Interview two in the Life of Art series graciously provided by Sharon Zimmerman, jewelry designer.
Who are you and where is “here” for you right now? Please include what
do you do to keep food in your belly and a roof over your head.
I am Sharon Zimmerman, a jewelry designer. Here is San Francisco. What do I do to keep a roof over my head and food in my belly? I make a ton of jewelry. Up until 5 months ago, I was employed, but unfulfilled. I hit a point where it was a scarier life choice to stay where I was at than it was to take a giant leap into the unknown. And so I leapt, and it has been OK…so far.
What is your creative practice and what have you learned from it?
My creative practice is primarily in metalsmithing – i.e. making jewelry out of sterling silver, 14 karat and 18 karat gold. Though if you had asked me this question over the years, you would receive a different answer. At age 8, I would have said acting, at age 16, I would have said writing, at age 21, I would have said music, at age 27, I would have said food. More than any practice, metalsmithing has taught me patience and precision, though the design process encourages a certain looseness and messiness. I have also learned not to say no to an idea, though to some ideas I have had to say “not now”.
Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere! Though I am most drawn to architecture and architectural elements; any beautifully designed structure can make me cry. I also love schematic drawings and working out geometric problems (using Pi to find circumference of a circle, figuring out the surface area of an isoceles triangle, forming a trilateral pyramid from a flat sheet of silver). Funny for the girl who got a D in high school Geometry, but I do find it interesting that I was drawn to an artistic medium in which I use geometry on a daily basis. (ed. Woah. Math and Art? AWESOME.)
How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?
I don’t view barriers as a mysterious force holding me back, but rather as a problem that is simply in need of a solution. If I come up against a design problem, I just try new things over and over until I find the solution that works and is artistically satisfying. One of the most challenging aspects is that my art will be worn, so there are some practical limitations of what I can do. Clasps have to be both easy to use and secure, rough parts can catch on clothing, everyone’s wrists are different sizes, etc, but I also want the design to be thorough, creative, pleasing and lovely. Though the process can at times be frustrating, I find the end results so rewarding that I find that it is worth it to push on through. I don’t know that I use a single method, though I will sketch a piece over and over until I like the results or I’ll try making it one way, but I am always willing to take it apart if I don’t like it. I also try not to say no to any idea that I might have. Ideas that have seemed a little out there to me have been some of my more popular pieces.
How do you regenerate when feeling artistically depleted?
Sleep, yoga, tea, socializing, though not necessarily in that order. Also, changing up my routine can be a good way to shake out all of the cobwebs. This week for instance, I got up at 5:30am to go out to Fort Funston to walk on the beach with a good friend and her Pit Bull/Marshmallow mix. I came home totally rejuvenated and re-did my logo and banner on Etsy and I also worked on my display for an upcoming art fair.
What does success look like to you?
I’ll let you know when I find it. I think that it probably involves having enough money to travel at whim, but not necessarily enough to buy property in San Francisco.
What do you want people to know about you and your work?
I think that this is where I pull out the soapbox from underneath my seat, place it atop my high horse and stand gingerly upon it: (ed. Yay! I love me some soapboxin.)
The price is the price for a reason; I didn’t arrive at my prices arbitrarily. While I am happy to work out a payment schedule with you, please don’t assume that I can easily give you a discount. We as consumers have demanded, and successfully gotten, lower prices on all kinds of products over the years-food is cheaper, lumber is cheaper, textiles are cheaper, etc. But this has all come at an incredibly awful human cost. Yes, you got a great deal on that $12 t-shirt, but the Cambodian woman who assembled it for you made less that day than what you would spent on a cup of coffee. Your gold ring from India? Cheaper than American jewelry, but the guy who made it works without eye protection or ventilation to protect him from the metal dust and chemicals associated with jewelry-making. Also, the drive for cheaper goods has meant the long-term loss of jobs in our own country. I am not saying that you always have to make the responsible choice when you buy, but I am asking you to think more deeply about it. If you really love something that I have made, then I want you to have it. But I also have rent to pay and food to eat. You can pay me in installments. I don’t mind. But if price is your only factor in making your purchase decisions, then you might as well be buying cheap plastic jewelry from the mall. Go do that, come back to me in ten years and tell me if you still love it and wear it everyday.
*Leaps from high horse and neatly tucks soapbox away*
Thanks a million for your answers, Sharon, and for shining some light on bigger issues that first world consumers don’t often consider.
Are you creative? Curious about what the Voix blog is up to? Would you like to answer a few questions about your Life of Art? Visit this post and leave a comment, I’ll send you some questions.