21 March 2013

Twenty-nine electrons

Sparked by a desire to work with beads & wire, several months ago I bought a book called Bead on a Wire by Sharilyn Miller (one of the books shown in the image above). Getting organized has taken a while, but I have been slowly accumulating tools and materials, and practicing jewelry-making techniques. From the beginning I decided that copper would be my 'signature'; I like its warm color, and wanted a material that would age well and suit the beads I planned to work with. My original idea was to design earrings inspired by the beaded elements I had created for some of my artist's books.

Then one day I was sitting at the studio table, just letting my mind wander a little, when I spotted a copper coin lying on the floor. I grabbed my chasing hammer & steel block, and started pounding. (I have to wonder if the idea to try this was the latent result of following my daughter's research of artisan drum cymbals; these works of art often have interesting textures that highlight the rich qualities of the metal.) In any case, hours of hammering have led to a small pile of resurfaced one-cent & five-cent pieces, virtually indistinguishable as small change from various EU countries. The noise factor and the adverse effects on my wrist & thumb have rather limited the size of the pile, but there are just enough for a small series of wire-wrapped earrings and pendants. One of these days I'll show how they're coming along, but for now, here are a couple of photos of the raw materials.



And, still on the theme of copper, next are a few shots of my progress with one of my alphabets for ALaW (A Letter a Week). Originally I had planned to design both of the year's alphabets around the theme of 'peace' that is required for one of them, but somehow I found myself involved in making letters from copper wire. For one thing, the 'packaging peace' concept I've been working on is fairly ambitious—I was already way behind with the goal of producing 'a letter a week'—so I decided to create a simpler one while I continue to work out the details of the peace-themed alphabet.

I've been wanting to experiment with the idea of stringing wire across cutouts/open space for a while now (a small gesture toward this desire can be seen in the final photo of this entry about my indigo cubes). Ultimately, in my quest to continue exploring Florence's urban plan through unusual media, I'm imagining recreating small sections with wire—but in the meanwhile, these letters are helping me to get familiar/more comfortable with the possibilities & limitations. For now I am working with .75mm copper wire strung across 360g Murillo paper. After playing with numerous structures/layouts, I've decided that the alphabet will take the form of a six-page accordion 'book', though this may change as the experiments continue. I'm trying to achieve a balance between letters that are slightly abstract (not sure this is the right word, but a better one is not forthcoming at the moment), yet still recognizable as such in context. These first letters shown are all made up of straight strokes, but I have something a little different in mind for the curved letters.

Next is a little experiment I tried with copper wire and crystal beads. You might recognize the first image as an interpretation of the electron diagram for Copper (Cu), also known as number 29 in the periodic table—hence the twenty-nine beads (and the title of this post). If I were to pursue this line of thinking I would probably go with a considerably looser, more organic interpretation, but I'm glad I at least got this first thought out of my system...


The tangle of wires that's been growing in the studio lately reminds me a little of this network of branches (a rose trellis at the Rose Garden), and brings me to a favorite book, A Time to Blossom by Tovah Martin.

The year we ended  up coming to Italy to live, my mother gave my daughter and me a copy of A Time to Blossom. Ironically, this also ended up being the last year we had a garden of our own, and perhaps this is yet another reason I appreciate it so much. I love everything about this book: the design & layout of the pages, the halftone botanical illustrations that appear throughout, the nostalgic photos by Richard W. Brown and, most of all, Tovah's writing.

From a very young age, she felt the desire to "write about why the poppies wouldn't wake up until after the morning cartoons," and explore other mysteries of the garden. She says, "Mine wasn't a privileged youth, horticulturally speaking. My mother wasn't a world-class gardener, and she didn't tend a particularly large tract of land. But she always puttered around the backyard, planting this and that, and those moments flavored the rest of my life." Her own attitude in the garden is similarly unceremonious and spontaneous, and she seems to have held on to the sense of wonder she remembers from childhood. I especially love how her words so beautifully bring to life the distinct personalities of each flower; it's like reading about people—the impetuous ones, the sturdy ones, the un/predictable ones, the lazy ones, the crazy ones...the beauties, the stragglers & the prima donnas...

As I glanced through A Time to Blossom, it was nearly impossible to find something to share—I could easily have quoted from every chapter. But, as we above the equator cross into spring, this passage about 'bare sticks' seemed to express the same kind of delight I'm feeling as the world around me comes back to life again:

The logic behind wading out in the snow to collect armloads of bare sticks was not immediately apparent. It seemed that trudging into the fields in search of twigs in March was a good definition of a fool's errand. But you kept that opinion to yourself.

The exercise of forcing branches is tailormade for those who cannot wait out winter—and anyone under the age of twelve (as well as many much older than that) fits in that category. Shrubs, apparently, are also of an impatient nature and perfectly willing to be fooled into a flowering mode...

...I couldn't help but wonder what my father thought as he watched the procession of naked branches coming inside. I thought my mother might have taken leave of her senses as I watched her labor for several hours cutting and mashing stems and arranging sticks in her best vases with all the meticulous precision that she usually bestowed on flowers. When her work was done, the product looked very much like a bundle of kindling, elevated in status for no apparent reason.

Pussy willows and forsythias were her usual victims, cut for the purpose, but anything that had been felled by a storm was fair game. Apple branches appeared indoors regularly, as did redbuds and witch hazels. No matter what we brought in, two or three weeks went by before I stopped questioning my mother's sanity. Then, wonders happened.

To see a forsythia in spring is no big deal. To encounter pussy willows in April falls short of stopping the earth. But when you force those unpromising branches indoors, it's a different story entirely. Close up, each flowering branch has a grace that is totally lacking on the shrub or tree. Together, they form a bouquet that could easily have come right out of a fairy tale.

I spotted these bright blossoms sprouting from a potful of branches outside of a shop during a rainy errand-running outing earlier in the week—a lovely echo of Tovah Martin's branch gathering recollections...



On the note of flowers, I finally got myself organized and 'arranged' the freesia stems (shown in my last blog entry). I actually quite enjoyed them scattered randomly among small vases, creating that studio-table garden of sorts—though it originally came about more for the sake of getting everything quickly into water. Still, it was satisfying to gather them into a close-knit bouquet, since intimate arrangements are more my style. Owning a flower shop actually holds a lot of appeal for me, though it's just one of many creative lives I sometimes dream of. I think one reason I've been motivated to participate in National Novel Writing Month the past couple of years is because I enjoy constructing other worlds I'd like to inhabit. (The other main reason is so I can explore the many contradictions that exist in each of us—something I find endlessly fascinating.)





An Italian proverb says, "Marzo pazzerello guarda il sole e prendi l'ombrello," basically expressing the same sentiment as Mary in The Secret Garden, when she tries to explain when Colin asks what spring is like: "It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine..." Literally, the Italian proverb means, "Crazy March; see the sun and grab an umbrella." Despite March's reputation, it always comes as a surprise. One day Piazza Pitti might be filled with picnickers & sunbathers, the next by colorful umbrellas...You go to bed sniffling from a cold, and wake up with your nose itching because something just started blooming...Tea left over from the pot you made to keep warm yesterday becomes a refreshing glass of iced tea today...In the morning, men are calling out, "Ombrello?" from every street corner; in the afternoon they're selling sunglasses. Confusing, crazy & wonderful all at the same time: change is definitely in the air.
My words for March are linked to this transition period as the earth reawakens: wait/hope/trust...words that are helping me to stay grounded during this time of change in my own life as well.

Each time I glance up at this very last flower on the cyclamen plant my mother gave me last December (above), I see the petals as the wings of a butterfly...a sweet little symbol of hope. And I have to say, after never really appreciating cyclamens, the three-and-a-half-month tenure of this one has taught me some lessons, namely that you can find beauty if you just keep looking—and look closely enough.





And finally, to close this long entry... A lovely gift from Angela Liguori at Studio Carta arrived the other day—the 2013 calendarbook. Designing their calendarbook is an annual ritual that Angela & her collaborator, Silvana, have been observing for several years. While Roman-born Angela now lives near Boston, the childhood friends reunite in Rome during the Christmas break each year, and Angela then returns to the US with the components all ready to assemble in her studio. I just love the unusual ways they have found to define the unfolding of a year. You can read more about the latest one here, and click here to see photos of several past calendarbooks.

P.S. There will be more copper (and other variations on 'ORANGE') for ROY G BIV in the next few days...like this post, the one for orange just keeps on growing!


  1. So much to take in ...like a novella! I so enjoyed this post as it is the first full day of spring and back in the 30s (Farenheit) again. We're all longing for spring. I do love the beginnings of your letter and the shadows they produced. I am hoping to get back to my alphabet this week after several weeks of class prep. I'm including you in Roy with all that wonderful copper!

    1. 30 degrees F! Brrr - but welcome to spring!
      Thanks for your comment, and I'm glad you enjoyed the post, l o n g though it is.
      I just added a note that there will be more 'ORANGE' some time in the next few days...in fact, copper was one inspiration for this month's collection of images for the ROY G BIV challenge, but there will be other themes too... Thanks for mentioning this post too though!
      - Lisa

  2. Dinahmow just sent me over to visit you because she knew I'd be interested in your wire makings, and she was right. But what a delight to find so much of interest in this wonderfully long post. I must say I'm a bit sorry to reach the end. Your story of the bare twigs in vases turning into blossoms reminded me of my own childhood, not that we ever had such winters as in the northern hemisphere, but I still tend to save any broken branches to bring inside to give them that second chance. Now I'm off to read more of your blog.

    1. Thanks so much for visiting, Carol (and to 'Dinahmow' for the suggestion). And here's to 'second chances'...you never know just what might happen with something retrieved...
      - Lisa

  3. melting
    the earth below
    I am home
    as always...

    you inspire

    1. Yes, spring is upon us - what joy! I'm glad to hear you are home again - and already back to projects awaiting you (I just visited your blog & saw some lovely moments of your orange-scented stay in Arizona). Thank you for stopping by, Elizabeth...
      - Lisa


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