Friday, August 29, 2014

Back in the Workshop

After the travels and entertaining of the summer, I am back to a very autumnal Glasgow and my new students. As the dust settles on the new term, it has been good to be able to grab some time in the workshop to actually make something.

This time, inspired by one of my contacts on Flickr, "Metalsmithery", I decided to dig out some old pen-nibs which I had bought many years ago from The Pen Museum in Birmingham.

The Pen Room - 8

The Pen Room - 7

The Pen Museum counts as being among my favourite museums in Britain. It has that slightly eccentric quality of being a collection of "stuff". Things that someone got a bit too obsessed about... it became a privately-owned museum, an honour it shares with the Bakelite Museum, the Pitt-Rivers Museum and Whitby Museum. (Although Whitby Museum is now owned by the Whitby Town Council and Pitt-Rivers by the University of Oxford, they still maintain that shambolic quality which I find so appealing in a museum.)

I was delighted to find that I had forgotten about a small bag of a very few assorted pen-nibs which I had been given by one of my HND students last year and had tucked them inside the box I had bought in Birmingham:

Bank of England Leger Pens - Nib Box - 1

Bank of England Leger Pens - Nib Box - 2

Real pen-nibs from the Bank Of England. (I may not be allowed to keep these after the 18th of next month.)

The pen-nibs I had been given were actually quite wonderful and I am going to have to thank my student again when I see her as I hadn't really looked at them properly when she gave me them. Some of them are gilded, some are bronzed and they are all stamped with the most wonderful names, such as "The Toboggan Rapid Writer" and my own favourite, the incomprehensible, "No1 Hindoo"!

No1 Hindoo

Written Word Earring Trios - WIP - 8

The nibs were drilled with a carbide drill and hung from very simple silver frames, which I then oxidised, making two sets of trios. The nibs are really strong enough to not need any of my usual treatments of gemstones or elaborate settings.

Written Word Earring Trios - 9

Written Word Earring Trios - 10

As I have not been selling online for two months now - and am no closer to finding a suitable e-commerce option - I've been relying on what has become a regular and reliable gallery outlet in Folkestone in Kent, run by the wonderful Nicola and Chris, Cursley & Bond. Folkestone is one of those places where things are happening: an arts community is building and this year is the year of the Folkestone Triennial, last held in 2011 and this year featuring a host of events and big names such as Andy Goldsworthy.

As part of the Folkestone Triennial Fringe, Cursley & Bond are presenting "Border Crossings", an exhibition of work "blurring the borders" of disciplines. I have three pieces in the work, all of which are interpretations of music or literature:

Macbeth Brooch
Blood Will Have Blood - A Macbeth Brooch

The Lobster Quadrille - Collar - Professional Photograph
The Lobster Quadrille

A Forest - Professional Photograph
A Forest

Interestingly, this is the first time I have offered any of my really large exhibition pieces for sale in a gallery.

If anyone is interested, I will be speaking as part of the Triennial Fringe on 27th September at the gallery.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

And Breathe... Back to Positivity

After that last blast of negativity in the previous post, I am back to my more usual, balanced, self!

Over the summer, Dingo and I spent a long time in the West Country, visiting Devon and Dorset and spending one exceptionally wet day in Lyme Regis which was not really a joy for anyone...

Lyme Regis Harbour

Unsurprisingly, we looked for alternatives to the seaside and found a rather remarkable second-hand bookshop where I picked up a copy of Victoria Finlay's "Jewels - A Secret History"

I thought it looked vaguely interesting even though the bold type on the back declaring "find out the thrilling stories behind your favourite jewels" did put me off a little. It is actually brilliant and I recommend it to anyone interested in not just gems and gemmology but in good storytelling. Not only does she go jet-hunting with Kevin Dixon - my own jet-cutter in Whitby - but she travelled the world meeting similarly delightful and eccentric people who are all involved in the business of gemstones in some way and she has a real knack for conveying something of the spirit and voice of these people through her writing. I have absolutely no idea why I have not heard of this book before and although it appears to be out-of-print, there are plenty of second-hand copies available online.

Something else which had hitherto slipped my attention was "Essex Crystal" cabochons. I first saw these months and months ago in the window of an antique-print shop in Brighton, but forgot about them until last week, when I went back on the off-chance that they were still there and found that they were. I normally don't much care for animal-motifs and the last objects I found with animals featured were the 1920s French bakelite buttons:

Vintage Bakelite Buttons 3

which I made into various items of jewellery. The "Essex Crystal" cabochons are from the same era but are rather different, being reverse-intaglio rock crystal which has been painted:

"Essex Crystal" Dog Cabochons - 1

They don't actually come from Essex, nor were they made by William Essex (the famous English engraver) but they take their name from him as people believed that he had invented the technique for making them. The rock-crystal is very deeply engraved:

"Essex Crystal" Dog Cabochons - 5

And then painted. The backs were often covered in gold leaf to give brilliance to the painted design and traces of this can be seen here:

"Essex Crystal" Dog Cabochons - 7

What I really like about these is the comic-book quality of the dogs, one setter, one terrier and one spaniel:

"Essex Crystal" Dog Cabochons - 4

"Essex Crystal" Dog Cabochons - 3

"Essex Crystal" Dog Cabochons - 2

They are almost "outsiderish" in the way in which they have been rendered.
Absolutely no idea what I am going to do with these!

You may recall that during July, I went mudlarking on the Thames in London and brought back a host of finds, including about 120 pieces of ancient porcelain pipe-stems. I have now cleaned these up - with loads of anti-bacterial soap! - and sorted them.

Ko si Iruufin - WIP - 2

Ready to be made into a collar.

These objects have a strange past and are fundamentally the historical equivalent of the "fag-butts" which litter the streets today. Porcelain clay pipes were sold ready-filled with a plug of tobacco: this would be smoked and then the pipe discarded. Porcelain is tougher than people give it credit for and while the bowls were mostly destroyed, the stems remained intact and have been smoothed over time by the action of the river.

Off to buy gemstones to set in the pipes!
More later.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Liar And A Cheat and Why You Should Close Your Paypal Account

This is a long, somewhat involved and ultimately negative blog-post but I think it contains information of interest to many makers who use the PayPal payments service.

Some of you who follow my blog or who pick up on it occasionally may remember that in May, I completed a pair of Verdura-inspired cuffs to a specific commission from a customer. I was extremely pleased with the result of the cuffs:

Fencing With Fulco Verdura - 12

I should have trusted my instincts. From the word 'go', the customer bitched and haggled on price, always expecting me to change things at the last minute but I went along with it, buoyed by my general enthusiasm for the project, even sourcing some relatively inexpensive but impressive stones, such as the context-cut citrine in the centre of the bangle to the front. As you can probably guess from my tone and from the title of this post, things did not end well...

One of the things I like to do is to keep my clients posted on the progress of commissions, especially if they are distant commissions - this one went to Los Angeles - going back over my communications with the client, I see that we had nearly 30 emails discussing the project, which is considerably more than for most comissions. As ever, I provided drawings, notes and selections of stones in the form of an online journal which the client could access and comment upon. You can see the journal if you click on this image:

Fencing With Fulco Verdura - Album

As you can see from the above, I used a template generated from sizes supplied by the client for the wrist measurement. She even commented in one of the emails, "It's funny to see your ovals representing my wrists". I completed the bangles and sent them to her... and waited. Waited for about two weeks before I heard from her,

"The bracelets are beautiful, even more wonderful in person than in the photos. I absolutely love the stones, especially the yellow/orange/blue one. The finish, craftsmanship, artistry are everything I hoped for and more. Thank you!

"There is one big hitch, though - they are very big on me. I don't mean scale-wise, I am happy with the scale, but they are just way too large for my wrists. To have them fit snugly I have to push them halfway up my forearm and then they are still wider than my arm at that point.

"Please advise! I am guessing I will need to send them back to you for resizing. I went back and double checked the wrist measurements I sent you back on 1/14, and they are correct. I do have particularly skinny wrists."

In other words, I had made the bangles the correct size but she had measured her wrists wrongly. I agreed as an act of goodwill that I would re-size the bangles if she would send them back and gave explicit instructions on how to send them so that they would be exempt from import duty. She ignored these instructions and sent them by ordinary mail with no accompanying paperwork, attracting a fee of £80 at UK customs. When I pointed out to her that this was her fault, she agreed to pay it but suggested that I should pay half...

I re-sized the bangles and sent them back to her. By pure chance, one of my students looked over the bangles before they were sent, and I discussed with him the issues of resizing a piece like this. The bangles were also checked before packing by the wonderful Andrew at Mailboxes Etc. - whom I use to do all my shipping as they understand all the subtleties of customs and shipping - and so I know that they left me in pristine condition.

My client claims that they arrived damaged with one of the medallions detached from the bangle. I received no photograph of this damage. She refused to contact the shipping company. She claimed that I should take the whole lot back and refund her money. Needless to say, I declined.

This is where PayPal get involved. My client had paid PayPal with her credit card, three separate payments: a deposit, a balance and the charges for the customs disbursement. She claimed them all back from her credit card company who claimed these back from PayPal; PayPal immediately charged me for this without giving me any chance to dispute the claim.

I contacted PayPal and gave them the details of what had happened and they told me that they would send the details onto the credit card company and invited me to call with more details, which I did. I was told by the fellow on the phone that I wouldn't have to pay anything until the credit card company had dealt with the issue and that they would ensure that the bangles were returned to me before any money was paid back by me if it came to that.

Then they started to call me. Not once, but repeatedly. It seems that I had been given "incorrect information" and that I would be "continually called until payment is made" - in short, harrassed. I was told that I could not see the correspondence between PayPal and the credit card company and threatened with "a collection agency". They called me every day for about a week, until such times as the inevitable happened and the credit card company found in favour of the lying cheat who is also now in possession of two of my bangles. I am out of pocket to the tune of the materials and time.

Looking online, there are so many complaints about PayPal that it is a wonder that anyone signs up with them.

I have closed my PayPal account and, on the back of that, my Ebay account. For various reasons, Paypal being one of them, I have closed my Etsy account and am now on the lookout for a viable alternative for selling my work online. I am hoping to bring it all aboard a new website using a reputable bank-based payments system which is regulated by government bodies, as opposed to an unregulated company like PayPal.

If you ever see those bangles being worn, please take a moment to tell the wearer exactly what you think of them.