First Jewelry Artist podcast guest Jill MacKay and I confessed we weren’t mingling and schmoozing naturals. Then we spent the rest of the evening getting to know each other, which I believe pretty much is schmoozing. When this Tucson function/party was over, we made plans to visit some of the jewelry venues together the next day, then decided we needed to do dinner, too. Fabulous!
Hear Jill on the Jewelry Artist Podcast
Get to know Jill MacKay yourself a bit on Jewelry Artist podcast here. Join host Katie Hacker as she engages this friendly, fascinating, and funny designer in a conversation that’s as informative and moving as it is entertaining. You’ll pick up tips and inspiration on becoming a successful jewelry businesswoman and generally being a good person.
Jill Answers Her Own Questions
Besides having fun with Jill on our romp through Tucson, I also convinced her to do a series of blog posts for Interweave. These turned out to be among the most interesting jewelry artist Q&A’s I’ve read, so I decided to go with her flow. Below are Jill’s answers to the questions she put to other jewelry artists (plus a few questions of my own just because I couldn’t resist).
Q: As yourself and as a jewelry artist, why do you do what you do?
A: You know I have had many trips around the sun. There have been many iterations of me along the way, though all with the same ideals, beliefs and loves. My beliefs haven’t changed, but I have! Kindness and compassion are my core beliefs.
I am someone who loves to see (as opposed to looking) and who loves to pay attention. You might call me a mindful observer. I think it’s a good idea to step back from your ego and your own storyline as much as possible; it is for me. As a way of being in this world I need to be engaged in the act of creating: in the flow state, focused on observing nature, seeing, learning. Besides being with my family, and friends, being near or in “big beauty” is super important to me. Big beauty is wide open spaces, in nature so sublime that you cannot be in a bad mood because it is just too beautiful!
My work is all about being in the act of making, creating. Focused and in the flow allows me to escape the pain this world can bring, and stops me from worrying about the future. It keeps me in the present and with a quiet mind. Creating and making jewelry is how I am. It has taken me years to simplify my life. Simple is genius — but simplicity is not easy to accomplish.
Q: What would you consider your specialty as far as your process goes?
A: I like my sense of color. I am not sure I have a specialty, except for my ability to design, to let things move through me. I don’t really imagine ideas beforehand, I just start sketching and the ideas come through me. That must sound strange or woo-woo, but that’s what happens. Trying to define this is mysterious even to me.
Where do these forms and shapes come from? Why do my shapes and forms look like they are from the same family? The best way I can describe it is to say that creativity is like a river. You have to stand in the river and let it flow through you. Be clear enough that it just moves through you. My job is to stay as emotionally clear as possible, because if I am not clear, or I’m upset or worried about something, I can stand in the river but it just goes around me. Make sense? Just don’t ask me what the river is. I don’t know, but I like to contemplate it.
Did I mention I work in my sleep? I wake up and sketch out the designs that came to me in my dreams. I dream of walking through museums full of art. It’s quite astounding to wake up and realize that all that amazing art was generated in my sleep!
Q: What’s a life experience that inspired you?
A: I dreamt once that I was a mountain river, rushing down the canyon, going through all the twists and turns and drops in elevation. Every drop of the river had consciousness. I could feel myself separate into droplets and spray when hitting boulders and splashing up, then rejoining the main body of the river. It was absolutely amazing! It was so incredible, it’s hard to explain.
When I started waking up, I could feel myself falling back down into my human body. It was awful! It felt bad! I had to become so much smaller to fit into my body and into human consciousness. It almost hurt. I didn’t want to go back to being a person, I wanted to be the river some more. It was so, so different and free compared to being a person. It inspired me, as it allowed me to be truly free for a few moments, and experience something much greater. We humans think we are so high and mighty. We think we are smarter than everything else. We are so not. It taught me to get out of my own way. That’s when inspiration can arrive.
Q: What is your favorite part of your work as a jewelry artist and why?
A: Besides designing, my favorite part is to inspire others. To encourage and share with others. That’s a real gift. A gift that goes both ways.
Q: What does failure means to you?
A: Failure to me is a learning opportunity, because if you learn from it then it isn’t a failure. I have lost some pretty big things that I worked hard and long for and failed to achieve. Then I have to delve deeply into my motivations, explore my part in it, and try to understand what happened. I have to take responsibility for any mistakes I may have made (what not to do again). I like to really look hard at my actions, because my motto is to only make new mistakes! Making the same mistake while expecting a different outcome is my definition of crazy.
Q: What does success mean to you?
A: Success to me means always being big enough to take the high road. To love your friends and family like it’s your last day on Earth. Success means being confident enough that you can just be you on a normal boring day and know what a gift that is. Success means being kind and open hearted more than not. Success is having loved ones you can count on because they can count on you, too.
Q: What is something we don’t know about you?
A: I lived with double vision in my left eye for almost 30 years. This year I was sent to an eye specialist in Denver who made me a pair of prismatic glasses that corrected my vision. I now love waking up and putting on my glasses and not having blurry double vision in one eye. What a miracle!
Q: What is the best piece of work-related advice anyone has ever given you?
A: A very successful, creative friend named Boris Bally is an artist and jeweler whose work is collected by museums. He told me to expect to be knocked off (copied). He told me to see it as a compliment and keep moving. And by keep moving, he meant have more great ideas.
Q: What career project do you consider your biggest accomplishment to date?
A: I worked as the Artist in Residence and helped open a grieving center for children, teens and their families. I created expressive arts curricula for every age group. I worked with every family that moved through the program for 13 years. The greatest thing I learned is that giving to others is the greatest way to feel good. I learned how to keep my heart open in the face of another’s pain. I learned how to allow the tears to roll down my face while being in charge of 150 people at the same time. I learned the meaning of true intimacy.
Q: What’s one thing you do and recommend doing every workday that helps you be successful as a jewelry artist?
A: Be dedicated and disciplined in your work, but when you are tired or upset, stop working. Your work will only suffer along with you. Know when to walk away and give it a break.
Q: What were some unexpected hurdles in your career as a jewelry artist?
A: Be very good at being as healthy as you can. When you are hurt or unhealthy you cannot create. Unexpected health issues have massive impact on your ability to work.
Q: What were some of the unexpected benefits in your career as a jewelry artist?
A: I studied and learned how to stay in the flow state longer and longer. The flow state is the optimal state of being.
Q: What valuable piece of advice can you give our readers who aspire to make a living off their jewelry making?
A: Know/learn as much as possible about your market and industry. Don’t quit the day job until you know you can make solely as a creative. It makes for a lot of hours at the beginning . . . oh who am I kidding? Being a self-employed creative means tons of hours. The good news is when you are doing work you love it doesn’t seem like work. Being a creative is making a living and a life.
Q: If you had three extra days a month how would you spend them?
A: With my grown kids.
Q: If you could study with anyone from anytime, what would you study with whom, and why?
A: I would have loved to apprentice with René Lalique (France, 1860-1945). He brought jewelry into modern times and developed many techniques for incorporating glass into his jewelry, but designed and created all kinds and forms of objects.
Q: Jewelry is often described as sculpture on a small scale. Do you also look at sculpture as jewelry on a large scale, that is, bring ideas from jewelry to your larger works?
A: My ideas come to me the same way, but “live” differently. My large-scale sculptures are about community and place-making, whereas jewelry travels on you, with you. My sculptures have to live in one permanent place.
Thank you so much, Jill MacKay!
Merle White is Editor-in-Chief of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist.