I wish I could take credit for the idea to add crystal eyes to my jigsaw puzzles, but that recognition goes to my husband, Sean. Early on he realized that the puzzles needed something extra, a little spark to make them stand out. I don't remember exactly how we settled on the crystals, but I know that it is one of the first things that customers comment on when they see my display at craft shows.
There are a couple of places where I like to purchase the crystals, jewelry wire and adhesive that I use in my puzzles. I started off buying from Northampton Beadery, a local shop in Northampton, Massachusetts, which sadly closed its doors recently. The owner had great advice about adhesives and wire gauge when I was just beginning to integrate the crystals and wire. There is no substitute for the wisdom of an experienced artisan when you're learning a new craft. I'll be forever grateful to Heather for her help.
With the Beadery's closure, I have started using the Artbeads website, which has a dizzying array of Swarovski crystals in every shape, size and color you can imagine. Really, it's intense.
I have explored using generic crystals available at local craft stores, but there really is no substituting for that genuine Swarovski sparkle.
Now I'm pondering new ways to use crystals and wire in my designs. I have some thoughts about a steampunk airship puzzle and orchids with silver wire tendrils. I don't know when I'll get to those designs, but I'll file the ideas with my "puzzles-to-do" list. Stay tuned.
A lot of time and thought goes into creating an original wooden jigsaw puzzle. When I first started making puzzles, I used patterns published by Judy and Dave Peterson. It was a great way to learn about different materials and to become proficient with my scroll saw. Their books have great tips for any scroll saw artisan.
When friends began asking me for custom puzzles, I developed my own creative process. Now I exclusively use my own designs, which is why my puzzles look so different from the hundreds of jigsaw puzzles you can find on Etsy.
I begin by finding reference images for the design. For the boxer dog pictured above, I started with a Google image search with usage rights set to "labeled for reuse." It's important to be sure that I'm not going to rip off someone's intellectual property! Generally images "labeled for reuse" have creative commons licensing that allows free commercial reuse of the image. When in doubt, I follow the image back to its source on Wikimedia Commons, Pixabay or Creative Commons and check its copyright details. Once I have several reference photos to work from, I draw an outline of the animal, machine, building or person.
The next step is to divide the image into puzzle pieces. My goal is always for the finished puzzle to stand independently when assembled, which means paying attention to both the natural contours of the object and the way gravity will affect it. Placing the keys - the bulbus projections that lock the pieces together - in just the right spots is essential. If I don't get it right, the dog could have a floppy head or a drooping tail.
I also need to consider the properties of the wood I plan to use. Some woods cut easily and allow for quick turns. Others are brittle and will chip or crack if the keys are too pointed. Long, thin pieces need to always follow the wood's grain line or they will be prone to breaking.
In the video below you can see how the boxer design came together. Once I have my finished design on paper, I scan it into my computer to be printed whenever I want to cut a puzzle.
In my next post I'll show you how the design on paper becomes a wooden jigsaw puzzle.
Failing is not fun. It's annoying. When I fail a prototype of a new design, it means wasting time and materials.
At least that's how I used to see my failed puzzles. Over time I am becoming more philosophical about the failures, trying to see the "seed of success" in each lopsided, ugly or broken puzzle.
And so I present to you the story of some ugly giraffes and how they became beautiful.
Holy Catastrophe, Batman! Baby giraffe, what have you been drinking? And mama's not gently guarding her calf; she's looming over him like a helicopter parent of the African savanna. "Get up and go meet that well connected gazelle kid or you'll never get into Harvard!" We won't even talk about how their heads look ready to fall off. Sorry, you two. You're headed for grandpa's wood stove this winter.
I won't lie. I was annoyed and disappointed. Several hours of work later I had nothing to show for it. The design went into my accordion folder for the next six months.
Then last week I decided to go through some of my failed designs to see if I could save any of them. (Yeah, the giraffes are just the tip of a pile of puzzle disasters.) I pulled out the giraffes prototype to analyze its problems. Mama's front leg is at the wrong angle and the heads were doomed to droop because of the vertical orientation of the keys. But I liked the shape of the heads and the overall composition.
One re-drafting later and I decided to boldly go right to cutting the new pattern from a special board that I had been saving: Leopardwood. You've got to see this material to believe it. It has spots!
Here are mama and baby giraffe in all their glory. Now they reflect the vision I had in my mind when I set out to create this puzzle in December.
I'm always pleased when a design looks good the first time. Who doesn't love to have something work out almost effortlessly? But some of the most gratifying - and popular - designs I've made are the ones that took some sweat and tears to produce. Putting aside a failed design for a while gives me the time to reflect on it without stressing over it. I've surely developed new skills in the past six months and I've had the time to get some emotional distance from the failed giraffes. Overcoming a failure doesn't mean that you have to fix it *right this minute*! Putting something aside for a while can be the best way to find out how to evolve it into a success.
Barbara Bitgood, Artisan owner of Holyoke Puzzles in Holyoke, Massachusetts.