Saturday, July 9, 2016

Elvish Jewelry


I wanted to share some pictures of Elvish jewelry I've made in the last year! (These aren't up on my Etsy shop; a majority of these were personal projects or for gifts).


It should by now be pretty obvious that I absolutely love The Lord of the Rings and that the aesthetics of both the books and the movies (and illustrations by geniuses such as Alan Lee) are hugely influential. Also, as a typography and sort-of literary nerd, I am in love with the beauty of the Elvish alphabet which Tolkien developed.


All that is gold does not glitter,Not all those who wander are lost;The old that is strong does not wither,Deep roots are not reached by the frost.From the ashes a fire shall be woken,A light from the shadows shall spring;Renewed shall be blade that was broken,The crownless again shall be king.




I haven't yet perfected the process of making these etched cuffs; the process is long and convoluted and so far has approximately a 50% success rate on a piece which can take up to two hours of hands-on work per bracelet, when making them in batches.


It begins with a sheet of raw copper, which I cut on the bandsaw and both drill and preliminary sand with the drill press. Then I file and sand each cuff by hand to remove any metal burrs or roughness, and attack it with steel wool while wearing plastic gloves to remove any grime or fingerprints.

I then write the Elvish and English quotes on the copper with a wet Sharpie. After the resist had dried, it's time to suspend the cuff in an etching solution of hydrochloric acid and peroxide. Over the next several hours, I occasionally stir the acid to assist the etching process.

If the etch is crisp and deep enough, I remove the copper while wearing protective gear, neutralize the acid, scrub the piece with steel wool, rinse it, and submerge it in a Liver of Sulfur solution. The LOS oxidizes the copper, turning it a rich brown or black. Once the desired color is achieved, I neutralize the LOS and allow the piece to dry for fifteen minutes.

Then for the finishing touches! I gently sand the piece with three different grits of micro-sandpaper so that the words shine brightly on the oxidized background. I form the copper strip into a bracelet shape and coat all sides with a jewelry resin. The resin ensures that the piece retains the oxidized and sanded color, and also prevents the copper from turning skin green. The resin dries overnight; when its ready, I add the beads, chainmaile, chain, and clasp!


Hopefully in what remains of this summer I will be able to perfect the process and create some Elvish cuffs to stock on my Shoppe! Do you have any favorite (public domain) quotes that you would like to see in Elvish on a cuff? Please let me know in the comments!

(The cuffs will have English quotes which are transcribed into Tengwar, the Elvish script, rather than being translated into Quenya or Sindarin, the Elvish languages).


Lately I've also been working on the process for these little metal booklet necklaces! This one has the entire Aragorn poem on it. The process is similar to the creation of the Elvish cuffs, except that the words on the brass pages are stamped letter-by-letter, and I cut the jumprings myself so that the diameter of the rings on the binding is just right.

The worst thing is when I hammer in a letter too hard or hold a stamp upside-down or backwards-- and entire page of the book has to be started again from scratch!

But I'm really enjoying the process of figuring this out and will be making more little metal booklets this summer. (Currently I have Jane Austen and a G.K. Chesterton booklet necklaces available).


Another booklet experiment! This one is made entirely from copper and features the same poem. However, the verso pages feature Elvish etchings! Each capitalized word (gold, glitter, wander, lost) is featured.


But here you can see how much difficulty I am having with consistent etches. You can barely read the Elvish!


These are some shots of other Elvish cuffs with more verses from "All that is gold..."



And the bar necklace pictured above is made in the same way, and reads "The Road Goes Ever On" in both English (backside) and Elvish.


This necklace was a custom piece-- and I neglected to photograph the backside. The copper pendant has Tolkien's initials etched on it, and the back had a quote. The necklace is made from two strands of chain interspersed with wirewrapped beads. 


Another one which I didn't photograph properly-- this necklace is inspired by Arwen Undomiel, the daughter of Elrond, who gives up her Elven immortality in order to marry Aragorn, a human.

In the movies, she gives Aragorn a necklace (the lovely silver Evenstar) to symbolize her gift. He protests, and she responds, "It is mine to give to whom I will, like my heart."

The necklace is paired with a full cuff (no chain and clasp) which contained the lines "I would rather spend one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone."


Also, three cheers for nerds! I get to make the best jewelry sometimes. :) This custom piece has another beautiful LotR quote: "Faithless is he who says farewell when the road darkens."


A nice dash of gold chain, green pearls, and blue stones...


...and the back of the pendant has the recipient's name etched in Gallifreyan! 


I'll leave you with one last picture of yet another Elvish cuff! Hopefully this experimentation will pay off sometime. :)

Please leave quote suggestions in the comments! Thanks!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Gold Puzzle Heart Necklace


These three necklaces are another recent commission. A mother wanted three coordinating necklaces for herself and her two (young adult) daughters! 

Like the moon initial necklaces, this was another set somewhat inspired by friendship necklaces. She had requested a heart shape and the words, and let me design from there.


I decided to take the heart shape and break it up in to three puzzle pieces. In addition to the obvious symbolism, this meant that each individual necklace was an interesting shape on its own.


These are handcrafted out of gold (to be specific, gold-clad brass-- gold clad material never wears out like gold-plating does!). Even though it wasn't solid gold, the sheet of metal was expensive and I have to admit that I was very nervous while cutting into it with my jeweler's saw. Stamping it was worse. I almost stamped the "B" upside down, but thankfully caught myself! I love having an opportunity to explore higher caliber materials than I normally work with.


All three of them already had gold chains, but I sent the pendants along on basic chains anyway. Also the necklaces photograph better with chains. :) These gold is brushed, so at certain angles it is a dark rich gold, but other times it catches the light and flashes a brilliant pale yellow.

I am happy to report that these necklaces were well-received and everyone involved is the nicest ever.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Moon Phase Initial Necklaces


C
lassy grown-up friendship necklaces? Tiny sterling silver moon phases? Yes, please! Have I mentioned before how much I love custom orders? Collaboration really does lead to some awesome things. Like moon phase initial necklaces (plus a keychain).




These are inspired by the little heart necklaces we all had when we were twelve and a half and wanted to prove that we were the best BFFs in the whole wide world. Except these are much nicer than plastic hearts.


These necklaces began life as a sheet of sterling silver. I cut each shape out with a handsaw, hammered it to create the mares (who else took astronomy?), drilled the holes, filed the edges, and cut the jump rings!


...but wait! There's more!


The initials of each of the four friends!



Round two of the moon necklaces.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Beginning Illustration

E
very story has to begin somewhere, and my journey to (hopefully) creating professional illustrations began this past fall.

Of course, the story began long ago when I learned to read, became a voracious Book Reading Monster, and filled sketchbooks with doodles of characters (and some empty pages so that I could finish each book faster and feel very accomplished). And I have been in college studying the arts for over two years now. However, due to the organization of my program, I didn't take any specialized illustration classes until junior year. The first class (last semester, fall 2015) was called Materials and Techniques in Illustration and it certainly lived up to its name. I spent more money on supplies for this one class than I had spent on the textbooks for all of my gen-eds of the year, combined.

Each project was focused on learning a new medium; several of which I had never tried my hand at before. Our assignments were relatively straightforward, but the research, documentary PDFs, critiques, and revisions fairly well drowned us by the end of the semester.

Nevdroonia by Shaylynn Rackers. Please do not remove signature or watermark.
The month after fourth grade, I told my little brother a story.

It was summer, the day was hot, and the air was languid. My brother and I were curled up in hammock swings because Dad told us to go outside, and it was that day that we first visited Nevdroonia. That afternoon, a "Once Upon a Time" turned into a daring adventure of swordfights, royalty, pirates, fairies, and dungeonous castles with chocolate doors. The name of our magic country was Nevdroonia-- from Neverland, Droon, and Narnia-- and after a while we invited our siblings and all of our friends to join in the adventure.

Conceptually, this was by far my favorite piece. We began with a writing assignment describing a story from our childhood. Some of my classmates told humorous stories, others heartbreaking, and one drew herself having a tea party with skeletons. I described the Adventures of Nevdroonia. 

(Yes, longtime readers, this is the same world that inspired my first-- and so far, only--NaNoWriMo novel in all one hundred and fifty pages of its awful preteen glory).

Figuring out how to make the cloak less "plastic"

The adventure that inspired this illustration was from the day that my brothers and I dressed in costume (I was, of course, in my trusty white cloak) and went questing to save the lost prince and princess who were trapped in a wizard's tower. As I remember, the tower only appeared if you learned the magic words. It grew out of the R--'s house inch by inch. When the mist cleared, we shouted at one another that there was a shape, an awful shape, no it can't be, IT'S A DRAGON! Ben charged at it with the battle cry of "PANCAKES," much to my chagrin. Will and I had the much more valiant cry of "For Nevdroonia!" Nick sat on the ground and ate a popsicle.

Working on the preliminary in my sketchbook
Childhood adventures turn out to be difficult to draw in a coherent way, and my professor encouraged me to take a less literal route than I had in my initial sketches.

The entire piece was created with washes of india ink on bristol board, on top of a drawing inked with a dip pen. My calligraphy G-nib doubles as the best drawing nib ever! Although I sometimes dislike how much our instructors complain about the use of technical pens like my handy Microns, I'm starting to agree that using dip pens with good nibs creates way more interesting lines.



You can't just get into Nevdroonia by walking there. We balanced precariously on the fenced verge of our neighbor's garden and flung ourselves at the tree-swing. This is why you have to be barefoot in Nevdroonia; you can't grip the swing with your toes if you are wearing shoes. At the tree roots, my brother had used a shovel and sandbucket to dig a pit (he told Mom he was studying erosion but she didn't buy it for a minute), and we swung over these Deep Cliffs Between the Worlds to land, stumbling and laughing, in our land.
____

After the inkwash project, we created portraits of famous illustrators ("your idol") using scratchboard. I would really like to blog about this, since I loved working with scratchboard so much and I long for the chance to do so again.

However, those portraits of our "idols" were assigned and mine was an illustrator whose editorial pieces portrayed women poorly or not at all and whose Playboy illustrations were, well, Playboy illustrations. Me being me, I took a stance against this illustrator's messages in my sketches. My professor wasn't happy with the sketches, and the final result was a compromise. And so, moving along...

____

Portrait as Old Master by Shaylynn Rackers
There are few mediums that make your hands as sore as good old waxy colored pencil. And yet I love it. Every inch of this thing represents a few hours of constant re-working and pushing into the paper with all the strength I had left.

The assignment was to create a self-portrait (focusing on the face) of yourself as an Old Master. After much digging, I found this gorgeous self-portrait by French Neoclassical painter Marie Gabrielle Capet.


My piece looks so much less impressive when I show you the original...

Marie Gabrielle Capet was a fascinating individual. She lived in eighteenth-century France and at age twenty-one was admitted into the Academy (the Royal Academy of Art was responsible for training the best and brightest in the Neoclassical/Rococo style, and had a monopoly on official practices). This is even more remarkable because she was a woman, and the Academy only allowed four women to study at a time! There are some reasons why I'm glad I live in the twenty-first century...


Photoshop magic. It looks so much less creepy with a shorter neck...

I spent nearly two hours working on angles and lighting to take the best reference picture. Bit ridiculous, yeah. My duct-taped tripod and I are very good friends now. Some Photoshop magic later, and I was ready for the long haul.

Did I mention that colored pencil takes a long time?

Colored pencil takes a long time. On the upside, by the time I finished I was just starting to grasp how to properly draw bunched-up silks.



Portrait as Lumberjack by Shaylynn Rackers

Assigned prompts. You can't avoid them, and sometimes you get truly interesting results. Such as when you have to draw yourself as a lumberjack, because that is the word that you drew from the pile.

It's actually kind of awesome.

But my roommate said it looks like an axe-murderer.

It was handy that I went home the weekend I had to work on this piece, because my dad had a heyday loaning me all of his safety equipment and taking reference pictures. Most of them turned out like this:

In my defense, it was really sunny.

Some imagination later (and what I now recognize as a poorly chosen reference photo for the hatchet), I was ready to go. I really wanted to do an awesome Dr. Suess style background with an angled frame, but the professor didn't like that idea. So we compromised again, and this time it made the piece much better.


I'm not a big fan of chalk pastel. It gets in everything, makes a grinding noise on the paper, and refuses to come out of the grooves of your fingerprints.

Unfortunately the original drawing suffered some damage at my school's art gallery. I had sprayed it really well, but the completely illogical way that they display pieces in that building ensures that something will get mildly damaged. Mine was one of the unlucky ones. Thankfully, I was able to disguise the magnet dents and erase the smudges from the border, but I'm glad that I documented it before bringing it to the gallery.

Umbridge by Shaylynn Rackers
"Draw someone you hate. Ink and watercolor."

Challenge accepted.

There are few people I hate so much as Dolores Umbridge, and never mind that she's a fictional character. She's the sickly pink cream of the crop, and I'd be darned if I didn't get a chance to show her in her most evilist.

I imagine that right before taking a sip of that sugary tea, she was using her equally sugary frog voice to tell Harry to take lines. I must not tell lies.


Each half of the face is a different expression; two versions of the evil evil Umbridge smirk
My professor was a bit nonplussed about suddenly being presented with a fictional character, but approved my sketches and then pushed me to add greater value contrast (every single class). I really do need to work on this; when I use vibrant watercolors its so easy to let the hues speak for themselves and forget the grayscale "foundation."

Our final project came in two parts: a 3D illustration and an acrylic painting. We drew names out of a stack, and (after a possibly illegal trade with a classmate who had Shakespeare and wanted my Darwin) I got Shakespeare! The assignment was to create a portrait of the assigned famous person.

The Bard's Muse by Shaylynn Rackers

One of the joys (and trials) of a classical high school education was reading a lot of The Bard. I was a little excited. And my nerdy knowledge clearly overtook any sensibilities of time management. I just had to reference my favorite works. Once the sketch was there (among several far simpler sketches...) the idea just wouldn't go away.

I didn't get to relax over Thanksgiving break, since it was the week before the deadline for this final project and I was in way over my head. Sadly, Thanksgiving was also the only break of the entire semester. Even without going overkill on projects, I was pulling sixteen-plus hour workdays. Aside from the sense of accomplishment at learning so much in this class (and a couple others), last semester was really difficult.

But with Thanksgiving (and Christmas) break in the past now, I can separate these pieces from the sinking feeling of finals-induced anxiety.

The acrylic painting features eleven references; can you catch them all? And just look at my period-correct "S"s!

(I'm excited to take Painting I next year; my painting skills need some developing to allow me to create the images as I see them in the mind's eye).

Slam Poetry Shakespeare by Shaylynn Rackers
Slam Poetry Shakespeare, above, was inspired by the "Epic Rap Battles of History" (<-- language warning) and the slam poetry that has been circulating my facebook feed. We all know that Shakespeare would have been a great slam poet. I began working on the sculpture during our workshop with a visiting artist, the amazing Liz Lomax. The last time I really made art with clay was the diorama of the Last Supper for 3rd grade religion class.


The sculpture is made out of Sculpey clay, wood, fabric, 3D printed components, LED lights, lace, oils, acrylics, and more.

I will be doing an entire blog post on this piece soon. This medium is so much fun and I am very excited about the final piece. It's so different from anything I've tried recently.



The drop cap featured on this post is by designer Jessica Hische. She has made these drop caps freely available to bloggers, but I wanted to put in a shout-out because you really should check out the whole collection. I recently discovered it and am completely, utterly, head-over-heels in love with it.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Orchid Wedding Jewelry




his spring, I had the honor of designing orchid-themed wedding jewelry for a bride who loves elaborate, fairytale jewelry and allowed me a great deal of creative freedom. (She was also wonderfully understanding when I was going through exams and took longer than normal to respond!) 




These pieces are made with solid sterling silver, Swarovski pearls, and rhodium-plated silver flowers. I purchased the flower components individually for this design; some day in the future I'd love to create a more expensive line of fine jewelry with handcrafted silver flowers like this. How awesome would that be to work on? 

For now, though, this was amazing to design. We began with a series of sketches so that I could gauge her style and how it fit with the budget.



After purchasing any supplies I didn't have on hand, I settled down for hours of work! The silver orchid necklace looks so small and delicate, and in order to make it sturdy and lasting I cut my own teeny-tiny jumprings to ensure the quality was completely up to par. The tiny pearls are wrapped on to the chain by hand.


This particular necklace was more time-consuming than expected-- two full evenings after classes-- but I enjoyed every second of it.



The first bridesmaid necklace features the same orchid-inspired flowers, but also uses my "signature" Czech glass leaf beads! This was the perfect opportunity to purchase a rare version of these beads (there are still a few left for a project or two this summer).


This design pairs the silver flowers with pastel pink Swarovski pearls and tiny lavender crystals.


Originally, the bridesmaids were going to have matching necklaces, but I created this second one on a whim with materials I had on hand. I wanted to realize another one of my sketches and offer it as an option (honestly I assumed that I would simply list it in my Etsy shop). When I showed her the picture, though, she decided to go with one of each necklace design for the bridesmaids!


This one is reversible. :)


Just a behind-the-scenes shot; as I photograph each piece I lay them on the necklace dummy to prevent tangles. When I then went to package the necklaces it was just a little bit of a struggle....


I'm honored to be chosen to design such special wedding jewelry. :) Congratulations to the new couple!
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