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The perceived value of metalsmithing mentoring

You know, the more I’ve been thinking about the “mentoring” thread,
the more this little grain of irritation under my saddle is growing.
I think that it has something to do with the idea that
compensation–other than tufa, gourmet meals or some time in the
country–has not been mentioned.

What do others think? Is there an expectation that skill and
knowledge should be shared in a concentrated “mentorship” gratis?

Just curious, Andy

Yes, I think that this idea of a video lesson or workshop is indeed,
possible. My husband is a fiddler, and I know that he has an on-line
workshop scheduled, soon.

Cynthia Eid

What do others think? Is there an expectation that skill and
knowledge should be shared in a concentrated "mentorship" gratis? 

The person who originally posted an offer, has no respect for others
people time, and obviously has no understanding of how valuable
goldsmith time is.

Teaching, mentoring, whatever the terminology is basically a charity,
because there is no way to charge enough to compensate for the time.
So we do it because at some point, money is not that important. But
here is quite different situation. The person making the offer feels
that an adequate compensation has been offered, and that is what so
irritating about this offer.

Leonid Surpin

Is there an expectation that skill and knowledge should be shared
in a concentrated "mentorship" gratis? 

What I read in the thread wasn’t so much an expectation of such, but
more a hope, perhaps even a plea…

Somewhat understandable when you consider that lots of us freely
share much of the same knowledge here on Orchid without


I am so grateful for all the generosity shared on this forum but I
think it is disrespectful to ask someone to mentor pro bono. 

I don’t agree. If one states openly that one simply cannot afford to
pay, and hopefully asks for help anyway, fully knowing and allowing
that not everyone would be willing to do so, this isn’t
disrespectful. It’s hopeful, maybe even not realistic. But simply
hoping and honestly asking, taking full account of just what one is
asking for… I don’t have any problem with that. I also don’t have
any problem with not feeling compelled to offer my time for free if
I don’t wish to. The question itself isn’t a problem unless there is
some expectation of entitlement to it, or resentment if it’s
declined. Now, I just wish I’d been less shy and applied that same
principal to asking women out for dates when I was a whole bit
younger and had something more to offer a prospective date… (grin)


I have to chime in with Beverly and Andy.

Mentoring by an accomplished professional isn’t something one would
expect to receive pro bono. The body of knowledge a well seasoned
veteran of any discipline has is an asset, and that asset has value
which should be appreciated and respected.

This “mentorship” sounds like professional consultation to me. This
is an area I have personal experience with. I do this kind of
mentoring quite regularly, and I charge a professional fee for it.


Dear Mr. Cooperman,

Quite frankly, when I made that world-wide appeal on Orchid for
castoff tools, books, and supplies, I didn’t expect any response at
all. I was instead awed and humbled by peoples’ generosity.

Imagine my utter surprise and astonishment when about 15 people
responded with nearly 20 boxes in the mail of all sizes, which after
sorting and organizing brought me up to an apprentice’s studio.

I didn’t force anyone to respond. I simply told the truth about
myself. People sent me what they no longer needed, completely out of
thier own free will, and as far as I could tell, there was no guilt
or pressure about it.

I’m becoming slowly convince that I now have all the basics needed to
self-train. I might be terrified to take those baby steps now that I
no longer have the excuse of lacking the tools and raw materials,
and I suppose that had shown on the forum lately, but that is more an
issue between myself, my counselor, and my medications.

As far as soliciting training… I am willing to take what other
people are willing to give, no more, and no less. If I was a wealthy
dilletante and I had the means to pay cash for the master’s time, I
would offer it. Instead, I offered what I had:

  1. Tufa, a material which is not commonly used outside the
    Southwest, which I believed a master in Seattle might appreciate and
    keep in reserve for a later special project. It is usually a super
    bitch to ship due to both its density, fragility, and sensitivity to
    moisture, so it requires personal handling and babysitting for proper

The texture of the material also lends itself to an exotic texture
during casting.

Ten pounds, properly carved, would make two full-sized bracelets. I
have about a hundred pounds I moved with me from Sanders to
Pinehurst, a lifetime supply for earrings andother small items.

  1. I also offered the willingness to perform personal services such
    as cooking or even computer code. I think nobody these days
    participates in the ancient samurai custom of nanshoku as the price
    for appenticeship, and I would not be such a one as would ever
    participate in it, but if there was anything else which I could
    offer, I would offer it.

Valued materials or services still have some value as trade for
training. That will become increasingly true as the national
unemployment rate still remains above 9 percent, and with the job
market still shedding so many people in mid-life, who have skills but
cannot find a venue to utilize them. I don’t see anything immoral
about using my skills, time, hands, or mind as currency.

I expect nothing when I make the offer, and the other party is
certainly free to reject it. Such is the art of the bargain.

Andrew Jonathan Fine


HEY, I want all that Andrew's asked for... but seriously, a live
video hookup over the net would REALLY be cool for I'm guessing, a
BOATLOAD of people. 

Even better idea… let’s have our own cable channel!

If they can have The Food Channel, Ganoksin can have its own!

If they can have training contests like Worst Chefs of America, we
can have our own!

Andrew Jonathan Fine


Interesting comment. If we don’t mentor and share with those who can
pay and those who can’t, will the skills be passed on to those with
interest and money, and, also those with talent who have no money?
Our world finds mentors and patrons for anyone who has obvious opera
talent. Our world has established food banks for the hungry. How did
the damascus steel technique become lost? Did an entire damascus
steel community disappear after a major battle that leveled a
community that closely held this skill? Our culture gives
scholarships and aid to those less fortunate and this enriches and
improves life all across the world.

IMO, there is no expectation that skill and knowledge should be
shared gratis. To me, it is a matter of individuals who receive more
by giving than by receiving.

Blessings to all.

Hi Andy,

I’m wondering if your concept of fairness is not met when you read
these requests. Would you like some acknowledgement that a master
jeweler’s time and knowledge is valuable monetarily? Do you see an
inequity in the food and lodging in exchange for mentoring?

I haven’t heard any “shoulds” from the people that have requested
mentoring. There’s nothing in the requests that I’ve seen that
suggests to me that there is a hidden “should,” either. When I read
these requests, I hear a longing to learn, coupled with a lack of
funds to pay for the education.

I see it this way: When someone wants a BMW but can’t afford one, he
can buy a KIA, or a used KIA. He still gets a vehicle that takes him
from point A to point B. Looking for a mentor is different. If you
accept “just anyone” because that’s all you can get, you may spend
years undoing the “bad” technique that you picked up. Learning from
people who have finely tuned skills and passion for their work can be
life-changing. So, I understand why people without discretionary
funds make their requests here. You guys are the best.

I’m working with a spiritual principle called “assumption of
innocence,” assuming the positive intentions of people as a baseline.
I am the first to admit that I find this practice very difficult. My
first reaction is to protect myself from people who might want to
"take advantage" of me. My delayed response now is to open my heart
and see someone who is trying, the the best way he can, to meet some
need. I still have the choice of whether to say yes to his request,
but, even if I say no, I feel expansive rather than contracted


Hi Andy,

I missed the first post in the thread, but what I gather from the
replies is that somebody was asking a “serious” smith to fly out and
stay with them for a while to teach. Payment being room & board.

I’m not sure I’d call it disrespectful. Delusional maybe. I guess my
take on it it twofold:

(A) if prospective student has so little connection with reality
that they believe this to be a valid request, any concerns I may have
regarding their level of respect or understanding are moot. There’s
no point in worrying about it. (Sub A: anybody who’d be willing to
take such a gig probably isn’t someone you want anyway.)

(B) my other reaction was "Isn’t that what some of us do on Orchid?"
Witness all of the answers that various of us have banged out over
the years. The current example being the group who’re spending non-
trivial amounts of time each night trying to help Andrew.

For me, I enjoy teaching. It’s fun. It’s the most fun with somebody
who can soak it up as fast as I can give it, which is the sort of
level you have to be at before a mentor-ish sort of relationship
works. At that stage, it’s not always about money. (at least not for
me. As my banker can attest.)

I tend to think of a mentorship more as a “post-school” sort of
thing. It’s more about being the voice of fine-tuning. The occasional
bit of sage advice from on high, rather than the day-by-day slog of
practical basic instruction. The day-to-day instruction stuff? That’s
the job of a local teacher–and it is a job, and should be paid

I have people I consider mentors that I talk to once or twice a year
about ‘work’ things. Usually only when I get stumped. They’re good
for being a sounding board to talk an idea through with. That’s the
main function of a mentor in my world: someone at the same or
greater level of knowledge who you can use as a second set of eyes,
or a second opinion. But you both have to be at a level where both of
you (A) are qualified to have opinions, and (B) can take the basic
stuff as read. It needs to be about the “what” not much of the

I do the same for them, and for others. At that level, I wouldn’t
charge money for it, for two reasons: (A) I’ll need the same favor
next time, and (B) I wouldn’t do that sort of thing for someone I
didn’t consider a friend.

For a few minutes on the phone every so often, talking through a
problem with a friend? No.

For a private teaching residency for a beginner? There’d better be a
lot of money involved.


I believe there is a sense of entitlement upon people of today. Most
things in life are not free.

Mentoring would take a tremendous amount of time and energy. Now if
one was being paid either in dollars or product such as gems, silver
or gold or whatever then the mentor-ship idea becomes measurable and
much more appealing if one does in fact have the time.

Come on students how badly do you want to learn?

What do others think? Is there an expectation that skill and
knowledge should be shared in a concentrated "mentorship" gratis? 

What Andy asks is what I said the other day - maybe there’s a
language thing going on here. Mentoring as I use the term and the
dictionary says is, to me, gratis - yes. But I’m not a teacher and
I’m not going to be a teacher. That’s the difference. What a mentor
should be (to me) is someone who points the way to places the other
may not be aware of - make a necklace without jumprings, you figure
it out. I suspect the OP, and others are actually looking for an
apprenticeship, which is entirely different. I have several people
who are welcome to knock on my door and ask, “How should this be
handled?” That’s entirely different from, “how do I set a diamond?”,
which gets directed to the Revere Academy down the hall.

Andy is right.

This Orchid forum is a way to mentor anyone out there who has access
to a computer. Got a question? Someone with loads of experience will
likely give you a well thought-out answer, and ABSOLUTELY FREE OF
CHARGE. It’s truly an amazing phenomenon, and we can all be grateful
that an actual value has not been figured out for all this incredible
At that point, plan on paying a respectable fee for all
this great

While I’m not suggesting that Orchid become a "pay per download"
business, it certainly has that potential, although I would not like
to see that happen.

All of us in the jewelry trade have to make our living somehow. Some
of us hand-make and sell our work, others sell the tools and
supplies, and others sell our knowledge. In this economy, making a
living in the jewelry “industry” is not easy, and many of us have
paid our dues in our own sweat and blood, literally.

Be grateful that there are so many kind souls out there willing to
spend valuable time to find and post answers for those asking
questions. Many of these same people charge hundreds of dollars an
hour to either consult or supervise bench work with them, and their
time is well worth the price, I can tell you.

The insight and experience of artist craftsmen, like Andy Cooperman,
is just too valuable to be given away for free. Although, I have
watched Andy spend hours of his time at the SNAG Conference in
Houston patiently explaining to interested metalsmiths how his
jewelry was made, down to the last detail. Did he do this to promote
an upcoming workshop of his? Nope. He just wanted to teach others a
little of what he knows.

That is the kind of selfless generosity from all who contribute that
makes Orchid the powerful resource it is.

Jay Whaley

This is how I did it. I found a master silversmith and twice a week,
for four hours each visit, I sat at his bench. He did his stuff and I
did mine. When I needed help or advice, he moved his chair over and
worked with me. The rest of the time, we were either silent or he
recited hundreds of limericks. I paid him for the eight hours of
instruction. He gave me the finest compliment of my life. As I was
leaving one afternoon, he said that he’d learned so much from me and
he was so grateful.

He learned from me? Yes. He is a perfectionist and a master
silversmith/lapidary but I’m very innovative and take risks (that
don’t always work out).

It was a year-and-a-half of incredibly stimulating learning. Alas,
this great man has serious health problems and may not return to his

Could I afford his fees? No. But I eliminated almost everything but
absolute necessities and always paid him on time. When you buy 20
pounds of lentils at a time, the price is around.23 cents a pound.


I think, here’s my two cents…, that anyone can ask for
anything. Who knows, some starving artist type might just like the
idea of getting away to the country and teaching pro bono. I couldn’t
do it, I have a business to run and client’s to keep happy and
galleries to keep inventoried. I think it presumptuous but not
disrespectful to ask. Many of the people I have taught fall out of
love with the idea of,making jewelry for a living. I think in the
abstract it sounds fun but I think like any job, art is a job much of
the time. Making bezels for all the stones I fall in love with is a
chore and the only way I got good at it was to make a million bezels.
That opportunity is not really one which can happen in a school
situation, making bezels for my dad and having him critique them for
10 years was a fortunate thing, I didn’t think so at the time.
Breaking into the jewelry world how ever someone wants to do it is
not easy. To be able to sustain your income selling your work is a

My theory in taking an apprentice is to have them make a bunch of
bezels right off the bat, that gives them a glimpse of the real world
of jewelry making and me a bunch of bezels which are often times
useful. That way we both win.

Sam Patania, Tucson


Just to comment on Andy C’s posting. I do agree that a mentor, who is
learned to a level which being a mentor indicates, i.e. having
acquired the skills and experience to qualify for mentoring/teaching,
should expect to be adequately compensated. Paid, period!

Sad to say that, in spite of any progress made since the women’s
movement began (oh, around 4000 BCE), women still have difficulty
expecting compensation for our hard won skills. I think that this may
have played into the initial request from Cynthia, although I
certainly can’t speak for her. The thought may have been, “If WE
don’t expect to get paid, then perhaps others might not expect to get
paid, so why then would a mentor expect compensation?”. In the real
world, everyone has to have money to eat, live in a safe place, be
clothed, etc.

I do remember when I first began to make jewelry as a working single
parent. I had no discretionary money and was struggling to ‘keep it
together’. I learned, at my kitchen table (Oy Vayezmir!) and at a
table in my unheated dirt floor cellar (better or worse depending on
the temperature outside) and wished for a mentor, as has Cynthia. As
Brian has described, I melted and worked, and melted and worked, and
when I could, I took workshops here and there that filled in the
rather large gaps in my knowledge of making stuff. Of course, this
is not the only way to learn how to make jewelry, but it was the
only way I had at the time, and may be the only way for some of us
in this wonderful field of ours.

Will Rogers said, "Go out on a limb…that’s where the fruit is!"
Take the risk…melt that ring or brooch or pendant and the next
time you’ll have acquired the skill to complete a perfect piece.


I think minor mentoring pro bono is ok - as in “hey, I’m sort of
stuck on this particular thing can you help me over the bump?” when
we’re talking minor time involvement. I’m always happy to do that…
we all hit “bumps” and need a bit of a “push”. And I’m lucky enough
to have friends who know more than I do who are willing to help me
out when I need it… But if you want someone to help you build the
entire “car”… then you really should plan to pay them, either in
cash or in labor that THEY want and need. Because the time they are
spending on you is time they are NOT spending on making jewelry that
will bring in cash that will pay the bills…

It is a bit of a conundrum, but really this is back to why the old
fashioned apprentice system used to exist - the master provided
housing and food and teaching and the apprentice provided labor
while learning, both by observing and by doing… so everyone “won”.
We really don’t have anything like that in the US today…

So if you want to have a mentor provide substantial time and effort
on your behalf, you need to think of what you can offer to them, that
will provide as much value to them as what they are providing to

Secondly, there is way too much of the "please hold my hand"
mentality - really, the folks who say go in the studio and make are
right! Mistakes are not only ok, they are great - we generally learn
WAY more from a mistake than from something that worked… Start with
inexpensive materials, and play! Take what you have read and TRY
it… see what happens. Quit worrying about whether it is "pretty"
or sellable… just play, and learn, and practice and do it all
again… and again… and again…

Scads of fancy and expensive tools are NOT necessary. Fun, helpful,
eventually if you stick with it desirable - but not NECESSARY. All
you really need is a hammer or two (cheap to start with works), a
set of cheap pliers, some metal and you… then go! I started with
really cheap tools and really cheap stones and really cheap metal…
and as I realized this was a medium I loved and was going to stick
with I have added… and added… slowly. I found bargains on lightly
used equipment in many cases. Don’t get all hung up on “I have to
have this tool”. Really, you don’t…

Go make and be happy!

All of that said, I’m in SC and happy to help anyone over a bump I
know enough to help you over if we can make our schedules mesh…
I’ve been the recipient of "random acts of kindness and generosity"
and like to pass it forward… Just don’t expect a fancy highly
equipped studio !

Beth Wicker
Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio

I have taught 6 apprentices from raw newbies to qualified in my
career so far.

Boys and girls.

Having an apprentice requires an immense amount of time and
effort–on my part.

For the first six months they on 24 hours notice.

After surviving six months, a yearly contract.

For the first two years they need lots of TLC to get things done.

Then they can do some things and not destroy too much.

And I start seeing some return on my investment.

To think that board and lodging and Tufa pays for a mentors time and
expertise is strange.

Money does.

My apprentices eventually make me money.

That’s why I taught them.

Five years later you do your trade test, and I organize work at
another jeweller for the apprentice.

That way they learn other styles and ways to make jewellery.

For sure I teach for free.

No problem if someone is stuck and needs some advice.

That’s why I made most of my tutorials on my site for free.

So I don’t have to answer the same questions over and over.

One of my apprentices was Nadia.

When she started with me, she had, on her own already made some
impressive pieces out of nails, a hammer a pair of pliers and copper

And she had also generated some money from those pieces, before she
had even touched silver.

This was before the internet, so there was not much easy information

And she didn’t have a hang dog attitude and she certainly did not
ask for anything for free.

She had a fierce determination of doing thing by herself and set
about it with a cheerful attitude.

This made her successful.

CNC in Tufa? Electro melt to melt silver into a bar? Come on man, get

I mean this well, even though it might sound harsh, but that just
sounds like you skirting around your fear of failure.

I promise, I fail at something or other nearly every day. And
sometime more than once a day.

A hammer and some nails and a 'can do and damn the torpedoes’

That makes jewellery.

I certainly don’t think that gratis is expected or warranted. I have
paid artists with specific skills to learn a certain task a couple of
times. Hourly rate, minimum 3 hours. That was what I needed.

I do believe, that if an artist wants to donate time to someone in
Andrews position that it was kind of him to offer what he could to
compensate the artist. I can’t remember which artist he was talking
with or what skills he was looking for. I absolutely believe that
any accomplished artist, such as yourself, should be reimbursed for
their time.