Jewelry, Form, and Fun

Before we go on and talk about form as an element of design, let’s talk about the pleasant, joyful aspects of jewelry form. What makes it fun?

There’s no doubt that jewelry is beautiful to behold, but jewelry is essentially small sculpture. So while it’s meant to be seen from multiple sides, jewelry—its form, surfaces, corners, edges, and texture, whether smooth, rough, nubby, scratchy—is really all about touch. In fact, most people who wear jewelry fiddle with it. Have you seen men and women finger a ring when nervous? Adjust a watch or bracelet? Slide a pendant on a chain? Pull an earring? Of course you have. You’ve done it yourself. (Pandora bracelets are excellent jewelry toys. They have substantial weight, they slide around the wrist, and the beads spin on their cables. You can even take all the beads off, reorganize them, and put them back on the cable. Perfect for fiddling!) Continue reading

Combining Geometric and Organic Shapes in Artisan Jewelry

Rebecca Strzelec creates an interesting piece by combining organic and geometric shapes in Cross section #5, from her Army Green Orchids series. Photo courtesy Rebecca Strzelec.

Rebecca Strzelec creates an interesting piece by combining organic and geometric shapes in Cross section #5, from her Army Green Orchids series. Photo courtesy Rebecca Strzelec.

While shapes may loosely be grouped into geometric and organic categories, jewelry—or any object, really—rarely falls into one camp or the other. For example, in this piece from her Army Green Orchids series (2006), Rebecca Strzelec, Professor of Visual Arts, at Penn State University, Altoona College, combines a rigid rectangular shape (as well as a girder-like interior) with the gently curving outlines of flowers—orchids, to be exact.

Strzelec printed the piece in toy-soldier plastics using flower shapes to make a particular point (read her artist statements here). However, even knowing nothing of the artist’s intent, the piece can be appreciated on its own merits simply by looking at the combination of shapes.

Form: Where Line, Shape, and Space Converge

I probably should have put a warning notice upfront before I began this series of posts on the elements and principles of design. Although I’m going to discuss each of these separately, it’s really impossible to separate them. While I danced around this in my posts on shape, I can’t tap dance fast enough to get around it here, when we begin to look at form. Because this is where the language gets muddy. Stick with me and see. Continue reading

Pricing Your Production Line

Sterling silver pendants, 2013. Photo courtesy Kari Woo.

Sterling silver pendants, 2013. Photo courtesy Kari Woo.

You have a jewelry line you enjoy making. Your friends like it. Your family likes it. Your co-workers and neighbors like it. They—and you—are all sure you can make a living selling it.

Can you?

It depends on the price. Continue reading

Are Retail Shows Right for You?

Tropical Bracelets by 2 Roses. Polymer clay. Photo John Lemieux Rose.

Tropical Bracelets by 2 Roses. Polymer clay. Photo John Lemieux Rose.

Selling your production jewelry at a retail show seems to be a “no-brainer”—you have work you want to sell and that’s where there are a lot of customers. But not everyone is cut out for retailing and not every show is “your” show. There are some things you should consider.

First, do you enjoy talking to people about your work? Are you energized by selling directly to a wearer? If you’re terminally shy, selling to the public might not be for you. (Though if you just hate “selling” you can look at last week’s post on some tips to make it less painful.) If you really can’t bear to talk to people, but retail sales seem like the best outlet, consider online sales. (You will still have to communicate with people—and this time via writing, which is even worse for some people than talking.) There’s always the option of hiring friend—or trading for jewelry—to work the show for you. However, most buyers at an art show want to talk to the maker. Otherwise, they can go to a gallery.

Second, is this your show? Always visit the show you want to enter before you lay down your entry fee. Look around. Who are the attendees? What’s their demographic as far as age, lifestyle, earning potential goes? Does your work fit with the products being sold in terms of price, style, materials? What is the environment like in terms of lighting, space, parking, security? Do sales appear to be good or are there more lookers than buyers? Can you determine why?

Third, how far away is the show and how will you get yourself, your booth, and your work there? Airfare, shipping, hotels can quickly add to the cost of a show. John and Corliss Rose, of Two Roses in Anaheim, California, only attend local shows in order to keep costs down. If you must attend distant shows, for whatever reason, you may want to limit the number of such shows you do a year. Or, if you like the gypsy life, outfit an RV with a shop so you can travel and work on the road.

ColorPop Bangles, by 2Roses. Polymer clay. Photo John Lemieux Rose.

ColorPop Bangles, by 2Roses. Polymer clay. Photo John Lemieux Rose.

Fourth, what are the costs? What is the potential return in sales or in marketing information? Do these outweigh the financial costs as well as the time lost in the studio?

Fifth, do you need the feedback you can only get from real customers? Are you introducing a new line or design? Are you trying to break into a new market or a new demographic, are you using a new material? Going into a retail show and meeting customer face to face is often the only way you can find out if you’re on the right track. The Roses, who sell primarily wholesale, always participate in a few retails shows a year, just so they can get exactly this kind of invaluable information.

You may have to experiment a bit at the beginning—or any time you make a change in your product—in order to find out whether or not the “show fits.”

Selling at Art Shows: Treat or Torture?

"River Pebbles." Sterling and 18k gold, with blue sapphire and Tsavorite garnet. Photo courtesy Deb Carus, <a href="">Elentari Handverk</a>.

“River Pebbles.” Sterling and 18k gold, with blue sapphire and Tsavorite garnet. Photo courtesy Deb Carus, Elentari Handverk.

If you attend art and craft shows—and if you make artisan jewelry, you probably have—you know they can be a lot of fun. At a good show, there are lot of interesting pieces—not only jewelry, but sculpture, painting, fibers, woodwork. There’s lots of potential for inspiration.

But for a retail show to be successful for someone holding down a booth at one, the artist has to be willing to engage potential customers. Many artists enjoy the chance to “chat up” their work to potential buyers. They are, after all, enthusiastic about the pieces they make. (Aren’t you?) Continue reading

Retail Venues: Think Small and Special


Crowds browse at a Comic Con. Photo courtesy Devon Monk.

Crowds browse at a Comic Con. Photo courtesy Devon Monk.

Are you intimidated by trying to break into the same shows, the same online marketplaces that every other craft jewelry maker is trying to get into?

Without a doubt, there’s a lot of noise out there to cut through. But with a little creative thinking, you might find a venue open to craft jewelry makers that you could make your own. This is where knowing your story and knowing why people choose your work can be invaluable.

What do you love besides making jewelry? Can you tie that love to your jewelry? Do you love vintage clothing or Civil War reenactment? Are you passionate about wild animals, cats, dogs, horses, gerbils, chamelons? Are you a science fiction fan, a steam punk buff, devotee of the Zombie Apocalypse? Do you spend your non-jewelry-making time haunting knitting or quilting stores?

Darth Vader maneuvers though traffic. Who knew he was Scottish? Photo courtesy Devon Monk.

Darth Vader maneuvers though the Seattle traffic at the Emerald City Comic Con. Who knew he was Scottish? Photo courtesy Devon Monk.

Almost all special interest groups have their own websites, conferences, conventions, shows—and lots and lots of fans. Many of them would be open to you setting up a link or booth to share your work. You already know what makes these fans tick (you are one yourself). You speak the language, understand the concerns, and are familiar with the special niches within these groups. You know what colors, shapes, textures, images are popular among fellow fans.

How can you connect to your fellow fans through your jewelry? What can you give them that will allow them to show their enthusiasm for the interest you share?

If you can marry your jewelry making skills to another special interest of yours, you may never need to look at a mainstream art or craft show. Just one caveat: this is not something you can fake. Your audience will know. (Wouldn’t you?) It has to come from your heart.


Retailing Artisan Jewelry at Shows

Naturally when you think of marketing your production line you have to figure out how to reach that market. You can get your jewelry directly to the wearer by selling it to her (or him) directly, through retail sales. You might also wholesale your work–sell to an intermediary who marks it up and then presents it to potential buyers. You can even do both. Whatever choices you make are going to affect the venues at which you sell your product, the support materials you need, the price point, and even may affect the product itself. Let’s look at retailing first.

Most jewelry makers start their careers by selling directly to friends, family members co-workers—the people who will wear their jewelry. When you want to step it up, you’ll want to move on to one—or several—of the venues open to retails sales of handmade craft jewelry. And there are lots of them. They include online venues, such as your own website or a marketplace such as Etsy, or face-to-face venues, such as home parties, street fairs, pop-up boutiques, co-op galleries, charity shows. But some of the most popular places to sell artisan jewelry are local, regional, or national art and craft fairs.

Retail shows are great places to sell production work. People who attend shows are usually open to being engaged by the unusual or whimsical. They are looking for something special, something that “speaks” to them. In addition, customers at shows are often predisposed to buy something. Because show visitors usually buy on impulse, you have a better chance of making a sale if your appealing product has an affordable price tag. And affordable and appealing is exactly what your production artisan jewelry should be.

Don’t leave your one-of-a-kind pieces at home, however. While your production line provides steady sales, you might find yourself selling your more expensive, one-of-a-kind pieces as well simply because you are on hand to explain your work and make a personal connection to the customers.

Unique or limited edition work sells best when the customer can talk directly to the artist. Customers at art and craft fairs want to hear your story. It is what makes your jewelry personal to them.

As you tell your story, and explain why the work is unique, you begin building rapport with the buyer. This builds trust–which makes shows a great place to take custom orders, too.

Retailing at shows involves expenses and planning. First, you have to forecast how much work you’ll need to take with you and invest in the cost of materials. There will also be the costs of travel—gas or airfare, hotels, and food, if you’re going far. You’ll need cases, signage and lighting. You’ll want insurance if you have concerns about theft. There are booth fees and commission fees to the show sponsor. Many shows are held outside so there is always the chance of being rained out, or unseasonably hot weather.

But selling retail can be exciting. You get to talk directly to people who love your work enough to buy it. It’s also a great way to get feedback on the work—what customers like or don’t like, what sells and doesn’t sell and to what audiences. All information you need to alter, improve or target your work more closely to your audience.

Thinking about Branding

Branding. The buzzword of the 21st century.

The time to start thinking about your brand is the moment you start planning your production line. Brand decisions affect everything–from the type of jewelry you make to the materials and techniques you use, to your Facebook page, to the clothes you wear to show off or complement your jewelry. Having your brand clearly in mind can save you going down unprofitable, confusing, or time-consuming side paths.

Branding is all about recognition. It not only lets customers immediate identify your product but associate it with the tangible and intangible characteristics of that product: quality of materials and workmanship, design idea, price point, audience, cachet, dependability, and even the personality of the manufacturer. Brands live or die on their ability to deliver on those expectations consistently. Continue reading

Find Your Customers: Do Your Own Market Research

Hiring a professional to do market research for you is expensive; it can run thousands of dollars. And while there may be a day you want to hire someone to do it for you, in the beginning, you may be able to do much of your market research yourself. Continue reading