Monday, March 26, 2012

Bunches of bananas and confidence

Hmm, well that gem shopping expedition didn’t quite go as planned.

I couldn’t face the schlep down to Chinatown on Saturday so I went to Amarin mall where there were several stalls and shops peddling gem and stones. I found a lovely shop where I told the man that I was learning to set stones and wanted something cheap but pretty that I could practice with. We started with amethysts and we moved through a host of stones whose names I’ve forgotten. Each time he brought something out I got more and more panicked: so TINY, shiny and perfectly cut. In my head I saw myself trying to measure and set them with my bunches of bananas and I felt a bit sick.  I knew they could look gorgeous. But probably only if someone else made them. He showed me all sorts of stones but I’d completely lost my confidence that I could do anything with them.

I found another stall. In a basket there were pieces of agate. I bought this one: it’s 4 cm long. I think even my bananas can make a reasonable job of setting them.

(Here’s the finished crown setting from the last post. I don’t know what the disc thing is that we’ve set but it feels like resin or even just plastic. Because it’s nicer with light behind it, I cut out a mad pattern on the back to let the light in.)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Jewellery, gems and skulls

The next stage in my jewellery making career journey is learning to set stones. This doesn’t require much fire (phew) but it does demand strict precision skills. Oh gawd.

Khun Gim found me an oval piece of rhodonite, a pretty pink and black stone to begin with. You measure the circumference with wire and then cut the metal a little bit longer than your wire. I cut it too long so I had to saw some of the extra mm off. Yes, and then I cut too much off and had to send it through the mangle to lengthen it again. Sigh.

Anyway, this ring is the result. Next I’m moving on to this resin (?) disk. This is the crown setting for it. Inside the crown setting we’ll I’ll solder a piece of wire to hold the disc at the top. Last week I asked Khun Gim ‘how do we keep the wire in the right place while I solder?’ Apparently the wire will hold itself because I’ll have cut it with such precision that it will just, erm, fit.

So this is the plan: I have to buy some stones to practice my setting skills. Bangkok is a good place to buy stones. Even though I’ve never been in the market for them you can’t help but see the shops around (and hear of the scams.) I’ve often stopped and peered into windows to look at the rubies, graded, sized and sitting in little see through trays. It’s another world to buy them though. Do a Google of Bangkok tourist scams, and the gem ones are right at the top. It has always struck me that if you’re on holiday and stupid enough to spend hundreds of pounds or dollars on rubies without the help of an independent expert, you’re kind of asking to be ripped off. Okay, this isn’t the way things should be but, sadly, it is the way it is.

Now clearly I’m not after ‘gem’ gems. I’m after something pretty or strikingly coloured and well, cheap. Remember, I might butcher it. K, who does jewellery at the same time as I do it, is a gemologist and she’s confirmed that as a foreigner the prices will rise the second I walk into the shop but she’s given me some advice. She’s advised me to reverse my normal approach; instead of ‘how much is that one?’ I should ask ‘what can I get for a 500 baht?’ (£10ish)

I shall let you know how I get on.

PS: isn't this rhodonite skull just divine? I love how his stylised look makes him appear to be wearing glasses. I want... (Source)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Monday morning

I nearly got hit by a car and a motorcycle this morning. Not really nearly but almost nearly. It is partly the fault of lax road rules here but also my own stupidity. I recovered as our taxi drove us to the MRT (underground) station (Husband was going to work; I was going to jewellery) and then I realised that I hadn't got my partly prepped bits of jewellery with me. I had to take a taxi back home to pick them up. I considered getting back into bed and staying there just in case the day didn't improve.

Anyway, here is one of the latest pieces. This is the 'go to the back of the class and practise your handwriting soldering' design. One of the pebble shapes is copper (top left) and the rest are brass. It's quite nice, isn't it?

(*Ahem* I left the solder visible just so that you could see how beautifully I'd done it!)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Photo and I Can See Again

I had a teacher, at my grammar school, who taught me a lesson I’ve never forgotten. She was a graphics teacher. She frightened me. I would have told you at the time that I didn’t like her but I can see now that I was afraid of her. (She belonged to the Disparaging School of Teaching Methods.) I thought she could see how stupid I was but I think she thought all the girls were stupid. It wasn’t personal.

I didn’t do graphics because fine motor skills aren’t my thing; I came to it by default on a rotation in the O’Level timetable. We’d selected ‘art’ and now we had to choose between painting or graphics. I already felt like an interloper. I was called ‘the academic one’ and my sister, ‘the creative one.’ There was no sculpture or making on offer at my school and it was many years before I realized that that was what I was. I still doubt my creative ability today even though it turns out that my sister and I are both academic and both creative.

One day, Miss Whose Name I Can’t Remember, asked us to put up our hands if we walked from the centre of town, where the buses dropped us, to school. All of us did. ‘So,’ she said, ‘here’s a quiz for you.’ This is the only question I can remember. We walked past a big car showroom, Ford, I think. She asked us if we’d seen the three cars arranged precariously on a display stand. Of course we had; it was difficult to miss them. ‘What,’ she asked us, ‘were on the number plates?’ I had no idea. Every day I walked past them and I never noticed the number plates. She wasn’t interested in the answers. She wanted to illustrate how most of us go around with our eyes shut. I knew they were there but I didn’t see them. (It was something like ‘SEE 1’ ‘LUV 1’ and ‘BUY 1’) Every single day for the rest of my school career I saw those number plates with a sense of shame. If I think now of my walk to school those damn cars and sense of shame is back in an instant.

I still fight with myself to see. It’s tied up with being blind to the things that are there all the time and taking them for granted. One of the things I do very deliberately, though not often enough, is to go to new neighbourhoods so I can see again. I am forced to look.

That’s one of the things I love about going to my jewelry class. On my walk from the underground station, I pass this wonderful spirit house and Bodhi tree. I have no idea of the relevance of the zebras although this site gives some suggestions. I’ve written about spirit houses before here and there’s a great story from Catherine at Women Learn Thai about a visit to the Chao Mae Tiger Shrine here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A random blog post

So there’s a weakness in my recent “I am going to blog more frequently” plan. Uhm; what to blog about. I’m not doing anything very exciting at the moment. (I am mostly teaching myself Adobe Illustrator at the moment but I trust that won’t fascinate anyone?)

I have a theory though. The only answer to a block is to start doing it anyway: play with your materials, whether they be paint, words or musical notes. What results might not be brilliant but it will gradually break the paralysis. I still needed a subject though so I turned to the internet to tell me what to write about. I googled ‘random blog topic generator’ and lo, there are such things. I opened the first three, here, here and here.

The temptation, indeed the instruction on one of the generators, is to keep pressing the button until you get something you fancy writing about but I thought that might be a bit dangerous. It might not go on infinitely; the generator might suddenly emit a big sigh and stop producing ideas because nothing could please me. So I decided I’d press each of the generators once and then I’d have to choose from one of those topics.

The first one gave me: “One of my favourites is Bagels.” One of my favourite what? And why the capital letter? Is Bagels a place I haven’t heard of? I let out a big sigh and clicked the next tab.

The second one was: “Aristotle’s philosophy” Oh dear. This is somewhat shaky territory. In my dim and distant past is a classics degree. So dim and distant that I can remember almost nothing and Husband has been petitioning me for years to return my degree certificate to the university. Today, though, I search around in my head and ‘Nichomachean Ethics’ appears; my mouth goes dry and I feel a bit faint. I go and have a look at Wikipedia. After consideration I’ve decided that I haven’t forgotten it, I’ve actually suppressed it and for very good reason.

I move on to the third randomly generated topic: “What do you think of your children?” Crumbs. We’re on really hazardous ground with that subject. What I think of my children is that they know how to find my blog and that’s all there is to say on that subject.

Still, I’ve written a blog post huh?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sent to the back of the class

I’ve been sent to the back of the class.

Yes, it’s jewellery again. Must try harder. Must conquer fear of fire and soldering. Last week Khun Chaiwat told me that my next piece of jewellery had to include lots of soldering. Oh joy; (I’d been planning to design something that needed no soldering in an attempt to avoid it. Always best to avoid all awkward things whilst maintaining British stiff upper lip.) No, alright, that’s not the answer: must conquer fears.

The truth is it’s not the jewellery; it could be crème brûlée. (Damn it, why isn’t it crème brûlée?)

So here’s the problem: in my right hand is a raging fire. I mean raging; as though flames aren’t scary enough, then we send gas rushing through to make it really aggressive. The solder sits on top of the join – or next to it – but it’s microscopic. Alright, it’s not microscopic but it might as well be; it’s tiny. And if I cut it bigger, then it makes a mess all over the copper or brass that I’m working on and then there’s more filing to do... I have to point the flame at the right part of the metal but not for so long that my piece of jewellery starts to melt… And if one side gets hotter than the other, then I’m in trouble and the solder spews all over one side of the piece, and not down the crack at all. In my left hand is a titanium stick that I can use when the solder falls off the join. Which it does because there’s that raging flame blowing a kind of Hell-like gale towards a tiny piece of silver solder… When the solder falls off the join you have to let it melt and then scoop it up on the end of the titanium stick and push it back on the bit you’re trying to solder. Simple.

Except my hands don’t seem to work together properly. It’s just like learning to drive… It should be straightforward; it’s only my hands I’m asking to cooperate with each other. Like eating, yes? I manage that all right. NOOOOO, actually I don’t manage that very well. I have a familial reputation for dropping stuff down my front. (That’s all invitations for social engagements retracted…)

I’ve thought and thought about what my problem is. Years ago, I found an old school report from my piano teacher. It said ‘Jenny seems to have problems sending messages from her brain to her fingers.’



These cufflinks are my latest piece:

Friday, March 09, 2012

Friday photo

I love this. It could be the starting point for a piece of performance art. 
I saw it in a shop window in Emporium - Greyhound, maybe.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Buddhist Makha Bucha Day

Yesterday was Makha Bucha day, a bank holiday. The children had to go to school for a make up day following all the days lost to the flood last November. (Mwah ha ha ha.) That left Husband and I.

Husband studied the map, found a little cafe in Siam Square called Vanilla and proposed coffee. It 's rather nicely done in a retro style, reminding me of sweet shops in another world. (I don't think they were like that in the 70s - perhaps there were the last vestiges of that look in our village shops as they tried to drag themselves into the modern day.)

And it reminds me how much I love multiples. How pretty are things en masse?

(There are branches in Siam Paragon, Ekamai and The Crystal Park. I realised I'd been to the one in Siam Paragon but it hasn't nearly as much character as this tiny one.)

Monday, March 05, 2012

Abandoning writing for jewellery

I’d been harbouring the details of the jewellery school for quite some time but it took the crisis I outlined yesterday, and the total despair I was feeling about my writing, before I plucked up the courage to email the contact. Now, five or so weeks in, I can’t imagine what all the fuss was about.

None of the anxiety was about the jewellery making; rather finding the place. And would I like it? Would there be any other students? Would I be able to make the things I wanted? Would it solve my creative crisis?

It didn’t ever occur to me that I might find it difficult. If that sounds arrogant I do apologise. What I mean is that since I have a fine art degree, tucked away at the back of my brain I thought ‘how hard can it be? It’s simply a different material…’ During my degree we were expected to turn our hands to whatever material the project needed. (For my degree show I learned some advanced ceramics: to make my own mould, to make the negative, then the positive and to slip cast from the mould but I know none of the processes that might lead up to that!) I am then, something of a dilettante. Oh dear. Still, I thought ‘how hard can it be?’

The answer to that, dear reader, is BLOODY HARD. Not only is metal really, really tough but also everything you make for jewellery is TINY. And not only do I NOT have biceps on my fingers but also my hands, it turns out, are like bunches of fat bananas. And that isn’t even getting involved in the delights of the old lady eyesight I’m developing. There are really scary processes like soldering which involves flames and gas and heating things that you’ve spent hours cutting (badly) and filing (to put your mistakes right) and you might melt them if you do it wrong. And that's not to mentioning the potential to set the studio alight. 

So the second lesson I went to I took a cup of tea in a flask for the stress and big bag of humility. And things got a bit better. I stopped breaking the saw blades quite so frequently but I was still scared of soldering or forgetting that I could only fish things out of the acid with the copper pincers.

Now, several weeks on I have begun to learn (some respect.) I can solder with more confidence without Khun Gim standing next to me. (Update to say: apart from today when I kept losing bits of solder. I couldn’t seem to coordinate my two hands to hold the fire in one and rescue the microscopic piece of solder with the other!) I break fewer saw blades when I am calm and if I am careful to cut things neatly, they require less tidying up. Attention to detail is really important. Slap dash doesn’t do. (Slap dash is part of my personality. *Sigh*)

Here’s what I’ve made so far (including the dodgy stuff.)

You can find out more about One Form One Piece Jewellery School here and check out some pictures on Facebook here.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Sunday confession

Back in January I made the decision to stop writing. I gave up; retired. It was a relief. Writing (or failing to get my novel what I wanted it to be) had begun to make me really unhappy.

I thought about why I’d begun writing a novel in the first place. It was something I’d always wanted to do but like so many people, I only talked and thought about doing it. Then one day, I stumbled across a blog that invited anyone writing a novel to join a race for support and camaraderie. It wasn’t easy but it made me happier than unhappy.

I have a not-so-secret confession which people rarely believe - I don’t have any burning desire to publish. I wanted to write the best book I could just for the sake of it. There’s something about the process of writing (and making art or craft, come to that) that does it for me. And having to turn my creation out for anyone’s scrutiny (publication or exhibition) brings me out in hives.

And so I did write a novel: 107,000 words of story, a beginning, a middle and an end. Most people spend their lives saying they want to and never do it. I did it and I should be proud of that.

Over the five years that I’ve been writing I’ve had breaks from it; periods of laziness or frustration and even though I’ve longed to give up, I haven’t been able to stop; not completely anyway. There has always been something inside that I identified as a need to write. However miserable it made me I had to continue to do it.

Two months ago, for the first time in four or five years, I felt as though I had a choice. I don’t know what had changed, except perhaps that the unhappiness outweighed the pleasure and I felt as though I’d been released from something and that I could stop writing. It was liberating. There was some grief too but mostly there was relief.

I began to attend jewellery-making classes instead. I feel that making uses a totally different part of my brain from writing (although maybe it doesn’t or shouldn’t) but when I draw or make I go to a place where nothing intrudes. I struggled to find that place in writing… I’m going to come back and tell you about the jewellery course tomorrow but here’s the funny thing:

I have begun to think about my next writing project.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Friday Photo

There is beautiful pink blossom around Bangkok at the moment. Unfortunately, I can't see any of it.

I have to take my colour hit where I can and these pink umbrellas from the food vendors across my soi, are doing it for me.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Drawing a line

Here is a line.

It's the line I'm drawing under the lack of blog posts, the apathy, the thinking but never quite doing, the doing and then bottling out because it was crap.

I will blog again.