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An aspiring jewelry designer with a dilemma


#1

Hi Orchid Forum,

I am an aspiring jewelry designer with a dilemma. I completed Revere
Academy’s Graduate Jeweler certificate last year. After a few
shorter-term jobs andinternships within the jewelry industry, I have
recently relocated to New York City for temporary classes. Upon
arriving, however, I realized how many more opportunities and
resources NYC has. I have been accepted to California College of the
Arts’ Jewelry and Metal Arts BFA to begin this fall, and I’m
deciding whether to stay in New York or go back to school at CCA
this fall. Iam writing to ask advice. Should I go back to school or
stay in New York and seek out internships or jobs here and start my
own line? I feel I still have much to learn, but I know learning on
the job or as you go works best forsome. If anyone has any
suggestions or knows of any openings or networking opportunities,
please do not hesitate to contact me and I’ll happily send youa copy
of my resume.

Thank you! I appreciate your time, and good luck in all of your
endeavors!
Dana


#2
I have been accepted to California College of the Arts' Jewelry and
Metal Arts BFA to begin this fall, and I'mdeciding whether to stay
in New York or go back to school at CCA this fall. Iam writing to
ask advice. Should I go back to school or stay in New York and seek
out internships or jobs here and start my own line? 

If you can get a job and support yourself in NYC, more power to you,
go for it.

Know that if you ever want a degree, the older you get the harder it
gets to tear yourself away from your life to devote yourself to
school. It’s not “now or never” it’s “now or geez, I can’t believe
I’m 45 and I have to work full time and go to school and why didn’t
I go to school when I had the chance?”

Then again, if your plan is to work in the jewelry industry or be
self employed, nobody in the jewelry industry (in my experience)
cares if you have a degree.

Your skills from Revere are probably the relevant ones, so you can’t
really argue you’re going back to school to get more skills. What
you might get, depending on the school, is practice, feedback,
perhaps experience in designing practically for production. Is that
worth the cost of tuition and the 4 years out of the workforce?

Perhaps some business classes would be more useful.

It’s a difficult call and I wish you luck with it. Perhaps the
school would allow you to defer your admission for a year? Then you
could possibly have it both ways – see if you can make it in NYC
and if you decide after a year you’d rather go back to school, you
can do it.

Elaine


#3

Dana- You will learn MUCH more working a bench in the trade than you
will ever learn in a art school. Design is easy if you already have
a talent for it. However learning the skills to implement them takes
a lot more than you will learn in school. I’ve spent so many years
teaching folks how to actuallymake jewelry after they had incurred
huge debt getting degrees. Why pay money to learn when you can get
paid to learn. Start out polishing, sweeping floors etc. The pay
will be low and the work menial, but you will advance in time.

Don’t get me wrong here. I did attend art school but left before I
got a degree after I realized that I had learned the basic necessary
skills. However when I went to school it was cheap. maybe $1600.00 a
year. Now it’s insanely expensive. If you incur a huge debt you will
have to take a crummy job that pays enough to pay off your debt
rather than pursuing your love for jewelry and design.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.

Jo Haemer
Www.timothywgreen.com


#4

I’m just an aspiring student of jewelry like you, but I’ve been
through the academic mill in another field (Ph. D. in social
sciences) and now that I’m retired, I’ve taken some classes in
ceramics at the local State University, 'cause it’s free for
retirees. Lucky me. IDK about jewelry arts, but the artsy environment
in ceramics is somewhat divorced from making a living. The realistic
students realize that, with a BFA they can teach at the high school
level or get an MFA and try for a position at the University level.
As someone who wanted training for opening a pottery studio, I got
wonderful training from my courses, but had no desire to “get
precious” with the MFA students who are turning out “art” with no
thought to whether it is actually something that people would buy. OR
to take courses in drawing, etc., that don’t relate directly to my
ceramics. You may feel differently about that.

I’m an amateur trumpet player and I’d give you the similar advice to
what I’d give someone going to undergrad for trumpet. You need to
know the professor or professors in your area, whether they are good
or not, and whether they are a good fit for you. At your school, I
see only three adjunct profs and one lecturer in jewelry arts. I went
to the three websites I could find and was not bowled over.

It was good modern jewelry, but I did not find it great.

For you, you have an idea of where you style is going and you can see
whether you feel like you could learn anything exciting from these
folks. You would also need to contact them directly and tell them a
little about yourself and what you’d like to accomplish in school. If
they dialog well with you, that’s a plus. You might even see fit, if
they seem open to it, to ask them the question you’re asking us.
Should you go to school or stay in NYC?

If I were you I would also look at what it is going to cost you to
get a BFA and find out from the school what their graduates are able
to do with a BFA. Then compare that with what it will cost you/what
you can earn in NYC as a bench jewelery or intern or whatever. Also
what you can learn “on the job.” Also consider that there are myriad
classes and workshops and schools in the NYC area and you might go to
school part time while working there. Remember that you can easily run
up a $75K to $100K loan bill for an undergrad degree and that number
starts to increase faster than you can pay it down at first once you
get out of school. Talk to some folks who are experts in student
loans, project the amount of debt you’re likely to have and then
you’ll know what you need to make every month just to pay off the
loan. before you think about living expenses. While government
employees, teachers, etc., get some or entire loan forgiveness, I
have not heard about such a program for jewelry designers. Also
consider what would happen if your line does not take off and make
you rich. If you had to depend on a career as a bench jeweler, arts
teacher in elem/high school, how would you fare economically?

I was raised in NYC forty-five years ago, so I know the area.

Expensive to live in the city, but possible to live nearby in Jersey
or on Long Island, etc., and take advantage of jobs or training in
the city. If you play your cards right, you could have less than an
hour commute and you could sketch on the train or bus and read about
the latest jewelry techniques.

Although San Francisco is not exactly Podunk City, the art museums,
arts scene and music performance scene in NYC provide much more brain
food/inspiration for the artist/designer.

Hope some of this is helpful. I’m anxious to see what others say.

Although there are MFAs here, I think the bench jeweler quotient is
high here, so you’re going to get some interesting comments from
those whose degree is from Hard Knocks U.

Hope this is of some help.


#5

Dana, sounds like a ladies name,

Going down the academic route is good up to point, but you do need
all the theoretical and practical technical and know how to design
and make jewellery. make sure you got it in your head.,also in order
to design effectively, you need lots of hands on experience of
actually making stuff.

Selling designs on their own? thats hard, your designs have to be
different enough and good enough for a maker to buy, then buy the
materials then make for his clients.

Thats why so many jewellers do it all themselves. its quicker and
more profitable this way. Id say going down the designer route is in
fact harder in the long run.

Read all the posts by Richard Hopkins from Australia on this forum
recently and my replies. hes an example of how it can work on a low
cost basis. Start you own line is the way to go where you are right
now.

wish you well.
Ted.


#6

Hi Dana

You will learn MUCH more working a bench in the trade than you
will ever learn in a art school. 

Very true of Jo to say this. Dana have you seen what sought of
jewellery comes out of art school. Much of it can’t be worn.

I went to a private jewellery school The School for Silversmiths.
Google that and Van Heeckeren jewellery for some insight.

We went one day a week and worked making jewellery the rest of the
week and sold it on the weekends at markets.

Our day at school was about fabrication and learning to use all the
tools and also how few tools you need to actually make jewellery.

If you can get a job in a shop do it. Don’t run up a big bill on
tuition. What would you have if the tuition fees went into stock and
materials? A business. Also you can make and sell jewellery in your
own time.

Email me if you have any questions I can help you with.

all the best
Richard Hopkins


#7

Hi Dana

California College of the Arts' Jewelry and Metal Arts BFA 

I google the above. Two questions.

Where are the pieces that show high end jewellery skills? Would you
buy any of it to wear?

They say if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere. If
I was you I would stay in NY.

I only moved out of Sydney for a better life for my daughter, just
about destroyed my jewellery business.

It got so bad one day I just walked away from my bench. And went to
university to study Chinese Philosophy and get a teaching degree.
Taught some school and then went back to my first passion jewellery,
older and wiser.

I now work two days as a teacher some of it jewellery and the rest
of the time as a self employed jeweller.

Now if you want to make jewellery that is art you could learn a lot
from Torun.

Torun’s jewelry has been worn by celebrities including Billie
Holiday, Ingrid Bergman, and Brigitte Bardot, and her customers
included Pablo Picasso and Duke Ellington. Her work can be seen in
the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Swedish National
Museum in Stockholm, the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Montreal, the
Louvre in Paris, the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in London, and
in the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich. Her jewelry and housewares
are sold today by retailers such as Georg Jensen, Bed Bath & Beyond
and Amazon.

all the best
Richard


#8

Thank you so much to all for your kind advice and ideas. I
appreciate them and your time! Happy jewelling and best of luck to
you all.

Dana


#9

Elaine Luther makes a very important point here. Take some business
and marketing classes. My sister the professional singer tells her
music students the same.

I sure wish my art school or even high schools had taught business
classes. It’s boring compared to making art, but oh so important.
I’m lucky because my late father was a successful commercial artist.
He was a great role model for me. I"m betting that’s why I am among
the few who attended my art school who makes a living practicing my
art.

I was talking to a recent graduate from a well known local arts
college.

She had a commission to make some wedding rings. She did not have
the skills or tools to do it after incurring a huge debt and earning
an MFA. A lovely woman and talented artist who has left the jewelry
world to pursue other arts avenues.

I asked her why she chose that particular school. “Well they
advertised that they focus on the business side of making art.” “So
what did they teach you in the Business of Art classes?” “Oh, they
taught us how to write grants.” "Uh, you know if you are really any
good, you don’t have to write grants.

People will pay you to do it." She looked at me as if I were on
crack.

Have fun and make lots of jewelry.

Jo Haemer
timothywgreen.com


#10

On-the-job training is much more real than school. It doesn’t matter
if you call it apprenticeship, internship or just a job. Learn the
business from the inside. Get paid to learn. Make connections. The
younger you are when you start, the more time you have left to reach
your goal.

Stepehen Walker


#11

Hi Dana & All, You are certainly correct about thinking seriously
about which path to take. Will you gain more from practical
experience or should you postpone that for time to develop as an
artist, designer & crafts-persone? I sit in a unique position this
time as I am quite familiar with both paths.

First of all, I am a senior guest lecturer for Casting at CCA
(formerly CCAC) in the Metals/Jewelry Dept.

This department is one of the countries best and will offer a vast
amount of

opportunity, and growth. The department chair is Marilyn
da Silva, who in her own right is nationally and internationally
known. Other professors here include Deb Lozier, Curtis Arima, David
Cole, Nick Dong, Angela Hennessey etc., all with their own notoriety
for enamels, fine goldsmithing, production, marketing skills etc.
both here and abroad. We try to have either visiting artists on site
or intensive workshops–such as Ruudt Peters this last spring. This
time on campus can be wellused, as you know. Some of our students
have gone on to expanding theircareers, starting galleries &
boutiques, international studies, as well ashigher degrees–MFA at
RISD(Rhode Island School of Design), Cranbrook, Penaland etc. For
someone who aspires to be a designer, the environment, camaraderie,
critiques and exhibits that you will be exposed to are extremely
valuable.

But I don’t have to “cut the check”. So, that does leave actual on
site work, like internship, apprenticeship or bench job. You need to
find a place that you can stay at for a while-not just a short term.

I would urge that you work in a trade shop, if possible. Again, its
an environment that offer more opportunity and skill set, as
mentioned by some other Orchidians, like Elaine L. etc. As a person
who hada career change at 28–my first job was in a trade shop as a
production polisher for 2 years. I was able to pick up a lot of
tricks beyond polishing and use many of those skills to this day. To
work alongside someone who has many years at the bench offers much.
But you need to stay situated in a job for awhile. Employers are not
happy to see someone with a resume that shows short term and
frequent changes. The commercial side of this business, even if its
"art jewelry", still wants someone that they can trust their work to
and not have it damaged.

So, there in a nutshell, is my take from both sides of this
question. As stated earlier, one way or another, you needto decide
and go for it! Or maybe you can take both paths by going to school
now and finding a job with a local designer or jeweler–on
eithercoasts. Quite a few of my students have done this and it was
very advantageous -both for them & their employers.

Sincerely,
Jo-Ann Maggiora Donivan


#12

Here are my experiences with “higher education”. I learned most of
my jewelry on my own, paid someone to teach me, or learned it in a
shop. When I decided I wanted to teach, I applied at my local
university as I had heard that Fred Fenster, someone I wanted to
learn from, was retiring soon.

Things went smoothly while Fred Fenster was there but when he
retired, I wasbasically forced out of the program.

I entered the Arts program and quickly found that many of the ideas
of what is taken for granted in production jewelry arts are
considered heresy in schools. I quickly learned thatbeing concerned
about quality, workmanship, and basic rules of design and usability
were proof that I was not an ‘artist’. ‘ART’ is all about
your’message’ and has nothing to do with quality. If you made
something usable, then it was not art. I saw a piece by a welding
student that was unbelievably complex. it was a wind chime/ mobile
that was made with scrap car parts and was tuned to exact notes. it
was about 6 feet across, and 10 tall and was like hearing the music
of faeries! He was given a failing grade because it was designed
with an end use in mind.

Another student I spoke with in a bar, made a beautiful full size
carousel horse and was going to get a failing grade until he
installed a larger then life penis on the seat and called it “A
Grown-up Carousel Horse”

So my experience is that an art degree has nothing to do with
reality in the jewelry trade.

Take some business classes and stay in NY.

Gerald Livings


#13

Hi Dana,

I guess it depends on what you want to make, how you want to live
and what you expect. CCA is a great school. I know a lot of the
metals teachers there and I have seen the students’ work over the
years and it is often some of the strongest.

Curtis Arima who teaches there makes incredible conceptual work as
well as really beautiful and saleable jewelry.

You need to answer the questions above first.

Take care,
andy


#14

Check out the programs and classes at the Fashion Institute of
Technology. It’s on 27th St. & 8th Ave.

The teachers in the jewelry program are all designers and jewelers
working in or retired from the trade. The emphasis is on making a
living as a jeweler and jewelry designer.

Also, as a state school tuition is quite reasonable, and there are
many worthwhile evening classes if day schedule doesn’t work for you.

Here’s a link to their Jewelry Design web page.

http://www.ganoksin.com/gnkurl/ep81dl

Elliot Nesterman


#15

Hi Gerald and others

I quickly learned that being concerned about quality, workmanship,
and basic rules of design and usability were proof that I was not
an 'artist'. 'ART' is all about your 'message' and has nothing to
do with quality. 

Same here in Australia “Art” jewellery is usually very badly made
and often unwearable. It seems the artist statement is more important
than the actual piece. Who thought up this "artist statement"
rubbish?

Jewellery speaks for itself, no need for PR promotion. There is a
wealth of original quality jewellery here in Australia and it sells.

Who buys “Art Jewellery” ? I have no idea. As Jo mentions Art
jewellers write for grants. I was taught that if you need a grant
then your jewellery does not sell. I think that if you need a grant
then “get a grip on reality”.

all the best
Richard


#16

Learn CAD-CAM, learn either Chinese or Thai language, move to China or
Thailand.

Seriously! Probably great opportunities for a designer who speaks
English and Another language.

Move to Dubai and apprentice.


#17
Who thought up this "artist statement" rubbish?

Bwahahahaha! That would be the “Art” art world. paintings and such.
I originally come from the “art” art world of painting and
sculpture, and I used to hate writing up those damn things. And the
sad thing was, the version that I was laughing about as I wrote it
because it was soooo full of crap was usually the one the gallery
wanted to use! The more the BS, the better it was! The crap part of
the art jewelry world has nothing on the level of crappiness of the
"art" art world yet - the art jewelry BS has years to catch up to
the BS of the “art” art world. Like that whole fiasco over the
person draped in a giant condom as some sort of jewelry statement…
I remember thinking, “oh. you jewelry people are YEARS behind with
your BS innovation! The “art” art world came up with crap like that
years ago!” It really is all rubbish. But there is amazing,
innovative, unique art out there. There is also amazing, innovative
jewelry out there. And some of it could be considered art jewelry. I
personally like to make jewelry that people feel is like art they
are wearing. But I also think it needs to be made well (sloppy
solder seams and lumpy bezels are not an artistic statement to me),
and I think it needs to look wearable. Weird for weird’s sake is
just ridiculous. And I don’t think anyone other than art critics or
jurors ever decided a piece of jewelry was any prettier or a
painting was any cooler looking because of an artist statement. El


#18

I quickly learned that being concerned about quality, workmanship,
and basic rules of design and usability were proof that I was not an
’artist’. ‘ART’ is all about your ‘message’ and has nothing to do
with quality. If you made something usable, then it was not art. Same
here in Australia “Art” jewellery is usually very badly made and
often unwearable. It seems the artist statement is more important
than the actual piece. Who thought up this "artist statement"
rubbish? Interesting… I made art jewelry long before I ever got
any kind of job in the jewelry industry. Some of it was absolutely
for art’s sake, but I tried my best the rest of the time to make
something that would last, not get caught on things, not fall apart,
etc. Some of what I make incorporates polymer clay, which can’t be
worn in water, I don’t think. I also like to mix some seed beadwork
into my designs sometimes. For the first six months of my current
job, I had no creativity whatsoever. I felt like the artist in me had
been given a lobotomy. Looking at jewelry every day which looks like
it could all be the same gave me some pause until I learned how to
size rings. I melted the first yellow gold ring I put a torch to, but
what it looked like after it melted inspired me, and I had ideas
again. What I’ve learned is that I still have the same ideas and
still want to work with beads and polymer clay even after learning
all these new skills with soldering, stone setting, etc. But I’ve
also learned that the public WILL demand that a necklace or earrings
hang very specifically or that their rings don’t turn on their
fingers (I can’t believe so many women care about that). However,
there are people who make a living making jewelry which is not
intended to last or be repaired. A boutique in Nashville sells tiny
pendants on a string. The card says that they are “wish necklaces”.
When the string breaks, your wish comes true. Uh, what? I’d be
wishing I didn’t spend $25 on a necklace I was gonna lose! My point
is that you can create something which may or may not be well made
or well intentioned, but it seems to be all about marketing and
building relationships so you have repeat customers. I agree with
those who have said that on the job experience is more valuable than
school. However, if you want to be a designer, don’t forget to just
play with materials sometimes. That helps keep ideasfresh. Just my
two cents. Gerald, I would have loved to see those wind chimes!


#19

Hi all

However, there are people who make a living making jewelry which
is not intended to last or be repaired. 

See this stuff all the time. Asked to repair a ring with a broken
shank…5 mm thick just a disaster waiting to happen.

Person was not happy that to re-shank the ring was more than it
cost. Well hello cheap jewellery is usually cr*p jewellery. Also did
not like to be told it was probably not sterling, just a cheap
casting from Asia.

Not all of this comes from Asia, see a lot of gold rings with weak
shanks and too thin claws etc.

Also the chain store con of all rings are too small for the average
person so have to pay to have it re-sized.

Had a customer complain the chain store engagement ring had the
diamond fall out twice and she had to pay to have it reset.

She said her husband, a police officer was not happy. Gave her the
right info to deal with the store. Went in with husband in uniform.

Ring re-clawed and refunds forth coming. These guys do the trade no
favours.

I guarantee my jewellery for life. All components over engineered.
Had 2 repairs in 25 years, not my fault pieces were dropped on
concrete or shut in doors. Fixed for free. Quality and service set
you apart from the rest.

all the best
Richard.


#20

Hi Eleanor and others

There is also amazing, innovative jewelry out there. And some of it
could be considered art jewelry. I personally like to make jewelry
that people feel is like art they are wearing. But I also think it
needs to be made well (sloppy solder seams and lumpy bezels are not
an artistic statement to me), and I think it needs to look wearable.
Weird for weird's sake is just ridiculous. 

yes there is wonderful jewellery out there. I make many classic
designs. But I also make unique fused and reticulated gem set pieces.
All made to the highest quality. Quality fabrication and unique
designs and very wearable.

Sold a ring the other week, rose quartz ball in a reticulated shank.
Thought pushed this too far no one will buy this.

Had many look at over a few weeks, then this guy just put it on and
fell in love with this. Had never seen anything like it.

Told him this is what I make when I am bored at the bench. There
will never be another one of these. This ring was for him but I could
see he was short of cash gave him a discount and his girlfriend paid
with plastic. Both happy and me too.

They may be hungry till pay day but love can feed you well.

These are the sales that make my day. When I see the enrapturement
on the client’s face money is secondary.

I am such a sucker for this. Still made a good profit, I am not a
complete idiot just an emotional one.

All the best
Ricahrd