Joe and Anat Silvera are metalsmiths and teachers who currently hail from Berkley, California where they run a small school for jewelry making. They also teach around the Bay area and at bead shops and various festivals around the country. They are well known for their hands on teaching style, with a focus on good technique, as well as their use of equipment that is affordable and very home friendly.
Joe Silvera has been a metalsmith, wax model-maker, and jewelry designer for over 20 years. His book Soldering Made Simple: Easy Techniques for Kitchen Table Jewelers as well as his DVD “Soldering Made Simple” a companion piece to the book, are some of the best on the subject. Joe now devotes most of his time to teaching, passing on the traditions and techniques of his craft and sharing the joy with his students. Anat Silvera has taught in the Bay area for years, teaching beadwork, wirework, enameling, metalsmithing and more. She has studied with artists and craftsmen, apprenticing as a metalsmith and learning how to create fine beadwork. Her work has been exhibited and sold all over the US, including a featured artist exhibit at the Oakland Museum of Art Collector’s Gallery.
Anat and Joe, it is exciting to have the opportunity to speak with you both. It’s inspiring that the two of you are able to work and teach together. How did that come about?
JOE: Thank you. We’re flattered to be asked. We met at an open studio sale in Oakland, CA, where we were both selling our jewelry. It was a slow sale, but it gave us time to talk. We hit it off, and ever since we’ve hardly ever been apart. And as you asked, that includes working together. Since we’re both jewelers, it was an easy concept to share our studio space, and sell our jewelry. Since then it’s grown into teaching together, even into having a bead and yarn shop together for 5 1/2 years. Now we co-own and teach full time at our jewelry school.
Anat: It was my idea to start teaching together, at Baubles and Beads in Berkeley. They asked me to come back and teach metalsmithing for them again. I just thought we would make a good team – and I was right. We’ve been teaching together ever since – we each have our own classes that we’ve developed, but whenever possible, we help each other in the classroom. That means the students get a lot of help. Also, we come from different backgrounds – I studied privately with a well known jeweler in the Bay Area, and am also self-taught. When we teach, we’re able to provide more than one view point, different “right answers” to problems, and that helps students see how they can be creative and add to the craft of jewelry, too.
What made you decide to start your own business?
Joe: I’ve always had my own jewelry business – right after my apprenticeship, I freelanced as a model maker, sold my jewelry at craft fairs, whatever I needed to do to work as an artist. Anat was selling jewelry before we met, with wholesale accounts all over the US. It wasn’t a big leap to start our own business, but we’ve had a few together. A jewelry business, specializing in animal theme jewelry called BoneJour Jewelry, and a bead and yarn store called Perlz. All along, we were both teaching, in the East Bay, and at our store north of Napa, bringing students up to the wine country for metalsmithing retreats. We both love teaching jewelry. It’s such a joy to pass on the craft and traditions to new students. When, because of the economic downturn, we had to close our store, we took our favorite part of the business, teaching, and moved back to the Bay Area. It’s been a lot of work, but our students love our classes and we love our new space for the school.
Anat: I just couldn’t see myself working in an office for someone else! I did work as a teacher in schools for awhile, but even then I made jewelry. I’ve always done what I could to make my living as jeweler. It’s hard work, but really satisfying. Why did you decide on jewelry? Joe: I started as a fine arts major in college, drawing, painting and sculpture. My roommate took an elective in the jewelry department and told me about it, so I thought, what the hell? I’ll try it too. I loved it. I loved the sounds of the hammers on metal, and I loved that I could bring all of my experience with drawing and sculpting to jewelry. I remember once, about half way through the program, doubting my choice. I sat there with the college catalog, flipping through the different departments: business, psychology, etc. Nothing felt as good as jewelry to learn, get my degree in, to do. So I stuck with it. Anat: Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved jewelry – I was soldering when I was 11! I even set stones. School, life, college, a masters program, etc. came along, but one of my first jobs was in a jewelry store – I had to lie about my age to get it! I was only 15, but I said I was 16. I helped customers, you know, did things around the store, but I liked to watch the jewelers work and try to absorb the craft. I had jobs in a craft store, bead shop, and my dream was to continue to study jewelry and make jewelry. After taking classes with a jeweler, I made the leap and sold my own designs. People told me why are you making jewelry? They wanted me to stay in academia, continue after my masters program was done, but my passion for jewelry was stronger. Even in college, studying folklore, I studied the folklore and traditions of ornament.
What skills did you already have when you started your business and what did you have to learn?
Joe: I had to learn everything beyond the craft: accounting, marketing, graphic design, software, even web design. Nobody told us in college that running your own business is about a lot more than making jewelry. I spent as much time or more on administrative stuff as making jewelry to sell. So I read books, took business classes for artists, and just hunkered down and learned how to manage a jewelry business. There’s nothing like a stack of bills for motivation!
Anat: Yeah, not that I could learn how to make web sites, but I had to learn how to market myself, watch my expenses, manage my business. Even learning how to be organized was a challenge – still is sometimes! But selling yourself, that’s the hard thing, for me, for artists, I guess. It’s so hard to price your work when you’re a beginner. But with trial and error, laughter and tears, you know, you figure it out and finally start charging enough to support yourself and your business. I asked teachers and other jewelers for advice, which I encourage my students to do. I was lucky to have a friend who made jewelry too, but had been in marketing before. She had great advice, taught me a lot. With some hard work and long hours, I was managing a wholesale line and had 5 reps spread out across the country. Not bad.
Joe, your book “Soldering Made Simple” has been an inspiration for a lot of people. What caused you to write it?
JOE: I wrote SMS for my students. After class, they’d ask for recommendations for books on soldering, to help them continue. I’ve read a lot of jewelry books, by a lot of great jewelers, and most of them either treated soldering briefly, or focused on using torches with tanks, like oxy/propane, or both. Most books didn’t really break down the techniques into simple steps that a beginner could understand. Nor were they addressing people who were coming from outside of metalsmithing or who might want to work in a home studio. Soldering is a basic skill for metalsmiths, but even in college, we all struggled with it for a long time. It takes time to master, especially on your own! Figuring out how to solder, working at it, just helped me to understand how frustrating it could be and motivated me to share my tips and techniques. I love soldering, the way the metal transforms from solid to liquid and then back to solid, is beautiful. Writing SMS was a lot of fun and I’m so happy that it has helped so many people to learn how to solder. You know, I’ve had new students take 2nd level classes with me, classes that expected basic skills with soldering. Their only experience was from my book and dvd – reading it, practicing and working through the projects. They did great! It was thrilling to see that you can communicate the craft of soldering through pictures and text.
What exactly is a Kitchen Table Jeweler?
JOE: Well, we can’t all have jewelry benches and a jewelry school or studio to play in. Lots of us – me included – start at a simple table, at home. So a kitchen table jeweler is someone who works at home, at a simple table or makeshift bench. They’re learning jewelry at their pace, with help from teachers and classes, books and dvds, and good old trial and error. A lot of KTJ are coming to metalsmithing from bead and wirework, from metal clay and other crafts. They’re used to working at home and they like it. So, that begs the question: can you solder and make jewelry at home? Absolutely. I’ll tell you a secret: most of my jewelry jobs, were in basic rooms. They had carpeting, dry wall, nothing special. What you have to do wherever you work is be safe and follow simple rules, like the ones I detail in my book, dvd and in my classes. Commonsense safety makes all the difference. On top of that, I think working at home is a good motivation to be green when it comes to chemicals and tools used for jewelry. Instead of using heavy duty tank torches, you can solder with home friendly cooking torches, the kind you use for creme brulée. I’ve soldered rings, stone settings, even bracelets with butane torches. The bonus is that they’re affordable, accessible, and they’re made to be used in a kitchen. When you take a break from soldering, you can make dessert! I also recommend non-flouride fluxes, biodegradable natural pickling solutions for cleaning your metal, and clean, almost dust-free polishing abrasives for working at home – or anywhere. We use the same stuff at our school. Why expose yourself to harsh chemicals, etc. when there are cleaner alternatives?
Would you explain what “Joe’s successful circle of Soldering?” is?
JOE: It’s a method for remembering the basic steps of soldering, and it comes from an illustration I made in class, put in my handouts, and then included in my soldering book. When students learn how to solder, it can be intimidating to remember all that you have to do to successfully solder. It’s so abstract. Well, so’s yoga – it’s not very relaxing at first, there’s a lot to remember, but with practice, it gets easier and more fun. Same with soldering. The circle is a diagram of a jump ring, and all around it are the steps you need to do to solder: clean, join, flux, solder and heat. The metal must be clean. The join must be closed. You must use flux. Use the right amount of solder. And apply even heat to make the solder flow. Of course, you can write a chapter in a book about each of those steps, but that’s it, 5 simple steps. You can even remember it by counting them off on the fingers of one hand. WIth practice, you integrate those simple steps into your brain and then it feels intuitive and easier.
Anat, how did you decide to become an artist?
Anat: I grew up surrounded by artists, writers and creative people. My father was a poet and professor, my mother a writer and professor of French literature. My father also was an artist, he loved to draw. And they had a circle of artistic friends: painters, sculptors, etc. We had pictures on the wall painted by people I knew, had met as a kid. My father for awhile, made and gilded museum quality frames, so even the frames in my daily life were handmade. The idea of making things was just a constant, and so I grew up with a love and respect of craft, writing and art. And it didn’t seem unnatural or different – that helps. It makes it easier when your family can relate, can understand the need to create above all other needs.
What are you currently working on and how is this different from past projects?
Anat: I still do beading, wirework, metalwork, but I’m in love with enameling. I’ve been playing a lot with torch fired enameling and kiln enameling. Firing color onto my metalwork, well, it brings in the love and play of color that I had in beading and wirework. There’s a lot more copper in my life these days – with the price of silver! – but also because I can transform it into greens, blue, cool ammonite and fiery reds. I’ve even managed to create cloisonné with a torch. I love the hands on application of firing enamels with a torch and how fun it is to teach enameling to students.
Joe: I’m working on another book – I can’t discuss the topic yet, but I’m writing again. I’m lucky that I can make jewelry and write about it. Both for a living and a skill set! That’s not in every artist’s repertoire, but I’ve always enjoyed explaining things, helping people. Writing, teaching, developing classes – they’ve become my main focus, so much so that my creative life now is pretty different from 12 years ago. As my teaching has grown, my time for making original wax models for other designers and companies for lost wax casting, and for making jewelry to sell has given way to designing projects, dvds, books and lessons. But it’s a good thing – it’s what I love to do. And I remind myself that when I graduated from university and started making jewelry to sell, that was a big change, too. When you make jewelry for sale, you can’t just make anything and put a price on it. You have to think about production time, materials, resources, marketing – there’s a lot of new “people” in the studio with you when you start selling your craft and they’re called your customers. I have to think about my customers when I made jewelry for sale. Of course. Now I think about my students and teaching them what I learned from my teachers, in the best way that I can.
Would you tell me about torch fired Enameling?
Anat: You can fire enamels in a kiln, or with a torch. There are several different torches you can use, but I use butane torches because they’re accessible, fast and easy to use. When you fire the enamel with a torch you’re observing the whole process, from powder to glaze as the glass fuses and bonds to the metal. It’s magical in a way that is different from kiln enameling, more intimate and personal. It’s cheaper than kiln enameling! Since you don’t have to buy a kiln, it’s affordable to collect colors and play – and you can fire so many enameled pieces in a day. It’s instant gratification, and who doesn’t like that? Since I’ve been enameling with a torch, I look at the world with a different focus. I look at combinations of color and shape, in nature, in the city, everywhere. It’s very inspiring.
Wax carving is challenging for a lot of people, are there any “tricks” to help?
Joe: Wax carving is fun – it’s so sculptural. You can make jewelry that would be hell – no, impossible! – to fabricate with soldering, sawing, filing, etc. It’s an old craft, going all the way back to the first castings in pits, with models made of natural materials, like woven grass. People are intimidated by it, but you can make a model for casting out of twigs, paper, anything that will burn cleanly – even insects and plants. When you sit down to learn how to carve and build up waxes to make jewelry, you have a big advantage over learning how to saw, file and solder metal – it’s a lot easier to fix your mistakes! Did you carve away too much wax? Melt some more back on. Did it break? You can weld it back together with a hot pick or wax pen. And it’s so quiet compared to metalwork. You can listen to books, music and lose an afternoon making a ring that looks like a rabbit, flowers or flowing metal. Our classes focus on wax work, because not everyone wants to do their own casting. And you can send your models out to casters to cast and reproduce. My biggest tip, if you want to enjoy wax work, is to get a good wax pen. Electric wax pens make it easier to work with wax, even carving wax. Traditionally, we learn with alcohol lamps, heating spatulas to melt and move the wax. But a wax pen allows you to draw and sculpt the wax easily, with less interruptions for reheating over a flame. Both of you teach a lot of classes, what is it like ? Joe: It’s a labor of love. As any teacher knows, there’s a lot of time spent outside of class to come up with lessons, projects, breakdown techniques, and develop something into a good class. I’m glad I love it, because it’s a lot of work!
Anat: Ditto! I absolutely agree.
Would you both be willing to share some of your top tips for students?
Joe: My top tip this year has been to let yourself make mistakes. People, beginners especially, get very uptight in class. They’re tense and worried about making mistakes and ruining their project. But you can’t make jewelry without making some mistakes. I don’t think there is anything DIY that doesn’t involve some mistakes. They’re key to learning. In fact, mistakes are liberating. When you make a mistake, you can relax. You can get creative, play and have the freedom to change the designs in ways you couldn’t imagine before. And often for the better. One of my teachers in college made a broach for an exhibition in the department. Around the frame he stamped, “Why doesn’t anything ever turn out the way I imagined?” Everybody in the department loved it, because it was so true. The image we started with, the concept, that gets lost during the process of creation. Which is a good thing, because you have to be flexible and allow the process of creation to lead you to different results, to new ideas. So, nothing turns out the way you imagined – it turns out even better!
Anat: One of my biggest tips to be a good craftsperson is that you need to do something in your craft everyday. Even if you’re not at the bench or table, draw or doodle or do something related to making jewelry. Try to record ideas and inspirations as they come to you, so always carry a notebook. And push yourself into new territory. Do you like symmetry? Geometric shapes? Right angles? Make something flowing, asymmetrical, or rough. When you try new things, even if they fail, you gain new ideas that you can use. So practice, and make the same design over and over, in a series, with variations. You’ll be amazed at how many ways you can vary a design beyond your first concept.
It has been a great opportunity to be able to speak with the two of you. Thank you for sharing with us and we look forward to more of your exciting projects in the future!
To learn more about the classes that are offered through the Silvera Jewelry School follow the link here: http://www.silverajewelry.com