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New to Metal Art and Don't know where to start?

Posted by Roberta Pihl on

Many of us began our journey into metal art just enjoying the jewelry we already have, never really putting any thought into how it's all made or who made it. Others in our craft were raised by a household that supported itself off of the industry and it's always been a part of their lives.

Whatever set off that spark that brought you here - encouraging you to make your own jewelry whether for sale or self fulfillment - you're going to need a good starting point. 

While those who later become professional jewelers attend accredited schools and apprentice to make a career out of the art, some of us just want to let our hearts lead us in the craft and take us where it will... so, yea. I'm talking to you out there if you identify with the latter!

There are TONS of resources out there for new and upcoming metal artists to help them along, but the general consensus is simply to find somewhere local to take a class. They're usually easy to find - many advertise in local papers, online classifieds and fliers around town (I live in a VERY small town!) even local community colleges will offer a general elective that teaches basic techniques in the art of jewelry making. There are also jewelry making and metal art groups all over social media where you simply have to ask if anyone in your area teaches locally, or ask someone at your local bead or craft store: trust me, they know a guy... (or gal! ;) ) . If you can get in on a local, in-person class then you're going to be set up better than I was when I first started in 2010. And the smaller the group is, the more one on one instruction you can receive.

Two great examples on in-person classes (in my experience) are Allie Thurman (out of my hometown) and William Rice out of Arizona. Allie was my first in-person instructor and taught me how to work with Silver Art Clay - a technique I had tried and failed at many times in the past. After taking one class from Allie, well I wouldn't dream of calling myself an expert but at least I now know better what I am doing and won't waste nearly the amount of resources I had by trying on my own! And William is a highly talented engraver out of Tucson that has been engraving for a majority of my life here on earth. His in-person class gave me the understanding I lacked while trying on my own, and is a great example of an instructor. He's patient, encouraging, and honest - he is also one of the kindest people you'll ever meet! Prior to taking his one-on-one class, I could barely hold a graver. While I still have a lot of work to do, I walked away with the comprehension I was missing when I was burning hours just trying to make a straight cut. It's amazing how much you can learn while face to face with someone who knows what they're doing, and who can tell you when you are doing something wrong on the spot.



*Edit March 9, 2021*

After I had written this article, I took another in person class. This one was with Jim Dailing out of Bend OR, and once again I had proven to myself that you can pack years of trying to figure out one technique on your own, into one day and walk away a better artist thanks to the patience and teaching styles of a wonderful instructor like him. Jim had thought a 6 hour class teaching various non-prong stone setting techniques, and I learned how to properly bead set a small stone on a ring shank. We also covered flush setting and touched on Pave (which is my unicorn!) and even though I had taken an online class on flush setting, everyone does things a different way even if the technique is similar. It was nice to compare both ways so I can pick a style that works for me and it was well worth it! 

Jim Dailing Demonstrating Flush Setting March 7 2021

My First Practice Ring 


But lets say you can't find an in-person class - especially now, with social distancing measures in place. Well, you have other alternatives! 

Online classes are ordinarily a good substitution, though the one thing they will lack is someone looking over your shoulder telling you what you're doing wrong and how best to fix it. Those issues are ordinarly addressed via messenger or in groups using pictures and videos sent back and forth. The upside to this, is that this makes some of your instructor notes already in writing lol A good online class will utilize print outs and video clips to pass information on, as well as a list of resources at the ready with links to show you what you will need to complete your project. And as for the instructors, they will usually have a social media group or page set up so that you can get the help you need when you don't understand something. This is great for me because there is always more than one way to accomplish a task (don't let anyone ever tell you any different!) and more often than not, other more experienced artists will generally give you some advise you wouldn't have thought of. The best part about this experience is getting to share your finished work and receiving props and approval from your peers. Often, you will even receive a Certificate of Accomplishment from the instructor. Now, this is more to boost your own moral than to accredit you in the art, but hey.. we all want to feel good, right?

Keep in mind... if you're taking an online class, make sure the instructor has a good reputation. Ask around the community (again, I'll defer to social media..) for personal experiences. Negative reviews should always be given in private - no need to start unnecessary volatility within the community if at all possible. Sometimes its best to make that clear.

A great example of online classes done right is Lucy Walker. A British National, Lucy hosts an online jewelry academy from her studio in Kuala Lampur and is likely the best example of online jewelry courses done right. Her instructions are easy to follow, videos are well made and supplemented with graphics to help you understand the physics of what you are looking to achieve, she has a great social media presence, and all of her courses have linked resources that will help you find the right tools and supplies to complete your projects. Her classes range from beginner sawing, to advanced stone setting - and she has her online classes set up in a manner comparable to an online college course: complete with a certificate of achievement. Every so often she will host give-aways on her social media platforms as well. She is easy to follow if you have either FaceBook or Instagram as her posts are dripping with inspiration! Having studied a couple of her online classes myself, I HIGHLY  recommend her online classes, whether you are brand new to the craft or looking to hone your skills or learn a new technique. And there are PLENTY of techniques out there! I almost promise you will never stop learning!


There are also a LOT of books out and around that will help you get a great start. Many are pretty technical and not necessarily user-friendly for the first timer.. more supplemental, available to help those with a little experience under their belts add to their arsenal of techniques they implement in their crafting. That doesn't make these resources useless - to the contrary, they're extraordinarily helpful once you have the basics down! So keep those handy!

My experience when I first started is a sad one. It took me MONTHS to learn how to solder... yup. Months. Sounds like a total joke.. but I am living proof that anyone can learn to solder with the right start! 

Now, I'm only speaking for myself here, but it wasn't until I read Kate Ferrant Richbourge's Simple Soldering book and watched the accompanying DVD that everything finally came together for me. She actually made soldering.. SIMPLE! Thanks to Kate, I was FINALLY able to make metal stick together! She is my first go-to when I recommend a resource to a beginner wanting to learn from home. Kate is also accomplished in many other crafts, so she has a beautiful eye for design and is able to make learning metal work easy to understand. Plus, she's a fun loving lady with a bold, beautiful personality that is easy to get along with!

For those of you who are ready to go down the rabbit hole, understand this: you're going to make a LOT of mistakes. You will burn through a lot of resources learning outside of good instruction or not. It's all a part of the process, as well as a part of the investment you will make while you're learning. But as long as you don't give up and continue to accept each challenge with determination, you will find yourself as addicted as the rest of us! 

So save your scraps and HAPPY CREATING! 

First Bezel Set Stone (2013)

Most Recent Completed Pieces (2021)


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