Nathan and Grizz are inseparable, or at least Grizz thinks so… If Nathan does anything, from putting on clothes to sitting in a lawn chair on the back porch, Grizz wants to do it, too.

“Can you believe it?” I chortled to the Resident Carpenter-Blacksmith, “They said to get a SECOND dog, it would calm Grizz down! TWO dogs when ONE is driving us crazy?”

“Actually, that’s a pretty good idea,” he said, bearded chin in hand, “I’m certainly not opposed. Maybe we could find a nice pitbull at the shelter…” (Insert hopeful look)

Some days there’s simply no point to getting out of bed.

You’d think, with COVID-19 and wildfires eliminating the daily commute to work, I’d have MORE time for blogwriting. Unfortunately, my to-do-urgent list is Malthusian; it expands to just beyond the available hours in the day and SOMEthing’s gotta give.

(That was a sideways apology for not writing much in the last couple of months, and for cramming a bunch of stuff into this one rambling missive)

We do take some breaks, now and then, to head for the old logging roads and prep for the fall mushrooming season…

2020 is certainly a kick-butt year, right? Between COVID-19, Oregon wildfires that have given us the air quality of a car exhaust, RBG’s death, an upcoming election that promises to be a mudfight, and the no-I’m-not-kidding possibility of meteors crash-landing gloryhole-level fireballs, restless volcanos, and murderous gigantic wasps decimating the Northwest bee population, things seem to proceed in a resigned, “what’s next?” kinda way.

Life has both slowed down and speeded up. Not much happens outside, but inside there’s a lot going on and my work is crazy-busy. I’ve taken on a ginormous project with a totally unrealistic deadline, and some days it feels as if I’ve swallowed a whale, dry.

I’m amazingly fortunate–I get that–because (a) I HAVE a job, and (b) my company has decided that, given the inevitability of yet another pandemic drifting by, work-from-home will become standard, with workers coming into the office only when needed.

Grizz refuses to drink from his many water bowls and fountains, instead preferring...

Grizz refuses to drink from his many water bowls and fountains, instead preferring…

That makes a lot of sense in a multinational corporation. The chance of meeting with someone in your own city is actually pretty remote, so you spend most of your time on the computer or phone anyway. Corporate cubicle farms these days tend to be populated by lots of people talking…but not to their neighbors.

So, working from home makes sense. It saves massive amounts on real estate and the costs of maintaining individual workspaces in an office (not to mention reducing the costs and nasties produced by all that vehicular commuting). Makes me wonder if we’re not going to see office buildings emptying out and becoming…I dunno. Homeless shelters. Hospices. Forests.

Anyway, my work day now starts with a 5AM conference call with China, Ohio, England, Germany, Texas, Italy, Florida….and keeps doing that until around 3pm, when I can finally get some work done. Around 6 I take a break and head for the studio for a couple of hours. I’m in bed by 9:30, and weekdays become sort of a blur until the RC-B warns me that tomorrow is…Saturday!! and we are going to DO something.

Grizz with his dinosaur bone (cow femur)

Grizz with his dinosaur bone (cow femur)

The RC-B is an avowed hands-on outdoor type; sitting at a desk for more than ten minutes makes him fidgety. “How can you stay in that chair for hours and hours, staring at words on a computer screen?” he says, shuddering.

“Huh?” I say absently, staring at words on a computer screen. He shakes his head and heads outside to hammer something.

When we head for the mountains (or coast), Grizz is securely seat-belted in back. He’ll streeeeeetch to the front console to be near his Nathan.

Anyway. I’ve always wanted a German Shepherd, I love the breed and in the back of my mind envisioned a devoted warrior-protector-slave I could ride. In the FRONT of my mind, I’d reasoned that small dogs were nasty hyperactive noisemakers while giant dogs were calm, rationally obedient…and silent.

Grizz never sits still, barks madly at a leaf falling from a tree across the street, and–while it’s obvious that he knows a LOT of commands–doesn’t believe they apply to him unless there’s a treat (or a bludgeon) involved.

He may be one of the few dogs to be expelled from doggy daycare. Well, he wasn’t EXPLICITLY expelled, but after numerous complaints about Grizz barking too much, pushing open doors without permission, jumping on people, etc….we finally got the hint to take our business elsewhere. We’ve engaged a trainer–a difficult proposition with COVID-19 and all the layoffs–so hopefully the next doggy daycare will be thrilled at such a stable, polite puppy.

He’s big enough that his chewy-bone is now a whole 5-lb cow femur, which makes a giant clunk when dropped on the floor. He does that a lot. Grizz LIKES noisemaking, especially during my conference calls.

When he really gets going, it sounds like one of the RC-B’s hammering sessions in the forge. Clunk. Clunk. CRASH. Clunk. Short of sticking Grizz in his kennel or the backyard, there’s not much I can do about it, so it gets a bit loud.

“Grizz is an extremely smart dog,” said one meeting-mate after a particularly loud clunk. “You’re not giving him enough to do. Why don’t you get a second dog?” Her dogs are world-class agility champions, so she probably knew what she was talking about.

Willow won’t let Nathan pet her anymore, but she still regards him as the best cafe in town.

“Uhm…because I’m really a cat person who doesn’t speak dog and THIS dog is too much for me to handle?”

“That’s ridiculous,” scoffed a Texan on the call, “I’ve got a whole pack of huntin’ dogs and believe me, all you need is to open your mind and get a good trainer. Two dogs ain’t no more trouble than one.”

“Yeah,” chimed another, “And it’d save our eardrums.”

I thought it was a joke, but Nathan’s been going around with a dreamy, let’s-go-find-a-dog look ever since. “An ADULT dog who needs a home this time. One who won’t pester my squirrels, and the cats will accept.”

The cats are more likely to put a contract out on Grizz than accept another dog, so I’m safe…at least for now. But I suspect the zoo will be expanding in future.

Any new dog will have to be cat- and squirrel-proofed; Willow still lives in the neighborhood, and her broods (we think she’s on her fourth or fifth litter) still come inside for a nut. She will chitter at me from two or three feet away, leaving when I move, but she still hops onto Nathan for a chat and a snack.

Me, I’m carving out studio time whenever possible; I try to get in at least 10 hours/week. I sorta-finished the former laundry room, adding lots of storage and a jeweler’s bench. I’ve topped of IKEA drawer bases with a strip-glass-and-copper mosaic counter that will hold my enameling and keum-boo kilns and serve as an enameling work surface.

Directly gluing on mosaic strips results in an uneven surface

Directly gluing on mosaic strips results in an uneven surface

It was my first big mosaic project and one of those had-I-known-THEN things. What I SHOULD have done was build the mosaic indirectly, i.e., layout the components, glue on a sheet of craft paper, and flip all the pieces upside down.

Then I should build a low dam around the whole thing, so I could pour in cement on top of the piece. When it cured, I’d have a solid, perfectly flat top that I could flip over and cement in place. That seemed a wee bit too scary, so I finally went with just gluing directly to the final surfae.

Resin applied, waiting for it to cure. I want to create a complimentary backsplash in pate de verre.

The result is beautiful, but bumpily uneven and not great as a work surface. To compensate and smooth things out, I decided to use marine epoxy resin to fill in the spaces and create a perfectly level surface.

That worked, insofar as smoothing out the top went, but it was my first resin project (do you see a pattern here?) and I have a LOT to learn about resins. I left some bubbles and pinholes in the surface, which should now be ground out, polished, with a final topcoat applied. Then I discovered that cured resin surfaces scratch pretty easily and really need a protective glass top.

Arg. For now, I’ll just use the surface as-is. When it gets scratched enough, I’ll grind it down, repolish, and top with glass the way I’m supposed to. I’ve learned a lot, and at some point will post the whole process as a project, but it’s been ages since I actually created something, so I’m moving on. Three primary projects for the moment:

  • Testing Japanese enamels on a variety of enameling projects
  • An idea for vessel-gift box-pendants that needs prototyping
  • Creating a pate de verre (yep, I wanna get back to glassmaking) backsplash to match that damned counter

At ten hours/week in the studio, it’ll take roughly 6.5 years to do all this so mostly, I’m working on the prototypes and figuring out Japanese lead-based enamels.

Copper test strips for Japanese lead-based enamels. I’ve added silver and gold foil plus white and clear enamels underneath, to test their reaction to different substrates. Mostly, though, I’m learning that I’m still need a LOT of practice.

Nothing beats lead-based enamels for brilliance, color, and depth. As with casting glass, the difference between leaded and unleaded is truly amazing, and the Japanese enamel color palette is incredible, especially when backed with gold or gold foil. Most of my enameling world idols–Sandra McEwen, the late Phil Barnes, et al, have opted for lead-based.

US-based enamel companies (which is mostly Thompson) stopped producing leaded enamels years ago due to legislation and the expense of producing them safely (sound familiar, glass comrades?). And until the enameling conference in Eugene last year I’d never tried them, but after seeing what they could do (and meeting with there with Mack, the Enamel Art Supply vendor, and another idol, her mother, Merry Lee Rae), I bought Hirosawa, Ninomoya, and Nihon Shippo samples to test.

Leaded enamels require extra-special safety precautions: I wear my P-100 half-mask and use gloves, cover both the powdered enamel and enameled surfaces I’m grinding with distilled water to keep down potential dust, and just generally treat them like I’m petting the sharp end of an angry tiger.

Fine silver beads, made of metal clay. The recessed areas will be filled with enamel and then the whole thing will be polished smooth.

It’s worth it. They’re gorgeous. I wish I were better at enameling to really show them off. My test strips even have issues…although I’m getting better at it.

I’m much MUCH better at metal clay, so I’ve been making fine silver beads and pendants as practice pieces for my enameling. Since silver is expensive, they’re preferable to test strips; they can become small presents so I don’t have to go buy things.

I’m working on a series of silver-bordered enamel beads that can eventually be combined with handmade chain to become necklaces; I’ve made a few so far that I really like. In fact, I like them enough that I’m a bit timid about enameling them; what if I mess them up?


Really, though, I’m less interested in pendants and beads than I am in vessels. I had an idea for a series of tiny boxes built around my favorite cabochons. They’d follow the shape of the cabochon, I’d inset the stone into the lid, and the box itself would be enameled around some theme inspired by the stone.

Cardboard maquettes of the vessels, getting a sense of what shapes will work. Starting at the top, clockwise: amazonite teardrop, ruby crystal, desert/scenic jasper oval, pietersite rectangle, gem silica triangle.

I’m still not very good at actually SETTING stones in metal clay if they can’t be fired as part of the clay. These are natural stones that most likely would be destroyed (or at least altered) by the intense, prolonged head of a kiln, so they need to be set after firing.

I figured the best way to do this would be make some prototypes (see the slideshow) in cardboard. Then I’d use the cardboard itself as a pattern to cut rolled-out sheets of silver clay, assemble and fire.

I plan on enameling these, too, but likely only the boxes, not the lids. I’ll cover the boxes with gold foil, flatten different gauges of fine silver wire into cloisonne wire strips, make patterns to match the movements in the stone, and use my new Japanese unleadeds to tie stone and box together.

I liked the protos. A lot.

Then I had a gently fiendish idea: Why not make the box lid into a pendant? If the bail was on the underside of the lid, the box would provide storage for a handmade stone-and-silver chain that fit inside. I’d in effect be making a gift that was also the gift box.

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…and that’s what I’m working on now. So far, the boxes are great, the pendant settings much less so. I’ve already scrapped the first box lid, and am rethinking my approach.

Stay tuned.