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Getting unstuck

Dear Orchidians,

I’m a new artist trying to ‘start over’ at 44. I wrote once before
in July

('I miss this work’

and received helpful feedback. I’m hoping you won’t mind lending
some guidance again.

In my last email I talked about wanting to make a career change from
my tech job back to self employment but I was feeling uneasy about
taking the plunge and leaving a ‘secure’ job. Ha! Well it was
taken out of my hands, so to speak, and I was laid off last October.
(watch out for what 'ya pray for - you just might get it!)

So now I’m giving it my best shot. I took the severance pay and
trained at Revere Academy for several weeks, set up a workshop at
home, and wrote a business plan. On a tight budget - I don’t have
to see income from jewelry sales until August. My plan is to make
jewelry and build up an inventory, and then start selling retail
this summer/fall through some combination of a website and art/craft
shows in the SF bay area. I like working with stones and I have
some good ones I had stashed away from the 1980’s when I used to run
a small jewelry business with someone.

So I should be making jewelry day and night, burning the candle at
both ends. But I can’t seem to find a groove. I keep starting and
stopping. Its a tad embarrassing to admit - but I know if I don’t
speak up, my fears will start growing roots.

What’s happening is I start with a stone I want to work with and
either I can’t find a design I’m excited about; or I come up with a
design but it turns out to be harder than I thought and I get stuck.
After struggling with it for awhile I get frustrated and put it
aside and work on something else. I have a growing pile of
incomplete designs. When I was in this business before I had a
skilled partner who worked nearby so I could get help whenever I ran
into trouble but now its just me. I didn’t expect this to be easy -
but I’m not sure how to get moving and keep moving. I feel very
fortunate to have this opportunity and I don’t want to blow it.

I also wonder if I should take some of the practice exercises I
learned at school and do them during some part of each day. Do you
think its better to practice new skills in practice projects, or
just apply new skills in actual production? I guess I’m feeling
under pressure to make all of my time at the bench be production.

So I would sure appreciate any suggestions you have on how you start
moving and stay moving. Also, I would sure appreciate having a
someone or two that I could turn to with fabrication questions. I’m
not sure if I can use the list for that or not. I mean - I don’t
want to misuse it.

Thanks a lot for participating on this list. I use the archives to
augment my training on everything from soldering tips to business
questions to shop safety. I sure do appreciate it.

Catherine Borger


I get my design inspirations from people.

I’ll be talking with a friend and think…wow, it’s so cool how
she’s into dolphins or papillons. Or it’s really neat how he speaks
Gaelic…then an idea will come, I’ll sketch it out and they suddenly
have a nice gift. (My friends wear more of my jewelry than I do
) When I look at my work I see the people it was inspired by.

I don’t often get stuck with technique, but when I have, I’ve found
that knowing it’s a gift somehow gets me over the hump.

Oh wait, you wanted to make money didn’t you? Well when I do the
design I’m thinking of that “gift” as my prototype, my research and
model to photograph for my website/brochures.

I have also found Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way very helpful when
I’m stuck in projects…or overwhelmed with deadlines. The morning
pages (journalling) are my lifelines sometimes as I try to keep
myself on track in both my life and my art.

Barb Baur


I’m sure you’ll get lots of responses to your message - it seems like
we all have trouble keeping moving at some point or another.
Designing pieces and product lines that are fully thought out and
"doable" is likely the most difficult task any of us face. So what’s
a person to do?

As a full-time BFA student (in my third year now), I’ve had ample
opportunity to test good working methods. I’ve learned a few things
that might help you:

  1. Go with your first idea, even if you temporarily fall out of love
    with it. I’ve wasted tons of time trying to generate an idea after
    dismissing my first one for whatever reason, only to end up coming
    first circle. Remember, too, that YOU are not your work and each
    project doesn’t have to reflect the sum of who you are.

  2. Once you have your idea, write down the order of operations with
    as many details and steps as possible. This helps to reveal design
    issues early on, while they are easier to resolve. Make paper or
    cardboard models whenever possible. Test ideas in copper or brass if
    you’re not sure. I know, I know, models don’t pay the rent, but they
    do tell you if an idea will work or not and offer the opportunity for
    skill practice.

Somehow, I find that practicing skills, “playing” in the studio, and
making models to be extremely different from producing or making art
pieces. And extremely rewarding. I’ve learned more from these
activities, in less time, than I’ve ever learned from producing. Not
only that, but playing and practicing relieve stress, and tend to
give me new ideas for how to complete backburnered pieces.

  1. Join your local metals guild. This will provide you with contacts
    in your area of people that might be willing to help you.

If I wasn’t in school right now, which offers an amazing peer
network, I would form a small group of like-minded people to meet
every two weeks or so in order to critique each other’s work and
generate ideas on how to do things better. Working alone is tough, so
knowing that you’re going to see your crit group can be motivating in
a way that personal drive cannot always succeed.

  1. SET GOALS! Write them down, and work toward them.

  2. You asked if you should practice, and (as stated in #2) I highly
    recommend you do. Set time aside every day for this if at all
    possible. If you find that it doesn’t feel any different than working
    on actual pieces, you can decide if practicing is worth your time.
    Personally, my mind treats practice differently. I stress out when
    I’m working on a ‘real’ project, but relax when I’m practicing,
    likely because I’m not under pressure to perform. Depending on what
    I’m practicing, though, I frequently end up with a usable item (for
    example, I’ve been practicing wire soldering with sterling jump
    rings, so now that I’m getting really good, I can use the chain for

Catherine, I also come from the tech world, and have found the
transition from Sitting-in-Front-of-Computer to Maker-of-Things a bit
strange. Perhaps this is part of your dilemma as well?

As for whether you should post fabrication questions to this list -
of course you should! Research in books and the archives first to see
if either one answers your question, obviously, but the Orchid list
is here as a means to share so don’t feel insecure
posting questions.

Having said that, I highly recommend you find a support network near
you. Though this list is amazing, it cannot always replace having
someone look at the project in person before making recommendations.
It sounds like you’re in the Bay area, which has lots of jewelers and
resources. I’ve heard wonderful things about the Metal Arts Guild,
and they are big enough to have hosted the SNAG conference in 2003.
You can find them at

Whatever you do, don’t let the fear take over. You can do this.

Amy Johnston


I too was helped along by my past employer. Sometime you just need a
swift kick in the rear. Don’t despair. I too sometimes go a month
without a good ideal and then all of a sudden the flood gates open
and I’m drawing away. Sometimes that will last a couple of days or a
month. The other thing that would be a benefit is to meet with other
like minded people. I meet with a group once a week. It is part of a
Goldsmithing Guild and I am sure there is something in the SF area.
Make sure you are on the mailing list for organization that do
jewelry workshops.We have local successful jewelers that do
workshops. This exposes you to new ideals or a new approach to
things. I have a very good friend that I am contact a couple of
times a week. She is really great because we are completely honest
with each other about our work. So if what I am making is looking
tired or I am just not working to my potential she will let me know.
You really need to find someone that you click with, someone that is
honest and will share their ideals.

Happy Hunting!
Rodney Carroll
RC Gems

What's happening is I start with a stone I want to work with and
either I can't find a design I'm excited about; or I come up with
a design but it turns out to be harder than I thought 

Dear Catherine,

I can understand you very well, but what I would suggest is to start
with your first incomplete design, try to finish it! Some times it
happenes that the very design you didn’t like is a favorite for
someone. As you start finishing what you have in your hand one by
one, you will get more ideas, and pretty soon you will find yourself
loving what you are doing. Some times your first idea is your best


Do you  think its better to practice new skills in practice
projects, or just apply new skills in actual production?  I guess
I'm feeling under pressure to make all of my time at the bench be

It might be well to have several projects going at one time but make
sure some of the projects are just plain - meaning - simple designs
that will be easily finished. You should have a variety of pieces to
sell to the public anyway. Some should be nice looking basic pieces.
Others can be fancier and use more advanced methods of working with
metals. By being able to see that some pieces are being finished
while you are working on the harder pieces, you will feel good about
what you are doing. On any one piece you don’t have to put into
practice every technique you might know.


I certainly would keep trekking on with the designs that are harder
and you get stuck on. these are the designs that you like and
inspire you!

there are several options.

start with your “easiest” design (you have a stack to pick from)
think of a way you can modify the design to make it easier. (for
example , if it calls for a bezel setting that is beyond your means,
make a faux bezel that is backset) there are alot of ways to acheive
the same look without using the same building blocks!

also, use this wonderful resource. Many of the experienced people
on this website would be more than happy to help you along on problem
spots. I also wouldn’t get too discouraged, if I had a dime for every
"uncompleted" project I started, I would probably be rich! I think
it has something to do with being an artist (I am sure there are many
on this list with a drawer full of 1/2 completed ideas and projects)
good luck, and heads up.

also invest in a good how to idea book…I would recommend the OPPI
TECHNOLOGY. You can’t always replace a “go-to” guy like your skilled
ex-partner, but use your resources and you can BECOME the “go-to
guy!(gal)” anyway, it’s the hard ones and the learning that makes
making jewelry rewarding and fun!

good luck and I hope this helps!

julia potts
Julia Potts Studios
Birdsboro, PA

Just some advice from a person in a similar situation…

I’ve been building my “career” as a jeweler for a few years now
during this time I have been taking night classes at a local college
to enhance my skills, and I work part time in an un-related field

I produce for retail/wholesale designs that are WELL within my
skills/abilities and continue to experiment with new techniques or
more difficult designs which I either keep or give as presents and if
I’m not happy with the results I put it in the scrap metal pile to be
used for casting

I would also suggest using silver and synthetic stones to experiment
with (dirt cheap) before using anything from your treasure trove

I’m guessing from you tone in the email that you are putting too
much pressure on yourself to produce technically difficult pieces I
suggest just figuring out what are some designs that you can produce
without stress and a few months down the road you may be “in the
groove” enough to tackle the more difficult designs - and one at a
time for your sanity!

meanwhile keep reading orchid for inspiration and help

good luck
Aimee Kennedy

Hello Catherine -

I have to agree with Ekrem - that the very piece you are working on
may be for a particular - yet to be known - individual. :slight_smile:

When I first started out full time in the public - as an independent

  • I had several half baked “cookies” on my bench. I was up against
    a deadline for an event and my sister-in-law, who stopped by said,
    “Cindy, what is this and what is that - sell them!”. So, I
    finished up these things and sure enough, they sold. It’s then,
    that I told myself - “Gee, what do I know”?! My pleasure is in
    making the jewelry - I’m not one who wears jewelry particularly.
    So, I see this work as a big science experiment - to complete
    pieces and watch the results - of their finding a “home”.

I am so self critical sometimes that it can be stifling. When I
lighten up on that quality (which actually is a good trait for the
technical difficulty involved in our medium) - and detach from the
work more - it becomes more of a dance. Sometimes pieces sit
partially finished for a while - and when I come back to them with
"fresh" eyes - I’ll be able to have “fun” with them and see them to
completion. That’s the beauty of working for oneself - and not
having to please a customer or supervisor’s deadline. Special
orders are another challenge that need to be solved in spite of

When you are selling at shows again, you will have direct customer
feedback - which is very helpful in proceeding and possibly
continuing (or not continuing) in certain directions. More
importantly, though, listen to yourself and what works for your own
creative process.

Very often, in my creative process, the work transforms into
something that was not my original intention. The pieces find their
own life. I just try to pay attention and be willing to modify the
work - especially, if the difficulty is beyond my time restraints or
capability. A piece of jewelry cannot sell unless it is finished!
We are all different - and although I do sketch and plan ahead, I
prefer to stay open to the possibility of changing the piece while
working on it. This is a personal preference - and, to me, there is
no right or wrong way to proceed - if it works. Sometimes, forcing a
piece to completion will end up in disaster. But, on the same
breath - fortunately, stretching to that uncomfortable zone more
often ends up with a decent result.

I also recommend the book, “The Artist’s Way” - Julia Cameron. In
the past, there have been strings on Orchid on this subject. Even
now, I will still dip into the book and have continued to write the
three pages most every day. The complexities and challenges of
managing my time with family obligations and still having "fresh"
work in the works - can be overwhelming sometimes.

Your decision was “made” for you - to leap - and, I’m sure you will
rise to the occasion and proceed. Have fun with it - and know that
the unfolding of work is a process. As you go along, you may have
to set limitations. That idea has also helped me in proceeding.
Jewelry/metalwork is such a broad field of possibilities. I do work
on new skills behind the scenes and wait until I’ve mastered them
to a level that I’m comfortable with - before presenting things to
the public.

Deadlines, for me, are essential - self imposed or externally
imposed. (This isn’t a problem that you have, but I have had to
learn to work in “snippets” of time - rather than marathon style.
I prefer totally immersing myself with large chunks of bench time,
but, have not been able to do that for some time, now.)

My recommendation would be to take one or two partially completed
pieces and see them to finality. One step at a time is always good
approach - rather than focusing on the big picture or being
concerned with being successful - which can be distracting,
actually. Yes, challenge yourself and stick to your level of
integrity - but, perhaps be willing to modify the work as it
unfolds - especially if the difficulty of the fabrication is more
than you bargained for in the original intention.

One more thought . . . I have found that the public is very
supportive and appreciative of my efforts - even if I am never
satisfied and always expect more from myself. :slight_smile:

Wishing you the best and this forum is a perfect place to pose
questions. (I tend to be wordy, but hope these thoughts are of some


Hi Catherine,

I think this’ll be a popular thread - I don’t know of anyone in a
creative field that hasn’t had to face the horror of the blank
canvas, the blinking cursor, the pristine sheet of silver…and
figure out what to do about it.

I do quite a few production pieces, as well as one-offs, so while I’m
waiting for some kind of inspiration to strike, I assign myself
routine tasks like de-spruing, filing, or soldering findings. In
your case, maybe a few very simple projects (like throwing a bezel
around a stone, adding a bail, and making a simple hand-linked chain
to go with it) will help get the creative energy flowing. Not only
that, but people will probably buy those pieces just as happily as
your more involved designs. Pretty stone + nice chain = perceived
value :slight_smile:

For me, it’s often difficult to determine when a design is “good
enough” or when a piece, especially a wax carving, is “done.” When
this happens, I remind myself: it doesn’t have to be perfect, but it
does have to be.

Deadlines are also a wonderful motivator for many people - maybe it
would help if you got yourself into a show planned for 4 or 5 months
away, and focused on cranking out the inventory you’ll need for that
show. Moreover, the show will most likely get you lots of
feedback, some cash, and an incentive to make more stuff.

And please don’t hesitate to ask fabrication questions! I’m sure
we would all benefit from them in one way or another.

Good luck and best wishes,
Jessee Smith

Hello Orchidians,

I have received some terrific feedback on this thread and offline -
and its all been unique. Part of being stuck is feeling 'locked’
into my own limited perspectives so getting input from different
vantage points really makes a difference - I considered all of it
and pursued a lot of it. So this is just a quick note to say ‘thank
you’ for responding. There’s a lot of collective knowledge and
wisdom in this community!


Definitely, finish the piece. If you have doubts, make another. Use
Your uncertainly as a source for new directions. People worry they
are not creative, where are the designs? Make the piece, make the
changes in the next. It’s a dialogue between you, the material, and
your ideas.