OK. I’ve been spending a while thinking about the advice I would give rapt and interested would-be jewellery designers should they ask for it…
Blogs seem to be for stuff like this so here we go. If you want to be a jewellery designer, here is a by no means exhaustive list of tips.
1. Pen and paper. Always. Everywhere. It used to be a case of remembering to take your camera. But you have that, it’s on your phone. So the next step is ensuring that you can do the fancy stuff like writing notes and doing sketches.
The ideas will come but usually at an unfair time. I tend to have my breakthroughs when doing something else that is totally unrelated and completely urgent or standing in a queue or just about to drop off to sleep.
If you are more tech leaning then there are apps that can just about fill the gap of a pen and paper when you are used to them. But come on. A pack of post-its and a biro… That’s so much more sexy.
2. When you have had the ideas….organise them. This coming from me is hilarious. There are bits and bobs of my work dotted about everywhere… but getting your sketched notes annotated and redrawn if necessary and into a notebook (another great feature of the humble post-it) or scanned and into well labeled soft folders for use is vital. Otherwise that sketching wasn’t design at all. It was litter manufacture. And that helps no one.
3. DON’T ERASE OR OBLITERATE. INSTEAD COPY PIECE, COVER OR FADE ERRORS OUT, AND WORK OVER. Here’s a story. In the dim past, I started working on a comic book called Smallfish with a guy. I was not at all confident and I hadn’t even thought of anything art based as a career. I drew out that damned cover about 12 times. I went wrong, even a bit and I binned it. I was later mocked for not using sticky labels to cover the error and draw over. So simple. A pro trick. So much easier in this aged of advanced tech.
The method = Like it? > Save it. Hate it? > Archive a copy of it, cover the bad bits, replace with different bits, ask again.
And I found my title logo. I am rather proud of this.
Post-it notes. Even then.
4. Look at what’s out there. Notice what makes you angry. If “bad” design makes you angry, you’re likely to be passionate enough to make a decent fist of things. There are a few things that niggle me every time I see them. They get to me because it is lazy design, or it’s not generous, or it’s just not design at all.
- an identical form, scaled up or down to form a different thing. Like when there’s a flock of birds and bird 1 is a bigger version of bird 4 and 2 is a slightly rotated 3. Was it so hard to draw them? Or are you rationed (limited) to drawing only 2 bird shapes in your life? The wallpaper in my mum’s last house drove me crazy. It had 2 birds on it (always birds!) The designer had designed the second bird by taking the head from the first, flipping it and sticking it back on its body. To hate drawing that much…. wow. They got paid too much for that. Even if they weren’t paid.
- identical earrings used as pairs. Designers so lazy that they can’t even be bothered to flip an image. I hate that.
- hollowed out work. Cheaper to manufacture. Transparent greed. That’s the only reason it’s done. I see Absolutely Zero Excuse for it because the weight of a piece is one of its qualities. Weight in a larger piece is soothing and gives its wearer additional pleasure. Pleasure you can hollow out and cash.
- jewellery that is supposed to resemble something but doesn’t (unless intentional.) Research is such a major part of design that if you can’t be bothered to research, you can’t really be bothered to design.
- 9ct gold. Sorry.
5. JEWELLERS’ TOOLS. Be careful when buying tools… I must have read “you get what you pay for” with regard to jewellers’ tools at least 20 times. That’s right….sort of….sometimes.
Here’s the heads up. There are some tools that will become the bane of your life if you don’t spend out on them. Some that you can’t get (new) without a solid injection of money and some that you can pay a couple of quid for. It has taken YEARS for me to work this list out. Good job I am feeling generous really.
LIST ONE – CHEAP VERSIONS WILL RUIN YOUR LIFE
- flat nose pliers
- solder (strip – personal hatred of this – I once got a dodgy batch)
- wet and dry paper
- vices (OK with serious modification)
- motorised drills
- tap and die sets
- large files
LIST TWO – BUY THEM – NOT SURE IF YOU CAN GET THEM CHEAP (make sure that 2nd hand ones are perfect)
- ring bending and all smooth nosed pliers,
- doming block and punches
- long frame saw
- barrel polisher
- mandrels (all sizes)
- solder paste (all types)
- polishing compounds
- needle files
LIST THREE – BUY CHEAP – PERFECT JUST AS THEY ARE
- most textured pliers
- centre punches
- steel rulers
- ring measuring tools
- regular saw frames (as long as the blade clamps work – ideally get an adjustable one)
- alphabet punches
- tweezers/reverse action tweezers
- polishing cloths
What do you think of the list? Disagree? Did I miss anything out? I’d love to hear from you! (and yes, I have [just] noticed that list one and list two can be merged together. shush.)
6. Talk to people – find out what the humans want! It’s all very well to make stuff you think rocks… but if you never engage in proper, open conversation about it, you will miss out. Recently I have been granted 2 amazing commissions, the first client wanted two pieces in my style but he wanted a different animal. The second wanted a collection of pieces plus a showpiece. The collection requires a different scale from the one thats currently available, and the showpiece is a version of something I have only ever made once before!
Design is wicked fun, but unless you let other people play, it is limited by your imagination and patience. Factor in other people’s desires and it just gets better and better.
By the way, engaging in proper, open conversation requires confidence, both to stand up for but also question your ideas and work. You need to be up to that. Tantrums or deep inner hurt at feedback won’t rub. Please learn that one quickly.
7. Time and cash. Right. It’s a ridiculous balancing act you have here. If you are looking to be a sole trader, then your job description is basically one word; Everything.
Give yourself a solid way to make money for rent and bills. If that’s a day job, that’s fine. Actually limiting your “business time” in this way is great. It gives you more business cash by taking care of personal cash, keeps you grounded, reduces stress (well, the type caused by dodgy cash-flow anyway) forces you to socialise and – perhaps most importantly – shows you how much you love design. It also forces you to prioritise like a demon. I would recommend it.
I can’t advise you on family balance. I have a mum and a brother and I make time for them. I also have a strictly structured working day and time off to myself.
You need this structure and the will to stop. Throw yourself at 50 all nighters on the trot and you won’t end up with a sturdy business. You will probably end up sectioned. It’s going to be different for everyone. Married people, people from wealthier families or existing businesses…the pressures will be different but still present….
My tip for organising workload is to be one person in your business a day. I have split my role into 7 disciplines; Management (very similar to admin!), Design, Making, Finance, IT, PR and Sales.
Each day, I work out what my business needs most, and give the day to that. I also have an active and “easy to achieve each tiny step” list on the go in Evernote, always.
8. Learn the things. If you can build your website, resize and edit your own photographs, write your own press releases etc etc etc, you are going to be a damn sight more in control and spend a damn sight less than the person who can’t. If you choose to delegate these things later one – or get some horrible thing troubleshot, you will have a clue about the things the grown up will be doing.
I have spoken to so many people who have mentioned the length of time they have to wait to get an image on their site changed. That’s just weird to me.
I would be so frustrated if I weren’t hands on. And I love knowing the magic tricks being done by the people now doing the stuff I used to do…
9. Allow yourself to multitask. I honestly haven’t switched my TV on in a year. I’m not one of those people who is proud of that sort of thing – in fact I am slightly appalled to own stuff that I don’t use. Fact is. I listen to comedy while working … I don’t want to do things that prevent me doing other things.
10. It’s not not enough that people merely tolerate you. Reserve your affections for those who quietly, brilliantly give a damn about you, your life and your love of your work.
But don’t be hurt if they aren’t as wired about your work as you are. That’s not their job. They love YOU, not the metal…