Friday, December 17, 2010

CHAINED Virtual Book Tour with Rebeca Mojica

There is a new book out that you must check out! Rebeca Mojica, owner & artist of Blue Buddha Boutique, has spent a couple years of her life working on CHAINED and it is an amazing instructional. Rebeca is an award winning chain maille artist and a contributing editor to Step by Step Wire Jewelry magazine. She is the pre-eminent chain maille instructor in the Midwest, teaching at Caravan Beads and Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago, Briolette Beads in Forest Park, and Ayla's Originals in Evanston, she has taught at the Bead&Button Show and has been a guest instructor for the Fashion Department at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

CHAINED is one of the most beautiful, informational, and easy to understand chain maille instructional books I've seen to date. Rebeca explains the basics of chain maille (how to open & close jump rings), talks about different metals and how to care for them, gives clear easy to understand instructions for beginners and experts alike, and variations on all of the projects in the book. I love the fact that she shares these variations with her readers because it gives us a sense of freedom to play with the weaves and see what else we can do with them; whether it be playing with color or adapting the weave. Not to mention that the pictures of the pieces are total eye candy. The book and the work in it is simply gorgeous.

When I think of Rebeca, I think of an insane talented artist, a very smart female entrepreneur, and a generous philanthropist. Rebeca kindly let me pick her brain with a few questions...

-One of the things that I find the most fascinating in your maille is not only the grace and fluidity of your pieces, but also that they appear calculated and structured. For example, your Quantum Rose is not only elegant, but scientific. Can you share a little bit about where you find your inspiration?
Since I read A Brief History of Time in high school, I have been a complete and utter science nerd. While other people gush about actors and pop culture entertainers, my list of swoon-worthy humans are folks like Alan Guth, Brian Greene, Michio Kaku and Neil Degrasse Tyson. Most people haven't heard of them, but they are all scientists in the field of astrophysics/cosmology. Like I said, a total nerd. :-)

I am fascinated by number series and even created a piece based on the fibonacci sequence. (This asymmetrical necklace sold years ago, and I don't have a photo. It featured hanging chains in different lengths...with the lengths based on the numbers of the sequence.) The Quantum Rose is based on the number 4 -- if you look at it closely, you'll note that there are two lines of symmetry, a horizontal and a vertical one, which divide the piece into four equal units. I love the number four, so I expect I'll create some pieces in the future that really revolve around the number four.

I would like to tackle several fractal projects next (Armoury note: in case, like me, you needed more information on fractals...). Some small, and some large installations (like a fractal "tree" taking up an entire wall). For me, science and creativity are closely related. The more I look at images of deep space, and the more I contemplate the structure of our uni(multi)verse, the more I am inspired to create. I love the interplay between chaos and order that is inherent in our world.

My closet walls are covered with page after page of sketches and theories about the structure of the quantum world all the way out to the unfathomably large world beyond the visible universe.

A couple of years ago, I found myself awake late at night, staring at the periodic table of the elements, trying to make sense of something that had been nagging at the back of my head for a while. "It just doesn't make sense all laid out in a table," I said to myself, remembering the 3-D renderings of the table we had to cut out and glue together in high school chemistry. After about 30 minutes, the answer came to me. "Of course!" I exclaimed. "It's a fractal! And why wouldn't it be? Everything else around us is." I was sure I wasn't the first person to come up with this, so of course I googled "Periodic Fractal of the Elements" and found some interesting depictions. I would love to make a sculpture or a necklace based on this idea.

My favorite depiction of the Periodic Fractal of the Elements is this one by Melinda Green. I color coded it myself and am dorky enough to have asked her permission (which was granted) to make a T-shirt for myself.

The coolest thing is, because I'm certain the structure of life is a fractal, it means that there is no unified theory of everything. "Everything" goes on and on for eternity, so we will never figure it all out. We can keep uncovering things, but there will always be more to discover. I love the fact that the journey never ends!

-I think there are two very different kinds of maillers out there: there are the mathematical maillers that are all about using weave charts and working with aspect ratios and then there are the more free form maillers that play with some jump rings until they find a pattern that works. You are both very analytical and very artistic, so which way do you lean? Can you tell us a little bit about your process?
Definitely both ways. If I already have a pattern that I like, but I want to make it smaller, or tweak a larger version of it, I will definitely use Aspect Ratio to get me to a good starting point. I find it easiest to "doodle" Japanese patterns, so I'll often sketch those out ahead of time and use math to get me started.

For other pieces, though, I'll sit down with a pile of rings and futz until I come up with something that I like. Thankfully, I'm a fast mailler, so if something isn't working, I can take it apart in a jiffy and start over with little time wasted.

-You've created several of your own chain maille weaves. Did you have an idea for the design and worked it out mathematically/by playing with rings or were they discoveries through happy accidents when you were working on something completely different?
Some were happy accidents, but most were created "on purpose." Most are in the Japanese Family, and thus were ones that I could sketch out beforehand (Hodo, Maru, Japanese Bulls Eye). Others were pieces that I systematically approached, with the idea of tweaking a previously known weave by adding extra rings, or twisting the rings in a different way. (ie, Chaotic Helix and Celtic Spikes)

Because I am an absolute nut about the weave "sitting" just right, I often have to play around with ring sizes once the piece is complete. For example, in the Helm Wave in CHAINED, I could have used just a couple of ring sizes....but the weave would have bunched up. That might be OK for the majority of people, but not for me. So I played around until I found the perfect combination of sizes that allowed the weave to lay flat, yet still be supple. And actually, I should give credit where credit is due - I had my interns play around with ring sizes until the perfect combination was discovered! I am so grateful to the interns, as they save me hundreds of hours per year by doing ring-size testing that I just don't have time to tackle anymore.

Because of my desire to have the rings sit in a very particular manner, many of my weaves use a lot of sizes to get the perfect fit. I like to joke that "It isn't a Rebeca Mojica weave unless it uses an absurd number of ring sizes!"

-As a small business owner, you must wear many hats (web developer, marketer, accountant, manager, photographer, and artist to name just a few). Were you able to bring any previous experience to your role as a small business owner or were you pretty much learning on the job?
My degree is in Journalism, and I spent several years doing PR and nonprofit development work. All of that marketing experience definitely paid off! After I decided I wanted to try to make chainmaille my sole source of income, I put together a teaching portfolio and bravely went around to all the bead stores in the area. I was diplomatic, but the meaning behind my words was pretty much: "Hey, I notice you don't teach any chainmaille classes. You should, because it's going to be the next big thing in jewelry-making, and you should hire me to teach these classes!" I wound up with teaching gigs at nearly every place I applied.

However, just about everything else, was stuff that I learned on the job. I knew a bit of html, but really got knee-deep in it once Blue Buddha's website was created. I had no experience with photographing jewelry or bookkeeping, but I read everything I could get my hands on about starting a business, particularly a crafts business, and went to local small business development centers for advice. For many years, I really felt like I was blindly forging a path, and had no idea what I was doing, but somehow I did know what I was doing and somehow it was working, so I just kept moving forward.

-Was B3 simply a part time job to fuel your maille habit when you founded it or did you have hopes &/or a plan for it to become the successful business that it is with several full- and part-time employees, interns, and guest contributors?
When I founded Blue Buddha in February 2003, I had been mailling for 9 months and teaching for 5 months. I was already hopelessly in love with maille, so I founded my business with the goal of making it my sole source of income within five years. At the time, I had 3 other part-time jobs (piano instructor, tutor/tutor trainer at Kaplan Test Prep, and researcher/archivist for an online educational pictures database). Slowly, over the course of the years, I dropped my jobs one by one. It took me four and a half years before I was working full-time for Blue Buddha.

I knew I wanted to make this my life, but I had no idea I would build the "empire" that Blue Buddha has become. Each year, our growing sales still shock me.

-Do you feel like you've had to face any unique challenges as a female entrepreneur? Or even as a woman in the mailling community?
The mailling community has always been accepting of me. From my very first gathering at Lord Charles' home in 2002, I felt like they were my peeps! I could be myself--nerdy, socially awkward & all-around weird--and I was still accepted.

As a female entrepreneur, I have been part of some interesting encounters. I am extremely business-oriented, and therefore like to "play with the big boys" and go to entrepreneurial conferences, workshops and networking events. There is usually some awkward silence when they find out what I do, because I don't think any of them can imagine the full extent of my business. The first time I went to a small business development center for assistance, I felt as though some of the counselors were very condescending, almost like, "Awww, isn't she cute, trying to have a little business selling jewelry?" Thankfully, I found the Women's Business Development Center and have been so incredibly supported by everyone there.

-Did you have any idea when you made that first maille belt so many years ago that one day you would be considered one of the foremost experts in the field?
No idea. I just knew that I loved doing this, and it almost felt as though it was "meant to be." As soon as I made the belt, I really felt as though I'd come home. I guess it makes sense that I wound up carving a name for myself, though, because I can be obsessive and competitive at times. So once I decided to try to make a go of this for a living, I REALLY made the decision. I was determined to learn and absorb everything I could, and to do my very best.

-I was honored when you agreed to sponsor my fundraising for the Susan G. Komen 3 Day for the Cure by providing 1,000's of pink jump rings so that all of the proceeds from the finished pieces could go towards the fight against breast cancer. This wasn't the first time that you gave to a good cause. Blue Buddha Boutique is committed to making the world a better place. This a rare and noble thing for a small business to do. Can you share a little bit about your passion to contribute and some of the charities that you've supported?
I've always been drawn to help people, and felt very fulfilled working in the nonprofit world. I think I like to help people because I am a very empathetic person. I feel emotions deeply and strongly. I've to not let other people's emotions affect me too much (otherwise I'd be a nutcase) ... but I am grateful that I can put myself in other people's shoes, because I think it makes me a better teacher and boss.

I look around and while it's impressive how far we've come as a species, I think we can still improve the way we take care of ourselves, each other and the world around us. I suppose it's no surprise that my main heroes are Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr and Kathy Kelly. I don't expect to make such an obvious impact on the world, but I hope that my baby steps will encourage folks around me to make baby steps of their own, because all of those little steps put together do make a difference.

The main organizations that I support on a regular basis:
-- Coalition for Pulmonary Fibrosis and pulmonary fibrosis foundation - My father passed away from Pulmonary Fibrosis about 6 years ago, and watching him suffer was one of the most intense experiences of my life. He never smoked a day in his life. When he was ill, it was sad that people would give him dirty looks and move away from him on the train when they heard him cough, even though he wasn't contagious. If I thought I was empathetic before, suddenly I was much more empathetic! I vowed to never to be impatient with someone who was walking slowly across the street, because maybe they looked fine from the outside, but inside they were suffering. You just never know. Before my father became sick, I had no idea PF was so widespread. Nearly 40,000 Americans die each year (about 109 people per day) from PF. This is the same number as for breast cancer. Several 9/11 rescue workers afflicted with the "World Trade Center cough" have developed PF. PF is an elusive illness, and I hope that with time, we'll develop a bigger understanding of how to help people with this illness.

-- Albany Park Chamber of Commerce - I love my community! I live and work in Albany Park, one of the most diverse areas of Chicago. Living in a big city, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and lost...and indifferent. People don't say "hi" to their neighbors like they used to. I hope that by being an active member of this community, I can inspire today's youth to follow their passions, and can encourage my fellow business owners and residents to work together to make manifest the community of our dreams.

Other organizations that I support include school and arts organizations, including Chicago Tap Theatre, which Jenna of Blue Buddha is a member of. Whenever my employees are involved with a nonprofit, I like to support those endeavors. I also will continue to support groups that fight for animal rights. Though I have yet to become a full-fledged vegan, I admire those who live such a lifestyle. I think there's a saying that you can tell the true character of a person based on how they treat animals, and frankly, what does that say about our society as a whole? What is done to animals in an industrialized food system makes me sick to my stomach. I cannot ignore it, because I truly believe it is wrong.

-My copy of CHAINED is autographed and cost a little bit more, but it's because $5 will be donated to Friends of Franklin Fine Arts Center. Please tell us a little bit about this non-profit and why it means so much to you.
I attended Franklin Fine Arts Center from kindergarten through 6th grade. It is the only public grammar school with an arts-focused curriculum in the city of Chicago. I truly believe that my life is more culturally rich and I am a happier person because I had so many creative outlets from such a young age. The arts should be a regular part of everyone's education, not something brushed aside when funding gets low. I am donating $5 to Friends of Franklin because I want other people to know about the success of Franklin so that parents, teachers and community leaders everywhere to brainstorm ways to bring the arts to more students. (Armoury note: for more information on Franklin & arts in curriculum, visit Rebeca's Virtual Book Tour Stop at ChiIl Mama.)

And a couple of questions just for fun: Rumor has it that Aerosmith is your all time favorite band (one of mine, too) What's your favorite Aerosmith song? Is it possible to choose one?
Kings and Queens (from Draw the Line, 1977). Other favorites are Hangman Jury and Darkness, both pretty obscure songs. My favorite Aerosmith songs tend to be a lot of the oldies. Their self-titled debut album is my favorite overall album. I absolutely love every single song on there. Toys in the Attic is classic, too. I first got into the band with the album Pump in 1989, so those songs will always hold a special place in my heart. I was so into Aerosmith, I even got albums from the Joe Perry Project and Whitford-St Holmes (bands formed when Aeromsith split in the 80s). Something that few of my customers know, is that I have five tattoos and they are all all Aerosmith related. My next tattoo will be chainmaille, but I'll sneak an Aero symbol in there somewhere. Also, I usually sign my name as Rebec^A^ where the ^A^ stands for, well, yeah, you get it. :-)

In high school and college, my bedroom walls were covered with Aero-paraphernalia. T-shirts, cassettes, records, CDs, I had 'em all. Though I sold off some of my collection early on in my starving artist days, I still have quite a lot left, including a couple of sealed 8-tracks and a drumstick given to me by the drummer.

I imagine that Zed (the Company Mascot) may often find himself up to no good at B3. Have a favorite Zed story to share with us?
Zed is the fuzziest cat in the world. Once I moved the studio out of my home, he never set paw in the new location, but somehow, we still encounter his fur to this day. (And it was three years ago that we moved!)

My favorite Zed story, though, has nothing to do with B3. It happened a few years ago, after I'd taught Zed to sit on command. I happened to be in the kitchen, peeling turnips directly over the trash can. All of a sudden, the turnip slipped out of my hand and into the trash. "$#!T" I exclaimed. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Zed obediently putting his butt to the floor, looking at me rather expectantly for a treat. I burst out laughing and of course gave him a treat. :-)

Rebeca, thank you so much for hanging out at the Armoury! Your book is fabulous & I can't wait to play with it (specifically the Japanese Cross Pendant, Ripple Necklace, and all of the Coiled projects)!

If you haven't checked out CHAINED yet... What are you waiting for?

Blue Buddha Boutique is planning a daily giveaway contest for people who leave comments. Details: We will pool all the comments we get from the time the article is posted until noon CST the next day and draw one winner to receive a $10 B3 gift certificate. We will also be conducting a grand prize contest promoted only to our CHAINED mailing list subscribers for people who comment on EVERY blog post in the tour.


Unknown said...

Rebeca, I share your hope that we can one day find effective treatment, if not a cure, for pulmonary fibrosis. My father has battled it for over 5 years now, and even though he has been fortunate to have "beaten the odds" so far, well, YOU know...


Unknown said...

I've been married to chemist for over 34 years and I appreciate your love of chemistry and science. I love the symmetry and pattern of chainmaille.
Cathy Parrish

Lyn Porter said...

I am still learning the basic patterns but hope some day to be able to come up with some original ones. Not being a math minded person, 'futzing' will be my style! Lyn Porter

Lyn Porter said...

Enjoyed this interview, too. I am still learning the basic weaves but maybe someday will able to 'futz' my way into something original!
Lyn Porter

Lyn Porter said...

Another enjoyable interview. Loved the Zed story as I have 2 dogs myself who perform in hope of a treat! Lyn porter

Lyn Porter said...

I enjoyed this interview also. Being a dog owner whose dogs will beg for treats, I can relate to Zed's story. Pretty cute!

Audra Perks said...

It is so great to see someone who is willing to support various charities even though they have a small business. I have learned so much about Rebeca after reading these blogs, and the more I read the happier I am that I found her company and support her business. I also love the fact that she has a feline helper! :)

catshaman said...

Love reading about the "science" of maille!

Kell said...

Thanks for the information about this amazing artist. I've been wanting to start working on chain maille for a little while. I can't wait to check out her book and try my hand at maille.



Cindy said...

i like that Rebeca plays with rings until they work. I like to say that I let them sit there for a while until they tell me what they want to be. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't but it's always interesting!

Cindy said...

When necessary, I too rely on math and AR but I also love just sitting with my rings piled in front of me, pliers at the ready, and waiting for the rings to tell me what they want to be. Sometimes it doesn't work but it's so cool when it does.

Tina said...

another awesome interview! I love learning more about the "how" of your awesome designs

mermaiden said...

really interesting and entertaining interview! Rebeca sounds like a pretty amazing human being!

Unknown said...

Thanks for all your comments!

SnarkyGeekChick - You have my most sincere empathy...I know what a difficult journey it is. I wish much strength to you, your father & your family.

SweetPea - Your quote is great! "Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't, but it is always interesting." Yep, you got it! :-)

Miki said...

Great interview! I've always admired and respected how much math plays such a huge part, not only in chainmaille, but specifically in Rebeca's work. I would have loved to have seen her Fibonacci piece, as the Golden Section and Fibonacci spiral are so important to me as well. (Enough so to have gotten a tattoo!)

Thank you for this awesome interview; it was an absolute pleasure to read!

@derivativeofu // @coldfirecustoms

Handmade Artists' Forum and Shop said...

Great post and great interview, love it. We had a chance to review the book as well HAF Review of Chained stop by and take a peak!