Thursday, January 7, 2010

365 Creative Challenge

I subscribe to quite a few jewelry and craft arts blogs (note to self - update the blog roll to the left), and a few have written about a recent challenge - to complete a piece a day for the entire year. This is a bit of a head-scratcher for me, looking at it from a jewelry arts perspective.

If I was a professional jeweler/artisan - then completing 365 items/one per day for a year may make some sense, but as a hobbyist? Is the point of a hobby to create as much as possible in the shortest amount of time reasonable, and is the jewelry actually being completed worthwhile and something to be proud of?

Some of the challenge participants are lampwork artists who are using their own glass beads as the principle elements of a work, others are making very simple earrings with premade earwires and single crystal beads. To me, this latter group is cheating - big time. While simple works such as these have their place (usually the $2.00 basket at a local crafts fair), how is this being creative? It seems to me that such "efforts" are done for the sake of achieving the challenge, not for advancing one's skills (unless closing a headpin is a skill that needs improving) or creating something to be proud of.

Okay - I may be making a huge pile of assumptions here - but looking at the works of some of the participants (the earring-makers) - these artisans are capable of so much better that bead on a wire dreck.

Perhaps my issue is not with "cheating" the challenge - i.e., creating something simple and mindless just for the sake of achieving the goal of one piece per day, but with the challenge itself. Artists and artisans, just like writers, go through both periods of great creativity and periods where nothing seems to go right, when works in progress just pile up, or pieces started and ripped apart. This is, to me at least, a part of the creative process, and it makes us better - whether in a spiritual sense (suffering improves the soul), or in a technical sense (working on the process hones your skills). A challenge that is essentially makes the challenge participant a factory production line is pointless.

Would not a better challenge for an artist or artisan be to learn a new skill a week for a whole year? A skill could be anything that improves your workflow, reduces your costs, or betters the completed product. For example, learning how to use flush cutters to create two flush ends on a jump ring - this may not seem like a big deal at first glance, but it's a skill that means you don't have to purchase pre-made jump rings.

I need to think about this some more...

Monday, January 4, 2010

Adventures in Cosmoline

If you buy tools that were made in any of the former Eastern Block countries or in India or Pakistan, you're probably familiar with the brown goo - the Devil's gunk - the big sticky - the crap known as:


Wikipedia has this to say about the stuff:

"Cosmoline is the trade name for a generic class of rust preventatives, conforming to MIL-C-11796C Class 3, that are a brown colored wax-like mass; have a slight fluorescence; and have a petroleum-like odor and taste. Chemically, cosmoline is a homogeneous mixture of oily and waxy long-chain, non-polar hydrocarbons. It is always brown in color, and can differ in viscosity and shear strength. Cosmoline melts at 113-125 °F (45–52 °C) and has a flashpoint of 365 °F (185 °C).

Its most common use is in the storage and preservation of firearms. Previously, cosmoline was used to preserve other items. Objects the size of entire vehicles could be preserved for future use with cosmoline. During World War II, US Coast Artillerymen (serving the huge coastal artillery batteries) were known as "Cosmoliners" because they were tasked with the near constant cosmoline application ("greasing down") of the guns. During Pacific island campaigns in World War II, the United States Marines sang a song about cosmoline. Adapting the popular big-band tune "Tangerine," they would sing "Cosmoline...keeps my rifle clean."

Due to its gelatinous nature, cosmoline can be difficult to remove..."

An understatement to say the least.


Firearms aren't the only thing that come coated in Cosmoline - tools made from carbon steel from the aforementioned places East of Here come packed in it. It makes sense, since they are shipped via ocean freight, and salt and water are innimicable to non-stainless steel. It would be nice, though, if once they got to the US, they were cleaned up and repackaged so that one could actually use the tools without having to spend hours degreasing.

Getting Cosmoline off of steel bench tools is probably child's play compared to getting it out of a rifle or engine, where it's packed into every tiny crevice. A few months back, on the Beading Daily forum, I was bemoaning a lost opportunity to purchase a small rolling mill. I had passed on it because the gears were caked in the sticky goo, and I had no way to clean them. A member told me that he had great success using denatured alcohol instead of a commercial degreaser - which is extremely caustic. I tried it on a disgustingly sticky bench block, and was eminently satisfied. Denatured alcohol does need to be used with proper ventilation, but it's not caustic and won't destroy clothes or skin.

Anyway, last month I bought myself the PepeTools dapping block and punch set I really wanted - the one with the big 2" punch and the 2.5" block. For some reason, I thought that it would be all nice and clean and look like this:

But no, it wasn't. It was a bag of brown, stinking mess. Actually, it was a bag of brown stink in a box filled with packing crud. I tried to save myself a bit of effort by opening the box over a garbage can (a big 60 gallon can already three-quarters filled with packing material and other assorted detritus). That would have been a Good Thing, except that I picked up the bag from the wrong end and all 21 punches plus the block fell out of the bag into the garbage can, swiftly sinking amongst the upteenthousand pieces of polystyrene packing peanuts. I was able to get the big pieces easily, but the small punches were elusive. Shifting the garbage into an empty pail, I recovered 20 out of 21 punches, before I up-ended the last quarter of the garbage onto the floor to sweep through it by hand. Of course, I almost missed the last punch - it was the smallest one, with 3 or 4 peanuts sticking to it.

Ready to commence de-greasing, I reached for a small metal utility bucket - from the paint department at Home Depot - when I nicked the tip of my right middle finger on a strip-making tool for my metal clay work. Lesson learned - putting a sharp edged tool out of the way does not mean you've put it away safely. The blood from this cut ran down my hand, dripped over my arm and spattered all over my workbench (note to self, check hammers for blood spatter).

Since I hadn't even thought about shop safety (note to self - get a small First Aid kit for the bench), I ran back to my desk, fumbled for the spool of medical tape I keep handy, a paper towel and some latex gloves.

I also decided to see if regular rubbing alcohol would work on removing the Cosmoline coating. It actually did - for the punches, which were also wrapped in Cosmoline-coated paper. The block, however, was another story. The goo was too thick for the isopropol alcohol to work, so I switched containers and poured the denatured alcohol over it. Eventually, with a bit of elbow grease (pun clearly intented) the goo came off.

Of course, well after the fact, I went on-line and researched methods on Cosmoline removal. Most of the information comes from gun and militaria collectors who have a strong preference for commercial degreasers, but one site recommended using a steam cleaner, which makes perfect sense. While boiling hot water will melt away the gunk, I'm adverse to exposing easily rusting metal to water, and letting large hunks of steel soak in boiling water brings up a different problem altogether. Metal holds heat, and letting a pound or two soak long enough to remove the Cosmoline will mean that it will become too hot to handle easily, which means that if I let it sit in the hot water long enough to cool down, all of the grease will re-attach itself, leaving me back at square one. Using a steam cleaner means that while the steel is exposed to boiling water, the steam flashes hot, blows the goo off and the minute droplets dry quickly, minimizing the opportunity for rust.

Anyway - I've cleaned up all of the bench tools, gave them a light spray of WD-40, and now that my vacation's over, I'm left wondering when I'll actually have time to use them.

Pre-New Years Bead Celebration

Glass beads haven't been my "thing" for a few years now, so I haven't had much reason to go to 37th Street to buy beads, but since I started on the kumihimo, I've found a need for certain types of glass - drops and larger seed-type beads, and 37th Stree is really the best place for these. Not only are they cheaper, but the selection is head and shoulders above anything that I'd find in a retail store or on line, because I can buy in quantity.

Since it was a holiday week, I elected - despite the consternantion of MDF Val - to drive in. Thanks to the coupons at CentralParking.Com ($20 for 6 hours, including tax), it was actually cheaper for the two instead of taking the train. I parked on 38th, between Broadway and 7th, and it was a short walk to bead paradise.

Although the ever wonderful Crafts & Creations (a/k/a Amola, a/k/a Crafts and Cretins) has been gone for nearly half a decade, there are still treasure to be found - and in the old stores (the ones run by 3rd and 4th generation Jews) it's definitely like digging for buried treasure. There are a bunch of newer stores, run mostly by Chinese - legitimately wholesale outfits (as opposed to the dreck-filled retail outfits on 6th Avenue, close to Bryant Park, north of M&J), and while quality and price are reasonable, the shops are too clean, too bright, almost too homogeneous to be fun.

Val and I did spend some time in Stone International - mostly perusing the pearls. She was looking for really great silver/gray coin pearls, and found some good ones that didn't look "gloppy", while I bought mostly copper beads, some interesting carved quartz crystal, smallish pyrite coins, and of course, some pearls.

From there, we went into Margola. They were packing up for Tucson, so the place was even more of a wreak. V got a lot of bigger beads - interesting color Czech fire polish, while I concentrated on the seeds. I ended up buying some duplicates of beads I bought last October, when we made a flying visit after the Whole Bead Show (that will teach me to put beads away in the wrong places), but I also found 11 and 15 Czech charlottes in great iris colors. It seemed to take forever to check out (no pun intended), and when we finally walked out, it was close to 1pm and V was starving and my headache was back with a vengence.

We had lunch at a very expensive steakhouse ($7.50 for 2 glasses of fountain-dispensed club soda), and then it was on to York Beads.

I haven't been in York since before the turn of the last decade - I made a trip there just before my eBay selling days crashed and burned and I packed it all away for nearly 7 years. The store has changed quite a bit - it's nearly tripled in size (they took space from the first floor storage), a much greater emphasis on direct sales, and the basement's all cleaned up. But you still have to buy most stuff in quantity - quarter-masses and the like, but there's also bins of strands for $1-$3 on the floor. Although if you looked at the loot I brought home, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of self restraint - I actually did hold back. No round glass beads (although there were many luscious pink opal glass strands I could have bought), no flower beads, no leaf beads. Just drops and daggers and farfalle beads.

Now, I've got to get some projects going - especially the one commissioned - a kumi-rope of hematite, which I'll use the hematite-like glass drops to create a square rope.

And something in orange and perhaps some pink. Just to bring a little sunshine into the depths of winter.

New Business Cards

I'm off to Tucson at the end of the month, and MDF Marie of East of Oz reminded me that I need to bring business cards. It seems that some of the wholesale dealers don't like to sell in small quantities, but if I tell them that I'm working on a new line - and having business cards to prove that I'm a bona fide business - I shouldn't have problems.

I finally have found a use for the tres expensive Dover Pictura Vector collection of Art Nouveau images I bought last June - although I wasn't able to use the EPS files - my skills with Illustrator need a lot of work. I did find that the JPG files were really high quality, and I was able to get the same effects using Photoshop.

I had started out with a picture of recent works all massed together, and after taking nearly 100 pictures that looked like garbage, I decided to go in a completely different direction - and I must say - I like it. Although I am typically and Art Deco kind of girl, when it comes to graphic images - Art Nouveau/Arts & Crafts/Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood can't be beat.

The back of the card, which isn't finished yet, will have the William Morris fruit tree background in gray, and all of my contact details. Then off to Vistaprint - which I find is still the best deal in town.