Wednesday, March 20, 2013

More Useful Things

A few more useful things from my workbench to yours.

Hardware store reading glasses = cheap 2.50 power magnifying lens

Six inch square cork tile for pinning and drilling objects

Kneaded eraser for testing punches and stamps

 Hardware pruning shears will easily cut up to 18ga. metal

 My all-time Best Useful Thing =
Jeweler's saw blade to clean or enlarge
pre-drilled holes in freshwater pearls

Strange Attractors

I carry stuff around in my pockets. On any given day I’ll have at least a couple of small stones, a bright scrap of paper candy wrapper, an odd piece of colored plastic, or any number of other tiny odds and ends* that attract my attention. This, I might add, is in addition to a pocketknife, pen, and notepaper. No artist should be without pen and notepaper.

In The Poet’s Notebook, J.D. McClatchy wrote, “The bower bird in me is forever collecting colored threads and mirror shards to make a sort of world.” I love that quote. It perfectly describes my behavior.

Pocket stuff

What I carry in my pocket reminds me to stay awake to play and re-enchantment with the Ordinary and Everyday.  This  stuff awakens me to look at the world with fresh eyes, or acts as a trigger for a piece, or might actually wind up in a piece. 

 Small pendant in sterling, 23k gold leaf, 
and pocket stuff ~ candy wrappers
and a found piece of red plastic.

I think what attracts my attention, what I notice and surround myself with, what I collect and carry with me, are the things that help me make my sort of world.

* In old anglo-saxon “ord” or odd, was the beginning or point of something. So the phrase originally meant “points and ends” or scraps. "Odds and ends" may also have originated from lumberyards—odds were bits of board split irregularly by the sawmill from the point, ends were pieces trimmed from boards cut to specific lengths. Or so my research on the internet tells me.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Useful Things

Today, a few useful things from my bench to yours:

 Empty ball point pen tubes for sawblade holders

 Heat bent toothbrush for those hard to reach places

 Wine bottle corks for needle file handles

 Coat hanger wire = fancy soldering pick

Sawed-off clothes pin for small bench clamp

Mountain bike hand grip for the jeweler's sawframe

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


On walks, or morning runs, around Greenville it’s impossible not to notice something botanical. This is about as green a place as I’ve ever lived (and aptly named). Even in the middle of what passes for a Carolina Winter we have plants blooming, roses in December, camellias in February, and much of the foliage remains green. On first arriving here I was nearly overwhelmed by greenery. I am not alone in this. Many art students here find themselves collecting, drawing, painting, and/or forming seedpods and leaf shapes of every variety. It creeps into your visual vocabulary like Kudzu*.

Spring is coming. In North Carolina azaleas, rhododendron, crepe myrtle, and the ever magnificent magnolia will bloom along with countless other flowering plants, many of which look like they're downright out of Jurassic Park.  But it’s the leaves that fall I find fascinating.

In autumn the multitude of leaf shape, surface, and variegation leaves (ahem!) me breathless sometimes. Some are quite intense, if fleeting. I find that very appealing. While spring has its undeniable charms I am reminded in fall ** of both the temporal nature and individual beauty of each passing year. It heightens my appreciation for every other season ~ those in nature and in our own lives.

*Introduced in the US in 1876 from Japan it was promoted as soil erosion control in the 1930s and it’s been growing ever since. It can grow as much as one foot per day in summer months.

** The story goes that “fall” is an American colonial word for autumn because New England settlers were amazed at the sudden dropping of leaves from the brilliantly colored deciduous trees.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

On Mentoring

My idea of mentoring may be somewhat skewed. Unlike the Homeric character and friend of Odysseus from whom we get the term, though experienced within my field, I don’t see myself as particularly wise. As for advising, it is at best a risky business. Who knows what results will arise from any particular choice in life? Random occurrences, serendipity, and quantum fluctuations in the universe (that whole butterfly effect thing) can lead to all kinds of unintended or unexpected results.

Telemachus and Mentor. Illustration from  
François Fénelon's, Les aventures de Télémaque, 1699

So the classic definition of mentor as “wise advisor” feels a bit unsettling to me. I am uncomfortable with the idea of appearing in the eyes of my students as someone notable or worth emulating. Epictetus, the teacher of future Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and stoic philosopher, said to “ suspicious if you appear to others as someone special. Be on your guard against a false sense of self-importance.” In other words, don’t get a swelled head.

Mentorship is deeply important but it carries with it carefully defined boundaries, relationships, roles, and expectations. Consequently I tend to see my role as an educator more in the vein of a facilitator, coach, or collaborator, working with students rather than for them (or myself for that matter), to help them develop as rich and meaningful a response to their world as possible.  As an artist I believe it is my role to foster imagination, technical skill, and critical thinking in order to generate the most effective and rewarding communication of ideas from the student.

In general I tell my students “this is what I would do,” and remind them that ultimately the choices and consequences are theirs and theirs alone. I seem to follow a response stemming from the way I was guided in my own career. Little nudges here and there, referrals, suggestions, passing along opportunities, or subtly encouraging a particular and promising direction are my preferred methods.

But like Odysseus’ son and Mentor’s ward Telemachus, how and when they choose to become an adult (read professional) and what they seek in life, with all its rewards and responsibilities, is ultimately incumbent upon them