Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Studio: How the process began...

I'm starting this blog to record and share a new phase of my life. I have waited a long time to do what I truly love - to design and create jewelry. I majored in jewelry in college, but did not become a jeweler or silversmith due to the cost of materials, tools, and equipment.  Then life happened, and before I knew it years had gone by and I had lost sight of my dream.  A few years ago I decided it was time to get back to making that dream a reality. I never imagined it would be as difficult as it has been.  All during the process of building my studio I longed for someone to talk to, someone with the same interests to share ideas with.  I tried networking to find other jewelry artists in the city where I live, but for the most part I found that they weren't interested in getting together. I knew it had nothing to do with me personally, since none of them knew me. Perhaps it was because they felt that I was their competition. Whatever it was, it made me a little sad.  After all, I'm a good person with a lot to share!  Nevertheless, I managed on my own, (with the help of my sweet husband) and I have been successful in building a place where I can be creative. My motivation for starting this blog is to be the friend that I didn't have to anyone out there who is just starting out on the road to becoming a jewelry artist. My hope is that by sharing my experiences, successes, and failures I can be of some help to someone who just getting started.

First, I want to talk about how the process began. For the last several years I have been working toward having a fully functional jewelry making studio.  In 2005 my wonderful husband and I started the process of turning the attached garage of our home into my studio space.  We took down the existing sheetrock, insulated all the walls, and added lots of light fixtures on the ceiling so I have really good lighting.  As luck would have it, the ductwork for the air conditioning in our home ran right over one corner of the garage attic area, so we were able to locate it and connect to it, which allowed us to air condition our attached garage. We also added cabinets left over from our kitchen remodel, countertops, a laundry room style sink, and lots of electrical outlets. On the floor we put some dense foam mats in a dark gray color that we found at the local home improvement store. The mats hook together like puzzle pieces and make a really nice surface to stand on.  We also installed a high power kitchen vent hood on one side of the room to help with ventilation. In one corner of the studio we made an area for a computer with a desk area and cabinets with file drawers.

When you walk into the Studio my office area is on the left hand side.
(The door going into my studio is on the South wall it doesn't show in this photo, but it is just to the left of the grey trashcan, the computer is on the West wall)

 To the right of the office area is the door going into to the "Shop" area.
(West wall)

We partitioned 1/3 of the garage area with walls and a door to make an area for me to do "dirty" work like grinding, polishing, and soldering. This smaller area we call the "Shop", and the larger area we call the "Studio".  In 2006 we finished working on the studio, but left the shop area unfinished.  A few weeks ago we started working on that area, and it is almost completed - we took down the existing sheetrock, insulated the walls, and built a wall completely covering up the garage door. From the outside everything looks normal, nothing on the outside of the house was changed. This was something we debated about for several years.  The main reason for making this major change was because of the heat.  Our house faces toward the West and for at least 9 months out of the year here in Texas we get a lot of sun beating on our metal garage door. The metal garage door would hold the heat and acted like a radiator.  And, since the garage was not insulated originally, the whole attached garage would fill up with the hot air and cause that side of our house to be hotter than the rest of the house. So, since most of the garage had already been turned into studio space, it made sense to build an insulated wall inside the garage door.  We built the wall several inches away from the door so there was enough room to put 3" of foam board against the door and 9" of insulation in the wall. We left the spring in place, screwed the door to the door frame at the top and sides, took the top rails down, and put the rails at either side of the garage door (inside the wall), so that someday in the distant future, when the next homeowner decides to turn my studio back into a garage  :o (  , all the pieces will be there waiting for them!

There is just a bit of taping, floating and painting to do and the studio/shop building project will be completed.

When you go through the door into the shop area and turn left I have an area for my
rolling mill, my drill press, my cutting shear, my scroll saw, and my flex shaft.
(the drill press is on the South wall - the wall on the right side of this photo
 is the wall that covers the garge door.)

In the middle of the shop area (right across from the doorway) is my soldering station. I have the pieces for a ventilation system that will go just above my work area to pull toxic fumes away while I'm soldering. I will be putting it together soon.  Until then I wear a mask and turn on the vent hood fan in the studio.
(West wall)

 When you walk through the doorway into the shop area and turn right you see
my hydraulic press area and my polishing wheel.
(The hydraulic press is on the West wall and the polishing station is on the North wall)

If you walk back into the studio area and turn around 180 degrees,
to the right of the door to the shop is an area where I can sketch or do beading.
(bulletin board is on the West wall, kiln and vent hood is on the North wall)

To the right of my sketching area is my kiln area (with a kitchen exhaust hood).
(North wall)

All during the studio building process I  purchased tools as I could afford them. Before I started buying tools I got all of the tools together that I already owned. I assessed what I had and what I needed and made a list. At first I bought several smaller tools like files, cutting tools, pliers, dapping tools, etc. Then I moved on to larger tools like a kiln, a rolling mill, a large cutting shear, a magnetic tumbler, a drill press, a flex shaft, a flat sided ring mandrel, a disc cutter, polishing wheel, an air/acetylene torch setup, a lap machine, and my favorite tool of all: a hydraulic press.  After I bought some of the larger tools my husband started asking me, "Are you done buying tools?"   It has become a bit of a joke between us because at first I would tell him "I just need a few more things - then I'll be done!" Now whenever he asks me I just say, "Honey, get used to it - I will never be done!"

Moving around the studio area to the right of the kiln is a counter
next to the sink where I have my "wet" tools - a shaper and a lap machine.
(East wall)

Here is the sink, and to the right of that are my finishing tools,
a rotary tumbler and a magnetic tumbler.
(East wall)

My polishing wheel.

Here is my flex shaft area. Sorry this pic is a little out of focus...

Flex shaft!  Also in this pic you can see the rubber floor mats we found at Lowe's.

Large cutting shear made by Pepe Tools.

Drill press - this is overkill for a jewelry studio, but we already had it, so why not?

My favorite tool!!! My hydraulic press was built by Kevin Potter. You can see all of the great tools he makes and sells on his website:
He also has a great blog:

My only misgiving about how I have done things is that I have spent so much time on the weekends building my studio that I haven't spent as much time as I should have in actually making jewelry. I have had to accept the fact that it was the price I had to pay to get to this point.  Also, since I spent all my extra money on building my studio and buying tools, I wasn't able to set much aside for raw materials. Here and there I would buy a few small pieces of sheet silver or copper, but then I found myself hesitating to use it because I didn't want to waste it.  So, as much as I love tools, no more buying big tools for a while.  Last week I placed my first large order of raw materials including several sheets of sterling silver in different gauges, a bunch of sterling silver tubing also in different gauges, sterling silver wire, copper and brass sheet, and copper and brass wire. It arrived earlier this week and I'm ready to get started!

While I was waiting for my raw materials shipment to come in, I spent a lot of time thinking about a name for my business. It may be premature, but if I really want to make a go of this I will need a business name, a web presence, a dba, and a tax ID number. I've started filling out the paperwork for my dba.  Once I get that I will get my tax ID and then all the paperwork will be done!

So, I have written my first post!  Hopefully I will make contact with others who are interested in the art and craft of metalsmithing and the design and creation of jewelry. I would love to hear from other artists who share my passion - or anyone who simply has an interest!