WATERLOO – Necessity is the mother of invention — and for Caroline Francis, the adage proved true.
While at a comic-con event with her brother about five years ago, Francis prowled the craft tables “looking for something fun and funky and sparkly to wear.”
No such luck. So Francis decided to create her own affordable, wearable art. She taught herself water marbling techniques and began making jewelry.
Now she sells her necklaces and earrings at art festivals like the Holiday Arts Festival at the Waterloo Center for the Arts, Cedar Falls’ Artapalooza and the Waverly Art Walk and others.
“I love it so much. Once I got started, I just couldn’t stop. I’ve always had that ‘can-do’ spirit,” says Francis, who is communications and operations manager at the University of Northern Iowa School of Music in Cedar Falls.
“Originally I wanted an excuse to hang out with my geeky, gamer comic-book friends and sell something at comic-cons, but it’s become something else for me. My jewelry has a kind of pop culture feel, but it can be very elegant, too.”
Cabochons swirled in sparkling colors in seemingly endless, random patterns dangle from slender chains. She displays them in black-lined jewelry cases or hangs them from hooks. The artist also makes bubble necklaces with charms and creates custom pieces for clients.
The water marbling process is “amazingly easy, but time consuming,” she says. Francis watched a few instructional on-line videos and then began experimenting. Her technique uses clear glass gems or cabochons, water, acrylic nail polish, toothpicks and waxed paper. She’s tried numerous brands of nail polish and has a soft spot for KleanColor glitter polishes and OPI.
Francis began making bubble necklaces when she wanted to create something meaningful for her mother’s birthday. She uses Photoshop to create graphic designs and images and finds favorite quotes to use — “She’s filled with secrets,” “I move the stars for no one” and “I’m a leaf on the wind,” for example. Printing the design and quote on acid-free paper in a laser printer keeps the ink from running when it is adhered to the bubble piece.
The Columbus High School graduate studied music at Berklee College of Music in Boston. While a college student, she founded Memory Music, a nonprofit artistic development company, sang and played piano professionally throughout Boston, recorded several albums with original lyrics and taught private music lessons.
After graduation, she entered the music business with an interest in artist and repertoire development, but continued to perform professionally. In 2002, she damaged her vocal cords. Rather than take a break and heal, “I sang through it. I basically did a tap dance on my vocal cords,” she recalls.
That injury — and the music industry’s shift to digitalization — convinced her to find her way back to Iowa. “And my family brought me home. My parents are getting older, time is fleeting, and I decided I wanted to be where I could make a difference. But I still love music and play and write songs.”
Francis and her sister Holly, previously owned Pandora’s Box, a gaming shop, which closed in 2007. She’s been working at the UNI School of Music for 12 years, and a little over three years ago, married Justin Francis.
She’s happy to have discovered her passion for jewelry making. “It answers my need to be creative, and attending art festivals and shows has given me a great excuse to travel,” Francis adds.