Yardie Interviews → Jamie Pahigian

April 21st, 2011 - Jamie Pahigian, jewelry maker

Jamie Pahigian's Etsy

After 5 years of hunting in vain for the perfect pair of antique spectacle frames, Jamie Pahigian decided to just make them himself.  In 2009 he took Heather Guidero’s Beginning Jewelry Workshop, and in the process of figuring out how to make his glasses, got hooked on making jewelry.  Since then Jamie has turned his hobby into a growing business venture.  We wanted to see how one goes from taking their first Steel Yard course to starting their own small business.

Silver Glasses

Steel Yard: How did you first get into ‘making’?
Jamie Pahigian:
As a kid I always liked to construct things out of whatever was available.  My parents would tell stories of me spending the day with construction paper, tape and contact paper just making things.  That progressed into model airplane building as I got older, and during college I took up woodworking and built a few musical instruments.  I still play a banjo and a fiddle that I made then.  The guitar though was one of my early failures ...

SY: You’ve worked in many different fields throughout your adult life, can you give us a quick run-down?
I’ve had a long twisty career path after college.  I started out working in a group home and ended up running it for about five years.  After that I moved to Rhode Island to get my masters degree in library science from the University of Rhode Island.  I'm currently working as a part-time reference librarian at Rhode Island College, but haven't made a full-time transition into that field for a variety of reasons.  I’ve been working full time at Citizens Bank in I.T. security.  

SY: What are some projects you’ve built over the years?
I have always tended to take on ambitious projects.  Frequently, my motivation for making things is that I just want something and I don't want to buy it.  I feel it is much more fun and satisfying to make it.  Other than instruments, I made a sailboat and a rebar roof-rack for my car.  Through that project I learned metalworking and how to weld.  

SY: Are you from New England?  
Yeah, I’m from just west of Worcester, Mass.  A small middle-of-nowhere town called Charlton.  

SY: How were you introduced to the Steel Yard?  
A friend had taken me down here a few years before I took any classes.  We walked through the site and I learned about the programming, but it was a while before I became more involved.  When I ended up looking for jewelry courses it was the first place I thought of.  

The Steel Yard is the first place I’ve taken classes of this sort outside of “school”.  

SY: Like your past projects, making a set of eyeglass frames from scratch sounds like an ambitious one!  Were you able to complete it in a weekend?  
Heather Guidero’s Beginning Jewelry Workshop had a definite agenda.  The plan for the weekend was that we would make a hollow ring.  As I see it, the exercises were to teach the basic skills for jewelry work.  I took those skills away from the class, and had to figure out how to put them all together to make my own project.  I didn’t actually get started on the glasses until a few months later.  

One thing I found really interesting when I started working in jewelry was how transferable other skills I had acquired were.  My other experiences in wood and metal working really informed how I worked in jewelry.  

However, I really needed that hands-on instruction to take what I had read online and in books further.  I didn’t really understand some of the finer nuances about how flux would react with the metal, for example.  There are some things you can learn just fine by watching someone on the internet, but other things take an expert like Heather to really walk you through.

SY: After the first weekend in the shop, you took a number of other jewelry making courses from Heather including a stone setting workshop, a casting course and a course about making your own small business.  How did those courses relate, and what did they add to your ‘artist’s toolkit’?
There is a reason I’ve taken many classes with Heather.  Quite honestly, Heather is one of the best teachers I’ve ever encountered.  One of the things I really appreciate is her willingness to objectively assess student’s work.  She really helps guide the learning process.  

After the first class, I was able to make the eyeglass frames, and was thinking it was something I may want to do as a business.  After talking with Heather, it seemed like the casting class may be the next logical step.  If I wanted to pursue a business in this, I would need some way to reproduce things.  

Through the casting class I found myself getting more excited about jewelry.  Most of my previous work was utilitarian and had a clear usefulness.  As I played around more with the jewelry design I thought it offered more of a blank canvas.  It all came down to pure form and design.  I found it very alluring.  

Right now I’m having so much fun just working with jewelry, I’m going to see where it takes me.  It seems like a more viable business model than trying to start a business just making eyeglasses.  

SY: Did Heather’s course Making Jewelry: Becoming a Small Business help with these next steps?
Yes.  At first I was reluctant to take the business course because I was thinking I may want to do something that doesn’t fit in with a traditional business model.  Heather kind of talked me into it, and she was right to do so.  Many of the basics are covered like how to deal with wholesale relationships, business management and concepts.  It was definitely worth taking, and very open to difference business models.  

Silver Earrings

SY: Do you feel your jewelry venture has been successful?
At this point I'm in the very early stages of starting a business.  I had hoped to do more selling on Etsy, but I’m finding that is more challenging than I thought.  My focus at this point has been more on the designing than the selling.  I’m trying not to worry about whether I’m turning a profit this month, or even this year, but more on building a collection.  

I’m very pleased with the progress I’m making.  I may not go as far as to call it a ‘successful business’ yet, but I think I’m on the right path.  

SY: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in setting up a business and/or making jewelry?
The biggest thing is finding the time to work on it.  I’d love it if I could find 60 hours a week to get immersed in the work.  I see this creative work becoming a significant portion of my working life going forward.  I can’t say how much, because there are things other than eyeglasses and jewelry design that inspire me, but I do see it as a significant part.  

SY: What advice do you have for other Yardies who want to start their own art operation?
One great thing I’ve learned from my experience at the Steel Yard is even if you’re not going to quite your job and spend four years at RISD, there are other paths to a new creative field.  

SY: How can the Steel Yard better help artists who want to start their own small business?
I’m at a point where I’ve taken a few classes, and while certainly there is more I could learn, I know enough now for my present aspirations.  What I’m missing by not taking classes is the exposure to people like Heather who act as role models and inspiration.  Opportunities to network or access the artistic community, outside of classes, I think would be really helpful.  

SY: Do you use the Steel Yard studio to do your work or have you set up your own shop?
I’ve set up a shop at home, I have pretty much everything I need for my current operation.  Heather had great advice telling us what to buy in order to set up a small shop.  Her guidance was down to what specific file or pair of pliers to buy.  

Some processes aren’t a great idea for a home shop, though.  After one of our group trips to Harrison Casting in Providence, I went home and tried to do some of my own small-scale casting.  It was disastrous.  At that point I was convinced it was okay to have some parts of my work outsourced.  

SY: Are there tools or materials you are hoping to gain experience with?  
One thing that fascinates me is mokume.  It's a Japanese art form that dates back to the 17th century.  The process involves making a "sandwich" of many thin layers of different metals fused together, then forged and filed or carved to create variegated surface textures.  There are companies that sell sheets of mokume, but I'd love to learn to make it from scratch. 

I think there are a lot of possibilities when you get into mixing metals in creative ways. 

SY: Are you inspired by any artists or jewelers?
I find inspiration through the Etsy community.  I see interesting ways of combining different materials there.  As I’ve gotten more into design I've read quite a bit about the Bauhaus school.  One thing I took away from their approach was their merging of design and artistry with the scalability of industrial production.  While a medievalist approach involving 100 percent handmade work may fit the idyllic vision many artists aspire to, I think the modern age has a lot to offer the working artist.  Embracing things like the power tools and the services of professional jewelry casters doesn't always have to be an act of compromise. 

SY: Thank you for sharing your experience!