Saturday 27 August 2011

Completely discombobulated today

There is no market today -- the Woodstock Fair has taken over the market space. I was supposed to go to Toronto today, in fact, by this time (10:32) I should have been paying for feathers, Swarovskis and ear wires, but the streets around the St. Lawrence Market are closed for Buskerfest. Going to that market to see all my old pals from when I was a vendor there ten years ago is my primary reason for going to Toronto on the two Saturdays per year that the Woodstock market is closed (fair today and, coming up, the Woodworking Show). Plus, the downtown core will be packed with people attending the funeral of Jack Layton. What a tragic loss for Canada. Not a fan of the NDP, too much knowledge of their doings from when I was a budding investigative journalist way back when in BC in '92, scumsuckers, the entire lot of 'em, but I probably would have eventually voted for him simply as being a decent and honest human being.

I've been busy all week. Put together a large silver order for Studio Works in Paris and an even larger silver and a turquoise order for the new Woodstock Art Gallery gift shop, which will be officially opening on 9 September. I might even go to that. The new gallery is absolutely gorgeous, and I figure I know a few things about galleries, having been to so many of them across Canada and in Europe.

I came home yesterday afternoon to a visitor at the sliding doors to the deck. He was walking up the glass licking bug splat, I guess, off his feet every few steps. Is this what my life has come down to, where even the bugs dare to critise my housekeeping, or lack thereof?

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Max models feather earrings in absentia & creating in chaos

Max was so purty... now he looks like a cross between a Chinese Crested and a Vietnamese potbellied pig. But his hair is growing in quickly and soon he will be his old(er) dashing self.

Meanwhile, here are my first feather earrings. It will be interesting to see if they sell. Aaaaaand... my eternal mess that breeds and spreads and that will be abandoned soon for the other end of the currently mess-free table.

Friday 19 August 2011

It's Friday and Bwahaha III is baaaaack

I was pretty busy all week. Got a lot of turquoise and chrysocolla leather-wrapped bracelets made in single, double and triple wrap combinations. Pretty much all of them will have to be taken apart: I didn't have any nylon thread so I figured I'd see how bad it could be using polyester. Bad. Really bad. The thread was fraying like crazy before I'd even finished making the bracelets. Here are some pictures for now, but I will be redoing all of them this week. They look fantastic on, if I do say so myself.

Kingman turquoise (4mm boulder & 6mm) triple-wrapped bracelet, natural Greek leather; double-wrapped chrysocolla; single-wrap 4mm Kingman boulder turquoise bracelet

The turquoise is from The Turquoise Chick, Albuquerque. The natural Greek leather is from Bamiyan, Toronto. I cannot get over how great this stuff is to work with compared to the el cheapo stuff I've been buying from India. Orders of magnitude difference.

Got through a ton of earrings today. Nose to the grindstone day. I'm whupped. Finished off my typing at 9:30 this morning and basically chugged along all day. Got a lot of inexpensive feather earrings done finally, and made a pile of Swarovski earrings to replace the ones I've sold in the past few weeks.

I made fairly simple earrings that I can sell for around $5 or $6 a pair depending on how many feathers are on them. I want to talk to people to see what they're looking for.

Then I kind of went nuts and made Bwahaha III. Not sure how the feathers are going to hang when there are two on one side and one on the other side of the skulls. Might have to add another feather to each. Pewter skulls are from Happy Mango Beads and, yes, I'm getting lots more.

Thursday 11 August 2011

Rant about resumes

I just read a couple or three very funny resume bloopers columns online.

I have a couple of questions about my resume, and job-hunting in general, which I'll throw out to anyone, really. The first question is: do kindergarten resumes really work? You know the type: a long list of 10 or 20 "plays well with others; shares her toys; doesn't eat sand" and that ilk that goes right up top above the list of what you've actually done for the past 20, 30, 40 years and which -- and I may be wrong here -- I had always assumed to be what employers were really interested in. 

I'm presently a self-employed sub-contractor in a business (transcription) where reputation, reliability, accuracy, adherence to sacred deadlines and discretion, as well as the Who's Who list of companies and agencies you've done transcription for, are paramount. Oh, and I can spell. And I know English grammar. Unlike 95% of transcribers today. What was once a highly-skilled, very well-paid profession has become a highly-skilled, less-than-minimum wage job that has gone to India. The low Indian wages are dictating what we are now paid in North America. How? We're bidding against them for North American work. Confidentiality? Privacy? Phht! Your medical and legal transcriptions are now being done in India.

The second thing that pisses me off to no end is that I have been loftily and repeatedly ordered over the last 20 or so years to dumb down my resume. Why? Because HR personnel don't understand what I do. What the...? Let me try to understand this. They're trying to fill a position required by their company. I'm applying for that job that's been advertised because, if I understand the advertisement, I have the qualifications and prior job experience. HR doesn't understand my resume, which has everything to do with the company for whom they work, which means they must have no clue about what type of person and their qualifications are needed to fulfill the job requirements. What calibre of person must HR be hiring, if they only hire what they and not the applicant know about? Don't the management people who are the ultimate employers notice that whoever has been hired is woefully... underskilled, inadequate for the job...? I was actually told in Whitehorse, when I was applying for a job as a YTG highway signpainter, to never go through HR, because they never like people like me. Always go to the person who's hiring. Who has given these HR people all this power and why are they permitted to abuse it? I have worked far too hard for far too many years to be the best at what I do -- no matter what that is -- and for someone to tell me to dumb it all down? What the hell is going on?

The third thing that really bugs me is when resume writer columnists tell you to talk about your accomplishments -- "I brought the X project in on time and under budget by $3 million" -- versus a list of mere job/skill descriptions. Could someone please tell me how to rephrase the following, and how to put it in a cover letter?

"After I quit the job I loved in 1991, following eight years of offensive bottom-feeder pay, I subsequently discovered that the president had had to hire THREE full time people to do what I had been doing part time while also attending a post-secondary institution full time, not to mention that this was work for which I was always paid the least amount of the least of the three jobs. Hiring three full time people would easily cost the company a minimum of $100,000+ annually in wages alone following my departure. Additionally, the company would then have had to return to outsourcing all advertising, design of government-mandated public information displays and graphic work (PowerPoint artwork adaptation, scientific journal illustrations, etc.) at an estimated $150+ per hour because I've never met a draftsperson who knew anything about advertising, printing, copywriting, etc., which is what I used to do. Additionally, company executives would have had to provide labour-intensive paper copies of all work to be done by one of my successors, thereby doubling the executives' own workload with grunt work. Since executives are usually on salary, it meant they were absorbing the cost of hundreds of hours of labour annually that I used to do for them and, BTW, for which I wasn't paid anything near their salary grade."

This is the first time I've ever calculated what I actually saved them over the years! Holeee, it's unbelievable. I think that guy reeeeeally screwed up.

Yes, I get the idea of accomplishments and saying something like "I brought the X project in on time and under budget by $3 million", but tell me how to write the truth: they screwed up big time by not paying me even a token part of what I was really worth to them. And oh, yes, I did ask for raises periodically. But there was only so much begging I could stomach: "Please, sir, I want some more." I considered and still consider myself to be "a professional", not just an employee doing only what they're told to do and when to do it. I took on so many tasks, drew on past experiences and knowledge, learned so much about this company's business along the way, and basically created my own standalone business that was still inextricably enmeshed within the company. Then to have someone I respected and who I thought of as an equal, each in our own spheres, to tell me to my face that he didn't believe I was really doing as much work as I said I was, and therefore didn't deserve a raise? That's a bit of a smuck upside the head, isn't it? Yes? No? Am I wrong?

"As a contractor of almost 40 years' standing I parachute into almost every job with a big fat zero's worth of knowledge of that company; however, what I do know how to do when I parachute in is hit the ground running, analyse and resolve the problem right from the get-go. Often they've run out of time because either somebody was practising major avoidance -- ignore it and it will go away, somebody else will figure something out -- or they're just plain an idiot, and now their job is on the line and they don't know what to do. Because money is no longer an issue, they hire me, I save their sorry asses, and I get out."

Why do I need to know anything about a specific business? Work is work and except for minor details, it's pretty much exactly the same wherever you go. Silos are an artificial construct, a concept. In philosophical terms, concepts don't exist; the fact that people talk about them and have agreed they exist and conduct business as if they're truly bricks and mortar edifices means they're... what, delusional? And we wonder why business and governments are going down the rathole! I have always adapted skills from one industry and tweaked them to apply to another; I don't start over. Therefore, why would an employer assume that I should perennially be paid entry level wages?

"Incorporating skills learned in disparate sectors (which are listed in the attached 2-page resume) means I am hyper-organised -- think of moving chessmen up, down, through and around a 3+ level Lucite chessboard. In the case of the one company, I constantly juggled umpteen separate deadlines (ours and service providers), all the different facets involved in production, paid attention to budgets and contingency allowances for projects headed by different executives, in different stages of completion and often located in a different country entirely with the added legal requirements that that would entail. I was living, thinking and breathing outside the box long before the rest of the world was informed there was one." 

And what's with all the cliches, those gob-smackingly irritating lists of so-called "power verbs" and jargon that resume writers and HR looooove to death and post online? Are they really sitting there and checking them off, thinking, okay, this person used thirteen power nouns, ten power adjectives and twenty-three power verbs. Since our cutoff is a minimum usage of X, nope, buh-bye, Bubba. Into the circular file you go.

"I have lived and worked overseas, I speak three languages, albeit two poorly (I am unfortunately a linguistic dolt), but have, eh, I dunno, a quasi-mystical ability to communicate with just about anyone, whether we share a verbal language or not, and I'm adaptable to circumstances: I have worked with Vietnamese boat people on an assembly line and have had intense one-on-one sit-downs with government leaders, judges, top-level military personnel and executives; I've tutored third world refugees, helping them find their first jobs in Canada; and I've done work for the World Criminal Court, NATO, UN agencies, banks, police, etc."

If I were an electrician or a plumber or airline pilot or a librarian I could find a job so frickin' easily. Just open the newspaper. It's those damnably elusive, so-called "soft skills" -- and there's one of those pesky power words again (ewch, "power" word: it's so '80s, innit? I hear the '80s have come back. Dallas remake is in the works, big shoulders, big hair, makeup trowelled on... oh, Gawed, I'm doomed again). The "soft skills" have made me virtually unemployable... the irony being that I get what work I do have virtually. If it weren't for the Internet -- and there's the poster child of a concept, 'cause you can't touch it, taste it or smell it, but I think we all agree it exists -- I wouldn't be working. And now I'm really in trouble, because since 1998 most people don't believe I do any work at all.

Gaaaaaaah I'm so screwed, and I've got to somehow find a real job.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Primitive fantasy, deviantArt I just got invited to submit my shark tooth and turquoise necklace to this group! Might not sound like a lot, but given the readership, or maybe that's "lookership", of, it means my work is going further afield than it normally might. I'm so excited to see what the response will be.

I got some outrageous carved turquoise skulls in the mail yesterday, so stay tuned. I've also been encouraged to submit my work to a local tattoo place. Are they still called parlours? Yet more things to add to the list of themes and things to make, and I still have to get that unutterably pesky application off to the art gallery gift shop.

Meanwhile, it's pouring rain here, so dark I need a light on to see the keyboard and there's a ton of typing in to pound through today. Off to Toronto tomorrow to look for more goodies.

Sunday 7 August 2011

Silver-filled wire vs sterling or Argentium, with some hammered tin pieces

The following is my too-wordy-to-post contribution to a discussion thread about silver-filled wire versus sterling or Argentium wire on Wire Wrap Jewelry, a fun and interesting Yahoo group I recently joined.

I think I agree with Perry here, as well as the comment about labour and also using the tinned copper for the special effects achievable. Here are my post-rainy (yay!) misty Sunday morning and now almost 1 p.m. coffee-fueled musings. I have to say there is nothing like mist-muffled car tires on wet country roads.

I don't know that the price differential would mean much in the end, and the cost of this silver-filled wire at 50% of the price of sterling wire for only a 10% silver content versus 92.5%? No, definitely not. Yes, when starting out, cost definitely is a huge issue, and no, you don't want to be practising or working out a new design with sterling -- which I still use Artistic wire for. But I'm sure, like me, you've occasiontally come across some of your beginning efforts that you remember you were so proud of: nothing is so full of character and dimension as the frayed, rusting cut ends of Artistic wire.

10% silver content versus the 5% of other plated wires? As anyone becomes more experienced, considerations around producing jewellery based purely on cost drop away and it is quality on all fronts that becomes paramount because the customers you started out with either grow with you and accept the increased cost of your work and materials as a mark of the product... or they won't. Of course you will find appreciative customers to replace the ones who fall away who be more than willing to pay the higher price for that quality.

Personally, I'm making jewellery which I hope will last a lifetime, and if I'm using plated components -- and the end result of silver surrounding a copper core is "plated" no matter how hard you wrap schmancy words around it, and silver does wear, does it not? -- then that silver-filled wire jewellery will not last a lifetime, particularly at wear points, not to mention those cut ends so full of character and dimension will wear even more. I think that the marketing argument for using silver-filled wire over sterling or Argentium based on cost is specious and they're missing the true marketing opportunity.

I know I'm not alone in this, but while becoming more experienced in making jewellery, I've also been learning about the difference between D grade and AAA grade stones. If I am increasingly buying much higher quality beads that cost heart-stopping dollars per string, why on earth would I used a 10% silver-filled wire with a copper core on a bead that costs $10, $20 or more each to save a few cents?

At the same time reality intrudes: along with market table stuff mostly for kids that I put together to sell for a few bucks, I make a medium-price "diffusion" line for people like myself, which is to say champagne taste on a beer budget, but who still have a few extra dollars to spend where justified.

Given that my labour costs are always going to be the same no matter what I'm making and that components and dangles are where the money goes -- and that's where silver prices have become particularly atrocious -- I've started using more and more high-quality pewter and/or silver-plated pewter with great results, BUT I still use Argentium silver wire. I mean, really, how much does a few inches of 24 gauge cost, ditto a pair of sterling earwires? It's not like it's a full ounce of silver wire, it's a few inches. Essentially, I give people a choice: go with all-sterling, or yes, these are sterling earwires, but you can save a few bucks on equally interesting, but different and much less costly pewter dangles or just two amazingly outrageously beautiful beads out of a costly string versus an entire necklace -- for now. I show them how the piece is constructed so that if they come across a to-die-for pendant or dangles, or some day they come into a little windfall they want to invest in sterling components or upgrading to a complete bracelet or necklace, their piece can easily be upgraded by me or someone else.

Re: using tinned copper and sanding away or hammering the snot out of the tin so that the copper starts gooshing through -- yes!!!!! I love doing that, the effect is fantastic. This is where we're getting to the wrongness of the advertising: I think it would be fun to experiment with this specific property of the silver-filled wire, which I'm not arguing is not a good product in and of itself, but it's this property, I think, which IS the potential marketing strategy, not that other babble about characterful and dimensional ends and saving money.

Silver-filled wire manufacturer, are you listening? I have the suspicion that whoever is writing their ad copy does NOT make jewellery if this is the best they can come up with because they're missing the marketing opportunity of the decade... mixed metals is hot!

In the end, I still think you have to consider that using by silver-filled wire, you're making jewellery with a wire that will eventually wear down to the copper core, and at 10%, a lot faster than not. This all goes back to knowing who you are as a designer and who your market is: are you a designer from whom people buy quality jewellery around which to build a wardrobe for the next umpteen years and for whom finding, buying at any price and wearing a particular piece of jewellery is a visceral experience, or do you make jewellery for those who buy something to match an outfit that they feel okay about tossing after a season? Both are equally valid points of view and creation but the price differential between this silver-filled wire and sterling/argentium isn't worth it.

Anyway, I hope I've contributed something to the conversation. I do find it fascinating the stories people tell me about their jewellery, and listening to the discussions that ensue when considering what to buy for someone definitely helps me when thinking about new pieces. The take-home message is that price is not entirely the question, but what you can do with the materials is: does it serve the purpose?

Long story short, and speaking from a practical point of view, I don't see that the price differential is sufficient to justify choosing 10% silver-filled wire over 92.5% sterling or Argentium for most jewellery, but what would make me buy it is the design potential inherent in a thicker silver plating on a copper core.

Here are some pictures of what I did a few years ago when I first started hammering and using tinned copper. Definitely an ick factor looking at these from a design/workmanship point of view, but, oh, the gooshing... and over time, as you polish the tin to buff it up to a pewter glow, it wears off ever so slightly, exposing and more copper, and it develops the most amazing patina. It's like a living thing!

Friday 5 August 2011

It's Friday again and I'm losing it...

Hey, I'm at 1,001 page views here! Wow. I'm thrilled.

Brutal week spent typing an awful, awful file. Then I had to proof it which took almost as long, plus I had to add time codes all over the place because there were so many "inaudibles" throughout. What a waste of time. Who are these morons whose job is to interview people every frickin' day, and nobody will tell them to move the effing tape recorder closer to their SUBJECT? What part of we don't need or want to hear pristine and perfect questions. It's the answer that is important. How difficult is that to grasp??? Hello???? I HATE WASTING MY TIME and I REALLY PROFOUNDLY HATE MY JOB.

Anyway... it's Friday, I've totally lost it, and here is the proof:

Bwahaha III - shark's tooth, bone dice, glass beads & hemp cord on a waxed cotton adjustable choker

Shark's tooth, turquoise, copper & base metal nugget beads
& hemp cord on a waxed cotton adjustable choker

Raw quartz crystal pendant earrings with all-in-one wrapped Argentium sterling earwires