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Too cool for school


#1

Dear all,

Like others here, jewelry is a career change for me. I have been
learning the art and techniques of metalsmithing and jewelry-making
for only a handful of years, part-time, and I have been lucky enough
to have had some great teachers in after-hours classes. I made the
decision to pursue formal training in a structured manner where I
hoped to learn solid design skills in addition to honing the
technical ones. Then I moved overseas to a somewhat provincial area,
with an additional layer of language. Recently, I applied to design
school (jewelry) at a local university and was unsuccessful
because…wait for it…I am “overqualified” already “have all the
skills”, am too good and they have nothing to teach me. While this
could be seen as a compliment (and if their standards are really
that low, maybe it is a good thing) it is also a total slamming of
the door in the face. I also found it a little stunning on behalf of
all the graduates not to mention all of you :slight_smile: I fantasised about
interviewing with Leonid, Andy, Alan, Noel, Giacomo or James or any
of you…with my totally unrelated degree and 15 months benchtime as
a new designer and imagining the outcome.

I am feeling quite stuck as to where to go next. The 'adult’
learning classes here appear to be restricted to beginners or to
hobbyists (which is perfectly okay, but does not meet my needs). So,
I brace myself and ask what would you do?

Zee


#2

The Revere academy has something called Jewelery Boot Camp or some
such-- sounds pretty fantastic. The New Approach School has a
program like that too, I think. And there are many accredited
degree programs that must be interested in students. A friend of
mine, a few years ago, was actually solicited to become a graduate
student in metals at Savanna-- there’s a lovely town!

In short, don’t give up.

I have a beaded winged pig hanging from my rear view mirror. The
winged pig symbolizes, for me, the importance of dreams, however
unrealistic they might seem. Never give up.

The pig’s name is Pearl.

Noel


#3

Zee -

Your location may restrict this, but see if an established jeweler
will take you on as an advanced apprentice, or a junior (not as in
age) jeweler. That’s what gave me the boost after my involuntary
switch from engineering to goldsmithing. I didn’t just learn about
jewelry repair techniques (a different approach to jewelry
engineering than making it from scratch) but also about running a
business and dealing with customers.

good luck to you,
Kelley Dragon


#4
So, I brace myself and ask what would you do? 

Make stuff! Give yourself assignments – create a line, even if you
have no intention of selling. Get a project book and make everything
in the book. Make a lot of gifts, in the spirit of Adorn America.

Be your own teacher, grasshopper.

Elaine
http://www.CreativeTextureTools.com


#5

If I were in your shoes? I would go to Revere Academy.

Cameron


#6

Zee, why don’t you tell us what country you are living in; maybe
someone on Orchid is there, too and can give you some other ideas of
where to study. I lived overseas for 25 years and had similar
problems so I bought every book I could find and worked on each of
the techniques in the books.

When I came back I started taking design classes in the art
department. Donna in VA


#7

I think that what Zee is asking for is the future of crafts training.
“Apprenticeship” is generally seen as something old fashioned but I
don’t think it is at all outdated. Right now I have two full time
apprentices that are both in their third year. They have learned a
lot, not just what they might be interested in, but also what I need
them to be able to do for me. I encourage them to investigate and
learn things on their own, but there is a discipline on the job that
I think prepares them for a true professionalism that is often
lacking in arts programs.

The three of us went to the New Approach School for Jewelers in
Virginia Beach this past February for a week long stone setting
course. No nonsense and very valuable stuff! One of the apprentices
went back for a week on her own for CAD since then. There is a ten
week course there that I expect is excellent. I think that short
courses like these combined with on-the-job training is the way to
go.

There are no national standards for apprenticeship that anyone is
actually following. I am not advocating that there should be. But I
think that those of us who are passionate about our craft should be
passing it on and taking advantage of the talent and drive of people
who want to learn. You can buy a house for what it costs to go to
most university art programs. Isn’t it better to work for low wages
and training and at the same time get mentored by someone who is
actually making a living with their craft?

Not good timing for me to help Zee as I just hired a third
apprentice, an art school student, starting monday, just for the
summer. I would encourage anyone who wants to really learn the craft
to look for these kinds of opportunities. But those of us who are in
the business can benefit from this also. It can be fun and
rewarding, but it takes a different kind of studio culture.

Stephen Walker


#8
I am feeling quite stuck as to where to go next. The 'adult'
learning classes here appear to be restricted to beginners or to
hobbyists (which is perfectly okay, but does not meet my needs).
So, I brace myself and ask what would you do? 

An easy answer would be to go back to the “adult” learning classes
and buttonhole the instructor, asking him/her where they would go if
they were you…

Blessed be…


#9
I lived overseas for 25 years and had similar problems so I bought
every book I could find and worked on each of the techniques in the
books. 

The best teacher is a failure, but it must accepted constructively.
Success does nothing, but strokes one’s ego and instills false sense
of infallibility.

I would give the following advice. Find some piece that you like. It
has to be technically challenging.

Try to reproduce it to the tiniest details. When you will fail,
analyze the reasons for failure and correct them.

It may require different skills, so acquire them, by practicing, and
then make another attempt, until you shall succeed. Than go to
another more difficult project.

Leonid Surpin
www.studioarete.com


#10

Do you want to be a ‘designer’ or a goldsmith?

I’m not trying to provoke hate mail here. They are very different
things but there seems to be a conceptualization among many that a
goldsmith is by default a designer.

If you want to work primarily with your hands…find a manufacturing
job, you might learn tons. Tell your prospective employer, “I like to
make stuff and I need to eat”. Try not to say, “I want to be a
jewelry designer”. A fast turnoff to most established in the
industry. The first statement says you’ll work for the employer’s
benefit, the second suggests you’ll skip town as soon as something
better pops up. Sorry to sound blunt.

People call me a jewelry designer but I do not consider myself a
’designer’, although design is very much part of my work. I was
approached at a party the other day about someone who was eager to
become a jewelry designer. (seems this person was bitterly
disappointed when his repair tech position didn’t quickly blossom
into hi end designing) I really held my tongue when I didn’t sigh
’everybody and his brother wants to be a jewelry designer’. (then
again, I worked in a place where the sales manager acted as the
designer and I REALLY held my tongue on that). I don’t wish to sound
snarky. I don’t believe its something one can have bestowed upon them
within a relatively short time, like graduate college and be a
designer. I don’t believe designer is entry level. Now given all that
hot air, if its really want you want to do you will find the way to
do it. Gather yourself, gather your tools and make stuff. Trial and
error if need be. Then you can show stuff on interviews. No show, no
go.

If you are more interested in pure design you will need exposure to
design oriented firms. Network, press the flesh, hit the big shows.
Probably though few would hire a designer with no track record. Blunt
again, sorry.

If you want to make your living as an independent
jeweler/designer/whateverer things become easier and harder at the
same time. You will have the freedom to design your own stuff and
then make it(or have it made), your way. You will likely not have a
ready distribution scheme for some time though.

I forgot who said it but you can be your own teacher. It’d be good
if you were also your harshest honest critic. If school is not an
option for whatever reason then this might be your road. It has
worked for many. The school of hard knocks. Hey, don’t knock it.

Best of luck. Stay focused.


#11
Make stuff! Give yourself assignments -- create a line, even if
you have no intention of selling. Get a project book and make
everything in the book. Make a lot of gifts, in the spirit of Adorn
America. Be your own teacher, grasshopper. 

I think that Elaine offers really sound advice. Formal education
(university, trade school, art center, art school) is certainly a
proven and, for some, smart way to approach a career. But it is one
of many ways…

Given the limitations of your circumstance, why not set yourself
some goal- perhaps assembling a body of work for a solo exhibition–
and begin to make pieces. As each is completed, photograph it and
send the images to a "review board’ or “education committee” (could
be Orchid or whatever group of people you trust and who have the time
and inclination to comment) for comment and criticism.

Now is a great time to “home school”. With the communication tools
offered by the web, including Bench Tube and various tutorials,
isolation is a much different situation.

Good luck and by all means keep working.

Take care, Andy


#12
make your living as an independent jeweler/designer/whateverer
things become easier and harder at the same time. You will have the
freedom to design your own stuff and then make it(or have it made),
your way. You will likely not have a ready distribution scheme for
some time though. 

The gearhead speaks the truth, as usual ;}

The percentage of “art jewelers” who actually make their living
teaching school is pretty astronomical by comparison. It’s tough and
it’s a shrinking marketplace to boot. High level jewelry design
(Jean Shlumberger…) is an entirely different animal, indeed.

You (all the you’s) know how to use a saw, and a torch, and pliers
and something about hammers and ring mandrels. What else do you need
to know?

Specialties, yes - setting, engraving, mokume, CNC, whatever. But
you don’t need to go to school over and over again to learn
everything over and over again, what you need is deeper skills, which
come from much experience. A while back somebody showed some
piercing very proudly and talked about how fine (tiny) it was - nice
job, too. Shrink it all down by a scale of 100, and it’s truly fine
work, though. It’s a matter of scale, and perception, and experience
as to what the world can be.

Several have said good advice on this thread - largely about getting
work.

IMO the smaller value of working or doing some sort of
apprenticeship/entry level thing is the repetition, experience and
practice with all processes. The greater value, as I’ve said before
here, is "Do This - I didn’t ask you if you like it, I said Do This."
People tend to take the easy way out and avoid the unknown, if left
to their own devices… And that’s not about the things you can say -
“Set a stone, make a ring”. It’s about getting good at fitting,
difficult soldering setups, precision filing, making tiny things
efficiently, what IS straight, and all the other intangibles that
are so important to becoming truly skilled.


#13
There are no national standards for apprenticeship that anyone is
actually following. I am not advocating that there should be. But I
think that those of us who are passionate about our craft should be
passing it on and taking advantage of the talent and drive of
people who want to learn. You can buy a house for what it costs to
go to most university art programs. 

Isn’t it better to work for low wages and training and at the same
time get mentored by someone who is actually making a living with
their craft?

I wish there was a way to find people who would be willing to take
on an apprentice. I am looking now in New York City for an
apprenticeship, but have no idea where to find one. I have a
background in sculpture and metalworking on a larger scale. I would
love to work for someone who could mentor in classic jewelry
techniques!

Cat


#14
I wish there was a way to find people who would be willing to take
on an apprentice. I am looking now in New York City for an
apprenticeship, but have no idea where to find one. 

Beginners make a mistake by not applying for entry level position
with large firms like Tiffany’s, Cartier, Harry Winston and few
others. They are the only ones, who can give you exposure to what
goldsmithing really is. One does not need to be an accomplished
goldsmith. If you have artistic intuition and aptitude to continually
refine what you make, you are qualified. They will teach you all the
rest. If you combine this type of employment with your own exploits
into techniques, you will progress very quickly.

Leonid Surpin
www.studioarete.com


#15

Contact WJA-Womens Jewelry Association in NY they might be able to
direct you.

www.suedorman.com


#16

John,

I agree with you whole heartedly. Something that has come to my
consciousness lately is that even the simple things, like stringing a
necklace, get better and better with practice. It takes a fair number
of repetitions to understand the finer points of construction. Those
fine points are never taught, only learned by experience. When you
first begin making something, you get a product. At first, it seems
that the piece is “good enough.” Then, you feel proud that you’ve
learned how to do the technique. Ah, but then after you’ve done it
100+ times you understand what you didn’t know after that first
success. The tiny details are so easily ignored in the beginning, but
"practice makes perfect" and after much practice your results are
significantly improved.

Much of what I know has been self taught, and that’s a perfectly
valid way to learn. True, a good teacher can shorten the process and
take the student from beginner to expert faster, but there just is no
teacher better than experience. I think you are right, however, that
we (pretty much all people) tend to take the easy way out. If we are
doing well in our comfort zone, we tend to stay in it rather than
explore new things where we may have some failures. (I know that’s
certainly true for me.) But it is the failures, if we persist, that
drive us to a broader education and expertise.

For me, self education works best if I have set a goal, such as “I
want to learn how to make a rivet” or “Today, I’m going to solder
150 jump rings and do it right every time.” Those small steps add up
over time. Every new skill or technique mastered is another tool in
my toolbox. After I’ve used each tool enough times, I begin to see
how it could be applied in a new way. The more tools, the more
options you have to achieve your desired result. A master craftsman
knows how to use every tool he has, and to use it well. A beginner
just knows a small portion of that. It’s the in-between where most of
us fall, but to hold the goal in mind takes us closer as we go.
Education is a lifetime experience, it’s not just something you do
for a year or more and stop, satisfied that you know everything.

Susan
Sun Country Gems
http://www.suncountrygems.com


#17
I am looking now in New York City for an apprenticeship, but have
no idea where to find one.

By no means just for Catherine’s quote above, but for any who are
looking to better themselves - Don’t look for an apprenticeship, in
general, in America! Look for an entry level job, instead - meaning,
don’t use that word. In Europe, they still have and use
apprenticeships. In America, too often it is taken to mean, “I want
you to teach me everything for nothing.” People may argue with that,
and rightfully so at times, but you will get a lot farther if you
forget that word and just apply for a job somewhere. In America,
that is. Obviously that means you need to have SOME abiliity to begin
with, but that’s no different than any other job…


#18

Having read the thread, I will offer my advice.

Don’t just blindly “make stuff.” If you have developed bad practices
this will just cement those bad practices into your work. It takes
26 times to undo a bad work habit and only 7 times to establish a
good work habit. Correct technical application or good work habits
can save you untold hours of labor and thousands of dollars in costs.

Also, don’t do a lot of the projects in hobby books and magazines as
a lot of these are authored by DIY self-taught hobbyist who are just
passing on their bad work habits. Unfortunately the editors of a lot
of these publications are not jewelry makers (they are writers and
editors) and can not discern correct technical applications in
metalsmithing.

DO buy good books by good teachers who are also good metalsmiths.
Brynmorgen Press is Tim McCreight’s publishing house and would be a
good place to start. Also, MJSA publishes technical manuals on many
jewelry skills.

If in New York and looking for a good school that does offer access
into the jewelry industry try FIT Fashion Institute of Technology,
they have an excellent jewelry program.

Nanz Aalund
www.nanzaalund.com


#19

Dear All,

I really hesitated about writing to the forum about this, despite
knowing that I would get excellent advice. And I have - so as ever,
heartfelt thanks. This list is so rich in experience and perspective
that it is almost like having a hotline to Yoda! :slight_smile:

My hesitation was in the public nature of the forum, and it’s why I
really didn’t want to give too many details. I have a few responses
to you though

An easy answer would be to go back to the "adult" learning classes
and buttonhole the instructor, asking him/her where they would go
if they were you... 

I was told to apply to the school. By several people, including the
instructor and other practicing jewellers or former graduates.

Zee, why don't you tell us what country you are living in; maybe
someone on Orchid is there, too and can give you some other ideas
of where to study. 

I was loath to do this, because I am worried that naming might be
seen as shaming, but I am in Switzerland, in the French part. Closed
off and very rigid.

If I were in your shoes? I would go to Revere Academy. 

Believe me - I wish…but a year living in SF is sadly not something
I can do.

Be your own teacher, grasshopper. 

Awesome advice, and I have been doing this to an extent. I do feel
isolated and somewhat ‘out of it’ at times. I wholeheartedly agree
that failure (and possibly frustration) is a great teacher.

Your location may restrict this, but see if an established jeweler
will take you on as an advanced apprentice, 

There are restrictions on this for sure. I don’t think it is
impossible, but there is no way that I am advanced enough to ask for
this, and I would frankly feel like a fraud asking. My age and lack
of language fluency are further impediments at this stage. I mean,
it’s not like I am 100 years old, but I certainly felt like it after
my so-called interview.

Do you want to be a 'designer' or a goldsmith? 

This is a really good question, and I am glad there was no hatemail
:slight_smile: :slight_smile: I primarily want to be a goldsmith, and for me at least, you
can’t design (or at least I see may limitations) if you can’t make.
And I don’t really see that goldsmiths are not also designers
(however, I have met many people who say they are designers, but do
not create objects). I was looking - and found what purported to be -
a course with a combination of teaching, where my technical skills
could be improved, as well as being able to get to know design tools
and some business teaching, an applied design course I guess. I
certainly wouldn’t approach prospective employers saying I am a
designer - I would ask for work as a jeweler or metalsmith. Like you,
I mean no offence to anyone who is a designer purely and simply.

I would give the following advice. Find some piece that you like.
It has to be technically challenging. Try to reproduce it to the
tiniest details. When you will fail, analyze the reasons for failure
and correcting

Given the limitations of your circumstance, why not set yourself
some goal- perhaps assembling a body of work for a solo
exhibition- 

This was a very thought-provoking suggestion. On top of all the
other advice, it really gave me a possible view of the future. I am
going to have this as my goal now, so thanks! :slight_smile: To be honest, having
to put together a portfolio was a very focusing and challenging task,
and I was dreaming about potential solutions to the problems that
were coming up. The part about analysing technically the reasons for
failure was very prominent, but also very fruitful.

I have a beaded winged pig hanging from my rear view mirror. The
winged pig symbolizes, for me, the importance of dreams, however
unrealistic they might seem. Never give up. The pig’s name is Pearl.

Thanks…I did have a couple of weeks of feeling depressed, but I
don’t intend to give up. And I will think of Pearl! lol. Maybe I
will make a sister for Pearl, first up!

I really appreciate all your wonderful guidance.

Cheers,
Zee


#20

Dear Zee,

Reading this thread, I feel like I am in a similar situation as
yourself.

As an offshored engineer I already have my degrees, even though they
are by now considered worthless due to time, it doesn’t seem
reasonable for me to shell out money that my family needs for a piece
of paper that I did not see would improve my situation one bit.

Since you name a hide-bound section of the world (French part of
Switzerland), it now makes instant sense to me why they turned you
away.

My friend, the school you applied to has made you a victim of age
discrimination. We don’t stand for this sort of thing in the United
States, if provable, we sue the pants off the offender. Your solution
would be to find a good solicitor and see if the school violated the
EU constitution by refusing to enroll you, based on the comments they
made about you. You can then use the award, if any, to attend any
other academy in the world.

I think shaming your society is actually an appropriate thing. I
think you need to get out of your borders a bit more often and see
what the more open places in the world might have to offer.

Andrew Jonathan Fine