This week’s Showcase Sunday is jewelry artisan, Susan Barzacchini. Beyond creating beautiful jewelry, Susan is also an author. And that’s how Susan and I met. My husband, Dan, bought her book for me. (He’s so supportive!) I posted about it on my Instagram account, and Susan saw the post. (Yay hashtags!) Susan’s wire-weaving continues to inspire me, and she has been enthusiastically supportive of my wire-weaving endeavors.
1. Tell us about your art.
52 years ago, at the age of 3, I stood at the edge of the cornfield in my back yard and I asked my uncle Roger, “Could you please let me hold the snake?” He wrapped the large boa constrictor around my neck, and I was in my element; at one with nature.
An introverted and sensitive child, I was bonded with the nature that surrounded my little self.
Over a half of a century later, I would continue to feel that pull of nature in my jewelry themes.
Art nouveau collides with bohemian within nature is the style for which I work in artesian jewelry. My wildest ideas come to me in a state of hypnogogia, which is the transitional state between awake and sleep.
I always felt like I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives with my work and in teaching. One path took me on an interesting journey which helped in the research of the western diamondback rattlesnake. My uncle, the one who wrapped the snake around my neck, asked me to make a snake necklace to go to auction to raise money for tracking devices for the Arizonia snakes in the Suizo Mountains for research. I compressed shed snakeskin against annealed copper to produce a patterned metal and then created earrings from that, as well as created a snake head necklace.
The earrings were featured in a November 2012 step-by-step article in Kalmbach’s Art Jewelry.
2. How long have you been doing wire-weaving?
Around 1993 I started beading in a bead store in Cincinnati, Ohio called The Bead Shop. That was 25 years ago, and that shop is still actively selling. My first project was a pink and gold lamp-work focal with a number of seed beads and other beads. That necklace was the gateway to a marvelous creative world.
3. How did you get started?
I got started in beadwork. My friend, Peggy Burwinkle, took me to The Bead Shop in Cincinnati and that began my journey. I then transitioned into wire, then soldering and the rolling mill and hydraulic press.
You see, the art journey is not only about the final piece, but rather every pathway taken to get there. My pathways included cake decorating, stain glass, music, stepping stones, bisque doll art, concrete work, paper arts, origami, wood carving, wooden lathe work and cosmetology.
4. Is it your main gig?
I graduated from college at Wright State University with a degree in nursing while serving 6 years in the Ohio Army National Guard.
I would later earn another degree in applied science to be qualified to look at heart structures with ultrasound. My first teaching experience was in ICU where I would precept neophyte nurses and students how to care for the critical patient. While in college, I would tutor ultrasound physics and teach students how to use the cardiac ultrasound machines in a lab setting at Harper College. The more I taught, the more I enjoyed teaching. I would continue teaching at the Bead and Button Show, local libraries, colleges and would eventually open my own jewelry school, Wired Lotus, in East Dundee for a while.
5. And you’ve written a book. Tell us about that process.
Meeting the right person/Writing a proposal: I taught at the Bead and Button Show in 2016. The evening of Meet the Teacher Night at the Bead and Button Show, Kalmbach’s editor, Erica (Swanson) Barse visited my booth and saw some of my work and photos.
She asked if I took my own photos as well as some other questions. She wanted to know if I would consider writing a book. About four months later, I was asked to submit a proposal. The proposal was accepted a few months after submission.
Creating Two Test Projects/Meeting the Team/Signing the contract: Once the proposal is accepted, I presented a couple of written step-by-step projects with photographs and that must be approved. Upon that approval I was sent a contract. Before the contract is signed, there is a conference call with the entire team, including the editor, assistant editor, art and marketing team. The contract is broken down into a series of deadlines and expectations.
Learning From the Publisher’s Art Team: Since I had published a step-by-step article, Snakeskin Earrings for Kalmbach’s Art Jewelry and also produced several step-by-step tutorials.
I was not totally new to the process, but writing a book and taking photographs for a book was uncharted territory for me, so I worked closely with the photography art team. I would take photographs and submit those photographs to the art team and they suggested camera settings such as ISO, depth of field, aperture and shutter speed. Each photo was taken manually. Gone were the days of point-and-shoot photography. Suddenly, photography became a science.
Creating a Photography Studio at Home: I turned our dining room into a dark studio by blacking out windows and purchasing professional lighting, an Apple computer, a graduated gray backdrop, a new camera, remote camera switch and tripod.
I would create a project prototype and then spend several days recreating the project in front of the camera on the backdrop in the studio. For every action or twist of a wire, I would take a manual photo by tapping my foot on a wooden knob on a remote-control device for my camera while looking into the lens.
So, I was using my feet, my hands and my eyes for every photo. I reluctantly admit, I also used my mouth when things didn’t go well.
For every project in the book you might see 20 photos, but for each project, I would take hundreds of photos with my DSLR and have to choose which was the most pertinent to allowing the reader the most information to make the project. If I had it my way, each project in the book would have 100 step-by-step photos, but then again, that would make for a 600-page book!!
Writing the Book: After all the 500+ photos were taken, I wrote the book. The photos and the book were separately submitted to the publishing editor and they would make corrections and suggestions. Many suggestions were that I needed to cut photos or words. The biggest challenge was that I had too much content for a 111page book. So, I would cut and restructure my chapters and photos. I would send it back. That back and forth happened several times. The book was finalized when the publisher and the author (me) agreed that we were all happy with the book layout. We all worked diligently together. The art team took beauty shots that can be seen at the beginning of each chapter. The art team cropped and postprocessed all of my photos, the marketing team worked on a plan to promote the book, the editor worked endlessly answering all of my questions and editing my book.
Assistant Editor Finalizes the Book/The Book Goes to Print: Once everything was in place, the editor hired an assistant editor to edit the book. Annie Pennington did the final editing. She worked some serious mojo on my book and I’m grateful for her professional guidance. The final edit and revisions took about a month and then the book was sent to a printing company where it took about four months to print. The printed book was sent to my home in the beginning of May 2018 and was released mid-May 2018.
Demonstrating the Book on Television: Within two weeks of the release of the book, I promoted the book and demonstrated wire wrapping on JTV (Jewelry Television) on Jewel School. That live production was at the end of May 2018. The first segment was with JTV’s Sheree Henry and Christian Ross for two hours, followed by a live Facebook question and answer session.
In the afternoon, Susan Thomas and I were live for a two-hour demonstration segment. Working with the producers, art directions and hostesses was one of my life’s greatest adventures. There is something absolutely exhilarating about being in front of a camera crew in a beautiful studio with fabulous people making jewelry in picturesque Tennessee!! I would return to JTV to film another couple of live segments in October 2018.
6. How long did it take you to prepare all the projects in the book?
Honestly, I work slowly and methodically. It took about a month to prepare each project and not all the projects I created would make it into the book.
I would make the piece out of copper several times and once I was happy with it, I would make the piece again in copper and record all the measurements and the wire and metal gauges, tools used and sizes of gemstones. While making the final prototype, I would take hundreds of step-by-step photos for each project with my cell phone to ascertain consistency with the final photo-shoot with my DSLR camera. Finally, I would make the piece out of silver in front of my DSLR camera for the final book photos.
Some of the pieces in the book that are completed in copper, are simply prototypes.
7. How long did it take you to write it?
A portion of 2016 and the entire year of 2017 were consumed writing and taking photos. There were no days off while writing the book. We went on vacation to the beach and I worked double shifts on the book trying to meet deadlines. When you sign a contract, there are specific deadlines that need to be kept. I looked at this as goal setting and the publishers looked at it as assurances that I was on the right track. I work really well with deadlines. Working with the publishers at Kalmbach was a dream. They were always supportive and allowed me opportunities to grow as a writer and photographer.
8. Where can interested parties get your book?
These online sites: Kalmbach Media, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon carry Inventive Wire Weaving.
9. What inspires you?
What inspires me most is nature, people who I care about, especially my husband, son and our three dogs.
Sometimes I think about how my mother, sister, my stepfather Arthur Koogler or my friend, Ruth Ward, would feel wearing a particular design or color. Creating for those that I love and for those who appreciate artesian jewelry drives me creatively.
10. What do you love most in regard to your art?
Watching the life breathe into each piece. For the most part, I start with an idea in my mind’s eye.
I then pick up wire and work it. I don’t typically sketch it. I just let my fingers and my mind work in unison. But honestly, the thing I like best about what I do is the solitude of working creatively while looking out my window at the many species of birds, daily deer visits and coyotes running through our woods.
11. What is your biggest challenge?
I love this question. For every piece I create well, there are two pieces that didn’t work out. I work most pieces in a prototype of lesser expensive metals such as copper and then finally in silver. Because of that, time is my largest obstacle. And I could always be better with time management. Staying in the home and making your own schedule means that you have to be disciplined and mindful to keep your focus on the work. That means putting down that phone or that computer and work a piece. Technology is my nemesis when it comes to time management.
12. Do you have a favorite quote?
My favorite quote is from Paramahansa Yogananda: “You must not let your life run in the ordinary way: do something that nobody else has done, something that will dazzle the world.” I made a bracelet with that saying on it.
If I could request anything from my students it would be to ask each of them to find their own style and then shake up the world by “dazzling” them with works of art that make the rest of us catch our breath.
13. Do you have a website (or social media sites) where people can connect with you?