Alchemy Stones as Gifts

Aside from their appeal as personal talismans and small works of art, Alchemy Stones also make nice gifts for the holidays-- not only for people with an interest in metaphysics, but for those who appreciate hand made items.

We are currently offering Free Shipping on any purchase from our Alchemy Stone shop on Etsy, until the beginning of 2014. All you have to do is use the coupon code "FREE1213" when placing your order and checking out.

There are many new items listed for the holidays, with more being added daily.

Recently, I have been experimenting with brighter colors, and some of the designs have been turning out really well. Although my original drawings were always done in black ink on white paper, I really like the additional "dimension" of adding color.

Color also enables me to use the stones in ways that make the designs clearly visible-- always a challenge when work with black on a darker stone base.

We recently took Alchemy Stones "on the road" to a local Holiday Fair, and they were quite well received-- it was exciting because it represented the first time we'd taken the stones "out in public," as opposed to only having them online.

We'd like to wish everyone Happy Holidays, and hope you'll make Alchemy Stones part of your gift giving plans for the season!


Spirit Bear

Not all I find on the beach has to do with Alchemy Stones.

When I was out for one of my walks yesterday, I found something unusual: A "Spirit Bear."

Among collectors of such objects-- most prominently found among indigenous tribes of the US Southwest-- this would be known as a "natural fetish." In this case, loosely in the shape of a stylized bear. This particular piece is actually a fairly large gray banded agate that happens to have broken and been polished by rocks, surf and tides to this particular shape.

According to the mythology of the Zuni Tribe (located in New Mexico and Arizona, primarily), Bear has the power to heal and to transform human passions into true wisdom. Bear represents the power of healing through introspection and "going within" for answers... and reminds us that, to some, the period of hibernation may appear like a form of depression when-- in fact-- it is a period of healing and gaining strength for new challenges ahead.

Traditionally, Bear is also considered to be the Guardian of the West. Interestingly enough, I found this Spirit Bear as I was walking home towards the west, towards the setting sun. At first, I thought it was just a gray rock, but when I held it up to the sun... it became obvious that it was actually a piece of banded agate.

"Natural" fetishes (or "spirit animals") are quite rare and highly prized. Many people are probably familiar with the Zuni carved versions you often see in galleries throughout the Southwest.

Pictured here are a pair of modern Zuni fetishes featuring bears. On the left, a more "realistic" style; on the right, a more stylized version... closer to the traditional native carvings. As you can see, the shape of the "natural" bear does bear quite a resemblance (no pun intended) to the deliberately carved shapes.



Alchemy Stones have become a collaborative effort between my wife and myself, with each of us adding our part of what makes each stone unique.

I am the one who walks on the beach and finds the stones. The stones are then washed and I start working out the pattern that will go on each stone. The stones are then painted and dry for about 24 hours.

Once the stone is completely dry, it gets a thorough "inspection," during which I decide whether or not it seems "worthy." If the answer is "yes," it is signed and numbered on the bottom, and then protected with a durable coat of clear finish. After all, these stones were meant to be touched and handled, and we don't want the pattern to wear off.

In terms of durability, the clear coat is equivalent to a protective layer of marine-grade varnish.

My wife then creates and hand sews an individual silk or satin lined drawstring pouch for each stone. She has many different types of luxurious fabrics and decorations... and each bag is made specifically to "fit" the stone that will go in it. The bags not only offer a place to keep your Alchemy Stone, they are very beautiful, as well. She gets many requests to custom make these bags for other personal objects, but these treasure bags are only available with Alchemy Stones.


The Magic of Silver

Recently, I have started painting rocks again. Maybe it's the onset of of shorter days that's inspiring me to undertake more creative "indoor" ventures.

I have been working on designs using silver paint, and which also make use of more solid lines in the patterns, like this piece with a star.

Silver is interesting-- and rather tricky-- to work with because it's not really "paint," in the traditional understanding of the word. Rather, it's tiny metallic shavings in a liquid "suspension" of sort. I only use silver on very dark (almost black) rocks, because the suspension leaves behind a "shadow" of sorts, on paler backgrounds.

The end result tends to be rather magical, however. The properties of the silver decoration varies tremendously, depending on the light conditions. In bright light, silver patterns look more or less like they are "reflective white," and they are not necessarily the most eye-catching. However, in low light silver becomes brighter and almost luminous.

As a simple experiment, I was looking at this design while sitting at the table. Then I walked it down the dark corridor towards the bedroom... and the pattern totally "popped" in the dark. Part of the appeal of Alchemy Stones is precisely that they change appearance, right before your eyes.


How Long Does it Take?

I sometimes get asked "how long it takes" to create an Alchemy Stone.

That question is not as easy to answer as you might think. On the surface, we can look at the actual time it takes me to paint any given stone. That part is simple enough, and readily measurable.

A fairly "simple" design probably takes about 30-45 minutes to paint. A pretty complex one on a larger stone-- like this heart design I made as a gift for my wife-- can take several hours.

But that's a very simplistic answer, because there's much more to it than just painting.

How do you "count" the time it takes to find the stone, among the thousands out there on the beach?

How do you "count" the time that goes into working out the design in my head, before it is actually put on the stone?

How do you count the time that gets added on when I "mess up somewhere" and end up having to send a stone back to the beach because I draw a line or design element in the wrong place?

In addition, Alchemy Stones are a collaborative effort between my wife and myself-- for each stone, she creates a marvelous custom made and completely hand sewn pouch that's as much part of the stone as... well, the stone itself. How do you "count" the time that goes into the making of each bag?

In short, there's no easy answer to "how long does it take." It takes precisely "as long as it needs to."


The Shapes of Rocks: Long Stones

I have always thought "long" rocks were particularly cool.

For the most part, they are also pretty uncommon, mostly originating from "holes" in other kinds of rocks that filled with sediment of some kind, which then hardened into a rock... and was perhaps "released" when the other rocky material around it eroded away.

It's pretty rare to find igneous rocks (granite, basalt, etc) in long shapes, although there are exceptions. Most "long" rocks I find tend to be sedimentary in nature-- limestone, siltstone, sandstone, shale, etc.

No matter how you look at it, truly "long" rocks (like the one in the top of the photo) are quite rare. However, I really like working with this shape because it lends itself so well to having a "string" or "snake" design added. The dark stone in the center, with the white design, is a rare piece of "long" basalt I found, earlier this spring.

The two other (primary) shapes of rocks I like to paint on are flat rounds and thick oval (egg) shapes.



I don't-- as a general rule-- add a lot of "new" elements to my designs. Most of the time, the designs are merely variations on something I have tried before.

Recently, I had this idea that I wanted to incorporate spirals into the designs. I wasn't sure exactly how I was going to accomplish that... and not end up with something that felt not only contrived, but like I was floating too far away from the original designs inside my head... perhaps doing so only in the name of "novelty seeking," rather than because it genuinely felt right.

I spent several weeks turning over the idea of just how to incorporate spirals-- a basically round design element-- into patterns that are largely angular and linear. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I was better off adding the spirals as "accents," rather than incorporating them directly into the pattern designs.

Not many stones lend themselves to having spirals added-- on this stone, they seem to echo the basic "question mark" shape of the main design.

Not sure I am going to try this again, but it has since occurred to me that a string design in a spiral shape might be viable.


A Basic Design

Historically-- when I was drawing on paper-- it was always in black ink on a white sheet.

Stones-- being what they are-- don't offer such simplicity because they come in a myriad different colors and surface textures. Some are reflective, some are not. Some are rough, some are as smooth as a polished surface.

This is a fairly small stone with a pretty "basic" sort of design. The deep slate color of the rock would not have lent itself well to a black design, so I experimented with blue paint on this one.

Although this stone is not round, its shape lent itself pretty well to a circular design. However, because the stone's surface was slightly "sandpapery," it proved difficult to create very thin well-defined lines... one of the drawbacks of slightly rough surfaces is that the paint tends to "feather" when applied.


Design Origins

I really don't have much idea where the designs "come from." I'm not even sure what exactly triggered my desire to draw intricate little patterns, when I was a young boy.

I've tried to rationalize that it was just a form of "doodling" that took shape, over the years. My doodling became intricate because I spent a lot of time alone... and since we traveled all the time, things I chose to do (like hobbies) had to be very small, light and movable. But those answers just feel like excuses and rationalizations.

The images appear inside my head. I know they are partially inspired by nature, and by the detail I see in the natural world around us. When I was nine, my friends would "borrow" their parents' magnifying glasses to burn ants outside... I would borrow magnifying glasses to look at the center of flowers, or the construction of snowflakes.

Oddly enough, I have never owned a microscope... but macro photography became a hobby of mine, soon after I got my first "serious" camera. Some people are fascinated by landscapes and sunsets; some are brilliant at photographing people-- my thing was always to explore the "innerscapes" of everyday objects... sharing a point of view few of us ever pause to consider... or even see.

I once met someone else-- a girl in one of my 8th or 9th grade classes-- who drew very similar patterns. We never really interacted, but there was something comforting about seeing another person who seemed to "see" something in a similar way. Other than that, we were nothing alike, however. I was awkward and geeky and quiet; she was pretty, outgoing and "popular."

I discovered at an early age that drawing intricate patterns had no bearing on artistic ability or expression. My mom saw my "doodles" and figured I would be able to draw amazingly intricate art-- but I was miserable at drawing, painting and other forms of art, feeling lucky to scrape by with a C-, most of the time. I could never make anything I looked at look anything like realism, on paper.


Walking Meditation

I sometimes walk on the beach for up to eight or nine hours in one stretch.

Although I definitely have a "purpose" in being on the beach-- beach combing for rocks and other interesting objects-- these long wanderings are as much a "walking meditation" as anything else. Walking on the beach-- with no other sounds but those of waves breaking and an occasional seagull-- feels incredibly healing and cathartic.

I have heard it said that you can't really call something "meditation" unless you adhere to a structured practice, but I am not sure how much I agree with that. As a species, it sometimes feels like we humans are far too concerned with "describing" and "classifying" what we do... rather than simply doing what we do.

At times, my mind goes completely silent, and all I am aware of is the sound of the water, and the feeling of my feet on the sand. Everything else vanishes. Time seems to become very fluid. Sometimes I look at my watch and 45 minutes will have passed, even though it feels like a moment. At other times, only a couple of minutes will pass, but it feels like I have been "drifting around" for hours.

On many occasions, the walks are a way for me to solve problems in my head, carrying on dialogues with myself about how to address some issue, or develop some idea I've had in mind, for a while. When I come off the beach at the end of the day, I typically have much more clarity than when I started.

Of course, my memory isn't what it once was, so I always carry scraps of paper and a pencil so I can jot down a few words, should a moment of brilliant insight strike me!

It may not be "meditation" in accordance with certain classic definitions, but to me, it certainly is.


Choosing the stone

Not all stones can become Alchemy Stones.

In fact, the vast majority of stones I see are not good candidates, at all.

It's difficult to describe how the stones come to me-- in a sense, I would have to say that they "speak to me," as I walk along the beach. From somewhere in a pile of tens of thousands of beach pebbles sized from smaller than my finger nail to larger than a basketball, I "notice" one particular stone.

Why, exactly, it stands out... I don't know. But I feel compelled to pick it up.

But that's only the beginning of the selection process.

The next step is purely kinesthetic.

Unless a stone "feels right" in my hand, it can't become an Alchemy Stone.

"Feeling right" is a pretty nebulous concept, as well, involving the surface texture of the stone, the shape, the size, its curves and more.

Then, of course, it also has to be visually appealing-- not just overall, but in such a way that a pattern will "fit" naturally with its shape.

The long and the short of it is that very few of the thousands of rocks I see during any given six-hour trip along the beach actually make it home. One some days I may return empty handed-- on others I may come home with as many as a dozen new stones.

Either way, a true Alchemy Stone is a rarity.