(UPDATE: I forgot to link up the printable page download yesterday in the 52 Lists post. That's available now!)
I didn't go to school for jewelry design. In fact, when I was in undergrad for Studio Art, one of the very few art classes I did not take was metal smithing! From printmaking to digital illustration, color theory to sculpture, I did it all and had little interest in metal smithing. For most of my life, I was obsessed with Art History and drawing and never even dreamed of designing anything 3D other than making clothing. So after my Museum curator dreams were foiled, I expected to make a career in the Illustration world after I graduated from college. Though I did spend a few years doing some freelance illustration and graphic design work after graduating, I took some unexpected turns which eventually lead me to jewelry design. Shall I tell you the story?
IN THE BEGINNING
Right at the end of my super senior year, aka my 5th year in college thanks to transferring, one of my former classmates Ian contacted me to see if I would be interested in an artist's assistant position with an amazing sculptor here in Seattle named John Grade. I thought, well shoot, I can't pass this opportunity up especially since it is a coveted positions for Sculpture graduate students! So I interviewed with John and was hired right at the end of my super senior year. Once I started working on some of Johns pieces along side a few other amazing peers who were fellow artists assistants, I just fell in love with 3D art of all kinds. I loved watching the incredibly thoughtful and detailed process that John Grade went through to conceptualize a project and the rigorous planning and calculations that he laid out to help bring pieces to fruition. And eventually, I got the itch to figure out how I could afford to make sculpture on my own on a 22 year olds budget of barely nothing. That's when jewelry and etsy clicked for me.
MY FIRST TRY AT ETSY
I had a friend in college who ran a blog and an etsy shop, selling her illustrations and I knew I wanted to start an etsy shop during the last 2 quarters of college. It just took me awhile to figure out how to focus it. I tried making kitschy hair accessories, looking back I now think they were hideous! I tried making some illustrations to sell in the shop but I think college burnt me out on 2D creativity. Being inspired by sculpture and having a boyfriend at the time who was a wood worker in the beginning of 2009, also wishing I could spend more money on clothing and accessories, I thought that jewelry would be the perfect way to meld my budding sculpture passion with the current means that I had.
So at the beginning of 2009, I opened up my etsy shop and started selling one of a kind wooden jewelry. Here are some examples of my first pieces. I would design a pendant or a pair of earrings, my ex-boyfriend would carve the wooden pieces, then I would piece it all together. For having barely any followers on my quiet and very personal blog at the time and having most of my customers being friends or friends of friends, I did ok selling the wooden jewelry but it was quite slow going. My relationship with my boyfriend at the time ended very quickly just a month after restarting my etsy shop. And honestly, filling a shop with only one of kind pieces that were carved by a boy 2 states away and selling them at affordable prices ended up being barely profitable because it was just a time suck. So in a heart broken state after being dumped 2 weeks before my big senior art show at the end of college, I closed my shop so I could gather myself back together.
That summer in 2009, I let my little shop go quiet. I wasn't sure if I should try to just cater to the super kitsch oriented customer base on Etsy at the time, or if I should try and blaze my own trail. I needed time to really think and focus my dreams and goals as well as build my self confidence back up after college ending on a sour note in my personal life and schooling. So for the rest of 2009, while I worked as an artists assistant and juggled a few nanny jobs, I tried to focus on what careers I truly wanted to explore in my twenties. I decided I needed to focus first on just getting myself to be fully self employed somehow utilizing the skills I already had under my belt from 5 years of college.
CREATING A BASE TO LAUNCH FROM
So In late 2009, I started experimenting with digital illustration and graphic design, customizing my blog design during a time when there weren't that many options for customizing your blog layout and style. I started offering freelance illustrated portraits through my blog, using my blog as a platform for a budding small business. And I eventually started offering blog design services to other bloggers as well. Once I started getting a bit of momentum going on these areas of my small business in early 2010, and after taking an Indie Business course online, I decided ok, let's start up my Etsy shop again and this time it will be all truthfully and fully my style. I went for it.
In the summer of 2010, My first big sellers were my chevron earrings and necklaces and my raw amethyst rings. The chevron trend hadn't really kicked in yet and the raw rocks and stones used in jewelry were not as trendy either at that point, so I was luckily on the forefront of a few trends at once in my shop. A lot of people didn't really get my jewelry at first, but once it started getting noticed by the right people, my shop launched into go mode. It was finally my time to get something rolling! My leather chevron jewelry went crazy all over the web on blogs and a few larger sites and magazines and the big blingy amethyst rings became suddenly a consistent sell out item in my shop. And once my Etsy shop started picking up steam, my blog started getting bigger too. What mattered most though was that once I really found my voice in my jewelry design work and became unafraid of how others might respond to it, thats when things really picked up.
RE-INVESTING IN A BUDDING BUSINESS
By the fall of 2010, I was juggling a budding jewelry etsy shop, part time blog designing with freckled nest, part time freelance illustration and graphic design focusing mostly in portraiture and album design, blogging consistently everyday, AND nannying part time for 3 different families. Life was insane because I needed to make money any way I could and save like crazy. But you can guess that I reached a cracking point by the winter of 2010. With some encouragement and advice from a family I was a live in nanny for at the time, I decided to take the jump and quit my stable day jobs. I needed to just leap with big faith in myself and my online community, trusting that I could survive off of all of my own creative work and elements of my business and brand. So I quit nannying and became a workaholic for jewelry, blog design, illustration, and graphic design.
Over the next two years, I juggled it all relying off of multiple sources of income to survive. I scrimped and saved and managed to never borrow or take out a loan for my business. You can bet there were plenty of days where I cried over the fact that I was eating spaghetti every night for dinner, but I just knew that I needed to put every bit of money that I could back into my business to build it up into something that I could pursue as a career for real. I had no one helping me financially, I had college loans to pay along with all the basic things like rent, food, and gas. And I had to turn down going out with friends constantly not only because I felt like even $4 on a glass of wine was a waste of money but I needed to invest as much time in my day to day life into building up my work and taking any opportunity I had to expand my work.
Thankfully, with Etsy functioning almost like a database of handmade artists and designers, a lot of stores found me through etsy in 2010 and 2011 and wanted to stock my jewelry in their online shops and in their storefronts around the world. So by the winter of 2012, I had a big enough following on my social networks and in my Etsy shop to go full time with just my jewelry, blogging & online curating gigs around the web. It was time to move on from blog design, graphic design and illustration. So here we are in the Spring of 2013! I've built up my Etsy shop and jewelry brand over a few years gaining some wonderful recognition around the web thanks to some incredibly kind friends I have met along the way. I feel stable in what I have created and am finally at a point where I don't feel like I am scrambling to keep things together. I'm really proud of myself that I was willing to make major sacrifices for a couple of years to get to where I wanted to go. And now I am even more excited for the greater goals that have come about because of my journey in jewelry.
SOLIDIFYING MY BRAND
I now have a high end jewelry line currently in the works! I'm hoping to release it in late summer of this year. Just you wait :) Getting to this point in my pursuits of having a jewelry business has been a big collaboration of trusting my own creativity and persistence in times of hardship, investing in and appreciating the relationships that I have developed in such an inspiring community of people within the blogging world and within etsy, and taking time to seek out mentorship, advice, practice, and learning to prepare myself for each step along the way. My background in getting a BA in Art really helped me to understand the basics of jewelry making without specific training. The women of the world of blogging constantly inspired me in their career pursuits which challenged me in my own. And always remembering that in my career journey I am constantly gaining knowledge while being opened up to needing to learn more and more to progress beyond where I have already been has been essential. The more I have progressed and focused in on jewelry, the more I have loved it and sought to gain deeper knowledge.
Life is for learning, and that's how I feel about business too. I was in no way prepared to really pursue a traditional sense of business when I was younger or while I was in college. College was all about concepts, philosophy, creative training, theory, and developing persistence and understanding of how to follow through in developing work. I definitely need all of that a base for launching a creative business. But it was when I was thrown into the real world with plenty of bills to pay and no one else to rely on but myself to survive that I started to see the value of things like math, strategy, detailed planning, creating structure, marketing, and more that come along with pursuing a business of your own. Over the last 3 or 4 years I've gotten schooled by the reality of running a business and I can say for sure that I am a million times over a better leader, designer, and business owner today than I was 4 years ago. The challenges were all worth it.
If you are interested in starting up your own small creative business, be sure to stay tuned for more stories and advice coming up on my blog over the Spring and Summer. I think the experiences of my last 4 years have chocked me up full of great insight into journeying into business through a difficult road. And I'm excited to share more with you so maybe you can avoid my mistakes and glean from my good moments.