viewer (or coauthor as I sometimes like to think of it) to construct. "After the moon rose", or "with a careless joy" beg for more information: what happened then? What did she do so joyfully?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday Cat Blogging

We had a new deck built! This a cause for great celebration-- the old deck was 10x10, and between the grill, table, bench, and plants, you couldn't fit more than a couple of people on it without it getting crowded very quickly. Plus, some of the boards were starting to look very precarious.

The new deck sports cool horizontal railing, now up to code with the required spacing between boards so no one gets their head stuck. The problem is, it's now also too narrow for the cats to jump on and off. It's just too high for them to jump from the top railing to the ground. Well,
we've rigged up a temporary system involving a protruding plank that they are managing to use, but it's hidden so that generally speaking, the way on and off is not clear. All this means that Vindaloo, who normally isn't allowed outside at all, can venture onto the deck a little, under supervision.

It's all very exciting for her. Here she is, nervously checking out the plants and looking for escape routes (which she will not find! Hah! Trapped!).

The little deck off to the side there is "Joanna's Deck of Solitude and Contemplation". Its front railing is cleverly removable so we can take stuff on and off the deck easily. Our carpernters rocked.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Gingko necklace and earrings

Here's just one of the new designs I've come up with this past week: the Ginkgo. Stylized leaves of textured paper and pigment, hammered wire integrated with a thick dome of resin on the back. The pendant has a generous dose of 24k gold leaf for sparkle.

The color shown here I'm calling Aubergine (because it sounds so much fancier than "eggplant" and is more familiar to most than "biringanya", the Swahili word for this tasty, richly hued vegetable). I also have an Autumn Yellow version (the color that actual ginkgo leaves turn in the fall) and a Summer Green, with silver wire and leafing.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Artisans

A hearty welcome to the latest gallery to carry my work: The Artisans of McLean, VA. It looks like a fun shop, and I'm thrilled to have my work there! Winging their way thither are some cute polkadot earrings, mosaic earrings in fall colors, and a couple of Falling Leaves pendants.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Useful Tip

Today's topic: gold leaf. Gold leaf is gold that has been pounded until extremely thin and light as a feather. It comes in packs of 25-3x3 inch sheets, and it can be tricky to wrangle. It floats on air like ash. Here's my tip: if you're working with gold leaf, a) remember to shut the windows so there's no breeze, and b) try not to exhale. If you do have to breathe (you greenhorn!), turn your head away from the gold leaf. Under no circumstances should you sneeze.

If you do sneeze, don't bother trying to catch the pieces while they're wafting around the room. Just keep your eye on the largest pieces until they settle somewhere, then use your brush to pick them up again. And try not to snort in exasperation as you do this, or you'll just be going through the whole routine again.