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Handmade Jewelry

Maker Stories

Judi’s “A Tree Grows” Necklace is in Full Bloom

September 26, 2013

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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!

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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.

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 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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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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.”

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 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!

 

Maker Stories

Katie’s Fern Frond Hoops Take the Win

August 14, 2013

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

If you’re inspired to read more about Katie’s favorite animal shelters, visit Chicago Pit Stop RescuePAWS Chicago, and One Tail at a Time

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Etta Kostick

July 1, 2013

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.

What are your most essential tools?
I couldn’t live without my soldering iron. It’s a pretty basic tool but it allows me to transform solder into a molten state so I am able to manipulate it. I also always have podcasts streaming while working and the occasional bad reality TV show. It’s definitely my guilty pleasure.

Where do you find inspiration within this space?
My studio is located in my apartment and I love being able to roll out of bed, have a cup of coffee and start working. What most inspires me within my workspace are the raw materials surrounding me. Having all my materials easily accessible allows me to brainstorm new designs and test them out right away.

In the summer I really love working in my living room- I have a really comfy chair located right near all of the front windows. I get to enjoy the cross breeze and all of the chirping birds in the trees.

Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
I like to take breaks and wander around the neighborhood, go to the gym, or lay out in the park. For a quick boost of energy I hula hoop in my living room.

How do you set goals for yourself?
I set weekly goals and am pretty good at scheduling times I should be in the studio. I have learned that it is important to pace myself and maintain a schedule that allows for a balanced day of work and down time. I like for my goals to reflect this lifestyle. I also like to be constantly creating new designs, exploring new techniques and pushing myself creatively. This is a constant goal for me and it seems to manifest itself naturally.

Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I work by myself so I usually don’t do too much collaborating, but I love getting advice and input on new designs I am working on from friends and family members. I have worked in the past with my father- he is a glassblower, a craft he taught me when I was 7. We recently have collaborated to create fused glass sheets for my current work. I love that I have been able to maintain a connection with my family’s trade and incorporate it into my jewelry designs.

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How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
My favorite way of celebrating success is by traveling. Although I am technically not working during these times, I find that much of my inspiration for my jewelry occurs when I am traveling and exploring landscapes that are new to me.

What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
I love the Thomas Edison quote “I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.” It was terrifying to take that initial leap and go full time with my business but this quote was a reminder of how I should approach life and work.

How do you recharge your creativity?
I grew up in the country and I love getting out of the city to connect back to my rural roots. There are some great state parks within driving distance of Chicago. There is nothing more relaxing and revitalizing to me than going to a quiet beach and lounging out by myself for the day. I always come back refreshed and energized.

What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Keep pursuing what you love! It was easy to feel overwhelmed and insecure during that time period when I was just starting my business. I’ve learned a lot in 5 years and I would tell myself it’s OK to make a mistake. It’s all a part of the learning process.

Maker Stories

Tavia Brown’s “Industrial Delicate” Rings to Last a Lifetime

May 20, 2013

“I very clearly remember being six years old and knowing I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. And it never changed,” said jewelry artist Tavia Brown. “I ventured down my artistic journey in my childhood and ended up in college discovering metalsmithing.”

That drive, discovery, and dedication lead Tavia to found taviametal in 2001, and stay true to her craft through business ventures, marriage, and motherhood. Fittingly, her latest collection celebrates one of those special occasions in life–saying “I do.”

Tavia incorporates metals not traditionally used in wedding jewelry, like titanium and rose gold, and textural elements into her original designs to create unique rings for men and women. She calls her style “industrial delicate,” referring to the juxtaposition of tenacious metals with elegant design, and although her pieces are a bit bolder than some wedding bands, they are perfect for making the statement, “our love is solid.”

“In my first jewelry class I found my match in this small-scale, three-dimensional medium,” Tavia said. “I knew then that this was what I was going to do.”

The artist now creates her pieces in her own Charlottesville, VA studio, but before setting out on her own she worked as a bench jeweler for a high-end jewelry designer. “I worked in the jewelry studio and daydreamed about having my own studio business,” she said. “I wasn’t really sure how I was going to do it; I didn’t have a concrete plan. I just knew I was going to do it.”

Taviametal started out as a part-time endeavor, but grew over time as Tavia transitioned from exhibiting her own work at small shows while still working full-time at her bench job. Over the next few years, she got married, cut back her day job hours, and started planning for her future while helping her husband, who is an entrepreneur himself, with his business.

“Eventually, I knew kids would be the next step and I quit my job for the jewelry designer to get accustomed to not having that paycheck,” Tavia said. “I wanted to ensure that I would still follow my dream and take that big leap after having kids. So I worked part-time for my husband and part-time for taviametal, nurturing both businesses. I eventually switched and made taviametal my full-time commitment in 2007. Since then, my husband and I have continued to support each other in our individual business adventures, helping each other grow.”

Along the way, Tavia also discovered the joy of working with titanium–which is now her signature metal.”I had a very close-knit group of metalsmithing/blacksmithing friends and we would have these Monster Metal weekends during which we would take turns at each other’s studios learning a new technique or trying out a new material,” she explained. “Well, one weekend we tried our hand at titanium. I found that I really liked the color and the weight; and I loved the industrial feel and look to it, which fell right in line with my aesthetics.”

“I discovered that I could use the titanium for my rings, taking advantage of that natural gray color to contrast with other materials and continue the layering of textures that I like to create in these rings,” she continued. “I also found I could apply a heat patina which adds even more color – blue, purple, bronze – to the recesses of the designs. Titanium definitely has its challenges. Some basic metalsmithing techniques cannot be used with it, such as soldering – which is a main practice. So I fabricate my titanium jewelry by cold joining contrasting materials and friction fitting the layers, with an emphasis on textures and design. I really love these challenges about titanium. It keeps me creating in ways that take me outside the box. It pushes me to come up with new and interesting designs, and I am constantly exploring.”

“There are times where I get inspiration simply from the material… its challenges, limitations, and look intrigue me,” said Tavia. “Other times it’s just texture, the juxtaposition and tactility of different textures together, and the manipulation of the materials into amazing surfaces… Another impetus for me is family. This is a recurring theme in my work since college.”

Now, as a mother of two, Tavia is inspired by her children and says that over the years she’s been lucky to be able to mold her schedule around what’s best for her whole family.

“I want my kids to see that you can do ANYTHING you put your mind to,” she said. “I want them to know that they can dream as big as they want… On days where I must work longer than the usual I take my kids to the studio with me after school. I have carved out a kid area in my office, complete with easel, art supplies, toys, TV, movies, hula hoops, snacks, and more. Even though I am working, it is fun to be together at the studio.”

Tavia says that one of the biggest lessons she’s learned so far is “to breathe and be kind to myself and know that it will all work out.” She explained, “If I do my best, my kids will be their best. That’s not to say the ride hasn’t had its moments of difficulty; some days just have tears and other days are full of laughter. Each day is a new day of parenting with new challenges, so I am constantly learning – not just as a mom but also as a metalsmith and business owner.”

Maker Stories

Natural Beauty: Nancy Nelson’s Forest-Inspired Jewelry

December 10, 2012

Take one look at Nancy Nelson’s jewelry and it’s obvious that she’s deeply inspired by nature. The organic shapes, earthy feel, and, in some cases, the actual natural elements used—such as the raw semi-precious stones in her Aquamarine Branch Ring –all celebrate Nancy’s love of the outdoors.

The ring, and her beautiful Blue Pinecone Necklace, were both featured in our community voting app, where they received some fantastic feedback from our online community. But before the designs made their way to our buying team, and even before the first pieces of brass and silver used were cast, these creations started as found objects in the forests near Nancy’s West Virginia home.

“I live in a small town 2.5 hours west of Washington DC,” Nancy told us. “It is an area filled with nature trails, state parks, and adventurous outdoor activities. Our family spends much of our time exploring the outdoors. It was during one of our adventures in the Appalachian Mountains that I spotted the twig for the Aquamarine Branch Ring.”

While the ring doesn’t actually contain this original twig, it does feature the exact likeness of it, because the sterling silver band is hand-cast by Nancy from a mold made of that very piece of wood.

Like that perfect twig, the pine cone that became the model for the Blue Pinecone Necklace was also selected on a family outing, while visiting the place Nancy’s children like to call the “Magic Forest,” Swallow Falls.

“We collected tiny pine cones from the forest floor as we hiked,” said Nancy. “With our pockets full, we took the pine cones back to my studio where we examined each one. I then selected the one I felt was the most beautiful in form, shape, and texture. When choosing the perfect pine cone, I took into consideration [its] size and weight. Since all my castings are solid, this is one of the most important aspects in choosing a good model. The pine cone had to be lightweight enough to hang comfortably from a necklace.”

Once cast, the brass incarnation of the pine cone is given a blue patina, which Nancy hand-paints. Nancy explained why she chose to add this hint of blue, “It stems from my love of lichen that grows on the trees, rocks, and fallen pine cones throughout the moist forest which is dominated by tall Hemlocks. I wanted to transform the pine cone and add color but I wanted it to be a little more controlled, which is why I decided to patina the edges.”


While these majestic hemlocks, fallen pine cones, and the other wonders of nature that surround her definitely influence Nancy’s work, she does have other muses. “Being a mom, I usually do not have to look far for inspiration,” she said. “My young children’s growing imagination and quest for exploration inspires me to think outside of the box and challenge myself to create something timeless yet interesting in form—something uncommon.”