Thursday, June 30, 2011

What Standards Do You Use To Judge The Quality of Handmade Jewelry?

Have you heard that I'm hosting a design contest with my lampwork beads? If not, you should check it out.

I've just finished creating the detailed contest scoring rubric to go along with the basic scoring criteria that I originally posted for the contest. Even if you aren't participating I think its good to share what other artists think defines excellence and what separates that excellence from $@#$. I acknowledge that some of these criteria are project specific. In my case the point of the contest is to get pictures of jewelry that showcase even my B-Squad, Junior Varsity beads, so the prominence of those beads is weighted heavily. Additionally, since it's my website and because it will make it possible for me to judge projects more consistently, I am enforcing that the participants adhere more to my own aesthetic of clean design, balancing simplicity with interest.

The comments in the rubric reflect the thinking that would lead to the assignment of a particular score. Where I thought it might be necessary, I added some clarifying points on what would cause me to think such thoughts.

Whether the world will cheer this on as the standard against which all jewelry shall be judged, or cast stones upon me as a heretic, the rubric will stand for the contest. But I'm interested: what do you think are important criteria to consider when judging the quality of handmade jewelry? Which criteria do you think are the most and least important and how should different criteria be weighted? Let me know!

Prominence of lampwork beads30%
Creative use of materials20%
Balance of simplicity and interest20%
Refinement of technique20%

Contest Rubric: What Julie is likely to be thinking as she assigns points ...

Prominence of lampwork beads weighted 30%
100% Points The eye is immediately drawn to the lampwork beads and, boy, do they look g.o.o.d!
75% Points You have to hunt a little to find all of the beads, but they are still well-displayed.
50% Points Where are ... oh, okay. I see them. kind of.
25% Points Okay, I think I see a lampwork bead or two in there, but where are the rest? They weren't THAT bad, were they?
0% Points It is impossible to tell that there are any lampwork beads included in the design. Are there lampwork beads included in the design?

The main purpose for this contest is to obtain photographs of finished jewelry that feature my beads so I can post them on my website. While primarily selfish, the best designs will be the best ambassadors for my beads, so I would like the designs to be as close to professional in quality as possible with my beads as visible as possible.

Creative use of materials / Originality of design weighted 20%
100% Points I never would have thought of that, but boy am I glad you did! That looks astounding!
75% Points I've pondered that technique, and I've seen other people do something similar, but you really rocked it and made it yours.
50% Points I've seen other people try something similar, so I'm glad you gave it a shot, too, but it's not particularly original, unfortunately.
25% Points I know I've seen that before, almost exactly the way you've done it. However since I can't remember exactly where, I'll give you a break ... this time.
0% Points Not only have I seen an exact copy of this design before, but I can name the artist without a Google search.

While I gave you the challenge of using my B-squad Junior Varsity beads, I do know that not every design needs to have the theme of bright and shiny. Pick a theme that suits the beads. Sometimes you need to go organic or industrial, for example, to make the beads really speak out. Once you pick your theme you want to pick materials that simply and accurately speak to that theme, but you want to do it in a unique and original way. (Plus, I don't want to get sued for copyright infringement, so I can't post an image of your design if you submit a design that copies someone else's creative intellectual property.)

Balance of simplicity and interest weighted 20%
100% Points Is it possible to say that I love every component of this design best? I can clearly see every component and every component draws my interest.
75% Points Yeah. I like it. You maybe went a tiny overboard somewhere, or could have added a little extra oomph, but that's just me wanting to see and appreciate every part.
50% Points Okay. It's probably me, but I am a little confused about what you were trying to do with this piece. It's not bad, but it's not ... well ... good, either.
25% Points Interesting start, though this piece is either too "simple" or too "interesting". (see comment below)
0% Points The point of simplicity is so you can see the perfection of what you have done with the space, not what you have not. Similarly, the point of including embellishments is to draw the eye and have aesthetic purpose, not to drown the eye then poke it out.
Refinement of technique weighted 20%
100% Points I am weeping with joy and envy at the perfection of your technique.
75% Points You should be very proud of this! Only one or two barely noticible mistakes. Well done!
50% Points Really excellent effort. I can tell you've been practicing and with a little more practice you'll be great at this.
25% Points Well, okay. We might need to work a little more on effective practice. I can tell you're trying, but, well ... you are trying, aren't you?
0% Points Interesting effort. Altering a technique because you can't do the technique doesn't count, unfortunately.

While I hope that I don't need to explain this, what I mean by refinement of technique is: that it appears technically correct in every way and that you could go to any other teacher of the technique and they would be impressed; that the piece is structurally sound, that you selected the proper materials for the job; that you took the time to care for the material as you worked with it so it didn't get worn, dented, frayed, discolored, kinked, or otherwise abused as you tried to manipulate it. Feel free to examine the tutorials or blogs of experts inthe technique you are using for clarification on the expectations for excellence (or the signposts of poor execution) in that technique.

Finishing weighted 10%
100% Points Perfection! No sloppy or sharp edges anywhere, surface finish is consistent and fits the theme of the piece, all strings/wire are tucked where they are supposed to be and everything that should be covered is covered; this could be sold at a high-end boutique.
75% Points With the exception of a couple of fingerprints or a slightly sloppy edge or two, maybe some bare material where some feature could have been added, I only notice because I'm a perfectionist! Your friends would fight each other to buy this!
50% Points Okay, it looks like you might have been rushing a little to finish. Surface looks cleaned, but not polished or finished. Edges are sloppy, but not particularly sharp or dangerous. In a class Julie would have probably let this slide, but wouldn't have given praise, either.
25% Points It's pretty obvious other things were on your mind. Most edges are sloppy and some are sharp, or beadwork strings weren't trimmed enough. Surfaces weren't cleaned. In a class, Julie would have made you fix this.
0% Points Watch out! This piece is downright dirty and dangerous! Are you trying to kill me?

Finishing includes all of the little details that differentiate a practice piece from something I'll have to fight the Smithsoanian to photograph. It's the cleanliness of the piece, not just freedom from dirt but also freedom from loose ends that didn't get properly secured; its filing anything that might be abrasive on the skin or clothing; the finish - whether shiny or patinated, textured or smooth; it's also selecting closures and findings that speak to the theme and complexity of the piece, and not choosing them haphazardly from your stash.

I hope it goes without saying that I don't want to assign 0% points, or even 25% or 50% points to anyone. The comments are honetly meant to help you better understand what not to do, not to tempt you to deserve them, so please ask yourself if you have done everything in your creative powers to avoid that. I want you to be able to get those free beads from my Etsy store!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The End Of An Era

As you may have read in some of my previous Facebook posts, my sister-in-law, Stacey, is fundraising for the Susan G. Komen 3 Day Walk this year. She's having a garage sale this weekend and I was thinking of what else I could donate to the cause. Two things I thought of were the coffee table and TV stand that were in my parent's living room when I was a little girl. Sentimental, to be sure, but not something I can think of a use for and so they should probably go. But, before they do, I wanted to document what has been somewhat contentious issue in my family: I was not the deviant 5-year-old grafitti artist that my mother claims.


You see, I've had artistic inclinations since I was a wee little girl. And, yes, there were moments when my genius was misunderstood. How was I supposed to know my parents wouldn't appreciate the crayon mural I created on my bedroom wall? I would also argue that lipstick is a perfectly legitimate medium for bathroom mirror art. Yes, I DID attempt to clean the furniture with rubbing alcohol at one point, which you can see in the photo, but THAT was well-intentioned. The ALLEGED incident in question was when I was kindergarten-aged and my mother had punished me, or something else I didn't appreciate, and so I took a marker and scribbled swear words on the bottom of the living room furniture.

I am innocent of the claim and I have the proof.


Does this look like profanity to you?



Okay, so there is some original artwork ...


You're welcome, Stacey. Price accordingly.

... and what appears to be the plot sketch of an early work of fiction ...


I might have been a bit precocious.

... but not the egregious blasphemy of which I have been accused.

So now the tables go, and so goes, I hope, these undeserved accusations of a depraved childhood of reckless self-expression. So misunderstood. ;)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Staying Cool, Staying Busy

Here in Saint Paul, MN today, it got hot. Way hot. Over 100 hot with around 50% humidity H.O.T. So, Sawyer and I needed to find some indoor diversions. Normally, when I'm at home with Sawyer while Sean is at work, I don't get to work on my Work. Today, however, was unusual in more ways than the heat given that Sawyer seemed content to stay inside, to partake in independent play time, and he took an extra-long nap. It was a perfect storm of productivity factors and I felt like I got a lot done on the work-front today.

Since I have a lampwork trunk show scheduled at Knits & Pearls on Tuesday June 21 through Thursday June 23, I thought I ought to do some of my inside-tasks, namely photographing some of the focal beads I've been making.

The current iteration of my bead and jewelry photography setup.

Sadly, this is the best picture I got of my beads all day.

Unfortunately, while my current photography setup does a gangbusters job of lighting jewelry, it's hard to get my camera to focus on beads. Wanting to avoid overwhelming frustration I decided to move on to another project.

Playdough is one of Sawyer's top-three favorite indoor activities, so I decided to introduce him to my pasta machine, giving me an opportunity to try the Mokume Gane technique on polymer clay, inspired by Angela Design on Etsy. I found a pretty good tutorial on YouTube. I didn't make anything too fancy, but I was pleased with my first-try results. The take-away lessons were:

  • don't make the layers too thin; there seems to be a perfect layer thickness that I will have to play to find.

  • While it is easier to get deep impressions with smaller stamps (a 1x1" compared to, say, a 3x4" stamp), it is hard to get all of the individual stamps equally deep.

  • a very light touch is required with the tissue blade. You have to pay attention that you're only shaving off the raised portion of the design and not accidentally go underneath.

  • Interestingly, it turns out that the pasta machine was good for conditioning the old Playdough as well as the polymer clay.

    Playdough ... less doughy than it should be.

    Feeding the Playdough through the pasta machine.

    Added a splash of water to the surface

    Keep feeding it through until all traces of water are gone.

    Repeat the last two steps until you reign victorious over the crustified Playdough.

    And that is the fun we had while staying out of the heat today.