Last month we ran a survey for our readers and there were some really great comments and questions. One theme that repeated itself was about “making a living” at selling your work.
Here are a few of the reader questions: “How can I make a living at my art?” “How do you balance a personal life, regular work and creative time?” “Does anyone make a living selling metal clay jewelry?” “Can you make a living as an artist when you work with metal clay? This question could be asked to any “regular” person, like you and me ;)!”
I could have asked any of these questions! So I’m not the expert with the answers. But I have done a bit of research and I have some resources to share. The first thing I’d like to address comes from a conversation about these very topics with my father. He told me to “never pay too much for an income” and to “make a life, not a living”. Sage advice from a person I admire. I think his words address the question someone had about balancing work life and creative life. You can become a slave to your work even if it is your calling and by consequence miss out on family and friends. Many artists throughout history have sacrificed for their art. I have struggled with “work-life-balance” myself. I’ve had to choose what is the most important–not just to me but to my family and so creative time often gets missed even though working in my studio is like breathing for me. I decided that I’d never regret giving the time to my children. They won’t always be around but my many unfinished pieces of “art” will be there.
Question: “Does anyone make a living selling metal clay jewellery?”
Yes, I think there are artists who do! However, given that the job of “artist” lacks a regular pay check, artists have to rely on many revenue streams. Artists living off their craft work hard at marketing their work, they sell on many platforms such as shops, online and shows, they teach, and most have varied jewellery lines and some sell products. I would encourage you to find artists pages online, their sites and so forth and see how hard they work at “making a living”.
Question: “I would love to ask many of the high profile artists for more detailed information on how they achieved such name recognition/built their business in this community. And, if it supplies their full income, possibly even in the absence of a lot of travel teaching.”
This short talk by Paul Klein about finding your niche, removing obstacles and finding a mentor provides a great answer to the above question.
“Artist and career advisor Paul Klein emphasized the importance of being different. He insinuated that distinctiveness generates sales–even more so than quality. “Can’t all of us name artists who are doing really well monetarily, whose work we think sucks?” The branded artist doesn’t necessarily produce better work, but more bankable work.” Quote from this article in Forbes.
In “Part 2″ I’ll find answers to the questions about the nuts and bolts of business such as inventory, tracking, descriptions of work.
My closing comment is to be yourself. I know that sounds so cliche. But it’s so true. I’ve been looking at metal clay jewellery for over a decade. (gasp) and I can almost without fail look at a photo of a piece of metal clay jewellery and tell you the name of the artist (and if I’m wrong–usually that person was the “inspiration” for the work). We need more work that stands out. In another article I found on Forbes by Jessica Hagy she shows why weird can be bankable. Yes…be weird, but let your own distinct artistic voice show in your work!
Image credit for opening image: Location Pillar in the stairwell of the UT Austin Art Building was up for two weeks
Jeannette Froese LeBlanc is working on becoming a distinct and profitable jewellery designer. From her studio in rural Ontario, Jeannette tries to balance life as a mom of two (very) active children and earn a living from her jewellery. You can find her work online and in several boutiques. www.SassyandStella.com
In Gordon’s project, he shows how to make a Pangolin ring. It is an awesome piece of jewellery modeled after a very interesting animal. His project is quite timely too as countries have started to come together to sign a trade ban on Pangolins. (NY Times article.) Learn more about this animal. (Telegraph UK article.)
Pangolin Metal Clay Ring by Gordon Uyehara
The pangolin has the unfortunate distinction of being the most trafficked animal in the world. Often referred to as scaly anteaters, these unusual mammals are hunted for their meat and tough scales that cover their bodies. Practitioners of folk medicine claim they are the cure for many human ailments. Pangolin scales are made of keratin, the same fibrous protein found in hair, horns, and nails. When threatened, a pangolin rolls itself into a ball so only its impenetrable scales are accessible. They can also emit a strong odor like a skunk. Pangolins are equipped with long, sticky tongues, and claws, in order to feed on ants and termites. All eight species of pangolin are on the endangered list due to poaching and loss of habitat. Two species of pangolin are considered critically endangered.
In this challenging sculpting project, I put the workability of the new EZ960 clay through its paces and feature the prehensile tail of a tree pangolin as a ring. The body is hollow form, while the tail is solid. This project idea could translate well to any animal with a similar clinging tail. My piece came out a little too bulky to be practical but the concept is valid. For a less intense experience, one may decide to choose a subject with less scales. The scale pattern would, however, look right at home on a dragon. EZ960 performed very well and made this project achievable without much ordeal.
Materials and tools: EZ960 50g Sterling Silver Metal Clay
Polymer clay or any clay that hardens
Scribe or lettering tool
“v” micro carving tool or similar
crossing needle file
Ring mandrel and stand
Sandpaper and sanding paper
3M radial bristles (blue, 400-grit)
Common metal clay tools
1) Sketch your design. The more complicated a project, the more important it is to do a sketch. It can help you decide how best to construct the project as well as help with proportions. A rough sketch is better than nothing and will improve the outcome of your project. Draw it out as many times as necessary until it looks correct. This also increases your understanding of the subject and you will improve your drawing skills the more you do it.
2) Make a model. Use modeling clay. This is like a rough three-dimensional sketch and will help determine the size of your piece. It doesn’t have to be nice or have much detail.
3) Make a drying form. I used old polymer clay and based the size on my model. Whatever clay you use, make sure to test that the metal clay can release from it after drying. This will be for the hollow body of our animal. Remember, for sizing purposes, the metal clay will be laid over this drying form, and later the form will shrink during firing. Inspect the form from all angles and adjust as necessary. Bake or harden as per manufacturer’s instructions.
4) Mark drying form. Bisect the drying form with a marker, so two halves can be created from it and then later joined to create the body.
5) Make the body. Roll out clay to four cards thick on a non-stick sheet. Using the drying form as a guide, cut out a shape larger than one-half of the drying form. Lay clay over the form, gently press the clay to the form and trim to the bisection line. Press lightly until the clay stays on the drying form, while making sure not too thin the metal clay. Dry clay completely. A hair blow dryer or dehydrator is useful in expediting this process. Gently remove dried metal clay from the form and set aside. Repeat for the other half of the body.
6) Adjust the edges. Use a craft knife to whittle away any protrusions that prevent the sides from meeting nicely. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
7) Join body halves together. Dampen the edges with water and use a thick paste made from the metal clay lump. Dry.
8) Fill and smooth the seam. Roll a thin snake and moisten it. Position it over the seam and use a clay shaper to blend it into the seam. Smooth it further with a paintbrush. A lightly oiled fingertip sometimes helps with smoothing a wet surface. Similarly, fill any holes with moist clay. Dry as necessary.
9) Correct body form. If necessary, add clay to adjust the shape to match your target form. Also remember, that the body form will be attached to the ring section later. Dry and smooth the entire surface with 400 and 600-grit sandpaper or the more flexible sanding papers. Do not thin the body form wall by over sanding.
10) Make the legs out of metal clay. They can be hand shaped or created from cardstock stencils, like I did. I rolled the clay out to 8 cards thick. Dry and smooth the edges with sandpaper.
11) Determine where the legs should be attached to the body and mark with a pencil if desired. Attach the feet with moist lump clay, dampened liberally with water and positioned between the pieces to be joined. Press the pieces together. Blend the extruded moist clay into the join with a rubber tip shaper and then a paintbrush. Dry. Fill the seam further with moist clay snakes. Smooth with sandpaper after drying so the limbs transition into the body form nicely.
12) Size the ring. Using a ring sizer, get a measurement of your finger. Add two and a half sizes (US) and position a strip of non-stick work surface on the ring mandrel for that size. Shrinkage may vary according to the shape of the ring. Tape the work surface strip to itself snuggly so it can be slipped off the mandrel later.
13) Create a tapered snake. This is for the tail/ring section. Use an acrylic snake roller. It should be about 4-inches long. Remember the larger end will be attached to the body, so look at the form to get an idea of the size. When there is sufficient length to your snake, gently press down on it, rocking from side to side, to flatten it a little (a pangolin’s tail is more flat toward the end). Brush some water onto the tail form.
14) Wrap the tail form around the mandrel. Position it over the non-stick work surface that you positioned earlier. Since the larger end will be attached to the body, it can be bent up a little. The rest of the tail should be wrapped nicely around the mandrel with the snake sides touching. Dry.
15) After drying, slip the tail section off the mandrel and gently remove the non-stick surface from the clay. Fill in the inside seam of the tail with a moist snake of clay. Blend with a clay shaper and paint brush. Dry and smooth with sandpaper.
16) Mark the design with a pencil, starting with the head and then moving back. Do it in sections since handling the piece as you carve tends to rub off the pencil marks.
17) Carve along the pencil marks using a scribe and/or crossing needle file. On the larger design areas, use a mini v-gouge. Always make sure the area you are carving is supported with your fingers so it doesn’t flex. Define detail with the edge or folded edge of a piece of 400-grit sandpaper. Smooth with 600-grit sanding paper. Finish all the detail on the body up to where the tail will be joined.
18) Join the tail. Position the body next to the tail on the mandrel. To hold the body in place, I used some polymer clay on the mandrel. Later, the piece will have to be slipped off the mandrel so make sure the polymer clay lump isn’t stuck to well. Shape the tail end to match the body if necessary. I used a craft knife to remove some clay. Sand and give the tail its general shape before attaching. To join, dampen both sides. Liberally dampen a smashed lump ball of clay with water. Place it on the tail end and then gently push the body onto the tail. Blend any extruded clay back into the join area with a clay shaper and a paintbrush. Dry and fill as needed and then smooth with sandpaper.
19) Carve the tail. Continue with the carved design from the body into the tail/ring. Always support the area you are carving with your fingers and exercise patience so you don’t stress the joins.
20) Fire as per manufacturer’s recommendation. I fired a test piece first since I hadn’t fired this clay before. Satisfied with how the test piece came out, I prepared my pangolin for firing. Normally, for a piece of this size and weight, I would have supported it with just fiber blanket. However, since there were reports of fiber blanket sticking, I placed kiln paper pieces between the art and the fiber blanket. I placed the whole thing in a bowl of vermiculite to keep it together.
21) Adjust the ring. If the ring became misshapen during firing, place it on a metal ring mandrel and gently tap it out with a leather mallet.
22) Finish the ring. Brush, patina, and polish as desired. I brass brushed and used 3M radial bristles (blue, 400-grit) for the harder to reach areas. Then I used a patina gel to darken it and a sunshine polishing cloth to bring contrast to the details.
About the artist: Gordon K. Uyehara continues to be a metal clay artist. In Hawaii, he seeks the wondrous in the mundane because he thinks it is there. He shares his findings on social media with the quite unfounded belief it is raising the collective consciousness. Some ideas venture out of his head and eventually manifest themselves as silver, bronze, or copper art. He strongly dislikes doing the dishes.
I’ve been an admirer of Cindy Miller’s work for a long time so I was really happy to have the opportunity to find out more about her for this profile.
(Photo: “Branch with Labradorite and Drops” Necklace by Cindy Miller)
Raised in Alabama, Cindy is now a full-time studio artist. “I’m single and live in Athens, Alabama with my Maine Coon Cat Taz – she’s a big girl and ‘helps’ me a lot,” she smiled. “I have also been adopted by several feral cats that live in the neighborhood so I always have an escort to my car. I live on the Tennessee River next door to my sister and her husband. They have created a beautiful retreat at the river and being there is very relaxing.”
A beautiful bracelet by Terry Kovalcik made with Sterling PMC Photo: Corrin Jacobsen Kovalcik
I was recently asked by PMC Connection to test the new sterling metal clay by Mitsubishi. I was excited, but also a little intimidated when I thought about all of the beautiful pieces made by testers of PMC products over the years: Hattie Sanderson’s rings, Celie Fago’s rings and charms, Terry Kovalcik’s bracelets. I worked hard on my experimental test pieces, but I didn’t end up with anything that will grace the posters and ads for the new clay. I did learn some things that I’m sharing in the hopes that my mistakes benefit other metal clay artists.
Let’sfaceit,asartisansmostofusfailatmarketingourselvesandour work.We hope buyers will flock to us out of nowhere and our pieces will magicallysellthemselves.For some of us the very thought of it fills us with fear and trepidation, so we chose to ignore it. If we do, then we are not hungry enough, or if we are, we choose to scratch out an existence instead—huntingfor change between our sofa cushions, eating beans out ofa can—and foresee ourselves spending our nights on a car seat. Well, maybe it won’t get to that but we will spend our time wondering why we have few buyers and agonizing over whether or not our work is good enough. This is not the artisan life we want; it is counter-productive and barely surviving.
Without a well-thought-out strategic marketing plan chances are slim you will be successful at making money at your craft. You have to conquer your fear and change your attitude. If you don’t know how to market your items, then it’s time to learn. If you think of it as an extension of the creative process instead of separate from it, then your attitude will change and you might even develop a passion for it. There is nothing like a few sales as a result of your efforts to spur you on. Let’s get busy and see what you can do to get your name and your work out there in front of the buying public. Continue reading…
SOLDERING BEYOND THE BASICS By Joe Silvera, Kalmbach Books, 2014.
I always tell my metal clay students that adding basic soldering to their repertoire can add versatility to their work. Until I took a class on production soldering with Joe Silvera, however, I didn’t realize just how many possibilities there were for more advanced soldering techniques to enhance my metal clay practice. Not everyone has such a skilled teacher available. Luckily, anyone with basic soldering experience and access to a torch can use Silvera’s new book to ramp up their skills.
Section one is full of information about tools, including types of torches and how to set them up and adjust them. It gives in-depth descriptions of materials such as flux and solder as well as some basic stone-setting directions. The author understands the limitations of home studios and his section on setting up a studio is down-to-earth and practical, with an emphasis on safety. Throughout the book Silvera suggests nontoxic products whenever possible. All the projects can be completed with the reader’s choice of a butane torch or a small tank torch system. Continue reading…
Last week I went camping. While away I didn’t check the news. I had no phone calls. And no mirror. For a week it was just me and my family. On the way home we decided to drop in on a relative for a visit. It was then that I suddenly saw what we were wearing and realized my daughter had not combed her hair in days. Then I realized I hadn’t combed my hair in days either. It’s not that we didn’t have time! It just wasn’t important. Continue reading…