Andrea Watson started making jewelry during her undergraduate studies at Bowling Green State University and hasn’t looked back. Currently residing in Wilmington, NC with her husband, Danny, and dog, Ace, this metalsmith has worked diligently to build her artistic talent into an entrepreneurial success. As a student, she had unlimited access to a variety of materials in the fine arts department on campus. Post graduation, Andrea has transitioned to working in a home studio and has placed her art in two Wilmington shops for local sale. With the income she has made selling shell earrings from raw materials, she is now able to start producing more examples and products that show off her metalwork talent.
Recently, I was able to spend the good length of a mid-morning chat discussing life, art, and gleaming some helpful advice from this woman who has found her niche in the art of jewelry-making.
GT: It seems like a lot of people experience an “ah ha!” moment for wanting to pursue art. When did you first realize that you wanted to be an artist?
AW: I was able to take a metalwork class [at Bowling Green State Univeristy] during my last year of college. It was surprising because I didn’t know what I was looking for or what I wanted to do when I found metalwork. I entered two pieces into the BGSU 2009 Undergrad Art Show and won awards for both. That really encouraged me to pursue metalwork further.
GT: If you don’t mind clarifying, what is the difference between a jewelry designer and a metalsmith?
AW: AW: I consider myself a metalsmith. A metalsmith works with raw materials: sheet metal, wire, etc; and creates workable materials from scratch. A jeweler designer may still create unique designs, but many of their pieces and parts are bought wholesale.
GT: So, what is it that makes your artwork unique?
AW: Every single piece of my jewelry is hand-crafted. It starts out as either sheet metal, wire, or chain. Those are my only three options. I think a lot of metalsmiths do buy certain completed items because it makes the production much quicker, but I love the idea that a piece of jewelry can be completely hand-crafted. I think that is what makes mine different.
GT: Your work is reflective of coastal living. Was this an inspirational theme for you prior to moving to Wilmington?
AW: Even before moving to North Carolina, I was inspired by nature. I can look at almost anything in nature and be inspired to make a piece of jewelry. The raw materials found at the beach are very accessible for creating new pieces. I am very inspired by the shapes and variety of materials found at the beach.
GT: How much time do you normally invest in a piece?
AW: I haven’t been keeping track of the time I spend. I know I should, but I haven’t. A big part of that is because it is very enjoyable for me. I have a good grasp on a general amount of time I spend to price my work. Another part of the creating and production process is that the more you do it the quicker it gets. [The production] is always better for any metalsmith, once they have created a standard design. A lot of work has been invested in continually improving original designs.
GT: You originally placed items in five locations for public sale, is that correct?
AW: I did. I actually took myself out of a few locations because it wasn’t selling as well as I wanted it to be. I want to be displayed in a shop where my jewelry is sought after. The good thing about narrowing down store options is that I can have those shops full and the jewelry tends to sell a lot faster, so although I’ve narrowed it down to two shops, I have been selling a lot faster. I am hoping to produce enough to get back into more shops in the area. The hardest part is that it is such a part-time business and I have little studio time, which makes production a challenge.
GT: I’m curious, how do you go about marketing yourself to a store?
AW: Over the last two years it has been trial and error. At first when I would go into a shop I would just be checking out the place to see if it fits my jewelry and often they would ask what I do and often I didn’t have any of my work on me. If I told them who I was and what I made but didn’t have examples with me, it wasn’t successful.
Other times, if I had visited a store before and knew I would be a good fit, I would bring my jewelry with me and show it to the shop owner. That has been 100% successful. I pick a day and time to bring along a substantial collection of jewelry. You should always leave behind information if they need more time to think, but in my situation I have never had to do that.
GT: Have you considered the commercial market? Or would you prefer to stay local and handcrafted?
AW: My main goal is to continue the growth of my studio and design with no limitations, so I would consider any market for that reason. But, in theory, I would like to say I would prefer to stay in a local handcrafted kind of niche.
GT: Who has inspired you? Are there other artists that you admire or who have inspired your work?
AW: I really love Andrea Bonelli’s work. I think it is so beautiful and is very similar to my style and she has actually been accessible to me. I have only tried to contact her once when I knew she was doing some casting work. A few months ago I wrote on her Facebook page and she shared some information with me that was very helpful.
My Etsy shop is completely prepared for my grand opening. Ever since I have obtained a profile on Etsy, I have found inspirational artists on there as well. Generally, I look for artists that have a similar style to my work. Edor is one of those inspirational artists.
(Editor’s Note: Andrea shared that she has been inspired by several inspirational artists. We have included those links below.)
I feel that an important part of opening my website is that I can start building relationships with these artists. I have read the blogs of other metalsmiths, and often they say their most important relationships are their online relationships.
GT: What, in your opinion, makes a piece of art desirable for a buyer? What do you feel like the connection is between artist and audience?
AW: I believe the most important influence on a customer is the quality of the work. Over the past few months I have worked in a local gallery and it has been helpful because I get to watch people sort through hand-crafted art. It is interesting to see what people buy and what grabs their attention.
The first thing is that a product is made well, that it is not sloppy and it will last. The second is that it tells a story. What that means to anyone could be completely different on a wide scale, but if it tells some kind of story a person can relate to it or get a feeling from it.
GT: It makes it more meaningful.
AW: Exactly. I recently made a very simple change in my display. Previously, I used a store bought display. I had a black iron paper towel holder wrapped in copper wire and hung my jewelry on it so that really all that was seen. Eventually, I just didn’t really like the way it looked anymore and the jewelry I was making didn’t match [the display]. I needed to find something new. I have been making wooden signs and I was looking at different jewelry displays online. I didn’t want plastic or metal, so I made mine out of beach wood. I was so shocked at the difference it made when I would sit there and watch people walk past my jewelry. Before, people would skim the jewelry section and my jewelry would get missed. When I switched to the beach wood display it was very obvious that it was handmade. I would say 90% of the people who came in would stop at my jewelry and pick it up. I think maybe that is because the new display tells more of a story and it has a more cohesive look, giving a story behind my work.
GT: Is there anything else you would like to share with our reading audience?
AW: One of my most recent discoveries is that, for any artist, focus is one of the most important things about running your business. When I first started doing my business, I was doing jewelry and henna and I started doing wooden signs and was also considering calligraphy. By the time I had all of these things I was trying to do at once, I was so spread out that I wasn’t getting anything done. The most important revelation I have had is that just because you’re good at doing something does not mean it is a good use of your time. Artists, we have all these ideas in our head, and we are constantly starting new projects, but it is important to narrow down what you’re doing by choosing one or two things that you want to specialize in and doing those will be much more beneficial.
Artists that have inspired Andrea:
Interview by Reagan K Reynolds