A few months ago we ran a survey for our readers and there was a reoccurring question about whether one could make a living being a jewellery artist. Some people asked specific questions wanting me to talk to a certain artist and find out what they made in sales vs how much they spent on materials. Other readers were not as specific but there was an overall hope that there was some magic path to follow to full-time employment at a jewellery artist.
The answer to the question is, Yes, you can make a living as a jewellery designer. But be careful how you define living! Many people have a vision that a full time jewellery artist designs jewellery and people buy it. But the path is more complicated than that.
Being self-employed is tricky as you wear many hats. Artists have to be able to handle marketing, business accounting, sales, shipping and receiving, customer service, inventory control, as well as design and manufacturing of your jewellery. When your desire is to create, stopping to look after marketing and accounting seems like it is taking you away from what you love. But it is those exact things that are keeping you working in your studio!
A jewellery artist needs to be able to self-promote on social media and have a web-site to show off their portfolios of work. Networking events are opportunities to meet new collectors and to show off your work. I personally find this part hard. I’ve worked for years promoting other artists, but always fall short when showing and talking about my own work.
But, all that said, many artists ALSO have jobs outside of their studio. Many work freelance jobs, taking on teaching and some have full-time employment. Most artists need to be good at budgeting as self-employed artists do not have pensions, medical plans or sick leave.
Another thing about being a self-employed artist–there is no time off. It is hard to balance home life and work life. I try to take advantage of blocks of time and get a task done from my to-do list. I keep a notebook and write down items as they come up. (I know there are fancy apps you can use on your phone.) I’m hoping I’m more productive by knocking off something from my to-do list here and therefore creating time off to be with my family. But shutting off the list and being present is something I’m working on!
In conclusion, yes, you can make a living as a jewellery artist just don’t lose sight of making a life while you make a living.
Jeannette Froese LeBlanc is a studio artist living in rural Ontario. She walks the fine line being making a life and making a living–trying to balance life as an artist and a mother. Currently she is working on a new line of jewellery using metal clay and mixed media. To see more of her work please follow her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sassyandstella/
Chicago based jewellery maker Marco Fleseri has been working with metal clay since 2003. “I made some crude dangly shapes and textured them using the point of a toothpick,” he told me. “I knew it had potential, particularly for creating things that would be difficult or impossible to produce using previous/ traditional methods.”
I asked Marco about his earliest memory of being creative. “When I was five years old I made some blobs that I thought resembled fish, using a papier-mâché I had fashioned by soaking crumpled facial tissue with glue. I sculpted the shapes and let them dry. I was later dismayed when I put my ‘fish’ into a bowl of water and they dissolved.”
Marco’s studio is in a building with other artists and I’m always interested to find out how organised other people are. “My studio is usually somewhat organized, unless I have several projects happening simultaneously.” I can relate to that!
Marco told me a bit about his creative process. “Sometimes I sketch things if I’m not sure how to execute them, in order to solve design challenges. Or if I have an idea for something that I know I might not get to for a while. Otherwise, I get an idea and immediately launch into making it. Sometimes the finished piece varies wildly from where my imagination started.”
He uses a combination of techniques to create his designs. “As metal clay is more expensive than working with sheet, wire, etc. I often use traditional metal-working techniques in conjunction with metal clay in the same piece.”
I asked Marco what influences his work. “Geometry, shapes, and patterns found in nature, machinery, architecture, and ancient art and adornments. I look at all of these, and make new variants on the shapes and combinations that resonate with me.”
So what is his style? “I don’t have a singular style, but rather three: very biological/organic, geometric/mechanical, and ancient/ethnic. I find all three satisfying for different reasons, and they keep my work from all looking the same.
Marco has done some teaching and I asked him about it. “I’ve taught beginning metal clay workshops and would like to do more of that. It’s fun watching students see the potential for what’s in their hands, and the excitement of seeing their efforts realized as metal objects.”
I asked Marco if he has a favourite piece of work. “My Helios pendant, which for me in 2009 was a triumph of combining the techniques of fabrication, metal clay and stone-setting.”
Finally, I asked Marco where he sees his work going in the future. “I would like to do more stone-setting, as I have collected some beautiful specimens that I want to include in upcoming work. I’ll go wherever the voices tell me to go…” he said with a smile.
Julia Rai is a teacher, writer and artist working in a variety of media. She is the director of the Metal Clay Academy and runs the Cornwall School of Art, Craft and Jewellery. She finds inspiration in science fiction and fantasy and loves a good story where disbelief can be suspended in favour of wonder. Her practical and ultra-organised side is always vyingfor attention alongside her creative and messy side. Each is trying hard to learn from the other and live in harmony.
Whether you need to create a simple loop to hang an earring or you need to string together a complex network of components, embedding wire in PMC is an essential design technique. When working with PMC, always use fine silver wire and make sure the wire is clean by running it through some clean folded 320 grit sandpaper. To insert eyelets, small loops, or prongs, slightly flatten the part of the wire you plan to insert in the clay and rough up the surface with a file to give more tooth for better grip. Insert the wire carefully into the wet clay, pull it back out dip it into the paste, and then reinsert. Remember, if you are inserting a loop, be sure to embed the bottom 1/3 of the loop.
If you are laying wire through a piece (for example, making a clasp) make your piece in two layers. When the pieces are dry, sand a groove into both halves and then generously cover both with paste. Lay the flattened wire into the groove and sandwich the pieces together. This will eliminate the bump from the wire.
With a little practice, the addition of wire to metal clay designs can expand your creative horizons tremendously!
Ruth Greening Having a lifelong love of art, Ruth has a diverse background that includes air-brush painting, Australian cake decorating, stone sculpture, lapidary arts, and fine wire wrap settings. Ruth is self-taught and enjoys learning from renowned teachers by attending classes taught in a wide variety of jewelry art disciplines.
Her introduction to PMC was a dream come true – to be able to work in silver with a true freedom in design. But the best reward is being able to share and enable others to create their own works of silver art through her role as a PMC Connection Senior Instructor.
This project is the third in a series presented by Cool Tools. A dozen artists will present projects that showcase their personal style and artistry using EZ960™ Sterling Silver Clay. Come and enjoy this unique opportunity to look over the shoulder of some of the world’s premier metal clay artists as they work.
Marco Fleseri presents a project that artists of all levels will enjoy. By combining fine silver with the metal clay he has taken away many issues with shrinkage and it makes the project more economical too! Enjoy and feel free to share your results with the artist.
Cuff Bracelet Project by Marco Fleseri
This is a how-to guide for creating your own version of my cuff bracelet which I called “Nelumbo vertabralis.” Inspired by vertebrae and lotus flower petals (“nelumbo” is the genus name for the lotus family of plants), this bracelet has an architectural quality while still looking very intentionally organic / biological.
For this bracelet I used EZ960™ Sterling Silver Clay, which is a premixed formula that can be fired in one stage on an open shelf (no need for carbon). Continue reading…
Genevieve Tucci Raised in Baton Rouge as part of an entrepreneurial and artistic family, my passion for creating began at a very early age in my mother’s art studio where I would sit every evening watching her paint, sculpt and design. I was extremely fortunate to attend Baton Rouge Magnet High School which offered stagecraft as an elective. Mrs. Ory, a saint in her own right, gave me confidence and the foundation to safely use powerful saws and tools while my mother gave me the confidence to learn any skill. After graduating LSU with a degree in Arts Administration, I strived for daily creative outlets in order the escape the 9-to-5 and this was also the time my husband and I bought our first home. It meant all the home projects I had been looking forward to could finally happen! It also meant my husband could get me power tools for Christmas, and I would be okay with it.
I have divided up part of my stash into 20 equal collections. Now I’m looking for 20 artists who would like to participate in a design challenge. Everyone will get the same amounts of vintage beads, chain, and crystals in their design kit. You can use them any way you want and with any media.
Basic Challenge Parameters:
-Due date: March 31, 2017.
-Must send images of finished piece to cre8tivefire (@) gmail.com.
-Must use 4 pieces of design kit in your finished piece. (1 piece = 1 bead, 1 component, or 1″ of chain)
-Artists can submit up to 3 pieces–either separately or as part of a set.
Oh and is there a prize?
Yes there is! I have 2 original vintage pendants from the 1960’s found at CJS Sales. A little piece of art history!
**Plus we will put together an interesting series of articles showing off the designed pieces, comments by the artists and a gallery. I think this would be really fun and it gives us a chance to work with unconventional materials and to stretch our design ideas!
Anyone game to join a design challenge? ***NOTE all kits have been claimed*** Stay tuned for the results!
Thank you readers for another year together creating new jewellery and sharing new ideas. Creative Fire is as always–for metal clay artists, by metal clay artists. It is our community of artists who generously contribute articles and share their photos and techniques. I am forever grateful and proud of our unique international community. We all are striving to learn and better our work as artists.
As seven years of jewellery making draws to a close I’d also like to thank our sponsors for continuing to support our site. PMC Connection, Mitsubishi Trading Materials Corporation, Rio Grande, Cool Tools, Metal Adventures and Metal Clay Academy.
Best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season and Happy New Year!
Jeannette Froese LeBlanc
Editor, Creative Fire www.cre8tivefire.com
We are proud to present the 2nd project in a series brought to you by Cool Tools using their new metal clay, EZ960™ Sterling Silver Metal Clay. Cindy Miller created a beautiful project that both new and experienced metal clay artists will enjoy.
Images of owls have been recorded in art and literature throughout history from the Greek and Romans to numerous Native American tribes. The owl represents wisdom and is associated with inner sight. The owl is associated with the night it has played on the imagination of people throughout time. Here’s a link to learn more about Owl mythology. This is Cindy’s interpretation of an owl totem amulet necklace.
To learn more about our featured artist, please see Cindy’s artist profile by Julia Rai. Cindy was very candid and talked about her journey to becoming a full time jewellery designer. Continue reading…
A few artist friends have mentioned how bold customers are getting asking for discounts. Oh I know how difficult that is to deal with when you are put on the spot. You want to make a sale, but not at that price. An artist who sells only online says that online customers are even bolder and will ask for 50% discounts. Sometimes even asking for free products in exchange for an article or promotion. The internet seems to give people a veil to hide behind as they are not saying things to the person’s face. An experienced artist once told me not to lower my prices and not to bend to the pressure of discounts. She said that it was so easy to go down in prices, but to bring them back up is harder. If your new low price is known, it becomes your new price.
As the time before the holidays speeds up and patience runs thin, this is a great time for you to set your business apart from the rest. Instead of just making a sale–go above and beyond with your customer service. Did you know that there were trends in customer service? Me neither! I found this article about it. Things to think about adding to the service you give your clients:
Make it easy for customers to get help from real people;
Obsess over every detail of the customer experience;
Be proactive, and don’t wait behind a desk for customer contact
The last point is a good one…ask your customers for feedback. Sounds scary. But it is a great way to learn ways to modify designs, packaging, shipping…etc. I’ve done this in the past and have turned a few buyers into friends. I took their advice and modified my jewellery designs. Win-Win for both of us.
Imagine chatting about the history and the future of jewelry design while sitting in a warehouse stacked floor to ceiling with boxes and boxes of mostly vintage beads and jewelry making components. What an astounding wonderland of inspiration! I metwithCarlandElyseSchimel,co-ownersofCJSSalesinNewYork City, one of my favorite places to head for a creative boost.
(Image: Wire wrapped stone necklace design by Carl Schimel.)
The CJS Sales warehouse is located on 36th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues in New York City. Savvy jewelry designers can spend hours poring through this extraordinary trea-sure trove that holds literally millions of vintage beads and jewelry making supplies with limitless design potential. The Schimels are constantly seeking out great buys on anything that might be used for making jewelry and accessories.
“We bought a chandelier store that went out of business…[and] a rhinestone factory. We try to keep things that will be inspiration for people and [are] also unusual and different. We price at what we bought it at, so you can get quality vintage parts that are not found on today’s mar- ket at great prices,” said Elyse. To help designers compete and allow their work to stand out, Elyse and Carl sell only to wholesale customers who come to the warehouse. “We do not sell on the internet or show broad images. We do this to protect our buyers. Our customers are very knowledgeable. We believe in promoting design- ers, fostering new ones, to give them an edge.”
(Image: The Milwaukee Sentinel – July 31, 1969)
As a jewelry maker, I marvel that Carl stayed constantly ahead of the curve with his fashion-forward jewelry designs for more than 50 years. It was fascinating to listen to him talk about why he created the line and the manufacturing hurdles he had to overcome to get “Kim Crafts- men” jewelry out to buyers.
I was curious about how the Kim Craftsmen showroom and design space morphed into this vast warehouse of jewelry making supplies.
Elyse explained, “When Carl was liquidating [his jewelry manufacturing business] I started cold calling people. He thought it was cute [and] he was giving me a 100% commission. I started to bring in big accounts, he started to buy [at] fire sales and we started a wholesale liquidation business.” Carl adds, “If I had to describe the business I’d say it is a designer’s quarry. Designers come here to dig out treasures.”
I can personally attest to the digging! When I pay Carl and Elyse’s warehouse a visit, I come prepared by dressing as if I were to go climbing, I bring a rolling suitcase (after one visit where I lugged 30 lbs of beads in a shoulder bag thirteen blocks in NYC) and of course water and a cell phone—in case I get lost or to keep track of time. Losing a day in here is an easy thing to do!
As Elyse showed Art Deco glass beads, unfinished brooch components from the 1950s and mouth-blown glass beads, her father talked about how the artist’s hand should be apparent in his or her work. Carl used the term analog to explain how he worked. “To me [using] a pencil is analog. When you write with a pencil there’s pressure, there’s a difference in how it looks. You can write the same thing ten times…it will be the same each time but [also] different. When I caged stones using wire wrapping the concept being used was ‘mass individuality’; everyonecould have a caged stone but all of them were different.” Today he is intrigued by the idea of what he might have made if metal clay had been on the market when he was making fashion jewelry. “What happens is, as an artist you use the materials that are available at that time in the best ways that you can. But can you imag- ine what Alexander Calder would have done if [metal clay] had been available to him?”
Elyse models one of her father’s body jewelry pieces. This image is reminiscent of a photo from a 1969 newspaper article about his work.
Calder, a world renowned sculptor best known for inventing the hanging kinetic sculp- ture form known as a mobile, had a tremendous influence on Carl’s jewelry design. “When I got his…enormous book of jewelry it showed him working in his studio…a lot of his style of jewelry was much more understandable to me. He wasn’t using goldsmith tools, sized for jewelry making. His tools were large anvils with heavy handles, blacksmith tools, as he was used to making large mobiles and stabiles so there’s immediacy to the way Calder worked, and it showed in his work. If you look at his pieces, there’s a freshness still to his work. You can feel the hand, the way he twisted and moved to create his pieces. That’s analog!” Carl exclaimed. “You can always recognize his tools…for example if he used a hammer with a scratch on it, it would show on his piece like a fingerprint.” Carl went on to explain how metal clay is analog. “It is hands-on. In an age where a tremendous amount of design is going digital, the look is just opposite—180 degrees opposite. I’m sure [the artists using digital design tools] are very, very fine designers. It doesn’t look like jewelry that I’m used to. Metal clay takes me back to when we made jewelry. And we wanted to call it ‘Artistry in Metal’ because at that time, in the 50s and 60s and 70s, bench designers sat down and worked with the material, they under- stood the material. Metal clay is another vehicle for artists to express themselves. It is a phenomenal material….”
(Photos of jewelry by Kim Craftsmen, a company owned by Carl Schimel and his brother.)
I couldn’t agree more! Combine metal clay with some of the vintage beads and findings at CJS Sales and you’d have an exquisite combination of a modern material matched with vintage beads. If travel to New York City is not an option, seek out your own local charity, “antique” shops, or online for vintage elements to add to your own jewelry. When I find my creativity waning, a visit here spurs new ideas in new directions. It is like going to a museum for in- spiration, except that here you can take home the items that inspire you and use them in your work! Elyse showed me old pedals from a ma- chine. I forget what machine they were for because I was focused on the typeface used for the logotype imprinted on them! Inspiration for a new line of necklaces, perhaps? Now how to explain to the TSA agents at the airport that I need to bring home a half dozen metal pedals even though I have no idea what they are for!
CJS Sales: www.cjssales.com, 16 West 36th Street, 2nd floor, between 5th and 6th Aves., New York, New York 10018 (212) 244-1400