One of the things Japanese artists and crafters do best is take the beauty of traditional Japanese arts and modernize them.

This is made easier by the fact that so many traditional Japanese arts already had an ultra-modern geometric style to begin with.

For example, the ancient Seikaiha pattern, used in kimono dying for nearly a thousand years.   The pattern was originally used on ancient Chinese maps to signify the ocean, and turned up as a Japanese textile pattern on a Haniwa figure from the 4th century!  Yet, what could be more modern?

I take inspiration from this old-new blend in my Paper Demon jewelry.

But sometimes I like to feature the work of Japanese crafters in my jewelry.  A few years ago, on a supply buying visit to Japan, I discovered the jewelry supply boutique Beads Shop J4.  The artists behind this shop are dedicated to bringing traditional Japanese beauty into modern accessory supplies.  I love them!  They don’t sell online (that is to say, they do sell online but they don’t ship overseas!), so I visit their shop in the Aasakusabashi Beads District of Tokyo as often as I can.

The technique that these artists developed is to encase vintage kimono and yukata fabric in acrylic and cut and seal the acrylic in interestingly shaped beads.  I find these completely entrancing.

There are endless possibilities for how to use these beads.  So far, I’ve only used them in some really awesome earrings!

Find them all at Paper Demon Jewelry!

Re-Use is the New Recycle!  That is the motto of Next Step Recycling, a leader in the reuse movement in Eugene, and the motivation behind their second annual Eugene ReArt Festival , coming up August 6.  The ReArt Festival is an awesome arts and crafts festival devoted entirely to recycled art.  Everything at the festival needs to be at least 75% made of recycled materials.  And by recycled, they mean, actually destined for the trash heap.

Since the Paper Demon is going to have a booth there, she needs to get her act together and start pumping out recycled jewelry!

She had a plan but needed materials.  So, today wonderful partner and I took a trip to MECCA (where else), and I got everything I needed.  I came home and created a beautiful piece of jewelry in almost no time at all.

100% Recycled Paper Art Pendant

I don’t have time to post a tutorial right now, because I also need to create 75 of these for swag bags at a Green Beauty event in San Diego next month.  But I’m going to share my photos of the process in the hopes they inspire someone else to grab something really really old and ugly, cut it apart, repurpose it, and transform it into something beautiful.

A skanky cable bundle and a bread bag full of paper scraps

Noticing the nice soft wire inside the skanky cable bundle

Use a mat knife to cut open and remove the rubber cable cover

unwinding some of the wire

shape and hammer flat a beautiful shape. For me, it's spirals. I burnished for shine.

Attach paper scraps

coat with gel medium. let it dry. Appreciate.

hang on recycled cord. Voila!

I’ve been making jewelry like mad, trying to get ready for the opening of Eugene’s 5th Street Market Artisan’s Market.   It’s supposed to open in July, so they say, and I need inventory!   Bit by bit, it’s making it onto the Paper Demon Etsy store too.

I am still obsessed with washi and wire!  But now I’m exploring solid colors.

Solid blues and whites:

LoveBubbles Robin’s Egg Blue

Gradations of orange:

YuzuCocktail Washi and Copper Choker

Contrasts of deep jewel tones like purple, orange and green.

LuciousFruits Washi and Copper Wire Earrings
LuciousFruits Washi and Copper Wire Earrings

And contrasts of the palest blues and greens:

AfterTheRain Choker

It’s so vivid!  Where else can you find jewely in colors like this?   Sure, you can find swarovski crystals in every color of the rainbow.  But that’s all about the glitz (nothing wrong with the glitz, I’m just sayin’).  My biggest problem–i can’t make them fast enough to try out all the colors I want!

I live a blended life.  It’s assembled from many parts.  We have a blended family–the kids, their bonus mom, and me, plus the rabbit who thinks she’s a dog.  There’s our  bonus extended family in Oregon and then my extended family in Florida and Pittsburgh, and the kids’ family in Japan.  My kids have two homes, one in Illinois, one in Oregon, one all Japanese, one mostly American but with a big dash of Japanese thrown in.  They have an lgbt family and a straight family, go to a Japanese immersion school in Oregon, and a Japanese school in Japan over the summer.  But we love the 4th of July and go all out for parades and fireworks (realized I’m a bit of a pyro when i found myself crossing the Indiana state line to get illegal fireworks last summer)


LGBT Love in Washi

the Oregon Coast in Washi and Wire

All of these parts come together in my jewelry—the Japan part, the American part, the lgbt part, the 4th of July fireworks, the Oregon Coast…. The rabbit will be in there one of these days; just haven’t figured out how yet.

This week I made these:  CottonCandy SpunSugar Washi and Copper Spirals.  Using fine handmade Japanese washi in honor of county fairs and the joys of an American summer.   Why not?  The beauty is in the blending!

Love is a dangerous and powerful thing.  Love made the world visible to me.    Suddenly I saw colors and shapes and textures that had been hidden inside of the “things” around me.  How to explain it?   The world was no longer full of concrete objects, but of things that were all in a process of becoming.  Process, not outcome.   Walking down the street I see the leaves, against the sky, in the wind, a moment in time.

Rainbows are all about process. They appear in the evanescent space between light and rain.  Their colors blend one into the other without boundaries.    They connect.  They are seen from one angle and not others. A rainbow is mysterious and beautiful.  It comes when you’re not looking for it.  Like love.

Some love doesn’t come easily.  But when it does, it changes the world.

[In honor of love and the rainbow: COLORSOFLOVE Rainbow Bubble Pride Necklace.  Check it out at the Queer Etsy Street Team store:

Miyako in yukata

It’s graduation season and tomorrow my daughter Miyako graduates from 5th grade!  I’m so proud of her, but sad that she’ll be saying goodbye to her wonderful Japanese immersion elementary school 😦

The kids at the immersion school wear yukata (cotton summer kimono) for graduation!  Luckily, we have a few lovely yukata and obi (sashes) that I’ve been picking up over the years in Japan, and now Miyako is big enough to wear one.   It took three tries to get all the parts on right!  Underneath that obi are 4 (four) layers of specialized waist wraps that you have to use to get the “right” kimono sillhouette.   I can’t believe how lovely she looks.

After we got it all on, we decided it just needed something ‘extra’.  It needed that little Paper Demon touch.  So, we decided to design and create an obi ornament.  Traditionally Japanese people wore netsuke ornaments of ivory hanging from the sashes of their kimonos.  Japanese girls today wear all kinds of sweet, original little doo-dads when they go out in yukata for summer festivals.

After much discussion, and debating the merits of tiny koi fish, sakura flowers, and bunnies, we finally settled on these cube shaped acrylic beads that have yukata fabric encased inside them.   I got them last summer at a very special tiny specialty shop in the ancient city of Kamakura, courtesy of a local friend who had scouted out the store for me ahead of time (thanks Yuki!)  I like to make earrings out of these, but I have to admit, they look awfully good as what they were made for—-yukata ornaments.  Maybe I’ll try adapting the idea in a pin!   What do you think? Would you wear it?

One of the most wonderful things about washi paper is its combination of strength and delicacy.  The mulberry, hemp, and other fibers that it’s made from make it like fabric—it can be molded, sculpted, folded, wrapped and manipulated like fabric, without losing its wonderful color and shape.

At the same time, there is nothing as fine, as delicate, as washi.  That’s why it’s used by so many interior designers for lighting.  It is always translucent, and light passes through it with a soft glow.

SeaSpiral Washi and Copper Wire Pendant

My latest experiments in jewelry are inspired by these qualities of washi.  Patterned washi is made by superimposing a gossamer thin color/pattern layer over a slightly heavier fiber layer.  I’ve been developing a new method to separate these two layers, and then **ever so delicately** transferring the color layer onto a wire structure, to make a kind of stained glass piece.  My first finished piece is called “SeaSpiral”—it’s inspired by the colors of the rocky sand of the Oregon coast.I love that it’s translucent like stained glass.

Light shining through washi stained glass

There is only one kind of washi paper that can be used for this technique–chirimen washi, which is the most fabric like of all washi.    I also love to use the tissue-like Unryu washi as well, but that is always in solid colors.  The cool thing about chirimen washi is that it comes in amazing patterns.

Some examples of chirimen washi

Looks like I need to pick up more of this on my next trip to Japan!

I recently discovered the paper jewelry art of Ana Hagopian.  It blew my mind, and changed the whole landscape of the paper jewelry ‘enterprise’ for me.

Some of the paper jewelry art of Ana Hagopian

This stuff is not about pretty little origami earrings, as nice as those are.  This is wearable sculptural art that draws out the integral qualities of handmade paper (I think she makes her own, but it seems similar to Japanese washi in fiber texture) and explores the limits of paper worn on the body.

There are so many technical issues involved in getting paper to make those berry shapes, for instance, and hold that shape while being worn on a warm body,that I can’t even begin to comprehend how she does it.  But her work inspired me to go back to a project I’ve been playing with for a couple months, which is abstract shape paper jewelry.

"GlowWings" -an experiment in sculptural washi paper jewelry

I started exploring a few ideas this week, and am pleased with the results. I like how the spidery fibers of the washi are echoed by the delicacy of each individual vintage burnished copper and gold embroidery filament.

The quality of paper that I like, even more than the colors, is the translucency.  I’m drawn to making jewelry as thin and gossamer-like as possible–the challenge is, keeping it wearable!  The irony is not lost on me that I, who sleeps and showers in the same pair of earrings for weeks on end, am the one dedicated to fragility as beauty.

I’ve come out twice in my life, the first time as queer, and second time as a jewelry-maker.  The second time was (is) much harder.   Nobody except my mother really batted an eye about the whole queer thing.  It’s 2010, and Ellen Degeneres is America’s Sweetheart, the heir apparent to the Oprah Empire (and then there’s Oprah herself.  Dude, she’s gay, ok?  You’re going to find out sooner or later, so I’ll just tell you now).  Anyhow, I digress.  Being queer, amongst the sophisticated types, is really a non-starter in the controversy arena.   And then, there was the fact that I basically took the “you are either with me or against me” line, followed by “if you’re against me I will take your a** down,” so people in my vicinity quickly sorted themselves out into the fine with it, and the gone.  Even my mother came around eventually. Not because she really “approves” per se, but because my partner is just that dang charming.  I mean, who can resist her?  I certainly can’t.

This part was easy

OK, so, coming out as gay, that went fine.  But the coming out as a jewelry-maker?  Oh, that’s another story entirely.  Because prior to making and selling jewelry, I was an academic.  An academic at a pretty prestigious university.  And academics don’t make pretty little things.  And they certainly don’t sell them.  It’s kind of like academics don’t go to church.  Same idea.  Academics, at least in the social science and humanities realms, are just way, way too sophisticated for that kind of thing.  Academics stand back.  Academics observe.  Academics critique.  Academics most certainly don’t set out a little table at the Saturday Market next to the kettle korn vendor and sell earrings made of paper and chat up the customers, including the ones who smell strange.

I didn’t actually know this truth until I set out my little table at the saturday market in the midwestern university town in which I used to live, and then noticed the reactions of my university colleagues who had come down to pick up their organic vegetables for the week and inadvertantly stumbled upon me.  Only one reaction actually—shame.  Shame for me.  Shame expressed in averted eyes and uneasy laughter and hasty retreats.  Shame that I had allowed myself to sink so very low from the elevated realms of the mind.

I was first surprised, then angry, then hurt, then, finally, bemused.  “Oh, I see,” I thought, “academics don’t make cute jewelry and sell it in parking lots.  OK.  I get it.”    But then, after that came the question–why not?  And then the question, why do I?

These are not ironic

After awhile, I began to see the picture.  Academics’ bread and butter is in the observing and analyzing of what others do.  The people of a culture live, and anthropologists observe that. Musicians make music, and ethnomusicologists study it.  Artists make art, and art historians analyze it.  As for myself, I used to really like that.  It’s a fine thing to do, and a really, really cushy   job.  But it’s a job that stopped working for me at some point.  I just don’t want to live that one step removed from life any more.   I’m kind of over the ironic distance.   I feel compelled to make pretty things and see if I can get people to agree they’re pretty enough to pay money for them.

Are these pretty enough?

As in all coming out, it was coming out to myself that was (and is) the hardest.  What happened?  How did I end up this way?  I’m not sure. I know I had some significant trauma in my life, and suddenly life just seemed too short to live it at one step removed.  But what I do know:  I really want to get my hands dirty and be out in the parking lot, talking to the kids, making change.   Turns out, I’m really not an academic any more.  I’m a jewelry maker.   Maybe one day I’ll be an ‘artist.’  But I’m staying in the closet on that one for now.


Washi paper art bracelet

washi and vintage bamboo necklace

My family and I made it back to Oregon!  We’ve been here in Eugene since January, and now that we’re settled, I’m embarking on my new career:  full time paper jewelry artist!  I’ve lined up a job selling full time at a new artisans market at a local high-end boutique mall, and have revved up my Etsy site.  I’m loving making my jewelry and art full time.

Paper jewelry is hot right now, but it seems like most people are doing versions of the same thing—decoupage beads or altered art collage.  These are both great, but there is so much more you can do with paper when you’re working with washi, which is like  paper and fabric combined.  The thing about washi is, you can sculpt it.  That’s what I want to do with my jewelry—transform gorgeous washi into even more gorgeous 3-D sculptural art.   Every day I’m getting new pieces up on Etsy—visit my site at www.!!!!