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Making a living and metal smithing


#1

Is the goal in jewelry and metal smithing only about making a
living?

Andy Cooperman asked this, and I think it is worth discussing.

I have always wanted to make some art, but I did make a lot of
product along the way too. Both can be fulfilling in different ways.
After decades of looking at the many copies of some of my
best-selling product designs, I must admit that they no longer move
me. I just don’t care if I ever see another one of them. They still
sell well, though.

I am phasing out most of my cast product designs in favor of making
things that fascinate me now. This is perhaps overdue, but is now
possible because I am financially secure enough to do what I please.
Not very wealthy, mind you, but I have enough put away to probably
take care of my needs and a bit of fun, for as long as I need it.
Yay! It was a long slog, doing craft shows, wholesaling, consignment,
custom orders, corporate orders, all the while scrimping to max out
my Individual Retirement Account (and pay for health insurance!).

But here I am, after over 40 years as a full-time jeweler. So, it is
getting fun. More fun. I have bought some more stakes and hammers, a
Genie lapidary unit, some extra holding tools, and a lot of brass
and copper sheet.

But how to get out of the piles of castings that I have in the
cupboard? Try to sell them off one by one and two by two? Melt them?
How to deal with loyal customers who want another one of the lovely
widgets they have always counted on me to have? Decisions. but I am
not complaining. Life is very good.

Moving on,

M’lou Brubaker
Minnesota, USA
http://www.craftswomen.com/M’louBrubaker


#2

Congratulations…

Semi retirement is great fun. We Jewelers never really retire…

I did the same thing you did but much earlier in my life. I semi
retired 16 years ago and love every minute of it. Spent 18 years
volunteering and teaching in Belize Central America and Panama.

Now due to the fact that I let all my old customers go away I have a
bunch of fun designs I have made sitting around taking up space.
Need to get rid of them now so am starting my business up again from
scratch. which is a lot of work when you live in Panama and do not
speak much Spanish…:slight_smile: but it never snows here…

My suggestion would be not to totally kiss your best clients good by
but letthem know that you are going to limit the number of clients
to x number andwill only do custom orders for them. They can buy
your new play pieces as collector pieces at collector prices. never
hurts to have extra cash around to buy more toys to play with.

I love not being limited when I design something. Glad I put in all
those 20hour days and nights working making money and perfecting my
skills. Have lots of fun and make lots of fun things…

Panama Bay Jewelers


#3

Hello All,

We are very fortunate, as the jewelers we are (beginners or
experts), to be able to have the choices we have, and they are
numerous. We can make one-off, bespoke, commissions, production AND
at the same time, we can, if we choose (and most of us do, and must,
choose), make a living making our work.

Many in the show/fair arena sell work that indicates they did not
enter the field for a love of making beautiful work. They are not
even necessarily making the work they are selling (something that is
very difficult to determine from jury images). That’s a whole
different kind of jeweler from most of us on Orchid forum. The
impetus in their case is making money, plain and simple. no excess
’frills’ of loving the craft.

The demographics of our Orchid population would probably show that
we make our ‘stuff’ because we love the creative process and the end
result, both. And many of us have found a way to make our stuff AND
make a living making it. We make our jewels, we teach, we study, we
do shows, we work with galleries, we are stone
setters/polishers/bench jewelers of all types, we own our own
galleries/jewelry stores, we sell stones/equipment/instructional
dvd’s, we lecture, we organize conferences/symposia, we publish
books, we create jewelry schools, we network incessantly. in short
(or not in short) we do anything and everything we can to be able to
continue to make our work.

And by way of complete disclosure for those of you who don’t know
me, I began making jewels because I have loved jewelry since I was a
very young child allowed to dress-up in my aunt’s enormous costume
jewelry collection. I come from a creative family, but am the first
(as far as I know) jeweler. I’ve been at it for thirty-eight years.
That’s thirty-eight years of learning and making and selling, with
eighteen years of teaching, some lecturing, sometime director of a
jewelry/metals studio, and lots of networking. I make only one-off
work, having abandoned my production line over twenty years ago. I
have two published books, one a teaching book on the use of metal
clay (a technique which I began to use in 1996 along with the
traditional jewelry making techniques I had begun to use in 1976),
and the second a sort of a memoir.

We do what we need to do to make it possible to do what we love to
do. Not everyone gets to be this lucky.

Linda Kaye-Moses


#4

This is a difficult question to answer.

The problems I have seen in Australia began several years ago.

Firstly I started my business 40 years ago in London as a designer
maker of jewellery. I was trained as a silversmith in Scotland and
Denmark but there was little opportunity in that field so, as I had
wife and two children I became a jeweller and made a reasonable
living working in my own business.

My family lived in Australia so we joined them 30 years ago and From
the outset I found work as I happened to have a range of designs
which sold well through several good shops and galleries.

I produced two types of work quality precious jewellery and a range
of gallery work, also I was one of the first to work in titanium in
Australia with a range of rings with 18ct yellow or white gold inset
or layered and riveted. These sold well as mens wedding rings.

I also taught part time in various colleges till recently.

And have had a number of private clients over the years.

Now I am not complaining as, mainly, I have been successful and dont
need to worry financially, not rich but OK.

What saddens me is that the handmade jewellery industry is in decline
what with cheap imports, some of reasonable to high quality from
nameless countries! The use of CAD, not to produce exciting new
designs, but merely copy others work or repeat past work.

I feel sorry that students and ex students will have difficulty in
selling work through chain stores which dominate the market or have
to compete with mass imports through cheap shops.

The training of trade jewellers is virtually finished and the only
college giving good training to designer makers is so expensive as to
put it beyond reach.

I have found even at the high end of the jewellery range many of my
prospective clients want a copy of a branded ring and even turn up
with their own diamond, which they bought on the internet! You are
lucky in America that you have a huge population and there seems to
be a market for work like the work on your excellent Ganoksin site.

Almost every year I have made a Silver work, bowls, teapot, boxes,
largish objects, spoons etc, none of which has sold.

I wish you all luck, as ‘Free Trade’ is not fair trade as we see here
in Australia.

David Cruickshank
jewellerydavidcruickshank.com.au


#5

Most of us who do this for a living love what we do. But in the
art-metals wing of the jewelry field we have this odd tradition on
not making too much distinction between paid professionals and
serious amateurs. For some reason calling it a hobby when someone
isn’t in it for the money comes off as offensive. I have nothing but
admiration for work well done for pay or for love, but you have got
to be realistic. If being a jeweler or metalsmith is your career, not
making a living at it isn’t good.

Steve Walker


#6

Here’s the link to that study I mentioned, Sustaining Careers, done
by CERF. I found it rather depressing:

http://www.ganoksin.com/gnkurl/ep813r

Elaine


#7

I think it’s very easy to agonize over this too much. So much that
you become paralyzed and never get your metal smithing career off
the ground. It’s always easier to find reason not to do something
than to take the leap. I’m a strong believer in paying your dues and
building your skills. It’s all about self motivation and never being
fully satisfied with your work. Work every day to learn all you can
from the best people you can find and from all of your mistakes.

Once you have the skills I think it’s important to remember that
there are no rules about how you make your living. Just because you
know people who do shows or have a store or have a shop in a
jewelers building, doesn’t mean you have to model your business on
one of those already existing. One of the wonderful things about
being self employed is that if you can figure out who you are and
how you want to live and work, you can design your business around
that. There is no reason to do things you don’t want to do if you
can figure out how to eliminate them (and still make a living).
Understand that your plan will evolve and change as you discover and
learn. Dream your dream, work out the details and make it happen.

Mark


#8

Andy

For what it’s worth, I totally agree with your original statement
and what you’ve said to follow.

Carol A. Guenther


#9

I was selling the things I made since I was 14 years old. Went to
art school for an MFA and have been always around a lot of other
artist/craftsmen for whom this discussion is an endless concern.

What has always amazed me is the way that many think about this as
if we all have a choice. Love or money. Art or business. Follow your
dream or sell out. Some of us have that choice, if for whatever
reason we can afford the cost of our lives by something other than
the fruit of our labor. If you can pursue metalsmithing
recreationally, that is just swell.

Some of us have a choice but most of us have to work for a living.
If I think I have to wait tables (or whatever)to pursue what I really
want to do, either what I really want to do is a dream or a hobby
~OR~ something is very wrong with my training and education. There
are lots of opportunities for jewelers and metalsmiths to make a
living. Easier than most other crafts or art media.

About a year ago I hired an apprentice, part-time, who was an art
student.

I wasn’t really looking for anyone at the time but I always take
time to interview anyone who comes asking for a job. What impressed
me about this one, besides her talent and drive, was that she was
taking a business minor. Ever since I was an art student in the 1970s
I have been hearing what a good idea it would be for an art student
to take a business minor.

As obvious as this seems in almost 40 years this is the first time I
have met anyone who actually did it. She has a full tie job waiting
for her when she graduates in May.

Steve Walker


#10

I was selling the things I made since I was 14 years old. Went to
art school for an MFA and have been always around a lot of other
artist/craftsmen for whom this discussion is an endless concern.

What has always amazed me is the way that many think about this as
if we all have a choice. Love or money. Art or business. Follow your
dream or sell out. Some of us have that choice, if for whatever
reason we can afford the cost of our lives by something other than
the fruit of our labor. If you can pursue metalsmithing
recreationally, that is just swell.

Some of us have a choice but most of us have to work for a living. If
I think I have to wait tables (or whatever) to pursue what I really
want to do, either what I really want to do is a dream or a hobby
~OR~ something is very wrong with my training and education. There
are lots of opportunities for jewelers and metalsmiths to make a
living. Easier than most other crafts or art media.

About a year ago I hired an apprentice, part-time, who was an art
student.

I wasn’t really looking for anyone at the time but I always take
time to interview anyone who comes asking for a job. What impressed
me about this one, besides her talent and drive, was that she was
taking a business minor. Ever since I was an art student in the 1970s
I have been hearing what a good idea it would be for an art student
to take a business minor.

As obvious as this seems in almost 40 years this is the first time I
have met anyone who actually did it. She has a full tie job waiting
for her when she graduates in May.

Steve Walker