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You Can Do That: Explore Ways to Become a Jewelry Artist

Detail, Michael Boyd layered stone necklace; photo: Steve Bigley

“Move the flame away now!” Sometimes having your jewelry teacher right next to you is a really good thing. Most of the time it’s a big plus but not necessary. And sometimes you learn better through an intermediary. In the new Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, we look at a whole host of ways people teach and learn jewelry making today. It’s hardly news that the big development over this past year has been the tremendous boom in online learning.

ABOVE: Detail, Michael Boyd layered stone necklace; photo: Steve Bigley

Jet-propelled into prominence when the pandemic drove everything that could go online to go there, this is just the latest in a long line of not-in-person information sharing. Remote learning has also been called distance learning, and before that correspondence courses, and even before that it was just plain books, town criers, or stone tablets. Each medium brings its own array of advantages and personal connections. In the case of the Internet, all of its available media create their own nexus of students, experts, visuals, audio, video, text, and forms of Q&A.

Teaching on camera makes Zoom classes possible, as Kate Richbourg demonstrates here; photo: courtesy Kate Richbourg
Teaching on camera makes Zoom classes possible, as Kate Richbourg demonstrates here; photo: courtesy Kate Richbourg

Here are some perspectives from six jewelry arts instructors interviewed by long-time Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist contributor Sharon Elaine Thompson for the special Education section in the March/April issue. Find out what’s been challenging or working for them, from their own training way back when to jumping onto the Net as the pandemic shut down normal in a matter of days.

Self Taught Jewelry Artist . . . With Help

For a long time, lapidary and goldsmith Michael Boyd thought he was a painter, the root of his focus on gemstones and colors. He was studying painting and ceramics, he tells Sharon, when a gallery owner discovered the jewelry he was making just for fun and seriously wanted to show it.

michael boyd gemstone necklace jewelry artist
Layers of colorful gemstones are a signature look and technique of Michael Boyd’s as in this layered necklace (detail shown at top), 24k, 22k, 18k, sterling silver, various jaspers, opal, yellow sapphire, diamonds; photo: Steve Bigley

“Michael Boyd has had some formal jewelry training,” Sharon tells us, “but he’s thrived on doing what pleases him and figuring out how to do it himself. . . . That doesn’t mean he hasn’t learned loads from others, too. ‘When you talk to other jewelers, you end up talking process — how did you do that?’ explains Michael. ‘Sometimes I’d grab a book and look something up, but if no one is showing you how, it becomes experimental . . . winging your way through a process, trying to figure it out.’”

You Figure It Out!

Figuring out isn’t just about discovering what works: it extends to what might have been done poorly, too. “‘If you really want to learn to do things, do repairs. You’re repairing everyone else’s mistakes. The jewelers I know who grew up doing repair are the best craftsmen I know. They’re excellent,’” Michael says.

Michael Boyd’s amethyst necklace uses a strap setting to leave almost the entire stone surface visible, 22k, 18k, sterling silver, amethyst, ruby, spinel, blue sapphire; photo: Steve Bigley
Michael Boyd’s amethyst necklace uses a strap setting to leave almost the entire stone surface visible, 22k, 18k, sterling silver, amethyst, ruby, spinel, blue sapphire; photo: Steve Bigley

His focus on experimentation influences his approach as an instructor today. “‘One thing about being self taught is that it lends itself to a creative process. If you have to figure things out, it exposes you to a lot of alternatives. Given that, when I teach, I tend to sort of push students. I can tell them how to do it, but I also encourage them to experiment. . . . The most important thing is to enjoy what you do.’”

Taking It to the Net

“Since Septem­ber 2020,” Sharon writes, “Nanz Aalund has been teaching Getting Started with Online Teach­ing through the Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network (BARN) [a Washington state maker space]. ‘Teach­ing skills, just like jewelry making skills, only come with practice and study,’ Aalund cautions. ‘Online teaching has a steep learning curve, and you will be teaching to an audi­ence that has gotten used to on-demand YouTube videos.’ If you really don’t want the bother, talk to a local studio or maker space about partnering.”

Nanz Aalund teaching BARN’s Advanced Jewelry Apprentice graduate Justin Ellis for his final Certificate of Craft project for Washington state licensing when Covid numbers made that possible; photo courtesy Nanz Aalund
Nanz Aalund teaching BARN’s Advanced Jewelry Apprentice graduate Justin Ellis for his final Certificate of Craft project for Washington state licensing when Covid numbers made that possible; photo courtesy Nanz Aalund

Easier to Stay Home

Even so, “the advantages can be considerable. . . . No travel means convenience and cost savings, and everyone works in their own studios with their own tools. Recording classes is easier, allowing for replay for students and reuse for instructors. Multiple online channels give students and teachers more ways to communicate.”

Jeff Fulkerson’s ribbon turquoise and silver ring. Besides teaching in person and online, he’s a frequent contributor to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and a Jewelry Artist podcast guest. Photo courtesy Jeff Fulkerson.
Jeff Fulkerson’s ribbon turquoise and silver ring. Besides teaching in person and online, he’s a frequent contributor to Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist and a Jewelry Artist podcast guest. Photo courtesy Jeff Fulkerson.

“Jeff Fulkerson, in Tennessee, for example, has one student in her 80s. ‘She can’t get out to take a class, and will probably never fly to one. But she can watch anything she wants online, any time.’ By subscribing to his video library, she has ‘unlimited access and there is no time limit.’

Kate Richbourg loves to teach. Whether Zooming or in person, projecting close-up images of processes makes it easier for everyone to see exactly what’s going on; photo: courtesy Kate Richbourg
Kate Richbourg loves to teach. Whether Zooming or in person, projecting close-up images of processes makes it easier for everyone to see exactly what’s going on; photo: courtesy Kate Richbourg

“Students also like working at home. They ‘love the convenience of being in their own place and working in their own studio,” says Kate Richbourg, ‘and learning with their own tools.’”

Save Time

At The Makery in Texas, Francesca Watson offers in-person and online jewelry making classes. She’s also a popular Interweave contributor and Jewelry Artist podcast guest. Photo courtesy jewelry artist Francesca Watson
At The Makery in Texas, Francesca Watson offers in-person and online jewelry making classes. She’s also a popular Interweave contributor and Jewelry Artist podcast guest. Photo courtesy Francesca Watson

“Furthermore, a five-day class, explains Francesca Watson, actually takes three weeks of time to execute: a week to pull together [what’s] necessary; up to two days to get to the location; a day to set up; the five days of class; a day to tear down; two days driving home; and, finally, two to three days to unpack and put the studio back together. ‘I was happy to do it, and I met a lot of wonderful students,’ she says. But it’s hard work.’ Once the artist-instructor has her online setup figured out, she can set up the cameras and technology in minutes.”

Save Money

Hayley Tsang Sather teaches flameworking silver glass beads; photo courtesy Hayley Tsang Sather
Hayley Tsang Sather teaches flameworking silver glass beads; photo courtesy Hayley Tsang Sather

“Not traveling can significantly increase the class’s profitability for the instructor, too. Hayley Tsang Sather, who teaches flameworking of silver glass, says for a weekend class, she can earn $6,000 as opposed to earning $1,400 to $1,800 for two days on location.”

Always Open

In his Fused Gold Patterns workshop at the Colorado Center for Metal Arts, Michael Boyd discusses a work in progress with one student while others watch and listen in; photo courtesy Michael Boyd
In his Fused Gold Patterns workshop at the Colorado Center for Metal Arts, Michael Boyd discusses a work in progress with one student while others watch and listen in; photo courtesy Michael Boyd

A great teacher can teach via any medium, but there’s no denying the special energy of an instructor and classmates who are in the room with you. When being there in person isn’t practical, though, it’s really great to have so many excellent alternatives. Fortunately, they’ll continue to be great and with us long after Covid-19 is history.

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