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Lessons From Leo

Last night, Leonardo DiCaprio FINALLY won an Oscar, and made an awesome speech. Huzzah!

While I feel happy for him, an artist that’s been given recognition for his skill and talent, it also brought up questions of success, failure and how different people react to it. Many entrepreneurs know the phrase, “Fail your way to the top,” and it would seem as though that’s exactly what he’s done.

Most of us are conditioned to believe that failure is bad, and that we should avoid failure at all costs. If I’ve learned anything from my many artistic endeavors and the Mythbusters, it’s that failure is always an option, and you always learn something from it when you do. What did Leo learn when he didn’t win? His first nomiation was at 20. Maybe he thought he needed more experience, or more training. Is this what spurred him on to greater cinematic challenges?

Most likely, yes. There are two ways to look at failure, and Leo failed multiple times in a very public forum. I’m sure some actors in the past saw their nomination and subsequent loss as a death knell, thinking, “Well, if I can’t win with that, I never will! That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done!” They take easier, smaller roles and slowly fade away. Others, like Leo, look at it and go, “Well, I didn’t win with that, and that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done! Time to tell my agent to ramp things up.”

On the flip side, what if he had won when he was 20? Would he have starred in The Revenant? Would Inception have had as much impact? How many people, upon winning high accolades early on in their careers, use that momentum to just coast along through the rest of their work? They’ve checked the achievement box, but they’re living a One-Hit-Wonder life.

To me, Leo’s Oscar win is what happens when you don’t let failure stand in your way, no matter how many people are watching. So go out there, try to do the thing, and fail until you win. When you do, party, take a moment to thank those that helped you, then scope out your next challenge.


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Racing The Rock

I’ve got a secret. I’m in a race with The Rock.

Yes, THAT Rock. Dwayne Johnson. That huge guy who’s all over HBO and in a ton of movies.

I know it seems odd that a historian/artist would pick him. I mean, there’s so many jewelers, jewelry brands and artists out there for me to pick from. Tiffany’s, Van Cleef and Arpels, or Bvlgari (my favorite) come to mind. But I can’t race them. They’re companies. Sure, I can learn from their strategies, or look at their numbers and see how the trends are going, and that’s good for a company to do. For me, as a human, that’s not feasible.

Brandy Sinclair can’t race Ippolita, but she can race Dwayne Johnson.

Let me explain.

I’m very fortunate that I learned early on in life, that if I wanted to be a great artist my chief aim every day should be to be better than I was the day before. Dwayne Johnson, along with every other pro athlete out there, knows this. That’s why he’s up before 4:30 in the morning, and has done his cardio and (literally) tons of heavy lifting before most of us have hit the snooze button. That’s why I try to wake up at 5 am or earlier and either get into the workshop or spend time studying and learning before the rest of the house wakes up. His first order of the day is to be bigger, faster, or stronger than he was when he woke up yesterday. I can do the same with my art. It’s not as easy to measure as physical improvement, but it can be done.

So how, exactly, does one “race” The Rock? With Instagram, of course! When I wake up the first thing I do is check out @therock. He sometimes posts screenshots of his wakeup alarms, and when he’s on the East Coast I like to try and be awake before he is. Yes, I’ve been up before him, and I do a little dance every time I see it. Later on in the day, when I decide to take a break from whatever it is I’m doing, I’ll look at Instagram. I look at lots of things, but I always check in on him. Is it a marketing promo image? I think I’ll post some jewelry. Is it a slice-of-life shot? Maybe I can find something cool you guys would like. Is he pumping iron at his bench? Well, this is what’s on my bench! You get the idea. When he hasn’t posted anything new from the last time I looked, I’ll post something and see if he posts the same type of image later.

There’s more to it, though. I like to see if I can beat the profit margins on his movies with my events. I’ll enter a contest when I see he’s up for an award. When I see him celebrating his fans, it reminds me to make extra-sure my family and friends know how much I appreciate them. When I see him with his family or with his pets, I’ll take a break to give them some love. You see, I’m only human, and so is he. Companies don’t sleep. They chug on every second of every day. I race Dwayne Johnson because he helps me up my game in every area of my life.

So you don’t get the wrong idea – I’m not racing against him. I’m racing with him, because the only person I’m competing against is myself.

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What You’re REALLY Buying

Given how yesterday was Small Business Saturday and tomorrow is Cyber Monday, you’ve probably seen some variation of this floating around on your social media feeds. And while it’s true, you’re buying so much more when you Shop Small and Buy Handmade this season.
You’re not just getting an unbelievably cozy scarf, or an expertly finished cutting board, or a ring you literally can’t find anywhere else. You are buying blood, sweat and tears.


Allow me to explain.

The blood is the simplest, so I’ll start with that. If you’ve ever made anything with your hands, you know that sooner or later, you’re going to get hurt. All bakers have been burnt. All the people I know who sew have cut or stabbed themselves at some point. Even fiber workers like knitters get hurt. And when it comes to hammers and saws, it’s not a matter of “if”, but “when”.

As for sweat, well – That’s also pretty self-explanatory. Making things, even if you love it, can be hard work. Hard work isn’t a bad thing, but it does make you sweat. Whether it’s over a stove, a saw, or a sewing machine, we sweat. We sweat from the work, from putting up tents at craft shows, from hauling our totes of goods and displays up and down stairs. We sweat when see the application deadlines approaching, while we wait for acceptance emails and before the events start. We sweat over the details, not only in the work itself but on our business cards, our websites, and the pictures we take for our online stores. We’re doing this full time, but do we look professional enough? Do we look too professional? Is that a bad camera angle? Does this font look cheesy? Am I using the right words? Did I choose the right images to send with my application? Is this display “right” for my work? There are buckets of sweat behind everything you see in an online shop or at a show.

Now for tears. Big Artist Confession Time: Yes, you are buying tears. We usually don’t cry when we bleed, we’re used to that by now, but we cry at other things. We cry at numbers, especially when they’re bad, but sometimes when they’re really good, too. We cry in frustration when the work just isn’t working. We cry at rejection emails and shutoff notices. We cry happy tears when we’re accepted into one of our dream shows. We cry a lot when someone favorites half of our Etsy shop and then copies our work.

But if you really, really want to make an artist cry, come up to our table and say loudly, “I could make that.” We’ll smile and maybe we’ll used our canned comeback for this phrase (because trust me, we all have one), but on the inside, we’re crying. We’re crying because those four words contain every single bit of naysaying that we’ve ever heard from society, from the people we love and from inside our own heads. We’re crying because you’re devaluing the skills we have literally bled to acquire (see above). Some of us are crying because we’re honestly afraid that you’ll steal the designs we’ve spent days or sometimes even weeks developing. We’re crying because we’re literally putting a price tag on little pieces of ourselves and you’re telling us we’re Not Worth It.

We’ll be okay. We’re artists, and we feel all the feelings, but we’re tough. Some of us have been at it so long that The Phrase doesn’t hurt us any more. It might sting in the pocketbook, because those people never buy anything, but we know that the words are empty. Still, we feel for the others who have it used on them, because the person who says it always says it a lot. And loudly, too.

So remember, while you are wandering the shows and the Internet, that when you buy the Perfect Handmade Gift, you’re not just getting a thing. You’re getting blood, sweat, and tears, and you’re giving encouragement, opportunity, and hope.



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Picking up the Graver

pracetice engraving on steelRecently I started engraving again. I say “again” because I had been engraving a little bit before summer hit, but with events and the subsequent insanity of Fall, I haven’t touched it. Now I’m doing a little bit of engraving, every day until my graver gets dull and Brian needs to resharpen it for me on his faceting machine.
It’s been wonderful!
For those that don’t know, I used to be an animator. My specialty was hand-drawn animation, done either on paper or in programs like Flash with a tablet. My career was barely started when I heard the words, “You have carpal tunnel,” from my doctor. I could barely react before it was followed with, “In both hands.” The solutions were either surgery, which would restore 80% of my functions (if I’m lucky), or just don’t draw anymore.
Drawing was something I had done every day since my fat little baby hands could hold a crayon! You might as well tell a fish not to swim, or a bird not to sing. I sunk myself into metalwork so I could still make money, create and not lose my mind. Eventually, my hands got better. The muscles around my wrists grew and were able to support the “drawing hands” and about five years ago, I could draw again.
By then, the animation world had changed, and frankly, so had I. People I had known in college were leaving the studios in droves, burnt out in every way. Technology I had mastered was now obsolete, and I was incredibly rusty, to boot. But I had found that making jewelry combined my art skills and my obsession with history into something that I could do every day, without pain or fear of further damage.
I still missed drawing.
So I looked into engraving. Drawing on metal. I went to an intro class back in May and I feel like I was given drawing back. I’m being smart, though – I’m letting the tool do the work and I’m taking breaks to stretch. I still have some more practicing to do before my engraving can go up in the shop, but keep your eyes peeled. I like to post my practice work on Instagram.


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Jewelry and Legacy

Rings from my grandparents
Together Again

I’m sharing this picture of my grandparents’ rings because, as of Sunday, they are together again.

My grandma was 95, and lived alone at home. Grandpa died a few years ago, almost to the day, which was almost their 60th anniversary, which was almost her birthday, Valentine’s Day.

I almost posted a blog post about the sample sale going on, and the shows I’m applying to. I almost decided not to say anything about it, but that would feel like lying.

Art is ultimately about life, and life gets sad and messy at times. If artists didn’t acknowledge that, there wouldn’t be “Memento Mori” jewels or mourning rings filled with delicate braids of hair. There’s lots of beauty to be found in the tragic parts of life; we just have to dig a bit harder to get to it.

So I’ll keep going. I will keep up the Project 365 I’m doing on Instagram, even while I’m in NY. I’ll reschedule the sale post for another week. I’ll keep going with my big, crazy fashion show plan. I’ll look for more shows to apply to. I’ll laugh and draw and make things.

But I won’t be mailing out any shipments until next week.


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Dinner from the 14th Century

PicturePreparing Lombard Chicken Pasties from The Medieval Cookbook by Maggic Black

This is something I never thought I’d do: a blog post on cooking. Why? Because I’m a terrible cook. I have set ramen on fire in the microwave. Several times. I have no idea how I set noodles in water on fire, but I am strangely proud that I did. I’ve killed toasters, destroyed pans, and extinguished more kitchen fires than I can remember. Ask my first college roomie. I started a fire the first dinner we had together. (Hi, Rachael! Sorry I still owe you an oven mitt. And a pan.)

So, yeah – I suck at cooking.

Brian makes all the food, but he’s got a lot of stones to cut and the final edit of his book to finish, so he’s asked me to try my hand at cooking again. I agreed, but I hate cooking. To make it fun and interesting for me, I bought two cookbooks on Amazon.


I got The Medieval Cookbook by Maggie Black and The Classical Cookbook by Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger. They arrived Saturday, and I decided to try the “Lombard Chicken Pasties” from The Medieval Cookbook for dinner. Now, these aren’t your typical cookbooks. They’re full of historical information, including cultural notes about how and when food was served. If you’re like me and like to learn as much as you can, however and whenever you can, these are perfect. When I realized that I had spent more than an hour reading a cookbook without even thinking about cooking, I knew I’d made a good buy.

Out of respect to the author I’m not posting the recipe, but they were easy to make, even for someone like me. Most importantly, they were delicious! The Little One loved them! I did make the mistake of not pricking the tops of the pasties before I put them in the oven, though. Considering how my cooking escapades usually turn out, I’m happy I only had to clean up the filling that leaked out and got baked on the pan.

I had planned to throw a steam bag of veggies in the microwave to go with them but I forgot, and I’m glad I did. These things are filling! Granted, I did use slightly more chicken than was called for, but only by a tiny bit. They’re just filling. There were three left over, and while I have them in the fridge for leftover night, I imagine that they would freeze really well.

PictureSo delicious! I have a feeling this will become a regular dinner item.

So far, cooking like it’s 1399 is working out.

Have you ever tried your hand at historical cooking? If you have, tell me about it in the comments; I’m eager to learn!


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Internet Quizzes and Dream Houses

I’m seeing a ton of quizzes popping up lately, and while some are pretty silly (“Which Harry Potter Character is Your Spirit Animal?”*), others have got me thinking. Quizzes that ask about which country, time period or type of home they think I belong in always get my imagination going. While I love our current house here in Pittsburgh, I can’t help but wonder exactly what kind of house I would build with unlimited resources.

PictureIt’s a hypocaust – Heated floors! Why don’t we have these?

I love ancient Rome but I also love having seasons, so a Roman-style villa wouldn’t cut it in this climate. Especially with the whole atrium thing going on. I could turn the giant hole in the ceiling into a skylight, but that’s no fun. Although I would like the heated floor option Romans had. Why don’t we have that? I’d at least like it as a standard feature in bathrooms. Now, with UNLIMITED resources I would build a few of my favorite places from Skyrim, like Dragonsreach and an improved Riften. We’ve got the rivers, why not? If I could take over one of our city’s famous hilltops, I’d build Edoras from Lord of the Rings. I’d be a dwarf if I lived in Middle Earth, but I just love Rohan to pieces. It’s beautiful.

On a more realistic note, I would build a small castle with a curtain wall and a nice, sturdy portcullis. There’d be a forge, a couple of workshops, a drawing room, living spaces, big tower library (of course!) and plenty of trees around with room to garden. I’d like a nice indoor workout area to practice archery in, along with an outdoor range, too. I know Brian would like a greenhouse for his carnivorous plants, and Lemony would expand her flower garden. He’d also love an indoor gym with room enough for his sword practice, and a good cellar for brewing mead!

And as long as I’m dreaming, I’d build a little boutique not far from it to sell mine and others work in. I’d still need it to be fairly close to the city, but this is Pittsburgh! It can be done. I can see Downtown from my back porch, and yet we’re still surrounded by trees and have wildlife all over the place.

We’d totally host mini Renaissance Faires and SCA events if we had a castle, too. That would be awesome!

PictureThis is more like it!

How about you? What would your dream home look like? Let me know in the comments!

(*My HP Spirit Animal is Luna Lovegood, if you were wondering)