Annie Nowak from Dragonfly Jewels works from her studio in the heart of Robin Hood Country where she creates unique pieces suitable for every personality. We had the pleasure of chatting with Annie about her work and the progression of her business...
When did you first start making jewellery, and who inspired you to begin?
I've always made things from an early age, my mother taught me to knit when I was five or so and it's grown from there - papier mâché, decoupage, card making and finally jewellery.
??I probably made my first piece of jewellery about seven years ago, a beaded dragonfly necklace which I didn't like so I turned the dragonfly into a bookmark. I made various pieces of costume jewellery as presents for friends and family for a while but then gave it up as my full time job was too demanding.
Three years ago I came across an article on Metal Clay that sparked my interest again, the possibilities it offered were amazing. It's taken a while to collect all of the equipment I need and learn the basics of the craft but last June I was able quit my full time job and start working on building my business.
Do you have a studio space you work from, tell us about it?
I'm lucky because I have 2 working spaces now. The main 'studio' is actually the small box bedroom in our house. It's a comfortable space to work in and is actually quite organised, if a little messy most of the time. I have a table the size of a single bed (I literally took the bed out and put the table in its place), all my tools and materials are within easy reach of my chair and my laptop and DVD player are plugged into a decent sized wall mounted monitor. I spend several hours a day in here so I may as well be comfortable.
?My other work room is a small self contained area in the basement. It's just big enough to house my wet and dry bench grinder (for stone cutting), my tumbler, a chair and a small compressor for spray varnishing the polymer clay beads I occasionally make.
What mediums or techniques do you work with?
I would love to say I work with gold but the price is too prohibitive at the moment so my work is based in silver, bronze, copper and steel.
As I mentioned before my primary love is working with metal clay. This is a wonderful product that combines metal particles with an organic clay binder and water. It can be shaped and built up in much the same way that porcelain or ceramic clay does but when fired leaves you with a solid metal piece. Recent developments mean that you can now work with and combine different metals. I haven't even begun to scratch the surface yet - the possibilities are endless and amazing.
To give you an idea of the potential of this product one of the first pieces I made was a little copper rosebud.
Are there any new mediums or techniques that interest you?
Oh heavens yes! I don't think there is an artist alive that doesn't want to continually try something new, I'm sure it's part of our artistic DNA.
?At the moment I think enameling is the top of my list. Being able to combine that with the three dimensional possibilities of metal clay is really exciting and will potentially take my work into a new direction. I'm a big fan of individuality when it comes to jewellery, even if I make three or four pieces to the same basic design I will change something to make each one that little bit different.
Then there is slumped glass and the possibility of combining that in jewellery.... having a kiln is a wonderful thing but one thing at a time.
What is the main inspiration for your designs?
Nature and History!
Nature manages to combine colours and shapes in so many ways, more than I could ever imagine. From desert to rainforest to rolling countryside you have access to a whole pallet of colours. Who doesn't love seeing the vibrant yellow of the first daffodils - winter is over and spring is on the way; simple but evocative.
When I look at historical jewellery and art I'm continually blown away by the beautiful pieces that were created using only the most basic of tools. Think of the detail on Celtic or Egyptian jewellery, samurai armour that is breathtaking in its complexity or the elegant proportions of a Grecian urn; there are so many different ways to see shape and form.
Do you have any amusing or interesting stories about your work?
I can't draw - at all! ??For some reason I cannot express my ideas on paper, nothing is ever in proportion and even a line drawing looks nothing like the picture I see in my mind no matter how much I practise. Eventually I gave up trying; I skip that step and go straight to the production stage. Add to that I'm long sighted and I struggle to see fine details (or read small print) - not an ideal situation for a jewellery designer you would think.
?What has been your favourite piece that you've made?
?It's nearly always the piece I'm working on at the time, seeing your imagination coming to life bit by bit. I'm smitten with my shield pendants at the moment; I knew what I wanted the piece to look like in a general sort of way but had no idea about the actual techniques I needed to use; that was the real buzz - working it all out. (See main header picture for Annie's latest shield pendant)
What keeps you going whilst working?
Well caffeine gets me going in the morning, the first cup is for catching up with the news headlines and emails, the second for writing the to do list.
Music and documentaries keep me going as I like to have something in the background so long as it's not too loud.
My cats keep me grounded, if I'm not using my torch or chemicals then there is nearly always one of them asleep in the studio somewhere, it must be the most vacuumed room in the house!
Winston the cat, helpfully supervising the set up for a photo shoot.
Tell us about where you sell your work and any upcoming exhibitions.
It's still very early days for the business, having been trading for less than a year. The majority of my sales have come through my Facebook business page, there is a vast networking community on there and it is a way to get your work seen and your name noticed. I have recently upgraded my website to a professional package so the main task for this year will be to stock that and raise the profile, this will involve understanding how search engines work etc. so plenty of research to do.
Do you have a favourite tool?
That's a difficult one; there are several I'd hate to be without! If I had to choose electrically it would be my kiln, its multi tasking so more than earns its keep, it will also be invaluable in expanding the product range in the future. But for hand tools it would be my scalpel; I cut with it, clean with it, use it to shape and trim clay pieces and I carve with it. That's before it gets used around the studio for other things when I can't find my scissors.
What's the best piece of advice you can give to someone wanting to start up their own jewellery business?
Two things have helped me:
Everybody starts at the bottom. Did you know that Oprah Winfrey was removed as a news anchor because they thought she wasn't suitable for television - you can achieve it if you believe in yourself.??
Plan well, do your research and learn when to put it down, walk away and relax.
What's next for Dragonfly Jewels?
I want to explore the opportunities to expand my one off and limited range pieces, the new metal clay products have fired my imagination and give me the opportunity to do this. I also want to increase the production of freeform gemstones to compliment these; I'm in the process of finishing my first trial piece so that's another thing to be excited about.
?I will be introducing a customer loyalty scheme shortly and possibly gift vouchers as well on my website, although there are still a couple of fine details to work out but it shouldn't be too long.
They say the first two years in business are the hardest and that's probably true but I have plenty of ideas to introduce in the next eighteen months so at the very least I'm going to be busy.
We wish Annie the very best of success with all her future business and creative movements, it's been a delight to hear about her passion for making jewellery and the different techniques she's been using. If you'd like to see more of Annie's work click the banner below.