Monday, January 23, 2012

Two Extraordinary Necklaces Are Born: A Collaboration with Kelly Clitheroe and Me...

written by Tana McLane
photography by Kelly Clitheroe & Tana McLane

In the summer/fall of 2011, Kelly Clitheroe and I bumped into each other on Facebook. We had metalsmith friends in common and we began to banter about smithing and math and all sorts of things. She tuned in on my Trapezoid series and I made an offhand comment about being no good at math. She took great umbrage at this comment and challenged me to see that I'm more capable at math than I give myself credit for. You see, she's also a math teacher. She also lives in Australia. And we've also never actually met each other face-to-face.

Nevertheless, we chatter online nearly every day. This is a wonderful phenomon of social networking. You find your tribe, your peeps, your kindred spirits. Those who 'get' what you're thinking about and what you create. And those who can support your creativity in unique ways.

In a competitive business world, metalsmiths help each other. We share technical and technological information. And we sometimes collaborate.

Kelly got this collaboration rolling when she asked if she could buy my handmade bronze and silver leaves to use in her own work.

I thought about this for about five minutes and realized I didn't want her to buy my leaves, but to use my leaves for a necklace that would bring both of our design ideas together in one piece that neither of us would have produced without the other.

This photo shows Kelly's original thinking about the design of the Bronze Eucalyptus Leaf/Baeckea Blossom necklace. The leaves in this mock-up were cut from colored paper. It reveals Kelly's ideas for an asymmetrical design that would also use large and small rings and maille-versions of the baeckea blossom to link the leaves together.

The long-leafed eucalyptus tree grows in Australia and in Tampa, Florida, my girlhood home! And the baeckea blossom is in the same family with eucalyptus. So the necklaces are not only a collaboration between two artists, but a joining of two homelands.

I was eager to see what another artist would do with my leaves. I've been entralled with Kelly's chainmaille design work. Her work offers originality and departures from typical maille design and has a sense of fun thrown in.

As I thought some more, I came up with the idea of fabricating enough leaves for two necklaces: one that she could keep and one that I'd get back. I'd make the leaves and pay for shipping to her. She'd construct the necklaces and pay for the shipping of one of them back to me. This is exactly what we have done.

This photo shows an organic baeckea blossom and the chain maille version. The living version is a 5-petal blossom, but Kelly chose to use a 6-petal maille version. She also chose to use  rosy/bronzey-colored titanium jumprings mixed with sterling jumprings to suggest the color of the natural flower.

There are five bronze eucalyptus leaves in the necklace design, and four baeckea maille blossoms.

Closeup shot of Kelly's chain maille elements, depicting two baeckea blossoms and joining maille rings of different sizes.

The holiday season bore down upon us and both of us were busy making jewelry for holiday shopping. We sold online and in local markets. The fabrication of the bronze leaves had to wait until after Christmas, and then I got to work.

This is the eucalyptus leaf that both Kelly and I are familiar with. She found this on Wikipedia. When I was a child in Tampa, our large eucalyptus tree was my water dragon and I climbed all over it. I'd crush its leaves in my hands and smell that marvelous eucalyptus smell and pretend it was 'medicine' and that I could treat the ill and injured with.

Interestingly, the Tampa of my childhood had several trees in common with Australia. I grew up on Davis Islands in Tampa Bay and in my youth it was fringed with the Australian Pine. Sadly, these froze back permanently during the 1960s. We were also awash in 'Punk Trees,' which we now know as the maleluca, a troublesome invasive in the wrong environment. And then there is the beloved eucalyptus. We decided that the leaves in our necklaces should be shaped somewhat like this.

Here are the ten bronze leaves, cut out, sanded down, and annealed on my Solderite pad. Annealing is the process by which you heat metal with the flame of a torch (in my case, acetylene torch) just enough to soften the metal. I do this to make it easier to hand stamp designs into the surface of the metal. (Please excuse how messy my soldering station is in this photo... this was at the end of a very busy holiday production season!)

Bronze is a metal I added to my group of metals in 2011. Similar to copper and brass, it does behave little differently upon heating and finishing. I love its deep patina glow and its contrast with silver. Bronze is traditionally an alloy requiring 88% copper and 12% tin. During the Bronze Age, tin became hard to acquire and then iron became the more available industrial metal. Today, bronze for jewelers can be formulated at 80/20 or 90/10, as well as at 88/12.

Here are the ten finished bronze and sterling leaves! Two sets of five, each set's leaves have the same stamped surface pattern. One set's stampings are a little larger than the other's.

I used bold sterling wire to form the center vein in the leaves. This vein extends out beyond each end of the leaf, creating spirals which Kelly then uses for linking to maille jumprings.

The leaves have a beautiful bronzey patina glow from my torch and polishing. Then they were tumbled in steel shot to work-harden the sterling and to make all surfaces satiny-smooth.

Another closeup of chain maille elements in the necklaces. Jumprings, large and small, join the bronze leaves, dark freshwater pearl and baeckea blossom to one another.

I shipped the finished leaves to Australia and then Kelly began to construct the necklaces. This process seemed to go surprisingly fast, and within a short time she was posting photos of each necklace back to me.

Two finished necklaces! Kelly took this photo when they were complete. The design is revealed.

The necklaces close with my sterling spiral clasps, which you can see at the backs.

With minor differences from the mock-up, the asymmetrical compostion of the necklaces is maintained. Kelly added dark freshwater pearls. One dangles at the bottom of the lower leaves and the other is linked into the necklaces.

She also chose maille jumprings of various sizes. With the four baeckea blossoms and five eucalyptus leaves, a charming, eclectic effect is achieved.

A moment of sunshine peeked out on a gloomy day after my necklace arrived in the mail and I rushed outside with white paper, my camera and my necklace, to get this shot.

Kelly modelling one of the necklaces. Isn't it beautiful on her?

The drape of the necklace, despite of or because of its asymmetry is just so wonderful. Comfortable, too.

Baeckea blossoms of both necklaces in one shot. The single blossom at the top of the image has titanium jumprings of a pinker cast than the two at the bottom of the image, which are a warmer color. Slight differences between the two necklaces are the colors of the titanium, the hue of the dark pearls and the stamped patterns on the leaves.

One of the shots I used in my Etsy listing, on a contoured necklace display.

The listing in my online Etsy shop:

This is a collaborative effort that might only take place in today's world, considering that Kelly lives in Australia, 15 hours into my future! It's been such fun and we've become great friends.

Despite the miles, the oceans, the continents, and even the distance in our ages, we've accomplished something very satisfying to us both. We expect to collaborate more in the future and are thinking about what to do next.

Meanwhile, get to know Kelly and her work better by visiting and 'liking' her Facebook fan page:!/pages/Maille-Fantasy/106678809342

And her independent website is at this link:

And I'd love to have you visit and 'like' my Facebook fan page, too:

My Etsy shop can be reached by clicking on the link at the top of my blog!C

Thursday, January 5, 2012

January Dreaming...

I'm still on vacation this week, but have been looking over some of the produce of 2011, my first year back as a full-time metalsmith, running my own small art jewelry business again.

I like what I see. I also see what I'll start to do differently. I am playful. My work is playful. I want my pics and my Etsy shop to be more playful. So I will work on this!

I was uber-busy all during the holidays, right up until the night of New Year's Day. And then we went to Savannah, on vacation. This is a funny week to come home to, because I'll be bouncing right out again.

This weekend I'll go to Orlando to supply my business with raw materials. And next week I'll work in my studio on new designs and on taxes.

I see others surging ahead, getting a quick start on the year. Not me. I'm still in a state I call 'January Dreaming.'

Long ago, I approached a very important gallery in my life about this time of year. I spoke with a wonderful, knowledgeable employee of the gallery who completely understood how burned out a working artist is right about now. She gave me permission to feel this way and to drift awhile. She gave me every assurance that my brain would re-knit and that I'd get it back together before too long, and be the stronger for it.

She's been right, again and again. And this gives me the confidence to drift in no particular direction. For awhile.

Looking up from the workbench to get a view of the rest of the world overcomes all of those hours and days when I kept my nose to the grindstone.

A fresh air blows through my head, sweeping out the cobwebs. And I begin to dream forward and to imagine what I want to create next.

So, a few more days of drifting... of seeing which way the river is truly flowing... is in order. But, I'll be back.

These four pics are of pieces I created in 2011. That was the year I closed my brick and mortar gallery and began to restructure my work life and design life. Now I look forward to what my creative life in 2012 will bring... right after I get past this next little bit of time!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year's delayed a little while...

Usually when the new year arrives, I'm ready to launch into a new whirlwind. Last New Year's saw the beginning of the end of my gallery -- and January was an excruciatingly difficult and exhausting time as we closed it down.

This year, I'm in such a different place that I hardly recognize myself. I rebuilt my work life and personal life to some degree throughout 2011 and then the holidays came. With elderly parents living in my town and two sons still banging around and launching themselves, it all got pretty distracting. 

So when New Year's hit this time, it threw me into a quandry as to how to address it. I've never been in this position before. March will see the arrival of my 59th birthday, so there's also the Biq Question about how to spend this last year in my 50's and what to do during the next decade.

You can see my dilemma.

I want to keep being a metalsmith and bringing my work to its marketplace. I wish I was 25 years younger. If I were, I'd attend SCAD in Savannah and learn more about design and art marketing. It's all so much easier and more systematic for younger artists now! I try to not be swallowed up in envy.

When I was young, there was no clear path to a craft career, nor of marketing craft. So I've reinvented the wheel at every step -- much of it alone, on my own. Some of it with the help of friends and mentors I've met along the way. Now, later in life, I see things beginning to get structured and more organized for those who are at earlier points in their careers. If I were younger now, I'd take advantage of these things.

But, I again find myself way out on the leading edge, walking the tightrope without much of a safety net! How does one reinvent herself yet again, at the threshold of her 7th decade? Is there a guidebook for that?

Today, I do what I want to do. I don't make things I don't want to make. I don't do repairs. I do very little custom work. I follow my Muse. And I'm hopeful that she'll stick with me and whisper fresh ideas into my ear and tell me what a 60 yr old metalsmith 'should' be designing. She has a about 1.25 yrs to get ready!