I sometimes wonder why I am doing this

I just threw a days work in the scrap and opened a botle of red and
am feeling a little down. Does anybody else do this? I have been at
this for 30 years and sometimes when you push the envelope into new
places you get knocked back. I try things that are risky in hopes of
doing something new and exciting. I suppose what is depressing me is
that my time for trying the new and risky things is limited. A
fellow has to eat and make his payments so you work your way through
the everyday work that pays the bills in hope of a little time to do
something of real interest only to have wasted that precious time on
an idea that didn’t work. Do any of you get down into this hole and
have a tough time getting back out of it? Obviously drowning my
sorrows is not a very good option and makes the next day even more
difficult. I don’t know why I feel like a failure, I have made many
beautiful peices of jewelry and made a good living at it. My joy and
insperation are failing. I can’t stand the idea of being content
with the mundane. I know some of you are reading this and not
feeling very sorry for me. You just want to make some kind of a
living making jewelry.

I sometimes wonder if any other occupation is this difficult. You
spend years learning skills and techniques, aquiring tools and
equipment, borrowing money to buy the expensive materials. Building a
clientele to buy these little works of art. I know I was born to do
this work but good lord it might have been simpler if I had just
become a plumber or a chiropractor or a used car salesman.


I completely identify with what you are saying. Granted, I only
started making jewelry in the “Ganoksin sense” about four years ago.
I used to get incredibly frustrated when things didn’t work out the
way I wanted them to. It was all I could do not to hurl the
offending piece across the room in rage. I had to make some major
changes in the way I live to get over those types of feelings. I am
still in the process now. It wasn’t just jewelry related things that
made me crazy, unfortunately. Being a type A personality, I have
never been very well adjusted when it comes to disappointment or
failure. At one time, things got so bad for me in an emotional sense,
that going on the way I was could not cvontinue to be an option.
Hence I made some BIG changes in the way I approach things (process
them mentally), and some occupational changes as well. Funny that you
said it would be been simpler to have been,"… a plumber or a
chiropractor or a used car salesman." I came to the same conclusion.
I went back to school for psychology and I graduate in May. I love
making jewelry, but it wasn’t very good for my health to try and be a
professional. I am happier being an amateur hack and when things
don’t work out when I am making something now I say to
myself,“Okay…well, it isn’t going the way I would like BUT a
learning opportunity has just presented itself,” another wards, I
have just screwed up royally, I could be hella pissed, or a could
just accept this and try to learn from rectifying the screw-up I just
manufactured. Then I fix the piece or start over from scratch, and
emotionally I am still intact even if my pride hurts a wee bit. I
guess acceptance is really what I’m getting at. As for you and your
bottle of red, congrats, your still a jeweler and a successful one at
that! Making a living with your creativity and own two hands and then
selling what you make just might be one of the hardest freakin’ jobs
one can undertake. If the worst that happens is an occasional bought
of the blues and a couple of glasses of wine, you’ll lick your wounds
and get up to fight the good fight again. Be proud of yourself every
once in awhile. What you do is HARD! I should know, I tried to do it

Augest Derenthal
Cry Baby Designs

I just threw a days work in the scrap and opened a botle of red
and am feeling a little down. Does anybody else do this? I have
been at this for 30 years and sometimes when you push the envelope
into new places you get knocked back. I try things that are risky
in hopes of doing something new and exciting. 

I can’t yet fully relate to how you feel. I have not worked enough
where I can say I “make a living”…but, I am really glad that you
wrote this. Sometimes, you have this image that the jewelry world is
so glamorous and everyone else is out there, working, making great
designs, putting their mark in history. I think, all the time, when I
have more experience, I’m going to do great things, great work. I
have read many (too many) bios of artists in various mediums(media?)
who were looked on as extremely successful, and yet, they were so
unhappy with themselves…all the time. Always striving for more,
they never felt that they had “made it” anywhere. Maybe you have
touched a little on how these artists have felt? There is a
possibility that you are on the edge of something really good, that
is about to happen with your work. Possibly something great is just
around the corner?New and exciting is awesome, once it is conceived,
but so, so much work to acquire. I read something like"you need a
really BIG garbage can if your going to be coming up with great
ideas"…something like that. Actually, I’m happy for you (and maybe
a bit envious)…I think you are about to make a good change. Let me
know later if I was close to being correct on this. Good Luck…and,
personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with occasionally
drowning the sorrows in grape juice.


p.s. Everyone…this can be a difficult time of year (Holidays
#!&) please write inspiration if you have it

Brother, can I relate. But without pushing yourself you will always
be mundane. I fail too sometimes. But a failure makes me all the more
determined to redeem myself, at least, no…particularly, in my own
mind. I am my harshest critic. But I also know the difference between
what I would expect of myself and what the client expects. They vote
with their wallets. You’ve been at this for thirty years (me too) so
that alone should provide some proof that you’re doing something
right, something people value. They voted with their wallets too.

My biggest frustration is that because I do a lot of custom design
(I do need to find another term for that, so overused and abused) I’m
sort of held hostage to the client’s constraints. If I can’t make it
work somehow, I fail. Even if the customer’s concept was a flawed
one, its still my responsibility. While the challenge is exciting
some freedom would be refreshing. That’s what I was getting at in an
earlier post about wanting to try more art oriented jewelry. I think
I might wind up putting harsher constraints on myself though, but if
I don’t try, I certainly won’t succeed. And success feels good.
You’ve had successes. you’ve had failures. I’d bet plumbers and car
salesmen have their share of both.

Look at failure as an indication that you can still learn something.
When we cease to learn we cease to have joy.

Ok, pep talk over. Now get back to work.


You may get down sometimes, but can you imagine how much more
frequently the dumps would appear if you were a plumber,
chiropractor, or used car salesman?

Alana Clearlake

I know just what your problem is. I’m assuming by “Red”, you mean
Johnny Walker. Try The Macallan, instead. It’s that blended Scotch
that gets ya… Seriously, though - you’re suffering from writer’s
block, sounds like. everybody gets it, not just writers. Of course,
we can’t tell you what to do with your own life, but yes, probably
everybody’s had “The Doldrums”. Aside from “Get back up on the
Horse!!!”, my suggestion would be a vacation - preferably somthing
with umbrella drinks… At least a long weekend. Or Single Malt,
but that really doesn’t help, even if it tastes good…


About 10 years ago scrapped about 200 hours of work, an asymmetrical
water pitcher raised from a 12" 18g piece of silver. My skill at the
time came up a little short of my ambition. More recently I scrapped
about 40 handmade sterling pens because of a miscalculation, about
$13,800.00 of inventory. It always hurts and reminds me of my

Daniel Culver

A couple of nights ago, I was sitting in my armchair reading some of
the fascinating material that I picked up at the Clasp conference,
and my husband said, “I wish there was something that I was that
passionate about.”. He has a good and interesting job, but if he won
the lottery he would retire, and if I won the lottery I would still
make jewelry, but just not stress much about selling it. That’s the
difference. That is why you are doing this.

M’lou Brubaker
Minnesota, USA

What did you learn from this “failure”?

I have told students over and over - “If you don’t make mistakes you
won’t learn anything, don’t be afraid to make one - and learn from
it.” Try to keep your mistakes small, even though the huge ones
usually teach you more!

In fact, I now start my basic soldering workshops with controlled
“disasters”. The student starts by actually melting a piece of sheet
stock on purpose. Kinda the reverse method, but now they know what
the metal looks like - just before they’ve gone too far and
overheated a solder joint…

You can limit the cost of your “lessons” by using cheaper materials
to make an experimental run at the new technique.

For example, I have been hand engraving for 35 years now - but if I
have a very expensive one-of-kind knife to engrave - I will take the
time to get a piece of the same material (preferably from the maker)
and engrave a section of the pattern BEFORE I go and cut the actual
piece of work. I don’t know how much that has saved me over the
years, but I am sure that it is a very, very large amount of money…

Practice runs are worked into my cost estimates, and if I find that
the material to be engraved is too difficult, I can gracefully back
out of the job before I’ve damaged someone else’s work, made a good
client angry, or damaged my reputation.

You make the test run on a new technique small, out of inexpensive
material that has most of the same characteristics of the “real” job,
and you don’t invest a lot of time finding out if it is currently
beyond your level of experience - or maybe even one of the things
that cannot be physically done!

This reminds of the time that a graduate of one of Gina’s old
Jewelry Design courses sent me a drawing of a ring she wanted made.
She was shocked when I told her that just because she could draw it,
did not mean that it could be made… (at least on this particular

Brian P. Marshall
Stockton Jewelry Arts School
Stockton, CA USA

I don't know why I feel like a failure 

You feel like a failure because what you did, didn’t work. It is
very disappointing, because you don’t have much time to experiment,
and it feels as though you wasted that time. (Gee, none of the rest
of us ever go through that…) I wish I could find a bumper sticker
like one I saw in the artits’ lot at a show… “Oh, no, not another
learning experience!”

It may help a little to think of Thomas Edison. He tried 25,000
different things before he found a material that would work as a
light bulb filament. When he was asked how it felt to fail 25,000
times, he is reported to have said, “I didn’t fail, I learned 25,000
things that don’t work!”


Your post reminded me of when I used to do a lot of water skiing as
a teenager, years ago. I was pretty good, and was always challenging
myself to learn new things. Of course I fell a lot, but eventually
learned the new maneuver. I could never understand why some kids
would brag that they never fell. They were obviously happy to get up
on their skis and stay there. I got to be a pretty good skier, by the

When I throw my day’s (or week’s) work in the recycle bin, I feel a
bit demoralized too, just as I did when I fell again and again in the
lake. But then when I’m lying awake in the middle of the night, I
have an “aha” moment, and know why it didn’t work. I alter my design
a bit, maybe more than once, but I finally get it to work. If it’s a
good design or idea, it’s worth trying.

The reason you’re feeling the way you are is because you’re a real
artist. You’re not content to stay with what’s comfortable and easy.
You stretch yourself in a new direction, and you make our entire
profession better for it.

I have found that the best part of my design work is in meditation.
(Some people call that taking a nap in the middle of the day). That
complete silence, relaxation and comfort creates a very inventive and
creative atmosphere. It’s the only time I can figure out why my
current design or invention won’t work, and the solution to making it

Take some quiet time off to restore those creative juices, and give
it another try.

I don’t know how many hundreds of people will read your post, but I
can tell you we can all identify with you, we’ve all been there, and
we’re all wishing you good luck on your next attempt.


I feel your pain. Been there. There are two things to remember as I
see it. One, any time you do something different, even if you fail
on your original idea, you learn something. Some of the most
important, exciting discoveries are born of failure of the original
thought. It’s called serendipity. Two, yeah there’s the mundane
everyday, pay your bills kind of stuff and that can get old. I was a
nurse for 20 years but I’m now a gemmology student at the Canadian
Gemmological Association. I’m also taking jewellery making classes.
It’s what I want to do. Certainly nursing made a tidy income for
me, but I didn’t really enjoy it - I was tired of night/day 12 hour
shifts and I’m not a 20 something anymore. But I digress. You say you
were born to make jewellery. While being a “plumber or a chiropractor
or a used car salesman” may bring in steady money, you wouldn’t enjoy
them half as much as what you’re doing. It took me over 50 years to
finally make a decision to follow my passion and I’m so glad I did
it. Everyone will have days like you just had. In that case you did
what I might have done. Walk away, open a good red (and BC has a lot
of those ;-)) put your feet up and tell yourself that tomorrow will
be another day. Above all, never be afraid to push the envelope.
Yours may well be the next great design.


Well, YEAH I can relate to this.

Unfortunately, I’m not in the position to make all my income doing
jewelry… it’s something I came to relatively late in life and am
supporting a family on an established income. So the 10-20 hours per
week (on a good week) that I can carve out for my jewelry obsession
as I try to build it into a business that can become self-supporting
is very treasured time. Feeling like I’ve wasted any of it irks me to
no end… as it does when I’m too ill or drained from my “day job” or
stressed over other stuff to be able to pour my heart and creativity
into it.

I’ve learned over the past 7 or 8 years to do a couple of things
when stuff doesn’t work the way I want it to. Maybe some of them will
work for you.

  • Don’t just “toss it in the scrap.” If I can afford to not
    immediately recycle the metal, I’ll toss it into a Ziploc and put it
    in my “reflection” drawer. Some time later (months, a year?), when
    I’m looking for inspiration, I’ll go through that drawer and look at
    my past “failures.” I find that those failures usually had a grain of
    inspiration in them and I just wasn’t approaching them quite right.
    Sometimes they spark experimentation in a different direction that’s
    more successful, sometimes I’ve developed a different technique of
    skill that makes them more viable, and other times I realize they
    really WERE a waste of time that just deserves to be scrapped. But I
    can really SEE them from a different perspective at that point.

  • Do a “post-mortem” on the project. It’s as important to ask
    yourself what you DID learn as it is to know where it went wrong.
    Because I always, always, always learn something from my
    failures…usually more than I do from my successes, because I pay
    more attention to the failures.

  • Rather than beating myself up, I’ll tackle a completely different
    project for a little bit of time and reinforce that I AM good at
    this. I try really hard not to let the little negative voice control
    the dialog.

In terms of other occupations, I think from watching friends that
writers and 2D/3D artists have it at least as difficult as we do. I
know a really good writer who sells her work a LOT. She has to
maintain a day job so she has health insurance, has a binder with
about 2500 rejection slips in it, and always feels like the
profession is one that’s all about “what have you done for me
lately.” And she’s considered a success in that field.

Yes, it might be simpler to be a plumber or used-car salesman, but
the world would be much poorer without us artistic souls. It’s not
for every one to take the easy way!

Trust me, it WILL get better.

Karen Goeller

Yes! Throwing your work in the scrap is Ok. Once I was working on a
pice of bi-metal and roller printed silver. I was having so many
issues in fact, that several times I threw it across the studio in
total disgust. You didn’t waste a thing. You learned what not to do.
Sometimes you the mark dead on, and other times it’s an, “oh well.”

Drink a nice glass of Merlot, or half the bottle. You are not alone
at all.

Thanks for writing in.


Karen Christians
Jewelry/Metalarts School & Cooperative Studio
50 Guinan St.
Waltham, MA 02451
Ph. 781/891-3854 Fax 3857

I, too, fell into the same blue bottle of red, and became quite
dissapointed with my career direction. But recently I discovered a
way to end that funk. A young guy came in my store, asking how he
could get started in the jewelry trade. He said he was looking at a
school somewhere that was 10Gs for 6-10 weeks. Figuring that he
would never carry through, like 99.999 of 100 people that ask, I told
him to try a 1-2 week school in Florida, to learn the basics of
soldering, and when he finished, to come back and talk to me about a
possible parttime training position. And I figured that was end the
of that. About 6 weeks or so later when I returned from my Alaskan
vacation, he walked in the door, and said he was ready. I told him
to come back that evening, and that I wanted to see what he could
accomplish at the bench. WOW! This guy is pretty darn good,
especially for a beginner. I now am drumming up enough new business,
to keep the both of us busy all the time. And the real bonus is,
that having this guy around every day, 20 years my junior, has
reinvigorated my entire attitude about my business. I’m doing things
I had’nt thought about in years. Just the difference in our ages has
given me all new insight in every thing I do daily. So far, he’s
barely worth what I’m paying him because he is slow. But I’ve
decidsed to commit a fair amount of cash to training and keeping
this guy, simply because he’s serious about all of this, and the new
outlook I gained from it has been more than worth what I have spent
so far. I’ve gone from a one man workarea, working 50-70 hour weeks
for years, to suddenly squeezing this guy in with an entire new
bench setup with torch, tools, etc… Hey, I even get to go home in
the evenings sometimes nowadays, where I find myself working on new
ideas, plans, and promotions, simply because I have fell in love with
my trade all over again, after 30 some years of daily slugging it out
with whatever the retail day dished out for me. And in regards to
trying to be something other than what you are, I tried that too,
years ago, and even on my red/blue days I’m 1000 times happier doing
this, than anything else.

Ed in Kokomo

Hi Fellow Traveler;

I know I was born to do this work but good lord it might have been
simpler if I had just become a plumber or a chiropractor or a used
car salesman. 

Yeah, I’m smirking at a comrade in suffering right now. Sorry,
really, that you feel you wasted all that time, but you didn’t. Look
at it this way: it’s a darn good way to put everything else in
perspective. That isn’t waste. Waste takes place on a grand scale,
and I don’t need to point to our present political situation to
illuminate that point. Your’s and mine is a crossword puzzle compared
to that. Finish it, it’s a small victory. Fail, and there’s another
in tomorrow’s paper. No blood or tears, just a little sweat.

Sorry, I’m off on a mission of philisophical disYou
don’t want sympathy, do you? I could give you a million pat answers,
all useless, like how about the guy who really wants to do this but
has serious physical handicaps. (I’ve got the mental handicaps,
meaning, I’m basically “mental”.) These arguments don’t work, because
for that guy, there are at least two who have zero talent, are making
gobs of money, and would sell yatchs or teach motivational workshops
or peddle hedge funds and find it just as gratifying as making
jewelry. I hate those polyana-ish panderings you get. I don’t want to
think about others when it’s about me, and it’s about me till I get
over me, and Gawd, please made that soon and often. I’ll tell you why
I do it, and I spend a lot of time feeling exactly as you do, and I
need to answer this for myself as much as for you.

Once upon a time I started doing metalwork, and I found I could get
lost in it. Just me and that metal. Then I met a lot of other people
who were doing it, and we had a lot to talk about. Click! It’s like
heroin, you keep trying to get that first “hit” again. Then I spent
30 years fantasizing about my own upcoming greatness until I had
answered all of life’s great questions to my own satisfaction. Yeah,
sure. But really, I think it’s that this thing is really about the
constant reinforcement we get from bringing a form out of the Void.
It’s probably got some serious metaphysical implications, something
about creative intelligence trying to manifest, or some such new age
babble. But I prefer to look at it in simple, literal terms. I make
things that didn’t exist before, and I do it over and over because
that’s what I do, and I guess I’m lucky I can get paid for it. Why
this perticular thing? I’m good at it, but not good enough to make me
certain that I was born for it. It’s chance that’s to blame. I could
have ended up doing a thousand other things. As I get older, slower,
and more simple minded in general, it gets closer and closer to
what, for me, defines a higher calling. One day, I’m certain, there
will be no question in my mind that what I can accomplish is the most
I am suited for. One day, my best accomplishment will be walking the
dog, and if that’s not good enough for me then, I’ll be the King of

So, far from being able to give you words to the wise to make this
easier, I’m going to suggest you do what I do. Learn to tolerate the
oscillation between the “understanding of the great beyond” and the
drudgery and apparent meaninglessness of the mundane world. Back and
forth, back and forth, like waves hitting the beach. (Gawd, why do I
write these things?, I can’t help it… ) Actually, what I mean is,
I’ve learned to get “unstuck” by reminding myself, when I’m in a
state of mind I want out of, that it’s all just chemicals in the
brain. I’m bound to feel differently before I realize it; whatever
I’m feeling, I’m not going to feel that way forever. I remember I
always look back on things I’ve believed I was certain of, and am
unable to believe I took myself so seriously at the time. Not a damn
thing I do is really important or unimportant. I don’t often know
what’s important beyond the few core values I subscribe to, and those
are all about how I relate to the people around me. I have to fight
myself all the time to remember that I love them all, from my own
children to the strangers on the street. After that, it’s all pretty
much political. Life, the meandering path. The human condition is so
pitiable, really, that it earns us all the right to be loved. If I
ever really believed, as I sometimes do, that I hate what I do, I’d
quit and take up a noble profession like hospice worker or drug
councilor. Something with some real pain to it. But, since I have a
family to love and support, that will have to wait. Is that an
excuse? Or is this really, in relative terms, easy street for me?
Back and forth, back and forth.

Okay, here’s as plain a face as I can put on it… I don’t often
offer up those answers to the big questions I got, because it
sometimes feels to me the equivalent of giving someone a case of
small pox. But here it is: Whatever we have in life, we pay for by
questioning ourselves, all our lives, what we should be doing to
deserve it. And if we don’t, we are truly screwed up and need to find
out why. So, you’re right where your should be, in minor torment,
with the brief respite of the occasional bout of gratitude. (hey,
lighten up Dave …).

Now get back to work. :slight_smile:

David L. Huffman

Wade…my dad was a car salesman and he certainly had his ups and
downs. Never made much at it though he was a terrific salesman.
Plumbers have their down times too. Even chiropractors have days they
don’t want to see a patient. Why should we laugh at you. We ALL have
those times. I just finished working on a metal inlay piece I had put
well over 8 hours on and it just did not work. When I sat back and
thought about it, I decided my procedure was all wrong. So now, in
addition to the lost time, I lost the materials as well. But I’ll do
it again and this time I’ll do it right.

Winston Churchill once said, “The key to success is going from
failure to failure without losing one’s enthusiasm.” My advise
is…chalk it off and get back to work. Do something you know you
can do without even thinking…create another beautiful piece that
you have made before and are very familiar with the process. That
will re-energize you and re-establish your enthusiasm. Stick with it
man…life is too short to stay down for very long.

Cheers from Don at The Charles Belle Studio in SOFL where simple
elegance IS fine jewelry!

that was a great pep talk Neil. I think we all need it at least once
a month.

Jennifer Friedman
Ventura, CA

There is a lot to be said for failure…none more so than in the
arts…as there is great expectation from not only the outside world
but more so from oneself…Drawing the line between failure and a
learning curve is fine one. I have learned in my small 5 years of
experince to use faliure, as many on this thread have suggested, like
a bank…each failure/mistake made, look at with honest eyes, make
mental and literal notes and deposit into your bank of knowledge, to
be looked upon when the next mistake occures, coz be sure friends it
will happen again…

Orchid is one such bank and has truely opened my mind to the
possiblities of this industry, aswell as the sense of community
involved in holding each of us up.

My very humble opinion is, enjoy your reds, sit back, reflect, and
only when u are emotionally ready to go back to the bench, should

All the best…

You are not alone. This happens elsewhere too. I was working in
research at the U of Chicago and Michigan State when I had a chamber
failure and three years of breeding died. No more grant. No more job.
End of story.

Now I make jewelry in the basement and teach part time at a
community college.

Hang in there. Eventually it will get better. I read a lot. The
Xanth novels by Piers Anthony helped me escape.