Finding My Path To Jewelry Design

Finding My Path To Jewelry Design

Out of college, I started my career in architecture, working for several years for a small design firm specializing in 3D renderings and animation. My work was to visually tell stories about spaces, and help create conceptual imagery for real estate marketing. I loved the work, it was fast-paced and required a lot of out-of-the-box thinking. I enjoyed being part of a small team of creatives.

I eventually decided that I wanted to continue this same line of work, but I wanted to work for myself. I've always been that kind of person. I like to control everything about a process from start to finish. I enjoy the risk and the reward and wearing all of the hats. For a decade, my small solo company flourished with me behind the scenes and also in front of it all, as owner, creative director, 3D artist, web designer, animator, and everything else in between (I did eventually hire a tax preparer, I'm not great with numbers).

A typical project had me receiving architectural drawings from an architect, translating them from 2D into 3D models (in which I use a CAD software to create each part of the building piece by piece in dimensional space), then setting up a scene with lighting, textures, details, people, and all of the elements needed to render a photorealistic image. Finally, delivering a digital file that would then be used on websites, media, print brochures, and so forth.

During this time, there was a developing sense of "going through the motions." You know that feeling? I could crank things out quickly, and many of my projects started to look the same (picture it, when a client wants white subway tile kitchen walls for the 100th time). I just started to crave more. Though I did get to flex creatively in some projects, for the majority of them, I was simply translating the design intentions of someone else.

As an outlet, I began experimenting with 3D modeling my own designs. Instead of thinking in large scale, building-size format, I started creating at a small scale. I made little models of geometric shapes, circles and ovals, triangles and arrows, wondering how they would look as rings or necklace pendants.

Then I found Shapeways, a website where you can upload a file and receive an immediate quote for having your piece 3D-printed in everything from nylon plastic, to aluminum, sandstone, stainless steel, and wax to 14k gold. I was delighted (DELIGHTED) to find that my pieces, my creations, my designs could become something tangible. After so many years of creating digital work, I felt giddy over the ability to have something I could hold in my hand and adorn my body with.

Many of my early creations now make me shudder. They were not good. I did a lot in stainless steel (it was more affordable) and it's not an elegant material. It has a steampunk, pitted, vintage look to it. I did not understand proportions early on and made a lot of too-thick jewelry. But my little 3D-printings did allow me to see form and shape and feel the proportions of a piece against my neck or earlobe and start to evolve to better things. Like any good artist, there was experimentation happening and mixed results. 

Anyways, I was pretty hooked, but I didn't do much other than create pieces for friends and family (shoutout family and friends for graciously accepting some of my hideous early creations). I was just making jewelry for fun, spending whatever little free time I had on it here and there. I had a few people commission custom pieces, and I mostly just charged them for material at the time and didn't think much of it. I was still paying my bills through my rendering work and 95% of my focus was there. 

Then the pandemic hit. Suddenly, my young kids were with me daily, as my home studio became a preschool and kindergarten virtual learning space, and the entire state of working from home for myself became impossible. My usual clients that had gotten used to requesting something from me on a Monday and expecting it complete by Thursday were now facing much longer wait times as I struggled to keep up. After 6 months of insanity, I decided to put the business on hold. I had a hard time hiring help for a 10-year old venture that was fully just run by me up until that point. In hindsight, things could have been done differently, but that's another story.

I needed to keep busy with something to avoid insanity at home, so I focused on jewelry. The good thing here was that jewelry was not urgent. I could go at the pace I needed and still devote energy to kids at home. Having a partner with a steady income was key here.

Love Lori Michelle Jewelry grew slowly and organically. I secured a website. I held a launch party at a trendy rooftop space in DC. I got accepted to show at the MakeHer Mart at the Museum of Women in the Arts. I connected with other creatives making products and found a community at ShopMadeInDC. 

It was a huge shift from selling a service to selling a product. I am still finding my way. I love "creating little architectures" and the opportunity to design beautiful things to wear. Jewelry can life-changing for the wearer, and I truly believe that.

Though I sometimes feel like an imposter calling myself an artist or designer, I try not to let those thoughts overwhelm me. To start, I do not create by hand in the sense of dipping into and touching physical materials. I do create in 3D dimensions. I use digital tools to plan, spatially devise a solution, with 3D space as my construct. My jewelry is not mass produced, though it is mass-produce-able. I use my knowledge of architecture, proportions, and simplicity to create elegant, wearable, beautiful pieces. 

My path has been fully intentional at times, rambling and disjointed at others, but my constant love for creating, for self-employment, and for good design has been unwavering.

As more time goes by, I am proud to be here and to share my work with you. I have begun to see my work as a legacy I can leave to my kids. I want them to see that a life in art (as an artist) is possible, and that there is deep reward in creating your own successes (and failures). If nothing else, they will have an infinite number of pieces to fill and overflow their jewelry boxes, to add to their bags of trinkets,  alongside their rocks and treasures, findings, and curiosities, some silver and gold jewelry that their mother designed.

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