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Diane Cook

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I am the second of three girls, born to a stay-at-home mom and a cattle rancher. What you’ve heard regarding the middle child is true. I’ve always been and felt different. I was born in Bellville, Texas. I lived in Brenham (home of Blue Bell Ice Cream) until I was 5. It was then that we moved back to my parents’ hometown of New Ulm, Texas, where my dad took a job as a ranch foreman. I lived on that ranch until I was a freshman in high school, when we moved onto my grandparents’ original homestead just outside of town. I lived in New Ulm until I graduated from high school.

Diane Cook

Fast forward to 2006, when my world would forever change after my daughter and I attended a wine tasting event in New Braunfels, Texas. It is there that I read the name of the artist who designed the colorful wine labels on the bottles. Dawn Houser was the designer, and once home I followed Dawn to her blog. Little did I know that life would slowly begin to take a bit of a long and winding road to where I am today. I found a world of artists I had no clue existed. There were so many blogs to read! Artists living colorful and exciting lives, sharing tips and trips they’d taken. And then there were just plain people, like me. They talked about upcoming art retreats. What? All kinds of art, taught in one place, at one time? I was hooked.

In 2006, I booked my first art retreat adventure to Art and Soul, in Hampton, Virginia. I traveled alone, but had made friends online with two other students going to the retreat. There I took mixed media and jewelry classes every day and night of the retreat. That was WAY too many. TOO MUCH input. I did however; take some valuable lessons away from that first art retreat. I loved it!

Diane Cook

I started, like many others, by beading. I had a wedding to attend so I went shopping for jewelry. I found a pair of earrings I liked, at Foley’s department store. Now I needed a bracelet. First, I thought I’d ask a friend to make a bracelet to match, but decided I’d like to try to make my own. I took off to Hobby Lobby, bought some matching gemstone chips and stretch cord, and made my first bracelet. I still have the set, and often bring it to class to show my students where I began.

I delved into jewelry design by repurposing vintage jewelry. I tried to creatively put pieces together, mainly focusing on incorporating gorgeous vintage rhinestone jewelry into my pieces. This kept me occupied for a couple of years, and led me to begin teaching in 2010. I then began etching base metals and took a couple of classes to quench my curiosity for torch-fired enameling.

Diane Cook

I continue to hone my passion of eclectic jewelry design by pushing myself into designing rings, pendants, and bracelets in various and unusual ways. I traveled to Tucson to teach and attended my first Tucson Gem Show in 2012. I learned about cabochons, often referred to as cabs for short, which defines a certain cut of stone in numerous jewelry designs, especially those that include gemstones. A cabochon is flat on one side and domed or rounded on the other side. I believe seeing the vast array of amazing gemstone cabs is what threw me over the edge into a never-ending abyss of cab setting creativity, throwing me into the sea of becoming a thoughtfully driven silversmith.

My process usually always begins with a beautifully cut gemstone. I see the stone, develop an idea in my mind, and then quickly sketch it down before it floats away. But, most often I simply set a stone down onto the metal, or a piece of paper, and sketch around it in free form fashion. This will often give me ideas to work from. I might choose to pull out a piece of graph paper to sketch out a few ideas, or often I will simply design directly onto a piece of sterling silver sheet.

Diane Cook

Soon, I find myself sawing out the top layer of metal, adding various components I’ve prepared ahead of time to my design. This will now give me the outline for the subsequent layer of metal, which I will saw out next.

Will it be a pendant, a bracelet, or a ring?

I will use metals stamps, texture hammers, dimple pliers, mark makers or files of various kinds. I believe it adds interest and depth to my work. At this time, I am also considering the options of what this piece will become.

If I’ve decided that this piece will be a ring, I pull out one of my favorite bench tools, which is a Miter Cutting Vise/Jig. This piece of hardened steel is, in my opinion, the best tool for filing an accurate 45-degree angle. In this case, it’s exactly what I need for a perfect split shank ring band.

Diane Cook
I’ve found my creative fire in silversmithing.

Now it’s time to take all my pieces and parts to the soldering bench. I choose to use a soldering pan filled with pumice stones, a hard-charcoal block, and my favorite Knew Concept titanium soldering strips, which I have bent into various shapes to suit many forms of soldering needs.

Once all top layers of my ring have been securely soldered, I will give it a quick bath in the pickle pot to remove all fire scale and crusty flux. A pickle pot is a crock pot that holds the pickle solution and keeps it heated. Pickle is a liquid compound used to remove oxidation and flux from newly soldered jewelry. It is what you put your pieces in to clean them after soldering. Metal that has been soldered produces oxidation on the outside of it. Allowing the metal to cool and then dropping it into the pickle removes the oxidation. The metal can also be pickled before the soldering process to clean it.

I love to add texture of various types top my blank pieces of metal and compare it to how a painter adds paint to a canvas.

Diane Cook

The ring band has been annealed (meaning made soft and more pliable to bend without breaking, using my torch) and is now in need of being bent into submission. I bend my ring band by first using ring bending pliers, then I begin using two different ring mandrels and a rawhide mallet. This two-part step ensures that I will end with my ring being the exact size I desire. I like to mark the back of my ring with a cross-mark. This ensures that I place my ring band in the exact position I want once I begin to solder.

I bury my ring face down into the pumice bed of my soldering pan. Then, by using a tool called the Mini Spider hold down tool, developed by metalsmith Dave Smith, I can hold my ring shank in a steady position onto the ring back. This is another favorite and multipurpose tool that I use often.

Once I have brass brushed my piece using a tiny amount of Dawn dishwashing liquid and cold water, I dip it into a patina solution such as Jax brand silver blackener or Liver of Sulfur. Once it has air dried, I begin to remove the amount of patina I desire. My finishing technique is what I like to call “Texas Tarnished.” I accomplish this by using an ultra-fine sanding pad and a polish pad.

Diane Cook
Baker’s Dozen

Now it’s time to trim off just the right amount of wire prong, using another favorite tool, a Tronex flush-cutter. I prefer to push down each of my wire prongs using one half of a wooden clothes pin, instead of a metal prong pusher. I have found that this prevents me from accidentally scratching the top of a delicate stone if I slip.

All the prongs are now securely down. I like to use a Proxxon precision vise to hold my rings while pushing down the prongs or setting a stone in a bezel setting. I have it sitting on top of an 8” rotating TV swivel, which allows me to move it around freely while working.

The finished ring is a sample of a class I have enjoyed teaching, called Layered Prong Play Ring. The beautiful Sonora Sunrise stone I chose for this piece was cut by lapidary artist Stacie Williams. She can be found at Azoho.com. Another fun fact about my creative process is that I often have pieces that I’ve set aside on my workbench that were not completed or not needed from a previous project. I’ll pick them up and use them in my current creative frenzy. I often would not have considered adding those two designs or gemstones together in the same necklace or bracelet if I had not given myself the creative license or considered that unusual juxtaposition of what has been lying on my worktable at the time.

Baker’s Dozen
Stamping

I am continuing to work on my newest line, Texas Tarnished Jewelry, which I submitted for the Texas Works Awards last September. I’m also adding a new line of pieces called the Baker’s Dozen, inspired by A Baker’s Year, written by the inspiring Tara Jensen. I cannot say these pieces of jewelry convey a baking theme, but I drew my inspiration to make 13 pieces as a group (a baker’s dozen) in less than a week, not fully realizing their beauty, until the setting of the final stone. Not unlike the life of a baker, working for so many hours before seeing the final loaves of bread come out of the oven a beautiful golden brown, cooled, then cut and enjoyed. My life as a silversmith is overwhelmingly satisfying.

I am the second of three girls, born to a stay-at-home mom and a cattle rancher. What you’ve heard regarding the middle child is true. I’ve always been and felt different. I was born in Bellville, Texas. I lived in Brenham (home of Blue Bell Ice Cream) until I was 5. It was then that we moved back to my parents’ hometown of New Ulm, Texas, where my dad took a job as a ranch foreman. I lived on that ranch until I was a freshman in high school, when we moved onto my grandparents’ original homestead just outside of town. I lived in New Ulm until I graduated from high school.

Diane Cook

Fast forward to 2006, when my world would forever change after my daughter and I attended a wine tasting event in New Braunfels, Texas. It is there that I read the name of the artist who designed the colorful wine labels on the bottles. Dawn Houser was the designer, and once home I followed Dawn to her blog. Little did I know that life would slowly begin to take a bit of a long and winding road to where I am today. I found a world of artists I had no clue existed. There were so many blogs to read! Artists living colorful and exciting lives, sharing tips and trips they’d taken. And then there were just plain people, like me. They talked about upcoming art retreats. What? All kinds of art, taught in one place, at one time? I was hooked.

In 2006, I booked my first art retreat adventure to Art and Soul, in Hampton, Virginia. I traveled alone, but had made friends online with two other students going to the retreat. There I took mixed media and jewelry classes every day and night of the retreat. That was WAY too many. TOO MUCH input. I did however; take some valuable lessons away from that first art retreat. I loved it!

Diane Cook

I started, like many others, by beading. I had a wedding to attend so I went shopping for jewelry. I found a pair of earrings I liked, at Foley’s department store. Now I needed a bracelet. First, I thought I’d ask a friend to make a bracelet to match, but decided I’d like to try to make my own. I took off to Hobby Lobby, bought some matching gemstone chips and stretch cord, and made my first bracelet. I still have the set, and often bring it to class to show my students where I began.

I delved into jewelry design by repurposing vintage jewelry. I tried to creatively put pieces together, mainly focusing on incorporating gorgeous vintage rhinestone jewelry into my pieces. This kept me occupied for a couple of years, and led me to begin teaching in 2010. I then began etching base metals and took a couple of classes to quench my curiosity for torch-fired enameling.

Diane Cook

I continue to hone my passion of eclectic jewelry design by pushing myself into designing rings, pendants, and bracelets in various and unusual ways. I traveled to Tucson to teach and attended my first Tucson Gem Show in 2012. I learned about cabochons, often referred to as cabs for short, which defines a certain cut of stone in numerous jewelry designs, especially those that include gemstones. A cabochon is flat on one side and domed or rounded on the other side. I believe seeing the vast array of amazing gemstone cabs is what threw me over the edge into a never-ending abyss of cab setting creativity, throwing me into the sea of becoming a thoughtfully driven silversmith.

My process usually always begins with a beautifully cut gemstone. I see the stone, develop an idea in my mind, and then quickly sketch it down before it floats away. But, most often I simply set a stone down onto the metal, or a piece of paper, and sketch around it in free form fashion. This will often give me ideas to work from. I might choose to pull out a piece of graph paper to sketch out a few ideas, or often I will simply design directly onto a piece of sterling silver sheet.

Diane Cook

Soon, I find myself sawing out the top layer of metal, adding various components I’ve prepared ahead of time to my design. This will now give me the outline for the subsequent layer of metal, which I will saw out next.

Will it be a pendant, a bracelet, or a ring?

I will use metals stamps, texture hammers, dimple pliers, mark makers or files of various kinds. I believe it adds interest and depth to my work. At this time, I am also considering the options of what this piece will become.

If I’ve decided that this piece will be a ring, I pull out one of my favorite bench tools, which is a Miter Cutting Vise/Jig. This piece of hardened steel is, in my opinion, the best tool for filing an accurate 45-degree angle. In this case, it’s exactly what I need for a perfect split shank ring band.

Diane Cook
I’ve found my creative fire in silversmithing.

Now it’s time to take all my pieces and parts to the soldering bench. I choose to use a soldering pan filled with pumice stones, a hard-charcoal block, and my favorite Knew Concept titanium soldering strips, which I have bent into various shapes to suit many forms of soldering needs.

Once all top layers of my ring have been securely soldered, I will give it a quick bath in the pickle pot to remove all fire scale and crusty flux. A pickle pot is a crock pot that holds the pickle solution and keeps it heated. Pickle is a liquid compound used to remove oxidation and flux from newly soldered jewelry. It is what you put your pieces in to clean them after soldering. Metal that has been soldered produces oxidation on the outside of it. Allowing the metal to cool and then dropping it into the pickle removes the oxidation. The metal can also be pickled before the soldering process to clean it.

I love to add texture of various types top my blank pieces of metal and compare it to how a painter adds paint to a canvas.

Diane Cook

The ring band has been annealed (meaning made soft and more pliable to bend without breaking, using my torch) and is now in need of being bent into submission. I bend my ring band by first using ring bending pliers, then I begin using two different ring mandrels and a rawhide mallet. This two-part step ensures that I will end with my ring being the exact size I desire. I like to mark the back of my ring with a cross-mark. This ensures that I place my ring band in the exact position I want once I begin to solder.

I bury my ring face down into the pumice bed of my soldering pan. Then, by using a tool called the Mini Spider hold down tool, developed by metalsmith Dave Smith, I can hold my ring shank in a steady position onto the ring back. This is another favorite and multipurpose tool that I use often.

Once I have brass brushed my piece using a tiny amount of Dawn dishwashing liquid and cold water, I dip it into a patina solution such as Jax brand silver blackener or Liver of Sulfur. Once it has air dried, I begin to remove the amount of patina I desire. My finishing technique is what I like to call “Texas Tarnished.” I accomplish this by using an ultra-fine sanding pad and a polish pad.

Diane Cook
Baker’s Dozen

Now it’s time to trim off just the right amount of wire prong, using another favorite tool, a Tronex flush-cutter. I prefer to push down each of my wire prongs using one half of a wooden clothes pin, instead of a metal prong pusher. I have found that this prevents me from accidentally scratching the top of a delicate stone if I slip.

All the prongs are now securely down. I like to use a Proxxon precision vise to hold my rings while pushing down the prongs or setting a stone in a bezel setting. I have it sitting on top of an 8” rotating TV swivel, which allows me to move it around freely while working.

The finished ring is a sample of a class I have enjoyed teaching, called Layered Prong Play Ring. The beautiful Sonora Sunrise stone I chose for this piece was cut by lapidary artist Stacie Williams. She can be found at Azoho.com. Another fun fact about my creative process is that I often have pieces that I’ve set aside on my workbench that were not completed or not needed from a previous project. I’ll pick them up and use them in my current creative frenzy. I often would not have considered adding those two designs or gemstones together in the same necklace or bracelet if I had not given myself the creative license or considered that unusual juxtaposition of what has been lying on my worktable at the time.

Baker’s Dozen
Stamping

I am continuing to work on my newest line, Texas Tarnished Jewelry, which I submitted for the Texas Works Awards last September. I’m also adding a new line of pieces called the Baker’s Dozen, inspired by A Baker’s Year, written by the inspiring Tara Jensen. I cannot say these pieces of jewelry convey a baking theme, but I drew my inspiration to make 13 pieces as a group (a baker’s dozen) in less than a week, not fully realizing their beauty, until the setting of the final stone. Not unlike the life of a baker, working for so many hours before seeing the final loaves of bread come out of the oven a beautiful golden brown, cooled, then cut and enjoyed. My life as a silversmith is overwhelmingly satisfying.