Thursday, July 31, 2008

Carla Reiter: Not Your Grandmother's Knitting!

Carla Reiter

I am fascinated by the process of knitting with metal! There's just something about it that seems so absurd that it appeals to me. I make my own crochet cuffs, earrings and necklaces and have numb fingers to show for it, but when I stumbled across the work by Carla Reiter on the Smithsonian Craft Show website, I saw knitting with metal taken to another level entirely. Carla won the 2008 Bronze award under the First-Time Exhibitor category; an incredible honor among world-class jewelry designers. Carla's work is astonishing!

Here's what she had to say:

I began knitting wire because I imagined a necklace that was like a simple wiggly line drawn around the neck and I needed to figure out how to make it. Knitting made sense. (I still make that necklace and still like it.) I've been developing the technique for more than a dozen years, expanding it, and figuring out ways of combining knitted elements with fabricated ones. I like its combination of randomness and structure. I like the way it feels on your body - surprisingly soft and caressing. I like that its hollowness allows me to make big sculptural forms that are still very light and comfortable to wear. And I like its organic, just-excavated feel.

I guess I'd say my style is very earthy, very handmade - a blend of chance and intention. I'm not a "technical" jeweler in the traditional sense, though I have learned enough traditional technique to do what I need to do. My style is a reflection of my impulse to just make the thing and put it on my body. All my work is made with a woman's body in mind. While I'm working, I'm constantly trying the piece on, tweaking the way forms interact with my body - a collarbone, a wrist bone. When the piece is lying on a pad being photographed, it's flat. Something crucial is missing: it needs a body to complete it.

Carla graduated with a degree in art having studies both jewelry making and sculpture, but then also studied physics, earned a graduate degree in cultural anthropology, and worked as a nightclub singer, magazine writer, and museum curator. I asked her how her diverse background influenced her style.

I'm not sure I can say in a simple way what I learned in 20+ years of working and living in the non-jewelry world, or how it changed the way I make jewelry. I'm an intellectually curious person and was somewhat restless. So I just followed my interests and went as deeply into each of them as I was able. I spent a lot of time in universities, and with scholars of various kinds. In addition to learning something about the particular subjects (art, physics, science journalism, cultural anthropology) I guess I'd say that I learned that keeping one's mind open makes life much more interesting. I discovered a real love for, and awe of, the natural world in all its subtlety and variety. I learned how to think in ways that were contrary to my automatic ways of thinking. I learned to change.

I decided to try to make jewelry full-time because I wanted my mode of earning a living to be as direct and honest a reflection of "me" as I could make it. It sounds strange, but it had to do with wanting to feel honorable about what I did for a living. Not that writing and journalism are in any way dishonorable; they just felt somehow like roles I was playing. I didn't want that feeling.

I have been a maker of things my whole life, whatever else I've been doing at the same time. And jewelry has been a love since childhood. As a maker of jewelry, I feel that I am part of an honorable tradition of artisans and it feels good - it feels right. It doesn't necessarily satisfy my intellectual hungers, but I do that in other ways.

With the economy on every one's mind, I asked how this has affected her business:

The present state of the economy is hard on everyone. Jewelry, after all, is a luxury. Middle class collectors -- people who might have spent $400 - $500 on a bracelet a few years ago -- aren't so likely to do that now. There are still a few collectors who can spend $5,000 or $6,000 for a necklace. But everyone is being very cautious. Understandably.

You asked for my advice for beginning jewelry designers. I don't feel very wise. However, I'll give it a try. First, make your own work. By this I mean, make work that really comes from you - your sensibility, your taste, the things that excite and please you. It sounds stupidly simple. But when you're new in a business and surrounded by people who seem to be successful, it's very easy to look at what they're doing and say, "Hm. If I just do that." Resist the temptation. Do what your mom always told you to do: Just be yourself.Second, don't under price your work. Everyone does it, of course. But don't. You will feel insanely presumptuous charging a proper price for it. You'll think, "But it's just little me and it was fun to make it and no one knows who I am" and on and on. Wrong. Pay yourself for your materials and your labor and the cost of running your studio and absolutely everything else that goes into making your work. And don't apologize for it.

I love Carla's unusual and stunning work. And her advice on pricing is so important! In 26 years of business at my own video production company, I wouldn't have dreamed of not charging what the video was worth....but as I venture into jewelry, I've under priced every time. I learn so much from everyone I profile and I'm going to keep Carla's words in my mind from now on.
Carla's work can be seen at Carla Reiter Jewelry and in person at the Patina Gallery of Santa Fe, NM. She's also got a collection arriving at SOFA in Chicago as of November.
Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Nancy Troske: 30 Years of Beautiful Chains, Enamel and Granulation!

Nancy Troske In Her Studio

I "met" Nancy Troske when she contacted me after finding my blog as she went in search of another great designer recently profiled here; Holly Rittenhouse.

I love Nancy's jewelry but was most impressed that she has successfully sustained a 30 year career as a jewelry designer. I am just beginning to get the drift of how challenging it is to actually make money in this business, so her ability to achieve success for a span of more than 30 years tells me that we all would be smart to pay attention to what she has to I asked her what the top three essential elements are to achieving long term success and here is what she had to say:

1) Stick with it and don’t get discouraged.

2) Don’t be afraid to experiment and learn from your mistakes. Mistakes are the best teachers.
3) Change with the times, don’t get stuck in your ways.

Tell us about your studied at a variety of places including the highly respected Revere Academy...what did you find valuable from each of these places of instruction?

My very first class was in 1976. It was silver jewelry class at a very small craft store in Croton, NY called “Wondrous Things.” There I first learned to make a basic silver bangle bracelet, which I still have! They taught soldering, metal forming, forging and stone setting. Eventually, I taught classes there to beginning students.

Suppliers back were very limited; one day I was in NYC at Myron Tobak buying supplies and there was an ad for ancient jewelry making classes in downtown Manhattan called “The Jewelry Workshop & Gallery.” It was run by Fredricka Kulicke and Joseph English. There I learned the ancient techniques of enameling, granulation and chain making. It was a fantastic school. I’ve since read on Ganoskin, in a comment by Fredricka Kulicke, that most people in the US today doing granulation either learned it at her school or at her father’s school (Robert Kulicke) or from a student of those schools.

I moved to San Francisco in 1979 and found employment as a bench jeweler. The company that hired me sent me to the California College of Arts & Crafts and then to the Revere Academy of Goldsmithing (as it was called then) to learn jewelry repair and diamond setting. Alan Revere taught the classes and he is absolutely the best teacher you could ever have.

You also teach. What do you enjoy about this part of your work?

I love seeing the excitement of students finishing their first pieces. One student said she wished she had a padded room so she could jump around in it; she was so elated with her enameled ring! It is really thrilling. I love being able to pass along all I’ve learned over the years.

How do you balance the design and creation with the business side of making money?

I try to keep my finger on the pulse of what customers want while not straying too far away from my own core.

For me, it’s important to decide when to use a commercial item in my work and not hand fabricate every single element, as I was trained to do. For example, I know how to make a box clasp but does it make sense for me when I can purchase one for a few dollars and solder it into the piece I’m making? I have to decide when I can make money on that extra labor and when I can’t.

What do you think is the most successful way to get your pieces in front of a ready-to-buy consumer?

Although I sell online, I think my jewelry sells best in person. The chain pieces, especially, have a solid, sensual feel that people fall in love with when they pick one up. My work sells well at art galleries and by word of mouth.

What advice do you have for fledgling jewelry designers?

Keep two notebooks – one for projects and one for ideas.

Always keep copious notes and photos on your projects. I have my notebooks from the day I started making jewelry and I refer to them frequently.

Keep an idea notebook with you as much as possible, you never know when inspiration will strike!

You say you are inspired by the Hudson Valley. What do you pull from this beautiful landscape?

I take my inspiration from the local and seasonal color. The sunsets around here are magnificent, I’ve lived in many areas but they are never as dramatic and colorful as they here. The Hudson River and the surrounding mountains present beautiful color combinations year round. I pull these colors into my enamels. The river is peaceful, quiet, and embracing and has inspired generations of artist and designers. I strive to reflect this in my jewelry.

Nancy's work can be found on her website and the following galleries: Ozworks Gallery, Cold Spring, NY River Winds Gallery, Beacon, NY

Back Room Gallery, Fishkill, NY

Thank you, Nancy for your excellent advice. I am going to stop feeling discouraged about all my mistakes...I know I am learning from every one of them!

Thanks for stopping by!


Friday, July 11, 2008

Andrea Janosik: Leather and Silver Sensations!

Andrea Janosik

I found Andrea Janosik's stunning work through an internet search. What creativity and skill! I figured that her unusual background was bound to have influenced her highly unique style. Andrea was born in Slovakia, lived in Zambia, Africa as a child, studied in Germany and moved to America where she graduated from the Parsons School of Design and now has a studio in Brooklyn. Here's what she had to say:

Growing up in places so vastly different from each other has, above all, made me appreciate diversity and change, extremes and contrasts. There is no country I could call mine - patriotism is a strange concept to me. It is not a coincidence that I have lived in NY longer than any other city (13 years), feeling more comfortable in the cultural mix of my neighborhood (Williamsburg, Brooklyn) than any other place I've seen.My background has taught me a thing or two about personal rights and liberties: Seen through the eyes of a child and a teenager, Slovakia was controlled (back then the socialist Czechoslovakia), Zambia was wild, Germany was ordered. In comparison NY felt free, has let me be, whoever I wanted to become - What a great spot!

When did you first decide to become a jewelry designer?

In college. I was very indecisive, but I knew that 3D was my thing. As much as I loved drawing and painting - building and constructing something with my hands came more naturally, gave me a bigger thrill. I like to imagine objects in space, not on a flat surface. While spending a year in the product design department and a year in sculpture, I took a course in metalsmithing and knew that was it: small-scaled sculptures that were not styrofoam models but actual end-products, and could even be pieces of art.

What do you think was most valuable about your experience at Parsons?

Parsons had fabulous teachers. They were supportive and inspirational, but also eager to pass on their practical skills.Parsons was also rigorous. It gave me structure that I badly needed, and taught me to be disciplined about my time and my goals. Deadlines are still very important - if I don't schedule and plan, nothing gets done. It was at Parsons where I first combined metal with leather. We were asked to make an object that expressed our personal view of beauty. I made a ring: a simple construction out of sterling silver holding, on the inside, a foam rubber cushion lined with suede. For me 'beauty' was soft and fragile, in need of protection - and what better material to protect it with than cold, sturdy metal.

That 'beauty' ring was just a simple idea, but it started my years-long silver/leather obsession. I first stretched suede or patent over foam, and let it protrude out of perfectly clean, even structures. After using solid, bold colors, I played around with earthy tones. Patterns were next - on both the hard and the soft surfaces. I utilized abstract shapes, then built in literal, humorous references to the African wildlife, since I ran into so many animal prints on leather. One collection turned out sweet, and light-hearted, with soft-petaled flowers, the next was dark and heavy, with only black leather cold and oxidized silver clusters.

Technically, my aim is to challenge myself to find yet new ways of holding the combo together: squeezing, pulling, stacking, stitching, tension-fitting. Visually, I strive to create designs that are bold, unconventional and different, or try to give an old idea a new twist. Repetition bores me.

Where do you find your inspiration?

New inspiration usually evolves from the last piece I finish. One idea comes out of another - it's a constant discovery, and hopefully, improvement.

What do you think are the challenges and opportunities in being both a creative designer and business person?The artistic development of my designs is crucial to me. However, I can't forget that I also have to run a business in order to make art. These are two separate, very different set of skills that I try to keep at a balance. I believe that if one outweighs, the other starts to suffer. Being my own boss of course also means that work never stops. Luckily, I enjoy falling asleep thinking about a visual idea that needs a technical solution.

What advice do you have for fledgling jewelry designers?

The jewelry world is big, ranging from fine/precious to fashion/commercial jewelry, from crafty to artsy/gallery, from mass-produced to one-of-a-kind, from business-oriented to academic. It took me a while to figure this out - only then was I able to find a place in it that worked for me. This summer I had an intern in my studio, a RISD student in her first year of metals. Having exposure to my end of the spectrum gave her a better understanding of what is possible, and what she might be able to do in the future - be it fine or applied art.

Andrea introduces a new collection every year in February at the American Craft Council Show in Baltimore.

It was a pleasure!

Thanks for stopping by.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Jennie Lorette Keatts: Turning Mud Into Gemstones!

Jennie Lorette Keatts

I saved this profile on Jennie Lorette Keatts of JLK Handcrafted Jewelry for Independence Day (well okay, the day before Independence Day) because Jennie found her own personal independence through jewelry design and the unique creation of fine jewelry using clay glaze drips as gemstones. Here's her story:

The idea came from my sister Pam. She had someone that was setting glaze drip (drips that they had collected from pots as the glazes were being developed) in sterling silver bezels for earrings. I’d always had an interest in jewelry making and when Pam's contact was no longer able to provide that service, she suggested I take a class and learn how to do it. So I did! Initially, Pam would roll out flat pieces, cut them into shapes, glaze them and send them to me and I’d put them into basic sterling silver settings.

I was working for the Convention & Visitors Bureau in Denver at the time. The job had become stressful and Pam kept encouraging me to quit and move to North Carolina with her to make jewelry. It was scary, and I carried my resignation letter around for over a week before I actually turned it in. Finally in June 1999, I gave my notice and arrived in North Carolina on the 4th of July, my independence day from the corporate world. It was the absolute best decision I made. Once I arrived in NC, I was able to take a breather, live with my sister and her family and get my business started and organized.

What do you think pottery offers that is unique from the use of natural stones?

North Carolina is known for its clay and pottery. The glazes developed at Jugtown are made from many of the same things that make up stones. I can combine them to get colors, patterns and depths that are unusual and different than a gemstone, but yet look like a stone. People very often don’t believe that they are clay. This is a new way for people to enjoy stones with new color combinations. Plus I can create pieces with large stones that won’t cost as much as a gemstone but offer the beauty of one. My stones all compliment semi-precious stone magnificently!

North Carolina is a great place to be an artist. There are many communities with artists and the Arts Council is very strong. Seagrove is the largest community of working potters in the country. There are many different types of clay artists in this area, some from families that settled here long ago and many that have moved to the area. There are over 80 pottery shops in Seagrove, so it is quite inspiring to live amongst so many talented people. Of course, Jugtown Pottery, where my studio is located, is quite well known. It is the longest continuously operating pottery company in the area, if not the state, is listed on the National Register and has been featured on PBS and in many national exhibitions.

How would you describe your style?

I try to create jewelry that can be worn with any outfit, that is affordable but fun and tasteful. Some things are a bit funky, but I try not to let anything be too funky or non-functional. I want my work to stand out and be recognized, and luckily my stones are something that really create the look and personify my trademark, Turning Mud Into Gemstones.

I really enjoy texture, and creating texture because it adds interest to the piece. Often it can continue a pattern found in the stones by combining several glazes. Many textures emulate things found in nature.

Few artisans are able to make a living designing and selling jewelry...what do you think made the difference for you?

There are a couple factors involved. I think having a background that included accounting and marketing was a huge benefit. Also being affiliated with Jugtown Pottery made a tremendous difference. They are connected to many museums and so I was able to make the connections to wholesale to the museum shops pretty quickly. I also utilized the Crafts Report and their forum, American Craft forum, Ganoksin and all the principles that applied to my sales staff in the hotel life.

What do you find most interesting and most challenging about being a designer and business person?

There is the day to day of challenge of new ideas, colors etc, but that is also one of the fun and interesting aspects. Marketing and continuing to keep my name out there is a challenge, as is having to do the weekly and monthly bookkeeping. I have allowed myself to over the past couple of years to work less since meeting my partner, Wes, and spending time together. Right now we are adding an addition onto our home and I am the General Contractor so my business has taken a bit of a back seat to that and so once we are finished with this, I’ll have the challenge of rebuilding the business back to the level I was at a couple of years ago.

What advice do you have for fledgling jewelry designers?

I would suggest taking Bruce Baker’s classes, the Arts Business Institute classes, reading craft and jewelry forums, learning things like how to price your work before you go out and start selling it.

I learned a great deal from Jennie, including several business websites I will explore further. Congratulations to Jennie for taking a big leap of faith to pursue a more satisfying lifestyle.

Happy Independence Day to us all!

Thanks for stopping by.