In her Honolulu studio, Catherine Weitzman has found her somewhere-over-the-rainbow: “We have a large open space with views of a valley, which is a great spot for rainbow sightings,” the jewelry designer tells us. And in the late afternoons, the magic deepens thanks to the two “very old hula schools” in the complex, says Catherine: “We can often hear ukulele music coming through the windows.”
When it comes to creating jewelry, Kathy Bransfield can’t stop, won’t stop. “My main drive is the fact that each piece has so many different meanings for its owner,” she says. “Whether it’s a piece with humor, a piece that can be a talisman of inner strength, a reminder of a precious friend or lover or a necklace that brings healing after a loss — this is what touches me the most and keeps my heart on fire.”
Bransfield, who works out of a studio three blocks from her home in Culver City, California — with her husband Eric and mother-in-law Rochelle — shared her off-the-chain story with us in a series of email exchanges.
When did you first know you wanted to be an artist?
As far back as I can remember! I loved to draw and do any type of craft project I could get my hands on. My dad told me I couldn’t refer to myself as an “artist” until I sold something. So when I was about 9 or 10, I would go door-to-door selling handmade Christmas tree ornaments. Later, I had the pleasure of painting alongside the ever so lovely Bob Ross (on his PBS show The Joy of Painting). I sold the oil paintings I did for $50 each — mainly to family, of course. I was 13 years old and felt I had proven dad wrong. Oddly, I still never refer to myself as an artist. Ha!
Nature is so integral to your work — and words, too. Why do you think that is?
As a kid I loved climbing trees so much that I would often sit on a specific high limb like a recliner and eat my lunch. I have always felt more connected to my own soul by being in nature. I’m also an avid scuba diver so a lot of my inspiration comes from under the sea as well as above. Seeing the shapes of the coral and the different types of grasses waving in the water is like being in a dream.
As for language, quotes have helped me through some of the most challenging times in my life. And they continue to aid me on a daily basis to keep things in perspective. They remind me about love, possibility and what’s important in life — how we should never give up on our dreams, never forget that dear loved one and, most importantly, never forget who we are.
What are your most essential tools?
By far, my vintage sets of letter stamps, my heart and my husband, Eric, who runs the business!
Is there a talisman you keep around you when you work?
Mostly, other artists’ work surrounds me in my studio — it reminds me of how much I want to strive to be more profound in my creative process. But I do display one thing I made in 1989 while living in Lake Tahoe. It hangs on the light of my bench and is made from an old pair of pants I had at the time, wooden and glass seed beads, vintage glass beads from the 1800s and amber teardrops. It’s filled with tiny treasures that have held meaning to me over my lifetime. The feather that sticks out represents my loving relationship with my husband.
Where do you typically draw inspiration for your pieces?
The obvious things make the list: hearing my children’s infectious laughter, traveling to beautiful places and engaging with great minds. I’m always trying to absorb the world around me with eyes wide open. I’ve found great quotes everywhere from a bathroom in a bar in Mexico to an inscription on a gravestone and everywhere in between. I love being moved by words every single day of my life.
Do you wear the pieces you make?
Never! I’ll be in conversation with someone that I’ve just met and they’ll ask me what I do. I tell them I make jewelry, and, immediately, they scan my empty neck and ears in confusion!
Because sayings are so important in your jewelry, is there a quote or mantra that keeps you motivated?
There are probably too many, but I will try to restrain myself:
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” —Oscar Wilde
“Wherever you go… there you are.” (That’s me running in circles!)
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” —Marianne Williamson
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever gotten on one of your pieces?
Someone came to my booth at an arts and crafts show I did about 15 years ago. She showed me her necklace that she had bought from me years prior. It looked like it had been in a grease fire, and sat on by an elephant. A third of it consisted of her hair wound through it! I immediately offered to take it and clean it. She said absolutely not — she never ever took it off and never would. The story she told me of what it meant to her had me bowled over. She had only stopped by my booth to let me know and say thank you. It helped me to see my work and its meaning for others in a whole new light.
Best yet, Eric and I were up in the wine country in Northern California once. While standing in line to buy champagne, I noticed the couple behind us were wearing the matching Missing Piece Puzzle Necklaces. I awkwardly chatted them up asking where they had bought them. Their answer? UncommonGoods!
As a B Corp certified company, UncommonGoods is excited about sustainability. That means more to us than just being “green” – we strive to offer products that reflect the environmental and social best-interests of everyone. So, when our makers are as concerned with sustainability as we are, we’re always excited to learn more about their process and the positive impact they’re having on the world.
While many of our makers rely on sustainable practices at one point or another in their process, we’re especially excited about those who place the wider world at the forefront of their craft – those who are making an uncommon impact. Meet Margaret Dorfman, designer of fruit and vegetable inspired jewelry and tableware like the Parchment Blossom Earrings and the Vegetable Parchment Platter, and see the ways that she’s striving to be sustainable in the face of drought in California.
“Sustainability is important simply because the trajectory of consumption and waste around us is not supportable.”
When I received the smile-from-ear-to-ear news that I would be visiting Judi Powers’ workspace for a studio tour, I didn’t even try to hold back my excitment. As the go-to person who organized the design challenges from our Brooklyn headquarters, it wasn’t every day that I was able to schmooze with our talented design challenge winners in person. And being Judi’s number one fan girl, I knew this studio tour would be a special one.
I first met Judi at one of our How To Make It design events – not knowing that she was one of our contestants who submitted an entry into our Jewelry Design Challenge months before. I complimented the gorgeous necklace she was wearing, and that’s when she revealed to me that she actually tried to submit that same piece into one of our past Jewelry Design Challenges and didn’t make it into the semi-finalist round. I immediately knew which entry she was speaking of – a poorly lit photo that didn’t capture the beautiful craftsmanship I saw in person. I told her to submit again with better photos, and didn’t think I’d hear from her anytime soon. Less than a month later, Judi sent in another submission except this time – with much better photos. After passing through three rounds of judging and receiving samples of Judi’s work, it was apparent that the jewelry judges were in love with the handmade A Tree Grows Necklace and crowned her our next jewelry grand prize winner.
Since then, Judi has repeatedly told me that her jewelry career has blossomed. She’s added two more lovely designs into our assortment (including this eye-catching Ear Climber) and has become an irreplaceable member of the shared space studios of Brooklyn Metal Works tucked away in the streets of Brooklyn — where she creates more of her nature-inspired pieces. Meet Judi Powers, an artist and advocate for sustainable jewelry, positive thinking, and good ol’ second chances.
Handmade jewelry has been all the rage lately. The personal attention and love that makers and artisans infuse into their work is evident in the masterpieces that they create. What most people don’t understand is why handmade jewelry is more of an investment than its mass produced counterparts. There are many reasons why handmade jewelry is more of an investment than pieces that are mass produced, so I thought I would break it down for you! Below are 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Handmade Jewelry.
1. No Mass Production Machinery Involved: By definition, handmade jewelry is literally just that, made by the “hands” of the artisan or maker. The pieces are soldered, sawed, carved and shaped without the use of mass produced manufacturing machinery. A machine can crank out hundreds of units per hour while an individual can only make a finite quantity or fraction of the number of pieces in the same amount of time.
2. The Value of Time: As previously mentioned, since there are no machines involved, handmade jewelry takes an incredible amount of time to produce just a single piece. As a designer myself, I know I often spend hours designing a single piece of jewelry for a client. The time to make the piece often can take weeks.
3. The Maker’s Process: The maker has a very intimate relationship with each piece or design they create. The design process is key to the value that is inherent in each piece. Emilie Shapiro talks about her process and says, “While creating jewelry, there is a very intimate relationship with my work. I know every curve and line (is) put there with intention. As a maker your energy goes into the piece.”
4. Materials: In almost every case, the value of the materials involved in a handmade piece are of stellar quality. It’s difficult to regulate or even know exactly what alloys are used in mass produced factories where dirty metals are blended together to create costume pieces. Handmade materials are generally sourced from highly reputable suppliers.
5. Sustainability: Jewelry Makers are often dedicated to sustainability and ethically sourced materials. By nature, being ethical can be much more costly than taking the easy route and purchasing from the refiner or dealer with low prices and shady sourcing. Once again, Emilie Shapiro always uses the highest quality materials sourced from suppliers who share her ethos about sustainability whenever possible. Smaller scale production is almost always higher quality.
6. Quality: Smaller scale production is almost always higher quality because the ability to track and control the process from start to finish is inherent in the making process. Makers and artisans are extremely proud of the work they produce. They aren’t going to let something of inferior quality leave their studio with their name on it.
7. Locally Made with Love: There is a lot of buzz with “buying local” these days. Reducing your carbon footprint and supporting local artisans is good for the environment and good for everyone. Artisans and makers infuse love and energy into each piece of work. There is HUGE value in supporting local from a sustainability and energetic standpoint. Along with the extra value inherent in handmade jewelry you are also buying a truly one-of-a-kind product. Even if the handmade piece is part of an edition – no maker creates two pieces that are exactly identical. You are the only person with that specific piece of jewelry which says a lot.
The next time you consider purchasing a handmade piece of jewelry, remember that even though the piece may be an investment, you are supporting something even bigger. You should feel really good about your purchase knowing that you have a special piece of the artist in your jewelry collection.
Keep an eye out for this blue hand icon while shopping at UncommonGoods for handmade products!
Haven’t we all daydreamed about quitting a job to pursue a creative passion full-time? Some of us only take it as far as that, simply daydreaming, while others actually take that deep plunge into the scary, unknown abyss of no longer being on payroll. Judi Powers was one of those people. She says, “After September 11th I, like so many people, realized that life is too short not to live each day as fully as possible.” Judi had the courage to leave her stable career in publishing, yet she still had no idea where she was going in terms of making a living. She decided to dip her toes into different fields she felt like she’d be passionate about until she finally met her dream career match: jewelry making. “I love the stories individual pieces tell about specific moments in our lives. I still have my first piece of jewelry.” When Judi realized that designing jewelry was her new calling, not once did she look back and regret her choice of leaving her first career.
Inspired by the combination of nature and art history, Judi’s stunning “A Tree Grow” necklace branched out to become our latest jewelry winning design. Read about what Judi did when she first heard the great news, her process of literally making her pieces stronger, and her advice for winning one of UncommonGoods’ design challenges.
What’s an Uncommon fact about yourself and your jewelry?
An Uncommon fact about my jewelry is that much of it is inspired by the paintings, sculptures, and architecture I studied as an art history student. For example, I’m currently working on a series of midi rings inspired by Rogier van der Weyden’s “Portrait of Isabella of Portugal”. And my “A Tree Grows” necklace is informed by nature as much as it is by Whistler’s “Portrait of Mrs. Frederick R. Leyland”. An Uncommon fact about me is that the first time I saw Van Eyck’s “Arnolfini Wedding Portrait”, about nine years ago, I burst into tears. I was overwhelmed by the intricate detail, the vivid color, and the rich texture. I’d only ever seen it in books or presentations and it’s even more spectacular in person. Totally geeky, yet totally true!
What were you doing before you decided to become a jewelry designer and what drove you into the jewelry field?
I had a wonderful first career in book publishing. I handled marketing and publicity for countless amazingly talented authors and illustrators. It was a great proving ground for learning about business, and it was also an incredible environment in which to forge lasting friendships.
After September 11th I, like so many people, realized that life is too short not to live each day as fully as possible. So I started spending more time with friends and taking a variety of classes. We tried dancing (disaster!), flower arranging (wonderful, but too depressing once the flowers wilted), cooking (fabulous but fattening), and lastly, jewelry making.
From my first class at 92Y I was immediately hooked, though initially I took it slowly and took one class a semester or so over 10 years at the Y, SVA, and Jewelry Arts Institute. Once I decided that I wanted to become a professional jewelry maker I quit my publishing career and I attended FIT’s one-year jewelry design program. What drew me to jewelry were the materials, especially metal. I love its malleability, how it can have a huge variety of textures, the way it feels, and that it’s durable!
I have always loved jewelry. I love the stories individual pieces tell about specific moments in our lives. I still have my first piece of jewelry—a monogrammed silver locket my grandmother gave me for my fifth birthday. It’s my hope that my jewelry will tell special stories for those who wear it. In this way my publishing and jewelry careers truly intersect.
What’s the first thing you did after you found out you were the winner of the Jewelry Design Challenge?
I jumped around my apartment, hugged my dog, and then called my mother. My mom has been my biggest champion in pursuing a career as a jewelry maker, and there are no words to express how meaningful her encouragement and belief in me has been. She and I had endless conversations about whether I should follow my heart and pursue a jewelry career, or whether I should stay in a career that I liked but was emotionally outgrowing. I had a real crisis of conscience while trying to decide. So many people I knew were unemployed and looking for jobs, while I had a good, stable one. I felt both guilty for wanting to walk away from security and terrified to try something new and unstable. It was during that period that one of the characters on Mad Men said something like, “Stable is that step backwards between successful and failing.” That really resonated with me. Soon after, I knew I would pursue a new career as a jewelry designer, risks and all.
It’s unanimous here at UncommonGoods that your “A Tree Grows” necklace is stunning. How did you come up with the idea to design such a realistic branch design for jewelry wear?
Thank you! I’ve always loved trees and branches: their lines are so graceful and elegant and they’re also a bit wild. In my second semester at FIT I took an amazing casting class. I learned that you can cast almost anything only if you can truly envision the outcome in metal and only if you can make the object thick enough to be sturdy. Years ago, I had tried to model a tree branch in wax but it didn’t have the level of detail that an actual branch has. It just didn’t work. So when I took the casting class, I told my professor that I really wanted to cast a small tree branch and she said: “Go for it! Just be sure you reinforce it and make it durable.” I took her advice, found a small branch in my Brooklyn neighborhood, reinforced it with Mod-Podge, and took it to my caster. When I picked up the piece I was completely amazed! All of the detail from nature was perfectly preserved. I had this delicate sterling silver branch that looked like the real thing. I actually choked up when I saw it.
You actually submitted your jewelry into one of our past jewelry design challenges and didn’t make it into the semi-finalist round. You decided to not be discouraged, and submitted an entry again after joining one of our design events. Do you believe winning the challenge the second try was much more satisfying than if you were to win the first time?
The first time I submitted I was hoping to be selected but I didn’t expect it. The design challenge was the first competition outside of school that I’d entered, and I knew there’d be serious competition, both from my FIT classmates and from countless talented designers whose work I’m still getting to know. After attending the design event, I learned the single-most valuable lesson: submit an image of someone wearing your piece! Winning the challenge was really satisfying, of course, but also really humbling because I was getting both positive and constructive feedback during the voting. I was competing against some extraordinarily beautiful pieces, all of which were so different and so special.
What’s the biggest advice you can give to our future design contestants after that specific experience?
Attend UncommonGoods’ design events. If you can’t get to them, attend any local events where you can meet professionals and peers. Take notes on what the speakers are saying because their advice will come in handy. Don’t be shy and ask questions! Be open to feedback because it’s all helpful. Take photos of your pieces on a person. Follow up, even if it’s just to say a very simple thank you. Always, and I really mean always, wear a piece of jewelry you’ve made. If you don’t want to wear your work, I think it’s a little unreasonable to expect someone else to want to wear it.
Do you have any silly trick or habits you do to keep yourself motivated?
When I’m struggling to focus, I know it’s time to step away from what I’m doing. Literally. I get up and take my puppy for a nice long walk around my Brooklyn neighborhood and clear my head. In the warmer months, I stop and look at plants and trees for design ideas and in the cooler months I look at architecture and snowflakes for inspiration. I’ve learned the hard way that whenever I try to force something that it just doesn’t work, and jewelry really has to work. I also drink lots of water!
Can you describe the process of what you do to make your necklaces better, stronger, and more wearable.
I’m so glad you asked this question! Some of the comments I received during the voting were concerns that my necklace looked like it might scratch the skin or bend. I’m glad people brought that up. For every “A Tree Grows” necklace I cast, I actually break off the more fragile parts and re-attach them onto the central line of the branch. By doing this I reinforce the structure of the necklace and build on it with a bit of additional solder. After the branch is reassembled I tumble it first with stainless steel shot. Then I use soft pumice pellets to harden the metal and soften the edges of the leaves and branch ends. I believe jewelry has to be pleasing to wear and I personally road test every piece to make sure it’s both comfortable and has structural integrity. There is a bit of springiness to the metal in the finished piece, which enhances the organic nature of the necklace.
Do you mind describing your studio to us and the materials that you use?
I work out of Brooklyn Metal Works, a wonderful, collaborative creative space for jewelers and metal smiths. The owners, Erin Daley and Brian Weissman, are building a fantastic community there. They have regular exhibits, artists’ lectures, and classes. My personal jewelry education continues to grow there. I love being around other jewelers and artists because we bounce ideas off of one another, brainstorm about construction, share new tricks and techniques we’ve learned, and we all respect each other. And there’s always great music in the background!
When I’m sketching and designing, I work from home at my father’s antique drafting table. It’s scarred with hundreds of pin holes where old blueprints had once been tacked. I’ve added a few more holes to it, as well as some paint splotches and ink stains! I love that it’s a piece that he, I, and others have used as a tool to support creativity. And he’s really proud that I’m using it, too.
In terms of materials, I use recycled metals in all my cast pieces and I source as much recycled material as possible for the pieces I fabricate. I’m happy that I’m a professional jeweler now because I have ready access to recycled material. Ten years ago when I was first starting, that just wasn’t the case. I save every shaving, filing, and sprue and recycle all of my scrap metals.
What’s one of your all-time favorite inspirational quotes?
I have so many of them! It’s too difficult to pick only one, so here are two:
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” -Paulo Coehlo
And this one by Rabindranath Tagore always resonates with me: “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”
What does your jewelry illustrate about yourself?
My jewelry mirrors my two great loves: art and nature. I don’t have a specific philosophy per se, but I do want every piece to be wearable and beautiful. And because my own jewelry stories give me such joy, I sincerely hope that my customers will have their own happy stories to tell about my pieces for years, even decades, to come!
We had over two hundred submissions to our 2013 Jewelry Design Challenge, and although we saw many amazing pieces we wanted to put in our own personal jewelry box, Katie Lime’s Fern Frond Hoops truly stole our judges’ hearts. The design holds a simple elegance for everyday wear, yet Katie’s innovative touch is undeniable. From the mixed metals of brass and sterling silver to the design’s geometric, whimsical shape, these nature-inspired earrings are more than just jewelry. They’re tiny pieces of art. And because it’s no secret that we are such big animal lovers, Katie donating a part of her proceeds to animal shelters was a huge cherry on top. (Details of where she donates to are below the interview.)
Meet Katie Lime, the newest member of our UncommonGoods artist family, and read about her jewelry-making journey from taking classes in high school to creating her very own jewelry company.
Give us an uncommon fact about you and your hometown.
An uncommon fact about me is that I’m a Science Fiction/Fantasy fan and a huge Harry Potter nerd. An uncommon fact about Carmel, Indiana is that they absolutely love roundabouts. There are over 80 of them!
When did you realize that jewelry design was what you wanted to do?
I took some jewelry classes in high school and absolutely fell in love. When I went to college for Art History I realized that I could study Metalsmithing and Jewelry Design. After that first semester in metals I realized it was what I wanted to do so I stayed in school an extra year and double majored in Art History and Metals.
What was the biggest message you took with you when you finished school for metalsmithing?
I learned to really explore my ideas and to play around with materials. I learned to not be afraid of trying something new and different and not to be afraid of failure. I also learned that having a network of peers can be a wonderful resource. We are very lucky these days to have outlets such as Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter to meet like-minded people who will be there to support, answer questions, share knowledge and constructively critique our work.
When was the moment and how did you feel when you made your first sell?
I made my first big sale at my senior thesis show in a formal gallery setting. The necklace that sold was a big show stopping piece, not really all that functional but more sculptural. It felt great! It gave me confidence in my work and made me feel like I was headed in the right direction.
We love your earrings, but we also love the amazing fact that you donate to two animal shelters. When was the moment that you decided this was going to be something you would be a part of?
My boyfriend and I have rescued three dogs in our adult lives. They are the sweetest, most loving and giving souls in this world and we don’t know what we would do with out them. I wanted to do more for other animals in need, so I started donating money from my company.
What inspires you the most when you create your designs?
I am inspired by the natural world surrounding me. I like to examine all the beautiful and small things in our world and take inspiration from them. I’m also inspired by all the people in my daily life and all the makers in this world who create for a living.
What’s your favorite part of the design process?
I love creating new designs, playing around with new ideas and making pieces with gemstones. I also really enjoy working on custom pieces for my customers. I love that I’m creating something just for them!
How exactly was Moira K. Lime Jewelry born?
When I moved to Chicago I was designing and producing for another jeweler and creating my own jewelry in my spare time. I realized that I could really make a living off of my designs when my work started to sell consistently and I began running out of time to make my own creations. It’s great to be able to be your own boss and create things that you like for other people to cherish.
Creative people all have those days (or weeks!) when we feel unmotivated, lost, or stuck. What do you usually do when you catch yourself in this frustrating rut?
I usually step away from my studio and give myself some time off to get that creative mojo flowing again. I’ll also go for day trips, hikes, or places in the city that inspire me.
Are there any interesting future projects you’re pursuing or currently working on?
I’ve always dreamed of opening my own storefront/showroom/workshop space. I’d like to use the space as my working studio, a place to meet customers to work on custom designs, a small show room and a place to teach workshops. I’m really hoping to make this happen one day soon!
If you could give away one of your secrets to all those who want to win a design challenge, which secret would it be?
Be yourself and your designs will be truly unique and eye catching.
Stained glass is often associated with large-scale pieces; sprawling mosaics, iconic cathedral windows, and ancient works of art. This meticulous craft doesn’t have to be reserved for the grandiose, though. As Etta Kostick proves, stained glass provides an illustrious splash of color to handmade jewelry.
Etta combines the techniques that were passed to her from her family of glassblowers and her talent for sculpting jewelry from silver and other metals to create her bold hexagon bracelets and the rings and bracelets in her collection.
The artist creates her pieces in her Chicago studio–a bright, inviting work space within her own apartment. Although we didn’t catch her hula hooping in her living room (see “How do you recharge your creativity?”), we did convince her to take us on a virtual tour of the place where she captures light and luster with glass and solder.