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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Artistic Confidence, Being Nice, and Finding Your Artistic Voice

Can you imagine going up to a jewelry booth at a show and saying to the artist, “You work really sucks.  These people around you are so much better than you.  You shouldn’t even be here.”

Pretty shocking, right?  I mean, even if you THINK it, you’d never say it.

But some people do say it… to themselves on a daily basis.

It breaks my heart.

Ideally, we wouldn’t only not say these kinds of things to ourselves or to others, but we wouldn’t even think them.  (Yes, I am an idealist.)  Can you imagine accepting everyone’s efforts as worthy?  Everyone. 

I was watching one of those cooking shows the other night and I was mentally trying to give a pep-talk to one of the contestants.

“Don’t worry about it.  Food is about taste and you can’t force people to taste things the way you taste things.  You can’t predict how someone will feel about your food… because it’s just too subjective.”

Granted there are certain things that could be more obvious deal breakers.  If you burn something, odds are you won’t find many takers.  If you accidentally use salt instead of sugar in your cookies, you may not be asked back.  But when we get into the finer differences, a good portion of the judging is subjective opinion. 

I was wondering if I’d rather be in a field that is cut and dried, a job where you win or lose based on ability, not opinion… like (most) sports, for example.   In a math competition, you either get the correct answer or you don’t. 

In cooking, you are making something according to YOUR personal preferences and YOUR taste buds and being judged by people with their own personal preferences and their own taste buds.

Same thing with jewelry.  We make (usually) what WE want, what WE find attractive.  Then we hope that people who have the same taste as us come along and buy our creations.

Have you ever made something you thought was hideous and yet people raved about it? 

When someone compliments you on something you make that you don’t’ like, you can’t say “thank you” because you figure they’re just messing with you… you’ll look like a fool if you take them seriously!

And then something you don’t like sells… and it leaves you scratching your head.  Maybe even questioning a lot of things about your creative direction.


As an artist, I think one of the best things you can do is work on technique.  Because that’s one thing you have the most control over.  You can’t control how many people will love or hate your work, but you can control if it has scratchy wires, rough edges, loose stones, etc.

So tighten up your skill set and make jewelry that makes you happy.  It will most likely change over time anyway.  Evolution is natural and pretty necessary in this industry.

So yeah, we’re in an industry that relies heavily on the opinions of strangers.  So the least you can do is be gentle with yourself.

Most people I know who are critical of others are twice as critical of themselves.

Have you ever done that thing where you say a word… over and over… and it starts sounding just ridiculous… like not even a real word anymore?

I think we get the same effect with our jewelry.  I made 22 charms for a charm swap last year and by the time I was done I thought, “OMG this thing is so ugly. I can’t give this to people.  I’ll have to start over.” 

But that wasn’t the rational part of me talking.  It was the part that lost all perspective from seeing the same thing, in minute detail, for five days straight, inside and out.  My perspective went in the toilet.  I was too close to the charm, too intimate with it, and had just plain old seen it way too much to have any kind of reasonable opinion.

So not only do people have opinions that differ from one person to the next person, but even within ONE person opinions can change… perception can change.

I decided to opinionate on this topic now because of something someone said to me recently.  One of the ladies in my SRAJD organization (self-representing artists in jewelry design) was comparing her creative work to that of others in the group and making pretty disparaging remarks about her own efforts.

This makes me so sad.  I’d like to think sometimes people are just fishing for compliments or maybe aren’t even paying attention to what they’re saying… but taking it at face value, I sincerely don’t want people to feel this way about their creations.

So for starters: Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else.  Go back and read my first paragraph.  How can you be meaner to yourself than to an absolute stranger?  Yet we are, on a daily basis. 

Seriously people, start being nicer to yourselves!  Start talking nicely about your work.  What are you afraid of?

I want each of you who struggles with confidence in your artwork to do the following.  It takes a CONSCIOUS effort, but I have faith in all of you.

The next time someone compliments your work, just say “thanks”. 

Don’t say, “Thanks, but I feel I could have done better.”
Don’t say, “Thanks, but I was actually going for this other thing.”
Don’t say, “Thanks, but I know you’re just trying to be nice.”
Don’t say, “Thanks, but I know it doesn’t hold a candle to the real artists who do this.”

Don’t say any of that crap!  Just stop yourself!  Say “thanks” and shut your mouth (or stop typing).

It will be hard at first, particularly if you’re used to be down on yourself.  But it gets easier as time goes on.

Be nice to yourself.

Because you know what?  If you keep telling people your work sucks, they’re going to start believing you.

If you can’t love your own work, look at it and define precisely what you don’t like about it.  I had to do this about seven years ago.  When I started making jewelry, I was trying everything and mostly imitating what I saw around me.  I ended up making lots of different things and not liking it all… not by a long shot.

So I took a hard look at what I did like.  I needed to pinpoint what direction what aesthetics and styles appealed to me.  I made a folder of photos of my few pieces that I really liked and/or was proud of (which usually is synonymous).

Then I started looking around… books, magazines, internet, etc.  I clipped photos, hundreds of photos until I started figuring out what design aesthetics I am attracted to.

Starting to work on pieces that more closely identified with my personal taste made me start to like my own work better. 

So figure out what you like… and then don’t just make jewelry… make the kind of jewelry you want to make.

And don’t compare yourself to others!!!  There will always be someone better than you.  Should you not do something just because someone else is better than you, even if you know you’ll never ever be as good as they are?  If you say yes, then it makes sense that we should only have one painter in the world, one photographer in the world, one chef in the world, etc.

And that’s too bad because there are always going to be people who don’t like that artist’s work or that chef’s food.

Fear is a prison.  Stop being afraid of the competition.

Now…. before you think I’m trying to encourage you… stay tuned for my next blog post.

So I’m going to end tonight’s rant by showing you two pieces of jewelry I listed this week that are the end result of collecting all those photos.

Believe it or not, I didn’t have a folder full of one style of jewelry.  Luckily (because I do feel this is lucky), my personal taste has a few different directions.

One of them is ancient artifact jewelry and design.  I’m fascinated with things like archaeological digs and the things they find.  There’s something I love about primitive jewelry and design.  It’s not something I can explain… it’s like liking cilantro or not liking cilantro.

So these are my last “ancient artifact” inspired earrings.


And after looking through my folder years ago I came to the realization that I’m really attracted to minimalist geometric style jewelry.

Here are some earrings that exemplify that concept.


Anyway, thanks for letting me ramble.  Talk to you soon!


  1. Great article Laura! Thanks for taking so much time to inspire and encourage us all!

  2. I know that inner voice
    It is a voice that everyday I have to give hugs to, remind her that she is loved and worthy of being loved and that taking these risks and stepping out into the light is okay. I was brought up hearing it outside, that my art wasn't good enough, I would never amount to much, that art doesn't pay the bills etc. I can't shut the voice off, but I can love the voice and provide for her what wasn't provided when I was younger.

    Thank you for your beautiful post. Thank you for the courage to speak up and say something.

  3. Great rant Laura! :)
    I think it's so hard for some people in such a group as SRAJD to be accepting of their work because of the extreme talent we see on a daily basis.
    I know I have struggled with this because my tastes are not elite. I can't afford expensive materials to work with. And the people around me can't afford to buy expensive jewelry made with expensive materials.
    Yet I make jewelry with the components I can afford because I enjoy making it. It gives me a needed creative outlet. And if I can't sell it I can give it away to charities etc.,.
    And I've said all this because we do meet elitist people in this industry that make us feel like our creations are inferior because they use the best available. And they tell us so ad nauseum.
    But I enjoy and appreciate the way you run the group and how you are accepting of everyone!
    Keep up the good work. and BTW I LOVE the medieval jewelry. It is very appealing to me. I love everything about the medieval period including the clothing and jewelry.

  4. Hi Laura,
    I spent many years managing large multi-million IT programmes, earning v well, doing all sort of challenging work, then I discovered 'making jewellery'. It's no secret which I preferred. (The bank balance didn't!)
    For your readers, I would suggest
    - don't undersell yourself, whatever you think about your work, there are plenty of people who would love to be able to have the ability to create what you just have
    - take a step aside, consider what you would do if the positions were reversed. What would make that piece of jewellery interesting to you? Why would you buy it? Is it the story? Is it the quality? Does it just look amazing? What. is the USP(unique Selling Point)? Why? Etc. Major on that.

    Generally your (potential ) customers are not interested in 'tat / rubbish', they want something they can give to somebody, that they can say is unique - 'I bought this for you, it is original / hand made and I thought of you...'

    Hence the benefit of SRAJD. No mass produced items etc....

    Hang in there,

  5. I'd like to thank all of you for taking the time to post your thoughts on my blog narrative. I'm so touched by what you all have to say. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

  6. Great post! Thanks for the advice.

  7. Very true. Self confidence is so important

  8. Laura;

    You are an inspiration to us all!!

    Dress Your Ears Jewelry Desigs
    (if anyone would like to check out my FB page, feel free, I could use a few 'Likes' if you're in the mood :) ... on my Etsy page you have to go to the top of the whole page and hit "Hi, Susan" and the true bio and such will come up, just to let you know)