Friday, February 5, 2016

DOWN BY THE OLD MILLSTREAM: TEN TIPS FOR JEWELRY MAKERS AND OTHER ARTISANS

DOWN BY THE OLD MILLSTREAM: TEN TIPS FOR JEWELRY MAKERS AND OTHER ARTISANS: Left--Earrings made with freshwater pearls, aventurine, chrysoprase silver and silver plated findings. Right--earrings made with Biwa pear...

TEN TIPS FOR JEWELRY MAKERS AND OTHER ARTISANS

Left--Earrings made with freshwater pearls, aventurine, chrysoprase silver and silver plated findings. Right--earrings made with Biwa pearls, faceted ametrine and sterling silver findings.





NOTES FROM THE RELUCTANT PROFESSIONAL'S LITTLE RED BOOK




Professional silversmiths wear aprons. They do it because it helps them gather silver fragments and dust that result from trimming and polishing. All that can be recycled, sold  or traded . Usually the apron is attached to the jeweler's bench. All the silversmith has to do once he sits down is to pull it over his knees where it will collect whatever he cares to keep.
"You'd be amazed how much silver dust you can accumulate in a month," said an artisan who trained at a prestigious design school. "You really should not waste it."

Mine is not a proper jeweler's  bench. It is a table made from an recycled grate and a metal stand. A local iron smith put it together for me.  It is serviceable, sturdy, stable,and it did not cost much. I have used it for over fifteen years and I am satisfied with it. If there is anything,  it lacks the apron that usually comes with a store boiught bench.  It would be difficult if not impossible to attache cloth to its sleek metal legs. That may not seem critical because since do not generate that much silver dust or clippings. But it would be useful to contain the shower of beads and finding that falls follows the gravity imperative. It isn't that I am particularly clumsy. It is that that my  beads and findings have an abnormal affinity for the floor of my my little studio.They fly from my hands at the oddest moments.They usually do so as I am about to finish assembling a pair of earrings or adding a clasp to a necklace. The more delicate the pieces are, the greater the propensity of their components  to end up in inaccessible places beneath the baseboard heater, the built-in bookcases, the old Kazakh carpet that covers the floor.

Fallen findings do not sound like the most serious problem in the world. It it isn't.  It is, however, a time consuming inconvenience. Metal  is not cheap. I pay my suppluer for every lost crimp tube, crimp cover, and bead cap. Hunting them up once they vanish costs me time and  money.A lost crimp  might stop me me from finishing a project until my supplier replaces it for me. If the puece has been commissioned, the client might not be happy with the delay. Even  though these days I think of jewelry making as a  self-indulgent hobby, it is not too late to to give up inefficient habits. I have not participated in a crafts show for several years and I should I do so, I would  no longer expect much of a financial reward.. That is one of the most important  lessons a crafts person can--don't do it for the money. Do it for love or not at all.That is exactly how most artisans  opperate.

In many cases, jewelry making is a fool's errand. At best, the artisan recovers the amount invested in each piece. Forget the cost of labor. American artisans compete with highly skilled Third World people who get next to nothing for their work. Most American  consumers are conditioned to judge the monetary value of a piece of jewelry by the price of what he sees in discount stores that feature the work Third World artisans and Chinese political prisoners.  Some of the best musueums in the United States stock their gift shops with jewelry, clothes, quilts, metal and woodwork from China and India.  Can American artisans hope to to become solvent solvent in face of global ecomic shenanigans. I don't don't know. WhatI do know is that he can take steps to make sure he does not go broke while he pursues his passion.I speak from experience and this is what I would tell myself if I could rewind the clock
1.Be sure that this is what you want to do. Know its risks and rewards.  If you want to be a full time crafts person, inform yourself about the economics of your region. Mine is not a rich part of the world. Many local people undervalue handicrafts as the kind of think theat granny did. Many find "store boughten," that is, mass produced stuff far more desirable that local handicrafts.  For one thing, mass produced stuff sold at discount store costs less than the work of American artisans.Be aware of this flaw in the system.  Talk to local craftspeople. Ask them about the pluses and minuses of being self-employed.Join online forum for artisans,   seek out people in your  field work.You don't have to despair. But don't be delusional about your market. If locals won't buy, think of other venues.

2. Educate yourself about your target market. Whom do you want to reach--college students, thirty-something professionals, senior citizens? Learn about the buying habits of those you  wish to attract as clients. Jewelry often is an impulse buy. Do you know what sort of design is most likely to sell to impulse buyers?Yes, I know know it seems sordid to think about profit when all you want to do is make pretty things, but face it, artisans have to be business people if they do not wish to go bankrupt.
3.Once you decide to take the first steps to set up your jewelry making operation, proceed with caution. Hurrying to set up your studio can lead you to buy cheap equipment you will have to replace. That is expensive.Of course there are Navajo silversmiths who have have no more than a handful of tools and a whole in the ground where they smelt their silver. Yet they make exquisite jewelry. If you come from generations of Navajo silversmiths who started training at age thre, by all means stick to six tools and hole in the the ground. Otherwise prepare to shell out equipment--the bench designed for professionals, the best torch, the best dapping tools, hammers, mandrels, pliers, best safety equipment and much, much more.

2.Once you set up your studio, see whether it included features that will allow you to work efficient. What have you done to .minimise waste, for example?Chances are you will be mail ordering some of your material. Factor in shipping costs.Can you afford to keep losing micro-sized findings and beads? They are the very devil to find once they slide from the bench. Treat them accordingly. Corral those crimps. Keep hold of those 3 mm ruby beads.Never understimate the power of a bench apron.I did and I am sorry.

3.Value your work, value your creativity, value your time.Keep track of how many hours you spend on a piece and see if you can be paid for some of it.  In most cases, you cannot, but adding them to the cost will give you a better sense of how much you you donate to the cause

4. Honor what you make. Display it attractively. Invest in jewelry cases that signal to your clients that you are a professional, not a hobbyist playing at jewelry making..If you want to be be taken seriously as a crafts person, begin by taking yourself seriously. That will mean spending money, initially. Decide whether you want to commit a significant part of your budget on a venture that might fail. Every business is a risk, but in a soft economy the business of adornment is one of the riskiest.

5. Be a show-off. Photograph your best piece of jewelry and have it printed on your business cards. photo. Open an online storefront. Use the social media--Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, to publicise your work. Making crafts is not for the timid. I found that out when I got invited to show my jewelry on a television show. Publicity is one of the side jobs of every artisan. Go bold or go go home. Encourage your clients to mention your work to their friends. The worst that they can do is say no, right?
6.Reassess your goals every trimester. Have you met some of them? All of them? None at all? Why?

7. Remind yourself of the primary reason to commit to the craft.Do not be afraid to play devil's advocate. Is jewelry making the only you can find to express yourself? Do you have a discretionary account in a Swiss bank, a rich aunt who will pay your bills?

8.Be realistic. Accept that the work is hard and the profit margin is slim. Can you live with that?

9.Given all the economic minuses of jewelry making, could you be just as happy clerking at a jewelry store? You'd be selling someone else's work, but you would not have to run financial risks.You'd get vactions and insurance.

!0. If jewelry making so enhances the quality of your life, you do not mind working for free, embrace it. But be sensible, Plan to earn enough  an income to buy more jewelry making supplies. Sorry to say it, but that might require a second job.