Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Photo by the Cassini Spacecraft 2013 (NASA)

On the cusp of the new year, here's something to ponder. We're alone out here floating in the darkness of our corner of the Universe. Anyone else who may be out here is very far away. So for now, at least, we're all there is. Please take a few minutes to watch Carl Sagan say this far better than anyone else in the Universe could.  Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, December 30, 2013


Before and after

I got a bunch of old 5 1/2 inch square cut nails a while back at a junk sale. I had to buy them because they were cool and pretty cheap. They're so enormous, that I can't even imagine what these were originally used for, fences or barn beams, I suppose. At any rate, they're pretty awesome. I've been interested in tool making for a long time now. A couple of years ago I took a forging workshop with Tim McCreight (who makes a lot of his own tools) and I had the opportunity to sit down with him an ask him a few questions about tool steel and how to harden it, etc. I bought some tool steel but haven't taken the time to work with it. I ran across these nails the other day while I was reorganizing my studio space (still not done, by the way). I was looking for a reason to procrastinate the job, so I had the idea to see if I could make a tool out of one of the nails. It worked really well. It turns out that, at least to my untrained eye, that these old babies are made from really good steel. I thought I'd make a scribe first as the fabrication is pretty straight forward, in that the goal is to make it as pointy as possible. It took a lot of heat and force to make it malleable enough to twist, so I got a good workout. Since I don't know exactly what type of steel it is, I didn't know exactly how to temper it. After I finished the forging, filing and finishing, I heated it back up, not quite as hot as I initially did when forging it. Again, since I'm using an old piece of steel, I wasn't sure whether to quench in oil or in water. From what I could learn from blacksmithing articles on the Internet, it seems like unknown steel is most safely quenched in oil, so that's what I did. I cleaned the scribe back up and used it tonight to mark a sheet of bronze for sawing. It worked great! The tip stayed intact with no chipping, so I'm assuming that I tempered correctly. If anyone reading this has any experience with old steel that they'd be willing to share with me I'd really appreciate it. The nail makes a very nice scribe that's the perfect weight and length, at least for me. I tried to place the twist so that it'd make the tool easy and secure to grip. plus, it's pretty and I think tools should be nice looking if possible. Next, I'm going to try to make a curved burnishing tool, but only AFTER the studio reorganization is done. I got a new piece of equipment for Christmas that I'm dying to try out and I have to make some room for it. More on that later!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


I got in my car last night while we were running last minute errands for Christmas. It was so cold that there was frost on the inside of the windows.  As I was waiting impatiently for the defroster to kick in I glanced up and saw this beautiful heart-shaped bit of snow on the outside of my windshield. It gave me pause. It reminded me of how important it is to stop and notice things, because they don't last. There is beauty all around us, all the time. We're all so busy, so focused on what we have to do, on our first-world problems that sometimes it's hard to see it. But it's there, if we choose to see it.
I wish you all, near and far the happiest of holidays. I hope you all will take the time for yourselves to find the beauty in everyday. I know I will.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


The finished product. Look at all the room I have for more tools!

My lovely drawing. 

 At the lumber store. We chose Poplar for the cart, which the kid working there kept calling "Popular". I had little confidence in his skill set. 

Paul cutting the wood for my project. He may or may not have been afraid that I'd cut my hand off with the circular saw. He was too nice to say so, however.

 One side done.

 The other side.

 All done, ready to be sanded and stained.

 One coat down, one to go!

 One last rub with steel wool and it was ready to load up.

 Finally, a way to organize that's worthy of my collection of hammers!

Organize, a verb, according to Webster that is defined as "to arrange into a structured whole; order".  This is an elusive concept, at least for me in the workshop, that is. I suppose it's an elusive concept for any of us that create for a living. Especially when what you create involves lots of small bits and parts and lots of tools. Lately I have heard lots of chatter on Facebook on this subject of organization. It might be that autumn makes us think of getting organized for the winter months, a nesting of sorts. I always feel a sense of anticipation this time of year that teeters towards anxiety involving getting things ready for winter.
I decided after my last show at the end of August that my next project would be to once and for all figure out a way to better organize my space. I bought some great metal cabinets for organizing stones and beads. Not only are they functional, they're an awesome shade of lime green that matches the light fixtures that hang over my work table. I'll show you those later on after I get them a bit better organized. I'm getting rid of books and magazines that I no longer need (this one is hard for me!).  I'm organizing my bench and tools into a better working state, also a difficult task, but I'm getting there. All of my tools for student use are packed up into a bin so I know where they are when I need them. I have even sorted all of my metals into new bins by type and gauge. The one thing I couldn't buy was some kind of organizer for my hammers. For non-jewelry types I'm sure this sounds funny, as in "why not just toss 'em in a tool box?". Hammers made for metalsmithing have polished faces that need to stay that way if you don't want to transfer dings onto you your work. Plus, many of them are just so pretty that you just can't let them get banged around. I've never found any kind of commercial holder or rack that really served my purpose. I decided the only thing to do was to build my own. I lurked around on Pinterest checking out how other people store their tools and I found a few ideas.
I don't have much experience building things so this was a real challenge for me. I spent some time deciding on size, dimensions and exactly what I wanted to store on it. I did a crude drawing, and I do mean crude! My drafting teacher in college would be so disappointed in me. Paul helped me figure out the dimensions of the lumber I'd need and he also pointed out some flaws in my design that would have made my cart tippy, like the fact that the casters needed to extend beyond the body of the cart. Then off the hardware store we went. Paul cut most of the wood out for me and I built it in about 3 days with applying the finish. I was pretty slow, but at least I didn't make any mistakes. I'm really happy with how it turned out. It's going to make finding the tool I need much easier, plus they look so darn pretty displayed like that!

Sunday, October 6, 2013


 Oak leaf Hydrangea

 Autumn Joy Sedum



Today the weather was cold and rainy. It felt like fall is really here. Something different in the air.  I love fall, but these early days always make me a little melancholy. I suppose it feels like the end of something instead of the beginning of something.  Soon, the sky will be blue, the air will be crisp and hopefully we'll have  a really long Indian summer. That's fall in the Midwest. I wish everyone could experience fall the way we do in places where the seasonal change is obvious. The smell of the air, sweaters, pumpkins, apples, the gold of harvested fields against a crystal blue sky. All of these things are a beautiful part of the place that I grew up.
Today I picked what may be the last of the produce from the garden. All that was left were lcouple of eggplant, the rest of the basil and a bunch of tomatoes. Maybe it'll stay warm enough for a few more tomatoes. That would be a bonus.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


 Carved wood and silver pendant and earrings

 Bronze clay necklace

Metal clay tube bead bracelet

Hot forged twisted bronze bracelet

Metal clay embellished bracelet

 Mixed metal layered acid etched earrings

My great friend and teaching partner, Gail Lannum and I are excited about the classes that we submitted for the 2014 Bead &  Button Show. Now that they have been accepted I thought I'd post the project photos.  We have four brand new classes and two others that were popular from last year. Our classes will be full of hot and cold forging, cold connections, acid etching, metal clay and design. It's going to be a full week and we can't wait!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


I hope all of my eastern Iowa friends will stop by and see me this Saturday from 9-4 at the Brucemore Garden and Art Show. The show is held annually on the grounds of the beautiful National Trust estate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. If you've never visited the estate before Saturday would be a great chance to do so. The weather will be fine, the flowers will be in bloom and the will be plenty of art and great food to enjoy. I hope to see you there. For more information on the show or the estate click here.

Sunday, August 11, 2013



Summer has flown by, and wow, has this blog suffered. The Bead and Button Show came and went (and was awesome!) and then teaching partner Gail Lannum and I were on to next years Bead and Button submissions. We are excited about what we came up with and hope the show will be too.
Paul and I added a new kitten to our family this summer. Her name is Scout and she's now 4 months old. She's a real sweetheart too. Best of all Lily gets along well with her, so that's a good thing.
I'm on to designing new work and trying to make that happen in real life. In the days to come I'll post some pics of that as well as images of a couple of new classes I'll be teaching in my studio in Iowa City hopefully in September. For some of you gals that have asked me in the past, yes there will be soldering!
I hope your summer has been great so far!

Friday, April 26, 2013


Bronze and sterling.

Bronze, Nickel, Sterling.

Copper and sterling.

Bronze and sterling.

It looks like spring has finally sprung, though I guess I shouldn't speak too soon.  Lots to do in the yard and spring cleaning too.  I don't know how 2 people accumulate so much stuff.  I feel the load lightening already, with every object that gets carted to Goodwill or the trash.  Anyway, today I actually got some jewelry work done and that felt good too.  
More work soon!

Sunday, March 31, 2013


Happy Easter! Happy Spring!

Friday, March 22, 2013


Bronze and sterling silver. 

Another view.

Well, today went a lot better.  Soldering skills seem to be coming back to me, plus I seemed to be a lot less of a spaz today.  Made three pairs of these and got started on a couple of others.  It felt pretty good.  Next I'm going to make some from sterling silver and then some with etched bronze.  

Thursday, March 21, 2013


This is representative of my day today.

They started out so promisingly.

Not much to show for a whole day of work.  

Well, it was one of those days where you should stay in bed or go to Starbucks and read a book all day.  It started the day with a cute idea for some simple bronze, tribal style earrings.  I cut the bronze sheet out, gave them a nice hammered texture, and finished them nicely.  I finished the first pair easily even though I haven't done any soldering since my hand surgery.  I did a fine job with the soldering (admittedly, it was a simple job) which made me happy after so long of a hiatus.  I pickled them to clean them up and lovingly polished them.  That's when I noticed that I had soldered the ear wires onto the wrong side.  ARRGH!  Ok, no problem, reheat, remove the wires, grind off the solder, pickle, rinse, make new ear wires because I mangled the first ones, flux, solder the new findings in place, clean them up.  That's when I realized that I hated how they hang in the ears.  It's amazing that I didn't throw them against the wall.  I stopped and started working out my problem in a sketch book and I think I have a good solution.  I started to disassemble them again but had to run off to an appointment.  So basically here's what I finished today in 6 hours.  Impressive, no? Just not in a good way!  I think maybe I'm a bit rusty.  I should be able to knock out several pairs of a simple thing like these in an afternoon.  I guess I'm going to have to find my groove again.  It's ok though.  I strongly believe that these kind of afternoons are the real work of what we do, a sort of way of working out the stuff we can't work out on paper.  Tomorrow is another day and I'm sure it will go much more smoothly.  Pictures of what happens next tomorrow!

Saturday, March 16, 2013


I love St. Patrick's Day.  Though it is still cold outside, it always seems like the real beginning of spring to me.  There are bulbs coming up in the yard and the birds are singing louder and there seem to be more of them lately.
It's been a busy winter, full of travel and healing.  My hand has healed nicely and I'm so grateful to my surgeon and my physical therapist.  I spent time in Albuquerque taking two workshops at Rio Grande and then on to the gem shows in Tucson.

Peter Gilroy, demonstrating the Bonny Doon Press.

A few of the things we made in Peter's class.  

My first workshop at Rio was a hydraulic forming class with Peter Gilroy.  It was nice for me as using a press was completely out of my comfort zone.  I learned a lot and mostly that I need to learn a lot more.  There is a lot I could do with a press, especially cutting out blanks.  I may have myself talked into buying a press, but they're not cheap, so I'm shopping around.  I think my best choices are the press that Rio sells (Bonny Doon) and one of the presses from Kevin Potter at Potter USA.  If anyone has any advice for me, I'd love it!

 Bill Fretz, demonstrating an anti-clastic bracelet.

 Maybe my favorite thing I learned all week, the Mobius Strip.  A Mobius Strip is a surface with only one side.  If you're interested or geeky (like my husband) check out the link to learn the origins of the Mobius Strip.

 Synclastic and anti-clastic bracelets and rings.  

This is an anti-clast that we made as the closure of a bracelet, but I'm making these as pendants with gems closed up inside. 

My second workshop was with the rock star of hammers, Bill Fretz himself.  Most of you who love tools (like me) know who this is.  Bill makes the most beautiful hammers known to man.  I picked up several more in Tucson the week after our class, but more on that next time.  Bill rarely teaches, so I knew that I had to grab my chance when it came along.  The workshop was on forming with hammers and stakes.  My experience with stakes was limited, and again they aren't cheap so I didn't own too many.  I was amazed at how much easier forming anti-clastic and synclastic shapes are to make with the right stakes.  This class was one of those rare moments that changed everything about how I work.  I loved forming before and now I'm obsessed.  I'll post some pictures of what I've made since Bill's workshop later on, as well as pictures of my Tucson treasures.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


A heart-shaped stone that I found on a beach in Cambria, California.

i carry your heart with me ~ e.e. cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Saturday, January 5, 2013


 Metal Clay Tube-Bead Bracelet #B130586 

 Metal Etching 101 #B130417, #B130586, #B131713
(3 different sessions)

 Metal Clay Embellished Bracelet #B130590

 Mixed-Metal Layered Acid-Etched Earrings #B130574

Etched and Riveted Metal Bracelet #B130788

It's only 144 days until the biggest jewelry spectacle on the planet.  Of course I'm talking about The Bead & Button Show held every June in Milwaukee.  Registration for classes opens January 8th at noon Central Time.  If you are planning to attend, then you've already been poring over the ample class catalog.  This years offerings look great, as always.  This will be my second year teaching at the show.  I taught last years' classes with my great friend and teaching partner Gail Lannum.  Gail and I really enjoy teaching together.  We both have different strengths and we have a lot of fun together.  Last year was so great.  The students were fun and eager and Gail and I had a blast teaching at such a venerable show.  The show was kind enough to have us back, so we're doing it all over again.  This year we're teaching 7 classes (yes, we are crazy!)  All of our classes are appropriate for beginners (one of the bonuses of having 2 teachers is that we can give students more attention) but they will be challenging enough for experienced students as well.  Students will walk away with finished pieces from all of our classes.
Our classes include a silver clay bracelet that combines lampwork with leather, 3 acid-etching 101 technique classes, a bracelet class that combines acid-etching, silver clay and riveting, an earring class that combines acid-etching and metal fabrication, and a bracelet class that combines acid-etching, riveting and metal fabrication. Wow, are we gonna be tired?  It's going to be a great week of jewelry technique and fun and we would love to see you in one or more of our classes!  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at: jewelry@cristinaleonard.com

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Happy New Year everyone!  I hope the new year finds you all happy and healthy.  It's been a hard year for so many people, but I suppose that's how it will always be.  I hope all who have lost so much find some peace in the upcoming days and weeks.
The year has been an interesting one for me personally.  My hand surgery taught me, I hope to be a bit more patient.  Happily, that's behind me and I'm working again. Making things with my hands is the thing besides my family and friends that brings me the most happiness in the world.  I'm taking it slow but it feels incredible to work without crippling pain in my hand.  I'm not pain free yet, but I feel sure that it's coming.
The past year included lots of travel for shows and vacations.  One of the highlights was a wonderful trip with Paul and my little sister Jamie up the California coast.  We had a spectacular time, every day was a new adventure.  Paul and I are hoping we can talk her into another trip this year.
This year I'll travel to Tucson again for the spectacle that is collectively known as the Gem Show.  I've been there several times and it never gets old.  Paul and I lived there during his internship and we really like going back. Right before that I'll be in Albuquerque for two classes at Rio Grande.  I'll also be going to Miami to see my wonderful friend Gigi sometime this winter or early spring.  In June I'll be at the Bead and Button Show teaching 7 classes and before that to hopefully take a class as well. I look forward to seeing many of you there.  That's the first half of the year, who knows what will unfold in the second half?  Lots of good times and laughs I hope.  I wish that for all of you too!