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.
Where do you find inspiration within this space?
I have two separate workspaces: my drawing table at home and my studio. I intentionally keep them separate. For me, the design process can be a really slow one so once I get to the studio I’m eager to start fabricating in wax or metal. Brooklyn Metal Works is more of a place of motivation for me. I look around at all of the talent, tools, and equipment that surround me and I can’t help but feel inspired to sit at my bench and be productive. Whenever I go to the studio, I’m just happy and excited!
What are your most essential tools?
Files, my saw, a rawhide mallet, the blowtorch, and my flex shaft are the tools I can’t live without. I know I’ll read this later and think “how did I forget to include that tool!”.
What was the toughest lesson you learned as a young designer starting a business?
Well, I’m a “new” designer but not a young designer. I had a 22-year career in publishing that really helped me on so many levels, mostly on those related to business. I suppose the toughest lesson I’ve learned (even though I already knew this) is that you hear dozens of nos before you hear one yes. Also, having a daily schedule is key! It’s amazing how quickly a day passes when there’s no structure in it and, at the end of that day, it’s frightening to see how much you “didn’t” accomplish.
How did you come up with the concept of your product?
I thought about the special pieces of jewelry I’d received throughout my life and the memories I have around them. I wanted to create a collection that had special meaning for my customers and me. Every time I create a new design I tell a story about a special moment or place (despite a career in publishing, I never aspired to be a writer, but I do have a desire to tell stories via my jewelry). There are pieces in my collection that are inspired by my childhood in the country, travels in Asia, and my daily life in Brooklyn.
My education at a Rudolf Steiner High School also relates to my product. It’s because of the lessons I learned there about caring for our environment and our neighbors that I decided to do everything I possible to run an environmentally and socially responsible business.
What advice would you offer the you of 5 years ago?
Oh, there’s so much advice I’d give! Hearing “no” is never easy: get comfortable with that discomfort. Build a network of people who are happy to help you via professional organizations and educational settings. Don’t expect to know everything in a day. Be patient and be persistent. Stay organized. Don’t judge yourself so harshly!
How do you set goals for yourself?
This is an ever-evolving process that I’m still trying to perfect. I think about where I want to be in six months, a year, and five years from now and what I need to do get there. My goals always change but they never fail to be about the longevity of my business.
How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?
I know this will sound cliché but every day that I get to wake up and live my dream is a celebration. Being a professional jeweler is both my victory and my reward.
What quote keeps you motivated? What does that quote mean to you?
I recently put this quote by Amelia Earhart over my desk: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life and the procedure, the process is its own reward.” It’s really scary to walk away from a stable career in order to pursue something you love but that’s completely untested and uncertain. This quote is my daily reminder to confront the paper tigers and to see the process of major change as a component of the joy that comes from having the job you never thought was possible.
Where does down time fit into a day in the studio?
Down time usually entails chatting with my studio mates about the projects we’re working on. I’m very lucky to work in a collaborative space with so many incredibly talented people. And, I make the occasional run to Ample Hills for an ice cream break. My father instilled a life-long love for ice cream in me and it’s both a reward and a pick me up when I’m working at the studio.
What are some new skills you are trying to acquire to perfect your craft?
If there were countless hours in the day—and if I were a better time manager—I’d take classes ALL THE TIME! I take classes where I learn new techniques, such as various forms of stone setting, and I’m always working to run a better business. Investing in learning both practical jewelry skills as well as business skills is really key to running a healthy business.
How do you recharge your creativity?
I recharge my creativity by going to Montauk. It’s a really special place for me and I get so much inspiration there. I can stare at the ocean for hours. I can spend a whole afternoon beach combing. And my dog loves to run and play on the beach, which is a real treat for me too.
Where does collaboration come into play with your craft?
I’ve been very honored to have a number of custom orders and those are always collaborative. My clients come to me with an occasion or idea in mind, we discuss it, I make sketches, and then we work on the final design together. I love doing custom work because it is collaborative, because I get the honor of sharing in someone’s happy occasion, and because there’s always a story to it. And I admittedly love to tell stories!