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Teaching Wax work

I’ve been asked by an acquaintance if I would give she and a friend
some lessons on working in wax. Initially this sounds like fun since
I’m sort of isolated other than this wonderful Orchid group. I’ve told
them to get an alcohol lamp and a cheap set of tools and I’d provide
some wax. Now I’m considering the snowball effect this will have. I
will need to do the casting for them and they will not have tools to
do finish work. I will suggest the tools I started with: a dremel and
its’ accessories found at the local hardware and a drill duct taped to
a cement block and automotive buffs for a buffing system. I won’t
start by charging them a fee unless it starts taking up too much time.
Should I charge? One other thing is bothering me. One of my "students"
said the first thing she wants to make is a ring like one of mine
using a technique that I use and sort of developed into a “style” I do
that is individual. I had just planned to give them some basic
techniques and let them go home to work out their individual “styles”,
not get them to imitate mine. How do begin to discuss this during the
first class I give them? Any other pointers would be appreciated.
Maybe I never should have offered this since I’m the only one able to
cast and with finishing tools and I’m not ready to have people come in
and take over my little home shop and yet I’m looking forward to the
camaraderie. Annette

Hi Annette, Consider teaching them to carve waxes and explain to them
that it is frowned upon to copy another persons Ideas by the designer
community in General. Then Perhaps cast a few pieces for them to get
started and suggest they use an outside caster who can do their
finishing for them until they get enough finishing tools so they can
finish their own pieces.

Daniel Grandi

I just recently started doing wax work professionally. My start was a
lot less than you are offering your friends. I bought some sliced
green and blue wax from Stullar (spelling I know) and I worked on it
with pins, knives, fingernails and scissors. The first, second and
sixth wax I did I showed to a local store and asked them if they could
cast them. I had given them a mirrored finish using a buffing cloth. I
was offered a job on the spot. I agreed to part time work. The first
job I did for them was cast in 14K and is being offered on a very
limited basis - the owner gave one to his wife - and the next was a
ring (what a wonder good files and wax saws are!) and the next is
being cast tomorrow.

For my own work I have never used a lamp and mainly ignore all the
little tools. It is my feeling that wax work lays in the skill of the
hands, not the tools - though they do help a lot with rings. I think
it would be best to hand your friends some wax and say go for it. I
have done this with 3 people I know. 1 just did terrible scratches, 1
did OK work and the third did things nice enough to cast. All were
artists to one degree or another as am I. Have the wax and have the
tools and just let them find their own way unless they ask very
specific questions.


Hi Annette, I think that it is realy great that you are offering to
teach your friends wax work. I can understand that your isolation
leads leads you to view the entire venture as something that will
bring you some welcome companionship. This can be a very rewarding
experience for all of you. However, it is vitally important that
you establish some firm ground rules at the very outset in order to
avoid possible difficulties later on. Think through the things that
are worrying you, Decide how best you would like them handled and
draw up your rules. I would strongly recommend that these be put in
writing and given to your friends so that there will be no chance of
future misunderstanding.

By all means charge fees for your lessons, even modest ones.----
Call them lab and materials fees. And by all means make it clearly
understood that the lessons are for the wax work itself and do not
include casting. If they wish the items to be cast, then charge
fees for the casting. It is not realistic of you to take on the
casting of the work without compensation. Establish set times for
the lessons, and adhere to them. Your work shop/studio is your
private domain and should be treated as such.

Also make it very plain in writing, that there is to be no copying
of designs–either yours or each others. Each student should begin a
notebook with designs, to be submitted to you for your evaluation as
to whether or not the design is one that they can implement at this
stage of their learning.

Have them participate in the making of special tools needed. Either
they can buy them or make them—but the burden should not be yours.
Establish at the very beginning that the students are responsible
for setting up the work areas, and cleaning up after each session.

I admire your willingness to share your talent and experience with
your friends. However, in order to maintain this friendship, do by
all means set these rules and guidelines. If not you will soon
become exhausted. Good luck. If you run into any other problems or
questions, write me off line and perhaps I can help you resolve them.
My suggestions are based on my own experience in sharing my
knowledge with friends. I have found that by setting ground rules at
the very beginning it has been a very enjoyable experience for all of us,
and my friends are still my friends. Cheers, Alma

Hello Annette -

    Maybe I never should have offered this since I'm the only one
able to cast and with finishing tools and I'm not ready to have
people come in and take over my little home shop and yet I'm looking
forward to the camaraderie. 

I would hesitate to encourage you to create this atmosphere at your
home studio - especially if you already have doubts before you have
even started - as you said above!

I, personally, do not teach in my own studio (however, I am also
known to break that rule!) - mainly, because I do not have enough
hours in my life to add that level of involvement. I would encourage
you to perhaps have these individuals work in their own spaces and
perhaps you all could get together for critique and perhaps a short
technique demo. In your generosity - it seems that you foresee the
time factor of the future involvement - and I would think you could
respectfully set whatever limits work for you without guilt. I
learned in a classroom first, then took several jobs in the industry
and then many more years of college and self exploration under the
guidance of an experienced jeweler. It is a lot of your own studio
time that you will be giving - especially if you have more than one
student. I would recommend setting time constraint limits - if you
are already committed to the offer of teaching - and stick to it. In
other words - have an end date set. Perhaps let them know that this
is a one time experiment - to help them decide if they might like to
continue on their own. Also, if you have a deadline to meet - that
they would have to work around your schedule - to be flexible. It
will test their commitment to pursuing jewelry work - and hopefully,
they would then continue on their own - as we all have done.

Teach technique - refer them to books. Encourage them to find their
own designs. Have them sketch and proceed. As far as the copying of
your design - I would not feel that you “have” to teach your design
unless you want to. I will demo techniques that utilize the same
tools that I use in my work - but I do not teach my specific designs.
I strongly suggest that you have them make their own designs - and
when they get in trouble you can offer technical suggestions. Give
them a design problem to solve - send them on a visual sketching
exploration! If you do choose to teach this particular item or design
to your friend, I would encourage you to let her know that copying
this piece for the sake of learning technique is valid - but copying
to sell is not acceptable. If you have no attachment to others making
what you make - then you can teach it - otherwise, there is a good
chance that your style will be proliferated. If you have
reservations and concerns, I would communicate that to your “students”

  • so, the friendship can continue. Actually, my friends are so
    independent, this has not been an issue - we have very different
    styles and tastes!

We all benefit by learning different techniques, and it is very valid
to share. My best teachers have cut me a lot of slack and will nudge
me to “see” and perhaps find a better solution and to always improve
the aestheic quality of the design. This way, I will get in and out
of trouble first hand and really learn from the experience - rather
than too much hand holding. Much of what I have learned is passed on
from others’ experience - but transformed through the many hours of my
own exploration. So, I always thank and give credit to my many
teachers - some of whom i have never met.

One of my best art history professors had us study an artist or style
of work made in history as a project and learning experience. He
always gave us the option to do “hands on” work in whatever medium we
were interested in, rather than just write a paper. I learned a LOT
through that period of exploration - and our challenge as metal
artists is to take these various techniques and experiences and make
them our own.

I have given workshops at the high school level and it is always a
pleasure to teach - very energizing. . . . however, I consider my
home studio my refuge and also, I might have liability concerns.
Still, I will help a friend on occasion - especially if they are
proceeding on their own and not reliant on my guidance solely.

I did have an unexpected fringe benefit by teaching a friend for free
(before I took the leap to do this work as an independent jeweler
full-time) - she later helped me to sell at many events - and would
not let me pay her. So, it became something like a trade of time
spent. And actually, it was great - because she understood how to
forge a spoon and could talk very intelligently to the public . . .
and customers would sometimes think it was her booth! That was fun to
me - because we could share that exhausting experience of being in the
public - plus, as it turned out, she was very good at selling!

So, back to the commitment of teaching at your home studio . . . like
many things in life, you can try it once and if you don’t like it -
don’t continue. :slight_smile: ! Set boundaries though - otherwise, you may be
casting for them for the next 30 years. Do it if it is something that
works for you. Refer them to Arrowmont, Penland, Revere Academy or
any school or classes in your area and then get together to share
stories when they return! Then the “camaraderie” is a give and take
rather than just a give. You might consider charging for your time
spent. I never did - but that was before I made the full time
commitment to my art form for my livelihood. I have had to become
more “business like” since then - but still have the flexibility as an
independent to break my rules!

Best wishes to you - it is always good to test the waters of the many
different options - you might love the teaching aspect of our medium,