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Check out my latest and greatest hammers and forming blocks from NC Black!

This past Sunday, I was able to attend a demo by Andrea Kennington & Les Bryant of NC Black, which took place at Cottonwood Center for the Arts in Colorado Springs.

As many of you know, I love tools.  I have wanted to explore some additional metalworking techniques ever since Annie of NC Black did some demos at our Colorado Metalsmithing Conference this past July.  Now I have what is considered a starter set of their mini forming tools and I will be practicing….a lot!

The techniques that I will be exploring and learning are called shell forming:   anticlastic raising and synclastic metal forming.

Michael Good is probably best know for his anticlastic work.  Betty Helen Longhi’s work shows more beautiful examples of the synclastic style.  For a good overview on these metal forming techniques, visit these Ganoksin links:

Right now I’m not sure how I will incorporate these techniques in my work.  I love  learning new things.  It is good for me to challenge myself and see how these techniques may be applied to my future works.

Andrea is one of my Facebook friends, so it was great to meet her in person.  She shared a number of things about herself and the company she formed, that added to my respect and admiration of her.

I would like to share a bit of Andrea’s story.  She apprenticed under Betty Helen Longhi and was a production jeweler for many years.  She would teach a few workshops each year.  For those workshops, she made the tools the students would need to use and those tools would be part of the student’s kit that they would take home after the workshop.  She said she never set out to make hammers.  She made a limited number of them each year for the workshops she taught.  But demand for those tools increased and she really didn’t have the time, people or facility to produce hammers.  That all changed….

When the economy took its toll on a few of her friends (they were laid off), that became the impetus for a partnership to form NC Black.  The tool manufacturing company started 31 months ago and  today employs around 18 people.  Impressive.

There is a direction that many artists in the United States are advocating and that is buy American made products.  Andrea is supporting that cause with NC Black, using steel and wood from the US.

Here are a few examples of the work Andrea and Les demonstrated for us.

I shot a few video clips so I can refer back to them as I practice.  I wanted to share this one as an example of one of the techniques they demonstrated.

Next March, they will be back in Colorado Springs at the Cottonwood Center for the Arts to teach a workshop and I am ready to sign up.  One of the encouraging things Les told us was that one could pick up these techniques in about 4 hours.  Now, mastery of them comes with a ton of practice.  We all have to start somewhere, right?

I definitely like the quality of their tools.  An added bonus for me is knowing the people behind the company.  It was a pleasure Andrea and Les!  Looking forward to spring 2012 when you return to Colorado Springs.  I am an eager student.

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

There’s a scene at the end of the movie Pretty Woman, where a man is walking along the street, asking everyone he passes, “What’s your dream?“.  It always makes me smile because of his enthusiasm and the way the movie ended….on a high note in spite of the glossed over, fantasy story line.

What I would like to discuss and emphasize in this post is, “Do you know what your dream is?”  If you do, that’s great…it’s a start toward achieving it.  But if you don’t, it’s time to sit down, pen/paper in hand, and start working out the details.

I’m still revisiting my thoughts and impressions from the Colorado Metalsmithing Conference held in Salida, CO on July 22 – 24, 2011.  As I have reflected on what I experienced at the conference, more details are unfolding for me.  They have been significant to me because of where I am with my work, my goals, my dreams.

Avi Good

Avi Good discussed the business side of art.   She is Michael Good’s daughter and one of the most delightful and enchanting people I have ever met.  I love the way she looks at life and approaches things.  Coupled with her sense of humor, I found her insights invaluable.

The business side of art is something that I think we all struggle with, yet it is vitally important to our success.  Avi stressed that you have to know where you want to be, before you get there.  I often joke that I think many take the approach depicted in an early South Park episode about the Underwear Gnomes.

Underwear Gnomes Business Model 

You can see a key component of this business plan is missing!  How does one make a profit in their business?

Avi discussed the straight forward approach that must be taken for your business to succeed.  At the beginning of the year, determine the amount of money you need to make annually and then start working on all of the factors that will allow you to achieve that income.  It isn’t easy.  There are some ‘guestimates’ you will need to make.  You have to crunch the numbers in order to have a hope of achieving them and being on the road to success.

There are so many unknowns that go into this formula for calculating the amount of money you need to earn during the year from your work.  How many shows do you plan on doing?  Consider those costs….application fees, travel expenses, food, lodging coupled with the costs of doing your work.   That’s just one aspect.

She pointed our the dilemma, creativity vs selling to make a living.  You have to analyze what you are doing and is it working?  Pricing is the foundation of a sound business.

Determine the following:

  • Your costs = price of materials
  • Labor = all aspects surrounding your time, show preparations, making your pieces, marketing your work, etc.
  • Overhead = expense in relation to time, utilies, insurance, mortgage/rent, any fixed cost
  • Expenses = everything else, your tools, meals, advertising, etc.

Labor breaks down to how much do I want to make annually.  Once you have that figure, you can break down the number of weeks you work in a year, hours you work in a week and then ultimately, your hourly rate.

Lets face it, as we start, we may not be making much, if anything, on an hourly rate.  Sad but true.  I’m a realist and Avi confirmed (as Lexi has) that for the first couple of years in the biz, you may not be earning an hourly rate for your work because you are an unknown.  Avi’s father is Michael Good.  Talk about name recognition!  As she pointed out, would some one purchase an identical pair of earrings made by Michael Good or a pair made by an unknown?  The value for Michael Good’s work is considerably higher than that from an artist who has no name recognition.  That’s just the reality of it.

The thing is that we all have to set goals, coupled with that, we need to outline the steps we need to take to achieve those goals.  Remember here, you need to outline those steps you are going to take to achieve those goals….don’t be like those Underwear Gnomes and have a red question mark in Phase 2 of how to achieve your goals.

I admit that I’m lucky; I have a full time job in the corporate world that provides the stability and funding that I need to continue my artistic pursuits.  I know a lot of artists in this category.  Does this make any of us less as artists?  I would say not.  I am a person driven to achieve, grow and learn.  Certainly one of my goals is to become a full time artist.  Given the status of our economy in the US, along with the mindset of the public and the collectors, well, it feels like salmon battling the upstream current when trying to grow my business.  Yet I am determined to succeed.  That determination alone will not guarantee my success as an artist.

First and foremost, we must have a plan.  What do we want to achieve and how will we go about making that happen.  As I said earlier, it is not easy.

I am re-evaluating my business goals.  It’s imperative that we write these goals down, look at them every day to stay focus and pursue them.  This year I have made the choice to be a self-represented artist.  Once I complete my fall show schedule, I am going to look for galleries that would find my work to be a good fit.  Remember that takes work and research.  No one is going to “discover you and your work” without a LOT of effort on your part.  Realize that being represented by a gallery must be a good fit for both the artist and the gallery.  Much to do and learn.

The challenge of achieving one’s goals is a worthy one.  Consider where you want to be as an artist and how you will work toward those goals.  I believe there isn’t a set formula to achieve these goals and each of us must work out the details that will be a custom fit, tailored to our individual personalities and needs.

For me, I know there is a lot of work in front of me.  Being an ‘overnight success’ does not happen overnight.  Ponder this.

What is my dream? I have a concept, after listening to Avi; just having ‘a concept’ isn’t good enough. I have to develop a clear, concise, well thought out plan. Do I want to be famous? No. I envision myself as one of those artists who create “one of a kind” pieces of art.  That is all well and good…now I must plan my strategy and determine my real goals, along with the steps that I need to take, in order to achieve my goals.

Whew, that’s heavy….a lot to consider. Well worth it!

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.

This weekend I attended the Colorado Metalsmiths Conference (CoMA) in Salida, Colorado. It was the first time I attended this event and I don’t think the enormity of what I experience has even begun to sink in yet.

The conference started on Friday afternoon and went through Sunday morning. This year was a record breaking crowd of 170 attendees from all over the United States.  I think there were even some international visitors.  I was told this event has grown tremendously.

My dear friend and mentor, Lexi Erickson, was my tour guide & constant companion for the weekend.  Thank you Lexi!

The presenters at this years conference were truly Masters of Metal. For me, the standout was Albert Paley. I couldn’t take notes fast enough as he shared his thoughts, philosophy, and work. His life’s work is jaw dropping, stunningly beautiful, masterful.  “Understand the material and its limits.”  “Find an environment to express who you are.”  “Self imposed limitations are your greatest limitation.”  Pearls of wisdom here folks!

Albert Paley

I took a number of photos and I apologize for their quality. Given the lighting at the convention center, I’m actually quite happy with the way they turned out though.

This is an example of Paley’s work, from one of the slides in his presentation.  That’s metal!  The graceful lines, the connections with all of the parts within the piece.  I am in awe.

One of my newest prized possessions is the book, Albert Paley | Portals & Gates.  He could only bring a few of his books to this conference.  And there were 170 people in the audience mind you.  At the end of the question and answer period, he said he would sign copies of the books he brought with them.  Now, I was probably about 10 rows up from the stage with Lexi and a group of friends….and we didn’t pull a “Wonder Woman” to get down there, BUT both Lexi & I found a book to purchase and have him autograph!  Talk about blessed, excited and thrilled!!!!

Now you would think that would be good, and it was, but Lexi said “Take my picture with Paley in the background”.  Of course I obliged.  Then I thought, ok, take mine!  Which Lexi did.  People thought it was quite amusing to see me in the background grinning like the Cheshire Cat.  I just couldn’t help myself!  I was so tickled to have procured not only an autographed book, but now a picture with a metalsmithing celebrity!

Albert Paley (left) and me

The next morning I was drawing Paley inspired designs in my sketch book.  Whether I can pull any of them off, remains to be seen, but I am delighted to have had this experience.

The next presenter that wowed me was Michael Good.  He shared his thoughts about being a jeweler and his work.  “Eliminate barriers”  “Keep things simple”  “Minimize what you do”

Michael Good

An Example of Good's Work From His Slides

Sunday morning was the finale and concluded with Pat Flynn.  He works with steel and gold.  He started working with old iron nails and found metal from house renovations.  How interesting is that?  “Look at work you don’t like, to define how you want your work to be”

Pat Flynn

Example of Pat Flynn's Work From His Slides

All of the presenters shared their points of view and the path they followed to be where they are today.  Fascinating.  I think my subconscious will be digesting the vast amount of information for quite a while.  I’m anxious to see the impact this will have on my future work.

Salida has some wonderful settings.  This river runs along where the convention took place.  Great to take a walk and listen to the sounds of the water as it flows past.

Here’s a shot of some of the conference attendees gathering around the stage after a presentation.

CoMA really did a great job putting on a quality conference.  The banquet took place Saturday night, very casual, very Colorado.  There was a silent auction to raise money for the group.  Lots of wonderful donations.  As things progressed over the weekend, I do think I was under the influence of information overload.  So many sights and sounds.

Since it was my first time attending the conference, I became Lexi’s shadow.  She knows so many people.  It was great fun to watch her reunite with her friends and meet new ones.

I was fortunate to acquire a pair of Julie Jerman-Melka’s earrings.  She is one of Lexi’s closest friends and it was wonderful to finally meet her after admiring her work.  On Saturday, she was wearing one of her new earring designs and I fell in love with them.  I asked her if they were available for purchase and presto chango, they became mine.  Julie works with river rocks, silver and precious stones.  This pair has raw diamonds and I am honored to have them.

My New Earrings by Julie Jerman-Melka

I can definitely understand the importance of attending this type of conference.  The exposure to such Masters of Metal, along with the outstanding talent within the group of attendees, is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the CoMA Convention.  Until next time, aspire to be more as an artist and a person.

Kathleen Krucoff


Artist and Metalsmith

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