I found Keith Lewis on metalcyberspace and was instantly transfixed. I thought his images radiated joy and happiness so I sought him out to find out more about the man behind the work. What I found was a person with a rare sensibility and wonderful sense of humor. Take a few minutes to enjoy Keith!
I want to make someone’s favorite earring. While that may sound more like motivation than style, if I want someone else to like the piece of jewelry, then I certainly have to feel good about designing and making it. I truly enjoy creating jewelry, and perhaps this comes across stylistically.
I am most drawn to techniques that bring out some unique quality of the material with which I am working. So, high heat processes with copper, electricity with niobium, chemical patinas with brass, roller forming with soft metals like silver are all techniques that showcase something that a particular metal does well. My hope is that the design ends up looking natural because I’m not forcing anything.
What are your influences and where do you get your inspiration?
I realize that I am out-designed every day by a mollusk. Have you ever looked at one of those amorphous slimy blobs in a shell? And yet, when I look at the pearl it creates, I know I’ll never make anything that wonderful. Have you ever just watched the colors of a soap bubble change from watermelon pink to lime green to teal to hot pink then blue, purple and finally bronze as it thins out? That’s exactly the phenomenon found in Niobium as I anodize it. How about the colors on old copper flashing or brass faucets? The world is full of the most creative wonders you can imagine, and I feel like I am collaging with some of them.
How did you first come to jewelry design and when did you decide to make it your career?
I had some other businesses earlier that foreshadowed what I do now. My first venture was going door to door in my neighborhood selling dirt. The profit margin was the best I’ve ever achieved since it wasn’t even my dirt, and as a seven year old I had low expenses. I moved on to collecting golden corn silk and bits of crushed glass in a cigar box, which when you think about it is rather jewelry-like. My first actual jewelry-focused activity was at twelve years old (40 years ago) in Seoul, South Korea in a craft shop where I learned to cut cabochons. I realized I had to work for myself while I was in undergraduate school in Oklahoma. At the time I was working in an all-you-can-eat-until-2AM pizza joint right next to the Oklahoma Sooner Football stadium; that might have helped me realize I needed a plan... Though, I truthfully don’t think going into business for yourself, especially in the arts, is as much a decision one makes as it is a path one fulfills. (Probably a stupid decision, but can be a wonderful path).
Finding an audience is easy. The hard part is getting them to find me. If you’ve spent any time at a craft show, I’m sure you’ve experienced some kind of mental work stoppage; it’s easy to become numb to the visuals and just walk by the booth. How many tiny things can one see before it all blends together and you just end up walking down the aisle talking to your friend about how bad the food is? I can only hope that enjoying what I do and feeling confident in the integrity of my work somehow comes across and is noticed. That, and I try to get big booths.
With the economy and price of metal on every one's mind, how has this affected your business and this industry?
This is too big a question for someone who likes to hear himself talk to answer here. Briefly, I have moved from using predominantly silver in my designs to silver together with a wide variety of materials while keeping the general feel of sterling jewelry. So, when silver goes from 9$ per ounce to 18$, my Cost of Goods component does not have to double as well. That makes my modest price increase look almost like a relative price decrease compared to others. I certainly have had to become more directional and purposeful in my business, and thankfully I’m married to Lisa who is patient enough to stay calm until I realize that her suggestion is the right one.
What advice do you have for fledgling jewelry designers?
Some Swedish friends of mine occasionally remind me of their proverb: “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes”. To me this says one needs to not get flustered, keep a positive attitude and plan realistically. I know if you are just starting, this may sound condescending or overly simple, but if you get flustered you’ll have no chance of being effective, if you don’t stay positive you’ll let yourself be ground to a pulp, and if you don’t have a plan that you can compare to reality you’ll end up spinning your wheels. You can do it, regardless of the weather. Once you get started, visualize your trajectory. Where will you end up if you keep doing what you are doing? Has working all the time instead of having a life lost it’s rosy glow? Facing the “bad weather” and making even a small change can have big and long-lasting and terrific consequences. One of my biggest mistakes was to nearly always choose to work harder and that’s not always the way to go.
In the end, you have to feel good about what you’ve done.
Where can your work be seen?
Anywhere but that pizza joint! I’m in many major craft galleries and museum shops (the Smithsonian shops have carried my work for many years). I also show at many major craft shows—my schedule changes each season and can be found on my website: http://www.keithlewisstudio.com/
I'm a major fan! I love Keith's work and found that there is a unique, fascinating person behind the jewelry---just as I imagined. Lucky Lisa! :)
Thanks for stopping by!