Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bead Journal Project for December ~ Finished Today!

Here's a peek...

bead embroidery, bead journal project, Robin Atkins, December, Detail
By the middle of November, I was already experiencing the customary dread that happens every year as the Christmas season approaches. What to do about my December BJP, I wondered? I remember trying to concentrate on change... a strong desire to shift my negative attitude about Christmas to one that could bring more joy and contentment to me and, by association, to my husband, family and friends.

Fortunately, several wonderful people stepped into the picture to offer amazingly positive influences.

The first was Christi C. You saw her beautiful BJP pieces here. Her work explores her relationship to the place where she lives using found objects, as in the detail below.

BJP by Christi C, detail
I love her work and love the idea of it! After seeing her pieces, I walked out of my studio with a new eye for the many gifts of nature... beauty everywhere! I began collecting little twigs with bits of lichen on them, madrona berries, a feather... things to remind me of these special gifts... things that make me feel joy, even in the darkest, coldest month of the year, even at Christmas time. Some of these will be on my Dec. BJP, I thought!

The second influence was Rochelle Zawisza. She reads this blog. One day, out of the blue, I received a beautiful, handmade Christmas card from her. It featured a circle cut-out with a beaded wreath hanging from the center of it. This is the wreath.

Beaded wreath by Rochelle Zawisza
It's made with 4 mm bi-cone crystals and size 15 seed beads. Here's a fun post she wrote about making the wreaths and cards.

The point is this... the unexpected gift of her card brought me great joy. Here's a perfect example of showing Christmas spirit not as an obligation and not in a commercial way. I decided to use the wreath on my December BJP as a symbol of this type of Christmas giving.

The third influence was internal. I was driving to town one day thinking about Christmas and about how I wanted to include a house on my December's BJP, because another gift in my life is our warm, cozy home and our life together here. Then, suddenly, a thought came to mind about a house being a symbol for the place within us where the spirit resides and is protected.

On the lintel above the entrance-door to his home, the psychiatrist, Jung, had carved this message, “Called or not called, the god will be present” and above the fireplace, these words, “Seek that which is not possible.” (Read more here.)

I guess something about the door and crossing its thresh hold called to me as I drove to town that day. I recall feeling ecstatic thinking about the house I would create and the door which can be opened to reveal the spirit inside... something about my own spirit, previously closed at this time of year, and now more open to my own understanding and appreciation of it. Wow! It was a moment to remember and cherish!

bead embroidery, bead journal project, Robin Atkins, December, Door Closed
And so, December's BJP began to take shape. Here it is, finished, with the door closed. Note that a tiny bit of light still escapes, under the door at the thresh hold. As it turned out, Rochelle's wreath was too large for the door. But I copied her design (not difficult - see how at the end of this post) using smaller beads.

bead embroidery, bead journal project, Robin Atkins, December, Door Open
And here it is with the door open !!!

bead embroidery, bead journal project, Robin Atkins, December, Detail
Here's a detail. I used a strand of yellow embroidery floss paired with a strand of silver embellishing thread to stitch the spirals and lines of light. The windows are the same fabric as what you see when the door is open, only I sandwiched a little piece of lace between the house and the yellow fabric.

I am so grateful to the BJP, Christi C. and Rochelle for inspiring me toward a new and happier experience of Christmas! Doing this page and all that contributed to it has, indeed, lifted my spirits and hopefully begun a lasting change. I thank the universe for all it's gifts of nature... large (including frequent peek-a-boo views of the awesome Mt. Baker) and small, some of which are included in my piece.

* * * * * * * * * *
The red "beads" on this piece are actual berries from the Madrona trees in our yard. Below are two of my husband's Madrona berry images. Our bird population feeds on these berries during the late fall and winter months.

Madrona tree, berries, photo by Robert Demar
Madrona tree, berries, photo by Robert Demar
You can make beads from nearly any berry, seed or small cone!!! Here's how to do it:

Gather the berries fresh. String a needle with button-hole thread or any heavy-weight nylon thread. Sew through the berries using a double thread.

Cut a little slot on each end of a shoe box (or similar). Knot one end of the thread and slip it into the slot with the knot on the outside of the box. With the beads in the middle, stretch the thread across the box so that it is quite tight and slip it into the slot on that side. Tape it securely to the box. Now the berries need to dry completely. However, you must remember to turn them on the thread once every day or two. When they are completely dry, you can take them off the thread and use them as beads.

Try this with fresh, whole cloves for very nice smelling beads! Pumpkin and squash seeds also make nice beads. Small rose hips are great too.

Another way to do it is to file a point on a piece of wire and pierce them. Use the same drying and turning procedure.

* * * * * * * * * *
Here's how to make Rochelle's wreath:

You will need:
  • 13 bi-cone crystals, 4 mm, clear crystal
  • 7 bi-cone crystals, 4 mm, light Siam red
  • a pinch of size 15 seed beads, silver-lined emerald
  • Nymo D, fireline, fishline or other fine stringing thread
Row 1: Leaving a 4 inch tail, string three seed beads and a crystal. Repeat until 10 crystals are strung. The first two crystals are red; the following 8 are clear. String back through the first two seed beads at the beginning. This is the outside of the wreath. You will work toward the inside of the wreath in the next two rows.

Row 2: String 5 more seed beads. Skipping a seed bead - crystal - seed bead unit in the first row, string through the middle bead in the next group of three. Repeat this step all of the way around. You are basically making a loop of five beads that goes around each of the crystals.

Row 3: String through the first three beads of the first loop. Add a red crystal. String through the third bead of the next loop. Add another red crystal and string through the third bead of the next loop. The next five crystals will be clear and the last two will be red. When you reach the starting point, string through seed beads and crystals to the outside of the wreath. Use any knotting method to knot off both the starting and ending threads.

Note: this design is Rochelle's original idea inspired by a Sparkly Wheels design by Nikia Angel. To make my smaller version of it, I used 2.5 mm crystals, which are available at Stormcloud Trading in St. Paul, MN (I phone ordered them), and vintage size 18 seed beads. I think it would have worked OK with size 15 seed beads as well.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Few Thoughts about Christmas

The meaning of Christmas... Now this is a topic, eh? Although I'll limit myself to just a few thoughts today, I could probably write volumes and still not get to the heart of the matter.

Speaking of hearts, this picture is what inspired me to write today...

Christmas crazy quilt by Pat Eaton
Isn't this a beautiful Christmas quilt made by Pat Eaton? I just discovered Pat's blog and had a wonderful time browsing through her recent posts which show some of the Christmas quilts she's made over the years.

My first impression seeing her crazy quilt was, "Yes! Hearts!" Christmas is a gentle reminder to strengthen and acknowledge connections of the heart, to show love and to receive love.

I have to learn (or re-learn) a few things and make some changes because Christmas has become a dark thing for me. Maybe it always was, or at least it was since I reached adulthood. Last year, my December BJP piece showed the darkness (dark thoughts pointing at an upside down Christmas tree), yet also held promise of change (birds right side up with songs leaving through openings in the black borders). Here's how I portrayed Christmas a year ago.

Bead Journal Project, Dec 07, Robin Atkins, Dark Thoughts Pointing at Christmas
This year my December BJP isn't quite finished yet. Here is a picture I took a couple of weeks ago at the very start of this piece. Initially I was thinking of home... the blessing of my own home and especially the gifts of nature that surround me, even now in the darkest and coldest month of the year... the lichen, our madrona trees, birds, Mt. Baker in the distance...

Bead Journal Project, Dec 08, Robin Atkins, getting started
Then I got to thinking about home or house as a symbol of spirit and spirituality. So I made a door that can open to reveal the light inside and hopefully to let light out...

Bead Journal Project, Dec 08, Robin Atkins, getting started
Since I took these pictures, some things have changed a bit and I've beaded on it for hours. You'll have to check back in a few days to see the final version of it.

In the meantime, back to Christmas. While I was blog-browsing earlier today, I checked ZQuilts and found that Marie too is thinking about the meaning of Christmas. Her post made me think about what I would like to give to all of you and also what I would like to receive from you....


I believe respect is the key... Love? Yes, that too. But first is respect. From a position of respect, comes love, understanding, kindness, hope and ultimately peace and joy. So this Christmas, as I try to move beyond the darkness of Christmases past, I send into the world as much light and respect as I can.

I'll close this post with a couple of snow pictures... our back deck, feeding the birds (and deer, who can scarf down this much birdseed in a jiffy) and a few feathered friends waiting their turn at the feeding table. Merry Christmas!

snow on our deck
feeding the birds and deer
birds in the bushes
In case you're curious, I believe the birds are ~ Hermit Thrush (top), Spotted Towhee (largest bird, center), and Oregon Junco (bottom two birds).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ho Ho Ho !

Marie, over at ZQuilts, gave me a wonderful dose of Ho Ho Ho yesterday... perked me up despite our stay-at-home weather. Her wise words were:

"Doing something makes doing more so much easier!"

She's right, y'know! I got up this morning, shook off the mopes, shoveled some snow and started taking pictures. Here's one of them (it's clickable).

snow scene and Santa hat with Christmas greeting
"... makes doing more so much easier..."

So now, I'm writing this post... and when I finish,

"... makes doing more so much easier..."

I'm going to the studio to work on my Dec BJP, which I started around the 1st and have ignored ever since!

My greeting above is to everyone... Whatever your faith, whatever you believe in, whatever is your star, may it shine brightly and bring you peace and joy. My gratitude to all of you for your support and your shared creativity is overwhelming. Thank you!

Hugs! Robin

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Candles Can Start Fires...

Ooops... a candle burned itself out... hot enough to shatter the heavy glass plate under it.

candle remains
Yikes... hot enough to scorch the wall and shelf above the candle.

soot on shelf above candle
Holy cow... hot enough to cover the walls and ceiling with invasive and oily soot.

soot on walls
OMG... look at the soot on the closet curtains.

soot on curtains
Silent awe... what happened here?

soot attracted by electrical current
I think the pictures tell most of the story, but I'll give you a few details. Last weekend I joined my neighbor in her studio to do a holiday show. She makes soaps, lotions, candles, etc. I bring beaded jewelry.

Below a section of my display. I fill a small room with jewelry, including an 8 ft. table, a bookcase, a large dresser and this desk.

Robin Atkins jewelry display
The room I'm in is normally a guest bedroom with a small bathroom attached. Just before the sale started, I lit a candle sitting in a bed of lavender on a glass plate on a shelf in the bathroom. After the show ended, we decided to leave our displays up for a day or two, in case someone who couldn't make our regular hours might want to come and take a look. We blew out the candles, picked up our purses, locked the studio and headed for home.

Obviously, either my memory of blowing out the candle is false OR I didn't get it completely out. Because during the night and the next day, the thing burned. The wax of the candle and the lavender (remember, it's used in smudging) flowed together and smoldered, creating an unbelievable amount of soot that went everywhere in the bathroom and bedroom. The outlet is an interesting thing. An electrician came to check for damage and said the electrical current in the wiring to the nightlight (which was plugged into the outlet) attracted soot. The streak you see above the outlet goes three feet up the wall.

It took a while for it to dawn on me how serious this was. Just a little hotter and the towel next to the candle would have caught fire, which would have made the curtains flame. A fire could easily have destroyed the whole building along with all my jewelry and all of Gayle's products and antiques. We were blessed. I was especially blessed, because I was the one who lit the candle and therefore responsible for making sure it was completely snuffed before leaving.

As I mentioned, the soot went everywhere. Below is a jewelry box that was under the table, as far from the candle as you can get. There were two tent-cards for earring display sitting on top of the box. You can even see my finger prints where I picked up the box.

soot damage to jewelry box
Everything in both rooms got a dusting of soot. I had to wash all of the jewelry and re-card/tag it (two days work). Many of the boxes and all of my signs got trashed. The soot washed out of all the linens, curtains, towels, etc. fairly well using dish-detergent and bleach. The carpet in the bedroom will have to be professionally cleaned. Monday, we will try to wash the walls, ceilings and furniture.

Thankful prayers... Soot we can clean. Fire would have been a disaster.

Warning... Candles are a common causes of home fires. It's easy to forget to blow them out and even when you do, there could be an ember burning that gets them going again. From now on, I plan to use the buddy system. When I light a candle, I will ask a buddy to help me remember to blow it out... I'll also wet my fingers and pinch the wick to make double sure it's out.

Read more about candle safety, especially at Christmas time, here.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Thougths about Beading, Money and Self-esteem

Today was the second day of a little holiday market here on San Juan Island. My neighbor hosts this two-day event in her studio in December every year and for the past 5 years I've joined her to sell my beaded jewelry... earrings, fibula pins, bracelets, necklaces, key chains and zipper pulls. Here's one of my recent fibula pins.

fibula pin by Robin Atkins
Business wasn't good this year. Not many people came and only a few bought. I know... it's probably the economy...

Despite understanding the situation, I still feel a little rejected and hurt, stood-up by my friends and the community. It's gotten me to thinking about the past and what I'm doing... also about a selling-our-art conversation I had with my brother, Thom Atkins, a couple of days ago. Rather than mope around this evening, it occurs to me that I could blog about it... so here you go... some thoughts about beading, money and self-esteem....

Over 20 years ago, I quit my day job and began beading and bead-related pursuits to make a living. I named my mini-micro-business Beads Indeed in the spring of 1988. Like many people into beads, I began with stringing... making multiple-strand and knotted, single-strand necklaces. Here's an example showing the center part of a multiple-strand necklace.

beaded necklace by Robin Atkins, detail
Earlier, in the mid-70's, I pounded, sawed and soldered sterling silver and gold sheet and wire to make rings and other precious metal jewelry. Below are a couple of scanned photos of my work during that time. My best friend, Liz, and I had a shop together. We sold our work at home shows and a few craft shows. Although we did pretty well, I hated and dreaded the selling part of it.

Silver ring with cabochon by Robin Atkins
Gold necklace with picture jasper by Robin Atkins
Thick-skinned, like an actor always auditioning for the next part... that's what one has to be to sell and promote one's art. It didn't come naturally to me. I could organize selling events and felt OK about promoting the events. But, when it came to tooting the horn about my own jewelry, I became tongue-tied and stupid-seeming.

So, when I started my bead business, I looked around for other ways to make money... I taught workshops, sold beads, gave slide lectures and eventually began writing books. All the while, my creative needs were largely met by making beady things as examples for my workshops and books, gifts and just for fun. Other than accepting a few commissions, I didn't try to sell my beadwork, which was just great for my personality.

Then, after I moved to San Juan Island, someone asked me to be a guest artist in the Annual Artist Studio Tour, to share her studio and sell my beaded jewelry. I had been cutting back on teaching and felt the need of a bit more income, so I agreed. For a month I produced beaded jewelry like a mad woman to accumulate a sufficient inventory for the event.

It went reasonably well. Yes, I was still tongue-tied, but people bought my work anyway, bless them. After calculating the proceeds, my self-esteem level was pretty high and I readily agreed to do it again the next year... and the next... and the next. Plus a friend in Seattle hosted a show, which I also enjoyed doing.

However, the only way I can see to fully support myself by making jewelry is to sell through galleries and shops. And that, for the most part, only works if one gets into mass production, giving up the luxury and fun of one-of-a-kind pieces. Not for me... the designing part is the most fun... take that away and it would get boring pretty fast.

So I continue to teach and write books, keeping my jewelry production minimal and one-of-a-kind. My studio tour hostess moved off-island, which ended that opportunity. So now I only do this weekend's Christmas-season show and next weekend a studio show in Seattle.

Which brings us to the present again...

One day during the past two weeks, while I was happily creating more beaded jewelry for these two events, I happened to get a phone call from my brother, Thom. He's a beader too... and a quilter... and, in my eyes, quite an accomplished artist. He had just completed a 3-in-a-row-weekends Artist Studio Tour in Santa Cruz, CA where he lives. So we were talking about the good, bad and ugly of selling our work.

He was explaining to me how he needs to sell his work, that it gives him a sense of completion. Anything he makes that is not sold is incomplete. When people buy only the least expensive things and want to bargain with him for a lower price, he feels they don't appreciate his art. His sense of self-esteem is tied up with selling his work and its value is tied to people buying it at a fair price.

While I understand his feelings and have felt this way at times in the past, on that particular day I tried to convince Thom that the journey is the destination... that the payoff for making beaded jewelery is the pleasure of creating it. It doesn't matter, I said, if we sell it or not, if we keep it in boxes or give it away, if everyone buys it or if nobody buys it... none of it matters at all... because we've already received the big payoff!

I felt very noble talking like that. Yes, I thought, it is conceivable that nobody will come to our week-end show and that I will not sell any of these new pieces I am creating. But it doesn't matter... I am having a blast making them and therefore earning the payoff right now!!!! Did you notice my halo?

Well, tonight I am here to confess... the above is a hard position to maintain in the face of very few sales... Somewhere, on the intellectual side of my brain, I still think it's true. But the emotional side wonders why some of my friends didn't come, and why some who did didn't buy anything. The emotional side wants to climb under the covers and never make jewelry again...

I don't know how it will go next Saturday for the studio show in Seattle... I'm a bit scared of another let down... Yet I made a commitment... I will show up and try to remember the golden rule of beadwork... the journey is the destination.

What do you think? Is the real payoff the creative process? How do you deal emotionally with a disappointing sales experience or being rejected by a gallery or for a show? Maybe a few of you could post about this... If/when you do, will you leave a comment here with a link to your post?

* * * * * * * * *

PS. If you're in the Seattle area and would like to come to a fun studio show, with several well-known artists, it's next Saturday, December 13th from 3 to 8 pm in the Lake City Way area. Email me for the exact location.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Nov Bead Journal Project ~ Mom & Me ~ Finished!!!

bead journal project, Robin Atkins, detail butterfly
You might want to start by reviewing the pictures in this post... which show the beginning steps to creating my Nov. BJP page.

During the first part of the month, I had a special week with my 91-year-old Mom, who lives in Minnesota, and decided to make November's journal page about her (and a little about me too). The page evolved into a book-like form with a butterfly wing for the cover.

Below is how the wing (plus half of the butterfly's body) looked when I finished beading it.

bead journal project, Robin Atkins, beaded wing
Then the big question was how to assemble the pages and the wing/cover to make it all function as a book and look good. That took a very long time under a thinking cap... and even then it took two tries to get it right.

I began by making the beaded wing into the cover for the book. I clipped away the excess fabric around the wing leaving about 3/4 inch seam allowance. To turn under the seam allowance, I sewed a little running stitch all around the edge and snugged it up evenly. Then, using a toothpick as an applicator and PVA glue (acid-free adhesive used for book binding), I fastened down the seam allowance (below).

bead journal project, Robin Atkins, finishing edges of beaded wing
Then I glued the inside page to the back side of the beaded wing using PVA glue and sitiched the pre-punched edges to the fabric of the wing with buttonhole stitch. There is no additional stiffener between the inside page and the bead embroidery, which I hope will be OK and survive over time. Here's how it looks.

bead journal project, Robin Atkins, inside of beaded wing
All of the pages of the book and the liner for the cover are made the same way. I use Photoshop CS. Starting with a picture of the butterfly wing (dimmed by adding a layer of white at 40% opacity over the top), I added layers of images which I'd previously made into vignettes. After printing my collaged images on enhanced matte paper (the manufacturer of our printer, Epson, guarantees these prints to be good for 80-100 years), I cut them out, poked holes around the edges and embellished the edges with buttonhole stitch using two strands of embroidery floss.

Next, I needed to attach the book pages and cover to my BJP background fabric. I started by attaching the last page of the book to my BJP fabric using the buttonhole stitch. At first I thought I'd stitch the other pages onto the last page and then stitch the wing on top. I left the butterfly's body on each of the pages.

bead journal project, Robin Atkins, attached back page
However, that proved to be too bulky and didn't look right. So I had to go to plan B, which was to cut the body away and stitch the pages to the fabric through the buttonhole edging (which first had to be continued around the part of the wing that attaches to the body. I also had to add more silk fabric to the beaded wing/cover between the liner and the edge so the stitches wouldn't show.

So in the end, here's how it looks, page by page! If you want to see the detail, you can click on any of the pictures to see an enlarged version.

bead journal project, Robin Atkins, butterfly book
bead journal project, Robin Atkins, butterfly book
bead journal project, Robin Atkins, butterfly book
bead journal project, Robin Atkins, butterfly book
Challenging and fun? Yes, indeed!!!

My Mom and I are alike in many ways. We've also had times when our tempers flared and even some screaming matches when I was a teenager. There have been disappointments and failures on both our parts. Yet, all-in-all, she's a wonderful Mom... I am so very fortunate because I love her and totally know that she loves me. Plus we are friends, have interests in common and share an abiding mutual respect. This November BJP is a testament to our cherished relationship!