A day in the life of a jewellery designer
Hello and welcome to a brand new, shiny blog series called, 'A day in the life'.
This series is all about just what a day in the life is actually like for full time creative business owners, so what it says on the tin really!
I decided to start this series because as a full time creative business owner myself, I know just how hard other creatives work. No, they're not just sitting around drinking tea all day, they work really flipping hard and I want the world to know that. So, I thought what better way to share that with the world than by actually finding out from fellow creative business owners what they do.
And, just like that urge everyone has to see inside other people's houses, don't you just love finding out about people? I sure do and I'm super excited to kick start this series with an absolutely incredible jewellery designer. Want to know more? Me too, so let's hand the reigns over and find out about what the average day is like for...
Hello, I’m Erica Sharp and I am a jewellery designer based in Berkshire, U.K. I’ve been running my small jewellery business, Astrid and Rose, since August 2016. Before that I made jewellery alongside my other work but when things really took off in 2015 I realised it was possible to make this my full time job. I spent the last part of 2015 and early 2016 planning ahead and creating a website and doing a lot of research to ensure I was heading out on the right foot. Things have been brilliant this last year and I am excited for the next year ahead.
I originally trained as an illustrator and a visual arts teacher. I spent 7 years teaching art and design at secondary school, whilst taking illustration commissions when I had the time. I absolutely loved teaching children, but towards the end I began to feel creatively frustrated; it started to become more about targets and form filling than sharing my love for the arts. At the end of 2013 life threw some traumatic events my way, including an ectopic pregnancy, surgery and infertility. It was life changing and incredibly tough but also a realisation that I had complete control of what I really wanted to do, and a clearer vision of the type of life I wanted to live.
After leaving mainstream education I spent a couple of years illustrating, teaching visual arts to adults and selling jewellery on Etsy. 2015 was a turning point for my jewellery business and also the start of a new creative journey when I discovered the ancient art of lost wax casting. Lost wax casting is a process where an object is carved out of jeweller’s wax and then cast at a very high heat in a specially made mould. The wax disappears from the mould when heated, and then the void is filled with the molten metal. Carving miniatures in wax feels like second nature to me; it’s a lot like drawing and I love the challenge of working on such a tiny scale.
On a normal workday, I wake up around 7am and get ready to walk Pedro, our pug. We go out a little before 8 and have an hours walk. We live in Berkshire surrounded by lovely parks and woodland, and are spoilt for choice for walks. Being in nature clears my head and sets me up for the day. For breakfast I have porridge or toast, and read Grace Bonney’s “In The Company of Women”, it’s become a ritual to read one interview each morning. I love this book - the women featured are from such a diverse range of backgrounds, and the interviews are very honest and real, celebrating both the positives and the challenges of running a creative or small business.
I share a home studio with my husband Jay, a 3D motion graphics designer. We both have computers at one end of the room and then my workbench area at the other. Jay is a purely digital artist, whereas I’m more analogue; his area is normally very tidy and mine is messy! But we fully embrace our differences and really admire and inspire one another’s work.
I start my workday around 9.30 by reading emails and replying to enquiries. The majority of the jewellery I sell is through Etsy, it’s my favourite platform for selling and buying unique, handmade products. I print out orders and put them in a queue to make later in the week; depending on how busy I am I work a few days ahead. Having a long enough lead-time is really important to make the workload manageable, especially during busier times of the year.
I then run through the orders due for dispatch that day and package them ready to be shipped. Most of my charm jewellery is made and prepared in batches so all I need to do at this stage is attach a chain, box it up carefully, and it’s ready to go. I stop to make a cup of coffee around 11. Depending on how busy I am that day, I sometimes start to make jewellery that is made to order or personalised around this time.
I usually break anytime between 12.30 and 1.30 for lunch. I try my best to have a proper break of at least 30 minutes, away from the screen. I eat something healthy that is quick to prepare. Lunch normally consists of leftovers from the previous night’s dinner, soup or salad. After lunch I head out to the post office and dispatch the orders I packaged from earlier.
When I return, I get started with jewellery that is made to order, like rings or lockets. January is usually quiet, so I am spending my afternoon time replenishing products that are out or low in stock from Christmas. I’m currently working through a big box of castings that need finishing. This involved sawing off the sprue (the vessel that allows the metal to flow into the mould), filing and sanding it down, and then polishing. I use a dremel tool to do the majority of the sanding, and when complete, the castings go in batches into a tumbler to polish. The tumbler is filled with water, steel shot and polishing compound and rotates continually for 30 minutes to an hour. I love taking the castings out when they are done as they are so incredibly shiny!
When a batch of castings is ready, I take them to London either for hallmarking at the Assay Office or for gold plating. I use a fantastic gold platers in Hatton Garden, and I often drop into a couple of shops to pick up supplies like chains and wire. I normally spend a day or two in London every couple of months, and try to fit in seeing my Mum on those days for lunch, as it’s a half way meeting point for us.
One day a week I also teach visual art classes to adults. I feel connected to people when I teach; you meet so many different characters and I care about my students a lot. It also gives me more stability financially, especially if I’m having a quiet month with jewellery orders. One day I hope to build a large studio at home, and use it to teach my own workshops, both for visual arts and jewellery. This is a long-term goal, so it’s really important that I continue my teaching practice and build myself a positive reputation as a tutor.
In the evening I stop for a break around 5.30 to feed Pedro and have a play. He gets bored around this time so it's a perfect little break for the two of us. I go back to the computer at 6 and finish off emails and admin, and tidy up my workspace. My workbench is always messy and I make sure I leave it tidy to start afresh the following day. I start making dinner at around 6.30, after that I make sure I spend quality time with Jay and Pedro.
In the evenings, I like to spend some time crafting. At the moment I am really enjoying sewing and textiles, and have just finished an embroidery. It’s a lovely way to relax and unwind and I find something very cosy about making things in the winter.
I also spend one or two evenings a week drawing or painting a new project for my art students. I love thinking of new ideas and techniques to teach, and I find that drawing and painting the projects inspires and supports my students. This week we have used charcoals which is one of my favourite mediums. The students loved it too.
On the weekends, I often work a little on Saturdays. It’s usually jobs like taking and editing photographs, uploading new product listings, and writing product descriptions. I use weekend time to make new waxes too. I have just finished making a very delicate fern in wax that I have just had cast in silver. It’s a new piece to add to my woodland collection, and I am going to start making some wildflowers for rings over the next couple of months.
I use a special jeweller’s wax to make my miniatures. The wax is available in different levels of hardness. I like the blue wax the most, as it’s quite a hard wax, and I use Wolf carving tools, as the blades are so sharp; they are the most incredible quality. I also use a softer pink wax for more delicate work, which can be moulded and softened with heat. I use a flame and the finest detailing tools to include textures on my waxes.
It’s a bit of a cliché but work really does not feel like work to me; it’s never a chore and always a privilege. So I don’t mind if I have to work some weekends or evenings. I enjoy it and embrace it, and do it with love and appreciation.
To relax and unwind, Jay and I love to go walking on the weekends with Pedro. We have recently joined the National Trust and have some exciting places to visit on the weekends. We also hope to travel more in the U.K. this year and go to Cornwall and the Isle of Wight for some long weekends away. Other weekend activities usually involve days out in London - a day of visits to galleries and eateries and exploring new neighbourhoods.
Running a small business takes courage and hard work, but I have no regrets about making the decision to go for it. I think the hardest part is giving yourself permission to do so and believing it will work. There are always hurdles of self-doubt that we all experience. One of my biggest challenges at the moment is pace. I find pacing myself difficult as my business is still at a very early stage, yet I am so eager to make every design idea I have in my head. At this stage I need to be realistic as I am still learning about my customers, and what appeals to them; I am still shaping my brand. This ultimately affects things like the type of designs I create, how many designs to make, how many castings to order, and so on, so I try not to jump too far ahead of myself. I am taking small steps and growing slowly. Being a one-woman band I only have limited resources and budgets, and being able to manage and grow my business at a pace that make it financially viable is a really important priority at this stage.
When I was little my Dad started up his own business, designing argon purifiers made for the engineering industries. He started with a small budget, working from the garden shed alongside his colleague. Back then there was no internet and no way of finding clients and advertising as easily as we can now, and he had a family to support. It was a niche market and despite the challenges, he made it a great success over the years. My Dad is my small business hero; to me he is proof that with lots of hard work, encouragement, planning, and long-term vision, running a small business can be a success and a joy.
Thank you so much, Erica! It's been truly wonderful hearing not only what your day at work is like but also how your journey to becoming a full time jewellery designer began. You're a true inspiration!