Tuesday, 6 April 2021

The Value of Imperfection

 Perhaps it's been being married to an abstract artist but as I "create" more, I've come to see the value of imperfection. We live in a society where perfection is in high demand- a perfect diamond, perfect smile, perfect teeth, perfect skin- the list is endless. And while perfection may be beautiful (and expensive) imperfection intrigues me more because it's ...interesting. The stone I am currently working on is a "perfect" example.


I love working with agate but agate is never symmetrical and it's the impurities that create the amazing patterns and colour shifts. Without them it would be a bland piece of quartz. This stone is a highly imperfect local agate. If you look closely, you can see a fissure in the center where the crystals have grown together and there are areas of inclusions and impurities. But these all contribute to the structure and banding and make the stone interesting. I'd look at it a lot longer than I would a flawless gem. 
I set the stone in upcycled copper that starts off looking like this.

I'd love to leave it looking like this but people don't like copper oxide rubbing off on their clothes! So I do the next best thing- I leave imperfections. Look closely at the copper setting above and you can see some scratches and areas where I haven't removed all the patina and the forms are not identical. I have the equipment and materials to make it flawless but I choose to leave it slightly imperfect because it makes it more interesting.
My shop is called The Artist's Mark NOT because my name is Mark (a question I get regularly from visitors) but because I want people to see the mark of the artist in the finished product.
Don't get me wrong, I am not denigrating those who set perfect gems in perfect settings. They have their place and require patience and expertise I admire but don't possess. But think of it- we remember imperfection- the crooked smile, freckled skin, unruly hair. So I'll stick with my style and, hopefully you will find the pieces...interesting!

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Solveig's Song

 Solveig was a unique and amazing woman whom I was fortunate to meet through my wife's family. She, like they, was Norwegian and lived in Montreal, where she had a beautiful apartment downtown and a rural chalet in St. Sauveur that was straight out of the mountains of her home country. She was an impressive woman in many ways, having married five times and standing at least 6 feet tall with a truly striking appearance- in other words, she looked like a modern Viking.

But Solveig had another side. While very wealthy, she valued and enjoyed simple things and she especially admired intelligence and determination- two traits she had in spades.

In Montreal, there was an entity known as the Norwegian Seamans' Church and while ostensibly a church, it became the hub for all things Norwegian in Montreal, including the many Norwegian sailors who visited the port. At that time, many Norwegians were emigrating to Canada and my father-in-law, Thorleif, was one of them. He arrived in Montreal with little besides a dream, having left his wife and small daughter, Wencke behind until he could afford to bring them over. And that's where Solveig came into their life. She was an active benefactor of the church and tried to help get people established. She helped Thorleif and when his family arrived, showed them much kindness as well. 

She took great interest in Wencke and even helped pay for her McGill tuition. She and her husband Larry shared Wencke's love of reading and especially science. And Solveig and Wencke both loved art and became accomplished artists. They shared another thing. Both had Norwegian names that Canadians found hard to pronounce so Wencke became (my wife) Vickie and Solveig became Silvia.

Solveig was an extremely accomplished artist and sculptor and it's a shame she didn't get to see Vickie's talent or this piece I created but I just know she would have loved it- both for its beauty and the fact that someone she knew had acquired the skills to make it. So I give you Solveig's Song.


 The necklace is made from a copper Viking Chain that I wove from 24 gauge copper wire and drew through a series of draw plates until it was 3 times as long. Then, in honour of this modern Viking, I hung a Viking axe charm framed by copper beads and spacers.


Finally, I finished it by adding lengths of metallic copper, premium leather cord (for comfort) and finished it with a hand made clasp. I can actually see Solveig wearing this and treasuring it as much as her diamonds and jewels because that is who she was.

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

My Creative Process

 Many have asked how I come up with the ideas for my pieces so here goes.

First, I should make a few things clear. There are NO absolutely unique creative ideas. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Secondly, I am very fortunate to be married to an extremely talented mixed media artist. That helps in many ways, one of which is that she has squirreled away one of EVERYTHING so I have a vast array of materials at my disposal.

I'll explain my process by going through the development of my latest effort which started when I saw a piece of Vickie's jewelry- a pewter pendant from Denmark.


I loved the fact that it was so mobile but there were a few problems. I wanted to make it in copper, which is lighter in the thickness I use. I also didn't know how I was going to duplicate the patterning without a mold. The first effort lacked any real eye appeal 




but as is often the case, over coffee one morning, the REAL artist offered a solution to both problems. First, she suggested using a double plate- the back being new, flat copper plate and the front being my beat up reclaimed copper


She then offered to beat the daylights out of it to create an interesting texture. This actually solved another problem because it got a lot of pent up aggression out of her system that might otherwise have been directed at me at some point! So after I cut and filed and sanded the edges, she used several different hammers on the raw unsanded surface to create some amazing texture which I then highlighted by burnishing the "tips".

The next question was what to hang on the end of the paddles I had fabricated. Here I have to interject another fact. Remember when I said that Vickie has one of EVERYTHING? Well, that includes beads! I love the fabrication process but readily admit I do NOT have the Artist's Eye. Fortunately, she does- in spades. So after much coaxing and a promise to cut open a lot of the rock she has amassed, she agreed to choose material from her endless "stash". As usual, her choice was awesome.


She selected beautiful agate balls that she funky wrapped onto the paddles. I then finished it off by hanging it on a beautiful leather cord and using a beautiful clasp technique which the REAL artist taught to me.


So by now you should know that I am a fabricator with the good fortune of being married to a true designer. Sure, every once in a while I have an idea on my own. Here's one.


But even here I tend to be more "functional". The micro bolt at the top is  not really a design element but needed to keep the stone in place.

So there you have it. My ideas start with some amazing materials including local stone, beads and metal plate. I have an idea of something I'd like to create. The REAL artist then tells me what I REALLY want to create and I then use the skill set she has taught me to do the fabrication.

Thank you to those of you who have offered so much encouragement. We will be reopening the shop this summer and hope that, at some point, you can visit. But until then, you can see our efforts at our on line venture- the Seawall Emporium (www.seawallemporium.com ). I'm in The Lap of Lapidary while the REAL artist shows her work at Seawall Art.

Stay safe and sane. Hope to see you soon!

Monday, 15 March 2021

Anatomy of an Agate Pendant

 It starts, as it always does, with a stone. In this case it was a nice hunk of peach coloured agate that "She With The Agate Eye" brought back to the shop. As she is want to do, she insisted that I should cut it because there was treasure inside- she just knew it. Over the last 50+ years, I have learned to go with her hunches so I cut and by pure chance, cut right through a crystal druzy pocket not visible on the surface. I cut a slice and then cut a shape and after grinding and polishing on my Cab King this was the result.


It is a really beautiful stone but it lacked "pop" against any light background so I decided to try a copper backing. Now all my copper is reclaimed and upcycled. I have several sheets (thanks Dan) and it starts out looking like this.


It would be a stretch to get someone to wear copper like that so here's my process. First, I have to come up with some ideas and I was fortunate to have two other talented artists "in residence" at the time. Here are some of the ideas we considered.


The one on top was very interesting but not workable (sorry Sandra) so we eventually settled on the one in the lower left. From that, I made a pattern 


and then I cut a rough version of the shape from the copper plate. After a lot of filing and sanding, I had an exact fit to the pattern and now it was time to make the copper beautiful. To do this, I first flattened it by running it through a rolling mill and then started sanding the surface. I could use a Dremel but prefer to do it by hand and after starting with 100 grit, I keep working it through 12,000 grit. That takes time but the results are just what I want- a burnished piece of copper that retains the vestiges of it's previous life.



As you can see, backed by the copper, the stone takes on an amazingly warm hue and the druzy really stands out because of the spot of burnished copper that shows through. I now drilled holes in the bottom of the plate to hold a copper chain from which we suspended a nice matching Swarovski crystal and after rolling the "tongue" to create a bail for the neck cord. this is the result.



My objective is always to showcase the stone as best I possibly can and I'm pretty happy with this result. As usual, feedback is greatly appreciated and this piece will be available for purchase either through my "virtual store"- The Seawall Emporium (www.seawallemporium.com )- the Lap of Lapidary- or at the real store- The Artist's Mark- on Digby Neck, Nova Scotia. Hope to see you this summer!

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Latest Creations

While it has been a pretty benign winter to date, it is still too cold to do much in the lapidary shop so the focus shifts to the jewelry bench. Over the past months, we have been busy creating items for sale on our new on-line venture- The Seawall Emporium. First, we created a number of pendants featuring beautiful petrified wood from Arizona.



Then we started working on copper pieces and made everything from the simple to the complex.




The REAL Viking artist taught me how to make Viking Chain and we made several beautiful bracelets.



And recently, we started working with an exciting new material- used guitar strings! These strings are amazingly complex and have characteristics that offer exciting design opportunities.


We were so excited we formed a new collection- The Phoenix Collection- to celebrate the potential for this upcycled material. It can be used for lightweight earrings (above) as well as more elaborate pendants and necklaces (below). In fact, we're just starting to explore the possibilities!



And we even had time to create some commissioned pieces.


So what's next? Well, the days are getting longer and soon we'll be back on the machines. I have a big backlog of rock to be slabbed. We have decided to open the Artist's Mark Shop this summer and while we don't expect as many visitors as in previous years, we look forward to meeting some new friends so if your travels take you to Nova Scotia, look us up!

Monday, 9 November 2020

An Exciting Announcement

 In the five years we have had our shop open on Digby Neck, literally thousands of people have come through the door and many have left with one or more of our pieces. Often, they or their friends contact us later about purchasing items online.

Although there have been no cases of the Covid virus in our area, we were unable to open this summer because of government restrictions and we really missed greeting new guests.


                     Introducing The Seawall Emporium


Our daughter Lisa, has established herself as a world class hand dyer of premium yarns which are sold through her company, Seawall Fibres. We sold thousands of skeins through our shop and since she already had an on-line presence, we decided to piggyback on it.

At the Seawall Emporium, you will find four small shops belonging to artists and craftsmen driven by quality and uniqueness.

At Lisa's store-Seawall Fibres, you will find an extensive and beautiful selection of hand dyed yarn in all weights.


If you are a knitter or know a knitter, you owe it to yourself to check it out!

Then there is Mitchell Brook where Sandra Mitchell offers her selection of premium goods geared to travel and leisure. She often creates what she can't find so you will be sure to find something truly unique such as these beautiful key chains containing gemstones from the Seawall on Digby Neck.


Next, you come to Seawall Art. Vickie Turner is a mixed media abstract artist recognized as a signature member of the Federation of Canadian Artist but she literally creates everything! Since she is also an acclaimed teacher in the field of polymer clay, you will find gorgeous, museum quality jewelry along with fine art, whimsy and, from time to time, the artist's own "secret stash"!





And finally, there's The Lap of Lapidary, where retired geologist Peter Turner turns gemstones into rock jewelry and unique and beautiful stone guitar picks.




So take a step back in time and visit the Seawall Emporium- where there is no need to wear a mask or practice social distancing. Grab a cup of your favourite beverage and visit four unique shops, all from the comfort of your own home.


Saturday, 10 October 2020

Time To Move To "Studio B"

 Well, the days are getting shorter (and cooler!) and the sun is rising farther south each day so it is almost time to shut down the machines in The Lap of Lapidary and move to my little corner of Vickie's studio (she's the REAL artist!) to start fabricating new pieces from the stones I have finished. This winter I intend to do a lot of metal work and one thing we needed to address was the lighting. We were getting by on a hodgepodge of fluorescent, incandescent and halogen and it was sometimes dark and difficult to take good pictures. 

So yesterday we installed halogen track lighting with 18 lights and boy was it worth it- even the cats approve!

Here's a video of the end result.


I also intend to make several more pieces incorporating used guitar strings. The customer was very pleased with the first one and I really like the way it works with larger stones. It actually makes them feel lighter.

Here's the first one in its new home.


For this one I used a steel string and combined it with an antique sterling silver bail that matched perfectly. Who knows, I might even try to weave a bracelet! All these pieces will be available at our new web site- the Seawall Emporium- when it is up and running in a week or so. I'll keep you posted.

Stay healthy and sane!