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On March. (and marching on)

This. month.

This month is…challenging. Here in New England, March is the month of unmet weather expectations, dirty snow, gray days, and mud.

In a funny blurb I saw yesterday, someone is quoted as saying, “To me, the months between November and April are set aside for shivering and depression, with occasional squalls of rage.” At the moment, I concur, but the truth is: I love winter. Honestly, I don’t mind the shoveling one bit. Bring on the drippy icicles, the sparkly blanket of snow, and the snuggly hibernation. I’m game. But along comes March and suddenly I am done with all the cold and snow already. I start to plot our move back to San Diego. I wonder why anyone lives in the north. It devolves quickly from there.

At this time of year, inspiration, bright colors, and adventure are utterly necessary. So, to bridge the pretty days of deep winter and the sweet-smelling days of early spring, I’m on a mission. I’m doing my best to make every day this month a little bit happier, from keeping creatively engaged, to cooking new foods.

Here’s what I’m up to:

It’s always good to be reminded how to stay cheerful and recharge in these late-winter doldrums.

I’ll be making these potstickers to keep things new in the kitchen. And I’m hoping that the girls will like at least a few of these granola/granola bar recipes. We’ve tried lots of granola recipes over the years, and they are so hit or miss in my household.

These giant crepe paper roses would be a lovely burst of color.

My family has planned a local museum tour. We visited the Museum of Fine Arts last week, will be exploring the ICA this week, and next week it’s the Fuller Craft Museum. We’re so lucky to live to close to such great institutions.

(I’m struck by this Neil Welliver painting. How did I not know about him until now?)

This kitten cam is filling any gaps of cuteness we may be experiencing.

I read this article, 18 Things Highly Creative Things People Do Differently. Of course, the “shake things up” point is hitting home right now.

How are you keeping things bright and fun in this patience-testing time of year?

Mid-Winter Mind Wanderings

I’ve been settled into the new studio for a few weeks now and oh, the natural light. Even in this cloudy, freezing weather, the presence of light has an uplifting affect.

The reality of the transition to working out of the home was presented to me loud and clear when, in the first full week I was to be working there, my Tall Girl got sick and was out of school for days. The very next week? A snow day. Initiation by fire, I guess. A couple of the things that had me fretting about not working at home have happened, and everything worked out just fine.

I’m in a groove now, and my new routine is refreshing.

I thought I’d share a few things that have been on my mind this winter:

>I sent out New Year’s cards this year (pictured above), which will be the new tradition. I just can’t make sense of — or time for– sending holiday cards out during the busiest time of year. But it was so very nice to sit down mid-January with a cup of tea, and write out my postcards.

>I’ve been drooling over the sketches in pencil and paint by Andrew Wyeth, that I found in this book. With just a few quick pencil lines or brushstrokes he conveys a story, complete with history and mood.

>Heard (from local delight-maker Eling) about this website that will make a font out of your own handwriting. If only I had a font-worthy hand.

>I’m doing some business soul-searching, and thinking about bigger vs. better. I’m considering paring down my offerings, in order to make my body of work more cohesive. Do you have experience with this? I’d love to hear your thoughts and advice.

> I stumbled across Hula Seventy on Instagram. Thoroughly enjoying her photography.

>I have committed to running  1000-miles in 2014, by joining a “1K Wonders” running group. So far, I’ve logged in a whopping zero miles, and I offer no excuses. Others in the group have already logged over 100 miles (I’m so impressed!). I’ll certainly have some extra mileage to crank out this spring, to catch up to everybody else. This article is getting me motivated to hit the road again.

>I’m in the midst of my annual winter purge-and-rearrange routine. Re-reading lots of old posts from Small Notebook  and trying to get a handle on the clutter that inevitably creeps back into our home. Next project? Tackling that junk drawer. Wish me luck!

 

Big News, Part Two

Big news abounds over here. Last week I announced that I’ll be teaching at Squam Art Workshops this coming fall. Today, I’m happy to announce that the AG Ambroult studio has moved!

I’ve left my super-convenient home studio behind for a gorgeous light-filled space just a few miles down the road. This is something I’ve been dreaming of for a long time, but family obligations and the obvious added expense of having a separate place to create kept me from taking the leap. At this point in my life, I’m ready. My family is ready. AG Ambroult, the brand, is ready. And now that I’m in that space I can tell, there’s no turning back (at least to my basement shop).

The building I’m in is one of those big old brick factory buildings. It’s full of creative and enterprising people like painters, furniture makers, claw-foot tub refinishers, antique dealers, and my favorite stained-glass artist and friend. The building had me at “art school smell” (fellow art school grads: you know). Solvents, compounds, sawdust, and paint — oh, it’s just heavenly!

My studio is long and narrow, with more than enough space to spread my wings (and my stuff). I have it divided in to two halves. One half will serve as the office, shipping station, and display area. The other half is the dirty, dusty side: my workbench and soldering station.

Best of all, I now have plenty of space to teach. This new setup allows me to expand my teaching offerings, which I will be doing promptly. In fact, before I had even worked a day in the new space, I taught a Wedding Ring Workshop there. Having a sweet couple in my studio to make their own wedding rings was the perfect way to christen it. They even brought champagne, so at the end of our session we toasted to their new rings, their upcoming marriage, and to my new shop.

As you can see, I still have some cleaning, setting up, and organizing to do, but that will all fall into place as I settle in to the new surrounding and find out what works best for me.

If you are local, come visit and see where the magic happens. If you’re not, I have a feeling I’ll be posting many more photos, as things start to take shape and it feels more broken in.

I’ll be posting some more info on my expanded class offerings, soon. Exciting!

 

 

Big News, Part One

Big news! Not breaking news, but still…huge.

No, this is not the newest, most up-to-the-minute update, as the official word was released in early December, but this is the first time I am shouting it out to the world. And I mean shouting. In fact, I’m bursting, so here it is:

I’m teaching at Squam this coming fall!

Eeeeek! I’ll be guiding students through a “cold connections” class called Oh So Chill, where they will learn various methods of joining metal without the use of a torch.

I am beyond excited but, alas, the wait is an eight-month-long one. Frankly, I think I’ll need the full eight months to come to terms with this amazing opportunity.

I had the pleasure of participating in the Squam Art Fair this past September and, while I have dreamed of someday attending a Squam retreat for years now, I never thought it would be a reality for me. Suddenly, I’ve been granted the chance to teach my craft to a group of creatives who likely have plenty to teach me, too. I have huge hopes for what might transpire that week.

2014 is shaping up to be nothing short of epic. There’s this news, yes, but there’s also a big studio move, and all kinds of other plans that I’ll be telling you more about soon.

Happy New Year!

Gift Guide

I put together a little gift guide this year. I could have gone on and on, deciding which pieces are perfect for which woman, but I stopped at six. In reality, all of my pieces are for every type of woman. I have been taught that time and again at my shows when the unlikeliest of people buy the most surprising pieces for themselves. There’s such delight in that for me!

guiftguide_v

A Soggy Finish

Yesterday, I did my last outdoor show of the 2013 season, and boy was it a send off. What was forecasted as “showers in the morning, turning to a cloudy Autumn day” should have sounded more like “downpours for the entirety of the show hours.”

C’est la vie. I do a good amount of shows, so I know they can be hit or miss, especially outdoor shows where weather can make or break it. And yesterday, well, the weather definitely broke it. (Let us not forget that garage bands can break it, too.)

wet tent walls

Today, I’m in rainy-show recovery mode. My studio is barely navigable, blocked in every direction by my still-dripping-wet tent walls that I hung up to dry. Paperwork is laid out on tables, and table coverings are tumbling in the dryer. Everything looks a little worse for the wear, all dirty and damp. My moss platter display, however, never looked better.

The event was held on a nature reserve, in the loveliest of settings. Stone wall-lined paths, open fields, hidden bridges, and trails. This place was classic New England, and with the Fall colors starting to explode, it really was a pastoral wonderland. I am positive that had it been a crisp Autumn day, that place would have been rockin’.

bridge in autumn

At the end of the day, I was relieved to schlep my tent, tent weights, etc…into the garage one last time, where they will sit until next May. And next May? I’ll enthusiastically pull them out again, blow the dust off, reorganize, and clean it all. Then I will head off to start another outdoor season full of sun, fun, and yes, I suppose rain, too.

Telling the Stories

We all have that one piece that we will always treasure. It’s a ring, or a brooch, or some other bauble that was gifted to us, one that we inherited, or a souvenir from a special place. We keep it tucked away safe in our jewelry boxes, and pull it out when we feel sentimental or when we need a little bit of connection. It is a link to our past, the catalyst for a memory. What makes it precious is not necessarily the dollar value, but the story.  From my own personal experience as both a jewelry owner and a jeweler, I know this is true.

jewelry stories, jewelry box

As a maker, I hear the stories first. Warm, sad, celebratory, caring, and humorous — the tales are human emotion needing a new presentation. It’s not fantasy, or spectacular fiction. For me, it’s beautiful prose, waiting to be translated into precious metals. Told with the help of tools, yes, but delivered with all the emotion and life experience the artist can bring to the project. A funny travel story, a sweet sentiment, an interesting material source, a fascinating factoid, a curious custom request, an emotional, heartfelt commission –I’ve been lucky to have had all of these “stories” behind pieces I have made, and these are the ones that stay with me.

From my personal jewelry box, the items I hold close are the things that belonged to my grandmothers, the pieces my parents gave to me when I was way too young to take good care of them (of course I was thrilled to receive those pieces at the time, which include a pearl ring, and a name plate bracelet), the necklaces my husband has given to me, and the things I bought on a trip around the world.

I recently wrote the story of a bracelet I purchased at a pre-dawn, high-altitude craft bazaar that I stumbled upon in the Himalayas. It’s over on My Life in Jewels, a blog that tells the stories of what lies in our jewelry boxes. I love the concept of a whole site dedicated to these tales, because we all have pieces we hold close to our hearts. From fancy family heirlooms to precious macaroni necklaces, each piece is equal in emotional value because of its history.

I’m willing to bet you have a jewelry story or two to share. Please do!

Then and Now

It was a Summer to remember, and I have a ridiculous amount of pictures that I could show you, but I won’t. I’m easing back into this space, so for now, just a few words, a few pictures, and a little good news at the end.

photo(14)

~A break in the crowd at the water park~

photo(15)

~the summer track season~

IMG_5338

~surfing~

…a blur of sand and water, with a few fun adventures in between pretty much sums up the summer.

Now, for Fall. I know it’s not quite Fall yet, but with the girls back at school and soccer in full swing again, it sure feels like it. I have a robust schedule of shows over the next few months, but the one I’m most excited about is the Squam Art Fair. Yep! The Fall retreat this year is the Taproot Gathering, so I’ll be rubbing elbows with some of my gardening/writing heroes, and the makers and contributors of Taproot Magazine. Adding to the excitement, I found the latest issue in my mailbox today. Yessss.

amazonite solitaire ring

I have some new designs to share with you, like the Amazonite Solitaire ring (above), among others, as well as some other things I’ve added to my plate during my busiest time of year. Perhaps you’ll bear witness to a frazzled holiday-season breakdown, but maybe — just maybe– I’ll do it all.

A Revolution in Casting

Up until a few months ago, every piece of jewelry that came off of my jeweler’s bench was fabricated by yours truly. Fabrication is the traditional type of metalsmithing that manipulates metal through bending, cutting, and shaping it. It’s the technique I learned first, and it is what made me fall head-over-heels in love with the craft. It’s all hands-on, all the time. But there are so many different skills involved in jewelry making, and I so badly want to know how to do everything. I’ve got a long way to go, but I can now cross another technique off my list: casting.

ripple necklace casting

Casting had been on my mind for some time. I had long admired jewelry that has that sculptural quality, and I had lots of ideas for cast pieces in my head. But I had my hesitations about it, too. My main concern was whether or not would it take away from the hand made quality of my work. I wondered: if I have the pieces cast in silver, then are they hand made? I also presumed that I would not enjoy the process as much, because I would feel too removed from the pieces.

But there has been a bit of a revolution in my studio, and it is part sculpture, part metalsmithing, part ready-made, and yes, handmade, too.

For a bit of background knowledge, the casting process involves having a mold made from a model piece. That model piece can be made out of metal or wax. I make both kinds of models, depending on the nature of the piece. Molten metal (sterling silver, in my case) is then poured into the mold and cooled, and bam! a silver casting–or a dozen– is made. And that, my friends, is the beauty of this process. I can request any amount of pieces I desire.

cast sterling silver ring

The pieces I receive back from the casting company (family owned, located an hour from my house) are no where near ready to sell. They are gnarly, dudes. At this point, the work is only just beginning.

Much time is spent grinding, filing, and refining the castings before they can be worked into a design. After that, the traditional fabricating begins, and I drill, bend, hammer and solder until the piece is complete.

cast sterling silver ring design
Discovering the joys of casting has allowed me to take my jewelry in directions I might not have gone otherwise. Previously, I fabricated the tiny dome/ball pieces pictured above, a tedious process that involved many steps just to make one cluster. Now I have them cast, and in doing so, I have been able to expand my designs to include that cluster multitudes, which is something I may have never done if I was making each piece from scratch.

I still make many pieces in their entirety, because I still love fabrication. BUT I have come to see the creative benefits of having a pile of pieces in front of me, ready be made into beautiful things. Those little piles of potential have opened up new ideas, more interesting designs, and plenty of possibility.

The next step? To invest in casting equipment of my own, and learn how to cast the pieces right in my studio. That means more tools and equipment added to my ever growing collection. (And it gets me excited just thinking about it.)

A Creative Slump (and How I Un-Slumped Myself)

Maybe you noticed my bloggy absence, maybe you didn’t. But the fact of the matter is, in the past year I have been a total blog slacker, and I have no reasonable explanation. I just…left my mojo somewhere and forgot where it was.

I distanced myself from the blog partly because I was having trouble managing my time, partly because I was suffering from an utter lack of words, and partly because things were beginning to feel old and boring to me. I was disinterested, and not just where the blog is concerned. Everything felt dull and flat. The house, the grind, the dinners I cooked, my appearance–even my garden–were all wearing thin on me.

I was totally uninspired. I stopped composing posts in my head when I had an interesting thought or story (though admittedly, those thoughts and stories were popping up less and less). I hadn’t done much making, other than my jewelry orders. I couldn’t remember when the last time the girls and I sketched together. The only thing I canned this Fall was grape jelly, and when it came to cooking for my family, I grossly wore out the usual menu rotation. I was out if ideas.

It’s safe to say I was officially in a creative slump. And you know, it’s true what Dr. Seuss says:

creative slump

Indeed. I yearned for new. And not the kind of new that can be remedied with a trip to the mall. I needed re energization, and not the kind you get from a smoothie.

So what did I do? Well, it started with getting bangs. (No seriously, never underestimate the power of a new ‘do. The haircut is what began the un-slumping process.) From there I hauled out 6 bags of clutter from my home (full disclosure: those bags now reside in my front porch. Baby steps?). I managed through a demanding-but-profitable holiday work season, which gave me a little boost. I went back and revisited posts and videos from some sources that motivated me once upon a time, like Blacksburg Belle and Mayi Carles. I listened to Blogcast FM podcasts. I redesigned the website home page (with a blog redesign in the near future), wrote a new about page, and renovated the tutorials page, too. I cracked open my dusty art history books. I tried taking a different perspective than the usual. I spent quality time with creative friends, and had long and candid business conversations with the resident carpenter.

I was reminded of the importance of doing what you say you are going to do.

And quite simply, I finally started doing. The more I did, the more I wanted to do. This concept is nothing new. It’s a well known fact that you need to exercise your creative muscle, and stay “in shape” so to speak. I knew that all along. It’s just that doing the work–or getting back to the work–is the hard part. Once I started, momentum took over.

print by The Motivated Type

The time away from blogging made room for more books, more hanging out with my baby girls, more space in my head. It was necessary, in order to stay real. Had I forced post after post, I probably would have bored both you and me to death. But now? I feel refreshed. I actually have ideas! I have something say, things to show you, and opinions to ask of you. I have tutorials planned. I have my creativity back, and it feels good.

As a curious aside, at the same time my general creativity was hiding in a muddy ditch, I was taking my jewelry in a completely new direction. That was totally exciting and fulfilling in it’s own way, but for some reason my work creativity seemed compartmentalized. I kept it separate from living creatively. That probably sounds crazy, and it just might be. Anyway, I’ll tell you more about the new work soon. Promise.

Oh, And! I’m celebrating my un-slumpification with a tutorial in the Spring edition of Rhythm of the Home, coming tomorrow.

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