Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Keep your Eyes on the Wheel!

When I was young my mother used to set my clothes out for me every school-day morning.  Looking back I recognize this was a time saving measure for her since she had a house full of dreamy children and a schedule to keep.  Left to my own devices I would create what I considered to be killer colour combinations.  I remember wearing a red top with pink pants.  I worked wardrobe choices out mathematically - red plus white makes pink, therefore by the "transitive colour property" red and pink must go together.  After all what is pink but red diluted?

Tina Louise, Katherine Ross and Paul Prentiss in Stepford Wives, 1975

I was wrong!  The subtle double-takes of women I encountered while dressed like a candy cane clearly delivered that message.

Making good colour choices is not something that comes naturally to most of us.  If it were taught in school I believe the world would be a more beautiful place.  What finally helped me with colour was discovering the colour wheel.

The colour wheel gives us a way of looking at colour that allows us to easily pick colours that work well together.  There are a number of simple colour schemes that are commonly used to create very sophisticated colour combinations.

1. Complementary Colours
This colour scheme allows for high contrast combinations.  Pick any two colours across from each other on the wheel, like violet/yellow or blue/orange -- these are winning combinations.  Pairing a warm and cool colour in this way creates balance.  Warm colours, yellow, orange and red, can easily overwhelm cooler tones, green, blue and purple, so for the sake of harmony it is wise to use more of the cool colour and less of the warm one.

Elegant and Long Being Lulu Danglers made of patina copper discs and bright copper wire.
These earrings make use of complemenary colours blue and orange.
2. Analogous Colours
This colour scheme is rich and earthy.  Pick any three colours adjacent to each other on the colour wheel, like red, red-violet and violet.  To achieve harmony with these colour combinations one of the three tones should be made dominant.

Sometimes people push this scheme and pick adjacent colours more distinct from each other on the wheel like red, violet and blue.  This works too!
George Barbier, 20th century fashion illustration
3. Triadic Colours
This is a vibrant colour scheme that uses three colours equally spaced around the colour wheel.  An example of three such colours is red, blue and yellow.  Again,  it is useful to make one of the three colours dominate.

Headdress with leaf-shaped ornaments, 2600–2500 b.c.; Early Dynastic period IIIa; Sumerian style
Excavated at "King's Grave," Ur, Mesopotamia
Gold, lapis lazuli, carnelian

4. Monochromatic Colours
This colour scheme is very subtle and effective.  It uses various shades, tones and tints of a single colour.   Since this colour palate does not offer much in the way of contrast it is an excellent choice if one wishes to emphasize form.
Jan Masny,  monochromatic Ballerina series

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dynamic Elements: Copper Patinas

Gold is forever!  Now be honest, don't you think that forever may be a little overrated?  After all forever is an awfully long time!  Gold is praised for its unchanging nature yet monetary value aside, there is something slightly monotonous about gold.  Imagine never changing - being incessantly static!  I find the quality undesirable.

Roman Era Gold Coins (source)

I know I am inconsistent.  Thankfully it isn't just me.  All of us are inconstant and flawed.  So I prefer to wear metals that reflect this: elements like silver and copper that react to the environment and change.  I appreciate that sterling silver darkens over time.  Polish silver and it brightens again.  It serves to remind me that it is attention that renews.

It goes without saying that all preferences are personal.  We each have our explanations for why we are drawn to anything over anything else.  Still I know that I'm not the only one who has ever favoured silver over gold.  Pharaoh Psusennes I, the third king of the twenty-first dynasty of Egypt, was entombed in a solid silver sarcophagus.  His reason for silver over gold?  Simple: in Egypt, silver was scarcer than gold.  You can see that the silver is tarnished and that this tastefully offsets the gold inlaid on the brow.  The old man has aged well.

Silver anthropoid coffin of Psusennes I, Cairo Museum (source: Wikipedia)

Tarnish or patina is a thin coat of corrosion that forms on metals like silver, brass, copper or aluminum.  It is the product of a chemical reaction between the metal and a nonmetal compound like oxygen or sulfur dioxide.  This reaction only affects the first few layers of the metal, unlike rust which will eat right through iron.

Green or blue patinas naturally develop on the surface of copper and brass when the metal is exposed to atmospheric elements, like rain or carbon dioxide. No doubt you have seen the beautiful green domed roofs of old buildings.  These roofs are made of copper which has turned green after years of outdoor exposure to the weather.  Probably the best known example of a patina in the English speaking world is the Statue of Liberty. 

Statue of Liberty's Foot, 2011, photo taken by William Borne

Beautiful patinas can be incorporated into jewelry by distressing the raw copper and brass. To do this a wide range of chemical compounds can be used to force the metal to react and quickly form a patina. The colour is determined by the chemical process used.

 A nice teal patina developed on this copper plate after I sprayed it with salt water and then left in a closed tupperware container with a bowl of ammonia for three days. 

I create my teal patinas by spraying copper with salt water and then exposing the metal to ammonia vapours for days. I use household ammonia cleaner. Since a patina is a surface treatment, it is somewhat fragile, so I seal the finish with a couple of layers of lacquer.

Modernist necklace featuring industrial copper tubing after I applied my patination process to it.

Since ancient times copper has been rumoured to possess incredible healing powers.  Both of my grandmothers used to wear copper bracelets as a remedy for some of their ailments, including arthritis.  So as not to block this healing potential, I do not patina or lacquer the back of the pendants where the copper touches the skin of the wearer.

Copper patina pendants on sterling silver chains.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Sleepers: Thoughtless Earrings

We are all collectors of sorts.  As we move through our years, one thing we collect is words.  With some words we retain a history.  For instance, when I was in grade seven my friends and I spent a week finding excuses to say antidisestablishmentarianism.  As if using the longest word in the English language was proof that we knew all the shorter ones.  Our conversations were nonsensical but whose wouldn’t be?  I challenge you to use the word antidisestablishmentarianism in an everyday sentence.  Impossible!

For some words I remember where I first heard them, like the word mendacity, meaning untruthfulness.  I learned that word from Paul Newman while watching “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”.  Ever since I’ve been trying to work ‘mendacity’ into my go-to bag of words that I use for everything, but sadly the word doesn't float into my mind often.
Paul Newman playing opposite Liz Taylor in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", 1958

With other words, I remember who I first heard speak them, but I don't recall the moment of first exposure.  My mother mentioned sleepers many, many times before I understood that she was referring to a kind of earring.  I was slow to pick up this meaning, probably because my mom has never pierced her ears.  This is a point of friction between us as I am her personal jeweler and she always requests earrings, which means incorporating clip-on backs into my designs.  This offends my aesthetic sense.
Hoop earrings with polyhedral beads, derived from late Roman jewelry, remained fashionable among Frankish women from the 400s through the 700s. Many are delicate pieces, their beads decorated with garnets or precious stones. Others, often with the least imposing beads, impress by their large hoops and distinctive closures. 
- Metropolitan Museum of Art

Traditional sleeper earrings are made of a continuous piece of wire which forms a loop when its ends are connected.   These minimal earrings are meant to be worn night and day which is why they are called sleepers.  You can easily sleep in them.  They are both comfortable and secure.

Greater Syria or Persia | A pair of gold hoop Earrings | 10th Century | Gold, pearls and garnets - Pininterest
Looking back over the ages, one can see that what we now call sleepers are actually an ancient form of earring.   This simple classic form leaves room for many creative variations.

Hoop earrings with fourteen-sided beads derived from late Roman jewelry and were adopted in the 400s by eastern Germanic women. - Metropolitan Museum of Art

A few weeks ago, during a storm warning, I personally rediscovered sleepers.  What a revelation they are!  Simple.  Elegant.  No wonder they have been around for so long.  While many forms of jewelry require the wearer to remain vaguely conscious of them so the piece isn't lost or destroyed, sleepers can be worn thoughtlessly.  Wear them in wind, water, snow; forget about them while you nap, run, hike or camp.  Amazing!  Definitely an example of a classic form meeting the needs of the modern woman!
Sterling silver sleeper earrings I created: pearls and copper, Bakelite and 14K rose gold, vintage beads refinished bronze