Doozie Jewelry, by local artist Susan Murphy, really caught our eye the first time we encountered her work at one of the local artists' markets. The designs and materials were unlike other hand-crafted jewelry we were seeing. And the quality was evident. We recently sat down with Susan to talk about her work and how she got started.
How did you get started - how did you learn to do what you do?
SM: I attended the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Initially, I thought I would major in graphic design, which was a starting point to get closer to fine art, but I wasn’t necessarily sure about being an artist.
I took an intro class to metals and really loved it, especially the hands-on nature of working with and manipulating material to create something tangible rather than simply designing on a computer. So I switched my major to metals and jewelry, where we also learned how to fabricate other objects with metals, such as vessels and utensils, among other items.
There are a number of paths an artist can take after school, and I decided to strike out on my own rather than working and designing for someone else. I set up a studio in my brother’s garage in Louisville, KY and began to acquire the equipment and machinery needed to create metal-based jewelry. I eventually moved into an artist’s co-op and focused on building up an inventory of product, dabbling in art fairs and craft shows and approaching shops about carrying my work.
Ultimately, I felt that I needed a bigger potential market than Louisville offered. I did a lot of research about Denver and found that there is a lively handmade artisan community with frequent, high-quality craft and art shows, as well as small retailers that appreciate and carry handmade products.
Where do you find your inspiration - how do you come up with your design ideas?
SM: The method by which I work and find my ideas has changed over time and continues to evolve. The more time that I have spent in the studio and working as a jeweler, the more I am able to create as I go. At first I would plan and sketch designs more and then apply them to the material later. Now, as I work at the bench, ideas and shapes emerge as I go. There’s a lot more playing around with the material and seeing what happens.
What are some materials/shapes/design elements that you are using and are particularly excited about right now?
SM: I favor minimalist design that is clean and unadorned. Repetition is a design fundamental for me. I come up with a shape or component, and then see what happens if I repeat it or combine it with different sizes or treatments of the same shape. For example, one or two small circles repeated can become a constellation. I am also working a lot with negative space to create clean contrasts.
Recently, I have been moving back into just working with metals – silver, brass, copper – and seeing what can happen with playing around with finishes and textures. I still like gem stones and color, but if I’m working with stones, I’ll explore different kinds of bands, or off-setting the gems so they are not at the center of a piece.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs in creative industries?
You have to just jump in and realize that you’re going to learn a lot as you go. It’s inevitable that you’re going to make mistakes, but if you’re a risk taker, self-reliant, and can trust your artistic instincts, you should just go for it. It’s not always going to be easy, but the rewards are worth it. You can make your own schedule, career, and life.
You also need to always push yourself to do better. Even when business is slow, you should make an effort to create good work because if the product’s not there and at the highest level, then you can’t expect anything to happen.