Spatial Composition Earrings


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Here is another entry for the Art Bead Scene Studio’s “Art Journey #6“. This time the inspiration was modern constructivist sculpture by Katarzyna Kobro.

Spatial Composition No. 6 | 1931 | Katarzyna Kobro

I was lucky enough to win a package of beads by Erin Prais-Hintz (Tesori Trovati) so I had an easy place to start.

My first pair of earrings feature Erin’s polymer clay components which I paired with hammered wire directly on sterling silver creole hoops. To me the inspiration sculptures are about primary colours and primary shapes so I picked up the circle and the line motif from polymer component. I decided to hang them on the hoops so that the wire additions could be moved to the front or the back to change the composition of the earrings. This also gives them a three dimensional existence like the sculptures.

The next pair of earrings feature Erin’s box charms. I made my own polymer clay components to go inside, but they didn’t feel right when I came to assemble the earrings. Instead used some of the glass beads that she sent and added the white polymer clay circles as a reference to the white curves in the inspiration sculptures.

The last pair of earrings I made were slightly accidental and are not quite fully developed. Originally I made the red polymer clay curves to go inside the box charms, but then I decided I preferred them on their own. However I had only made two for my original idea so I had to make another pair and wait till my oven was full to do another bake so that took an extra week.

The curved components are free to move around the pins to create a variety of compositions. Originally these were just red, but last night (after I had finished making them into earrings), I decided they needed white for more visual contrast. Therefore I dismantled them to add a white outline and baked again. Looking at them now I think I should have made the little cubes different colours too, maybe blue or yellow. However that would mean starting from scratch so it’s not going to happen in time for this challenge!

It’s surprisingly difficult working with minimalist blocks of colour and shape. There’s no texture to hide imperfections or whimsical decorative distractions.

The end of the rainbow


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The scrap ends of my rainbow cane had some lovely colours, so I couldn’t look at them sitting on my board for long without wanting to make something new with them. I decided to make some of my round natasha beads. I mixed some the bright colours with white to get some tonal variation in the finished beads.

These beads are ridiculously complicated to make, involving an extruded cane cut into cubes, assembled into bigger cubes, then cut into natasha beads and then made round. Halfway through I realised I liked the cube format too, so after much deliberation I decided to keep most of them half formed.

I’m still not sure which I prefer…

I also used Fiona Abel-Smith’s tutorial to make another extruded cane with the rest of the scraps and a few others lurking on my table. I like the vintage granny square look that these have. I textured the surface of these beads to add to the textile impression.

Me making earrings


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I made a little video of me making earrings. I have no idea if anyone else will find this interesting to watch!

In other news, I was delighted to discover that I won some lovely goodies for participating the the Art Bead Scene Studio challenge. Here are the firework earrings I made for that.

I’m not sure how postage times will work out, so I may need to participate in the next challenge without these guys. Still, they will be welcome whenever they arrive.

Thank You Rainbows


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Here in the UK rainbows are now a Thing. At the start of lockdown, children put them in the windows of their houses for others to spot on their once-a-day-permitted exercise outing. Now they are everywhere, from painted rocks to banners with messages of thanks to the NHS and key workers. As lockdown eases and I can (often) look at them without crying, I have decided to make my own rainbows.

Believe it or not, it took me ages to work out how to make a cane without a background. I even bought extra translucent clay so I could build up around the outside of the bow to make a square cane that I could reduce. While I was waiting for it to be delivered I was inspired by a solution that made me feel pretty silly…

All I needed to do was make a bullseye cane around a transparent core and it was already ready to reduce. Then, if required, I could remove the central core and cut the circle in half. Voila – a backgroundless bow! It actually took me a whole weekend to mix up 14 colours for this: the seven main rainbow colours and then seven intermediate colours to blend. You can just about see them on the big cane, but it’s not really visible on the reduced rainbow bead. But they are so cute and tiny, I don’t really mind.

I made myself a pair of earrings with my first rainbow beads where I left the translucent clay core. The main lentil beads are hollow so these are really nice and light to wear. I forget that I have them on (not so good when trying to put a mask on/off for shopping)!

Rainbow bead earrings.

So once again from me: Thank you NHS and key workers.

I wish you all a happy day. Stay safe.

Firework Earrings


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Having finally finished my bracelet I was inspired to look at what the current Art Bead Scene challenge is. The inspiration this time is fireworks.

I made a pair of earrings using ceramic charms made by Sharleen Newland from Shaterra. (I’ve been hoarding these for a few years now and it looks like she now works with leather rather than ceramic.) Also, although you can’t see them, the jump rings are also significant because they came from a goodie bag of components sold to raise funds for Breast Cancer on behalf of Liz Welch who sadly passed away a few years ago.

Firework earrings with handmade ceramic charms

These were pretty frustrating to make with lots of undoing and redoing. I’m not entirely convinced that the earrings show off the charms to best effect. I think the tassels obscure rather than enhance the sunny burst, but within the context of the inspiration image they work tolerably. After I was finished it occurred to me that there might be more pop if the beads at the end of the tassels were gold instead of blue, but I didn’t have the energy to start again (again).

Anyway, I hope you like them.

New video tutorial: heishi beads


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I have finally managed to get another video tutorial filmed and edited. It’s a pretty simple tutorial since I’m still practising the video making. It’s mainly a tip I learned the slow way when making the heishi beads for my Thunderbird necklaces.

Hopefully I’ll get some more tutorials made soon. That’s if I can figure out how to get a longer video clip off my phone!

Let me know if there are any techniques you would be interested in seeing.

Probably Definitely Finished


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Today I am sharing a bracelet that I started making back in March 2013 and which I have finally decided to declare finished! I began it as part of the Art Bead Scene monthly challenge. Since I was expecting to have a baby that month I didn’t really suppose I would finish in time, but seven and a half years is slightly longer than expected.

Here is the inspiration painting.

Deer In the Forest, 1911
Marc Franz
Oil on Canvas, 100.97 x 104.78 cm
Philips Collection, Washington DC, USA
(Please note this art is copyrighted and is to be used only as inspiration.)

And <drum roll> here is the bracelet. It’s my first real attempt at freeform beadwork. There was a lot of stop-start (mostly stop) and unpicking and redoing involved.

Freeform bead bracelet by Cate van Alphen

The focal art bead was made by me and is polymer clay with a foil core for lightness. I tried to balance the weight by using a glass nugget on the giant press stud closure. I haven’t worn the bracelet enough to decide if this has worked successfully.

Glass nugget closure.

The most difficult part with this kind of freeform piece is knowing when to stop. So I think it’s finished. Definitely… or at least I don’t think I want to do anymore to it.

What do you think? Was it was worth the wait?

Mosaic Pendants


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The Thunderbird necklaces from my previous post have now evolved into these mosaic pendants.

Polymer clay mosaic pendants by Cate van Alphen

Initially these started because I decided to squish all the off-cut scraps from making the Thunderbirds into some fresh raw clay to make new sheets to use for mosaics. I had yellow and orange on my table at the time so that’s what I made. Because I didn’t know how the baked scraps combined with new clay would hold together when cutting into tesserae I decided to make some simple geometric shapes. I also added some deco beads for shine and to give a contrasting texture.

So, yes, I do have a favourite child here – the yellow and orange one appears in every photo! It’s the last one I made and I like the Art Deco look. I also used some bigger off-cut chunks (from carved beads) with fewer deco beads hidden in the spaces.

Pendant closeup.

The edges of the tessera are pretty rough. I could probably improve this by warming the clay before cutting, or sanding the edges, but I quite like them like this. I think it adds character. Anyhow it’s very fulfilling when all the little pieces come together and seem to fit.

Meet the Thunderbirds


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When the schools closed in March and I suddenly became a full time teacher, we continued the topic that my daughter had started at school which was Native Americans. Unsurprisingly my thoughts turned to their jewellery, in particular my grandmother’s Thunderbird necklace that she bought in New Mexico in 1946.

Polymer clay Thunderbird necklace by Cate van Alphen

The family legend is that she met man selling necklaces for tourists but she wanted the one he was wearing as it was far superior. He said he couldn’t possibly sell it to her because it was his Thunderbird and without it he wouldn’t be protected. However she was determined and insisted on buying the one he was wearing rather than any of the others. After some persuasion he reluctantly agreed on condition that she go with him back to his house so he could put on a new Thunderbird so that he could safely take off the one he was wearing. Based on this article, this may have been a colourful story for a silly tourist. Nevertheless she treasured it and proudly wore the necklace when she dressed to impress and it has left me with a lasting impression of the Thunderbird as a powerful symbol of protection.

Polymer clay Thunderbird pendant by Cate van Alphen

Which takes us back to the start of the Coronavirus lockdown, when everyone was stunned, scared and separated. I needed a project to get me out of bed in the morning and we all needed something to make us feel safer. I decided to create a Necklace Club for the ladies in my family and send each of them a handmade necklace as a physical link between us. I chose to make polymer clay Thunderbirds in memory of my grandmother and because I wanted something with a strong visual style to unite the individual necklaces.

Polymer clay Thunderbird necklace by Cate van Alphen

Before she died, my grandmother decided to send her necklace home to a museum in New Mexico so I don’t have any photographs of it. I relied on my memories of it and a google search of images which reminded me of what I remembered. There was such a variety that every pendant ended up a little bit different.

Once I had all the pendants made, my sister in South Africa did a remote calibration on them to give them each an intention of healing and protection for the wearers. Hopefully this will also cover the postal journey that some of them are still making to South Africa!

I ended up making 12 pendants and strung the necklaces according to the preferences of the individuals receiving them. Some are chokers, some are part beaded on adjustable satin cords and some are fully beaded and long enough to slip over the head.

As a bonus reference to the crazy time in which I made these, I thought this handful of faux heishi beads looked like tiny loo rolls which made me laugh. For some reason toilet rolls were a big thing here in the UK. These are my first batch and are are a bit rough but I figured out some techniques to make them better. Hopefully I’ll get a tip tutorial done about that soon.

May you and your family circles stay safe and well.