Meet the Team- Interview with Zoe Nelson

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

My Mom was a big-time crafter, doing mostly needlework her whole life. She opened a consignment art and craft gallery when I was in High School and hired me to work there. That was my initial exposure to all kinds of art and what inspired me to make things. A college course in jewelry making taught me the basics of traditional fabrication work. After college I decided I’d rather make money than be a starving artist, so I went to work for a large corporation and made art in my spare time. I started doing bead work, which eventually led me to investigating this stuff called Metal Clay. That was it. I was hooked and haven’t looked back since. I left my “real job” 18 years ago and have been making and selling jewelry ever since.

Have any special hobbies?

I like to garden (I’m so glad spring is here!) and snoop around antique stores and auctions.

What is your business name and website address?

My business name is Artwear and my website address is

Do you sell in any shops other than etsy?

I’m a member of two local cooperative galleries: Hands Gallery in Boone, NC and Main Street Gallery in Blowing Rock, NC. These shops are owned and operated by groups of artists, so I work there selling all of our work a couple of times a week. I also have jewelry on consignment in several other galleries in my area. I do a few craft shows, but I’m cutting down on those. I used to do lots of them, but it’s getting to be too hard on my body.

How did you find out about metal clay and then start working with it?
I think I must have seen the very first information that Rio Grande put out about PMC. I ordered some (original formula at that time), played with it, and fired it in a friend’s enameling kiln. It was fun, but the cost of the product prohibited me from pursuing it much further. I sort of forgot about it for awhile and then heard about PMC3, which could be fired at a lower temperatures and shorter times and you could include glass and stones. This sounded exciting to me, so I took an introductory class and decided this is what I wanted to do. I was certified in 2004. So, I guess I’ve been working with it for about 8 years, and exclusively for the last 5 years.

What drives you to make jewelry?

I like to wear jewelry! And, the possibilities are endless. As long as the ideas keep coming, I’ll keep making more.

Are you disciplined or do you go with the flow and work when you feel like it?

I usually go with the flow, unless I have a gallery or craft show coming up. Then, I can get a lot cranked out in a short amount of time.
Won any awards for your jewelry? For anything else?

I won an award at a craft show a few years ago for best in show. I also got a grant from our local Arts Council when I was first starting out so I could buy some equipment, mainly my kiln.
Do you do any other type of art?

I like to paint and do collage when I have time, but only for myself. And, I still like to do intricate bead work at times.

What is your art sensibility – precise or organic?

Both. I love the organic look and feel you can achieve with metal clay versus sheet metal, but I also like the precision of building things like box beads.

When did you feel you had more confidence in your abilities?

It just took time patience and practice, like anything else. There are still some things that come out of the kiln that make me ask myself “What were you thinking?”. But, I feel pretty confident now.

What is your favorite tool for working with metal clay?

I guess I could say my hands, but that’s pretty obvious. I suppose my favorites are the textures I’ve made myself.

Where do you work? A photo of your work space.

I work out of my home studio – the second bedroom in my tiny little house. I’m running out of space because Daddy raised a tool junkie, so I’d love to be able to build a separate space one day.

What is your favorite thing to make?

I really like making lentil beads and anything with dichroic glass. And rings. Oh – also earrings. It’s hard to narrow down!

Do you ever add commercial components?

I use commercial wire, chain, ear wires and jump rings and occasionally clasps.

How do you work, and when? (for ex. Assembly like or one at a time)

I work in batches. I’ll get enough formed and dried in a week or so to fill a kiln shelf, and fire it all at once. Then I spend the next few days polishing, applying patina and adding the final touches. Then I have to inventory and photograph everything… and update Etsy and my website! Some things I make beaded chains for, and that takes extra time. I’m usually in my studio from about 8:00 in the morning until 4:00 in the afternoon almost every day. On days that I have to work in one of the co-op galleries I take something with me to work on, such as hanging earrings on ear wires, or bead crochet for a special pendant.

Do you have any kind of creative ritual?

Not really, but I like to listen to audio books as I work. Our county library needs to get some new ones – I’m starting to repeat ones I’ve already heard. It’s a great way to get caught up on best sellers and the classics like War and Peace, without taking time from my already busy schedule.

How do you hold onto ideas that you don’t have dime to pursue NOW!

I keep a notebook with me when I’m away from home and write down ideas as they come to me.

Do you ever use a sketchbook?

Yes, the same notebook mentioned above. I can get a rough idea from a sketch, but the finished piece usually doesn’t look exactly like the sketch.

Do you ever teach classes and where?

I teach weekend workshops of small groups of 5 or less at my home (in my kitchen). It’s usually a group of friends that all want to take the same class at the same time. I also teach a 15-hour course over six weeks at Appalachian State University’s Craft Enrichment Program.

Do you make a living at it?

Yes! I’m not Warren Buffett, but I earn enough to get me by. This economy is challenging, but I don’t think I need to go get another job, unless things get a lot worse. I’ve been at this long enough to know how to be the “ant” instead of the “grasshopper”.

Do you do custom orders?

Sometimes. It depends on what the customer wants. I really don’t like it when a person comes up with his or her own design and just wants me to build it.

What are you working on currently?
A batch is in the kiln right now. 4 rings, 8 hanging pendants, 4 toggle pendants, 3 toggle clasps, and 6 pairs of earrings.

Thank you Zoe, It has been a pleasure getting to know you.


HappyDayArt! said...

Nice to meet you Zoe! I admire you for sticking with it and making a living. I love seeing the photo of you and like your work set up, organized and bright. Your jewelry looks carefully made.

Catherine Witherell

Moda di Magno said...

Thanks for the insight and inspiration Zoe!

Janice said...

Zoe, I have enjoyed reading your interview and getting your insight! You will have to write another piece as to how to keep your work room so organized!! I need help :)

Debra Smith said...

Zoe, Hi, it's Debra...just found this on the web - was looking up your website for a friend here at work that loves one of the many necklaces I've gotten from you! Great interview and hope to see you at Bonnie & Neil's soon.

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