I've been making handcrafted jewelry and fantasy artifacts for quite a while now, and I'd like to use this blog to describe some of what goes into the work I do. I'm also hoping that I can teach some of the techniques I've been using to others who might be interested in learning them.

If you like what you see here, please visit my personal webpages. I have several dispay galleries, loads of strange tales to tell, fun stuff, and free art to give away.

Splendid Fish Studio - Objects from the Dream World

Remember!
They come from the water and they bring strange dreams.

Monday, October 3, 2011

2011 Midwest Witches’ Ball door prize

- Deluxe Cased Athame set -


As one of the sponsors of the 2011 Midwest Witches’ Ball (http://midwestwitchesball.com/) I’ve been given the opportunity to donate a door prize. Because it’s a donation I don’t (obviously) get paid for it.

Which is fine, because…

As an artist, I have many ideas for fantastic and incredible objects to make - they just come up out of the deep and swim around in the shallows of my thoughts until I do something with them.

Unfortunately, because I am a “professional” artist, one of the things I have to do with those fishy dreams is to turn them into something I can sell. This means that “doing something with them” generally involves simplifying them, and figuring out how to reduce costs. I’m afraid that I don’t have extremely wealthy customers.

I think I do pretty well - I make unique and beautiful pieces and I sell them at affordable prices. Come and take a look at what I have and let me know if you agree - http://www.splendidfish.etsy.com/.

But (and this is a big butt. If you’ve ever had to contend with a big butt, you know how distracting it is), sometimes I like to forget all about costs and sales and just cut loose with a project.

That’s what I get out of doing a donation like this.

My teacher, who is Hermes the Three Times Great, tells me “As long as you seek to make gold, you will never make Gold.”

The key to understanding this quotation comes from noticing that the word "gold," is used twice. In the first usage it IS NOT capitalized, while in the second usage, it IS capitalized. This indicates that the words "gold" and "Gold" indicate two different things.

In the first usage (which is, according to English rules, correct) “gold” is used to indicate “common gold.” This would be the metallic element, gold. It also means “money” or “wealth” because the value of money used to be in it’s content of precious metal, the most precious of which, used in coinage, was gold.

The second usage capitalized the word “Gold.” This indicates that it is being used as a special term, in a way which is peculiar to Alchemy. In order to understand the statement, you need to know what “Gold” is used by Alchemists to represent (just like you need to know what an up quark, down quark, top quark, and bottom quark are in physics).

This might be a bit confusing… I’ll try to speak as straightly as possible.

Most people who have heard of Alchemy but don’t know much about it will say that the Alchemists were trying to make gold out of lead. Those who know a bit more might say that gold is used to symbolically represent “perfection” (whatever that is…). The idea behind that is this - since gold doesn’t oxidize (rust or tarnish), it is “incorruptible” (doesn’t rot. In Alchemy, rust on metal is like the crud that grows on rotting food), and is, therefore, perfect.

While this idea is roughly correct (call it a first level understanding), it is also misleading. Here’s a more correct way of expressing the idea:

In Alchemical writing and thought, “Gold” (with the capital “G”) is used to symbolically represent an end state produced when the component parts of the subject (that which is being worked on) have gone through a series of transformations, been recombined, and arrived at it’s (their?) highest level of being.

Or, to make it short, “Gold” is the ideally imagined end state of a procedure.

Any procedure.
Understanding this alone will help you in reading the classical Alchemy texts. Creating permanent, lasting Gold is the overarching goal of Alchemy. It is also the end goal of many sub-procedures leading up to that grand goal (the Magnum Opus).

Back to the phrase, then: As long as you seek to make gold, you will never make Gold.

I can now translate this into standard English for you - As long as you are doing it for the money, your work will never reach it’s highest possible state.

So - now I’ve gone full circle. The beauty of a donation is that I get to do my work without thought of profit or reward. That frees me up to bring the work to the highest level of perfection of which I am capable of bringing it.

I wish I could do this more often, but, Alas! I need gold…

Here’s what I’ve used this opportunity to create.


This is a cased Athame set. Let me point out of few of the subtle features which make this set so special!

The Athame itself (I have three similar Athames on my Etsy site: Splendid Fish Studio ) measures 18 inches in length, 12 inches of which is blade. The blade (which I did not make) is forged from high carbon steel - the correct steel for a blade (don’t be fooled by bright and shiny stainless steel, or something labeled “440“. Your ancestors would have recognized stainless as crappy metal for an edged tool) - in the form of a Scottish dirk. The blade has traditional file work decorations on the spine.



The guard is hand carved (by me this time) from a solid bar of cold rolled brass. This is far superior to the cheaper cast guards you see on many tourist quality knives. Cast brass is subject to fracturing when struck or dropped, while the carved, cold rolled brass is much less brittle.

Between the guard and the handle is a brass band, called the “wedding band” because it “weds” (joins) the handle to the blade. The wedding band is lightly decorated with a simple file carving. In addition to joining, the wedding band also serves to strengthen the cut end of the bone. If not reinforced, the bone has a tendency to split from a cut end. The other end, where the joint is, isn’t a problem because the fibers of the bone are twisted and entwined at the ends, and so end joints don’t split.

The actual bone I used came from a deer - a doe, actually. In the spring I wander the woods and find many interesting things - among them are the carcasses of deer that die over the winter (called “winter kill”). By the time I find them, the bones have been mostly cleaned by nature’s little helpers - the decay organisms and scavenging insects. Because they’ve been cleaned in nature’s laboratory instead of mine, the bones absorb some colors from the minerals in the soil, and some green from the algae which grows in the pores of the bone. I lightly polish them, giving them the look and feel of old ivory.

The scabbard is made of hand carved hardwood - in this case, poplar wood. Poplar is a smooth grained, fast growing wood, and is a renewable natural resource. This is the wood which was used in Europe for lining sword scabbards back in the old days.

I’ve dyed the scabbard a nice chocolate black and given a traditional finish of hand rubbed boiled linseed oil. I’ve also carved the scabbard so that it’s shape reflects the shape of the blade, including the file carving on the spine.

What makes this a deluxe set, though, is the fancy box.



For the case, I picked out some really nice bits of tiger stripe maple. The “tiger stripes” in the wood come about as a result of twisting growth patterns in the tree. When the maple is cut and sawn, the tiger stripe pieces are picked out and saved to be sold at a premium.

This wood has nice stripes… And I’ve dyed it bright red using aniline dye. The dye is much better than hardware store wood stain because stain is made of finely ground pigment, like paint, and tends to obscure some of the little details of the wood. Aniline dyes, though, are dyes. They aren’t made of pigment, so, when used, the grain stands out at maximum clarity.

The only problem with aniline dyes is that they are permanent, and they don’t wash off. My hands have been bright red for two weeks now. Remember to always wear gloves when you use aniline dyes…

And I’ve also used boiled linseed oil for a hand rubbed finish on the box also. Oh, and by the way - the inside is lined with red felt.

Topping it all off, which I think adds the final, very witchy touch, is the label on top of the box. I reads “2011 Midwest Witches’ Ball” - handwritten on a lovely toad skin. Do you know how hard it is to find lovely toad skins? I spare no expense and use only the finest materials… This leather came from the Philippines, although the toad came from Australia. A while back the Australian government brought in an Asian toad, the cane toad, to help control the bugs in the sugar cane. The toads like Australia, it seems, because they have been breeding like honeymooners, and parts of the country are overrun with them. They have to kill them to control the population, and, once they are dead, they don’t need their skin anymore…



Incidentally, I've also donated this little Nibelung's horde of Viking style forged copper bracelets for the gift bags which will be given out at the vending event. I hope to see you there!
 

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