Where are you from? Why did you move to Austin?
I grew up in the upper peninsula of Michigan. I’ve been in Texas and Louisiana since 2004, Austin since 2011.
I moved to Austin after living abroad. I had a few friends from UL who were living here. I came directly from Korea with a suitcase under each arm with my fingers crossed.
What did you study in school? How did you get started making jewelry?
I have a BFA in Visual Art with a concentration in metalwork and jewelry from University of Louisiana.
I grew up really into crafts – beadwork, knitting, crochet, drawing… all the crafty stuff. My university didn’t have a fiber concentration, so I chose jewelry. I’ll never forget my first day in intro to metals, my professor said, “There will be no beads in this class.” He went on to explain the expectations for out of class time investments, the loudness and dirtiness of the shop, the financial strain of materials and lab fees and working in silver versus brass and silver. In the first week, we lost several non-majors who thought they had signed up for an easy A enrichment class. Surprise! It is not glamorous!
I took a year off from jewelry after graduation to live and work as a teacher in Korea. When I came back, I landed in Austin. I met Lisa shortly thereafter and have been with her for almost seven years.
What advice would you offer creatives?
I have a few pieces of advice for creatives. There are a few questions you need to ask yourself to head the right direction on your path.
Do you want to run a business, or do you have an expensive hobby? Both are valid, but you need to know which one you are so that you don’t burn out or take unwise risks, financial or otherwise.
Who are you making for? If you make art for your own therapeutic needs, it’s fine but you can’t be upset or confused when no one gets it or wants to buy it. Maybe you’re “selling out” but really, you’re presenting relatable media in a way that people are hungry for. Feed people’s minds and hearts so you can feed your belly. Don’t try to be too cool. We’re all dorks. Just be yourself and strive to make yourself a person who’s someone you’d admire.
Apprenticeship is dead in America for some reason. Find someone who is living your dream. Go work for her. Learn everything you can about how to run a business. You’ll see what works and what you’d do differently. Be humble and receptive. You’ll figure out if its really what you want to do and when you go out on your own, you’ll be more prepared. You’ll still struggle and have your own challenges, but you’ll have a better chance of success – or at least not completely falling on your face.
What’s your favorite part of your work day?
Lisa’s company is a well-oiled machine. There is a whole workflow manufacturing ecosystem. There are clipboards on walls, orders, shopping lists, inventory lists, things-to-make lists with sub-lists of tasks delegated to other assistants. The best part of my day is anytime I can pick up a fat sharpie and cross something off a list. A hard day for me is when I have 10 concurrent multitasked projects where I complete 90% of all of them but don’t actually finish any of them. But then the next day I finish them all. And I’ve been known to do a little happy dance… Ok, maybe I do it regularly.
I feel fortunate that I love what I do. The studio is my safe and happy place. Being there is a great way to clear my head and just pour myself into building things and solving problems, knowing that ultimately someone will have something that I made and think “I like that. I want that. It makes me feel good.” That’s really gratifying to me.
If you weren't a jeweler, what would you be?
I need to build things, solve problems, and have a lot of autonomy to feel fulfilled in my work. And I need it to be something that I believe enriches and edifies the human spirit in some capacity.
I’m interested in ecology, youth outreach and mentorship, and alternative education. In the creative field, I’d be a consultant, helping people develop production lines for artisanal crafts. I love making with my hands, but a lot of my passion for it is rooted in developing processes, templates, sourcing, analysis, value… post-its and sharpies hardcore nerd stuff.
I’d also like to teach young people life skills through project-based learning, emphasizing critical thinking, accountability, and cooperation. Probably through homesteading skills like plant and animal care, and artisanal crafts. It’s hard for me to imagine myself doing something vastly different from what I do. I guess that means I’m doing a good thing for myself.Check out Exquisite Machine on Instagram, Facebook, and Etsy to see more of Sarah's work.