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Working alone?


#1

There’s a question I’ve been wondering about, and I’m not sure how
to find the answer-- so, of course, I’ll post it on Orchid!

Do any of the really successful metalsmiths/jewelers, the ones whose
names we all recognize, work alone, or do they all have employees in
the studio? I do not personally know of any who do all their own
work. If you want a memory-jog of the type of work I’m talking
about, the web site for De Novo Gallery that was just posted,
http://www.denovo.com, has the kind of fabulous work that I admire
so much-- but these folks appear in a lot of galleries, and these
pieces are not quick to make.

Does anyone know for sure of someone of this caliber who does not
have helpers?

–Noel


#2

Hi Noel, I may not fit the profile of the particular artists you are
referencing, but I wanted to respond anyway. I do work in my studio
by myself, entirely alone. Everything I produce is made from scratch
in house, and nothing is outsourced or subcontracted. It certainly
isn’t the most practical or cost effective approach to making
jewelry, but it works well for me. I have a handful of colleagues
who do the same, but I think we probably represent the exception
nowadays, rather than the prevalent studio scenario.

I’ll be quite interested to see who else is paddling their boat solo.
I admit it gets a bit lonely at times and one has to be mindful of
not withdrawing too far into a self imposed isolation. That is why
Orchid makes such a wonderfully wide open window to the outside
world.

Michael David Sturlin
www.michaeldavidsturlin.com


#3

Noel,

Your question is fraught with landmines. If someone answers they run
the risk of being nailed for bragging or somehow being full of
themselves.

But I think that the question is really important. They don’t, in my
experience, address this in school. A large number of metalsmiths
and jewelers do, to my knowledge, work by themselves.

There are quite a few well known metal artists in the Seattle area.
Some do have employees. Of these, many hire people-- often students–
to work for them when they are on deadline. Often these are artists
who are making one of a kind work (like the pieces at deNovo) and the
deadlines are group. seasonal or solo exhibitions (like the ones at
deNovo). These part time employees file, clean up and fabricate
elements of pieces so that the employer can devote their time to
designing, conceiving and executing the work, drawing from the
"stock" elements or ingredients that the employees have produced. (I
hope that this won’t engender another “Is Casting Handmade” type
discussion…)

At least one artist that I know of (not in the Northwest) allows
their employees to participate to a much broader extent, basically
handing them a drawing or plan and having them make the piece.
Sometimes these artists have an off site relationship with their
employees, jobbing out work from diagrams even via the mail. To me,
this would present the risk that the work would evolve, like a game
of telephone, into something too far removed from my control and
vision.

Production artists have a much more clearly defined mechanism for
delegating authority, especially if the production runs are basically
duplicates of a master or prototype.

Since I show at deNovo, I’ll answer your question. I don’t have any
employees. I have thought about going that way over the years, but
I’m just not sure how to best utilize someone. I’m not that
organized. Since I role out 90% of my stock (accept large sheets
of.925)and make most of my tube, I could have someone come in and
mill out a bunch of stock for me. Or even come in and fabricate x
amount of bezels, etc. But I usually make tube and fabricate bezels
when I need them and to specific sizes and non calibrated stones.
Perhaps I’m just too reluctant to give up control.

I’ve worked alone for 17 years and it seems to be getting tougher to
do so. Working in a small team or partnership is becoming more
appealing. Teaching does help in some respects in that area.

Take care,
Andy Cooperman


#4

Noel:

Hi, I read your e mail and it was as if you had read my mind today…

I’m a 22 year old Mexican girl and I have been making jewelry for the
past three years, I mainly do fabrication on silver with gold but for
the past few months started working wax, I finally got some money
(that I must pay back soon) and equipped my self with all what is
needed to do castings, down here is very hard to get must of the
tools so I often end up ordering from the States, today I was
practicing trying to learn how to make and cut rubber molds (some
challenge) and by the time the day finished I realized that doing
everything your self is almost impossible (thinking, learning, buying
things for the studio, cleaning it at least once in a while,
fabricating original pieces that take some times many days, making
waxes, etc, and then, of course, the part that I dislike the most:
trying to sell all that work and make a living!..)

So yes, I also often wonder how those amazing jewelers that I find in
those amazing galleries like Michael Zobel at The Novo would manage
to fabricate entirely each of their pieces and I wish really hard that
one day I would get to that point where your business grows enough so
you can pay to get some assistance with out having to stop being
involved in each part of that long, complicated and absolutely
beautiful process of making jewelry!

So well, I couldn’t answer you question but I wanted to say that it
is one that maybe lots of us wonder about too

Best regards, Maria Bracho


#5
...I wish really hard that one day I would get to that point where
your business grows enough so you can pay to get some
assistance... 

Hi, Maria, and all,

Actually, I am kind of the opposite…

I was hoping to get the kind of answer I did get from Michael David
Sturlin and Andy Cooperman, both artists whose work I respect and
admire. Both of them indicate that they do all their work
themselves. I have thought about, and been encouraged to consider
figuring out some way to make my work more production-oriented so
that I can have others do more aspects of it. While I create some
simpler pieces that have cast parts that I do not cast myself (thank
you, Daniel Grandi), the work I really care about is very
one-of-a-kind, and I can’t imagine having employees. I really wanted
reassurance that it is possible to be successful without assistants.

Truthfully, I don’t really think that the question of whether to
hire help is really relevant for me yet-- I have other issues that
stand in the way of success much more at this point-- but I’m an
incurable optimist. You really have to be to keep going in this
endeavor (especially if you do/try to do art fairs)!

–Noel


#6
I'll be quite interested to see who else is paddling their boat
solo. 

michael and whoever started this thread -

chalk up another solo paddler. sometimes, not often, a second set of
paddles might be nice. but i am convinced that the solo work
environment is why my work is always termed “unique”. since most of
my designs evolve as i work them i don’t want to be around others
while doing them. i don’t want anyone else cutting my stones,
selecting my accent stones; forging/fabricating my settings; seeing
the mess on my work bench; tripping over the drillpress as it resides
on the floor while its final placement is tba; asking where the
rolling mill cart is hiding today. AND the real biggie: turning on
the wrong music. but - with wilma headed our way the pros and cons of
working solo could become moot - my concentration centers on becoming
florida’s west coast posterperson for ‘how i stopped fearing
hurricanes and learned to live with incipient annihilation’: my
partner (who ignores the effect of saltwater moisture on the angle
irons standing between us and pancake status) says the 24’ w x 25’ h
x 36’ l collection of concrete slabs is rated to 120 mph, and, above
120 mph, we will never know the second after construction surrender
occurs, so my mantra is “that which does not drown us… will sure
as hell flood downstairs and the garage again.”

ive
who, from working in such a vacuum, bears the nickname of ‘hoover’.


#7

Yes that solitary isolated hermit jeweler. That’s a problem. I am
finally in the classes available locally and being around others with
the same passion is absolutely essential. So if you work alone try
taking a few classes to get out of the studio and meet people face to
face and learn something! I have never met anyone who has finished
learning or being inspired!

It will be along time before I can afford to hire anyone so I think
that at a certain point when those amazing jewelers get swamped with
orders and cash flow increases they hire for self preservation. It is
just common sense. I will hire when I get to that point with the
cameos because my time will be worth more doing the actual carving
than the tasks others can do like making settings etc.

Teri
An American Cameo Artist
www.cameoartist.com


#8

Maria,

   So yes, I also often wonder how those amazing jewelers that I
find in those amazing galleries like Michael Zobel at The Novo
would manage to fabricate entirely each of their pieces and I wish
really hard that one day I would get to that point where your
business grows enough so you can pay to get some assistance with
out having to stop being involved in each part of that long,
complicated and absolutely beautiful process of making jewelry! So
well, I couldn't answer you question but I wanted to say that it is
one that maybe lots of us wonder about too 

It sounds like you are well on your way at a young age. Keep at it
and be positive and it will happen.

Joel

Joel Schwalb
@Joel_Schwalb
www.schwalbstudio.com


#9

Noel - when i wanted to make art-jewelry i wanted to work alone but
now that retirement age is looming on the horizon i want to make
$$$$ the question is how do you make enough money so you can hire
someone? - best regards goo


#10
...the question is how do you make enough money so you can hire
someone? 

Well, Goo, it’s quite simple. First, you come up with designs that
are unlike anyone else’s, that everybody wants to buy. Then you
figure out ways to make them for much less than people are willing
to pay for them. Then, maybe you hire a bunch of talented young
graduates to do the less interesting parts of the jobs so you can
keep thinking up those fabulous designs.

I know people who have followed these instructions. I just haven’t
quite managed it myself.

–Noel


#11

I must say that having help at this point for me is very appealing. I
have no idea how I would be be able to afford “legally” employing
someone.(non-under the table… check not cash) In my opinion, you
literally need to put the cart before the horse… perhaps doing
a large trade show… getting $50,000+ in orders, then scampering to
find someone to help you produce.

It seems like prehaps the jewelry trade is a lot like the fashion
industry. I mean, look at all the famous “couture” designers…
they’d never survive on couture alone… they need to produce mass
quantities of affordable clothing for just that, the masses. That
allows them to focus on their “fluff” pieces. Their pieces de
resistance!

I feel that this is the path that I want to follow. I"m not above
"selling out" to the mass production market if it means making my
fortune. I"ll still make my one of a kinds on the side!

Polly Spencer
Mary Amalia Jewelry
148 High St.
Portland, Me. 04101
207-772-1285
maryamlalia@aol.com


#12

Hi Noel, Thanks for the kind words.

I’ve been thinking more about the question you posed- again, an
important one.

There are really several components to it.

The fiscal and production aspect is of course one. Making the amount
and kind of work necessary (with only your own hands) to make a
living can be tough. A lot, I think, depends on the type of work one
wishes to make. More elaborate, complex or artistically/ conceptually
distinct pieces may require a larger commitment of time and materials
than simpler pieces but they may generate significantly higher
revenues. These type of pieces may also be tougher to make in a group
situation. I think that the conception, design and physical execution
of this work may not as readily lend itself to a team approach. (I
have seen relationships where an artist and their employees have a
truly intuitive working style, but this may not be too common.)
Production work is tailor made to a team approach.

Another important aspect of working alone is the psychological/
social impact it can have on you. Michael mentioned this and, for me,
it is becoming more of an issue. Most of the time this isolation has
and does work for me. The whole music thing is no problem (although
Walkmen and Ipods have certainly solved any problems in that area),
neither is studio temperature or work times – hot/ too cold, days/
evenings. However, when you run into situations that would be so much
more easily resolved with a second opinion, working in a vacuum
becomes somewhat of a liability. Not to mention the dark days of
winter and the cabin fever of the home studio.

The financial physics of having employees can be somewhat strange as
well. I have a good friend who is a cabinetmaker. His projects range
from kitchens to high end home theaters, bars, etc. Over the years he
has had a variety of crews from just he and one other person to teams
of up to seven. With a larger crew he found that the type and size of
jobs he needed to choose was driven by the fuel-- pay, benefits and
overhead-- required to sustain the large crew. The business was
certainly taking in more money but wasn’t making any more at all. In
addition, he found that his role in the whole system had changed from
designer/ lead cabinetmaker to manager/designer, in that order. He’s
much happier with the smaller crew of 3 he has now.

One area that I would gladly hire someone for would be shipping,
billing, invoicing, maintaining mail lists, etc. To me, this is a
huge drag and an unpleasant use of my time. But again, I would have
to be mailing consistently to make this work.

Let me just add one more thing: While I do make a large amount of
one of a kind work, I don’t rely at all on it to pay the bills. I
make my living solely in the field, but one of a kind work is just a
piece of a pie that also contains custom and commission work and
teaching workshops. I’m not at all sure I would be happy solely
making one of a kind work. I like the different focus that working on
a custom ring or larger commission requires. Decisions are made for
very different reasons and the parameters within which they are made
are more clearly defined. Teaching, obviously utilizes an entirely
different skill set as well. It also goes a long way to satisfying
the social/ work needs of a gregarious person.

Take care, Andy


#13

It is an interesting question.

I’ve been a jeweler since 1976, although I really only started making
a full time living 20 years ago. I work alone. My wife helps me with
email and packaging. I sell entirely on the internet. I fabricate
everything. I don’t cast. I will buy bezel and other settings, jump
rings, and sheet and wire but most of my gold is rolled out. I have
had about 30 or more assistants over the years, the longest for 2
years. At that time I was selling wholesale, and casting.

Selling retail and fabricating is quite different. I would like an
apprentice but I’ve not had much luck with assistants. Jewelry is so
very much harder than most people fantasize it to be.

I have two reasons for wanting an assistant: first, of course,
because many of the tasks involved (setting up for soldering, closing
jump rings, laying out) are time consuming and don’t really require an
advanced level of expertise, but secondly, and perhaps more
importantly, it just seems a shame that all the knowledge I’ve
developed will die with me.

I am a specialist jeweler. I tend to stick to sacred or symbolic
jewelry. I do a great deal of custom work, especially wedding and
commitment rings and this, like art jewelry, requires a certain
sensitivity. Unlike art jewelry, sacred jewelry isn’t, to my
knowledge. taught anywhere, which makes the likelihood of my finding a
long term apprentice/assistant/eventual partner even less likely.

I don’t really mind working alone. I’ve made jewelry for long enough
to know that I’ll just get better at it as I keep discovering more
about it, learn new techniques, create new doorways into
consciousness. I’m also not greatly concerned about money. I always
have enough and my satisfaction comes from the art itself rather than
what the work will buy me.

In my experience assistants take a long time to train, and
practically never go on to becoming jewelers. I’d like to know how to
find one who would but, as you can gather, I’ve not really had a
great deal of success.

I’m open to suggestions!

I was in New Orleans for some time and something Thom Mann said to me
always stuck with me. One day I was complaining to him about how,
with 6 assistants I seemed to be working for them. He said there were
two ways to make it as a jeweler, with just one other person,
preferably your life partner, or with at least 10 employees. In his
experience he knew of very few jewelers who made a reasonable living
unless they were solitary (or a couple) or a microbusiness with 10 or
more employees.

Good topic

Mark
http://www.markdefrates.com


#14
    Then, maybe you hire a bunch of talented young graduates to do
the less interesting parts of the jobs so you can keep thinking up
those fabulous designs 

N- thats it the key word being talented. all of the graduates ive met
can’t seem to think thier way out of a paper bag. i blame the
institutions for that, then there were a few ive helped and taught
them and nutured thier skill level and as soon as they think they
know somthing they run off to be legends in thier own minds and i
never even get a christmass card. jaded @ 7:30n the morning -goo


#15
    It seems like prehaps the jewelry trade is a lot like the
fashion industry. I mean, look at all the famous "couture"
designers..... they'd never survive on couture alone..... they need
to produce mass quantities of affordable clothing for just that,
the masses. That allows them to focus on their "fluff" pieces.
Their pieces de resistance! I feel that this is the path that I
want to follow. I"m not above "selling out" to the mass production
market if it means making my fortune. I"ll still make my one of a
kinds on the side! 

Polly Spencer

Polly - I agree. I used to paint (ie fine arts -
gouache/oil/acrylic). While I loved doing my “big” paintings, I had
an entire line of “kitchen art - fruit in a bowl etc.” and a line of
"greeting cards" which did not bear my signature and which were sold
through gift shops or at church bazaars. The income from these lines
paid for the materials to paint my “good” paintings and allowed me to
show them in a gallery and wait (and I do mean wait - sometimes it
was a long wait) until they sold. (sometimes they sold right away,
too). While I am not making my living from jewelry, IF I intended
to, I would certainly develop a side production line and would not
put my name on it but it would surely help fund the "one of a kind"
business.

FWIW Kay


#16
 ... I'll just get better at it as I keep discovering more about
it, learn new techniques, create new doorways.... Thom Mann said
to me... there were two ways to make it as a jeweler, with just one
other person,... preferably your life partner... 

mark, i really enjoyed reading about you r’doorways’ and thom’s
advice, but my work started going faster when i locked my doorway and
got my life partner to stop goosing me while i was hard soldering!

ive
who dodged the wilma bullet and has the power back on!


#17
In my experience assistants take a long time to train, and
practically never go on to becoming jewelers. I'd like to know how
to find one who would but, as you can gather, I've not really had
a great deal of success.

My sense of it, from hearing talks by jewelers who do have
employees, is that the best way is to hire recent graduates of
academic jewelry programs. They’re practical experience is limited,
but they are knowledgable, often passionate, and used to working
hard without pay, so an actual job is just what they need/want.

–Noel


#18

Hello,

Well, first of all I would like to thank all of you who have taken
some time to discuss this “working alone” subject, I must say that
for me, being kind of new in this business and also living in a
country with very different circumstances, has been very enriching and
motivating… I guess that from what I have read many things became
clearer and it all depends on why you make jewelry (your motivation)
and what is it that you want to achieve with it (money wise). It is
interesting to find out that life circumstances impose advantages and
disadvantages and that as long as one understands that and use them
on one’s behalf then things will work out.

In my case, for example, getting help is not really a money issue, as
you all now, labor in this country is not expensive and no at all so
controlled by institutions (social insurance, for instance), meaning
that I could pay very little money an still offer a lot more than
most people will make in other jobs (which is sad and unfair)… And
that is an advantage for me…

But on the other hand, the real struggle in Mexico is marketing one
of a kind pieces, a started making jewelry because I believe is an
art and that is what I want to achieve (instead of becoming a mass
production factory), down here, there are no galleries that sell
pieces like that, people think of jewelry as inexpensive accessories
and if they pay good money then they expect buy a label (like those
big Luis Vuitton or Cartier bills)… But hand made, unique, modern
pieces, forget it! So then is when I get frustrated and frightened,
it seems nahib to stay for days in my studio, creating something I
believe is a beautiful objet and then try to convince people that it
should be more expensive than a boring mass produced silver bracelet
from Taxco. So thanks to all your opinions I feel stronger about my
strategy, getting all the lost wax equipment, the way I see it, is a
good choice, first, for the pleasure of learning how to use it and
second because it will allow me to create an original line that wont
consume as much time as one of a kind pieces and that could be sold
for less money and still represent enough income to, so to speak, buy
some time for my self to use it to not only produce but also find the
right selling spot for my one of a kind designs. Good luck to
everyone, I must say that I love this site, must of the time I read
it quietly and don’t say much but I always feel like I learn and in a
way is like having a big family spread all over the world that speaks
the same language.

Maria Bracho


#19
as soon as they think they know somthing they run off to be
legends in thier own minds and i never even get a christmas card. 

Yeah, it’s easy to see that this is likely to happen. And it’s not
as though I actually know what I’m talking about-- I’m just
reporting what I believe I remember from what others claimed was the
case…

The people who seem to keep their helpers claim to 1) pay them quite
well, 2) give them the opportunity to use the studio to make their
own work, and 3) help them market that work. And I have the
impression they’re still lucky if they can keep them once they are
actually trained. After all, what creative talented person–
especially a young one-- wants to keep doing someone else’s work?

Of course, as I said, it’s not as though I actually know what I’m
talking about. The only times I’ve paid for help it was my own kids,
and that didn’t really work out-- in the studio, anyway. My youngest
daughter was the world’s best art fair helper, but guess what? She’s
graduating from college this year, and not only does she have the
audacity to have ambitions beyond helping me at shows, but she has a
job offer waiting for her which will pay her twice what I made in my
best year, for starters! Maybe I can get her to hire me…

–Noel


#20
My sense of it, from hearing talks by jewelers who do have
employees, is that the best way is to hire recent graduates of
academic jewelry programs. They're practical experience is
limited, but they are knowledgable, often passionate, and used to
working hard without pay, so an actual job is just what they
need/want. 

And yet Tom Mann does exactly the opposite, hiring regular (non
college art grads) people and training them.

Around here, one of our local colleges encourages such artistic ego,
that those grads are specifically avoided in hiring by at least some
jewelers.

Elaine

Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
http://www.CreativeTextureTools.com
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay