Craft Britannia Shop of The Week #21, ErikaPrice
This week our Shop of the Week is Erika, the silversmith and jewellery designer behind ErikaPrice, who handcrafts colourful one of a kind lampwork glass beaded and silver jewellery. One of the CraftBritannia team leaders, Erika also works alongside Nadine of imynda to bring you our weekly interviews ….
Describe your “typical” working day or week
That’s a difficult one – I dislike routine so there’s no such thing as a typical working day or week! It takes me ages to get going in the morning, so my ideal day would begin late – making and packing sales, then working on my latest designs in my studio, and doing admin and online stuff in the evenings. But such ideal days are very rare and Mondays to Saturdays usually rush by in a chaotic whirl.
Unfortunately I’m a prevaricator, leave everything until the last minute, and am always late. This drives my husband Barry mad, but I wasn’t always so indecisive or disorganised – I spent 26 years as a business manager for a major IT consultancy, specialising in implementing global telecoms networks. The most difficult part of giving up a well-paid career was losing financial independence, but with Barry’s support I took the plunge and became self-employed in 2008. This wasn’t such a wild idea as it might seem, as my first degree was actually in Silversmithing & Jewellery.
If we’re not busy in the evening, Barry likes to watch sport on TV while I make jewellery in my studio, photograph pieces or list items on Etsy. I’m very much a night owl and often work until the early hours and occasionally through the night. Sunday is the only day that follows a regular pattern: after breakfast I’ll practise organ and piano, then it’s off to one of two churches to play for the morning services. In the afternoon I catch up on Craft Britannia stuff – updating Shop of the Week discussions and publishing the next interview. Barry is a fantastic cook (I get to clean up the mess) and after dinner we’ll discuss the week ahead over a glass of wine. Then the carousel starts up and before you know it, it’s Monday morning again 🙂
When you are not doing Etsy related things, what are you doing?
Oh boy, where do I start?! Well, we have a lively cocker spaniel Lucy, who can be as demanding as a toddler, so there’s walking her a couple of times a day, and of course the usual domestic chores. Apart from that I spend a lot of time helping Barry. He is a semi-retired scientist – though still chairman of a Biotech company – and an assistant C of E minister, so there is always a sermon to type and a long “to-do” list. Home is a rural Victorian farmhouse close to the Hertfordshire/Cambridgeshire border: we have a big time-consuming garden which we tend together – Barry grows vegetables while I look after the flower beds & soft fruit. I also cut the grass, which takes over 3 hours on the tractor – or longer if Lucy insists on sitting on my lap!
I’m treasurer, secretary, organist and churchwarden of one church, and on the council of another, which all takes up several days & evenings a month. In addition, we’re both very involved in the Church of England – I’m a member of the Deanery and Diocesan Synods, a director of the Board of Finance for St Albans Diocese, and chair a project group implementing a new website for the Diocese. We also support our village community in various ways, and on free evenings enjoy sharing food and wine with friends.
On our rare days out together we love browsing in antique and junk shops – I collect apothecary bottles, ebony and ivory elephants, and Robertsons Gollies! Barry and I also share a love of travel: I spent my first summer at university riding my motorbike overland to India, and when my first marriage broke up in 2000 I took a year off work and trekked across China, Tibet & Nepal. This autumn we’re going down the Mekong River, and hope to visit Burma and Bhutan while they are still relatively unspoilt by tourism.
Otherwise, I’m a keen amateur photographer, have played piano since I was 5, love reading, enjoy swimming, and recently took up watercolour painting. I’m also an eternal student (with degrees in engineering, music, theology & an MBA as well as various jewellery qualifications) and after a break I have a strong urge to study again – Prof Brian Cox has inspired a long-standing desire to study astro-physics!
What was the first piece you ever sold?
My very first sale was an enamelled silver pendant, that I made for my end-of-degree exhibition, 31 years ago. I don’t have a photo of it, though I still have my original design drawings. My first sale on Etsy was a pair of lampwork glass earrings (pictured above) – every pair is unique, but the basic design has become one of my best sellers. For the first couple of years I photographed all my jewellery on the piano in our conservatory, and the keyboard became my distinctive trademark! But sometimes weeks might go by before the sun appeared, and as soon as I reached for the camera it would disappear again behind a cloud. So, most of my photos are now taken on cartridge paper lit by 2 daylight lamps 🙂
What advice would you give someone taking up your craft for the first time?
Designing and making jewellery is immensely challenging and rewarding. Supplies and tools are cheaper and more readily available now than when I first started in the late 70s, and the range of materials and techniques is constantly expanding. Some people assume jewellery making is easy, but it takes time and skill to consistently produce good quality pieces that people want to buy. The jewellery market is saturated with shoddy pieces handmade from poor quality materials, and cheap mass-produced Chinese stuff, so think long and hard before turning your hobby into a business. And don’t even dream about giving up your day job – at least, not just yet!
If you’re absolutely determined, then just go for it! Take a taster course to give you a flavour of the techniques available, then choose one and concentrate on perfecting it – remember practise makes perfect! Next, invest in the best quality tools you can afford. As you progress, start to develop your own style, don’t copy other people’s designs, and use the best quality materials that your target market and price range will bear. You’ll find heaps of advice on Etsy about all aspects of listing, photography and selling online, and its a really good idea to join a team. I belong to two Etsy teams whose members have become like my extended family, and been a huge source of encouragement, friendship and support – CraftBritannia (for all UK artisans), and the JETs (Jewelry on Etsy Team). Another good piece of advice is to always wear your own designs!
Pricing can be difficult. Most beginners price their jewellery far too low, which can backfire – if your pieces are too cheap potential buyers may assume they are inferior or badly made. You should aim to cover all your costs so remember to factor all your overheads into your prices, including contributions to electricity, phone & printing, as well as time, all materials, photography, listing fees and so on. And aim to make a profit – otherwise there’s no point in selling your jewellery! Finally, keep detailed records of everything, as you’ll need this for the tax – be aware that you must declare every sale as income, whether or not you are registered as self employed. Then, whatever you decide to do – enjoy it, and good luck!
If you could try a new craft, what would it be?
I would love to succeed at needle felting little animals:) Some time back I bought several books, some needles and a load of merino tops, and have since successfully made felt balls for necklaces and earrings. So far, however, all my attempts to make anything that bears even a slight resemblance to any little creature have been excruciatingly awful!
What material do you most enjoy working with?
My absolute favourite material is silver – I love the way it looks and feels, its flexibility and malleability, and the myriad ways it can be worked. And, of course, if you don’t like the end result you can melt it down and create something else! But I also adore working with glass – it appears so fragile and transparent, yet is incredibly strong, durable, smooth & tactile – and I love the way it responds to the flame. And, like silver, you can also melt it down and start again!
Which piece of equipment would you be helpless without?
Hmmmm…. another difficult one! Much as I really love my Paragon SC2 kiln and my faithful gas torch…. there’s no doubt that I simply couldn’t function without my set of Wubbers pliers and Lindstrom flush cutters! They were ridiculously expensive but have paid for themselves many times over.
Tell us about what inspires and motivates you
I love colour and draw inspiration from everywhere, particularly the countryside and wildlife around my home – the bluebell wood, the wild deer, barn owls at night, a glowing sunset or a stormy sky – anything really, and my head is always full of ideas. Barry is my greatest supporter and a brilliant motivator, and he has had some great ideas too!
Tell us about one handmade item that you own and love
I really struggled to pick just one item: we love handmade soaps from SoapDragon and NaturalBathingCo and I have a collection of pretty ceramic buttons from SusanSharpeCeramics and CariadClay, which will eventually become clasps on beaded leather bracelets. I also admire the work of other jewellery designers, and my jewellery box contains a fabulous silver pendant made by WearableByDesign, several lovely fused glass necklaces by EmotionalOasis, and a gorgeous wooden pendant from Axevictimus. And I have some stunning lampwork glass, including beads by Sue Doran and a collection of the cutest little animals by StudioMarcy. Among the items I use every day are a pair of cushions from VeeDubz, a beautiful toiletry bag by GreenGrass2 and a dainty little pocket mirror by KitzieG. But I’m a big kid at heart, so my absolute favourite is my teddy from CuteyCritters (pictured above).
Actually, there is one other handmade item that I love and am very proud of – my wedding dress. I made it myself from ivory satin and antique lace, and had never attempted to sew anything as ambitious before or since. It took weeks to finish and became a real labour of love – I sewed 1000s of little pearls on individually and lost the sensation in two of my fingers, and it was several months before they recovered 🙂
What plans do you have for your shop in the future?
Stocking it! This year has been crazily busy, and I definitely haven’t spent enough time on my Etsy shop. So, I need to list some of the 100s of pieces I’ve made and photographed but haven’t yet got round to adding. I’ll shortly be introducing a range of unisex wrap bracelets, and men’s leather and stainless steel jewellery, so I’m keen to see how they sell online. I’d also like to grow the business in order to give more to good causes – I donate all my profits to charity, usually split between Cancer Research and our village church. The other thing I really must do is finish my new website, which right now is mainly just a blog. Earlier this year Dayzee helped me set up a new shop facility, which can’t go live until I’ve had time to tailor and test it properly. How I wish there were 48 hours in a day 🙂
Thanks for listening!
Keep in touch with Erika via her website & blog: http://erikaprice.co.uk. You can also find her on Twitter: @ErikaPrice, Facebook: @ErikaPriceJewelry, and check out her Facebook page: @ErikaPriceDesigns.
Erika was talking to Nadine of imyinda