Sunday, November 30, 2008

My new line of jewelry

I mentioned this summer that I was struck by the monarch butterflies I saw at the beach. Out of that observation came an idea for a set of sea based jewelry, some with butterflies as part of the design. I really liked working with the sea shell molds (see below), paua shells, and butterfly molds and I plan on doing more items using these.

The paua shells came from a challenge my friend Anne made to me to find a way to bring these into PMC designs as they can not be fired in place and are odd enough in shape that a standard bezel process would not work that easily. I read how some other PMC artists were attaching odd shaped items to their pieces and I came up with a plan using paper clay as a base mold of the paua shell that could be fired in the kiln. Because I needed the metal extra strong, as I would be hammering it on an anvil after, I fired the PMC plus at the 2 hour PMC standard rate to insure the silver was fully sintered. I am very pleased with the process and will continue to explore using these shells. The one I have pictured here also has a separate bail with a lab grown Sapphire that the main pendent hangs from to give it movement.

I had a lot of fun using the cold mold to create shell molds as well as molds of vintage buttons which I have made into earrings. I can't wait to find more things to mold. Should be a lot of fun finding items at antique stores to mold and create pieces from those molds.

I will be adding these to my web site shortly, but you can contact me if you are interested in any of these pieces before they go up online.

- Gale

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Buying Handmade/Handcrafted

Yikes! Is it October already?

Much has happened in this last month. I am working on a whole new design line that I will have available for Christmas shopping. The price of silver dropped for a short time so I invested in more silver wire and metal clay so I can keep prices down. And then I got a new job! I will be working for The Emancipation Network which is an international organization that fights slavery by empowering survivors and high risk communities by giving them economic alternatives and education. The products these survivors make also help build the abolition movement in the US. I just did an orientation there yesterday and they have some really beautiful things.

I really want to encourage people to make a commitment this year that they will buy handmade/handcrafted gifts for the holidays. Go to local craft shows, find local artists and artisans, check out Etsy and buy hand crafted. It's a great way to make your money go far and help your local economy.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Where have all the flowers gone?

Nope, this is not a post about the end of summer. With a birthday in mid September, I have long held to the idea that summer really does end at the autumnal equinox and not Labor Day. Late summer and earlier fall here on the Cape can be amazing. The light on the marshes and over the dunes is spectacular and the cranberry harvesting is beautiful.

Actually, my post today is about art as a means to move people politically and socially. I just got through re-watching the PBS American Masters special on Pete Seegar. His work to reacquaint the world with folk music and then using it to make people socially aware of the injustices around them was an amazing blend of love of his art and love of his country. That was the idea that struck me when they talked about his Kennedy Center award and used "Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything There is a Season)" as the closing part of his tribute there (Ecclesiastes 3, verses 1–8) . I didn't catch who said it (I think his son) but they said the words of the song really described his life - from being black listed in the 50s to hailed as an American treasure in 1994. There is a time for everything and America finally got it that all he did he did for love.

Even today he uses his music to help make people environmentally aware. He used his music (and his sloop Clearwater) to help make people aware that the Hudson River needed to be cleaned. Today the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater organization he helped to found works with school children to make them aware of the environment issues and how they can help to make a difference.

I see a lot of pieces that artists - especially jewelry artists - make to sponsor a cause. But how many of these pieces actually make you think about the cause itself? Often we make art for art's sake, but Pete reminds us that art is a powerful tool for change.

- Gale

Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything There is a Season) - Pete Seegar

To everything, turn, turn, turn
There is a season, turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace
A time to refrain from embracing

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time of love, a time of hate
A time of peace, I swear it’s not too late

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A month of adventure

I only wish it had been artistic adventure . . . my Dad went into the hospital and was diagnosed with Parkinson's. It's taken up some time in my life but these last few days I have started to take some time back for me.

I have started reading Randy Pausch's book "The Last Lecture" in honor of his passing last Friday (see I took it down to the beach and ready chapters in between soaking in the sounds of the surf, the children playing and the gulls calling. The book is a wonderful addition to his lecture and I know I must take his lessons and use them to get around, over or through the brick walls that I am placing in front of me. I have to ask of my different dreams how badly do I want this and how do I obtain those dreams without allowing the brick walls to stop me.

For two days running I have seen a beautiful monarch butterfly flitting about the beach. It's a sight that seemed so unexpected but it has given me an idea for a piece of jewelry. I have to make myself sit down at the table and do it. I have really started forming more concrete ideas on jewelry that are completely beach themed, separate from my beach glass work. I also looked at the storm fence and beach grass growing on the edge of the beach and thought there had to be something that can come from those wonderful images too. All it took was looking up from my reading and really taking in the moment I was in to see things that inspire me to create.

Are you in the moment?


Monday, June 23, 2008

This and that (or where the heck did this month go?)

Well I had great intentions to post to this blog more often this month and suddenly here we are at the end of the June. I got to go see my friend Erin's work ( at an artists/craft show at the new art center in Yarmouth, MA. Her work is very delicate and pretty - not sure how well it was appreciated at the show - but she does well over on the Vineyard. Hoping to catch up with her there in about a week as I hope to go over and visit with my friend Betsy for a day while she is staying at the family "farm" (which sounds more like a vacation compound).

Erin telling me about this show - Celebration of the Arts Festival - reinforced an issue I have with arts and crafts shows down here. The Cape, which prides itself on having a great artist community, continues to fail those artists in getting word out about these shows. Most of them you almost have to stumble over to find.

Last year the Cape Cultural Center was still in the midst of a multi-year adaptive reuse preservation process from its neglected past as an abandoned old bank building. The work they did on the place is amazing! I got to see some before and afters and the work they have done there is amazing. Last year's Celebrations of the Arts Festival was held under a tent with money from it used to help continue the restoration work. This center is a wonderful venue for artists privately mount a show of their work for a reasonable fee in a fabulous space. The Center's staff and volunteers help man the shows with the artist recommended to be there for the weekend. If a group of artists rented the space it could be one really fabulous place to have your art seen and even possibly sold! Yet, even my art friends who have friends in the various art guilds here had no idea about this show or about the space.

The Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce and their Cape Cod Arts Association have tried to make the arts here a part of the reason to come to the Cape. However, when they want tourists to spend $20 on a book - current only for that year - to find out about artists, artisans, shows and galleries they are missing the point. Even the Massachusetts' Artist Trail has books for $10 and a banner on members shop doors that can't be seen until you stop and go into the gallery or store. I know there is a better way and I am hopeful that Betsy will be able to put into play this summer a better method for tourists to find artists and events (yes we have a theory on how to do this and when she gets it going you will hear about it here). In the meantime, the shows and galleries here are left to pay fees to the Chamber for little results.

The Hyannis Artist Shanties are back - and you would be surprise at how few people who live here - let alone visit - know anything about them. Called "Harbor Your Arts" it gives juried artists and artisans a place to show and sell their work at the Harbor docks during the summer. They have most shanties with a single artist for the whole season but have one shanty with weekly rotating artists. If you are here on the Cape - living, summering or just visiting - make sure you go check them out.

- Gale

Note: See Clare's comments below regarding the artist trail books. When I went to purchase the book from the Chamber at an event last summer they were asking $19.95 (I was shocked) and the MA Artisan's Trail Guide book was on sale at Collections just last month for about $10, so I would be really pleased if tourists can easily find these books for $5.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Artists, training, education and the importance of continued learning

A few months ago, on the Orchid forum a debate regarding "trained" jewelers and metal smiths and "self-taught" got pretty intense. Goldsmiths were one of the first groups of artisans that organized into Guilds during the Middle Ages. To protect their trades these groups organized the precursors to the modern unions with set regulations on training, apprenticeship, journeymen and masters. The groups became so powerful that they began to have major political impact during the Renaissance and could determine who could practice their trade. I mention this because if you go back and look up this debate, that started with a request from a woman in the U.K. for some ideas on learning design techniques, you can almost still hear the faint rumblings of the old Guild system in some of the responses. There were a few gold and silver smiths who felt the only way to truly be an artisan in this field was to go through a formal program of training at university or a recognized jewelers school. Any one else was just a "crafter" or "hobbyist". I wrote about this discussion in my post of March 10, where I listed Karen Christian's great response and wonderful design exercises.

While I had formal art training as a part of my undergraduate degree, I do not agree that it is the only way to becoming an artist. In fact I do very little of the art I was trained in - oils, pastels, pen and ink, etc. and have spent the last several years working in more tactile mediums like collage art, beading, wire work and now silver smithing and precious metal clay. The only time I studied anything remotely related to these mediums was in high school art. That said, I did not just pick up a few books and wing it. While I definitely bought books to learn from, I enrolled in classes - adult education, single class offerings at craft and bead stores, and PMC classes at Metalwerx. I hope to take some more classes in glass slumping and more metal smithing soon. Why? To improve my skills, expand my knowledge and enhance my business. I may even take some business courses to help directly with marketing and managing my business.

In discovering a wonderful jewelry artist (Michael David Sturlin), I found this great article in The Crafts Report April 2004 where he was one of the artists quoted. It is called "What Does Arts Training Have To Do With Selling Your Work" by Suzanne Wade Sturlin started off self-taught and after several years started reaching out for formal training. He said it had a profound effect on his work, his productivity and his earnings. I have no idea what his earlier work was like but his work now . . . amazing! Here are his two sites: and (my advice - sit through the intro on the second site). He taught at Metalwerx a few years ago - before I knew about them - and I hope he comes back some time soon.

Well happy June every one! Gardening to finish tomorrow!


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Inspiring pictures of the Kalash Tride

The Kalash tribe is an indigenous tribe of Pakistan that has kept their old ways and their polytheistic religion. I came across some amazing pictures of them and find the colors they use, their adornment - especially the women's jewelry and dresses - were inspiring. Here is a link to information regarding them The pictures came from a blog on citizen sugar but I saw no citation or acknowledgement of the photographer. I will continue to look for whose pictures they are and note that here when I do.

I am thinking that creating necklaces inspired by these amazing beaded necklaces - albeit with a Cape Cod twist to them - is a great way to go. With some of the new things I have learned from my PMC class I think that this all can be combined into something very unique and wonderful. I love the layer upon layer of twisted beads that end up looking almost like a collar. The colors used in the trims of their skirts, tops and hats are so vibrant. They remind me of the colors of a Cape sunset. I will show you what I come up with when they are ready.

In the mean time - enjoy some of these pictures and see what they inspire in you!
- Gale

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

PMC Certificaion (or OH the Wonderful People You Meet Doing Metal Clay)

I delayed my posting here because I took a 3 day class up at Metalwerx in Waltham, MA to get my Rio Grande PMC Certification. The class was taught by Chris Darway ( who is one of the "ground floor" people using PMC and is an well known jewelry instructor in his own right. The course requires the students to complete 7 specific projects as well as do some additional add-on work (soldering and patina work for example). The projects had us working on everything from carving and molding, to creating a very traditional geometric design to creating a pen with a screw-on element (picture above right).
While I loved all the learning that went on and have some new tricks up my sleeve now (expect a change in some of my work), it was my fellow students that I enjoyed the most.

I got to reconnect with two people I met in my initial Intro to PMC class with Cece Wire. Dan and Erin were the two people I thought were the most connected with the clay during the first class and seeing them this weekend proved my instincts were right. Dan does a lot of traditional metalsmithing work and has a lot of knowledge to draw on. Erin has her own jewelry business which she has decided to do full time ( She has been a regular for the last few summers at the farmers market over on Martha's Vineyard. She is now going full tilt with the arts and crafts shows. Her wire work is very lovely and mixing PMC with what she currently does will really be exciting to see.

The new faces were interesting to get to know. I think Amy has turned out to be the most interesting. I knew she had studied pottery and art but she bills herself as a stay at home mom. THEN I checked out her web site that she very meekly said something about when we were all sharing emails and web sites on the last day. Amy designs the most amazing handbags for her business Brown Bags Couture ( Christine and Ellen were two friends from the western part of the state and who are already planning to take more classes! Lori has her own jewelry business ( and does a lot of wedding jewelry - but her "other life" has her in marketing which made me think that when she tires of the traditional rat race she should go into marketing consulting for artists and artisans.

I always feel like I grow so much when I get to be with other artists. Its why I like visiting with Anne, another metal clay artist who lives near me that I met through the yahoo group Metal Clay Gallery and why hanging out with Betsy always helps get my creative juices flowing. What do you do to get your creative energy recharged? Please share your comments.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Artists Foundation Survey - Stand Up and Be Counted

Short post today - but very important, especially for MA artists. The Artist Foundation in MA is currently running a survey for all artists (full-time, part-time and "hobby" artists). The survey is called "Stand Up and Be Counted" and is going to be used to show the state legislators that we are a constituency to be recognized. It is modeled on the 2007Minnesota "Artists Count" survey. To take this survey (only takes a few minutes) go to There is an optional section on your 2006 reported income but you are in no way obligated to complete that section. They also break it up into sections so if you only have time to fill in section one your survey still counts!If you are not from MA you might want to look at this survey and push your state's arts organization to conduct a similar survey.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Design what you know

Based on the concept used by writers to "write what you know", design what you know really means design your art from what lies deep inside of you. The best art comes from designing from your heart.

I started playing around with the idea of jigsaw puzzle pieces as a basic shape for some jewelry based on ideas in Cece Wire's book on Metal Clay Creative Metal Clay Jewelry. As I played around with this concept, I started seeing the corner of a puzzle with a loose piece. I have childhood memories of the card table going up in the living room after the Christmas tree came down and Mom, Dad and I would start working on some 1000 piece puzzle. We always put the edges together starting at the corners and then the first piece to go in not part of the edge or the corner always seemed so difficult to find, So often we tried to fit in a piece that looked right but was just a little different then the one that really fit there. A the same time I was mulling these thoughts in my mind, I also became aware that the organization "Autism Speaks" uses a symbol that looks like a puzzle piece that also looks like a person.

My beautiful and bright oldest god-child has Asperger's Syndrome, a type of highly functional Autism. She has a high IQ, plays the violin, can tell you everything and more about the environment and grey wolves, is a Girl Scout, and always makes me smile when we see each other. But she had to work hard to learn to fit in socially - with her mom and dad's strong efforts to make the school system address her needs while still recognizing her intelligence. The design I had in mind came together, the piece I created is a pin from PMC with one loose piece hanging from the three puzzle pieces making up the corner. The hanging pieces "almost" fits right but not exactly. I call it "Trying to Fit In" to recognize my god-daughter's efforts to learn how to handle the social challenges that Asperger's present to her. I am proud of all she does and continues to do as she grows in talent and social skills.

This was my first pin and I used a technique new to me to make my own pin back from sterling silver. I had a few challenges with attaching it and finally decided to use depletion to bring up the silver in the pin back (using heat to raise up a layer of fine silver on the surface of the sterling) and then fire it in place with more PMC. I learned a lot with doing this and will make this pin again now that I have worked out the challenges I had making this. When I wear it and people comment on it, I use it as an opportunity to talk about my jewelry designs AND Asperger's Syndrome (and to brag about both of my God-daughters).

So what have you created from your heart? I would love to hear about it - please feel free to add your story to the comments section.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Trying Metal Clay for the first time

I noticed a lot of people who are interested in trying out metal clay but because they are not able to take classes they are teaching themselves, and they go into a panic the first time they are going to try a project. There are several great books to read in advanced if you have not done so already. When you get to your first project relax and remember when you are starting out to KISS (Keep it simple sweetie).

Let me suggest what Cece Wire calls Kamikaze Earrings. She uses these as her first project in her Intro to PMC class. I still love mine - they look very "finished", are easy to make, require very few special tools, teaches you a lot of the basics and most importantly gets you past the scary first time stage. No slip is required. I recommend these for any one stepping out for the first time in PMC - especially if you are trying to learn this on your own. A variation of these earring are on page 16 of Rio Grande's 2007 PMC catalog .

You need:

  • Metal Clay (PMC+, PMC3, or one of the low firing Art Clays)
  • A non-stick work surface (there are lots of options but plastic page protectors are easy to find and work well)
  • A small container with olive oil (teaspoon or less) Badger Balm is also great to use.
  • A small dish with water
  • Texture (can be a texture plate, rubber stamp, piece of slate, plastic sheeting for needle point or what ever)
  • A needle tool (looks like an awl)
  • A shape template (like your kids use for geometry class)

-or- the last two items can be replaced with a shape cutter (smallest cutter for fondant, shape cutters sold for polymer clay [new - not used on polymer clay], etc. )

  • Playing cards
  • A plastic roller (the acrylic rollers for polymer clay work - again not used on polymer) or PBC pipe of the same size
  • Cocktail straw
  • Fine grit emery board (the pink at 350 is good)
  • French earring hooks
  • (optional - hot plate, mug warmer, or dehydrator with a Teflon sheet on it)

Firing tools:

  • Metal Clay programmed Kiln or Creme Brulee Torch
Finishing tools:
  • Small Brass brush
  • Burnisher (optional)
Assemble everything you need first.

Using a "dot" of olive oil (just dip the tips of your fingers in) rub it into your hands, then another dot to rub down your roller and your texture.

Take out 8 playing cards and make two piles of 4 and place them on your work surface a few inches apart (4 cards thick).

Take out your clay and leave the packaging it comes in handy. Place the clay between the two stacks of cards and use your roller to roll the clay out evenly. Unlike pie dough you can't just turn your roller to roll things out each way. Instead, turn your work surface and reposition your cards on either side of the clay. Continue rolling until your clay is even - don't spend more then a minute or two on this.

Press your oiled texture into the clay. And if the texture is not even - heck press again where you missed - it will make it look interesting.

Cut two identical shapes - if you are using the shape template place your template on the clay and holding your needle tool straight up and down (90 degrees from the clay) trace around the template shape. Then repeat for second earring. If you are using a shape cutter, cut them out like you would shaped cookies.

Now just like cut out cookies, pull away the excess clay and tear the excess clay into smaller pieces and layer them together (don't ball the clay up as it will give your clay air holes for your later projects). Place this clay back in the plastic wrap placing a dab of water on the clay before folding the wrap all up. Use your fingers to knead the clay in the plastic a little to get the moisture in. Put this back in the resealable pouch and close it up tightly.

Now breathe . . .

Take the cocktail straw and holding it one straw diameter from the edge, press into the earring shapes to create the holes for the earring wires for later. The clay will usually stick inside the straw which you can flick out with your nail - save this as the beginnings of your clay for making slip :-)

If you are going to allow these to air dry then WALK AWAY NOW!! Otherwise, pick up your work surface with the earring on it and flip it over with one hand and hold your other hand out to catch the earrings. Gravity should do most of your work for you. Leave them upside down in your hand and walk over to your warming plate. Close to the surface - flip you hand over and drop the earrings on the plate (think of flipping burgers or flapjacks). Okay - now walk away!

Allow the earrings to dry completely (called greenware in pottery), If you are unsure if its dry place the hardened piece on a mirror and pick it up - if a water vapor formed its still not dry. DO NOT try to fire a piece that is not dry - it will get destroyed when you fire it.

Once the pieces are dry, use the emery board to smooth the edges of the earrings - similar to filing your nails. Do this over your work surface and save the powdered clay (more clay to make slip from!!!). Greenware is some what fragile and will break if too much pressure is applied or if you drop it. However, it is strong enough to stand up to a lot of filing and even gentle drilling if needed. Hint: if you place the earrings back to back and sand them at the same time you will even out the shape and size. Also, if you hold the emery board at a slight angle against each individual earring you can create a slightly beveled edge.

Now fire:
In a kiln place the earrings texture side up on the kiln shelf. The newer metal clays can be fired at 1650 F for as little as 10 minutes hold (whole cycle takes longer) or as long as 2 hours like the original MCs. The low fire clays can be fired at even lower temperatures if you have added fireable gem stones or glass, are using a wood clay base, or mixing with gold clay but for this project the 1650 F at 10 minutes will do just fine. If you have to program your kiln yourself - that's Full power to 1650 F then Hold 10 minutes.

For torch firing I highly recommend you view the video on the PMC Guild site under "Getting Started". There are also downloadable written descriptions. The video is a must see You do not need to be a member to see this video.

Allow the earrings to completely cool - either by air or by picking them up with brass tongs and dropping into water. Remember these are at least 1290 F hot (temp when torch firing) so USE CAUTION!!

The earrings will appear white - that is not a residue but rather the silver with an uneven surface. You can get a nice matte silver finish by using dish soap and water on your brass brush and brushing the heck out of the earrings - front and back! You can then take the burnisher and rub it over the earring edges to give it a more finished look. Now attach them to the earring wires and enjoy!!!!


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Trying Karen's Design Exercises

My post of March 10 had a wonderful series of design exercises from Karen Christians of Cleverwerx and the founder of Metalwerx here in MA. Karen posted this exercise in response to a member's question on Orchard (part of the Ganoksin Project) about what steps to take to learn jewelry design. Earlier this week my friend Betsy was off for the week from teaching and tutoring at the college so we decide to go play one day (Betsy also happens to be the owner of my web site hosting company We headed up to Turo, MA (almost to P-town) to go to The Atlantic Spice Co. ( which for all our years here on the Cape, we had never gone to visit. It was a beautiful sunny March day so I printed off the exercise and told Betsy to bring her camera.

After a heavenly hour sniffing, looking and poking around the spice company's store, we refreshed ourselves with some dried apricots from there and headed north on 6A towards P-town. 6A in that area is were you find all the wonderful beach cottages and old houses on the bay. We stopped at the same places and looked at the same scenes but our results were so totally different. I had decided to focus on textures and general design images and Betsy was focusing on shadows and general design. Betsy is a painter, mostly water colors, but enjoys dabbling in other arts and crafts.

I wanted to share with you our two sets of pictures so you could see just how two different people looking at the same thing two different ways can come up with two different sets of photos. Betsy photos - and my photos

I can't wait to do more of Karen's exercises and post photos in my journal to start using them for design. If you decide to try this photo exercise and would like to share your pictures please email me with the URL for your photo site or post it in the comments section.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Metal Clay groups fundraiser for American Cancer Society and The Marrow Foundation

Here is the press release for a great event. There are a few bracelets that will be raffled and you do not have to be present to win. To the right is one of the bracelets being raffled. Each one will be a little different and for $5.00 USD you might own one of these lovely bracelets and help two wonderful organizations in memory of a fellow artist.


Charms for Charity

Last summer, the Metal Clay community lost one of its own when Robin Whittemore, a talented jewelry artist and active member in the Metal Clay community, lost her courageous battle with cancer. Robin struggled with breast cancer and after six years of chemotherapy, radiation and medication, she was then told she’d required a bone marrow transplant.

Robin inspired the group with her uplifting spirit and love of life. Sadly, she died during the summer of 2007, leaving a legacy of courage and charity among her friends and colleagues.
Now Metal Clay artists from around the country have decided to honor Robin and their own loved ones who have succumbed to this disease by raising funds to benefit the American Cancer Society and The Marrow Foundation.

Metal Clay is a new way of working with silver, gold and platinum. It is a moldable metal that transforms from a clay-like state into pure sculpted precious metal jewelry with the heat of a torch or kiln.

Dozens of Precious Metal Clay (PMC) and Art Clay artists have created handcrafted charms for bracelets and necklaces, which will be raffled to raise money for cancer treatment and prevention. Members of the Metal Clay community have donated every aspect of this project, from making charms and bracelets to designing and selling raffle tickets and donating Web site space and credit card fees.

This is your chance to own a unique work of art created by the nation's premier Metal Clay artists. Raffle tickets are only $5 each or five for $20 and all proceeds will be donated to the American Cancer Society and The Marrow Foundation.

These pieces of fine jewelry will be raffled on July 20 during the PMC Conference 2008 at Purdue University, but you do not have to be present to win. Tickets can be purchased at the conference or in advance at or at Tickets and directions for payment submissions can also be printed out from or

Each ticket purchased brings with it the chance for a special piece of fine jewelry but it also brings us one step closer to a cure. Visit,, or to do your part.

For more information, contact Holly Gage of Gage Designs, metal clay member and project coordinator, at

Monday, March 10, 2008

Creativity and Design: Challenging myself

With the price of silver rising to over $20 a troy ounce (it was under $10 just 2 years ago) I find I am being more cautious about just jumping in and creating new silver pieces. My instinct is to make only what will sell easily - which means making simple items that use little silver and will keep prices down. But then I do not grow in my skills and knowledge. So how do I do some of both?

I stumbled on a challenge the PMC Guild gave its members in Fall of 2000 which was published in Spring 2001. Called the "1 lump challenge" it challenged the members to see how many items they could make out of .9 oz lump of PMC+ (PMC use to be packaged differently then current packaging. This would be equal to one 28 g package). The items and resulting jewelry were as varied as you could image with the winning necklace and earrings being made from 244 individual pieces coming from one 28 g package of PMC+ and the second and third place winners creating over 100 earrings each. This challenge - to be creative, artistic, and yet get the most from a limited amount of MC - really has put my mind into a planning whirl. One of the earring makers stated that at $5 per earring pair (when silver was lower then it is today) she was making over $200 profit from one lump of clay. I suspect that similar profits could be made from the same exercise and I am going to give it a try! (Go to Studio PMC No. 13 on the PMC Guild Studio archives to see the winning pieces)

A rather lively (okay almost heated) discussion was taking place in Orchid - the Forum for the world famous Ganoksin project - about jewelers having to be traditional trained or self-taught. Because I can see and understand the value of both, it was alarming to see how there are still so many traditional jewelers who believe that ONLY going through a full-fledged metal smithing and jewelry design program would do. They felt anyone who was self-taught could only create inferior work. This attitude was what actually gave rise to the Guild system during the middle ages and also led to the systems downfall. Wikipedia had a great comment on this "European guilds imposed long standardized periods of apprenticeship, and made it difficult for those lacking the capital to set up for themselves or without the approval of their peers to gain access to materials or knowledge, or to sell into certain markets, an area that equally dominated the guilds' concerns" ( I suspect this is also why many traditional metal smiths dislike Metal Clay because it allows someone with little or no training to rather quickly create jewelry that is as complex and creative as traditionally made jewelry that took years to master the required techniques. Into the fray stepped Karen Christians, who I know of as she founded Metalwerx here in MA where I have taken my PMC classes at. After suggesting that the woman who was looking for advice on learning jewelry design that she get together with other metal smiths and jewelers in her area and create their own class room environment, Karen offered a great design assignment:

Here are a few tricks I use for design. You will need a bound sketchbook, A4 if you are in Europe, "Journal size" if you are out here. In the US, I use: They make high quality journals which are handmade, beautiful and rugged. Decorate the cover with a photo etched plate and rivet. Everything I suggest should go into your book.
1) take 15 photographs of just the shadows of things. You begin to isolate edges and negative space.
2) take 15 photographs of hinges, gates, door knobs and forged iron balconies. Here you look at curves, geometry, construction and gestural flow
3) find 15 examples of jewelry work you really like and put it in your sketchbook. With each example, writ out what you like about it and what you would do to change anything if you could.
4) find 15 examples of jewelry work you don't like. Critique it to your hearts content. Is the piece cohesive, is the craftsmanship poor, are the elements mismatched, does it look like a workshop project?
5) take 10 photographs of an egg and make them look all different
6) pick up a found object off the ground and create a body of work that reflects the essence of the found object
7) framing. Cut out 2 "L" shaped pieces of light cardboard and use them as a "frame" to isolate parts of a picture. Capture just and [sic] eye and nose of a portrait, or a scene from nature or in a building. Use the lines from this as a reference point for your design.

To read all of Karen's comments click here

I dropped a note to Karen about her great comments and design assignment. Karen stepped down as the head of Metalwerx a few months ago to start Cleverwerx (a high end jewelry tools business) and I found out that she will be starting a blog and a tips section on her new website. When she does I will post it here. In the mean time I am going to get my camera and start my assignments!!!


NOTE: If you are a jewelry artist (including MC) you should add the Ganoksin project to your favorites and sign up for the Ganoksin Orchid Community

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

More information about pricing

The pricing question keeps coming up on the PMC group in Yahoo! and I wanted to post an answer here that I gave based on one artist's concern about being newer at MC and so there for taking more time to create items then she thought she should. The concern is that in trying to make sure that you "pay yourself" the price for your jewelry does not some how turn into something so outrageous that you are no longer competitive.

Lynne Richardson wrote a great article called "Jewelry Pricing: The Time Factor." that Rene Klingenberg posted on her web site "Home Jewelry Success Tips". The issue of time for jewelry artists is difficult not just for newbies but for any level artist. Some times things don't go as planned or a design does not work the way you thought it would in your head. You have to find ways to factor out the learning curve or mistake correction issues - called Cost of Quality in the manufacturing world - and only account for your time that really goes into the piece (like you can't count the kiln time while your are throwing in a load of laundry during the firing LOL - okay so my studio is downstairs next to my laundry room).

As for being slower because you are newer at the task (like sanding) this is where charging a fair and reasonable price for your time fits in. Like in any business - if you are new - you should be paid a lower amount per hour then some one who has more experience or some one who is a master at it. One writer in the jewelry business talking about pricing suggested that if you are new to the field you might only charge $10/hr for your time while some one with more skill should charge $15/hr and a master might charge $20/hr. This makes some allowance for the slower pace you might have tackling a new technique.

So how much are you paying yourself?


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Pricing - or how much am "I" worth

So we have decided who our target market is and from that we have hopefully determined what things we create that will be appealing to that market. We even excitedly create some pieces that we "hope" will sell. Translated - I hope they like ME. Our work is part of our soul and our mind. Even when we create a chair, photo, painting or piece of music for possible sale, it is still a reflection of what we feel people will want to buy that we create. We take it personally because - face it - our creations are personal.

Now we face the difficult task of pricing our work. Especially if we are new to selling our work the task of coming up with a price for our efforts is terrifying. After all - aren't we just a "wannabe" artists? No one could possibly want our work, or if they do they don't want to pay a lot of money for it. So we make a HUGE mistake and try to guess at how much it should sell for based on mass produced overseas items that are similar to our work. Let me ask you -- how is something created by a machine or created by hand using a set formula and pattern by poorly paid overseas laborers any thing at all like what you have created? It's made from the same basic material and it serves a similar function but after that . . . ??? For artists the best (or should we say worst) example of this is on the Etsy site. I have seen artists who still think they are just "crafters" putting prices on their creations that can't even pay for the supplies that went into the piece let alone pay them for their time, their expenses and allow them to make a profit. Then for the artists who decide to use that site to offer their work but who correctly price their work, these artists end up losing out to the artists underpricing their work. One artist on the MC group I am in said she was leaving Etsy because her clients who knew and bought her work through other venues would go out to that site to look at her offerings and end up distracted by the lower priced items.

When we place a price on our creations to be sold we have to remember we are NOT placing a price on us but rather on a material piece that represents our creativity. So how do we accurately come up with a realistic and accurate price?

Over on the "Sites to check out" on this blog is a site called Home Jewelry Success Tips by Rena Klingenberg . Rena has found great articles from all over on running a jewelry business. She has a section on pricing jewelry, which contains various articles from different sources on pricing formulas as well as subjects like - if cutting prices help with sales, how to price haggle with customers, factoring in design and experimentation time and other great articles on the value and worth of your creations. Read them all. Then pick a pricing formula that works for you and you feel comfortable with. I picked one, did some calulations of some pieces I had and then went out on the web to other artists offering comperable work (who I knew understood the worth of their work) and found the formula I had picked out was right on target with their pricing (I was a little lower because as I am newer at this business I "pay" myself at a lower rate).

Okay - trying to get stuff together for my accountant so best stop avoiding it. I'd rather be creating but this is part of having a business too. Later . . .


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Some thoughts on being a working artist

I thought I would take a break from the business and marketing side and talk about being a working artist. How many of you are afraid to call yourself an "artist"? An artist is Van Gogh or Mozart or Yo Yo Ma - it's not me! I just _________ (fill in the blank with: play, dabble, craft, make messes, goof around) and I am just a __________ (crafter, student, homemaker, retiree, nobody). Did that hit you right in the gut - especially the "nobody"? Yet you are drawn to paint, write, draw, sing or in general create. It is part of your very soul and you feel empty not creating. But no one would ever want to pay money for what you create.

After I returned to creating from ten years of barely picking up a paint brush, charcol or pencil - I was happy again but called myself a crafter. Yet the things I was creating with rubber art stamps was not basic cards or gifts - the work had started to become something more. I was doing altered books and other forms of collage work, mixing colors and textures - creating images that said something from my heart and soul. But then I struggled to do work that fit what was the popular styles making it into the magazines because THOSE people who got published were artists! My work fell short because it was not my work, my heart, my soul . . . just a poor imitation of someone elses heart and soul message.

Then two ultimate smack downs . . . after sending on some cards to one of my favorite aunts who is an artist but who had never seen my collage work, she said to me "That's not really art you are doing now is it dear?" At the same time I had worked for a month to create a series of stamped items for a magazine entry that all told a story - some pieces individually were wonderful all alone but as a collective group it was something that I was very pleased with and yet not a single item I submitted was accepted let alone the whole work. I let my craft table grow cluttered and just did simple cards for friends' birthdays and for Christmas. I started playing with the beads I had bought to accent my art and taught myself basic beading - at least I could make a few crafty gifts for friends. I played with wire wrapping things. I helped make craft items for the church fair - after all I was just a crafter. It was when I decided to take a silversmithing class locally and then lucked into being able to take a PMC class with Cece Wire that I remembered I was an artist inside. Cece and Leslie (my silversmithing instructor) both made a point of reminding us were were NOT crafters - that they were teaching artists (or artisians).

Does my self-doubt and experiences remind to of things that happened in your life? Are you feeling - even now - like you are a bit of a fraud? Do you sell you items at craft fairs for prices that barely cover your supplies? Are you still calling yourself a crafter even though your work is all original designs and creations?

I want to recommend two books to you - not just to read but to MAKE a part of your life. The first is a long-time popular book The Artist Way by Julia Cameron. Written for writers, it works for any artist who needs to revive their creative spirit - regardless of if it has laid dormant for decades, or if you are just experiencing a creative block. You might wish to modify the morning pages into the morning paintings or the morning score or what have you but sometimes the writing for us non-writers helps break through our mental barrier.

The second book I just discovered through a recommendation from one of the members of the Metal Clay Gallery group on yahoo - Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. Not a very long book, you will find yourself reading and rereading sections. This is written by two "working artists" - where I get the term from for the title of this blog post.

"This is a book about making art. Ordinary art. Ordinary art means something like: all art not made by Mozart. After all, art is rarely made by Mozart-like people; essentially-statistically speaking-there aren't any people like that. Geniuses get made once-a-century or so, yet good art gets made all the time, so to equate the making of art with the workings of genius removes this intimately human activity to a strangely unreachable and unknowable place. For all practical purposes making art can be examined in great detail without ever getting entangled in the very remote problems of genius."--from the Introduction

If you do nothing else for yourself this week - go out and get Art and Fear. If you have a child or grandchild studying art - go out and get them Art and Fear. If you have a freind who is an artist that does not seem to believe in themselves - go out and get Art and Fear!

We'll chat more about being a working artist in later blogs.

- Gale

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Who should I be selling to?

Who your target market is will have some influence on what you actually design. If your target market is teens and young adults into Goth, you shouldn't be designing jewelry that is delicate and full of bright colors. If your target is 25 to 40 year old moms because you are going to be doing mostly home shows and local crafts fairs then you want you designs to be affordable and also offer items that will appeal to them - like a mother's pendent or classic earrings that they can wear to a soccer game and out to dinner.
Because I live in a vacation/resort community I felt my target market should be 30 to 60 year old professional women who may live here or be visiting, works full time and wants pieces that they can wear to work and out to dinner or out and about on the weekend. The have some money to spend but are not high fashion jewelry shoppers (with the huge price tag that kind of jewelry demands) but rather bridge jewelry wearers - jewelry of mostly precious metal and semi-precious stones or high quality crystal. I also need to offer some designs that are reflective of the Cape to appeal to visitors and even residence that want something that represents the Cape to them.
I was already doing designs for friends and craft events that included wire wrapped beach glass. To me it was very symbolic of the Cape and I loved the look, but it was a little too organic (aka crunchy). I spent 2 months of my summer researching what was available for venues to sell jewelry in and I spent time looking at what other beach glass jewelry was out there. The items I saw at stores and galleries all remind me of boxes from the bakery wrapped in string. The designs seems more organic then even what I was doing. Looking at who I wanted to market to - I could not imagine a professional woman wearing one of these types of beach glass pieces. They seemed more for a younger client. If I had not determined who my target market was, I might not have realized I needed to search for a different way to design the beach glass pieces.
In searching for a more stylish way to wrap beach glass I found a great tutorial on wrapping stones that I thought would work. I did a prototype and started wearing it around. People LOVED it! When I went to a craft show and a well established wire wrap artist here complimented my work and started examining it a little TOO closely I knew I had found something that might work. I have made a few pieces and to do a little market research I took pictures of some of my work including the wire wrapped beach glass and every one I have shown them to have made more comments about the beach glass then most of the other pieces. I think I might have a hit but we will see.
So who is your target market? What kind of pieces would they want to buy? What is the best venue for selling your work to these clients?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Defining your market

The two things that seemed to be most important in the initial creation of a business in the arts or crafts field is knowing who you are planning to market to and what is already out there in the market place. Defining your customer base is very important. If you don't do this then you are creating products that are all over the place. Ever walk into a display at an arts and crafts show and wonder what exactly is this person selling? You can tell (some times) they sell woodwork, painting, jewelry, or what ever but the products seem to be a hodgepodge of items for children, bric-a-brac and artistic items. The other extreme is the artist who has 100 items of basically the exact same thing. We have a wonderful artist here on the Cape that makes jewelry from a type of shell that is fairly unique to this area - which she mounts on sterling silver for necklaces, bracelets, earrings. For variation some have man-made gem stones and some don't. That's it . . . she does nothing else different or new with the shells. So once your customer has bought what they want they have no real reason to come back to you to buy more unless its a gift for someone else.
In my last post, I recommended reading HBI's grant information to help get an idea of what you should do to get your jewelry business off the ground - I have put a direct link on this blog under links to check out. In their Hints and Tips section they have an article on Targeting Customers. It is a great guide and walks you through how to come up with a target customer base and how to come up with ideas unique to that base. If you are thinking about starting a jewelry business I highly recommend doing this exercise. Okay, okay - I know that doing this is not nearly as fun or exciting as learning a new wire wrap technique, figuring out how to mount unfireable gems in PMC, or creating an ethereal necklace from beautiful beads and crystals. However, if you are serious about wanting to start a business of creating and selling your jewelry this is a key step. This will be an important component when you get down to writing your business plan.
BUSINESS PLAN?????? What the heck is that????
We will talk about that in days to come and all the reasons that having one is important.
Based on your target group, you need to research what is currently being offered both in your area and on the Internet (because your business world is now automatically a national business if not a global business). If you live in a rural area with a limited customer base, if you move often because your spouse's or your regular career requires it, or if you have family or personal reasons that you can not work outside of the home then Internet sales may be your thing. If you live in a tourist or resort area (like I do) then you may also want to do local shows during the "season"; however, you need a way to continue to do sales off season. My next post I'll talk about the specific steps I took and what conclusions I have made - as my first year of business continues I will keep you posted on what I have found to be right and wrong about my conclusions.
Have fun . . .

Saturday, January 26, 2008

And so it begins . . .

It seems like I have spent as much time researching the steps to creating a jewelry business as I have working on jewelry. Maybe more . . .

After having responded to so many posting in the different groups I belong to about struggling to start a business, start a web site or pricing your work - because people who have been in this business a while seem to have forgotten the struggles and fears of doing this for the very first time - I thought I would put some of what I have learned into a blog. I also thought this would be a great opportunity to share with other struggling working artists my own struggles (and hopefully triumphs). After all don't we all feel better when we know we are not alone in our fears, worries and self-doubts.

Recently I privately answered another persons posting on the PMC group in yahoo about what we had done in starting our handcrafted jewelry business so lets start there:

I spent over 2 months of researching the areas market, what was available on the web, going to craft shows in the area and determining who my market should be. I signed up for Tammy Powley's online e-class at on starting a business and made sure I read all the related articles she suggested. I also found which was helpful (great articles on pricing you work).
For me I decided that as I am doing the part-time and am a computer person that selling on the Internet would be my primary method. I am also going to do some crafts shows and some home shows with friends. Those methods work the best right now for me and my life. You may decide that farmers markets and craft shows are you thing, or selling to a gallery is better for you. Take the time to do some market research for the area you live in and determine who you want to sell to. Also read This company offers an award each year to an up and coming jewelry artist running a business. Read what they have to say about what they look for in their winners - even though you probably would not be going for this, their thoughts on what makes a solid jewelry business is great!Finally - talk to an attorney and an accountant if you are going to do this. I found out from my accountant that setting up as a DBA would make me prime for an audit as we are in a "hobby" type field and the IRS is going after people they think are not really in business but are just using the EIN# for a tax break.

I am not sure if my email helped her but maybe it can help others. See where I have gotten so far with my business (Capescapes Jewelry, LLC at I will continue with these thoughts . . .