Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Swiss Adventures - Part 3

Fabulous Final Day!

The Festival culminated in a full day conference on the final day, preceeded by drinks and nibbles the evening before. This was a brilliant idea as it gave everyone the chance to mix, including those who were only just arriving for the conference and hadn't attended the classes beforehand. This meant I met lots more new people (again my rusty French was tested to its limits). We also had the chance to see the things one another had made at the workshops and to get a closer look at the pieces of jewellery that had made it to the final of the 'Precious Souvenirs Contest'. There were some wonderful pieces of work all made in the main using art clay silver. Here is one of the entries by Anne Loup Burnand, who gave a talk about the wonderful Russian Filigree technique she has perfected, using silver clay and fine silver wire.

Okay, I know that I use the word 'fabulous' quite a lot, but I cannot think of any other word to describe the Art Clay Festival. I've been trying to think what made it such a success for me and it has to be the people that make any event what it is. Erna Pietchna-Sowersby the lady who organised and hosted the conference, pulled together a perfect group of people from different backgrounds, countries and personalities, but it all just worked because we all are so passionate about our love of jewellery making and craft.

The Host, Erna Pietchna of Creative Glass

The keynote speech was given by Jackie Truty of Art Clay World USA. I attended the World Metal Clay Conference in Chicago that Jackie organised and hosted last year and I have been in awe of her talent and drive ever since. Jackie's speech was very inspiring and she summed everything up for me in one sentence by saying "The way to challenge ourselves is to see what others do". This is so true, the best part of going to this event was seeing the wonderful work these artists across Europe and indeed the rest of the world, are producing. It's incredibly inspiring and prompted so many ideas I just wanted to rush back and start working on some new designs.

Jackie Truty's stunning faux bone bangle

Margrit Grubl's amazing necklace

Margrit Grubl was one of the teacher's whose class I couldn't fit into my shedule but her work is phenomenal and I'd definitely love to go on one of her workshops in the future. I could not take my eyes off her necklace, it was a work of art!

The conference day was time for me to give my presentation about how to publish your own DVDs, videos and books. I knew everyone so well, that by the time the afternoon had arrived it was like speaking to a group of old friends. It's the first time I've given a presentation that had to be translated. This is challenging as it means you have to be very concise to get the point across in the alloted time, as half of it is taken up with the translation. I hope everyone understood what I was saying and it was good to see so many people interested in developing their own products, which I sincerely hope they do.

I made so many friends at the Festival and in particular want to say a huge thank you to Gisela Backe, Diana Eilert, Monica Germann, Malefi Cicu, Franklin Spence and Meropi Toumbas for taking care of me and being such wonderful company every day.

I hope we can all do it again next year...and maybe you will join us too?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Swiss Adventures - Part 2

After my first exciting day of jewellery classes at the Festival it was time to get acquainted with my hotel. I'm not really sure what I was expecting having seen the rather basic website, but the Hotel Wallberg turned out to be just like Crossroads Motel in the 70s. An abundance of pine cladding, red brick and dried flowers. I spent my first night wondering why there were no curtains only to discover that there was an outside blind that you had to operate by twisting a very bizarre looking pole attached to the wall. My second night was much more restful once I'd closed the blinds, however, opening them the next morning was a job for Iron Man, I couldn't get the darned things open again. Who needs daylight anyway? One of the things I can vouch for is the food. As long as you can find someone to translate the menu there is a wonderful array of choices, all of them delicious. Oh and the Swiss love their cake and coffee, very strong coffee too which is just the way I like it. Thank goodness I wasn't there too long because I was munching my way through all manner of heavenly treats, none of which did my waistline any favours!

Day 2 - Faux Bone Class with Melissa Cable

My second day of jewellery making was something that I had been very excited about. I'd heard about 'faux bone' a product developed by American artist Robert Dancik and was intrigued. Robert was scheduled to come and teach at the Festival but needed to undergo emergency back surgery. Luckily, the rather fabulous Melissa Cable, who works closely with Robert, was able to step in and jet across to Switzerland and I'm so glad she did. Melissa is like a breath of fresh air as a teacher. She is bright, vivacious, brimming with enthusiasm and uber talented. Here is a beautiful piece that Melissa created using faux bone and it is an incredibly detailed work of art. You can find out more about Melissa and her work by visiting her website

Melissa Cable's Time of my Life Pendant

Melissa started the class by taking us through all the basics of working with faux bone, which is a very pure form of PVC. You can cut it to the shape you want using a saw and and then trim and sand the edges to make it smooth and perfect. There are various ways the surface of the faux bone can be treated to give it an aged appearance or to add colour. Melissa explained every step so clearly that we were all chomping at the bit to have a go. Armed with three sheets of varying thicknesses of faux bone, we were let loose in the huge jewellery room to play and create. Melissa let us get on with the job but was always at hand to make useful suggestions about how our designs might  work best. 

Sawing the faux bone

Score & scour the faux bone or hammer it to add surface effects

Alcohol inks and brown shoe polish rubbed across the faux bone give it a wonderfully earthy look. In fact it is quite incredible what you can do with this material. You can heat it up to bend and twist it into different shapes....

You can embed crystals and beads into the faux bone simply by warming it and softening it up with a heat gun.

So many little time! However, here is my attempt at creating a pendant with a faux bone background and copper domed shape. I added a faux bone dome to the centre dyed pink with alchohol ink and attached a piece of scrap silver clay as a bail at the top. This was a very big departure for me style-wise but I enjoyed the challenge and freedom of working very differently. I made two bangles and this pendant and I still had lots of the material left over. I'd definitely use faux bone again and again. It's incredibly versatile and great fun to work with.

Swiss Adventures - Part 1

I'm back from a wonderful trip to the Art Clay Festival near Zurich, Switzerland. I have so much to tell you and I don't know where to start, so I'll go back to the very beginning with how this adventure all began... 

Inspiration Needed Here!

Sometimes you just need to take a few steps back from what you're doing and take a look around at what else is going on in the world. I've been feeling very much like that about my jewellery making. I make nice stuff, I teach classes that people tell me they like, but I just want to be 'better' in every way. The trouble is I don't know what 'better' looks like and I don't know how to be 'better'. So when Erna Pietchna, the co-owner of Creative Glass told me she was having an Art Clay Festival in Switzerland, where people from all over Europe would be coming along to teach and learn, I jumped at the chance to go. Best of all, Erna thought people would like to hear about my experience of publishing books and DVDs, so not only would I have the opportunity to learn but I could also give something back. Perfect!

Switzerland Here I Come
With my flights booked and my bags packed, I set off on my swiss adventures with great anticipation and excitement. I'm lucky to have a really supportive mother who bundled me out of the door as she moved into my house to look at my daughter and my cat. Any of you reading this who have kids, pets and run your own businesses will know that if you want to go off and do anything for yourself, it requires military precision. The relief when you're jetting off (tinged with a little worry...will they be okay without me? Of course they will!) is amazing. Why didn't I appreciate all those business trips before I had my child, oh how easy life was then!

For me the two hour wait at the airport was like sheer bliss, it's very rare that I have time to do nothing but window shop and read magazines so I can tell you, I soaked up every minute of it.

When I finally arrived in Zurich it was blue skies and sunshine. Taking the taxi to my hotel I was amazed at just how much Switzerland looked like the chocolate box pictures you see. Yes, the houses have shutters and window boxes with flowers and you can see the Swiss Alps on the horizon.There's something so lovely about a place being exactly or even better than you imagined.

Day 1 - Textures & Ring Making Class with Christina Kamm
The beautiful Christina Kamm
The Art Clay Festival consisted of two days of workshops followed by a conference. I couldn't wait to get started on my first workshop day, with the wonderful Swiss jewellery artist Christina Kamm. 

Christina's work in the brochure appealed to me because she makes very big scale, eye catching pieces and this is exactly the kind of jewellery I love to make and wear myself. I didn't realise what I treat I was in for until I saw her work in real life, it is quite simply stunning! Here are a couple of her rings below:

Sea Urchin Ring by Christina Kamm


Despite the workshop being run almost entirely in German, I managed to pick up most of what Christina covered, that was largely due to all the wonderful ladies on the course translating for me in English, French and Spanish (I never learned a word of German at school). It was amazing just how much my dormant school girl languages came in handy! 

Christina is the queen of texures She takes her inspiration mostly from nature and it was great to see the results of her experiments. She set us the challenge of creating our own textures using some solicone moulding putty and various objects she'd brought to the class. 

I have great.plans for this piece of Swiss foliage
Taking an impression of the berries & stalks
Mould by Natalia Colman...Texture by Mother Nature we make a great team!
Here's the ring that I made using this texture. I approached it in a completely different way than I would have done normally after watching Christina and I'm very happy with the results.

My Swiss foliage ring!
I also watched, enthralled at Christina's methods of setting stones. How she has come up with these ideas goodness only knows but she is a true genius. She showed us a fool proof way of wrapping big (fireable) gem stones with clay. Then how to add stones using a healthy dollop of syringe and then pushing the stone into the wet syringe clay. If you add enough syringe clay, the stone is safely contained and the clay oozes up around it to create a perfect looking bezel. I loved to see Christina working with the syringe. She does it in a way that is fearless and she removes the tip and works with the syringe alone. It was also fascinating to see how she finishes silver clay rings. She wraps the clay around the ring mandrel, cuts off the excess clay leaving a gap which she then fills with a thick line of syringe. This goes completely against everything I was originally taught - but it works. My ring making classes will never be the same again. I have have been completely and utterly inspired. Watch out if you're booked on one of my upcoming classes, I'm rearing to go and all these new techniques will be getting their first test drive!

My ring making efforts using lots of clay & bigger gem stones

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Do You Love What You Do?

I've been musing about the meaning of life lately. I am lucky enough to be able to spend my working life making jewellery and mingling with other like-minded people but I will confess that there are times when I haven't felt happy about that. "What do you mean?" I hear you cry "Surely you of all people should be bouncing around with joy all day, every day". Well that's because life does become monotonous and no matter what it is that you're doing, it can become a grind...if you allow it to.

You see the word 'Allow' is the key here. We all have a choice about how we feel about things. I was reminded of this fact in the most expressive way possible yesterday. I've decided to embark on a bit of a spiritual journey and do some meditation. The person who is teaching me is a chap called Mark Abadi. He's a very interesting soul and I highly recommend you visiting his website and finding our more about. his work. Mark tells me (in his very animated way) that I can't help being who I am, doing what I do and that we are all living the life we are supposed to live. The key ingredient is to be present in our own lives and that we have a choice about the way we feel about our day to day experiences. 

So what has this got to do with silver clay or jewellery making? Well that's a very good question because it has a heck of a lot to do with it. Think about why you took up jewellery making in the first place. What was your motivation to do it? What did you love about it? When I take myself back to the first time I opened a packet of silver clay, I was absolutely bowled over by this amazing product and so proud of myself for making a piece of precious metal jewellery. I'm in the priviledged position to be making a careeer out of this now and there are days when my child-like wonder disappears and is replaced by complaints, stress and monotony. The choice I have is to see the project I'm doing as a challenge, to see the difficulties of trying to make something new as a great learning opportunity and to remind myself that I can make this enjoyable rather than mundane. Put on some music, make a big frothy coffee and just generally choose to enjoy myself more in these moments of jewellery making and deadline meeting.

Try and reconnect with the you who took up this craft and all feelings you experienced the first time you made something. Every time that you feel fed up about the jewellery projects you're working on, when you feel like you've lost that magical mojo or that jewellery making simply doesn't hold the allure it once did then something needs to change right away...starting with those thoughts and feelings. Oh, and maybe you just need to turn that music up and start enjoying!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Fantastic Fjords Cruise Diary - Part 2

Day 4 - Heaven is a Place on Earth
I'm told that I was very lucky to be given a cabin on deck 5. My cabin also has a window rather than a port hole because this deck is well above sea level. One of the best things about this fact is I get up in the morning of day 4 to discover that the ship is standing in the most amazing fjord in a place called Olden. The view is quite simply jaw dropping! If you think of the beauty of the Lake District and then times it by 500, you'll  imagine how lovely this place is. I have my breakfast looking out across the lake surrounded by forests and mountains. The water is a mirror for the sky and the clouds hang low over the mountains, it looks like something out of a fairy tale.

You can get straight to most of the places we sail into and how I wished I'd known how beautiful Olden was going to be. So many of the crew have arranged to hire bicycles or treck off with their backpacks and walking boots, I am woefully unprepared so take a leisurely tour of the lake and glacier on the little train that stops outside the ship. The tour lasts an hour and within minutes it feels as if we are in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by white water rapids. I can assure you that there is nothing more relaxing than looking at this landscape and taking in all that glacial air, so I decide to skip the train and walk back through the village alongside the lake - complete bliss! All these lakes, mountains and pure air must be doing me the world of good I'm sleeping like a baby every night. Or could it have something to do with the fact that I'm dancing every night until the wee small hours? Not having to get a cab home or worry about a babysitter is very nice indeed!

Day 5 - Alesund & Afternoon Tea
Our next stop is the pretty town of Alesund with it's canal-like waterways. It reminds me of some places I've been to in Cornwall and Wales. It's a bit of a grim day weather-wise so after a long stroll and another train ride around the town, I head back to the ship. 

The beauty of going on a cruise is that all your food is taken care of. There is an Orangery on the top deck that serves food all day and night and I cannot believe it has taken me five days to discover their afternoon tea! It's self service so you can help yourself to sandwiches, every cake under sun, freshly baked scones with cream and the most gorgeous cheese scones you ever tasted. Afternoon tea soon becomes a guilty pleasure for myself and Dance Teachers Suzanne and Michael. We meet up each afternoon to indulge and are joined by Billy Bubbles the Children's Entertainer, who treats us to non-stop jokes and banter. He and Michael have to be the most hilarious two people I've ever had the pleasure to meet. No scone eating can go without the great debate of whether you put the jam or on cream first. I'm afraid for me it's jam first every time!

 Day 6 - Bergen & the Black & White Ball
Today marks the last stop of our trip to the Fjords, a wonderful town called Bergen. I head off out early with Michael and Suzanne to catch the fenicular train up the mountainside. We see some beautiful views and have a wander through the amazing fish market. Michael and I sample the best smoked salmon in the world, but it happens to be the most expensive smoked salmon in the world too.Then it's time to for a little R&R before the Black and White Ball that evening. 

 I didn't read the intinerary properly before I left so I'm wearing a green dress. Oh well it's nice to be different! After dinner we go along to hear a talk by Olympic Pentathlon Champion Dame Mary Peters. What a wonderful lady she is, so elegant, gracious and humble. She is interviewed in 'Michael Parkinson' style by the Entertainment Director and comes across warmly and is very humourous with her answers. After the interview we get to meet Dame Mary and she asks me what I do. When I tell her I'm teaching jewellery making she squeals with delight and tells me she and her neice, whom she is travelling with, are coming to my workshop the next morning. That makes my night, along with the fact that she has brought her gold medal with her and gives it to me to try on as we can have our picture taken together. Michael gets to have the first dance of the ball with Dame Mary. I'm charged with trying to take pictures with Michael's camera but as he keeps twirling her round wildly every time they go by, I'm feeling very nervous about any of them turning out okay. Needless to say me and Michael are both as giddy as kippers for the rest of the evening about our brush with fame.

Day 7 - Olympic Rings
It's the last day of the cruise and my final day of classes. I'm extra-excited about today as sure enough Dame Mary Peters arrives for my first session. We are making wire-wrapped next rings with shell pearls and she tells me she's never made jewellery before so is really looking forward to this. We all have a great time as Mary and her neice Vanessa join in wholeheartedly. They are great company and full of fun but also very proud of their creations. Making jewellery seems to have that effect, creating something beautiful and knowing you've made it yourself  makes it that bit more special. Here they are showing off the rings they've made.

I'm exhausted but very happy after my last day of teaching. It's time to start packing as the ship goes full steam ahead to Southampton, but not without a last night of dancing with Suzanne and Michael. We all pile onto the dance floor as 'Reach for the Stars' by S Club 7 plays. It seems an apt song and I feel carefree and so happy that my trip has been such a wonderful experience. 

The live band hits the stage and Suzanne and Michael lead the ballroom dancing until midnight. I love to watch the older couples dance. They all have perfect footwork and I'm told many of these couples come on cruises just so they get the opportunity to dance. It looks so romantic and I'm not ashamed to say it brings a tear to my eye to see these couples looking so happy together. It's the perfect end to a wonderful night and a fantastic trip.

As Dorothy Says...There's No Place Like Home
The next morning it's time to say my goodbyes and to click my ruby slippers and head home. It's been the first time I have taught abroad, the first time I have been on a cruise ship. It's also the first time in years that I have travelled alone and been on my own without someone to hold my hand, I certainly don't do things by halves!

So what has this little adventure taught me? Well it's made me realise that we will never experience fantastic adventures unless we take risks and face our fears. Equally if we really do go for it, then great rewards lie ahead for us. That people are essentially kind and we can all connect so easily when we take the time to get to know one another and put gadgets, TVs and mobile phones aside. We only truly get the best out of life if we give our very best. 

Oh yes and I've learnt that it is okay to be on my own and that I have a pretty good friend in me!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Fantastic Fjords Cruise Diary - Part 1

Hello again everyone!

I have been back a little while from my crafty cruise but I wanted to tell you how it went. I can sum it up in three words:
It was fabulous!

I've written a short diary of my experience so I can share this with you. It was a wonderful new way to teach a whole new host of people and one that I hope to do again very soon.

Day 1 - Setting Sail
I arrive at 9am at Southampton Docks, my car boot filled to the brim with jewellery making materials, clothes for every eventuality and nervous knots in my stomach! The ship I'll be sailing on (the Aurora) is sitting there majestically and it looks absolutely enormous. I want to turn back and drive home but no pain no glory right? So on I go. After several rounds of form filling and security checks, I face the very steep gangway to the ship. As I'm considered to be a member of staff there are no porters to help, I have to get all my gear onto the ship myself. It is only the kindness and brute force of a lovely Officer who came to my rescue that I manage to drag my trolly on board. I honestly want to burst into tears, why did I sign up to this? It feels so stressful.

Pull yourself together go and find your cabin! This is a feat in itself as my sense of direction is terrible. I do eventually (after several wrong turns) manage to find my cabin and my way around the ship with great aplomb over the coming days. In fact this is the thing I most proud about. 

It's at the lifeboat and safety meeting that I finally begin to relax. I'm introduced to my fellow Guest Entertainers. There's Andre the comedy Magician, Billy Bubbles the Children's Entertainer (and another magician), Julian the public speaker, Richard the Concert Pianist and Suzanne and Michael the Dance Teachers. I'm feeling much less terrified now and it's very interesting to meet such a diverse range of people. Suzanne, Michael and Billy (aka Stephen) will become my best friends over the course of the next 7 days, as we swap stories, chat, laugh and generally have incredibly good fun together.

Day 2 - Let the Classes Commence
It's the first day of my jewellery making classes and I'm up early and off in search of my floating classroom. The room I've been allocated is called Vanderbilts, it's normally used for bridge and card games and it's the perfect venue. It's very cool, bright and has a wonderful, calm ambience - perfect for jewellery making. My first students appear early, all very keen to get started and soon I have 16 very chatty and happy ladies all merrily making nappa leather bracelets. After this class, I just have time to tidy the room and my next group of students arrive. Running these two classes back to back is tiring but very rewarding, as everyone is so proud and happy with what they've made. This is much better than I'd imagined. People are so much more at ease on these workshops than they are back home. Everyone wants to get to know one another and is happy just to chat and do something creative. It's always amazing to see how creativity brings people together.

I have the rest of the afternoon to myself and head off to the salon for a quick hair appointment and to get ready for the welcome ball. It's amazing to see everyone dressed up to the nines. I feel like a princess in my new evening gown. Everyone dances the night away as Dance Teachers Suzannne and Michael lead the live band with lots of fabulous ballroom and sequence dancing. There's something so wonderful about dancing, even though I have two left feet, I feel free and all my cares melt away. I promise myself that this is something I must do more of when I get back home, it certainly releases your inner happiness.

Day 3 - We're in Norway
I have the next 3 days off to do as I please so when I wake up and open the curtains, I'm excited  to discover that we have arrived in Norway at a town called Stavanger. It's so beautiful, with little winding streets and pretty flowers everywhere. After a lovely walk around, I'm back on the ship and enjoying some peaceful time in the library. This room is wonderfully calming. It has large windows where I just sit, sip on a coffee, reflect and watch the scenery. 

I'm loving this trip so much, it has opened up a whole new world to me and also given me much needed thinking space. Life back at home jam packed with activity and is often so full that I don't give myself the opportunity to be alone with my thoughts. At first all I want is to find a distraction, something to do to fill the void, but in being still and embracing this thinking time I feel more in touch with myself than I ever have done. I feel truly blessed to be part of this experience.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

All at Sea!

Today marks the day when I embark upon a whole new adventure in jewellery making; teaching jewellery making at sea.

Whilst I was running a silver clay workshop in January this year, a lady who was at the workshop asked me if I'd ever considered teaching on cruise liners. I told her that I would not have the first idea how I would do this, to which she replied that she was scouting for craft instructors and if I was interested she would arrange me an interview. Within two weeks I was confirmed as a Craft Instructor with P&O and sent the contract for my first cruise to the Norwegian Fjords.

I'm very excited about this trip and new way of teaching but I'm extremely nervous. Ask me to go on TV to demonstrate jewellery making and I feel no fear, yet the thought of going off on this cruise alone scares me very much. The saying goes "feel the fear and do it anyway" so I'm going to embrace this thought and face my fear full on. I won't be taking my kiln or my silver clay as my classes are just 45 minutes long. This alone has been a challenge, deciding what to teach but I've found some wonderful jewellery making materials and I will be showing the passengers how to make nappa leather bracelets, wire wrapped nest rings and shrink plastic flower bracelets.

I'll be blogging about my experiences at sea so look out for my diary blog posts. I hope to tell you that the next seven days have been a wonderful experience, so let's see what this next little adventure has to offer!

Best wishes,