Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Afghan Turquoise Necklace... & My Desktop Is Dead -- Again...

This is not good! Geez, just what I need when I'm a day and a half away from leaving for the Gem Expo. I am not used to this laptop -- in fact I haven't touched it since I got the desktop fixed back in March, I guess it was. Early April? Man, time has flown.

Anyway, I've been busy restringing and pricing beads and, of course, this is when I get all my brilliant ideas for jewellery. This is also when I find all the beads I knew I had, but had no idea where they'd got to. I did take a break to make another small batch of peach freezer jam -- in fact I have to go put it in the jars now -- and strung this necklace:  hand-cut Afghan turquoise, carved yellow jade lantern beads and bone birds.

Necklace, $75, plus shipping and handling, or...

Better yet, come and try it on at The Gem Expo, being held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on King Street, Toronto, this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, July 25th, 26th and 27th. Hope to see you there! Sign up for their newsletter and get $2 off the admission fee, plus read about silent auctions and classes on the website.

Thanks for looking!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Low-Sugar No-Cook Peach Freezer Jam Heaven...

Does anyone remember peach fuzz? You know, that fuzzy stuff that peaches used to be covered in? Where did that go? And what's with peaches hard as a rock, dry and woody, picked green that never ripen but rot brown within a day or two? I actually broke down in the dead of this past winter because it was so freakin' cold and long and bought sliced frozen peaches because I absolutely had to have jam... they were GREEN and woody and tasteless -- and still rock hard even after I thawed them.

Hello... just like strawberries, peaches do not and will not continue ripening after they've been picked.

I have to admit I'm something of a purist when it comes to jam. I don't like weird combinations of flavours first thing in the morning and I sure don't like added chemicals, and I can't stand things so sweet my tongue burns. As a freezer jam maker of almost 10 years who picks out each berry and examines it carefully, trust me, you do not want to know WHY your commercial jams have a weird chemical smell and taste and have that glow-in-the-dark, peculiarly otherworldly colour. No fruit on earth is that colour -- so, yeah: otherworldly. Jam processors don't have time to carve away rotten spots, check for bugs and remove all the green leaves and unripe bits: every little thing goes into the hopper.

I wrote last year about making strawberry jam. This weekend, I'm making early peach jam. I keep forgetting the name/breed of these peaches that come from Niagara -- they're not Red Havens. They're only available for a few weeks just past the middle of July-ish but so worth it to track down. They actually smell peachy and are juicy and soft, not hard as a rock and hairless -- the skins are still fuzzy. A little bit -- and they actually taste like peaches used to taste. What a novel concept.

Now this is where I'm sure I'm gonna get slammed (but please don't bother): you do not need to use a ton of sugar to make jam. Because it's so tart, in four cups of cooked rhubarb, for example, I might, just maybe, put four level soup spoons of sugar max, but pretty much all other fruit almost always it's only one and a half to two spoons, and yes, I use white death. Tolja up above I'm a purist. Or maybe old-fashioned that way. Honey is for other things... baclava, per esempio -- or drizzled on fried chicken. Now, that is heaven. Hah -- there's something I haven't had for over 40 years. But not jam. And forget chemicals. I even spent a whole summer once experimenting with stevia. I never could get past the incredibly bitter chemical aftertaste no matter how little I used.

So. Sugar. You do NOT need to use ALL THAT SUGAR. I mean, cooked jam recipes calling for SEVEN cups of sugar to four cups of fruit? Oh, please. It's the pectin that preserves the fruit, not sugar.

You want to know what the secret is? Lemon juice. Upwards of a quarter cup. Taste the jam before you put it in the jars. It should taste just a titch too lemony -- but trust me, it will fade completely into the background after you thaw out the jam and it so wonderfully enhances the flavour of the fruit. Gives it tang. Yummers.

Pectin. Over the years, I've tried several brands particularly formulated for low-sugar no-cook jam, and they all work just fine. I've also played around with exactly how much pectin to put in depending on how juicy the fruit becomes when crushed. After a while, you get used to how "pulled together" and shlumpy the fruit needs to be for optimum texture after freezing and thawing. The trick is not to use too much, or you'll get that cheap pie-filling gluggy texture, but just enough. If the fruit is really juicy (rhubarb, seedless Coronation grapes, blueberries), I'll add add a little bit more very gradually from a second package. Overall, though, it's very forgiving. I'll do a taste test, and even stir in a bit more lemon juice after I've finished adding the pectin. It's fine. Even if the pectin brand says it's fine to eat right away, I still prefer to freeze the jam at least overnight, pull a jar out of the freezer, let it thaw in the fridge for another day and it'll be perfect. Just fruit is all you'll taste.

My handy dandy potato masher. It's the best for smashing up fruit. Works much faster and is less messy than chopping little tiny fruit into tiny little bits. Releases lots more juice, too. I like my jam lumpy. When I was first making sour cherry jam, I used a blender, but that made the texture too smooth and creepy. Then I remembered my potato masher, and it worked perfectly.

Some of my freezer stash: rhubarb in the 500 ml jar, strawberry and peach jam in the 250 ml jars (and some soup at the bottom). I'll get seven or eight 250 ml jars out of two pint baskets of strawberries, and 6 to 8 jars of peach jam out of a six quart basket, or about 10-12 peaches. Depends on their size and how much I have to cut away.

Thanks for looking!

Friday, 18 July 2014

Kyanite Necklace & Earrings in Progress... The Gem Expo... & Roman Glass Beads Arriving in August!!!

Here's my dilemma. I have this beautiful and (for me) fairly expensive string of kyanite beads. My inclination, after looking at these beads for months was to KISS -- Keep It Super Simple -- so I strung them with one Bali silver bead in the centre. I like using larger clasps, if for the simple -- ah hah -- and logical reason that people, aka my customers, have told me they really, really like them. They're far easier to do up, not to mention they look cool.

But... in this case I used a pewter clasp which really helps to bring the cost down (and I think keeps the look "up" far better than a boring sterling clasp, at least the ones that are locally available to me at the moment). A sterling silver clasp of this size would whomp up the end price of the necklace considerably. Do I go ahead and offer the necklace with a sterling clasp for a high price, but offer the possibility of a pewter clasp at a lower price? Is this more futility in my battle to be all things to all people and will this possibly confuse them as to the "worth" of my offerings, i.e., does a judicious use of inexpensive but good-looking findings really cheapen the value of the beads they accompany or just make the item more attractively priced? Gaaaaaaaaah...

Well, so much for today's existential crisis. Meanwhile, pictures...

Earrings in a state of contemplation: do I go short, long...? The existentiality of this is one most of you will identify with because I only bought the one string of beads in this diameter and blew through all but four making the necklace. I shoulda/woulda/coulda taken the time to dig out my other smaller beads to put around the back. This is why it takes me so long to use my beads because theoretically -- and practically -- I have just one kick at the design can.

Ewww... I have to say I don't like how the colour turned out when I imported this picture into Blogger. The colour in the necklace photos is more or less accurate.

Let's try it again:

Onto another topic: my Gem Expo display table. Yes, in just seven days from this writing, Ruth and I will be open for business in the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency on King Street in Toronto! Since I primarily sell beads, but the necklaces and earrings I make with my beads have been selling well, I have to come up with interesting jewellery displays that take up very little table space, yet are up front and visible without detracting from the beads.

I bought this towel rack for two bucks at the Goodwill the other day and I'm quite pleased with it.

As always, I will be bringing lots of turquoise, lapis and other interesting semi-precious and powder glass beads in short strings and by the each, coin silver beads and connectors also by the each, as well as lots of pewter pendants and fetish beads. I take Visa and MasterCard, but unfortunately not debit. See you there!

PS: More and more of these items -- both strings of antique and collector beads as well as my necklaces and earrings -- are flying into and equally quickly out of Showcase 800 at the One of a Kind Antique Mall in Woodstock. As a heads-up, I have a shipment of drool-worthy Roman glass beads coming directly from Afghanistan. The beads will arrive some time in August -- alas, too late for the July Gem Expo. I'll post pictures and prices here as soon as I get them.

Thanks for looking!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Crystal Suncatchers Now at the Antique Mall...

Yesterday Nancy and I added more items to our booth and noted what has sold in just two or three days: small handmade birdhouses, old medicine bottles -- still some of each of those left; beautifully made doll clothes still in their original packaging and quite a few $2 grab bags of tiny toys.

I dug out a 3-armed silver-coloured towel rack to use to display my new copper and crystal suncatchers to hang in a sunny window or in the garden. Note that these are made with jewellery-quality crystals and are wire-wrapped (not strung with fishing line). Polish the copper with a tiny squirt of ketchup.

I tested them out in the sun yesterday and they definitely produce lots and lots of rainbows.

This length, with a leather cord, $15 plus shipping and handling. You can get them from showcase 800 on your right as you enter the first floor of the One of a Kind Antique Mall. I will also have lots of suncatchers to choose from at the Woodstock Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. They'd make a great hostess gift if you're going to a party or barbeque this summer or to a friend's cottage.

Thanks for looking!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

2 New Necklaces...

I finished these off at my table at the Woodstock Farmer's Market this morning.

Like wearing a mountain: raw lapis lazuli focal, hand-cut barrel turquoise, sponge coral barrels and handmade Ethiopian brass and copper beads ($90):

An elegant selection of  faceted etched agate and horn Dzi-style beads interspersed with blips of milky green aventurine nuggets and chips, bone pipe, pewter and zinc beads and clasp ($59):

As of this writing, both necklaces are for sale. If you'd like a similar style, or you'd like these shorter or longer or even swap out/add some different colours, email me your ideas and requests.

I also have lots of the Chinese barrel turquoise beads, priced by the full and partial string or by the each, as well as a few of the lapis lazuli chunks at $7 each. Email me for prices and photographs. These are all hand-cut with each bead unique.

As always, shipping and handling are extra and depend on your location and need for speed. I take both PayPal, as well as Square (I can now send you a Square invoice via email: you process the payment and we're done).

Thanks for looking!

Friday, 11 July 2014


I was busy all afternoon, but these copper wire and crystal suncatchers are about all that got even semi-finished. At the market tomorrow I'll add 1mm brown leather strings to tie them to a rearview mirror or a window latch. Being mostly Chinese crystal with some Swarovskis, they'll be pretty bouncy with the rainbows.

Thanks for looking!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Rules for "Furniture Arranging", Decluttering -- Yeah, ME! -- & Some New Copper Chain Components...

I put "furniture arranging" in quotes because people who know me know that I belong to the "it lives where it drops" school of interior design. This applies to the room, the table or shelf of stuff, the clothes, the jewellery, everything in my life: for me, it's all one undifferentiated messpile. Constantly reading decluttering websites 'til the cows come home just doesn't do it for me.

However. Now that I am a one-third proprietor of a booth at the One of a Kind Antique Mall where the goal is to make OUR hundreds of tiny items leap out from the mind-numbing millions of items in the whole 80,000 square foot mall, thereby capturing the eye, mind and heart of their future owners in the three seconds or so allotted to us as they walk by our booth, I'm being forced to learn valuable lessons, if not about interior design or our taste in acquiring gotta-have-this items, then at the very least about how to turn mind-numbing clutter and junk into semi-organised collections -- not chaos -- that will result in constant sales and turnover. (And that is one brain-numbing long sentence. At least, I think it was a sentence. Sorry about that.)

Prior to this, as Lynn and Nancy Mac valiantly attempted to organise thousands of beads, as well as my market table, for me over the past two or three years, I wondered how on earth people did it: make a pile of junky and/or disparate things look clear and ordered. At what point does sick-making clutter of anything veer off the hoarding track onto an "Oh, wow! Look at that!" collection of reeeally cool stuff track?

Here are my short and sweet rules for the store/booth, where the rule is more is way merrier:

1. Gather together like items by picking a theme: colour, era, purpose...
2. Pick the focal piece for that particular vignette
3. Group like vignettes into a larger, overarching theme
4. Can't tell if it's working or not? Photograph your vignette, then step back and photograph the area it occupies: what's not working will leap out at you (this works for anything)

At home, where the rule is less and less is more:
1. Ruthlessly cull or regift (consignment or friends, thrift store, dump) then cull the cull: if you're weak-willed/lazy (I'm both), ask your friends to take everything away immediately for you. Boxes of stuff sitting in a corner are still STUFF IN YOUR HOUSE.
2. Enforce the rule: if something comes in, something goes out (furniture, junque, clothes...)

To the "at home" advice, I finally found out where the recycling depot hides here: I'm talking boxes and boxes of papers to get rid of that would fry any shredder's circuits: outdated and often unread magazines, old computer printouts, university papers that after 20 years I. will. never. look. at. again. Then there are the boxes and boxes of art books hiding out of sight, out of mind under my bed, about 20 of those at last count -- that's boxes, not books.

I think I'm finally starting to get the idea: despite adding a largish side table/magazine table and a box more of stuff to the booth yesterday, after we were finished moving stuff around Nancy Mac said in gobsmacked wonder, "Look at all the room we have!"

June 30

July 6

July 9

It may well be my imagination, but the booth really does feel roomier in the July 9th picture. Even though we've added more items and increased the space the island in the middle occupies, turning the display table 90 degrees really helped with that. The wrought iron screen gives us a see-through wall halfway along the length of that display table and things can pile up and against it on both sides. Overall, there's still plenty of room in behind for people to walk. The new deep green table against the blue seems to calm that whole wall down and rests the eye: there's not that bouncing between the teal blue wall and green as there was with the lighter wooden cart that can be seen in the July 6th picture. The lighter-coloured and lower cart being in the left corner also guides the eye down from the right corner to the left, yet you can still take everything in. 

Yes, there is an estate sale happening this weekend with our name on it!

Meanwhile, after roaming Pinterest and scouring it for ideas, I finally settled down to watch Hannibal on Netflix and bend copper wire. Tonight: hammering. 

These are the tools I use to make these items. I buy all my copper wire by the pound from The Ring Lord. I think this is 16 gauge. I use memory wire cutters on the heavier gauge wire, because it cuts it more easily, and gives a good squared off cut rather than the angled and picky/burred cut that the regular flush cutters give, the ends of which must be filed. For what I'm doing here, a single loop and little to no wrapping, I don't want an angled cut anyway. I want that blunt cut end to butt right into the wire it's looped around to.

I used the barrel of the orange highlighter pen to make the larger loop of the figure-8 pieces at the top (about 15mm diameter), and then the largest part of the round nose to make the smaller loop.

Next step will be a marathon of hammering and then, after a good swish in ketchup to make everything shiny, assembling them into bracelets, earrings and necklaces. One of these days I'll have to play with liver of sulphur to patina my chains, but so far people here seem to prefer the look of shiny copper.

Thanks for looking!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

What Defines Good Design? Plus, since we're on the topic of art, some pictures from my past...

Yeah, like, sez who? Well, it ain't you deciding, and it sure ain't me. It may be as amorphous as air and exist only in the eye of the beholder, but good design is still as real as... real. 

I've been a subscriber of Robert Genn's newsletter and a fan of his thinking for years. He recently died, and his daughter Sara, an artist in her own right, is continuing the newsletter, writing her own columns and rerunning her dad's old columns which were -- are -- ruminations on all manner of topics applicable to any creative endeavour. Just sub out "paints", "painter" and "painting" for whatever you do and the materials you use. I highly recommend you subscribe.

A little detour: Maybe some of you don't know but I was/still am, if on hiatus, a figurative artist who seven or eight years ago moved into using PMC silver clay, largely for its sculptural possibilities, but also because I like to work insanely tiny (also I move a lot and full size sculptures and ceramics are a complete pain in the patootie to haul around). But then PMC got expensive, the economy tanked and nobody was buying the expensive stuff. At the same time, I got more and more into buying and selling beads, if for no other reason than I really like rocks. Waaaaay back in my own mists of time, I used to get paid to climb mountains and look at rocks, so I come by that interest naturally. Then I'd go back to Vancouver on my days off and go to the drawing studio (Basic Inquiry, which I see is still going strong. I also took a look at their Facebook page, some reeeeeally incredible work is shown there.). 

Some drawings from the Basic Inquiry years:

Jerry, Vancouver, 1989 (Founder of the Basic Inquiry studio, Vancouver, BC)

Peter Reede, Nelson, BC, 1992 (Peter was/is one of the better-known models at Basic Inquiry) 

Peter Reede, Vancouver, 1991 (Famous for his "moving poses")

Peter, Nelson, BC, 1992 (Another "moving pose")

Peter Winding His Watch, Nelson, BC, 1992 (I changed my position while drawing him this time)

"Len on the Rocks", Vancouver, 1991 (I'd just come back from my own Great European Tour and seen Leonardo's "Madonna of the Rocks")

Monica, Vancouver 1988 (A Vancouver dance & performance artist. She could hold the most incredible poses for the longest time)

Josie, Vancouver, 1991 (Elfen & impossible to capture.
It was as if I couldn't draw her features; I could only draw the air she displaced.)

Okay, back from the mists, Genn's column today on design resonated enormously with me and I LOVELOVELOVE this quote: "True artists," said William Shipley, "are people who find bad design physically nauseating." YESSSSS!!!! 

I concur with Robert's definition of design and it applies to anything one creates, including jewellery. Long story short, Robert Genn's definition of what design is:

Continuum: Continuity is seen from one element to another. 
Harmony: Shapes echo and complement one another. 
Functionality: How does it work? Form follows function.
Implication: Elements are suggestive or metaphoric.
Concentricity: Elements circulate, extend and focus.
Control: The viewer's eye does what you want it to.
Strength: Forms are solid, committed, authoritative.
Personality: Your design motifs can be yours alone.

To this I would add "Wit": Not wit meaning funny ha-ha, but wit meaning intelligence and engagement -- that ineffable next step that makes the drawing, the painting, the jewellery piece, the architecture become "mine", as in I gotta have it. I gotta live there. It's ME. 

What would you add to this list?

Even more asides because it's the holiday (so it's raining, of course) and I have time. This weather makes me think of travel and Rome is always on my mind. But, in my real world, four days in Toronto is fast approaching, and that will have to do. In no particular order, some of my favourite drawings -- plus the only oil painting I ever did... whereupon I discovered I'm allergic to oil paint fumes, fumes of any description for that matter: a room full of 20-odd students using acrylics? Gag me. But so far so good on drawing materials:

Pat, sitting, from the back, Toronto 1998

Shawn, seated, Toronto, 1998

"L'Olfatto", pencil copy after Passante, Rome, 1997

Natasha, Rome, 1998 - SOLD

Monsieur Poisson (aka Mimmo Pesce), drawing instructor; Natasha, my favourite model; Me, Artist in ROME!!!; Sigfrido Oliva, painter; Solo Show, Via dell' Orso, Rome, 1998 (FYI, the gallery was located just a few doors down from the building Julia Roberts' character rented in Eat, Pray, Love)

After-the-show party. One of the happiest nights of my life. Yep, dinner even included a strolling Gypsy violinist. Rome, 1998

Holding up the wall at a group show four of us held in the apartment I shared, Rome, 1996. I was quite drunk, having just been dumped by the then love of my life whose name escapes me. 

Half-way through painting Somalian Refugee Baby in my painting teacher's studio, Toronto, 1999 (I took two years of painting in Vancouver where we were left to our own devices to reinvent the wheel and I learned sweet zip. I also failed art school. Phhht. Ten years later I paid this guy Michael to teach me classical painting techniques. We got through one technique (grisaille plus yellow, then red, then blue glaze) before he left town, something about teaching scuba diving in Bermuda... somewhere white sand beachy. Sigh...)

Closeup of Somalian Refugee Baby, Toronto, 1999

McMichael Fall Art Show, Kleinburg, Ontario, 1999 (See how the face of that baby in its mother's arms has gotten larger and larger -- and AGED!??! I've always had more than a little problem with keeping control over whatever I'm drawing)

Photo of Omar, Baby Tiger, Camping Sette Colli, Rome, 1995 (The campground was a zoo, with both human and animal/bird inhabitants pretty much freely wandering, and the owner had a licence to temporarily care for abandoned or injured wild animals which would then be returned to the Rome Zoo. This little guy had been rejected by its mother and Tony and his family were hand-raising it. He'd already been returned to the zoo, but Omar missed Tony and wouldn't eat, so he came back for another week or two. This was Omar's last day at the campground, as he was getting too big and didn't know his own strength. He was such a clown, and oh, my, did he stink.)

Baby Tiger, Plexi Etching, Toronto, 2001

Baby Tiger, Mylar Etching, Toronto, 2001

Model back view, seated, Montreal, 1993 (She was a postie by day) - SOLD

Portrait of a young man, Montreal, 1993 (Esoterica: when this guy came around to look at our drawings, he said to me: "I feel like you must have been walking around in my brain, that you know what I was thinking, because I recognise the expression on my face." I think this is one of the nicest compliments I've ever received.)

Ken, 1994, Montreal (This was the first time I felt like I captured the light in someone's eyes, and that's what all my drawing is about, really: capturing the light, the spark, that animates us)
As always, anatomy eludes me...

All images copyright me, Barbara MacDougall, 1988-2014. Please do NOT use, copy, redistribute or reprint without my express written permission. Thank you. 

Thanks for looking!

Monday, 30 June 2014

Moving Day at the One of a Kind Antique Mall...

... plus news of sales and new arrivals...

Today was moving day at the One of a Kind Antique Mall. I moved all of the collectibles and antiques over to our new booth located two booths from the cash desk in the first aisle. More prosaically, we are right across from the women's bathroom. On the one hand, ewww, right? But... guess whose booth everyone is going to be heading directly for afterwards? Hah. We also are distinctive because our two dark blue walls; and with the yellow wallpaper on the back wall, it's instant interior day-cor without lifting a finger.

Last look at the old half-booth:

Getting there... I do lovelovelove my dolly. Even the bookcases were a snap to move. I moved the small dishes in the buggy.

Nancy's display table was the last item to move, thanks to Jack's diligent delegation and John's and a pal's strong arms -- and you get a sense of how cavernously cavernous this place is: at least half again as long behind us, three aisles with booths on each side of the aisles on the first floor for a total of three floors of booths and displays and old offices with tons of nooks and crannies:

The goodies in Nancy's display table:

Now to shuffle things around a bit...

And done:

20% OFF Moving Sale 
Vendors 800 & 847 
(excluding jewellery) 
is still on, but it won't be for very much longer. Come and visit us! There are lots of great sales throughout the Antique Mall, so it's worth a visit. Closed July 1st, alas.

New Beads & Items Sold:
Literally winging its way from Afghanistan as I write is a big shipment of individually hand-cut and leather-polished matte lapis and turquoise beads. My dealer told me he has two new traditional tribal designs hundreds of years old, an arrow and a "spoon" shape. I will post pictures as soon as they arrive.

Meanwhile, this month, I've sold several strings of interesting beads from the showcase: gone some time this weekend were the three strings of chunky green Roman glass hanging in the back, as well as the string of raw lapis chunks fourth from the bottom. I still have the white with stripe tube beads hanging on the left, and maybe one remaining of the deep blue with occasional blobby dots of colour tube beads you can see there on the right.

Fave Use of My idiotPhone
That's what the "i" in iPhone stands for, as far as I'm concerned. Meanwhile, I take lots of pictures. I'll tell you, though, when my current contract is up, I will go for whatever model of phone has the best camera -- are you listening, idiotPhone designers? Your public is speaking to you -- yet still processes credit cards. Go, Square! I love you to bits.

I got this order on Saturday at the market and, rather than drive myself nuts trying to write and later decipher a detailed description, I took a picture against a ruler of the exact length my customer wanted using the anklet I made last year and put beside it the bracelet colours she wants matched.

Happy Dominion Day to all you who remember that we are at least still nominally part of the British Empire, and Happy Canada Day to everyone else. Since my typing is done and gone, I will hanging out here in my wonderfully breezy little piece of paradise chasing birds away from my strawberry plants, making jewellery and sorting beads for The Gem Expo in Toronto, which is coming up faster than fast.

Thanks for looking!