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Feeling a Little Overwhelmed

Hello all. I’ve been reading, enjoying and learning from the
that has been posted over the few months that I’ve been a
subscriber. However, I think my lurking time has come to an end as I
have a few questions and am seeking some advice.

My background is in physics, I’m 33 years old, and I currently have a
somewhat “cushy” job at a university in Chicago. On the other hand I
am also a very artistic person, and for several years now I have been
on a path toward deciding whether to pursue a “career” in art or in
science. I have been engaged in a huge internal battle in which,
long story short, the art side has finally won (though there will
always be a special place in my heart for physics). I have chosen to
follow my passion for jewelry design and creation, and seriously
need guidance on how to achieve my goals.

My main goal is to have design and fabrication knowledge/skills be
second nature for me-I want to come as close as possible to being a
master of goldsmithing. I’ve been engaged in self study for a while,
and I even took a metalsmithing class at an art center here in
Chicago. I did not like the content of the class (or lack thereof)
for the price. So, I told myself that for the money I’d be spending
on taking the classes, never certain of whether I’d learn what I
felt I needed to learn in a given period, I’d just invest the money
in books, tools and equipment and teach myself as much as possible.
[I’m about to buy and teach myself how to use a water torch (my husband and I live in an apartment and I don’t want to risk working with compressed gases indoors until I’m totally comfortable with them-caustic chemicals though, no problem! ;-)]

My desire to learn and do jewelry has become very overpowering. My
frustration is building because trying to learn and do this in my
spare time and on weekends just isn’t enough. I want to totally
immerse myself in the jewelry world-and not from a sales
perspective-I need to fabricate (although, I am open to
possibilities). I mentioned the “cushy” job earlier because though my
plan is to teach myself what I can, I do realize the value of guided
instruction. I am SO willing to quit this job and take a likely
crazy cut in salary to work as an apprentice. -I’ll do it in a
heartbeat if I find the right environment. Having an unrelated day
job is quite torturous.

In the meantime I’ve constructed a curriculum for myself that
includes pretty much everything in most of the major fabrication
books out there. I’m also planning to take a few GIA courses. Could
that be enough to give me a decent working background?

So, that’s an abbreviated version of my journey, and here are the
questions:

a) Does anyone have any advice?!

b) Does anyone know of any good, professional places to learn
jewelry fabrication in the Chicagoland area? --I’m surprised that
with Chicago being such a hot spot for jewelry sales, design and
fabrication, there seem to be no education or trade programs for
those who want to learn the craft.

c) With regard to torches, based on reading and research I’ve done,
most jewelers/artists prefer compressed gas torches-would I be at a
disadvantage trying to develop my fabrication skills on a water
torch?

Any advice would really be appreciated.

Tamra Gentry
@Tamra_M_Gentry

Tamara,

        In the meantime I've constructed a curriculum for myself
that includes pretty much everything in most of the major
fabrication books out there. I'm also planning to take a few GIA
courses. Could that be enough to give me a decent working
background? 

You may already know, GIA comes to Chicago every fall. Take
everything they offer.

        Does anyone know of any good, professional places to learn
jewelry fabrication in the Chicagoland area? --I'm surprised that
with Chicago being such a hot spot for jewelry sales, design and
fabrication, there seem to be no education or trade programs for
those who want to learn the craft. 

Ah yes, Chicago is full of such ironies. There is but one place: The
Chicago Metal Arts Guild. I invite you to join us; check us out at
http://www.ChicagoMetalArtsGuild.org

We host professional level workshops that will assist you in your
progress. Earlier this year Tom Muir was here, in November, Cynthia
Eid will be here, and we’re having a forming workshop as well. We
have obscure metalsmithing topics art centers don’t have because the
number of people interested is too small. We also have artist
lectures, seminars on business issues. Be sure to join soon so you
don’t miss our annual all member meeting.

There used to be a trade school in Chicago: the Renteria Jewelers
Trade School. The instruction was primarily in Spanish.

I’m sorry you had a negative experience with the art center. Perhaps
taking a for-credit class would be more appropriate. Please write to
me off line and I can make some recommendations.

I’m afraid you’ll have to travel to complete your education. For
weekends, I encourage you to try out the Indianapolis Art Center

And plan your annual vacations to travel to places where you can
attend trade school.

    With regard to torches, based on reading and research I've
done, most jewelers/artists prefer compressed gas torches-would I
be at a disadvantage trying to develop my fabrication skills on a
water torch? 

That’s because most of us can’t afford a water torch. Water torches
will only do goldsmithing type work – small stuff. I’ll let some
one who has actually used one answer, but I don’t think it will harm
you. Lots of torches are different and it takes a while to get used
to each one.

Elaine

Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
http://www.CreativeTextureTools.com
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

Dear Tamara, my first questionis what is your goal for this
undertaking? You say you want to learn fabrication as second nature
but to what end? Do you want to own your own store or be a bench
jeweler or be the next Yurman? Do you want t make money at this as a
career or be a serious hobbiest? Do you want to travel to street
fairs, chase the trade show circuit or the art show circuit to
wholesale or retail? Do you want to design and be independent or work
for someone else when you reach the techincal ability you desire?

I am SO willing to quit this job and take a likely crazy cut in
salary to work as an apprentice

I would check the going salaries for bench jewelers in Chicago, this
is not only likely but certain that you will recieve a substantial
paycut and that is IF you recieve any pay at all for some time.
Being a bench jewelrer is probably the most certain way anyone can
make a living at this business. It is the least costly way as well
and has the most laid out path. Being on your own has a whole set of
skills away from the bench you will also need. At this point this is
a dream of yours, Lord knows I’m all for chasing my dreams but
reality would have been nice to at least know about when I started.

Sam Patania, Tucson
www.patanias.com

I was in a similar situation a few years back and look the plung
never looking back. Knowing very little about metalsmithing or
business, making a few mistakes along the way and being totally self
taught. If you are willing to take the chances to be sucessful it
could work out, but you will have to work very very hard. good luck

sarah

Hi Tamra,

We have similar background and age. My infinite self says pray about
it, my finite self says keep you day job and work into the business.
Try to apprentice after the day job hours. The longer you leave the
corporate world the more difficult it is to join again. In order to
live a comparable financial lifestyle, sales may be required.

I’m sure others can help with the education aspect. I’m just a rock
cutter.

Sincerely,

Ed Cleveland
303-882-8855
www.kashmirblue.com

I don’t want to leave out anyone who sent a response to my original
post, so I hope you don’t mind if I do this this way: I want to say a
huge thank you to everyone who offered advice both on and off the
forum regarding my situation. I found ALL of the advice to be
really helpful and quite thought-provoking. Some of the comments
confirmed thoughts I’d already had, and on the other hand I got new
ideas from others.

Needless to say, I think I might be holding on to my day-job a
little longer… ;-> It’s not that I don’t like it–it’s just that I
all I want to do is learn about and create jewelry, and work on
developing my skills, period. I’ve never been so focused on wanting
or needing to do one thing. I feel like, if I die tomorrow and I
don’t get to a certain point with this, I’ll feel totally gypped–if
I die after I get to where I want, then by all means throw a party
and shoot my ashes off into space. In the meantime though, there are
a few things I think I can do to at work to make my not spending that
time doing/learning jewelry a bit less torturous, and perhaps
actually work to my advantage.

I’m really excited about the options/support in Chicago (thanks
Elaine!), and I’ve also accepted that I’ll likely be traveling to get
what I want with regards to training–hopefully that happens sooner
rather than later. We’ll see.

Again, I really do appreciate all of the advice and encouragement.

Best regards,
Tamra Gentry

Dear Tamra: I just read your thank you note to Orchidians, and want
to add a few thoughts of my own, hoping I am not simply repeating
what others have told you.

How you manage to get through the daily grind of your present job
depends a great deal on your attitude. If you regard it as a
hindrance to doing what you love, then it will be really painful to
stay with it. If however, you can turn that around, and regard it as
your insurance, saving as much money as you can, so that you will be
able to finance your real love, it will become tolerable as a means
to an important end. I am sure many people have mentioned that you
need at least two or three years of capital to tide you over while
you are building a new career. Many people will also report that
being starved for money to eat, pay rent, etc., is very scary and
debilitating, and does not contribute to being creative. So, with
this new attitude, your present job becomes the ladder that will
lead you to your new career, and you will find yourself less
restless and resentful. Meanwhile, of course, as you suggested, get
all the training, classes, and skills for which you can
possibly make time. It will be very satisfying, and when you are
ready to quit your day job, you will be skilled enough to begin
producing top notch work. Also, be sure to get some training in
business practices. Unfortunately, being creative and skilled isn’t
enough to insure that you will be able to sell your jewelry.

Good Luck
Best Wishes,
Sandra Buchholz
Elegant Insects