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I’m still capturing my thoughts and experiences from the Colorado Metalsmithing Conference last weekend.  Thankfully, as I have journaled about these here, I have found some of the clarity I wanted to achieve.  From some of the feedback on these posts, I think the rest of you are enjoying this journey too?

Hoss Haley

Hoss Haley was another one of our speakers and he is a blacksmith, an extremely talented metalworker artist.  There were so many things that impressed me about Hoss.  As he talked about his background, growing up on a farm in Kansas and how over the span of 20 some years he has grown as an artist, I was struct by his innovation, creativity and resourcefulness.

I know I related to him as well as I did because of my background.  My mom grew up on a farm.  Her father was a blacksmith.  From my mother’s descriptions of life on a farm, you just had to be self-sufficient.  If you needed something, you made it, grew it, did whatever was needed to get it or just did without.  When my mom was a child, there wasn’t a Wal-Mart Superstore 5 minutes down the road to go to and get what you needed.

This philosophy of do what you need to accomplish the task at hand is clearly first and foremost in Hoss’s mind.  He has built several hydraulic presses, his last one exerts 100,000 tons of pressure,  and he uses it to form the larger components of his public art works.  He’s looking to put together the components to build a new hydraulic press that exerts 200,000 tons of pressure!  Wow, imagine what he will do with that one.

Example of the scale of his public art work

He showed a video of one of his smaller presses in action, it was automated and all Hoss had to do was move the metal around as the press moved up and down on the surface.  Besides being awe struck by what the press did, seeing it in action I kept thinking, keep your fingers and hands out of the way!

He initially apprenticed with Tom Joyce and his work was greatly influenced by him.  Yet he recognized that he needed to radically change up what he did as an artist in order to have his own individuality.  He has definitely done this.

He said that he started looking at these huge sculptural works, public art works, and thought, I can do this.  He just needed a way to build things on that scale.  Here was one of the prime examples of his innovation, creativity and resourcefulness that he had learned growing up on a farm.  He broke his design ideas down to their smallest components.  That is why he would build these presses that could forge the metal in sections.  He would take these sections and piece them together as you would a jig saw puzzle.  It all came together, a little bit at a time.

The Pi Plotter

If he can’t find what he needs he builds it.  He created this one machine that calculates pi and uses this in some of his designs.  It is an arm that pivots, with a pen attached that draws these circles based on the latest pi calculations.  Each one is different and as random as the calculations.  Every time he starts it, it starts in a different position base on where the calculation starts.  Awesome stuff folks!  Again, he was looking for a machine that did this and didn’t find one out there that would do what he needed….he built it!  This guy is really super smart, innovative.

Hoss explaining the forming stake he created for the demo

Hoss was one of the presenters who did a demo after his talk.  In preparation for this demo, he worked up a couple of forming stakes to use and brought them to the conference.  He was showing us how he would form a pear, even down to the detail of how he did the leaf.  Imagine, creating a couple of rather large forming stakes just so we could benefit from watching him doing one aspect of his work.  That was terrific!

Hoss demonstrates forging

And you can definitely tell that Hoss still wields a hammer on a regular basis.  The man has ‘guns’ and he got them from hard work, NOT steroids!!!

He even does a bit of jewelry and small sculptural pieces (like that pear) that are available through galleries.  However, I think he is best known for his large sculptural works of public art.

The point he drove home for me was we are an accumulation of all aspects of our learning experiences.  Going back to the days on the farm and his progression of his artistic journey.  Innovation, creativity, and resourcefulness….each of us possess those qualities.  Be mindful of them and just think of the possibilities!  How exciting is that?

On top of all of this, he has a great sense of humor.  I truly believe he is humble about his work and all he has accomplished.  It was really energizing to listen to Hoss.

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.


Fretz Medium Domed Mushroom Top Anvil

This little guy is the latest addition to my workshop.  I purchased mine this past weekend while I was attending the Colorado Metalsmithing Conference.  We had a vendor room and Naja Tools had a few of these in the different sizes, so I couldn’t resist buying this one.  I had been looking at it for several months.

One of the things I love about any Fretz tool is that they have both function and beauty.  These latest workbench anvils come in several shapes, depending on your needs.  I chose this one because of the softer dome shape and I was told that out of the ones Fretz has, this will probably be the one I would use the most.

It is made out of highly polished 420 cast stainless steel set atop Padauk hardwood.  Designed to provide a lifetime of  use for metal shaping.  My plan is to use this for some of my new designs where I want a slight curve in my metal piece.

I’ve always been completely satisfied with any of my Fretz tools and I would encourage anyone to try Fretz products.  They truly are a great value.

See if your local jewelry supplier has these in stock.  They are readily available online too.  I bought mine for $65, which may have been a special price for people attending the Conference.  Online, Otto Frei has them for $67.50, plus shipping…..generally you can find their latest coupon codes through their Facebook page.  If you are interested in the set of 4, here’s a link to Otto Frie’s product page on them.  I always encourage shopping around for the best price.

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

Continuing with my trend of random thoughts since the Colorado Metalsmithing Conference.

Again, I must revisit Saturday night.  As I mentioned in my first post about this year’s conference, that evening was when the real magic happened for me.  In Harold O’Connor’s studio, with other metalsmiths and my dear sister Lexi, listening to one of the true masters of their craft.  It was profound.  Harold was sitting in his bench chair and he said the word, “Art”.  Simple, clear, distinct.  It resonated in my mind and my soul…. to the very center of my being.  “Art”.  And then he went on…he doesn’t ‘like’ jewelry, he doesn’t wear it and he doesn’t make it, he creates works of “Art”….wearable works of “Art”.


At one point, he got up and went over to another area of his work shop.  He started to pull out his sketch books.  Filled with designs.  He leafed through them with me looking over his shoulder.  Occasionally he would stop on a page and make sure I saw a certain drawing.  I was so touched that he took the time to share.  He discussed how he starts with designs.  He also mentioned how he too suffers occasionally from the dreaded artist block. All of his works are one of a kind, yet he will occasionally return to a certain design and change it up.  I had a golden opportunity to view three of his sketch books.  I hope this helps to convey why the evening was magical for me.  Being able to view his “Art” works.  Clean, pure, simple designs.  It was all about the metal, with an occasional stone.  I was humbled and honored that he would take the time to go through some of his journals, sharing them with us.


What else needs to be said?

For my work to grow and be more meaningful, I realized that I too must strive to create “Art”, yes, wearable works of “Art”.

Thank you Harold, it was a privilege and a moment in time (to quote Lexi), that I will always remember.

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

Continuing with my random thoughts about what I experienced at the Colorado Metalsmtihing Conference, this one came to the forefront more than once.  Do you think like an artist?

Part of me feels like my answer to this is, no, not yet.  However, I know that I do think like an artist, just not to the extent that our presenters do.  From my perspective, doing a bit of self-evaluation, I do not feel that I am fully engaged in thinking like an artist every day.  After this conference, I want to….I need to think more like an artist every single day!

Perhaps it is because I am pretty equally balanced with the whole right brain (creative) / left brain (logical) thinking process.  I consistently land smack dab in the middle any time I take one of those tests that evaluate which side of the brain dominates your thought process.  I’m sure that is why I am fairly comfortable switching gears from being a geek by day (left brain thinking) to being an artist by night (right brain thinking).

Yet now I have this awareness, an insight into an area I want to address to become a better artist.  That enlightenment came with the first presenter at the conference, Judith Kaufman.

Judith Kaufman

When Judith was 13, her mother signed her up for some metalsmithing classes and from that point on, she was hooked.  She spent almost every free moment in their basement, working on things, refining her technique and how she created her designs.

Judith doesn’t sketch; she doesn’t draw her designs.  As a matter of fact, she said she doesn’t draw well.  I found that very interesting and bit reassuring, because I don’t feel like I draw well either, yet I do sketch things out.  Ever since I started metalwork, I have felt the need to have a clear path of what I wanted to do before I started to work on a piece.  Perhaps that is the logical part of my mind, satisfying the need to have that clear direction. Yet, this isn’t the way Judith works and as she showed us how she approaches her work, I had one of my many ah ha moments.  I realized that she thinks like an artist all the time!  Well, of course she does.

On her workbench, she lays out a variety of gem stones, previously assembled bits and pieces and just searches through them until one of them speaks to her.  She will pull that one out and start looking for something to pair with it.  So the process continues until she has her next work in front of her.  As she said, she doesn’t sketch but she does sort through the myriad of shapes, colors and textures until she finds the right matches and off she goes to make something breathtakingly stunning.  That spoke volumes to me about thinking like an artist.

She commented that as she looks at a completed piece, she could trace back to where the inspiration came from.  When she would see something, it was some how tucked away in her subconscious and would manifest itself in these creations as she searched through her table top of treasures.  Unconsciously, she was searching for the right components to replicate something she has seen.  She said, find beauty in the mundane.  Interesting concept, right?  Once a piece was completed, it took her back to that thing that had inspired it.  She provided this quote that pretty much sums up that principle:

She showed photos of things that inspired her pieces, one came from rain drops, another from some tree branches.  Now I didn’t think any of these things were mundane, but I guess for some they are.  As she discussed these things, I realized how much I need to exercise the right side of my brain to think more like an artist.  Be open every day to taking things into your mind and appreciate the small details of beauty that exist in the most common things you see.  I think it takes practice, but I want to do that every day until it is ingrained into the way I process information.

Judith Post Presentation

This way of viewing the world reminds me of some of the vacations Dan & I have taken to some of our National Parks like Bryce, Zion, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.  People would rush from their cars, snap a couple of pictures of a breathtaking waterfall or magnificent mountain and then scurry back to their car to quickly head off to another place.  They would spend less than 5 minutes in some of the most spectacular places.  Why bother to make the trip at all?

For Dan & I, our approach is to linger…take it all in.  You just traveled hundreds of miles, spend some time to see the vistas, experience nature.  Cameras in hand, we would hike, drinking in as many aspects of the scenery as we could.  Large and small scale.  Truly “taking time to smell the roses”.  Savor that dew covered leaf, the mist from the tremendous force of a waterfall, stop and watch a moose in a pond…knowing full well that she was aware of us, but allowed us the honor of watching her in her element.  Slow down, take life in and now, more so than ever before, I want to convey those things in my work.  Think like an artist.

As I reflect on this, I am realizing that I do think like an artist more than I thought.  Perhaps these artistic Olympians at our conference have just put the spotlight on my need to be even more artistic.

To be continued…..

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

the 2011 Colorado Metalsmithing Association’s (CoMA) Conference.

This past weekend I attended the annual CoMA Conference, which is held at the Steamplant in downtown Salida, Colorado.  It is one of the few places we have found that will allow open flames from the torches used in metalwork.  The weather was hot as usual and this was my second time to attend the conference since joining the organization 2 1/2 years ago.

Lexi and I were conference buddies again.  There’s nothing better than sharing these experiences with your sister/best friend.

Left to right: Avi Good, Hoss Haley, Tom Muir & Michael Zobel (Judith had another commitment)

The speakers we had this year were Michael Zobel, Judith Kaufman, Tom Muir, Hoss Haley, and Avi Good (Michael Good’s daughter).  Each one brought something unique to the table.  I know, duh, why else would they have been invited to speak?  I guess what I wasn’t prepared for was the profound impact these artists would have on me as they spoke.  While Avi isn’t an artist, she knows the business side of things and she is one of the most delightful people I have ever met.

That is just one of the great things about the CoMA conference….everyone is so approachable.  These super stars of the metalsmithing world are just regular people and don’t have body guards to keep the crowds at bay.  I was able to speak to each one on an individual basis, thank them for coming and their insights.  How awesome is that?

For me, this year’s conference was even more intense than what I experienced last year.  Today my mind is swimming with thoughts, overflowing if you will.  It feels like my brain has reached full capacity with all the sights and sounds I took  in… so much so that I don’t think one more drop of creative stimulus could be handled until I have time to digest, percolate, sort, and process the vast amounts of sensory overload I experienced.  Am I feeling a bit overwhelmed? Yes, but that’s a good thing!  😀

I’m trying to put all the parts and pieces of this experience together so it’s not so chaotic in my mind. Today I thought it was very important to write about my experiences here, because my blog is my metalsmithing journal.  The process of assessing my thoughts in writing should help put things in perspective.  I may do several posts as my thoughts gel and I’m able to elaborate on the key points.

Hopefully that helps to explain why I titled this post Random Thoughts About…. because right now I have so many random thoughts about what I experienced at this conference that I just don’t know where to begin.

I will tell you that Saturday night was magical.  I’m serious as a heart attack about that point.  A small group of us was invited to Harold O’Connor’s studio to listen to his thoughts about art, see where he creates and even ask questions.  It was a very special evening and such an honor to be included in the group of invitees.  Harold has such great talent, skill and knowledge; classically trained in Europe.  What an invaluable opportunity to listen to someone who has accomplished so much throughout his lifetime.  It is something I will always treasure.  As he spoke about his work and the concept of art, I knew I had to look at what I do as an artist from a completely new perspective.  It shook me to the core…the realization of where I am as an artist and where I want to be.  He invited our questions and answered each one.  To listen to him talking about a range of topics in his studio, well, that was a purely magical evening for me.

For now, I’ll leave this as a to be continued… as I work on getting some perspective on the impact the conference and its surrounding events had on me.

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

My well used burnisher

What in the world is a flat fid burnisher and why do I use this in my metalwork?

It’s is a tool that is used in the fabrication of stained glass windows.  Prior to becoming a metalsmith,  my artistic journey took me down the path of being a stained glass artist. I still love the medium and currently, I do a very limited number of stained glass projects….mainly for our home. Every medium has its tool set and this burnisher has migrated its way to my metalsmithing tool box.

Use of fid for stained glass work

Photo courtesy of Delphi Stained Glass

Its original purpose was to smooth (burnish) copper foil onto the individual glass pieces that make up the stained glass window’s design. When doing stained glass windows in copper foil, each piece of glass is wrapped in sticky backed copper foil. The foil must adhere to the glass and to ensure that it does so, a burnisher is used.  The tool is used to rub the top of the copper foil onto the glass, eliminating little bubbles and making sure the contact seal is good.  When done properly, the foil is secured to the glass in preparation for soldering the pieces together to form the window.  There actually are several different types of burnishers for that type of glass work and I have a mixture of them.  However, I found this one to be particularly useful in my metalwork.

I use it to help form bezel strip around stones that I set.  Because it is plastic, it doesn’t mar the metal.  It works better than my fingers because it is stronger.  At the starting point of the bezel strip, I will work the bezel around the stone, hold the wire strip in place with my fingers of my left hand (I’m a righty) and use the tool to gently ease the bezel around curves and corners.  When I’m done, I have the stone shape outline in the bezel…just what I wanted.

Sometimes after I’ve soldered my bezel strip together, it’s out of shape from the original shape of the stone it will hold.  Another opportunity to use the tool here…. I position the misshapen bezel around the stone and use the fid burnisher to straighten and reshape the bezel strip to the stone shape again.  This also helps me to ensure that my bezel outline is right before its final soldering into place on the back plate of the setting.  You can’t really fix a misshapen bezel once it’s been soldered down on the back plate.

One thing I have found, and hopefully you have too, is that some tools can safely be used for another purpose beside the original one.  Lexi is a great advocate of this principle.  She has found lots of things that she will use in her studio, that are outside of their intended purpose.  Take one of her classes for those tips and tricks!  Experimentation, within reason, is a good thing.

You can find the flat fid burnisher at your local stained glass supplier, if there is one in your area.  Call ahead and make sure they carry them. Of course, there are many online sources for them too.  They are relatively inexpensive, ranging from $1 – $3.  I found one similar to mine at All Stained Glass for $1 and another at a mid-range price ($1.80) at Harmony Stained Glass.  However, All Stained Glass has a $35 minimum order requirement, while I don’t think Harmony requires a minimum order amount.  Delphi Stained Glass is another resource too.  If you are considering adding one to your toolbox, in this case I would encourage you to shop locally and avoid shipping costs and/or minimum order requirements.  Just my thoughts.

This is a tool I use every time I prepare my bezel strip for the stone setting process.  I’ve tried using the handles from tooth brushes, but their handle shapes don’t work as well for me as the nice edges and curves of the fid.

I hope you found this segment fun and insightful.  What tools do you have in your metalsmithing shop that were not originally intended for metalwork?

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

Corn on the Cob

This month’s topic for the Blog-o-sphere Think Tank is “What is your Favorite summer food / meal?”  Well, growing up in northern Illinois, the land of corn in my mind (along with some other midwestern states), I have to say corn on the cob is one of my favorite summer foods.

My parents had a garden and it produced many tasty treats.  There was nothing better than fresh picked sweet corn, straight from their garden.  Sweet, tender, juicy.  I loved it.  Oh yes, and please do not hold the butter….the more the better with sweet corn!

I don’t have it that often any more, but given the opportunity, I will snag one with my summer meals.

Fresh Tomatoes!

A close second is tomatoes from that same garden.  They were extra flavorful; not like the hot house varieties the stores sell.  At one point, my folks would put sugar on them.  Then they switched to salt and occasionally pepper.  I’m afraid I didn’t stick with any of those condiments  and I just find having them plain is the best treat of all.

Please check out my other blog-o-sphere compadres and see what their favorites are too!

Andes Cruz:
Brad Severtson:
Barbara Donovan:
Shannon Koochin:
stephanie clark:
Laura FLavin :

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

The Pickle Pot

Ok, it says Crock-Pot, but this one really is strictly devoted as my current pickle pot in my studio.  It’s one of the small ones made by Rival.  Remember, any time you bring something into the studio that is normally used in the kitchen, it NEVER, NEVER EVER returns to the kitchen.  Its life is now that of a studio assistant.

If you want to know what pickle is, I’ll refer you to Lexi’s blog where she discusses that in depth.  Since Lexi covers the details about the pickle solution in great detail, I’ll just give you a high level overview of it.

For my solution, I use ph down which is one of the chemicals used in maintaining the ph levels in your spa.  Yep, the same stuff.    Basically, pickle is a cleaning solution.  It serves a number of purposes and I just mention a few.  It  prepares the metal, getting it nice & clean before you start to solder it and on the flip side, it removes the residues/nasties from soldering.  It also removes the oils your hands leave on the metal when you touch it and it can even help with the dreaded fire scale, if it isn’t too bad.  However, there are times when removing fire scale requires a bit more elbow grease in terms of sanding it away.

The pickle solution in my pot

This picture shows the inside of my pickle pot.  It has some particles in there that actually came from my fire brick because they had adhered to my metal when I was soldering.  That happens when I get flux on my fire brick and I do my best to avoid that, but it happens.  Generally, those pieces of fire brick fall off in the pot and when it gets too bad, I safely discard the solution and start a fresh batch.

You can see from the photo that mine has turned a light blue.  This is a normal event because as you continue to put your metal pieces in the solution for cleaning, some of the copper from the metal’s surface will leach into the liquid and eventually your clear pickle solution starts to turn blue.  That’s ok.

Generally the pickle works best when it is warm so that is why we put it in these little crock pots.  Turn the control to low and your solution is kept at the perfect temperature to do its best work.  I will leave my pieces in the pickle for anywhere from 30 seconds to 4 or 5 minutes, depending on what I hope the solution will accomplish.  And yes, sadly I have forgotten to turn my Crock pot off so the liquid evaporates (even with the lid in place) and leaves an interesting sludge.  Fortunately, soaking the inside of the pot with Dawn treated water will loosen up that material and you can start afresh!

These little crock pots by Rival are pretty durable.  Mine is a little over 2 years old, but I know it will eventually wear out so I now have one in reserve!

The colorful backup

A couple of weeks ago, I saw some colorful ones at our local Wal-Mart.  I debated between yellow and red.  As the picture shows, I chose the red one because my Jenny Chen Shears have red handles and they remain on my solder station.  Why not have a few matching tools in my soldering area?

The one I purchased was $10, same price I paid 2 years ago for my current model.  If you’d like to add a splash of color to your work space, why not get one of the colorful ones for your soldering station?  Just my take on it.

One last point of interest on this subject.  Someone had recommended to a fellow metalsmithing friend to hang a glass pickle next to your light switch to help remind you to turn off your pickle pot before leaving the studio.  I guess I should have followed that advice, yet I have not.  I do think it’s a cute idea and if I find a glass pickle to my liking, I will probably follow that suggestion.  For now, I tend to double check a few things 2 or 3 times before I leave my studio; make sure my acetylene tank and pickle pot are turned off, blow out the candle (I like the aroma & ambiance!), close the window and turn off all the lights & the fan.  So far, it’s all been working!

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

Because of the darkness
we are able to perceive light.
~ Toni Carmine Salerno

During my recent stint with artist’s block, I had never felt so fully immersed in a state of darkness.  I hope no one goes through that, yet sadly I know many artists do and all of us who create art will go through it again and again.  This one pushed me to a place that I never thought existed.  However, out of that darkness, came light.  This quote is one that Lexi shared with me.

New designs started to enter my mind’s eye at the strangest time and place.  I was in my optometrist’s office, waiting for my eyes to finish dilating!  It had felt like an eternity since I had experienced that flow of creative energy and I recognized it, so I grabbed my purse and searched for my sketch book.  I have learned to always carry a sketch book with me because you never know when something will strike you.

So now I’m sitting in the exam chair, drawing out these new designs, without glasses, eyes dilating and I don’t really care how they look, I just want a rough idea of what I was ‘seeing‘.  I captured that.  I took some notes covering the thoughts about this series and figured I could decode what I wrote no matter how bad the handwriting.  Ironic that all of this occurred in my optometrist’s office!

I put my sketch book back in my purse, sat back in the chair, closed my eyes and relaxed.  I knew I was back in the world lit with creative light and energy.  I smiled, a grateful smile, thankful that the darkness had finally lifted.  The muse was no longer eluding me.

One of the really wonderful things about the new series I’m working on is I finally understand what Lexi has been telling me about “The Metal is Enough“.  Don’t be concerned about putting stones in your pieces, just let the metal be enough.  It is a wonderful revelation.

Currently, this new line is focused more on the blending of copper and silver.  I anticipate that I will be incorporating some stones too, but I have not…..   yet.

While I know the artist’s block will visit me from time to time, I am grateful to have put it behind me again as I work on new things.  For those of you going through that darkness, trust and know you too will find the light you seek.

Remember, you never know when or where your next design idea will strike.

Oh, and if you would like to see these new works, well, you’ll have to visit me at the upcoming shows in September & October.  More details to follow.

Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

For this week’s Talkin’ Tools segment, I thought I would talk about one of the handiest tools I have in my studio…tweezers!  I have 2 pairs of these. I keep one at my work bench and the other at my soldering station. These are my favorites because of the extra sharp, pointed tips.

Yes I do have other tweezers that I use, but none of them work as well as this particular one.

Frequently I need to pick up tiny pieces of metal or wire as I am fabricating my work.  Because they have such great pointy tips, I can easily pick up the smallest of things.  At the solder station, I use them for placing tiny pieces of solder or little silver balls that I will solder into place like the ones you have seen in Mountainesque.  Here’s an example:

Red Mountain
Photo Credit ~ Daniel Krucoff

When I try to pick up super small things, I find it pretty difficult to do so with my fingers.  There are times when a tool makes your work easier and these tweezers certainly are a great asset for small, tiny pieces.  I can position things exactly where I want them and not fumble for a few minutes trying to get things into their proper place.  If you look at how small some of the decorative silver balls are on Red Mountain, I think that helps put the use of these tweezers into perspective.  They are a great assistant in the studio.

I purchased mine from Indian Jewelry Supply.  If you look closely, you can see the part number is still taped to them.  If you can’t read it, the item number is 249-T401MM for Indian Jewelry Supply part list.

What are some of your favorite tools that you use daily in your studios?

That concludes this week’s segment of Talkin’ Tools.  Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

Kathleen Krucoff

Artist and Metalsmith

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