Saturday, September 10, 2011

Fired with Inspiration (book review)

Immediately upon reading Barbara Lewis’s brand-new book, I can honestly say that I was all-fired-up (if you’ll excuse the pun) to try my hand at her techniques. Torch-Fired Enamel Jewelry is one of those rare art/craft books that actually delivers on the two most important qualities I look for: useful information and plenty of inspiration to fuel my own creative endeavors.
I say “useful” because I was able to put Barbara’s techniques into practice immediately, and I’ve already made several small pieces of enameled jewelry components without any experience previous to reading her book. I’ve really enjoyed making my own copper and silver enameled headpins, small disks, hammered copper washers, and metal beads. I’ve learned from Barbara’s book how to properly set up a map-gas torch (butane will melt the enamel, but it turns all your colors into grey mush!), safety issues, types of enamel best for torch firing, and how to torch-fire enamel the metal itself.
She also explains related techniques such as balling up wire to make a “heat rivet,” how to etch copper sheet, and basic wire-working methods. From there, it’s on to the project section, which is where I find so much inspiration.
Barbara favors the trendy “messy metal-smithing” style that is so popular these days, so if you prefer perfect, pristine enameled jewelry (which is almost always achieved via kiln-firing), you are better off with Linda Darty’s classic text, The Art of Enameling. But if you emulate the artists of today who are working in mixed media, alternative metals, fibers, daring color combinations and texture without perfection, you will be inspired by Barbara’s book.
For example, some of her metal pieces are deliberately cut into odd shapes, forged imperfectly, burnt, and appear to be a bit wobbly and off-kilter. I love it! You may or may not. A good example of this is the “Achilles’ Shield” bracelet on page 48: A piece of metal is cut out with an organic shape, holes punched randomly, and torch-fire enameled in such a way as to deliberately cause the copper oxides to bubble up to the surface. This instantly creates an aged look to an otherwise brand-new piece, but enamel purists will point out that it is not perfect. That’s the whole point! I LOVE this look, and after reading through Barbara’s process I was able to achieve a similar appearance on some metal I’ve been working with.
Another great thing about this book is Barbara’s use of color. She is gifted in this area, and her brightly colored beads, baubles and jewelry components reflect this. She has experimented with overlays of opaque and transparent enamels to achieve various effects, and challenges the reader to try it too. She also incorporates other items into her mixed-media jewelry pieces such as yarn, leather, fabric strips, beads, chain, threads, brass parts, watch parts, nuts & bolts, even horsehair!
If you make every project in Torch Fired Enamel Jewelry, you will not only learn how to torch-fire enamel. You will learn basic soldering skills, cutting and forging metal, texturing techniques, bead stringing and knotting, wireworking, riveting, dapping, even cutting fabric strips on the bias (useful for jewelry artists).
To sum up, Torch Fired Enamel Jewelry is a content-rich resource, perfect for the home-based artist/crafter eager to get started in this exciting art form. I recommend it highly!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Stresa: My Last Day in Italy

I had just one full day to enjoy Stresa before my departure for the USA early the next morning, so you know I had to take advantage of the ferry system. I bought a day-pass and traveled all over the lake. The photo above shows a typical ferry landing on one of the islands.
Water taxis and ferries run all day, taking passengers from one island to the next. In some cases, the water is very shallow! I thought the photo above captured this rather nicely.
More flowers... blooming even in September. We have these in California but it's nice seeing some old familiar faces in a foreign land.
Delightful paths and meandering sidewalks often end in charming staircases leading up to terraces and restaurants. What fun to spend an entire day exploring!
Typical photos of magnificent homes on the lake...
Wouldn't you love to live here? I would!
One of Europe's greatest charms is its wholehearted embrace of pets and their owners. You see dogs (on the leash) everywhere here: in restaurants, on ferries and water taxis, as well as in every park. They always seem to be smiling, just like their owners. Everybody's having a great time.
Another photo taken from the ferry. I love being on the lake!
Here's another ferry landing. It's simple to hop off and begin exploring the island immediately. No tour guides needed here!
Love the lake, the islands, the alps embracing it all...
Isola Madre ferry landing.
My last evening in Stresa, very much like my first: cool, cloudy, a hint of rain, a few rainbows. Magic!
For my last supper in Italy, I had Napoli Pizza on the Plaza in Stresa. What a gorgeous night...
My hotel was inexpensive, but safe, clean, and centrally located. The proprietress made me feel right at home, too. Ciao Italy, I miss you already!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Evening Arrival in Stresa

It took an entire day to travel by train from Cortona to Stresa, Italy, but oh, was it worth the wait! I arrived in the late afternoon, grabbed a taxi to my inexpensive hotel (located just a minute's walk from the lakeshore), and immediately after dropping off my bags I headed down to the lakefront to snap some photos.
It had just rained apparently, and these two geese were enjoying the last few rays of sunshine of the evening.
I was surprised to see palm trees so far north in Italy. We're right on the border with Switzerland here. All is quiet; the tourists have gone back to their hotels or headed out to the restaurants and there are no ferries this late in the day.
One of my favorite flowers, hydrangea look gorgeous whether they bloom in my area of Southern California or in Stresa, Italy.
During my stroll, I captured this photo of a fountain in the park near the lakefront. But now I was getting really hungry; my last meal was at least 12 hours ago. So I headed out to the local pizza joint.
The outdoor seating was divine, right on the lake. A plexiglass window separates the tables from the public sidewalk, and the restaurant owners took advantage of the little area of ground between to grow some bell peppers.
Napoli pizza baked in a real wood-fired pizza oven! There is nothing better tasting in this world. A small bottle of Proseco washed it down nicely.
On my way back to the hotel, I got a picture of this hound waiting for his owner in an outdoor cafe. My mom loves hounds like this, so I took the photo just for her.
Here's the square, late evening just before sunset. A charming (and relatively inexpensive) outdoor restaurant is on the right. Very easy access from my hotel and the lake.
Scarves, scarves, scarves! Some very fine ones made in Italy, others are cheap imports from China and Pakistan. I bought some of each... I'm embarrassed to admit how many!
Finally heading up to bed for the night, and had to share this sign in the elevator: "The silence observed by everybody brings about a general relaxation." Indeed!