Category Archives: DIY Projects

Platonic Fire

Fire 17
Swarovski Elements, Beads and Copper

I collected a lot of these Swarovski shapes in tones of Magma, Crystal Copper, Crystal Golden Shadow and Bronze and mated them with hints of Tanzanite and Provence Lavender.  The various effects and finishes combined to create a color palette reminiscent of flames.  The Copper wire shape is a concentric triangle, which is meant to symbolize the stately tetrahedron.  The tetrahedron, more commonly thought of as the “pyramid”, is one of the five Platonic solids that has been theorized, by Plato, to correspond with the “fire” element.  Hence the name Platonic Fire.

Here is how the design came together.  Looking at the elements, I decided how I wanted to arrange them.

Fire 01 Fire 02

  • How dense did I want the large elements to be?
  • What kind of structure could support that density?
  • How should the elements be arranged to best show off the variety of their colors and shapes?
  • What other colors and finishes and bead shapes and sizes would help bring it all together?

Fire 05

I formed a rough version of the concentric triangle design in 14 gauge copper wire.  Once I was confident that the shape was what I wanted, I hardened it with a hammer and anvil.

Fire 07

In the end, I arranged the rich red tones at the bottom, going up through the copper, topaz, and gold tones at the top.  The icy shades like Provence Lavender, Tanzanite AB2X and Violet Satin really looked great with the cool silver/blue/violet of the AB and AB2X finish.  Light Smoky Topaz AB2X looks like a blue/violet bead unless you look through it, into the light, where the subtle metallic brown of the bead can be seen.  Ceylon Topaz AB2X is a breathtaking color, like a champagne with frost.  Topaz with Glacier Blue is richly gold with occasional flashes of pure violet, a truly magical effect when seen in real life.

Fire 08 Fire 09

I wanted to incorporate this chain as an added support for these odd shaped elements.  The wire on the other side is 26 gauge antiqued bronze finish.  It is delicate and beautiful but not sturdy, and not likely to hold up against movement.  I did not know, at this time, whether I’d be able to pull it off, but that was my “plan”.

Fire 10 Fire 11

The red rectangle is being held with a temporary wire on the bottom to support it during construction.  I can replace it with the chain later.  The chain is held simply by threading it on to the 26ga wire before the wire is coiled onto the large copper triangle.

As you can see, the plan changed constantly during construction.

Fire 14 Fire 15

The triangles are not straight.  They are an organic, freeform shape, like the curves of a lick of flame.  This allows the design to shift as needed to accommodate the elements.  It is easier to make freeform designs look good than it is to make a rigid or straight design look good.  The roundness of the Swarovski Organic Triangles and Organic Squares were a great intermediate between the more symmetrical Swarovski elements and the freeform triangular base.  The 26 gauge wire is often curled in circlets and whisps to emulate the coils of smoke that rise from an open fire.

Fire 16

The final design turned out better than I had anticipated.  I liked the chain.  I love using the 3mm bicones.  Those are the smallest diamond-shaped beads.  They provide the just-right flash of contrast and the perfect tiny size to make those little adjustments.

Fire 17


In case you were wondering, I’m planning to do The Ether Element next.

Also posted in Wire & Stone

White Cherry Tree

WhiteCherry 08

This is a picture-by-picture explanation of how I made the above wire and gemstone tree.  Inspired by the flowering cherry trees with their big white flowers and subtle hints of pink, I designed this to be light and airy and full of bright spring energy.

Let’s start at the beginning with the copper hoop and a small selection of beads.  The copper hoop was made by hammering a length of 12 gauge copper wire until it was flattened (somewhat) and hard.  Hammering hardens the wire so it can keep its shape.

WhiteCherry 01

The square flat beads are moonstone.  The faceted beads are all Swarovski rhinestone beads in various colors including:

– Fire Opal AB2X, Fuchsia AB2X, Light Rose AB2X, Province Lavender, and Rose Water Opal

– All Swarovski bicone beads in 3mm and 4mm sizes

WhiteCherry 02

The branches are made with 26 gauge brown wire, but copper wire works too.  The wire for the branches should be about 4-1/2 times as long as the diameter of the hoop.  I take a length of wire, measure out two hoop-lengths (plus some extra), bend the wire at the measured point and consider that this will be the center of the length of wire.  Fold it back on itself and cut when you meet the tail end.

WhiteCherry 03

Join the branches together as you build down, alternating between branch designs to keep an organic feel.  Eventually, they will all come together to form the trunk.

WhiteCherry 04

Add some shorter branches to the middle of the tree.  They will keep the design from looking sparse.  Here is one that I created, first by making a long loop of wire to decide how long the branch should be…

WhiteCherry 05

Then I added the stones and twisted the wire back on itself to form the branch.

WhiteCherry 06

Continue adding branches, joining them together and building down.  The more variety you can include in the planning and architecture of your tree, the more organic the design will be.

WhiteCherry 10

If you notice an empty area, or if something isn’t coming together in a way you like, you can un-twist and un-join the branches and try again in a different way.  This generally works once or twice.  Any more redesigning and you risk breaking the wire.

WhiteCherry 11

The more you manipulate wire, the more brittle it becomes, until eventually it will break rather than bend.  For this reason, you should make gentle but purposeful twists.  Don’t twist too tight.


As larger branches are twisted together, it gets a little more challenging to make them blend together naturally.


I tend to spread out the wires of the individual branches and massage them together with my fingers as I twist the two bundles together.


In the end, it should look like one branch turning into 2 branches, not like unraveling rope.  You can avoid this challenge by always joining unequally sized branches.  The smaller one will tend to fall into the larger one.  But I tend to like the look of two big sections joining together.


On this tree, I created a strip of wildflowers across the horizon.  It was done with a single piece of wire, like this:


The strip was long enough to go across the width and coil at the sides of the hoop.  I twisted one root to the right side and one to the left side to stabilize the tree to the horizon.


I then started to spread out the roots in a radial pattern.  Some of the roots were coiled around the hoop and cut off.  Some were twisted around the hoop and back up and into the trunk.


Those are cut off and tucked into the trunk to make it thicker at the bottom, like an actual tree trunk.


And here is the end result!

WhiteCherry 07


Also posted in Wire & Stone

Decoupage Teacup Planter

Decoupage Cup with Oxalis by Laura Ockel 2

The cup and saucer came from Goodwill and cost about 50¢ a piece.

The decorations are hand cut out of scrapbooking paper and gold tissue paper from Michaels.  The flowers were cut using a Martha Stewart punch.

The papers were chosen to complement the clover plant (oxalis) which is green in front and wine in back.

Decoupage Cup with Oxalis by Laura Ockel 1

The oxalis was grown from a cutting of a single stem and leaf from my father’s best friend, Dominic.  I’d never seen an oxalis before.  It was like a surreally oversized plant from Alice in Wonderland.

Oxalis 7

I did not think the cutting would root, but I took it home in the little film container Nick had given me and watched in surprise as it refused to die for week after week.

Oxalis 2

When the growth of roots became apparent, I started to design the teacup planter to go with it.

Oxalis 1

My fiancee drilled a hole into the bottom of the cup using a drill bit made for glass.  It looked like an arrowhead.  IMPORTANT:  Drill the hole before doing the decoupage.  The drilling may break the cup, especially if it is your first time.  If you break a fifty cent cup from Goodwill, no big deal.  If you break a work of art you’ve just spent hours creating, it sucks.

Oxalis 4

I used gold metallic tissue paper for the saucer and for the bottom of the cup.  That way, the red cup would match the white saucer.  I used Mod Podge to apply the paper decorations.  I was careful to avoid leaving blotches of Mod Podge on the exposed ceramic of the cup.  If the cup had been covered with tissue paper (like most of my other pieces) it wouldn’t have mattered, but the glue would have looked sloppy on the ceramic.  For the finer details, like the flower shapes, I cleaned the crevices with a toothpick.

After the design was finished, I applied several coats of clear acrylic spray paint to protect it.  It was probably Krylon Low Odor Matte Clear, but it could have been Krylon Crystal Clear Gloss.  I used both for my decoupage cups.  I’ve now gone to using Rust-Oleum Triple Thick Glaze.  The Triple Thick Glaze needs to be applied liberally all over.  If you try applying a light layer, it develops a matte grainy texture.  If you apply it too thick, it can sometimes become cloudy and opaque.  If you try to apply some here now in one coat and some over there in a later coat, the area between the two coats gets grainy.  I’ve found that you’re in good shape if it looks evenly glossy when you’re done spraying.  As you might have noticed, I’m still working on the clear coat.

However, I did this cup a year ago and used several coats of clear acrylic and it has held up just fine.  To be sure, I have not gotten it wet or dirty, so the pristine condition is more likely an effect of the careful treatment than it is a tribute to the quality of clear acrylic.  The saucer did NOT hold up at all.  I’d given it extra protective coats, but as soon as it got wet, it formed a white opaque haze.  Months later, I sanded off the white opaque clear coat and applied Rust-Oleum Never Wet to the saucer.  Now that works.  It has a bit of a hazy blue finish, but that might have been a result of my… (what’s the polite word for incompetence?) and the haze is hardly noticeable.

Then I planted my oxalis.

Oxalis 6

The roots had grown into this paper towel I had used to wrap the stems.  No, I don’t know why I never bothered to remove the paper towel.  Partly because it was in an opaque film container* and I was afraid I wouldn’t notice if the water level dropped.  The plant lived, so maybe I’m on to something.

Oxalis 5

It sure looked pitiful when I planted it.  I used an olive pick to support it, and a little wire twist to hold it to the pick.  The plant had grown a new stem and clover while in the process of making roots.  I had a dream about kittens last night.  The baby clover reminded me of a kitten, but her ears were too round and she didn’t look she’d ever grow to be like her mum.  I must admit, I was starting to question the wisdom of designing a cup to match this sickly-looking plant.

I put the plant in soil on 4/14/14.  I got the cutting on 1/19 and I started on the cup two months later on 3/29.  On that day, she was growing all sorts of little sprigs.

Oxalis 8

Now she’s all grown up with flowers of her own.

Oxalis 9

Decoupage Cup with Oxalis by Laura Ockel 3

Hope you enjoy my articles & have a terrific day!


* Younglings – film used to go in little plastic cylinders with lids and you could re-use them for all sorts of stuff.  I put sand in mine when I went to the beach, which was rare.  Now that I travel more, I find myself missing those little stray film canisters rolling around in my camera bag, ready to hold some powdery sand and tiny, thin shells.  However, my pocket smartphone allows me to photo document my life in a way where I can show you a story instead of just telling it, and that makes me grateful for the digital age.       #rethinkingnostalgia


Zalia Dawn

Zales and Rhodies by Laura Ockel 2

My newest copper and rhinestone sun-catcher.  See it come together step-by-step…


Picking out the color palette.      4

The frame is made with 4 lengths of 14 gauge copper wire, hammered for texture and hardness.  The squiggly design inside the frame is made using 1 long length of 18 gauge copper wire, also hammered.  Hammering the metal makes it hard enough to retain its shape.

Use leftover wire snips to temporarily hold the design inside the frame as you secure the four corners.


Use 26 gauge copper wire to secure the corners.









The 26 gauge wire is also used to attach the beadwork.  I work with 1 and 1/2 ft of thin wire at a time, zigging and zagging it back and forth through the areas of the design I want to fill with colored beads.


In this design, I envision a flower with petals that range from soft pastel purple tones out to vibrant fire hues at the outer edges.  The squiggly wire outlines the petals and defines the center of the flower.

As the wire attaches the beads to the outline, it is also used to attach the outline to the 16 gauge frame.


Every so often, I look at the bead colors against an illuminated light background to make sure the colors transition perfectly in any lighting.

Once the design is complete, tie off the last of the wire strands by twisting them tightly around the outline.  Then cut the excess thin wire flush with the thick wire outline, and use your pliers to push the end down flat.10

The light pink/purple beads are Alexandrite.  Depending on the light, they may range from a soft lilac pink shade to a icy blue violet.  Alexandrite is one of the few color-changing beads available on the market.

The magenta bicone beads are Swarovski AB2X in ruby and light siam.  The AB2X finish gives them a blue/purple luminescence that ties them in with the Alexandrite beads in the center.

Most of the rest of these are inexpensive rhinestone beads that I’ve acquired over the years from various bead shows and craft stores.  The wire is easy to find on Amazon, or you can substitute 16 gauge for the 14 and 20 gauge for the 18.


Also posted in Wire & Stone

A Dry Champagne

ChampagneA by LauraOckel

Oversized barware has become a popular item in craft stores, but what can you do with them?  Well, here’s one idea.

By combining a mini succulent plant and a collection of crystals, I’ve created an airy, colorful demonstration of patterns in nature.

Champagne1 by LauraOckel

The bottom of the glass is filled with sand for drainage, but by using colorful sand, it becomes part of the design.

Champagne3 by LauraOckel


The succulent is placed on top of the sand while still in the original pot.  The surrounding area is then filled with pebbles (I used white aquarium gravel on this one) and coarse sand.

ChampagneB by LauraOckel


Try to keep the sand in the inner circle of the terrarium.  If you put sand over the top of the pebbles, it will trickle down through the rocks and look messy.  But if the outer circle of the terrarium has only pebbles, it will look well-manicured like a botanical garden.

For a step-by-step tutorial on making a sand art terrarium, click HERE.

The crystals used in this terrarium are amethyst and quartz, picked up from a local rock and gem show.

Champagne2 by LauraOckel

Champagne4 by LauraOckel





Also posted in Terrariums

Sun Daisy

Sun Daisy Rhinestone & Wire Wrapping

Sun Daisy by Laura OckelThis is my latest (and new favorite) wire wrapping project.  I’m going to post it on Pinterest because I’m curious to see if people like it.  If I get some pins, I’ll write up a tutorial with pics of the work in progress, the metamorphosis of the concept and the development of the color palette. This started out as a very abstract design, but the lower area started looking very organic, like a flower.  I was planning a speckled gradient from hot pink through fire opal and lemon into lime and hints of teal.  As the daisy emerged, I saw the upper right design as a sun and the rolling curves in the center as cumulonimbus clouds.  The sun has a pointy motif with an excessive quantity of Swarovski AB2X  bicones radiating like sun beams. The beads in the clouds were added more as a support than as a design element.  The piece looked good without them.  However, once I saw those round pave beads separating the sun from the daisy, I fell in love.  They really add dimension to the piece.  They set a clear separation, and their roundness somehow creates the illusion of depth.

Sun Daisy2 by Laura Ockel

Also posted in Wire & Stone

Next Up

Next time, turn an ugly teacup into an attractive planter using decoupage


& a new spin on terrariums – the underwater garden


Terrarium in a Glass – Lichen & Moss

Mossglass4   Moss1

I had a bit of leftover moss and lichen after putting my larger terraria together, so I thought I’d make something different.  I have a lot of old stemware that never gets used.  The champagne glass on the left is an antiquated style – horrible for champagne because the flat, open area allows the bubbles to dissipate too quickly.  Strangely, these glasses seem to be making a comeback this year, but mine have been wrapped in a box for the last two decades.

The wine glass on the right was my first terrarium in a glass and it’s still my favorite.  Even though the glasses are different shapes, the steps are basically the same.


The bottom of the glass is filled with sand for drainage.  I like to use multiple colors of sand.  In my earlier tutorial, Terrarium in a Glass – Cactus & Succulents, I discuss how to make the designs in the layers.


I’ve added a thin layer of potting mix above the sand.  Mosses are strange – their design is simpler than you would expect.  They don’t have roots or vessels to transport water.  Instead, they absorb water through their foliage.  When gathering moss, it is important to gather not only the foliage but also to get some of whatever the moss is growing on.  For example, if the moss is growing on a fallen log, try to collect some of the bark.

In my case, I ordered my mosses and lichens through Etsy.  Some of the specimens had wood/soil underneath.  However, the fern moss that you see below looks like endless fronds woven together in a giant fern carpet.  The only difference between the top and the bottom is that the top is greener.  The underside, and any fronds that are unraveled from the carpet, are brown instead of green, probably because they are not exposed to light.  So I don’t have any reason to believe the soil is necessary, but possibly the nutrients in the soil are being absorbed by the underside of the moss.  We shall see…

2moss 4moss

The stick has some lichen on it, and I thought it made a nice center and focus point of the garden.  I got these glass pieces as decoration, and now I am trying to arrange the stick, moss and glass rectangles in a semi-stable tableau that I can then build around with other accessories.

5moss 6moss

The variety of rock sizes is important.  Larger rocks will look like boulders, but only when there are tiny pebbles to compare them to.

7moss    8moss

I like to fill in most of the space with rocks and decorations.  This helps the garden to be more solid and stable.  I added a second type of moss along one side and decorated with black and white stones.

10moss  9moss

I finished this garden 2 weeks ago.  Each terrarium is misted daily.  I can tell you the mosses in the more enclosed terrariums are doing better than those in this garden.  Based on this, I would not recommend the open champagne or martini glass for moss, but rather a wine or brandy glass would be better.  I suspect the moisture evaporates too quickly here.

Moss2   moss3

The first moss and lichen garden still looks excellent.  This one has been done for 3 weeks.  The short, grassy moss is the easiest to keep healthy.  It was also the easiest to work with when putting the terraria together.  Every bit of plain grass moss is still a vibrant, deep green.  I’ve noticed that the water does not always evaporate completely from this garden from one day to the next, so I’m using less water in my daily misting.

Mossglass1   Mossglass3



Also posted in Terrariums

Terrarium in a Glass – Cactus & Succulents


Using stemware as an enclosure for a terrarium has a couple of benefits.  For one thing, your plants will be closer to eye level.  This provides an unusual and interesting perspective.  Plus, it’s chic on the cheap.  I haven’t seen anyone else making these (unique), and you can find plain glasses at Goodwill for pennies (if you don’t already have extras cluttering up your cabinet).

Cactus1      Cactus2

I’ve found a nice variety of little cactus and succulents in 2″ containers available from local plant shops and garden centers.  Generally, the plants are sitting a little low in their pots when I get them.  In order to get the soil level even with the top of the pot:

– Remove the plant from the pot gently (dirt and all).

– Add a little soil to the bottom (cactus mix is better than the standard potting soil for cactus and succulents)

– Stick the plant and original dirt back into the pot.

Now, hopefully, the bottom of the plant will be at the same level as the top of the pot.

Terrariums typically have layers of sand, rock and charcoal below the soil for proper drainage.  Since cactus and succulents require long dry spells, I’m not especially concerned about water accumulation and algae the way I would be with a tropical terrarium.

In order to get a feel for the plant, I want to give my cactus a good watering before putting it into the terrarium.  This way I can find out what quantity of water is needed.  I water my cactus terrariums with an eye-dropper so I can control how much water I put where, thereby providing a healthy even moistening of the soil without over-watering.


Instead of using plain, boring sand for drainage, I like to use colored sand.  I got a basic sand art kit which has given me a good stock of primary colors, and I’ve found mixing sands works well for creating custom colors.


The secret that makes this project possible is to plant the cactus in its original pot and conceal the pot with sand, pebbles, or whatever else you want to use.  You can put a bit of gravel and/or activated charcoal between the sand and pot just to be safe, then set the pot in the center of the glass on top of the sand.

Use a spoon or funnel to add new layers of sand around the pot.  If the cactus shifts away from the center, you can press it back into place with your fingers, or hold it with a pliers if it’s too pointy to touch.

4spoon     5layer

I haven’t read up on sand art, and I’m sure there are endless design possibilities, but I really like making stalactite patterns in my sand.  I do this by poking down through the layers with a drink stir.  There are other tools you could use, but the drink stir

– bends like the curve of the glass, and

– captures a few granules of the top level colors and deposits them below when you start to pull the stir back up  (-;

I poke out some stalactites every couple of layers.


Once the sand is even with the plant, use a small amount of sand to cover the soil and give the illusion of a desert in a glass.  I like the texture of large grain sand for my top layer, not only for its look but also because it seems easier for water to pass through it.


Add pebbles or decorations.  Use a cotton swab or damp paper towel to remove sand dust from the inside of the glass.

Cactus 3

This terrarium was designed for my fiancee’s office, a modern room in sage and brick and other earthy colors, decorated with a series of urban decay photographs and, of course, Josh’s five computer monitors.

The next one was for my office.  This overly-large wine glass made a perfect container for the cactus, and the lively color palette made it stand out against my “chianti” accent wall.  Plus, dry wine – dry desert… get it?

Desert2   Desert1

Also posted in Terrariums Tagged , , , , |