Jewelry Design Challenge: Deadvlei, Namibia

wire wrapped stone earrings
The location for week two of the June “exotic locations” theme on the Self-Representing Artists in Jewelry Design challenge is Deadvlei, Namibia.  When I saw the images for this place, I really – and I mean really – wanted to use polymer clay for my design. It would be so perfect to represent the textures and vivid colors.  Alas, it’s summer here and too hot for reliable results with polymer clay in my studio, which has no air conditioning.

So, I turned to my jewelry design roots – semi-precious gemstone beads and wire – to help me capture the beauty of this exotic place.  

Before getting started with my design, I searched the internet for images and the story of this location. The images are striking and surreal, in an almost alien landscape way. Scorched tree skeletons reach up to a brilliant blue sky from bleached white clay, all against the backdrop of rusted red sand dunes.

Screen capture of Google image search for Deadvlei

Images of Deadvlei, Namibia (Google image search).

The name “Deadvlei” translates as dead marsh. It’s a white clay pan that formed after the river that once flowed through diverted its course hundreds of years ago. When the marsh dried up, the acacia trees that grew there died. Their scorched skeletons remain, unable to decay because of the lack of moisture. The red sand dunes surrounding Deadvlei are some of the highest in the world. And Deadvlei reportedly has some of the clearest blue skies on the planet.  These things combine to form one of the most picturesque “dead” places on Earth.

I wanted to create a design that brought all of those colors together.  My first choice for the white clay was river jasper. It’s a creamy off white stone that goes well with so many other stones.  I had many choices for the rusty dunes, from various jaspers to red aventurine and agate. In my stash of blue beads, I could choose from lapis, quartz, sodalite, turquoise, dumortierite and many others.  The only limiting factor was whether I had shapes and sizes to represent my vision.

For the skeletal trees, I wanted to use dark wire. I’ve never added a patina to my wire before and have been wanting to try liver of sulphur (LOS, for those in the know) with copper. I had mixed results.  Apparently some of my copper wire is coated with some non-tarnish finish. This was instantly apparent only after I added the wire to the LOS mixture. The non-coated wire immediately developed a very satisfying dark brown color. The coated wire stubbornly remained bright as a new penny except on its cut ends.  Luckily, I had some antiqued brass wire that mixed well with the patina-ed copper.

copper wire wrapped beaded earrings

Wire-wrapped beaded dangle earrings inspired by images of Deadvlei.

These earrings were my first design. The red ovals in the middle, representing the towering dunes, are red sesame jasper.  They are topped with blue aventurine. Those earwires and the central wire the beads are hanging from were my LOS copper wire. The thinner wire wrapping around them is brass. Overall, I liked the shapes and proportions. The red sesame jasper was just not orange enough for my liking. Back to the bead board for round two.

brass wire wrapped beaded earrings

Brass wire-wrapped bead earrings with mixed stones.

This time the rusty dunes are represented by red aventurine nuggets, and I used sodalite for the sky. All of the wire is brass for this pair of earrings. The colors are working much better for me, but I prefer the proportions of the first pair. If only I had red aventurine in the long oval shape of the red sesame jasper.  (If only I could turn to polymer clay to save the day.)

So, which pair do I submit for the challenge? The one with the colors I like better? Or the one with the proportions I prefer?

Brass wire wrapped beaded earrings

Rustic wire-wrapped earrings inspired by Deadvlei, Namibia.

In the end, color won the day. Because it was the colors that first grabbed my attention when looking at the photos.  I am adding Deadvlei to my list of places I’d like to visit. I imagine I’ll last about 10 minutes in the baking sun, but it would be worth it to stand in the shadow of those towering dunes, among the skeletons of trees that lived hundreds of years before me and will likely be standing hundreds of years from now.

The theme for next week is “Antelope Canyon, USA.”  This one is from my home state of Arizona, but I’ve never seen it in person. I hope to see you back here next week to see my design to represent this exotic looking place.  To make sure you don’t miss it, subscribe to this blog by RSS feed, email subscription, or feed servers linked in the right column under my photo. You can also follow me on Facebookjoin me on Google+, and tune in to my Twitter feed to get updates on my newest jewelry designs, new listings in my Etsy shop, and other design challenges and adventures from Paisley Lizard.