Personal Entries

The boy. He rocks so hard.

Photo by Buren Foster, one of the team’s Dads.

I love my Riley.

Sometimes I’m a bit overwhelmed by the demands  the boys’ soccer puts upon me,  but then I see pictures like this one taken at last weekend’s tournament.

My boys go full-throttle, caution-to-the-wind, go-big-or-go-home, and I admire them for it.

How could I not go the extra mile to let them do something that makes them feel like this?  Because this?  This must feel pretty awesome.


*Visit Buren Foster Photography


Personal Entries · Studio

New camera: a photographic orgy

Have you noticed, my ducklings, that I haven’t posted any photographs in ages?  That’s because my camera died.  But!  A new one is arriving tomorrow, and then there will be an orgy of photography going on at the Vaka Design photography studio.

You know, I’ve noticed that when I use profane or graphic language in my posts, my views plummet.  Obviously, the language causes the site to be censored in searches and by the blog rolls which pick it up.  This time I didn’t even mean to be profane, and I’ll totally get censored anyway.  This time I was just being accurate.


1.   wild, drunken or licentious festivity or revelry. 

My mother is flying in from the Netherlands today;  from the land where  Dutch veins run with lager, thoughts of legal prostitution, and THC.   So yes, some drinking during the photoshoot is likely, and between Karen and my Mom?  Jeesh!  I’ll be the only sober voice of reason to be found, and that’s saying something.  Things have deteriorated badly when I am the voice of reason.
Licentious?  Not strictly so, but I will make that camera my bitch.
2.   uncontrolled or immoderate indulgence in an activity: an orgy of spending.
We have a huge number of pieces to photograph, and while I’m eager to post my own,  I’m excited for you to see what Karen has been working on.  Dude has seriously found her groove, and is churning out some very pretty stuff: pierced and layered silver pieces, some which look almost medieval. 
Brushed gold, diamonds, silver, white gold, earrings, necklaces, bi-metal pendants, lions and tigers and bears.
There is nothing moderate about all the awesome we will be shooting with my new bitch.
3.   orgies, (in ancient Greece) esoteric religious rituals, esp. in the worship of Demeter or Dionysus, characterized in later times by wild dancing, singing, and drinking.
Nope, not applicable.  Unless we find a young Greek guy named Dionysus, give him a glass of wine and allow him to be our eye candy, a la Madonna’s twenty-four year old boytoy, Jesus.  That might be a religious experience. 
4.  Informal. a boisterous, rowdy party.


 To describe my upcoming photodocumentation of new work  as an orgy of photography is grammatically precise.  I don’t care what the fucking censors say.

Personal Entries

Canada, let’s work this out

Canada, Canada, Canada.  I’m shaking my head already, and you haven’t even done anything.  Yet.

Yesterday, Shmarla commented that the upcoming Monsterbling Contest might offer you a chance to redeem yourself.  You know what I’m talking about Canada, don’t you? I’m referring to The Bad Ring Contest of last spring, when I didn’t see a single entry from the entire country of Canada.

That wasn’t nice, Canada.  It was as if I threw a neighborhood picnic and you, my next door neighbors, didn’t attend.  Not only did you not attend, you didn’t even RSVP, and then you came outside and sat on your patio and pretended my picnic wasn’t going on.

I know you’re there, Canada.  My blog stats tell me you’re reading this blog, and another, less well-adjusted goldsmith might have taken your lack of participation personally.  I don’t tend to take things personally; I think this is a Canada-owned problem.   It’s not me, it’s you.

In the spring, one Canadian reader wrote to suggest that maybe Canada was just too nice to enter The Bad Ring contest.  OK.  I hear you.  You are an exceedingly well-mannered nation, and perhaps it was too much to ask you to condemn and insult a piece of jewelry in order to participate in the contest.  Perhaps your Canadian minds just don’t think like that (but Australia?  Wow!  Wowwy wow, wow, wow).

But Canada, I do want you to know I was thinking of you when I created the Monsterbling Contest.  All you need to do is draw a monster, sculpt a monster, paint a monster; whatever!  And you’re in.  Drawing monsters is in your lexicon of acceptable behaviors, isn’t it?

I did my research and found that Canadian folklore is full of monsters!  Monsters everywhere!  You can’t throw a hockey puck without hitting a monster!  You have lutins in Quebec, furry fish sea and lake  serpentsOld Yellow Top and Waheela.  You’ve done quite well for yourselves in the monster department, and so I know you have it in you, Canada.

Let’s put The Bad Ring contest behind us and work together.  I have a pretty pendant, you have a wealth of Canuk-y minds full of monster-creativity; let’s make a little magic, ok?

I love you Canada.  Let’s work this out.


Monsterbling Contest!

It’s time for the Monsterbling Contest! Yay!

The lowdown: Submit an image of a monster between November 5 and November 15, and may the best monster win.

Draw it, collage it, paint it, Photoshop it.   Sew it, build it, sculpt it and take a picture of it!   Use whatever medium you like, and send me an image of it when you’re done.  Keep it simple or make it a masterpiece; sophistication is not necessary, and I hope to see work of all levels of expertise.  Scary monsters, funny monsters, sad monsters…..all are welcome.

The prize?  A 14k gold, handforged sapphire necklace: the Roman Sapphire Necklace.

It’ll be like the necklace below, but you know, with a sapphire.  A pretty blue sapphire. It will be so pretty you will cry, and so I will send the winner some tissues with their pendant.  I’m still waiting for that stinker to come in, but I will have the necklace done by the time the contest begins, and I will post it then.  That’s why I’m not taking entries until November 5th: because the rat bastard sapphire hasn’t come in yet.

L: pretty sapphire which is taking its sweet time getting here. R: The Roman Pendant

Monsterbling Contest Rules

1. Email entries to:   Entries will be accepted from November 5, 2009 through November 15, 2009.   I will announce the winner on November 18, 2009.

2. There is no limit to how many monsters you may enter into the contest.

3.  All work must be original and your own.

4.  All ages are invited to enter, but if you are under the age of 18 you may not enter without the permission of your parent or guardian.

5.  The winning entry is decided at my personal discretion with the help of friends and a bottle of Chianti.  The winner is final.

6.  Let’s keep our monsters PG-Rated, ok?

7.  The prize necklace is not for resale.

8. Entries must be in JPEG format or included in the body of the email.  Please include your full name, and the email address where I may reach you to confirm shipping information should you win. If you are unable to be reached within 3 days of winning, you forfeit your win. Your last name and email will be kept private, and this information will neither be shared nor used for solicitation purposes.

9.  Images may be posted on this blog or on Vakadesign’s Flickr page, and by entering your image into the contest you give Vakadesign permission to make public your monster image in this manner.

10.  By submitting an entry to the Monsterbling Contest, you agree to these rules and understand the spirit of this fun, friendly competition. You will not hold me responsible if you lose this give-away,  or appeal for a new decision.  This is a give-away everyone, so let’s not get all hard-core.  If I am asked to clarify any of these rules, I will do so on the Monsterbling Contest page of the blog.

Monster questions, anyone?

Media and Art

Karl Blossfeldt

Karl Blossfeldt isn’t on most people’s radar, but those who are familiar with him rarely forget his images. 

Blossfeldt  (1965-1932) was a German artist and teacher who was passionately interested in botany, and  he used his botanical photographs as teaching tools  in his sculpture and architecture classes to illustrate the complexity of structures found in nature. 


When I first saw these photos they were in a book written in German, and so I hadn’t any idea of what I was seeing.  Devoid of the softness their natural coloration implies and thus stripped down to their architecture, I thought I was looking at close-ups of wrought iron work. Interestingly, Blossfeldt apprenticed in iron casting at an iron foundry. 

blossfeldt caucasion wingnut

The second thing which struck me was how intensely sexual some of the images were.  When distracted by their colors,  scents and textures, who remembers that plants are so slutty?  It’s their job to reproduce, after all.

That I jumped to new conclusions about a well known subject matter is exactly what makes Blossfeldt’s botanical photography so important:  He forces us to view something familiar in a new way, to come to new conclusions about something we’ve seen a million times before.  Blossfeldt, as an artist, did his job well.  He used his arsenal of aesthetic skills to communicate, synthesize, and expose us to something which was right there all along,  but that we might not have considered or been able to express so eloquently.




phlomis sania

Pretty neat, huh?  For more Blossfeldt images, check here.

Media and Art · Older favorites

And then we ate Riley

So.  Did anyone else spend Easter Sunday making their 12 year old up like a bleeding corpse and pretending to eat him?  No?  I win!

Kristin St. Martin is my teenager’s terrific photography teacher, and she’s assigned her students a project based on selected works of squirm-inducing Sally Mann, and gorgeously creepy Julie Blackmon.  Both photographers excel at taking everyday family scenarios and pushing them just beyond the edge of comfortable.  Aesthetically beautiful and yet not the kind of photos you’d hang in your living room, both artists create scenarios which aren’t quite right, and which require viewers to ask themselves why they are uncomfortable.

Two tame examples of Mann and Blackmon:

Sally Mann,  Candy Cigarette, 1989
Sally Mann, Candy Cigarette, 1989
Julie Blackmon, Family Portrait
Julie Blackmon, Family Portrait

Keeping these artists in mind, Jake was asked to photograph his family, with the option of creating a montage of the images.  Part of his project will be a manipulated image of a family dinner, with a very dead Riley for dinner (Riley will also be one of the diners).

I ask my children to think about what they are seeing all the time; I don’t want them to be passive viewers, but to question and take responsibility for the participatory act of viewing.   When Jake received this assignment we sat down and looked at Blackmon and Mann’s work more thoroughly than Ms. St. Martin could allow in a school setting, and discussed why we felt uncomfortable looking at the images.  Why are Mann’s seemingly candid captures of the almost-sexualization of children more uncomfortable to look at than the hypersexualization of girls that we see everyday on TV?  Why is Blackmon’s photoshopped child neglect so jarring ? Is it because there is a kernel of familiarity to it that makes us question our own parenting and ambivalence?

In assigning this project, Kristin St. Martin has broadened the spectrum of how I experience art.  I’m not just a viewer or participant in making art; I’ve been in those positions before, and never felt uncomfortable.  This time, though, I’m also involved as a parent.  Is it wrong for Jake to create this faux-gruesome tableaux, and was it acceptable for me to encourage him to explore that?  Like Blackmon’s work, Jake’s portrait of a cannibalistic family dinner will be photoshopped (we’re not really eating Riley until I get him fattened up a bit), and the set-up was no more than extreme make-up with some tableware thrown in.  While Riley had a great time being dead,  it did seem a bit wrong to pretend to eat my child, and I’m sure it’s one more thing Riley will need to discuss with a therapist in twenty years (“First she put fake blood all over my head, and then she pretended to EAT me! Do you think that’s why I’m afraid of intimacy?”).

My participation in Jake’s photo project makes me question wrong and right as a parent in a way I never have as an artist or viewer, even if it’s only pretend wrong.  Encouraging my son to push and explore artistic boundaries is very different from pushing my own, much in the same way that a teenager’s sexuality is frightening to a parent who was quite foolhardy with their own when they were a teen.   There are places in art and creativity that, while useful prods to society to promote debate and thought, are not necessarily healthy places for the mind to go.  If other artists are willing to go there, Mazel Tov. But, as a parent of a teenager exploring those places, what is my responsibility?  Do I have one at all?

This is one of the best assignments I’ve never had.

Older favorites · Personal Entries · Studio

She’s a bit drinky


I have been incredibly lucky to have caught the eye of a local writer who is including me in a story she is writing on local style.  That’s great, right? I’m thrilled for my jewelry, and I can’t wait to see what she writes.  But she asked that I send her a head shot.   This totally freaked me out, and for many reasons.

One big reason is….well, it’s just general worry.  I’m a worrier.  Will my picture help my business grow?  Will it be an asset to my little company?  Am I a good example of the branding I want for my jewelry?  Worry, worry, worry, and all of it pointless.

And then I worry because this is an article about local style innovators, and the working title was “Homegrown Style Makers.”  I don’t feel like a style maker.  I am an artist who often works in my pajamas and who goes out in public with my hair twisted back with a pencil.  Writing implement as hair accessory is not a style statement, now is it?  And so, when I had to answer the interview question: What is your style motto?  I was tempted to answer:  Is it clean?  Enough?

The next is pure and shallow vanity and pride.  If certain of my ex-boyfriends see the story I would like to look so good, and sound so intelligent, and appear so successful that their day is tinged just a bit with reliving the loss of me.  Not too much, because I’m gracious in my success, but a little.  That would be incredibly rewarding, and don’t think you wouldn’t hope for the same thing, blogosphere!  Those who ended things with me will sit around rethinking their decision, questioning their choices.  And then there are those who I flounced away from with a haughty, snotty attitude because I deserved better than what I was getting.  Nothing compliments past snotty flouncing-off like current success does.  This point is mute, however, because I can’t think of a single of my ex-boyfriends who might be reading the style section, except for those sweet men with whom I’m still in touch who are eager to read the article and see me succeed.

I was a wreck on the day the pictures were taken.  We started with my friend Jill taking the pictures.  Jill is a wonderful photographer, but I was an impossible subject.  The muscles in my forehead were so tight they were causing visible knots.  When Jill gently urged me to relax and I consciously attempted to unknot my forehead, what she snapped were pictures of me looking as if I was in some sort of deep emotional pain.  Or very confused.  My bangs were clipped back in a barrette, and we decided to unclip them and let them hide my forehead.  A bit better, but still looking as if someone had asked me to torture fuzzy baby chicks.

When my teenager came home we tried again, this time with him behind the camera.  It didn’t help, not the tiniest bit,  when he reviewed Jill’s photos and casually commented that the photos were great, but I looked like a chipmunk in all the images where I was smiling.  He actually said that.  And that’s when I knew drinking was the only option.

I’m not a big drinker, but we were not going to get anything usable unless I was slightly sedated, and the light was fading.  I chugged a beer (once a Nittany Lion, always a Nittany Lion).

“Let’s give it a minute to work,”  I told my son.

“Take your time, take your time.”  He looked nervously at the fading light, and then asked if maybe I should have a second beer.

“No.  Nothing is more pathetic than a drunken woman who looks like a chipmunk.”

We got the shots, including the one below.  Because truly stylish women make style decisions instinctively, I was very pleased to see I had subconsciously matched the beer bottle to my outfit.

Katie Stein:  Style innovator.   Style motto:  Swagga.