We had the good fortune of connecting with Debbie Cardwell and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Debbie, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
At some point in my artistic journey, I had to decide whether to continue making jewelry and honing my craft simply for my own personal pleasure or did I want to sell my creations in hopes of obtaining some commercial success. I felt that being able to sell my jewelry would not only challenge me to “up my game” but also give me a different type of satisfaction. Once I decided that I wanted to push myself beyond jewelry making as a hobby, there were many other considerations to start my business. Are my pieces appealing to others and if not, how can I make pieces that feel authentic to me but will also attract buyers? Do I follow current jewelry trends that seem to be selling? How do I develop an unique brand? Who is my target audience, what are their price points and how can I reach that market? In the mean time, I was improving my metal-smithing skills, learning how to take better photos of my jewelry, how to utilize social media, doing home shows, attending markets and pop-ups, creating a web site and the list goes on!
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Deciding to pursue jewelry making as a business had many challenges but for me, one of the most difficult parts has been “putting myself out there”. When you post a piece of hand crafted jewelry on social media, you’re risking criticism and failure in a way that is different, more personal than other business endeavors. It’s also hard to separate your own doubts about your work and be objective. If your work doesn’t sell, does that mean it’s not good or that you should do something entirely different? Is it overpriced? Are you targeting the wrong group of people or could there be some other reason your jewelry isn’t selling? Like any business endeavor, persistence pays off and you can’t be afraid to fail. I have experimented with many different styles of jewelry while perfecting my fabricating skills over the last few years. Every time I would learn a new skill, I would enthusiastically zip off in a new direction. While I was full of excitement about learning new skills, I realized that I needed to be more focused. With more confidence in my ability to produce a quality product, I decided it was time to slow down on the experimentation and focus on creating a more cohesive line of jewelry. For me, the fun is in the hands-on making so this step was easier said than done. However, I recalled one of my mentors saying that just because you know how to make something, doesn’t mean you should! With those words echoing in my head, I forced myself to sit at the kitchen table trying to sketch designs. I am very physically active and can hardly write my name much less draw jewelry so this process was very frustrating. After discarding lots of graph paper and rough ideas, I decided to create a line of jewelry around my initials and my scrolled looking DC logo. Since I’m terrible at sketching, I started shaping some wire with pliers to resemble my DC logo. Once I had those pieces in my hand, I began to shuffle them around, tweak their shape and solder them to sheet metal. Hmm, I thought this iteration wasn’t bad, it kind of looked like wrought iron designs. Meanwhile, about this same time, I was fortunate to start riding horses again which has been an ongoing love affair for decades! I realized that nothing defines me better than an equestrian motif and suddenly, the scrolly wrought iron looking initials morphed into a more tailored design resembling pieces of riding equipment. Once I refined the shapes of my initials, I repeated the process of forming them with various types of metal wire and sheet, adjusting the size and scale, soldering them together in different ways. From there, I put those shapes together to form chains, rings, earrings, pendants and a cuff. Again, keeping it simple, I named this sleek line of jewelry, “The DC Collection”. It took a few months, but I knew that I had finally developed a line of jewelry that truly represents who I am and that will lay a great foundation for future projects.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the US and I love to share with visitors the many ethnic restaurants Houston has to offer. Houston also has an incredible variety of markets where a “foodie” could spend hours buying unusual spices and ingredients. One of my favorite places to take visitors, though, is the Houston Zoo. I think it’s one of the prettiest and while everyone enjoys seeing the animals, visitors are also impressed with the majestic oak trees and the beautiful tropical plants.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
During quarantine with the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been a number of jewelry artists/metalsmiths and jewelry making groups who not only taught me new skills but also helped me stay sane! In addition, these people inspired me with their willingness to share their knowledge and helped make each day a little brighter. In fact, there are too many of these generous people to list here but I would like to acknowledge a few.
FaceBook Groups: Let’s Make Professional Jewelry, Open Studio for Jewelry Makers at the Makery(Francesca Watson) and Steel and Gold Metalsmiths.
Instagram: Metalsmith Society(Corkie Bolton), Jeanette K Caines of Jewelry Arts Inc, Nichole Dittmann of Nichole Dittmann Jewelry Designs and Bette Barnett of Studio Migoto..
Online Classes: Lucy Walker Jewellery and Leslie Kail Villareal
Photos by the artist, Debbie Cardwell