Advice From Gwen Youngblood: How She Found Her Passion in Jewelry

Gwen YoungbloodMetalworking can be an exciting, but challenging art to start on your own. There are several different techniques to learn and finding your way through can be difficult, but is ultimately worth it. Find out how jewelry artist Gwen Youngblood, owner of Metal Art Lab and creator of Riveting Essentials tool set, found her passion for both jewelry design and teaching.

Q: Can you please describe yourself and your work?

A: I am a nerd, studying math and science all through high school and college with the ultimate goal of attending medical school. Fast-forward a few years and a few twists and turns of fate, I never made it to medical school. Instead, I have pink hair, I make art jewelry and teach others how to make it…and I love it!
I focus on metal and fire in my work with fusing, soldering, and riveting. My designs tend toward classic shapes and clean lines…and anything with a hole or in which I can make a hole is in danger of being riveted to something. This brings me to one of my proudest accomplishments – the development of a set of riveting tools, Riveting Essentials, which have a patent pending!

As much as I love the whole ‘fire & metal” making part of my work, teaching is my true love. Being part of a student’s “Ah-hah” moment is a true joy for me. Empowering students to tackle projects and processes they thought were beyond their capabilities and to see them leave class all smiles, with a sense of accomplishment and a fire in their belly makes my day!

Q: Why do you do what you do?

A: I believe we all have the desire/need to be creative. My creative journey has. I have experimented with many different media along the way – sewing, quilting, cake decorating, and lampworking to name a few. Thank goodness I walked into my local bead store back in 2004 and eventually discovered metalsmithing! It is what I think about as I go to sleep at night – it is what I think about when I wake in the morning and I get stuck in the shower planning new designs. I have to create…the medium that speaks to me is metal…

Q: What would you consider your specialty as far as your process goes?

A: Rivets are my thing! I absolutely love exploring all the ways rivets can be utilized – tube rivets, ball-headed rivets, wire rivets – I just can’t get enough of them!

Metalsmithing design by Gwen Youngblood

Gwen’s Patchwork Silver Cabochon Pendant, made of sterling silver and CZ, came about by playing around with silver fusing to find new applications.

Q: What is your favorite part of your work and why?

A: Hands down – the people I meet along the way – my brother and sister creative – whether students in the classroom or the close knit group of fellow instructors who share the road with me – they all make the craziness of life on the road worth it. There are folks I see only once a year and I cannot wait to renew our friendship each year.

Q: What part of your job as a jewelry artist is your least favorite and why?

A: That’s an easy one – the paperwork, i.e. sales tax returns for multiple states, writing handouts, inventory and renewing business licenses in various states.

Q: Can you please describe what failure means to you?

A: For me, failure is when I disappoint a student. If a student leaves class disappointed and feeling unsuccessful, I have failed. And that one failure will stick with me for a long time and is not offset by any other success.

Q: What does success mean to you?

A: Success is a student leaving class with a smile, feeling like they had fun and learned more than they expected. Success is also having a new project turn out exactly like the vision in my head – that is always a kick!

Q: What is something we may not know about you?

A: I lived in Maine when I was very young. While living there, I learned to make maple syrup, milk a cow and bale hay. My brother and I and a couple of our friends made a boat out of a bathtub, and floated it down the stream behind the country general store my parents owned. Mom was not impressed.

Q: What is the best piece of advice someone has ever given you?

A: My Dad once told me that it was OK to follow my heart. I was at a turning point in a personal relationship – my brain was telling me one thing, my heart was telling me something else…it was very uncharacteristic for my Dad, but he pulled me aside and told me sometimes we need to follow our hearts. Looking back, I realize he could see something I couldn’t. I am glad I listened!

Q: What career project do you consider your biggest accomplishment?

A: I have two that mean a lot to me:

  • Passing all parts of the CPA exam on my first try
  • Creating Riveting Essentials – inventing the tools, applying for a patent and working with Wubbers to get it to market
Soldered pendant by Gwen Youngblood

Inspired by developing a class with more advanced soldering techniques, Fired up Fabrication is created with sterling silver, fine silver, CZ, and a lab-grown ruby cabochon.

Q: Can you please name one key thing you do every workday that helps you be successful?

A: Show up ready to work…success is not going to happen if you are not present to do the work.

Q: What were some of the unexpected hurdles in your career as a jewelry artist?

A: Time has been the biggest hurdle– finding the time to just create without an agenda is golden!! Carving out time just to create is absolutely necessary and yet so rare…

Q: What were some of the unexpected benefits in your career as a jewelry artist?

A: The tribe of fellow instructors that have become my friends is the greatest bonus of this work. I never expected to find such wonderful friends when I jumped into this pond.

Q: What valuable piece of advice can you give to our readers that are aspiring to make a living off their jewelry making?

A: A couple of pieces of advice:

  • Find something you love and make it your own – immerse yourself in it, learn all you can, tweak it, stretch it – put your voice in it!
  • Develop multiple streams of income – it takes a lot of effort, but provides a better chance of making a living

Photos courtesy of Gwen Youngblood.

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