dumping social media—a drain on creativity


I realized a few months ago that I was addicted to social media, and it became clear that my creativity was being hampered by the constant bickering and fighting on Facebook. When I signed on years ago, it was a way to connect with old friends, and since we work from home, it became a way to interact with others, since for me, working in an office and having a diverse group of coworkers brings me immense joy.

I felt like my presence on Facebook had some benefits—for example, my interactions on a group called Aspiring Metalsmiths. I could help other new jewelry artists work through issues they were having with soldering or other skills, but even on that forum, people would attack others. My mentor and teacher actually left the group after an almost “religious” debate ensued over whether it was acceptable to use glue to secure a cabochon in a partial bezel setting. Another argument developed over whether colored pencil jewelry was “real” jewelry, even though Deb Karash’s artful pieces command hundreds of dollars.

While important to our modern-day society, I think social media emboldens those who want to toss a grenade into a conversation and run away from the carnage.

So one day, I was sucked into a heated discussion on a friend’s wall, where several people were arguing that free speech gave them the right to say anything they wanted, no matter if someone’s feelings were hurt in the process. The discussion caused me to post the following:

”The limits of free speech should rest in common decency.”

And I was surprised when my so-called “friends” attacked ME. Arguing over decency? I was blown away.

Did I leave Facebook then? No. I kinda wish I had. In my mind, I was conflicted with the fact that I would lose my only connection to the outside world. But was that thinking flawed? Were the interactions I had quality interactions? Were they as enjoyable as going to lunch with a friend? Fusing Friday at the local glass studio? Not at all.

Yet I stuck with my abusive friend. Facebook would serve up a big dish of targeted trash, and I would “Like” and “Love” and post my opinions to the world. I started to feel a rush when I saw some posts, using the “Angry” reaction, but eventually realized that most of my reactions were “angry.” And I’m NOT an angry person…I’m enthusiastic and fun-loving. “Angry” is not a normal state for me. Yet I learned later that each time I posted an angry reaction, my friends were all notified that KAT WAS ANGRY.

Meanwhile, I started a major remodel of my parents’ house after they went to assisted living, so I was stuck in New Braunfels, Texas…alone. Facebook again provided me with an outlet as I worked through an impossible project, and I felt a little less alone. After all, I was surrounded by happy people on social media, right?

My husband, a post-apocalyptic writer who is an expert in Facebook advertising, shared an article with me once that said Facebook knows after forty interactions more about a person’s personal and political leanings that their own spouse. And fairly recently, I was introduced to the feature of Facebook where you could see what they think your interests are, and realized why my feed was overrun with targeted posts that fed on that frustration.

I thought I wasn’t doing any harm by posting thoughtfully written responses to misguided posts by friends. Bobby told me that I wouldn’t change anyone’s minds, but I felt that if I flagged incorrect information and provided facts, I could educate others. I didn’t realize that people didn’t want to be educated, they were just there to vent. I watched friends I’d known for years turn into people I no longer wanted to be associated with. At one point, I turned in a classmate to the FBI for making credible threats to a president.

And I started to vent as well. Not because it felt good, but because I felt like I was drowning. As a barrage of opinions were tossed my way, I responded through simple “Like,” “Love,” “Wow,” and “Angry” emojis, not fully understanding that the world was watching. It felt like being in a batting cage, with fastballs coming left and right, swinging at everything heading my way. It wasn’t until a friend PM’d me to say they noticed.

Mind you, there were also happy things happening on Facebook. Right before I dumped Facebook, a friend’s daughter had her first baby. Since I had known Nikki since she was four, this was an important connection. One of Bobby’s readers, a woman named Andrea, had become a friend, and I loved seeing beautiful pictures of her new home and colorful gardens. My friend Charlie in London was moving back to the States to start a new life, and after becoming reacquainted through Facebook after thirty years, I had a new appreciation for someone I only knew casually since elementary school. I also felt like I had a connection to the glass community, and jewelry community. I even got my news from a few trusted friends on Facebook, and learned about new products. But as my life had started to revolve around Facebook, and my real-life connections became secondary, I felt isolated and alone.

So I did it. I pulled the plug. I deactivated Facebook, and started trying to undo the damage. It was harder than I ever expected. I’ve never been someone with addictions. Well, maybe to Coke (Coca-Cola). But I felt like each day was a little milestone…like “one day Facebook-free,” “two days Facebook-free.” I felt like I was missing out on Nikki’s baby pictures, and Andrea’s happy posts about the flowers and bees, Kim’s new glass art pieces, and silly cat videos. Emily’s daughter’s Girl Scout endeavors. There was definitely something missing in my life. I was determined to fight back and not let Facebook win.

El Nopalito’s, New Braunfels

So here I am, sitting at El Nopalito’s, a local Mexican restaurant, with a new friend. A face-to-face breakfast, listening to Tejano music and watching the TV blaring in the background. I’m surrounded by a diverse group of people who smile politely if I happen to turn their way. And tonight, I’m going to Wurstfest to see my favorite accordion player, Alex Meixner—yes, I have a favorite accordion player. The man can play Rammstein and Guns n’ Roses on his accordion, in addition to all my German favorites.

And for this analog day in my life—away from Facebook—I would definitely post this reaction:


the rubber chicken pendant

I haven’t blogged in awhile because I’ve been remodeling my parents’ house. But while preparing a portfolio piece for a jewelry company, I made a series of sheets that show the design process of some of my more recent work.

 Click to download the PDF of this file.

Click to download the PDF of this file.

So how did I make this little guy? I started with a DynaMesh Sphere from the Lightbox, then turned off Perspective. I used the Gizmo 3D in the Move mode to stretch the sphere into an egg shape.

Switch to the Draw mode. Using a mask where the neck should go (Cmd on Mac, Ctrl on PC), I reversed the mask (Cmd/Mac, Ctrl/PC and click on background) and used the Gizmo 3D “ball” in the Move mode to pull the neck out. Since your primitive is already a DynaMesh, after each major change, re-DynaMesh to refresh the mesh. If you want to see what’s happening, on the right side of the main canvas look for the PolyF button with a grid on it.

Using the same method, turn on Symmetry under the Transform menu, then you can mask off both legs at once in the Draw mode, then switch to the Move mode and use the Gizmo to pull the legs down.

Try using the Snakehook tool to pull out things like the toes on the feet…play around with the size. The shortcut for Snakehook is B-S-H on your keyboard.

Switch to the Clay Buildup tool for sculpting details…a good tip is to turn your intensity down to 5 so it doesn’t apply much material, which is easier to smooth with the shift key. The keyboard shortcut for Clay Building is B-C-B.

The arms were masked off, mask reversed, then pulled out to each side. Try using symmetry to do this, but you will need to move the Gizmo to the general vicinity of one of the arms…when you pull out to the side, it will “raise” both arms at once. To move the Gizmo, hold down Option/Mac or Alt/PC and drag the Gizmo over the masked area for one of the arms, release the key, then use your mouse to pull the horizontal arrow away from the body. Clear the mask and fine-tune with sculpting. To re-center, click on the third icon above the Gizmo to find unmasked center.

Another trick? After masking, you can hold down the Cmd/Mac or Ctrl/PC and click ON the model to soften/blur the edge of the mask. This will provide nice, rounded arms.

And finally, the t-shirt was applied to the chicken using a mask and the Mask Pen. Try switching the stroke to Lasso if you’d like. Sharpen the mask by clicking on the model while holding Cmd-Option/Mac or Ctrl-Alt/PC. Then use the Extract command from bottom of the SubTool palette.

I’ll do a tutorial on this one soon, but hopefully this will get you started!

physical size, resolution, and file size

I've been out of touch for a little bit as I took on a pretty big project that's completely unrelated to jewelry. If you read my bio, you might have seen that I have a background in construction (of all things!). I've been in the middle of a major remodel of my parents' house, getting it ready to go on the market. If you can imagine, popcorn ceiling removal, paint, a new multi-level deck, and a total re-do of four bathrooms, including moving walls. If you've ever watched that show Fixer Upper, it's kinda like that...except for unlike the show, it doesn't happen over the course of an hour.

size matters

Screen Shot 2018-07-21 at 8.01.48 PM.png

Yup, size can be a big issue when working with ZBrush. While I don't have a formal answer why, I'm guessing that it's because the program was designed to make things that were abstract—things that lived in a virtual world. So for that reason, size is relative in ZBrush, and measured in plain ol' units. Here you can see the Size sub-palette under the Geometry palette on the right-side of the interface.

The pendant on the stage (only the pendant, not the chain), is a minuscule amount smaller than 25.4 units. Well, if you count this as 25.4 millimeters, this equals one inch across. You can also see the Z Size is 1.61 units, so approximately 1.61 mm thick, which is a nice thickness for a pendant. And likewise, the height is 16.7 mm.

When I first started working with ZBrush, I saw a tutorial that suggested calibrating something called the Transpose Line tool. I struggled with this, and every time I thought I had the size correct, something would change and everything would be off. I couldn't reliably gauge bezel cups or stone settings...or even thicknesses. This also became an issue with the amount that a design or text was raised off or inset into the surface. So finding a way to make this work was really important.

Someone also asked me on YouTube if I used a plugin called "ScaleMaster." The answer is no. I have also tried RingMaster, another plugin, which is nice, but I also had some problems with that. However, I DO use RingMaster to insert gemstones because the models contain minimal polygons, meaning they don't slow ZBrush down.

getting started with a correctly sized model


So here's the process I use:

  1. From the right-hand side of the stage, click on the yellow "S" that represents the SimpleBrush tool.

  2. Choose the Cylinder3D from the list.

  3. Click and drag a cylinder on the stage. It doesn't matter how large you make it...it comes into ZBrush at an XYZSize of "2" units.

  4. Immediately press the "T" key to switch to the Edit mode.

  5. Press the Make PolyMesh3D button toward the top under the Tool palette.

  6. Look under the Geometry palette on the right-hand side of the window for the Size sub-palette.

  7. Enter "10" in the XYZSize box and hit return to accept the new size.

  8. The primitive is probably taking up the whole window, so click somewhere on the stage to deselect the number in the XYZSize.

  9. Now press the "F" key to fill the stage with the current object.

And there you have an object on the stage.  It's pretty faceted, and not smooth, but we'll deal with that next.

smoothing the primitive

I have a special technique that I've developed to get a smooth object as soon as possible in the workflow. In the beginning, I thought simply performing a DynaMesh operation would smooth it, and I went back and forth between DynaMesh and Polish Features, but with results that weren't efficient or acceptable. So here's how I smooth things out.

  1. Look for a button labeled Divide from the Geometry palette.

  2. Make sure that the Smt button is turned on (this will smooth your primitive).

  3. Click the Divide button twice.

  4. Look above the Divide button for another button labeled Del Lower. This will delete the two lower-resolution subdivisions that you just created.

That should give you a nice, smooth primitive. 

So what happened? Each time that you use the Divide command, ZBrush takes each rectangular polygon and divides it into four polygons. Then when you divide again, it divides each one of those resulting polygons into four more polygons. If you have the Smt button activated, it takes the opportunity to smooth out your model.

You can see the underlying geometry of your model by using the Draw PolyFrame (Shift - F) button to the right of the stage, toward the bottom of the vertical row of buttons.

Subdivisions are wonderful if you're roughing out a shape, then switching back and forth between lower resolution subdivisions and higher resolution subdivisions. Adding material with a brush like the ClayBuildup brush works faster when working with a low resolution. But finer details are better applied with the higher resolution. I'll address this in a tutorial later.

Take a look at the example below...look at the pixillation of the cylinder and the number of ActivePoints. Each time that the cylinder is divided, it QUADRUPLES the number of ActivePoints. This has implications with regard to file size...our strategy is to get a smooth resolution while still keeping the file size down. 

So keep this in mind, and I'll write a little more later...then we'll talk about how working in actual size relates to your DynaMesh resolution. and how you can work more efficiently and on lower-end hardware.

Heck, I can even run ZBrush on my 2012 MacBook Pro! And you know what that means? I can sit in a café in the Caribbean and design jewelry. SWEET!

zbrush bezel tutorial

Hey guys! Late last night I added another video to my YouTube channel to show you how to create a bezel setting that you can reuse in other jewelry projects. The nice thing about this tutorial is that we work in actual size! With a lot of trial and error, I have figured out how to get accurate sizing with ZBrush when when printing to my Formlabs Form 2 printer. 

I am casting pieces with a vacuum casting setup (KayaCast), then setting the stones using a Foredom hammer handpiece attachment. This particular size of bezel is a little thicker than using fine silver bezel wire in traditional fabricated pieces. But I like the thicker look, so I use this setting quite a bit. I'll be adding another bezel tutorial that uses ZModeler to create a thinner bezel, or you can just substitute a Cylinder3D in this tutorial instead of the Ring3D and adjust the diameter to give thinner walls. You should be able to repurpose the skills in this tutorial easily.

Here is a list of resources for this exercise (NOTE: these are downloads, not links to pages):

Place the materials into the ZStartup/Materials folder which is found in your ZBrush folder. However, Pixologic recommends having no more than 25 materials loaded simultaneously because it can affect performance. 

Whew! Lots of fun. Although a big test of my editing skills as I tried to spare you all with my repetitive use of the word, "so!" I'll try to be better about that.

Sooo... (haha!) Kat, tell me about this tutorial. Why did you make something so basic yet take almost a half-hour to tell me about it?

There are a couple really important concepts in this video. First, you're not just making a bezel. This is a great opportunity to understand the hows and whys of ZBrush. Sure, we all just take for granted that we use this cool little technology called DynaMesh to "redistribute" the polygons on our model, but how in the world do you know how to choose the RIGHT resolution? It was a mystery to me.

A lot of tutorials on the internet just pick a number. That wasn't good enough for me as a geek. HOW do I pick that number? It ends up that there's a balance between finding a resolution that's the absolute minimum without losing detail. Another important concept is that the larger your model is, the LOWER the DynaMesh resolution...for the most part. At least with how I use ZBrush for jewelry.

What About Size?

And this project is a great opportunity to talk about size...as you know, size matters. No, really. All primitives are loaded into ZBrush at a size of "2." What are the units? There ARE NONE. It's just two. But as a jewelry artist, I can imagine that I'm working on a piece of jewelry that's 2mm. Too small for most jewelry, but a starting place.

In this video, I start with a Sphere3D and change it to a "5" to represent a 5mm cabochon, then cut it in half with the Gizmo 3D tool (found in the "Move" mode). A really cool new feature, by the way. Just grab the little rectangle and drag up or down (or side to side!) while holding the Ctrl key on a PC or Command on a Mac. Jump to that part of the video by clicking here.

Making a Smooth Foundation—"the great divide"

 "Smt" is activated here

"Smt" is activated here

I also mention in the video something I use quite a bit...the Divide a couple times and use Del Lower process. This gives the surface a smooth appearance, and should be done first before using DynaMesh to get a nice foundation. I use this process in other ways, but if I ever see "faceting," the process is to Divide 2-3x (watch your ActivePoint count) with the Smt button activated. That is the smooth function. If you Divide without it, you'll have a finer mesh, but the faceting remains. Just check the Polyframe (Shift-F) to see what's going on under the hood. You can always undo. To see it in action, click this link.

If you'd like to see this technique in a little more depth, check out this video on Subdivisions and Hotkeys.

Using a Transpose Line and SelectRect to Measure

At the very end of the video, I come back to share a little more information about how to "section" the model using the SelectRect tool and take a thickness measurement using the Transpose Line. I didn't understand the beauty of the SelectRect function until about six months ago, as I struggled a little to understand the difference between "ClipRect," "SelectRect," "TrimRect," and "SliceRect." I'll explain them all in upcoming videos, but for right now, the SelectRect tool will allow you to temporarily hide part of your model. There are other variations...you could change the Stroke to a circle, or even a curve for more control. But I usually only use SelectRect for this operation.

Keep in mind that you need to enable the Double button in the Display Preferences palette to be able to view the inside of the model and measure it.

Switching to the Move mode (press "W"), you now have a choice between the Gizmo 3D and the traditional Transpose Line. I use the Gizmo quite a bit to eliminate parts of models by using Command/Ctrl (Mac/PC). In this tutorial I think I do that three times. But the Transpose Line for me is more often used to measure.

Flower Ring.jpg

What's Next?

Next up on the agenda is the Flower Signet Ring, based on the signet ring included with ZBrush. We'll create an accurately-sized signet ring from scratch because it's a great example of using DynaMesh Boolean operations, and explore both axial and radial symmetry to finish the ring and add a 7-petal flower to the top. The icing on the cake is adding the bezel we just created. When it's done, I'll add a link here! Stay tuned, and happy ZBrushing!

more huichol, please!

Yes, it's time for another Huichol beading project!

This time we're going to learn how to create a simple Huichol-style flower earring or pendant. You'll need some Preciosa beads like the ones found in my other Huichol tutorial here, in several colors. The tutorial is done in shades of yellow, orange and pink, with a little green loop at the top. (The flower shown here is just a placeholder).

Just a reminder, the tutorial and images are copyrighted. If you are interested in using them for a club or class, please contact me for permission.

You can follow along with my colors, or use the worksheet to design your own. Click here to download a PDF version that can be easily printed.

Click this link to start learning how to create these pretty and easy little earrings!