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A Day in the Life

There are a ton of ways to approach jewelry-making, and I wanted to give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what a jeweler's studio looks like and how I make my work. Now that I've been metalsmithing for about five years, I've developed a system of working where the designs come to me easily and the idea that I've put to paper comes to life and becomes a piece of jewelry.


This is the view that I walk into every morning. I've got a range of tools from files, to brushes, to solder, to little drill bits that I use daily. On the wall facing this desk are more tools that I use for more specific techniques, but I like to keep my everyday tools next to me. I keep everything stored in old tin cans, and arrange my tools according to function.


The desk, which is called a jeweler's bench, was something I made with my father. My whole studio was a project that my dad and I built together, and because I didn't see the need to buy a conventional bench, I designed this one myself. Last year I painted the top of it white and it's one of the best adjustments I've made to my studio space. I can SEE! If you can't tell from this photo, I'm addicted to light. I like to use natural light and artificial light as both help me see through the shininess of the metal to view any flaws and imperfections.


Many times I walk into my studio with a quick sketch or an idea in my head and I begin to pull out my tools. Since I've been getting into enamel lately, the photos that I'll be showing you will relate to that technique. If I were to use a different technique, you'd see other tools but I'll reserve that for another post.


I have been using the enamels, a glass material that fuses to metal when heated by a torch, to paint and create miniatures. Enamel painting forces you to be really organized and orderly. When the colors mix, or if there is any contamination of the paints, the final result will have flaws. Every brush has a plastic covering, the paints are covered at night, and the water that I use to mix the dry paints is filtered. The first thing I do is take out my tools and lay them out and make it easy for the making process to flow properly. I turn on the gas tank for my torch and there's a fan above that sucks out the toxic fumes from the torch.



Depending on which step of the making process, I use specific safety gear to protect my lungs, eyes, hands, face, or clothing. I have to keep my hair up and out of my face at all times so that it doesn't get burned by the torch, or caught in any of the motorized tools. The fine powders of the enamel can get into your lungs, the 18k gold lacquer is toxic, and sanding any part of the piece flings small metal grains into the air. I like to use gloves to protect my hands because if you cut yourself with the jeweler's saw, getting any of these small metal or glass particles into the cut is painful.


For the recent Illuminated Letter Series, I would have an idea of what I wanted to make in my head but I used Pinterest to help me see my designs fully. I would have color schemes in my head and an inkling of how I wanted the font to look like, and then pick elements of a design that I loved. Every Letter came together on the spot, and there was a very unique creative process that emerged from that particular series.


I enjoy working in silence, but sometimes I listen to lectures on history or to audiobooks. For the Letter Series, I got really into Harry Potter and then found myself listening to stories about Marco Polo, and admittedly both influenced the designs of those pieces. My imagination was taken to far away lands or to fantasy worlds and I kept seeing golden, glimmering, sensuous jewels and that's what I wanted to create.


I work every week day from around 10am to 5pm and I don't like to be interrupted. I try to get all of my errands done before I get to the studio, like going to the post office to mail a package, watering the plants, or going for my morning jog. When I walk into the studio, that becomes my entire focus until my body and mind get tired. I'm steady when I work, but then by the end of the day, I'm exhausted.


What's nice about working without interruptions is that it allows me to think deeper about the process of making jewelry. Sometimes my thoughts are purely about what I need to do next, other times it's more existential like what it means to make jewelry and why it's important. Sometimes I reflect on certain aspects of my business and how I want to improve upon something, or on what I want to write about for this blog, future designs, etc. I keep a notebook near me and jot down a few words that will help me remember those thoughts/ideas so that I can come back to them and explore them in depth.


Suddenly, the piece comes together. Even though my body starts to feel sore by the end of the day, it's as if the day goes by quickly. After I've polished the piece and cleaned it with gentle soap and a toothbrush to remove any grime, I can begin to reorganize my studio space for the next day. I do normal shop cleanup where I put every tool in its place and wipe everything down. A clear studio space feels like I have clear mental space, and I can start every day anew.


Thank you so much for reading this post and I hope you have a wonderful day,

Caitlin