Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Working on the Chain Gang

Perhaps my earliest non academic crafting goes back about 30 years ago when I was doing some costuming for an event we hosted for about 100  kids from various scouting groups in the GTA.  Our medieval themed camp included crafts and martial displays by a chapter of SCA (The Society for Creative Anachronism,  U of T campus) aka,  medieval fan boys and girls who love to dress up and play old timey .    

 While hardly the level of some of the SCA crafters who made articulated steel gauntlets,  I set forth with a steel rod, a power drill,  a coil of 16 gauge galvanized wire, wire cutters, pliers and no clue what I was doing with the intention of making myself some chain mail..   The end result was this coif which was  too short to be of great advantage in real combat but has become a staple in the family costume bin ever since, it even gets borrowed on occasion by a teacher friend for high school history classes.   

The only major crafting fault with the chain was my inability to neatly reduce links and bring the edges together at the crown, other than that I was pretty pleased with myself and eventually got it plated to keep it shiny.   As far as real armour goes each link would have been hammered flat at the joint and riveted together and I had no intention of going that realistic.

While his project was the simplest 4 in 1 chain mail patterns  I also  manage to self discovered a couple other commonly used patterns such as 4 in 1 and 8 in 2 spirals and ended up making belts,  necklaces and key chains most of which are long since lost or broken.

Also from this period is a single orphaned earring of the type I made for the “Ladies of the Court “ to wear.

It is this one earring that brought me back to this form of crafting, I still had the tools and I even had a pile of jump rings from ½ a life ago and since my recent production of bentwood rings was causing me some distress from the sawdust and CA glue fumes in my under ventilated basement (but that’s another whole post) I decided to go back to mail work but step it up to something other people could enjoy.

After a couple of botched attempts at relearning the weaves and realizing my eyes will not allow me to work on tiny jump rings like 3-4 mill very often I was off.
  Chain mail has a large varieties of patterns and weaves, with rings in many sizes  and materials; brass, copper, gold, silver, aluminum (coloured and shiny) niobium and once you toss in the beads the you’ve have a myriad of design options to keep the interest of even the most fickle crafter. 

One of my current dilemmas is how to price and sell one's work?  I love to give people stuff they enjoy but I cannot simply produce endlessly for the limited pool of people I know.   Eventually they won't want more and practically I cannot simply give stuff way forever without at least covering my costs.

Time wise a simple pair of chain earrings requires far more work than slapping together a few beads on a head pin and adding a ear hook.     Provided you avoid gold or sterling jump rings chain jewelry should be cheaper to produce than doing projects with nice beads, which can get quite oppressive when you start working with beads that aren't just plastic or cheap crystal .  

                                           Fake pearls,  less than $10 for a string of each colour 

                                                     Vs. $17 reg price for a pair of beads

I want to cover my materials for sure  and it wouldn't hurt to at least build in a bit of value for my time yet it would appear quite a number of people on Etsy aren't even doing that with their crafts.  I can't see setting up a E-Commerce site with all the hassles of shipping and correspondence just to break even yet this is what I appear to see with many vendors on Etsy, I don't get it.

 I'm pleased that people seem to like some of what I'm doing but I don't see how I could even rent a booth at a local crafting show for the prices I seem required to compete with.  So how do others value their work and peddle their wares once the volume of one's hobby starts to outstrip household demand? 

I guess that's the problem with this kind of work, take up painting or carving and you can sink many hours into a single project and they don't tend to pile up so quickly..   who knew?.....

Friday, March 4, 2016

What's clay got to do with it?

The oldest piece that I’m willing to share from my giant portfolio of early crap is this figure I made when life was full of dice games and lots of trashy fantasy novels.  Thank you Michael MoorCock, Marion Zimmer Bradley,  Anne McCaffery  and others;   because of you  I wasn’t reading Atlas Shrugged . If I had I’d REALLY be damaged today.

I’ve learned since those early days that I really like playing with clay,  the ability to add and subtract is so much more forgiving than carving  and I don’t need to get my head around trivialities like perspective which always thwarted me when I attempt to paint or draw. The big problem for clay projects is it’s all  pretty damn pointless when you don’t have a kiln.  Without  getting a  bisque firing to toughen up your projects they tend to break very easily , the very reason I only have one piece left from about a dozen small projects I did more than a decade ago. 

 I guess the advantage is that the materials are never truly lost until fired, throw them back in the pail,  re-hydrate the clay and away you go.  The thing is  I could probably scrounge kiln pace with a potter or such but I don’t want to be responsible for that one air bubble which turns my work into a plate wrecking grenade during the firing.    I remember the ire of the artsy types at high school when a stoner looking for an easy grade decimated an entire layer of pieces getting their final glaze.  Like a suicide bomber in Fallujah his giant bong left ugly chunks of itself embedded in the glaze of all pieces nearby.   It was not pretty.
So what now?  I’ve still got a 20 lb block of red clay which I may use to make molds for plaster/dental stone casts.  I’ve seen some very nice work that used plants arranged  and impressed into clay and then removed so the clay can be used for one off molds or eventually turned into silicon molds  for repeated use.   Don't think I'd go into business poaching her style but I might like to try a couple just for the hell of it.

 I’d also like to sculpt a whack of small faces,  this will allow me to work on the actual skill of modeling as I make people who look like monsters, monsters that look like happy bunnies and happy bunnies that look like road kill.  The intent is to make small faces with a little character or whimsy that I can use as amulets for my jewelry fixation and are also small enough that I can fire them in a homemade pit or sawdust kiln in my yard.  Even better if I can find an accomplice with a field we can use so I don’t get the bylaw officers in a tizzy.   There is no way I could produce a glass  glaze with this type of homemade kiln but I should be able to manage some kind of salt glaze giving the pieces more character and protection.  The little faces might also be a good way of involving the children who generally seem disinclined to do arts.  It's also pretty obvious from that first pick I need face practice.

Finally I’d love to learn to throw some pots but neither the price of a wheel nor the effort required to make a DIY one seems worth the effort without a kiln or any real need for more pottery around the house.   (Finding enough homes for one’s crafts is certainly going to a recurring theme in future blog posts. )

Sorry but these post won’t always be about producing an actual project.   Often these offerings will be show and tell, musing about projects , techniques and planning in the hope of receiving feedback, new perspectives or the offer of a field  to build a pit kiln in ;) 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Welcome to an old guy's crafting blog

  The truth is I don't really know what defines art.   Many of the "creative" things I do involve taking or modifying other peoples ideas to suit my needs, skill level or materials.  I draw badly, I'm somewhat better at modeling or sculpting, I consider myself good at small stuff like miniature painting, wire work on chain mail and wire jewelry, but I always wonder  

"When am I an artist and when am I simply a mechanic assembling parts into something usable or attractive?"

"Are crafters as valid as artists?" 

So while all these projects do manage to satisfy my need to create (something I find very restful and therapeutic)  where does one's dabbling with crafting cross that line from mere maker/mechanic to an artist? 

A few examples of my range

Mixed medium i guess  ;)  but is it art?

Clay sculpting,  never fired as I don't have a kiln .  Probably art

Japanese marbling   ( Suminagashi)  good fast project with the kids..   art

Beading, wire wrapped jewelry , Having manufactured none of these parts is it art? If I had blown my own glass beads and pounded my own copper medallion would that change it's status?  

 Honestly I don't know where this will take me but I will endeavor to fill this blog with examples of what I'm doing at any particular time along with my occasional inner arguments on the merit of my work as art.    My fixation on a certain medium will change sporadically as I get bored or something new and shiny catches my eye.  While I'm currently stuck on bead and wire projects I see myself turning towards fire and enamel, or even a sawdust kiln as the improving weather allows me to move my projects to the garage and back yard.   That said alcohol inks also look like fun, as does metal clay, resins, silicon molds, bone carving, hammered copper, etching copper and many other forms I'd like to attempt should I beg, borrow or buy the needed materials.

Lastly I'm a 52 year old guy who no longer  does satisfying work with his hands.  These days I'm stuck at a desk and feel both the physical need to make things and the mental need for that zen feeling that busy hands/occupied mind gives me.   Too often I find these crafting activities are considered the realm of women  while men miss out because of it. (visit a bead store or hang out at Michael's for a Sunday afternoon)

Apparently a  guy can be a gold smith because that's respectable but making baubles in the basement is somehow beneath manly attention.   That's B.S. in my mind, the basic need to create is one of those things that separates us from other species,  it is very human, a healthy outlet for stress and creativity  and yet it's missing from most people's lives, especially we white collar slobs who essentially create nothing and have little sense of achievement or identity in our day to day grind.

Besides who doesn't like pretty things and the occasional scrap of praise?  Not to mention the slew of cheap presents you can inundate your friends and family with for every single occasion, even though they really wanted an iPad ;)

 Anyways this is my journey, at least until the house gets too full of finished projects and I get yelled at.