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Why is it so hard?

         Few in the US want to pay a living wage to those who make
 anything "by hand!"  Especially in today's economy of Walmart
And why should they? After all it is THEIR money they are so wisely
and capably choosing what to do with. 

Because in the long run what they spend pays their wages.

Bill Bedford

Why is it so hard…( to understand why it is so hard ?) That’s the
real question ! Being a small time entrepreneur has always been a
daunting challenge. Here in America it is seemingly much harder
precisely because we are so soft and spoiled. We are raised in a lap
of comparative luxury and all we have to do is tell mommie " I want
it because ALL the other kids have it" and, voila, it appears from
nowhere. God knows mummy doesn’t want to be caste among the
have-nots for that is sinful and inferior. The magic of plastic
brings us our conformity. Mommie isn’t aware that she is creating a
little couch potatoe who won’t know the meaning of work until he is
beyond rehabilitation. All of a sudden he or she sallies forth into
the real world of dog eat dog and the cards start collapsing. Only
the toughest survive…

Ron MIlls,
Mills Gem Co., Los Osos, Ca.

I must share a discussion today which may shed some light on the
difference between “us” & “them.”

A professional lady was in my home for an extended time today. It
was necessary for me to do extensive paper work while she waited.
She asked and received permission to wander and look at what I
cherish and own.

This led to a discussion on how we look upon and value things today.
The difference is computer chips and robots. The cell phone
generation is looking for what they are familiar with, machine made
everything, quick and slick.

The love of hand made is no longer valued, or treasured by far too
many. To caress the sensual curve of wood hand carved and hand
polished by generations then lovingly passed along, has been lost.
Machine planed wood table tops, and chairs. Pergo instead of natural
wood, why bother waxing? Machine knit sweaters, sterling silver
flatware, why, you can’t put that into the dishwasher. Wall board
instead of lathe and plaster, 10K now sold in the US as gold??

Books, why bother buying a whole book, get it on a cd and listen in
the car. Why bother with a log in the fireplace and a great
reclining chair and a soft light? Turn on the flourescents, the
computer, your wireless mouse and read online.

My mother often said “don’t put your head on another shoulder.” If
we e-mail all the time, never put pen to paper and send a real
personal message, lick the envelope and stamp, walk to the mailbox,
we add to the problem. Yes me too.

We must talk with prospective buyers with the passion we feel moving
metals, polishing stones, creating a wearable work of art. That is
our job, perhaps we can bring back the love of hand work. Only when
the buyer learns what made this beauty held in his hand, may he
appreciate it as it should be.


    And why should they? After all it is THEIR money they are so
wisely and capably choosing what to do with. 

Do I detect a note of sarcasm? If not, can you explain? Maybe I’d
be interested in your book if I had a take on your ideas.

David L. Huffman


Take heart – I don’t think it’s necessarily harder in metalsmithing
than other fields. Of course, that only means it’s just as hard in
other fields. I’m sure many jewelry artists are frustrated by the
need to take in repairs and do bland custom pieces to make ends meet,
but it’s not unusual in the arts to need a “day job.” I meet very
few writers making a living writing novels, but I also meet very few
journalists who aren’t working on a novel! I can assure you, as
lovely and wonderful as all you folks are and as much as I enjoy what
I do, writing articles about jewelry-making was not what I dreamed of
when I was 16!

If we’re lucky, we discover a way to make ends meet that is at least
somewhat related to our passion. If we’re really lucky, we actually
enjoy the time spent on the practical approach, and we manage to
find ways to keep plugging away at making the dream come true until
it does. And if it doesn’t… well, it may not impress people at
parties, but there’s a lot to be said for having done something you
loved. A lot of people never even try, and spend their days
regretting the decision to play it safe.

Hang in there!

Suzanne Wade
Phone: (508) 339-7366
Fax: (928) 563-8255

I very much agree with Terri’s letter. Any field of endeavor is
tough unless you just don’t care. If the focus is on the self then
you won’t get anywhere anyway. If you just get discouraged sometimes
and find the bills are hard to pay, well welcome to the human race.
Self pity is a trap.

To find a voice I work and work and work. To pay the bills I pay
attention to the business and when all this fails , and it does,
then I work more and pay more attention to the business and pray like
mad that what I am doing is enjoyed by somebody and valued enough for
them to buy it. What else is there to do? I have done market
research, studied business, studied my art and prayed. Now I could
switch jobs but that comes with it’s own set of difficulties, ones
that I would not trade these for.

Just my rant because I get discouraged too but, have found no lack
of opportunity, just a lack willingness or ability to take advantage
of the opportunities I am presented with.

Sam Patania, Tucson


Artists questioning cheap mass production is not a modern era

One hundred years ago the Arts & Crafts movement was alive and well.
This was a movement that was born by Artists that were disgusted by
the mass production of their time.

There has always been and always will be those individuals that look
to buy the cheapest thing they can and those that understand the
uniqueness of a handcrafted item.

I think that the people that appreciate unique items are more secure
individuals that are the leaders and trendsetters while those
individuals that only care about the price and are willing to
sacrifice quality and their individuality are the followers.

There are probably many people out there that are followers only
because that is all they know. Walk into any mall and you see 5, 10
or more jewelry stores all selling the same or similar type items.

It is the responsibility of Artists to educated people about what
goes into creating a unique piece. Once someone understands the
process and the thinking that went into a piece of Custom or Handmade
jewelry can they even begin to appreciate it.

Greg DeMark
Link Exchanges Welcomed

The end result, as far as I can see, is that to be an "artist" in a
"lowest price rules" economy means that you are generally thought
of as an eccentric fool at best or a parasite at worst. In an
economy not driven by that lowest common denominator a greater
diversity of goods and services can survive and so too the people
that offer them. 

Hi, Trevor,

I agree, on the whole, with your conclusions. However, I think you
may have a mistaken, or at least oversimplified, view of the US. I
feel appreciated for my creativity and craftsmanship, even if prople
can’t necessarily afford my work.

Sure, we have millions of people who may not really consider any
piece of jewelry worth more than $100, and/or who don’t care about
the subtleties to which we devote our lives. There are many crass,
undesireable, and even shameful aspects of our country and our
culture. But that is far from the whole story. It is a large,
non-homogenious country, full of all kinds of people and ideas.
There is a market for virtually anything-- you just have to find it.
Connoisseurs who appreciate every nuance shop side-by-side with
bargain hunters. And this division is not necessarily along economic

The good news is choice. It is wonderful to have prevalence of high
quality. But it’s darned hard on those who can’t afford it. Here,
there is something to fit every consumer’s need and budget. They
just have to find it.

About 6 months ago, after reading a thread on Orchid, I raised my
prices an average of 50%. My sales went up on my better pieces, and
down on the lower-end stuff. Overall income increased about 25%, I
think. As I see it, I left some of my more financially restricted
admirers behind, but the higher-end shoppers are actually more
comfortable paying more!

I don’t mean to ramble and rant. This is a tough time to be an
American. I think I am not alone in fearing that there is enough
truth in Bin Laden’s (and others’) accusations to shame us all, and
we are not used to being in such doubt about our county’s motives.
So I may be overreacting a bit. But I still believe that there is
nowhere else on earth that offers so many opportunities for the
individual and so much choice.

As a postscript, I’d like to add that I grew up very poor, though my
mother had started out well off. My husband was the first child of
penniless immigrants. We still don’t have much money, but are
solidly middle-class, well-educated, and managing to send four kids
for world-class educations. I wouldn’t live anywhere else!


If it wasn’t so damned hard, I don’t think anyone would consider it

It’s interesting that so many people thought I was asking those
questions for myself. Thanks for the encouragement, but actually, I
was just making observations.

Pondering life in our industries…

Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

    Your final comment about the importance (for you, and too many
others) of not being able to put a name to a work, no matter how
beautiful or technically flawless, is sad because it reflects the
superficiality of most contemporary arts practice where the name
is more important than the work. 

I agree with you, it is sad.

I did not manage to say clearly what I meant to say.

What I was trying to say was that some work that I’ve seen in nice
shops and galleries, while technically strong, failed to move me.
There was nothing wrong with it – skillful work, balanced, the
design was – nice, I guess.

But it did nothing for me. Didn’t excite me, didn’t move me. It
wasn’t terribly original. And there was also this lack of a
discernable artist’s hand.

Maybe it just wasn’t my style.

I was in a gallery today and saw one artist’s work that – in
contrast – was strong, unified, had personality, was also
technically beyond reproach. Looking in the case, you could tell,
okay, this was all done by one artist.

Hope that clarifies.

Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay

   There is a market for virtually anything-- you just have to
find it. Connoisseurs who appreciate every nuance shop side-by-side
with bargain hunters. 

Right on Noel - the big trick is finding it, and that’s what makes
being an entrepreneur so exciting. I chose other avenues, though I
must say there has always been that little tug inside that said “I
wonder if…” That’s because I came to jewelry making rather
late in my life and at a time when I could afford to “play” at it
more than “work” at it. It has been a passion for me and I attribute
my sanity to being able to retreat to my bench and design,
fabricate, succeed or fail, all in my own time. But I often wonder
what would have happened had I but discovered this passion earlier
in my life.

But, pray tell, why do you all think it (making a living from
jewelry) is so hard? Making a living at anything is “hard”. When
you work for someone else you don’t have many choices - you do their
bidding or you don’t get paid. As an entrepreneur, at least you
make your own choice - right or wrong. No one forces you to be an
entrepreneur. It’s a free will choice. So if you are finding it
’too hard’ then perhaps it was not the right choice. But guess what

  • YOU have the ability to change it.

I think a lot of it has to do with your view point. If you are able
to afford 3 squares a day, pay rent or a mortgage, and take care of
your family, I’d say you are a major success. That’s more than a
lot of people do, entrepreneurs or not. And on top of it all, you
love what you are doing. There are only a few people in corporate
America who can say that. Orchid is proof to me that this field is
alive and growing and doing well.

Since lately there have been many “problematic” issues raised, and
since, as we all have seen, they become somewhat taxing even while
being enlightening, why don’t we change our view point and focus on
more positive aspects of this field.

How about for the next couple of weeks we report only “happy” or
"successful" things. Why not share your positive experiences for a
while. I’m sure that all of us have more happy times and days than
unhappy ones. That doesn’t exclude asking for advice or help, but it
would exclude "complaining about services, complaining about
equipment, complaining about long hours, in general let’s just QUIT
COMPLAINING and start focusing on the positive. There is so much
that we all have to share with one another.

Okay, I’m off my soap box. I can tell I’m getting older real fast
when I write things like this.


 but there's a lot to be said for having done something you loved.
A lot of people never even try, and spend their days regretting the
decision to play it safe. 


Boy, did you ever “hit the nail on the head” here! I have known
many people who were next to poor, or even poor, who have persued
their passions and been very happy people because of it.

Happiness is all a matter of perspective, and what better way to be
happy than to do what you love? Does it mean that you will
automatically be able to do it all day and get paid for doing it?
Maybe not. But if you get to do it at all, isn’t that a wonderful
joy for the time that is spent doing it?

My mother took up jewelry making (faceting and casting) when she
retired from almost 70 years of teaching school (she started teaching
at age 19.) She did not have time prior to retirement to enjoy the
craft. However, by the time she quit doing the jewelry making (near
90 years old) she had developed enough skill to teach it. I have
many pieces of her work that are quite beautiful. Oh, yes, let’s not
forget that she had an affliction called “familiar tremors” which
causes the hands to shake when doing detail work, much like
parkinsons’ disease symptoms. (I’ve got it too - bummer.) I am
simply in awe of what she was able to do at such an advanced age
with such a handicap.

So. . . if you are not able to make a living at that which you love,
make an effort to find the time before age 65. It will be time well
spent and maybe 100% can be devoted to it in the future as you gain

Sun Country Gems

    If it wasn't so damned hard, I don't think anyone would
consider it work! 

Another way of looking at it is this “If it were easy , Normal
people would do it!”

The way I read the original post sounded to me as though the person
was trying to compare our craft/art/ adnauseum to more traditional
business. Kind of like Butcher, Baker, Candle Stick Maker; Finding
yopur own voice??? just sing try and sing in as many keys and
octaves as you can, one will probably have more range and feel

Ken Ferrell

    Because in the long run what they spend pays their wages. 

The old “evenly rotating economy” fallacy was knocked on it’s head
with Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” though the fallacies should
have been totally obvious over the prior centuries of growth and the
vast improvements in living and living conditions for ALL wrought by
the Industrial Revolution. The reality is the continually growing
and changing (yes with–temporary–unemployment for some) economy
and that comes from entrepreneurs intentionally using capital to
increase productivity to make the cost of goods cheaper to make them
affordable to more to increase the profits that increase the
investment in more capital goods that…

Read the posts on this list and you’ll find easily 1/3 of them are
exactly about this process whether it be simple tools to vibratory
tumblers to laser welders. Do you honestly believe that the folks
that purchased the laser welders should have instead bought labor to
use old methods to achieve the same result? Should we abandon pitch
because it makes the work easier? Hammers, anyone? back to rocks? why
stop there?

James E. White

    I am neither an economist nor a sociologist but 

I actually study economics for fun! I’m reading “Human Action” by
Ludwig von Mises right now but I recommend "Economics in One Lesson"
by Henry Hazlitt or “Basic Economics” by Thomas Sowell for good
starter books. The teaching of sound fundamentals of economics should
be started in grade schools but as it is it’s not even required for
college (to throw in an opinion).

    My observation is that the eternal quest to buy everything at
the lowest possible price results is exactly what you'd expect it
to: the lowest possible prices. Of course everything else is likely
to be sacrificed to get them but the customer _will_ get what they
want. And by the time they discover that that attitude has left
them with an ocean of shoddy goods and few alternatives --not to
mention a host of other socio-economic ills-- it will be too late
to change their minds. 

But you’re totally mistaken that there is “an ocean of shoddy goods
and few alternatives” or that there ever will be such a situation.
Wander around any town or county in the USA and you can have your
pick of virtually any level of goods you want from "disposable"
quality to “heirloom” quality. When a “Wal-Mart” good will satisfy my
needs and financial requirements that’s what I buy but when I want
a(n old?:slight_smile: Tiffany’s level of good I purchase that. My wife has the
Mercedes, I have the '90 Subaru, neither manufacturer was wrong and
both are very popular in the USA.

The bottom line, and my point, is still that WE don’t OWE anyone a
living wage for whatever they CHOOSE to do. If they choose to do 18th
century buggy whips do we owe them a living wage? If they choose to
do “chain jeweler” jewelry by hand and charge $80 instead of the
chain jeweler’s $30 do we owe them a living wage? If they choose to
make mugtlufts do we owe them a living wage? No. The, er, whiner, I
was responding to needs to do one of two things—1) produce goods
for the market she finds or 2) find the market for the goods she
produces. Most manufacturers go for 1 because it’s far easier and
cheaper but there are substantial manufacturers----and especially in
the jewelry trade----that choose 2. Both 1 and 2 are still very
competitive and anyone that does not wish to compete can simply get a
job (and keep it if they meet the required productivity level) and
let the risk taking entrepreneurs duke it out in the marketplace.

James E. White

But you're totally mistaken that there is "an ocean of shoddy goods
and few alternatives" or that there ever will be such a situation. 

Hello James,

Well, from my experience that situation can and does exist, right
now. I’ve lived and worked in the US, Canada and now Europe. The
situation in Canada and the US is pretty similar so let’s speak of
them as one for this particular discussion.

In Europe, overall I’d say that what you see out in the marketplace
is about 20% regular, cheapo, mass produced stuff, 50% pretty good
quality but at higher prices than are typical in North America and
about 30% luxury-level goods.

In North America it seemed more like 60% cheapo stuff, 20% mid-level
and say, 20% luxury. It’s my guess-timate that this applies to almost
every single area of goods that a person comes in contact with except
possibly computer related stuff which is incredibly homogeneous
across the two market places.

Like I said, it’s an ex-pat truism here in Europe: everything is more
expensive --well, not really everything but certainly most things–
but the quality is better. In general people pay more, receive higher
quality stuff than you would on average in North America, and they
simply buy fewer goods overall. It’s not an economic or political
theory, it’s just the way things are.

The bottom line, and my point, is still that WE don't OWE anyone a
living wage for whatever they CHOOSE to do. 

I couldn’t agree more. However you had said “why should they?” and
implied that the consumer was wise and capable by virtue of their
pocketbook. That is the statement I responded to, and disagreed with
then and now. I’m not saying anyone should tell them how to spend
their money. I am saying that they might want to consider the results
of the way they spend it because whether they realize it or not
their way of spending will mold their economy and change the very
marketplace they are a part of.

Trevor F.


Thank you for you comments. I wonder if the concepts here are 1. The
sense of entitlement and 2. Marketing.

I have real problems with the sense of entitlement I find in the
western cultures. I also find far too many “artists” unwilling to
learn the necessary business/marketing skills that would help them be
more successful with their products. Yet they whine about how the
market is not paying or paying attention to them.

Risk taking entrepreneurs. We are either this or we work for one if
we can’t hoe the row ourselves.

I have not found that “making it” in this business any harder than
"making it" in any of the other endeavors that I have been involved

Bill Churlik

    but the quality is better.  In general people pay more,
receive higher quality stuff than you would on average in North
America, ***and they simply buy fewer goods overall.*** 

I think the part I asterisked says it all. You have a misperception
about what constitutes “quality” for who. You somehow believe that
YOU have the right to choose FOR OTHER PEOPLE how they balance
"quality-by-your-definition" versus price. I think if you really
want to shop (i.e., make the effort) in the U.S. to find the HIGHER
PRICED goods that meet your “quality” preference you will ALWAYS be
able to find them.

My question stands, “why should they [, the buyers, not make their
own choices].” You believe somehow control should be kept from
them–and back this with non-factual suppositions of a dire
(future-but-presumably-in-foreseeing-distance) consequence–no
"quality" available. I think the buyers should have total
control----and I know for a fact that those who wish to move “up” in
"quality" will ALWAYS be able to do so in the U.S. but in the
meanwhile they will still have enjoyed far more personal satisfaction
(“bounty” if you will) from their general thrift on things x to also
have y and z.

And Wal-Mart and other U.S. big box stores are rapidly expanding
into Europe where they are finding that the consumers are, surprise,
surprise, just as eager to have the y’s and z’s while being a tad
more thrifty on their x’s. (Of course it’s also no surprise that
those who wish to dictate how others buy/behave decry Wal-Mart’s
success just as those of the same mentality do in the U.S.—and
they’re fighting a battle that’s been doomed to fail, and failing,
since the dawn of humans.)

So my answer to my question is let the buyers decide what they want
and how to balance “quality vs price” (it’s what will always win in
the long run anyway). And, not that you’ve consciously formulated it,
your point seems to be “let [us] other people decide what’s best for
the buyers (as long as all ‘other people’ making the decisions hit
close enough to my [Trevor’s] position!!). Hmm, say, I have ultimate
"quality” gold available, I’d be glad to send you some at $900 an
ounce, you can incorporate it in jewelry and sell it to "quality"
conscious people… The point being, even you will decide (I think?)
that my $900 ultimate gold is “above” what you’ll pay for
satisfactory “quality” gold.

Nice wall, BTW.

James E. White
Inventor, Marketer, and Author of “Will It Sell? How to Determine If
Your Invention Is Profitably Marketable (Before Wasting Money on a
Patent)” Info Sites:,

    I have real problems with the sense of entitlement I find in
the western cultures. 

My suspicion (based on years of observation) is only that in
"western" cultures—and particularly the U.S.—it’s acceptable
(sort of) to exhibit “the sense of entitlement.” It’s a basic human
want but it obviously cannot work. It’s just PC (among many but not
all groups) in the U.S. to let people show their (infantile) selves
while other cultures have generally the opposite PC standard.

I think we quite agree that individuals need to stand on their own
and be properly compensated for satisfying the wants of others rather
than receiving satisfactory-to-themselves (earned or un-earned)
compensation from others while satisfying themselves. The real
"art" of a (non-accidentally) successful “artist” is achieving both
of those, the latter obviously in the “earned” group.

James E. White