Tuesday, July 3, 2007

rubygirl ... Oregon, USA

Artist: Shannon Conrad
Business: rubygirl
Web site: rubygirl.etsy.com
Location: Portland, Oregon, USA

What do you create?
I make metal jewelry.

Where and when do you do your creative work?
I have a small studio in the basement of my house. The floors slope and the lighting isn’t the best, but it’s all mine! I have a toddler, so currently studio time = naptime. Once in a while, when my husband’s work schedule permits, I am able to squeeze in a few more hours in the evening or on weekends. I also have an 8-year-old son who is an incredible help. He steps in and keeps his sister occupied if I need him to. I try not to abuse that privilege!

Do you have another "day job"?
My children (and other people’s children) are my day job! I had always worked outside the home. About a year and a half ago, the company I worked for had some financial difficulties and underwent a restructuring. I was one of the employees lucky enough to lose their job. No, really – it’s the best thing that ever happened to me! I get to spend my days with my daughter and I get to be home when my son gets out of school. I also care for my 2-year-old niece and my son’s best friend. My hope is by the time the girls start school I will be fully supporting myself with my art.

Where and what did you study?
I do not have a degree of any sort. In another life, I was an English major at Portland State University. Currently, I take an adult education metalsmithing class through one of the local community colleges.

Where do you find inspiration?
I am really inspired by the materials I work with. When I am ready for a new project, I just sift through my beads and stones and the ideas start flowing. I am a bead/cabochon junky! I have so many, I can’t possibly use them all, but I can’t stop buying more! There’s always something new, something I haven’t seen before. I have a trip to the bead store planned for this afternoon…

What motivates you?
My family is my major motivation – they are my biggest fans! My kids “oooh” and “aaah” over everything I make. My son brags about me at school. And then there’s my husband. I could not do this without him! He has so much faith in me – more than I have in myself sometimes! All of that support and pride is extremely motivating.

When did you start doing this?
I picked up a torch for the first time about a year and a half ago. I seriously had this “aha” moment and knew I had found what I wanted to do with my life.

Do you remember getting into art as a kid?
I was more of a writer. The plan was to write the great American novel before I turned 30. Obviously, that didn’t happen. There is a box somewhere filled with the bad brooding poetry of my youth.

When and why did you decide to start your own business?

It wasn’t planned – it just sort of evolved into a business. I started selling to be able to buy more tools and supplies. I’m lucky in that with the childcare income, I can dump every dime I make back into my business. By the time my daughter starts school, I plan to have every tool I could possibly want. I’ll be able to focus full-time on creating and (hopefully) turn a profit!

How did you choose the name for your business?
Actually, my son chose the name. Ruby is his sister’s name and when she was a baby, that’s what he called her – “Ruby-girl”.

What do you love most about creating your work?
I love the whole fabrication process – making something out of nothing. You start with this plain sheet of sterling silver or a piece of wire and depending on how you cut, bend, hammer, etc. you create a beautiful object. Oh, and I love to play with fire!

What's the most fascinating place you've been?
Honestly, I haven’t done much traveling. I’d love to go to Ireland. My husband and I are talking about a European trip in a few years when the kids are older and can appreciate it more.

A book you love:
Oh, that’s a hard one! I am a huge reader and always have been. For sheer enjoyment, I would have to say To Kill a Mockingbird. My mother gave me that book when I was nine or 10 and I have reread it every year or two since then. For nonfiction, it’s The Complete Metalsmith, hands down.

What is the most interesting thing about you?
That’s a loaded question! I’m really actually pretty boring. I was wild in my youth, but have found home and family and contentment to be much more exciting.

Ok – one mildly interesting tidbit. My husband and I got married less than five months after we started dating. We had a lot of people who were skeptical, but we knew. We will celebrate our 10th anniversary in January.

What achievement are you most proud of?
On a personal level, I would have to say my children. They are great – smart and funny and thoughtful. Professionally, I am proud of how far I have come in such a short time. I know I have a long way to go in both knowledge and skill level, but I look at the differences in my work now and my work from a year ago and am thrilled with my progress.

What advice would you give women starting their own business?
I think one thing that has helped me tremendously is having a strong support system in place. I get a lot of support from family and friends. On a different level, I get support from groups that I have joined. Through Etsy, I have joined two different street teams that have been wonderful in completely different ways. My local street team (pdxetsy) is working on its second all-Etsy art and craft fair. It’s nice to network with other artists/crafters locally – I have met some really great people through this group. The other street team I belong to is Etsy Metal. There is so much talent and knowledge there – it’s a truly inspiring group of artists.

What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?
Finding the time to do it! I think that balancing work and family is really a universal challenge.

What do you love to do in your free time?
Free time? What’s that? No, really – I love to spend time with my family. I love to read, watch movies, spend time with friends.

What are you working on right now?
I am learning a technique called mokume gane. It’s a Japanese technique that involves layering different metals (in my case, copper and fine silver) and then manipulating the layers to produce a wood-grain type pattern. It can be mildly tedious – the metals are soldered together, rolled flat, cut in half, and then soldered together again anywhere from six to 24 times – but the effect achieved is stunning.

I just started selling wholesale. You can find my work at Presents of Mind here in Portland, Oregon. I also have three shows that are quickly approaching. The Mississippi Street Fair, The Handmade Bazaar and The PDX Etsy Art and Craft Fair.

What do you hope to achieve next?
Business-wise, I am working on getting a personal website up and running. I have purchased the domain (www.rubygirljewelry.com), now I just have to build the site!
Artistically, I have a never-ending list of techniques I want to learn: enameling, fusing, reticulation, granulation, filigree, inlay, casting, the list goes on and on and on…


  1. Rubygirl (Shannon) is awesome!! Beautiful jewelry and a wonderful person! Thanks so much for having this interview - it was truly inspiring!

  2. Beautiful jewelry! Thank you for showing us these lovely examples of Shannon's work! : )

  3. What beautiful stuff!!!!!Thanks for sharing.

  4. Awwww, thank you for the compliments (blush)!

  5. Great interview! I am so glad I found this blog!

  6. Really incredible work. Thanks for the interview.

  7. What an amazing talent! Such beautiful things.

  8. Hi,
    I'm looking for a good place to take some Metalsmithing classes here in Portland and was wondering if you could direct me to the college you took your classes from.