15 Questions for One-of-a-Kind Jewelry Artist Sarah Hood
Many artists have their own difficulties and successes in the creative process. While her work is beautifully unique, Sarah Hood, owner of Sarah Hood Jewelry, is no different when it comes to the designing and making of her pieces. In 15 questions, she shares her own experience as a jewelry artist along with the joys that make all of the work worth the struggle.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
A: Sarah Hood Jewelry is designed and made by my two hands in my small private studio in Seattle, WA. I feel lucky to be able to bring some of the things I dream up to life. My pieces range from very wearable limited edition jewelry to one-of-a-kind sculptural art jewelry. My work is simple, elegant, natural and modern.
I like to experiment, challenge myself, learn new things, and have fun in the studio. I try to bring all of that into every piece I create. Using materials that are not considered precious, I like thinking about ordinary materials in new ways. I use traditional jewelry techniques such as forging, soldering, riveting, wax carving and stone setting along with modern methods like high tech casting. Most of my jewelry has been an exploration of the natural world, and has celebrated the ordinary beauty of the natural forms I’ve collected over the years.
I love the idea that one small symbol around a finger or neck can root us in connection to specific places and memories, and cause us to consider how we fit into the world in general.
Q: Why do you do what you do?
A: I have often thought to myself that seeing Calder’s Circus at the Whitney in New York City in 1978 was probably the formative event that compelled me to become an artist. It was the moment I realized there was no limit on materials or process. And that art didn’t have to look a prescribed way to be considered museum worthy. Calder’s work also showed me that art is often fiercely intertwined with craft, and that there does not have to be conflict between the two. After we saw that show, my brother and I spent a summer making our own circus characters out of metal wire, cloth, bits of trash and plastic.
I continued to hand make furniture, clothing, jewelry and accessories for my dolls and to furnish my dollhouse for many years afterwards. The scale of toys and miniatures was beguiling to me, even into adulthood, and my love of small scale was a big part of how jewelry eventually became my medium. I like the idea that something so small has the potential to become so much larger by being a meaningful and moving part of someone’s life.
Q: What would you consider your specialty as far as your process goes?
A: I hope to inspire a narrative that is unique to botanical jewelry. While I’m always struck by the inherent beauty of a natural form and work to highlight that, I’m also often interested in something that may lie beneath this surface beauty. Therefore, I sometimes ask viewers to enter into these narratives with me, looking a bit deeper.
Q: Please describe a real life experience that inspired you.
A: Much of my inspiration comes from travel. In the last few years, I traveled to Mexico, Thailand, Nepal, India, Bhutan, Canada, South Africa, the Caribbean, Japan, and many cites in the U.S. What connects me to a place and makes me feel grounded when I travel is searching for flora that makes a place unique. I feel a reverence for indigenous natural forms that is only highlighted by discovering the differences between regions.
Last summer, on a trip to Capetown, my father and I visited Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens where we learned about the unique plant life of that area. The Cape Floristic Region, which is unique to the southern tip of South Africa, contains over 9,000 plant species, and 70% of those are native to the region! I was completely blown away by the flora I saw there — plants I had not even seen in books, trees that looked like Dr. Seuss drawings, flowers that looked like aliens had brought them to earth.
Q: What is your favorite part of your work and why?
A: I love being able to set my own schedule in the studio and office. Running my own business means I get to decide how much time I give to each part of it, and this can change each day. I like that flexibility and ability to weave my business day in with my personal day. If I want to travel, I have time for that. When my creativity is lacking and I need to take a break from the studio, I can. If I want to ignore photo editing and work long, straight days in the studio, I can do that too. I like that each day is different.
Q: What part of your job as a jewelry artist is your least favorite and why?
A: I hate having to set my own schedule in the studio and office. I’m joking (see my answer above), but really, it’s true. One of the hardest parts of being an artist and trying to run a business single-handedly is time management. There is just too much to do in a day, and not enough time to do it all. Figuring out how to set up a schedule so I can strike that perfect balance between accomplishment and stagnancy is always challenging for me.
Q: What does failure mean to you?
A: I feel like the definition of failure is always changing for me. I used to think failure was not being mentioned in my favorite art magazine or not getting into a show I really thought my work was perfect for. So much of that was tied up in immediacy and ego, and as I try to mature and move away from some of that, failure now is more tied up in my life as a whole. Failure right now is more about not finding balance when my professional life butts up against my personal life.
Q: Can you describe what success means to you?
A: Like failure, I feel that success is sometimes a moving target. Success to me right now means striking a balance between two things: making creative work that feels authentic and valuable to me, and finding that sales threshold in my business that allows some financial stability but doesn’t completely take over my life. I want to run my business without having it run me.
Q: What is something we may not know about you?
A: Jewelry making is not the only thing I went to school for. I got my first degree, a B.A. in liberal arts with a concentration in writing, from the New School in New York City. I sometimes still dream of being a poet.
Q: What is the best piece of advice someone has ever given you? This does not have to be work related.
A: Make a five-year plan. This is cliché, but becomes more and more relevant the older I get. If I can’t project out five years, I’m not planning well.
Q: What career project do you consider your biggest accomplishment to date?
A: I consider it a great honor and accomplishment to be included in the permanent collections of a couple of museums for which I have a lot of respect. The Racine Art Museum owns two of my pieces, and the Tacoma Art Museum owns six.
Q: Please name one key thing you do every workday that helps you be successful?
A: Every single day I think about how thankful I am to be able to do what I do, to have the studio I work in, to have the physical health and ability to work, and to have a partner and the personal circumstances that support my work. Every day I’m grateful.
Q: What were some of the unexpected hurdles in your career as a jewelry artist?
A: In 2001, I was in a car accident that derailed my career for a while. The accident left me with a broken pelvis, sacrum, sternum, wrist and ribs, as well as a collapsed lung, and a ruptured spleen. After 10 days in and out of the ICU, I left the hospital with a walker and years of hard recovery ahead of me. I had graduated from the University of Washington jewelry program two years before, and my jewelry career was in full swing at the time of my accident.
My work was included in ten exhibitions and shows that year alone. But after my accident, all of the momentum I had gained coming out of school took a nosedive. I couldn’t work, couldn’t sit for longer than half an hour for the longest time, and really suffered emotionally and creatively. It took a long time, but I slowly built myself and my business back up. I began to focus more on wearable work, expanding my skills and widening my audience. My career has taken a different turn ever since discovering online selling. I often think back on that accident as something that changed me but thankfully, didn’t negatively define me.
Q: What were some of the unexpected benefits in your career as jewelry artist?
A: It has been transformative for me over time to use the creative part of my brain every day. I have had a lot of jobs in my life that I have loved, but I don’t believe that any of them have changed the chemistry of my brain and the general tone of my life as much as working creatively. The knowledge that I can go into every day choosing to do something that has the ability to bring me joy is tremendously liberating.
In addition, the community of jewelers I have found both online and in real life has been enormously beneficial. Not only have I been able to stretch my designs and my skills with the support and guidance of many people in the field but also I have developed real, supportive friendships with people I never would have met otherwise. That has been so invaluable to me over the last few years.
Q: What valuable piece of advice can you give to our readers that are aspiring to make a living off their jewelry making?
A: Make what you love. Don’t try to follow trends. Be you.
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