Monthly Archives: August 2014

Think Like Calder: Paulette Werger’s Design Challenge

I’ve just spent five creatively challenging days with Paulette Werger in a workshop at Metalwerx where the blend of design methodology, fabrication techniques and out-of-the-box thinking moved my work forward significantly. I was attracted by the title, “Think Like Calder” because I’m a great fan of Modernist jewelry. In fact, I was directed to the Calder book and Modernist jewelry several years ago by an artist who saw my work and thought it was reminiscent of the earlier work. As I learned more, I realized how much I had been influenced by the jewelry I saw as a young woman on the streets of Harvard Square in the Sixties as well as by the jewelry my mother wore in the 1950s.

I also remembered taking a class with Paulette several years ago where she had presented some unique thinking about design. She challenged us in that class, too. I don’t remember what the class was called but I do remember the challenge was to create a piece using one continuous line. It was a stretch for me yet I received the help I needed to create a pendant and earrings I really liked. So after seeing her new work at Craft Boston, I decided it was time for another course with Paulette that was sure to stretch and challenge me.

pearl pendant

Paulette’s first class in fusing Argentium

Argentium and white pearl earrings Argentium earrings with pearls

Before the class I was feeling very stuck. I have boxes of ‘components” created in metal, enamel, polymer and glass that didn’t seem to emerge into a fully completed jewelry design. While I had lots of fun creating the components, I didn’t like some of  standard approaches I had used for creating necklaces, bangles or earrings. I was beginning to feel like I had wasted my time creating the components because they didn’t become something I could imagine wearing. (Also known as the problem of having an mature design sensibility without having the matching fabrication skills!!)

Well, Paulette certainly got my design thinking unstuck! She brought examples from her own creative process and the work of other artists who ‘spoke’ in a way that she thought would inform my work. And she did this for all the other students as well. Each day Paulette began with a slideshow and/or demo that took the prior day’s work forward in a new direction. Clearly, she mused at night about what she could bring to class to take the creative process forward for each one of us. Some of us wanted to work with stones, some with glass or enamel and me with polymer. Paulette was able to offer specialized design inspiration to each one of us.

slide show

Paulette started each morning with specially selected slides to inspire us individually

paulette teaching

Paulette demonstrating forging and forming techniques on the anvil

After opening the class with an inspiring demo or slideshow, Paulette followed up by providing her expertise to solve pesky engineering problems. Each morning I would start sketching during the slideshow and demo, brimming with ideas on how I could use my ‘components’ in new and different ways. However, going from a sketch to a finished piece of work means understanding how things will hang, what will cause problems and what will break with use. I’ve often been stumped by this part of the process, hampered by my inability to do 3D modelling in my head (probably why I decided not to be an engineer). Having someone available while I’m trying to figure out how to fabricate my design ideas changes frustration to innovation. Paulette provided her expertise in thinking through the different ways I could secure something, suspend it, cage it or embed it. She showed how having a “frame” would enhance my pieces and start me exploring on different ways I could create frames for the pieces.

sea glass necklace

Still sorting out the pesky ‘engineering’ problems with this sea glass and PMC necklace. It’s had me stumped for a couple of years…

Thanks to Paulette’s inspiration and instruction, I stopped feeling that I had wasted both time and money on all the metalworking classes and equipment With the inspiration she provided as well as the help with those pesky engineering problems,  I rediscovered my passion for forging, forming, fusing and fabricating. I went back to my studio each night and dug out long forgotten stakes and forming tools, dusted off my anvil, set up a soldering and fusing station and went to work. I was in my studio several nights during the week, way past bedtime, just to keep working on a piece started in class!

studio bench

Fully outfitted for forging, forming, fusing, soldering…..









Being in a studio class with adult learners is also great fun. Seeing the different ways that people take their design after watching Paulette’s demo is wonderfully fascinating. When I see another student’s approach I’m often struck by the realization that I never would have thought of going in that direction…or at least not until I did lots of sketching, pushing the design in different directions. Learning from other’s questions definitely enriches the experience, too. Even if I’m not thinking of the question at the moment, the answer is likely to be relevant at another time.

Some of the students were self-confessed Paulette ‘groupies’ and now I know why. When you find a teacher who ‘gets’ what you’re trying to do and can help you move your work forward, it’s definitely worth coming back for more. So, that’s why I’m taking her class in November, even thought I don’t think I have any interest in creating flatware. I’m sure whatever she teaches us will find it’s way throughout my designs.

I’ve made a good start on some designs incorporating glass beads I make with Argentium fused links. Now, feeling confident, competent and inspired, I can ‘riff’ on the designs I started this week…filling my sketchbook up as I muse on “what if”….

design notebook in studio

Iterations and permutations shape the design process


jewelry components

Fascinating but difficult pieces I need to finish with a completed design

My commitment is to keep the unfinished pieces on my studio table until they emerge into fully finished pieces of jewelry. I’m not  going to shut them back up into their containers so I don’t have to feel the discomfort of the blank canvas or the anxiety of empty page. As one of my other teachers, Marion Woodman, would say, “I’m going to live in the dynamic tension”. I’m going to leave the unfinished pieces out with my sketch book open next to them so I can capture whatever whimsy should strike me when I think of what I learned in Paulette’s class. And I’ll keep the Calder book close by, so I can feed my imagination with his design sensibility. (Thank you Kathleen Dustin for telling me to get the book several years ago as it is now out of print and very expensive!)


You Can’t Find Your Voice If You Don’t Use It

I just read this line in Austin Kleon’s book, Show Your Work and it resonated strongly with me today. I’ve been in several conversations this week about the importance of having a Voice, feeling seen and heard by the community that matters to you. Talking with others has given me a chance to reflect on my own journey to find and have a Voice in the world.

Permission Slips

While reflecting on my creative journey, I remembered that the first exercise that Brené Brown had us do last fall in her Oprah Winfrey class was to write creativity permission slips. I had no trouble finding the messages that silence my creativity and my Voice. I’d been wrestling with them for years. One of the loudest ones in recent years is, “You’re not an artist. You didn’t go to art school.” In fact, as soon as someone asks if I’m an artist, I immediately become uncomfortable and deflect the question with some self-effacing excuse about it just being a hobby and that I have another profession. It’s even worse when others introduce me by saying, “She’s an artist” because it immediately brings up a shaming message about being an imposter.

Permission to do what my inner critic tells me I can't or shouldn't do.

Permission to do what my inner critic tells me I can’t or shouldn’t do.

The good news is the messages in my head don’t keep me from creating. And they’re not as loud as they once were. It’s taken lot of inner work to free my creativity so that I can have the joy of letting something new emerge from my imagination. And I guess my creative freedom is observed by others.  Recently, I had a teacher tell me how much she enjoyed what she called my “fearlessness” in the studio creative process. I responded by sharing with her that it wasn’t always that way for me. In fact, “compare and despair” ruled my creative expression for most of my adult life.

Attending a studio workshop was torture for me 12 years ago. I felt inept and untalented, convinced that  artistic creativity was gifted to some and not to others. Fortunately, I kept taking classes. I had the opportunity to meet and interview many artists who came to teach at the Bead House in Bristol, RI and at Metalwerx in Waltham, MA. Gradually, I learned that there were many paths to your own Voice, your own artistic expression. It also helped that heard the same negative messages coming from the inner voices of other women in the classes. I began to suspect I wasn’t alone.

In my conversations with others, I also learned that I had preconceived ideas about the artistic process that were erroneous. I thought writers wrote final copy in the first draft, photographers took only amazing photos and artists went directly from inspiration to a finished piece. Because I believed this to be the real creative process used by artists, I judged myself as ‘no talent’ because I only arrived at a finished piece after much work, rework and many pieces in the ‘reject’ bin. Today I think I’m not stretching my creative expression unless my ‘riffing’ takes to the point of creating something ugly!


copper and glass pendant

Pushed the limits on this one so it’s made it to the ugly one category for jewelry but it might make a good fan pull…


design notebook in studio

Iterations and permutations shape the design process








Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison

I was please to learn about the importance of creativity in living wholeheartedly that Brené Brown discovered in her research. She discovered in her own experience and the experiences of the people that she interviewed that many of us have shut down our creative Voice because of critical messages we heard when we were young and fearless in our expression.

Brene Brown Guideposts

Guideposts for Living Wholeheartedly from Brene Brown’s Gift’s of Imperfection

I believe that all of us have a part of us that knows how to be fearlessly creative. This is the part of ourselves that is most filled with life and joy. Staying alive as we age may require finding this vital source. I call it my 12 year-old self. This the part of me that delighted in imagination, creativity and was fearless in the face of peer pressure. Sadly, she didn’t survive the pressures of adolescence and was shut away until the age of 40.

I rediscovered this part of myself at a critical point where I wasn’t sure life was worth living. It was at a time when everything came crashing down in both my personal and professional life for reasons largely beyond my control. I found it nearly impossible to ‘bounce back’. I had worked very hard to get where I was in life and it all shattered. I didn’t feel like I had the will or the energy to start over. It was one of those moments of ‘radical reset’.

Fortunately, the previous summer I had met a teacher at a course I had taken in Ericksonian Hypnosis at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. At the end of the week, the teacher, Mel Bucholz, mentioned that he also conducted Vision Quests once a year for people who were in major transition. I blew him off with some glib phrase about ‘being princess and not doing camping” but his message stuck. Six months later when I was sitting in a shattered life, I called and asked about the process.

dirt road in the woods

Not sure I can see the road ahead so I need a new guide, a new path

After reading through the information in the packed I received from Mel, I collapsed into despair. Clearly the process was too hard for me, I wasn’t in shape, I was a heavy smoker, I didn’t have any money and it sounded very scary to spend three days and nights by myself on a mountain. So, I decided I would just have to call and make up some excuse about why I couldn’t do the Vision Quest (definitely couldn’t tell Mel the real reasons!).

It was in that moment that I rediscovered my 12 year-old self. As I was preparing my mental script for the call, she piped up and said, “We can do this! I know how to do this even if you’ve forgotten!”  And then as she felt me waver, she said “And if we don’t do this, I’m giving up on you forever!” The finality of that statement echoed through my being.

I knew at that moment that I was being challenged to live—that if I silenced my 12 year-old voice, I would begin to die. She is the voice of my vital being, the source of my creative expression in the world. I listened. She wrote the application and told the truth. She said, “I don’t know if I’m more scared to do this or to not do this.” She acknowledged that life as she knew it had ended and she didn’t know how to begin again.

Well, the Vision Quest is another story for another time. The short version is I learned a lot, faced my fears and freed up my Voice. I came down from the mountain after three days and nights praying, fasting and ‘lamenting for a vision”, ready to move forward in my life. In the years that followed, I was able to create a body of work that I felt proud to bring into the world. I still did battle with the internal voices that wanted to silence me but they never could gain the chokehold they had before.

Today, twenty-six years later, I know that listening to that 12 year-old voice was the turning point in my life. I reconnected with the part of me that knows how to live wholeheartedly. I don’t always listen but sooner or later she gets my attention and we go back to doing what feels alive. She is the source of my fearlessness. My 66 year-old self can get pretty scared about the future and all the uncertainty ahead  for me personally as well for all of us on the planet. But then I hear her voice again, saying, “We can do it! We know how to do it!” and I’m filled with hope and creative vitality.

The road's wide open. You could go anywhere!

The road’s wide open. You could go anywhere!

Beauty in My Backyard


I am so grateful for the restorative capacity of beauty. I started the day feeling a little “full moon blue” after a restless night, disturbed by the neighbor’s wild party and the energy of the full moon. Leo energy can be pretty intense in the ‘dog days’ of summer (also an astrological event) and when I checked the chart for the day I saw that the full moon was squaring my natal sun and that Saturn was square to my natal Saturn conjunct Pluto. For those of you who have no idea what that means let me just saw there were reasons that living in my own skin was uncomfortable.

Reservoir with pumping station

And you can see forever…

So, I was more than a little cranky when I woke and the glorious day did not match my impending thunderstorm mood. Knowing that I wanted to shift my energy I decided to go for a walk even though my knee was complaining loudly. Bringing my camera along was an afterthought but it turned out to be just what I needed. It provided me a new lens for viewing the day. Before I knew it, I was entranced by all the beauty around me.

I think taking photos helps me practice something the Positive Psychologists have identified as “savouring”, a practice that sustains wellbeing. Practicing savouring is a big shift for me, a person who once was told by her spiritual advisor that she had to learn how to sit quietly in her own garden, savouring it, rather than weeding. She offered me the observation that “other people take the time to smell the roses you plant”. These make wonderful metaphoric statements but sadly they are too true.

In my youth I was very in tune with the beauty around me. We lived on a lake and played in the woods. We had a pine grove and lots of birches from which I made ‘indian bracelets’. We roamed freely in our combined backyards, playing from dawn to dusk in the fields, meadows, woods and lake. It was a great environment for letting imagination roam free until “Olly, Olly Infree” or Mrs. Cunningham’s bell.

tree hollow with vines

Must be a doorway…all we need is the magic password…

My mother was a panentheist. We didn’t know that as the name for what she believed, she just taught us the spirit indwelled everything. She talked about the natural world as a living animate Presence. We learned to talk respectfully with the spirits of animals, plants and the mineral kingdom. She told us about fairies, elves, sprites, and wood nymphs and that we were in their kingdom in the natural world and needed to be mindful of this at all times.

tree hollow

Definite possibilities for catching sight of fairies in hollow like this…probably an entrance to the Other Side




Then I grew up and no longer lived in the natural world. I lived in apartments in a city, traveled in airplanes, stayed in hotels, worked in corporate meeting rooms…no fresh air, no natural light, no living things other than us humans. Bit by bit, that natural sense of wonder was deadened. Like so many, I became so busy with the stuff of life that I never noticed the world around me. In fact, I often ate so fast that I didn’t experience the food I ate. No wonder I felt empty, hungry and dissatisfied. Satiation comes from savouring life not rushing through it mechanically.

Paying attention is the key to savouring. I need practices that slow me down so that I can be present or conscious in the moment. Even trying to remember to say a prayer before I eat is challenging. For forty years I’ve struggled with maintaining a daily prayer and meditation practice. I can put together a stretch or weeks or even months and then something distracts me. The same is true for any exercise routine…starts strong and then fades.

I’ve read a lot of the literature on habits, willpower, and lasting change. The metaphor of the rider and the elephant that the Heaths write about in Switch rings true for me. Unless I get the elephant to buy in to the rider’s plan, no change will happen. So finding ways to engage the elephant is key to developing a practice that will be maintained long enough for a change.

I think taking my camera on my walk may be one of those keys to capturing the elephant’s attention. You see, taking pictures has become fun and meaningful now that I can use the images in writing and art projects and social media. Photography used to either overwhelm me or I couldn’t see the reason to keep pictures of people I no longer knew and landscapes I didn’t remember. Now it becomes the inspiration for stories I can tell.

This fella patiently posed until I got just the right thought...but, of course, I told him he was very beautiful and the larger world definitely need to see him

This fella patiently posed until I got just the right thought…but, of course, I told him he was very beautiful and the larger world definitely need to see him

tree bark

Life has certainly turned this once young sapling into a gnarly old specimen…hmmmm










Thinking about what I might like to shoot causes me to see more dimensionality in the natural world around me. Today I was fascinated by how trees get hollowed out by insects, weather and human inflicted damage…yet they are still strong and flourishing. (I know there’s a metaphor there somewhere!) I looked at the stones in the embankment for the dam and saw all kinds of interesting lichens, patterning their surfaces. I saw the surrounding runoff eddies and life teeming in each one. And then there were the big, puffy clouds, reflected in the water. The lily pads and the trash bag, the stone walls falling down, pine needles in the cracks, the elegant form of pokeberries, all shapes and sizes of weeds, weathered wood and BUGS!

Three hours later I returned home, tired, sweaty and limping. But my day was transformed! I was filled with wonder and beauty and Life was Good!

Fun with Hollow Forms in Polymer at Metalwerx

We had a fast paced class today, exploring the fundamentals of making hollow forms in polymer clay and decorating the surface with Skinner blends and simple canes. We had many different experience levels in the class from first-timer to serious polymer artist. All left with finished several colorful and well constructed pieces. Many questions were asked about future classes and where to go from here. Fortunately, Metalwerx will be having future classes and many resources for exploring polymer are available. (see below)

 Learn more about the history of polymer and the leading polymer artists

 Books referenced in Class

Teachers Mentioned in Class 

  • Kim Otterbein, formerly of The Bead House in RI and author of Polymer Clay 101
  • Kathleen Dustin, an amazing polymer artist and one of the Grande Dames of Polymer
  • Celie Fago, polymer and metal clay master artist
  • Jeffrey Dever, exotic forms architect
  • <a title="Maggie Maggio" href="http://maggiemaggio avis site”>Maggie Maggio, amazing color tutorials
  • Nan Roche, another Grande Dame
  • Donna Kato, Grande Dame and the source of Poly Paste