Helping a friend transition

Hi everyone!

A very dear friend of mine is unhappy with her job/livelihood and
wants very much to move into the jewelry artist field. To this end,
she is coming to visit me for a week (she lives about 6 hours away)
for a Learning Vacation in my studio.

There are any number of things I could teach her, but I want to
ensure that she is able to continue to do this work at home in her
free time.

Her living situation allows her some work space in an area in the
main part of her apartment - a section of a largely unused dining
room. So her studio area will be small. Her other limitation is
financial. She cannot afford a lot of equipment.

Would you help me brainstorm here?


Hi Susan,

I am one of those people who went from an less than satisfactory
career in the corporate world, to making a living from my
art/jewelry. It doesn’t happen in just a few weeks, but I can give
you some pointers based upon my experience:

  1. Read “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. I had been
    struggling with part time work (outside my craft) in order to make
    extra time to be in my studio. It wasn’t until I really paid
    attention to some of the exercises in that book, that I became
    productive. I’m a true believer that WE create our own obstacles in
    allowing ourselves to follow our passion. If your friend is truly
    ready to make a change, this will help. Attitude is everything!

  2. Start simple with the workspace. You do not have to reinvent
    the wheel in the beginning! You do NOT need a huge work space, and
    you do NOT need lots of big, expensive pieces of equipment in order
    to create. A flex shaft and the proper attachments, some good
    files, jeweler’s saw, soldering station (with ventilation). It’s not
    a big investment, (at least if she likes fabrication, as opposed to

  3. Depending upon how ambitious your friend is, she can get free
    help to draw up a business plan and obtain money through a local
    Small Business Administration.

The BEST thing I ever did with my life, was to follow my passion.
I’ve been supporting myself for five years, doing nationally juried
shows, retail and wholesale. I’ve worked hard all my life and always
took pride in whatever I did. Working on my own - watching my
thoughts develop into reality is so much more satisfying than
anything I’ve ever done before. It IS like a magic act to me - and
nothing has been more worthwhile.

These are just a few tips, as I sit here with a cup of coffee this
morning. I am a BIG fan and supporter of anyone who strikes out to
fulfill their passion. If you have any other questions, or if I can
be of any further support (I’m a great cheerleader!), please contact

Susan, I believe wire and beads are a great start. If the imagination
is there, there are no limits.

Wire Artict Magazine <> is a great place to start,
there are so many combinations of wire alone and wire with beads, or
polished stones. Found items also can be used.

There is a commercial site that somewhat guarantees success with
wire following their program and guidlines. Preston Reuther is the
designer there <>.

Hope this helps a bit.

It sounds like she would have trouble setting up a soldering
situation, at least at first. There is a fair amount that can be
done with wire and hand tools, and that would teach her a great deal
about controlling metal. The first project assigned to me when I
took silversmithing classes (back in the 70s, when we still used
wood-burning torches ) was making jump rings, sawing them apart,
and constructing an un-soldered Byzantine chain bracelet of 16 ga
sterling. We also made a wire clasp for the chain. Then we
polished it. Bingo! A very impressive project that taught me more
than I realized at first. Also, you can teach her to make wrapped
loops on headpins or plain wire, to form pendants or links. These
skills will stand her in good stead as she develops her artistic
bent. Another important skill is finishing: filing, smoothing,
buffing, and polishing. If she can’t afford a polisher, take her
through the steps using 4-0 steel wool through crocus cloth. Sawing
shapes is something she should learn early too. All these things
can be done with a homemade jumpring winder setup, 2 pairs of chain
nose pliers, 1 pair of round-nose pliers, a saw frame and blades,
polishing cloths, sticks, and steel wool, a set of inexpensive
needle files, and at some point, a metal hammer, a soft hammer
(plastic or rawhide), bench-pin (and bench to hold it up - for years
I used a salvaged student desk), steel-plate anvil. A lot of things
can be scrounged: I used to work on copper and brass rescued from a
rolling plant’s discards bin, electrical wire stripped of
insulation, stones and chains found at yard sales and Salvation Army
(oh, yes you can!) If she finds she has a talent for the work and a
real calling, good tools can be collected slowly.

Tas ← climbing down from her soapbox

Hi Susan,

With just a jeweler’s saw and blades, a piece of wood and C-clamp
for a bench pin you could show her how to pierce some fun pendants.
For ideas to pierce, stencil books are a good resource.

Have fun! Marta

I also have limited studio space. Some things that can easily be
done in a small space:

Wirework - wrapping, knitting, crocheting, weaving, chain maille,
etc. Bead stringing - knotting pearls, using beading wire & crimp
beads, attaching clasps, etc. Some metalwork - if you have a small
anvil or steel bench block, a few hammers, a saw or metal cutters,
and a dremel, there’s a lot you can do, and none of those tools are
big or very expensive. Beadwork - possibly not profitable, due to the
amount of labor involved, but all you need is beading thread,
needles, and some seed beads.

– Leah

When I started a couple of years ago, I thought my focus should be
on what equipment and my style only and that the work would sell
itself. If I could start over, I would research the ways I could
sell my work better–especially out of town shows–so that I could
avoid expensive mistakes. It doesn’t matter how much you save on the
production end if you lose it doing shows. Thomas Mann talks about
an artist who was asked what he would do if he won a million
dollars. He thought a moment and then replied, “I guess I’d just
keep doing shows until the money runs out.” Mann also talks about
“connections” with other people. I think they are what is behind the
best sales I’ve had.

J. Sue Ellington

Susan, you’re doing a nice thing in hosting a Learning Vacation
for your friend. If she likes jewelrymaking well enough to want to
do it at home, there are some obvious things to consider: --Can she
hammer, saw, or run a bench grinder or a tumbler without the noise
bothering her neighbors?

–Will she be allowed to use any kind of torch in an apartment

–If she does solder, will she have some method of venting fumes?

As for affordable equipment, if she really wants to get into this,
show her how to check the Orchid Archives for many, many suggestions
on optional equipment and processes.

The advantage of what you are doing is that your friend may discover
that this is NOT the way she wants to go!

All the best,
Judy Bjorkman

you can certainly carve wax in a very small area, with hot and cold
blades, or a flexshaft(a high quality flex might be a wise
investment), and the initial outlay for a few carvings, reliefs,
etc., is small for such a thrilling learning experience, if one is
inclined towards 2 or 3 dimensional experimentation. Many people are
naturals. The small sanding table that sits on your lap or on a
table, with a dust collector, sold in woodworking suppliy catalogs,
is good for carving many other materials also(woods, plastics, bone,


You could suggest to your friend attending a jewelry class at a
local community college. Tuition fees at community colleges tend to
be low and she would have access to all of the more expensive tools
and equipment for a semester while she makes the transition. Also,
community colleges often offer courses for “enrichment”, so there are
usually a number of more experienced people that take the same class
over and over again for the very reason of using the equipment.

Mary Latterman
Latterman Handmade