Wire Wrapping with the Cougar: Wire Jewelry Q&A with Dale "Cougar" Armstrong

Even though I've written about wire jewelry many times and even this author in particular, I've never done an interview with Dale "Cougar" Armstrong. High time, don't you think? When I heard she was a rock hound like me, I couldn't resist the opportunity to chat with her and get a glimpse into the jewelry artist's life. 

 
Dale's filigree rings

Here's the background: Dale is a wire jewelry maker, a workshop teacher, and a former metalworker. She's the author of Wirework: An Illustrated Guide to the Art of Wire Wrapping and has been published in numerous magazines, including Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and Step-by-Step Wire. She lives in Southeast Tennessee, my home state! Another reason I was happy for the chance to talk with her. Enjoy our chat!

How and when did you learn to create wirework jewelry?

"When I made the decision to live on the road (from Maine to Arizona) with my boiler-maker husband, I homeschooled my daughter. Part of her studies involved learning about the land (wherever we happened to be), and being a rockhound myself from age 8, it was natural to also collect rocks (adding to those I already had in storage!). My wonderful husband joined us on weekend adventures, adding his muscle to our digs. We rented a storage unit in Tennessee and every time we passed through the state, we dropped off buckets and boxes of rocks!" (Did you hear me faint just then? Swoon!)

 
Gem Drop Earrings

"When Skye was ready for high school, we left living on the road and began doing some serious lapidary work. Now I had lots of beautiful cabochons, faceted stones, and small specimens that needed to be used in some way. We had visited many rock and gem shows in the communities we lived in around the United States, where I had seen a few examples of wire-wrapped jewelry. My decision back then was, should I learn to be a silversmith or learn how to manipulate wire? With my background in both the fine arts and metalsmithing, I chose to work with wire because it seemed to offer me more artistic freedom. I had no plans to become an instructor, much less an author, but that is how my journey began."

 
Filigree Flower

That's not at all what I expected! What a great story and a fun adventure. Do you make any other kinds of jewelry? 

"No, not really. I have played around with metalsmithing and I have thought about metal clay, but I decided a long time ago to stick with just one medium and try to take it as far as I could."

So about those rock and gem shows all over the country. . . . Take us through a gemstone show with you. What do you look for when you're choosing cabs and gemstones to wire wrap? What are your favorite gemstones to collect and to use in your wirework? 

"Oh my! Because I have my own 'in-house' lapidary (my husband Charlie), I look for unusual, top-grade cabbing rough, very special cabochons, and occasionally the designer cut in large faceted gemstones. Lately I have been obsessed with ammolite and Ethiopian opal."

 
Drop Necklace

Iridescent and colorful gems like those are favorites of mine as well. I'd heard you were a real rock hound and assumed you had an amazing gemstone collection, but I never dreamed it would be storage-building size! That's fabulous.

Other than creating artisan-quality wire jewelry, do you have any hidden talents?

"Um, I don't know how well they are hidden, but I used to write children's stories for publication, was a public speaker, and dabbled in about all of the fine art mediums available–oh, and I did a lot of crewel embroidery when we lived on the road (projects had to be kept small) and long ago I sang with rock-and-roll bands. (There's one I am sure not many folks know about!)."

Do you have a favorite piece of jewelry that you wear every day?

"Really, I only wear my wedding band every day."

What is the most important tip or piece of advice you offer students of wirewrapping?

 
Angel Chandelier Earrings

"Practice, practice, PRACTICE!!! Do not try to sell a piece you wouldn't give to your mother, and most importantly–use the right tool for the right job!!"

I love that! I'm going to use that mother rule myself. Now, my favorite question to ask a new friend or acquaintance: If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be, and why?

"I would probably be a white oak tree. They are very strong, provide shelter for small creatures, and bend with powerful winds, but they rarely break."

Lastly, what have you been working on lately? What's next for you?

"Actually I have a second book in mind and I have been working on the extremely detailed projects it will contain (involving seriously advanced technique combinations). I am also working on a new designer collection of finished pieces that will go with me to a very special, invitational art show in Switzerland, November 2012."

 

Exciting news! I can't wait to see what becomes of the second book. Thanks to Dale for answering my questions!

You can learn more about Dale's work and learn to create your own artistic wire jewelry through eighteen step-by-step wire-wrapping projects in her book-and-DVD combo Wirework: An Illustrated Guide to the Art of Wire Wrapping, on sale now in our HUGE StashBuster Sale in the Jewelry Making Daily Shop!

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