One of the goals that I set for our current bicycle journey was to meet and connect with metal and jewelry artists around the country. I wanted to get outside of my "working-on-my-own" bubble and see how other folks make what they make. I wanted to grow in my designs and be inspired by how others are making a "successful" living off their work.
Slowly, as we inch our way east, I'm meeting more artists and I'm able to start delving into these hopes and goals that I had before we left. In San Francisco, I met Elizabeth Rosas. In Fort Worth, I got to work with Ashley Akers. In Shreveport, I had a great show-and-tell and conversation with a 20-year-veteran jewelry maker friend of our hosts. In Jackson, Mississippi, I got to connect with Stacey Hansen. And when we get to Nashville in a few days, I hope to connect with a few other jewelry makers that I'm aware of only through the internet.
Each conversation and interaction is different and each is amazing. There are similarities and differences in jewelry style, work style, business goals, as well as in the ways that I've been able to connect with folks. And I wouldn't trade any of them!
One of the most interesting things that I've discovered is that a "proper" studio is just not required. I used to think that I was a bit of a hack, because my studio space was a workbench in the corner of our living room, with a soldering torch in the bathroom. As it turns out, that's more or less the same set-up of everyone that I've met up with. Which I think proves that all you need to make it work is whatever will make it work for you.
Meeting other jewelry people has also been incredibly important to my sense of self as an artist. When you work by yourself and your interactions with other people in your field is only through the internet, it's easy to feel like you're just playing dress-up and your customers are imaginary friends and maybe you're not as much of a professional as you thought and your designs aren't as strong as they should be. "They" say that, as an artist, you should just make what you like and not worry about the outside world. But, sometimes, you can make what you like and then step back and wonder if anyone will ever see it the way that you do and if you will ever find an audience. Having the chance to interact with other jewelry artists has forced me to stand up for my designs, talk about them, examine them. And it's made me more confident in what I'm making and how I'm doing it. Plus, nothing beats having a life-long jewelry maker tell you that your work is impeccable and rare and needs to be seen more!
The first few conversations that I had were unsteady and I didn't ask all the questions that I wanted to or that I should have. It was weird to meet these people who had previously only existed on the computer screen and who might tell me things that I didn't want to hear. And, in truth, I'm still learning how to reach out and make these kinds of connections, but I know how extremely beneficial they are for me (and, hopefully, for the person on the other side of the conversation). So I just wanted to say Thank You to everyone I've been able to meet as we travel! You are all wonderful and generous and inspiring.
If you're an artist also and feeling unsteady about your own work, I highly encourage you to get out of your bubble, however uncomfortable, and talk with other folks doing something similar. And if you're a jewelry maker on the eastern part of the US and want to connect with me, drop me a line, because I'm eager to keep meeting folks and having these kinds of conversations.