Today we meet Australian Simone Walsh, a full-time jeweller with a passion for crafting beautifully intricate pieces.
Can you take us on the journey of your creative career path so far? How did you become a jeweller?
I left school at the tender age of 16 to work in a recording studio and then a record company, achieving my ambition to work in the music industry and assuming that would be the career path I’d stick to. However, after several years I had become very disillusioned with the industry and particularly how difficult it was for females to move ahead.
At around the time I had started to consider a new career path I happened to see a very simple but striking piece of wire wrapped glass jewellery in a shop. I was intrigued to figure out how it was made, so got some wire, pliers and marbles and started to play around – more out of interest than anything else. Soon enough I was hooked and very keen to learn how to make more advanced pieces.
After teaching myself some basics and starting to sell a small, very simple range of assembled jewellery, I decided to take the plunge and study jewellery making as part of a full time visual arts course. I quit my job and studied at a technical college full time for about 18 months. I learned an enormous amount during this time and still really appreciate the technical focus of the course.
I then lived and worked in London for a couple of years, but had my tools sent over and was able to keep making some simple pieces. When I returned to Australia I moved to Sydney to study a Bachelor of Visual Arts at Sydney College of the Arts with a jewellery and metal major. This course was much more focused on concepts and creativity than learning technical skills, so I was grateful for having picked up the basics earlier.
I sold my work through a small number of wholesale and consignment outlets for years, but it wasn’t really a viable business until after I took it online in 2006. At the time it felt like an experiment as I felt sure people wouldn’t buy something as personal as jewellery without seeing it in person. But quickly enough that idea was turned on its head and my business took off! I’ve continued to sell through a handful of B&M outlets, but online is where my primary focus is to this day.
How long did it take for you to settle on your particular style? Do you think this is something that will always continue to evolve?
I think this is something that will always evolve. However, I do definitely have particular themes that interest me which I seem to repeatedly go back to.
I’m fascinated by pattern, ornament and decoration of very diverse types – and I’ve always been interested in how decoration is a type of language which communicates a lot about people and objects.
I also like the idea of nature being represented in jewellery and other art forms – taking something which has a short and evolving lifespan such as a flower, leaf or butterfly and making it into something more permanent and fixed which can be treasured.
Do you ever have doubts as to your future creative direction? Are there things you yearn to achieve, but haven’t yet found the time for?
Yes, definitely! I think most creative people probably feel this way, at least occasionally.
When I’m designing a new range of work it’s very easy to start doubting what I’m doing, especially during the early stages. Often I just have to walk away for a while and do something else! However, eventually things start to gel and I have more confidence in it, so I keep working until it’s all finally figured out and it feels right.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that sometimes what seems to be a great design idea simply won’t work as you’d like when you get to the stage of making it – and it really is fine to accept that, put it aside and move on.
In terms of what I’d like to achieve but haven’t yet, there’s a huge amount – which is probably a good thing! Especially because my jewellery making education came from a visual arts background (rather than a trade background with an apprenticeship), I feel that there is a huge amount I could still learn to do in a technical sense. I’d like to be better at making the time for simply developing new skills – it’s definitely something I’d like to do more often!
Plus I’d like to have a much more comprehensive studio set up than I do currently. I’m renting and it’s not possible to have all of the equipment that I’d like. Fingers crossed that gets sorted out very soon!
What has been your most successful marketing strategy – the best way that you have found to get you and your work noticed? And have you ever tried something that just did not work at all?
I think doing my best to engage with customers and provide good customer service is probably one of the best marketing strategies. It can be difficult when you’re in a single person business to have the time to do this well, but I try my hardest! I always feel that my customers have the potential to be the best advertisement for what I do.
However, also being involved in the indie design community can be helpful as all sorts of opportunities arise. It’s a two way street though and requires genuine involvement and interest. I wouldn’t advise people do this with marketing being the primary purpose or people will see straight through it!
In terms of what hasn’t worked, I’ve certainly run some ads which have turned out to achieve very little, but each time that happens it’s always been a learning experience.
Could you ever see yourself having a ‘normal’ 9-5 job? Why/why not?
I think it would be a struggle for me to go back to doing that sort of work. In part it’s because I’ve always been a night person and being self-employed has meant that I naturally go to bed when I’m tired and get up when I’ve had enough sleep – late on both counts! So the idea of having to be dressed, at another location and ready for work by 9am sounds absolutely terrifying these days!
However, I’m also very used to running my own schedule and making my own decisions about what I do and how I do it. It doesn’t happen often, but if I really don’t feel like working one day then provided there are no deadlines looming I can just go and do something else entirely. Or if I feel like doing my bookkeeping at 11pm at night, then that’s just fine too!
On the other hand, I’ve realised lately that the lack of structure and routine in my life can be a challenge in itself and this is something that a regular job provides without you even having to think about it. It also provides a fairly fixed number of working hours – working too many hours and too many days without a break is an issue for me too. These are problems I’m still working on ironing out!
What is one piece of advice you’d like to give fellow makers about running a successful handmade business?
Probably the best advice is to keep as much control over your own business as you can, particularly when it comes to selling online and dealing with other businesses that you rely upon. Always try to think of the worst case scenario and how you can protect your business from it.
Selling through an online venue can be great to get started with, but it’s so easy for problems to crop up which seem out of your control. It’s far from impossible for the enormous amount of effort you’ve put into marketing your venue shop to all become worthless one day and you have to start all over again. Or maybe you’ll simply decide your business has grown enough that you need your own shop.
A few years ago I set up my own independently run shop using my own domain name. At that point I wished that I had always used a web address using my own domain name to promote my venue shop which I could then have switched to my own shop when I was ready to take that step.