Monday, May 12, 2008

The Noisy Plume ... Arizona, USA

Artist: Jillian Susan Lukiwski
Business: The Noisy Plume
Web sites: and
Location: Colorado River Indian Tribes Reservation, Arizona

What do you create?
I create jewelry from sterling silver, copper, brass, and precious/semi-precious stones. Lots of it.

Where and when do you do your creative work?
I work here at the Achii Hanyo Native Fish Facility (USFW) which is run by my husband (the head fish biologist). We live by ourselves on-station and I have a workshop outside in our gigantic Quonset. I have also claimed a room in our house for workspace. I am a night owl by nature, but Robert isn't so I usually work during normal 9-5 office hours so that we get to see each other at the end of the day.

Do you have another "day job"?
I quit my librarian position at the elementary school in town about 2 months ago to go full time with silver smithing. I miss reading books to the wee kiddies but can now see very clearly that I was living a high stress life when I was splitting my time between jewelry and the art of librarianship. I am much happier now. Perhaps healthier too?

Where and what did you study?
I attended the University of Saskatchewan in my hometown of Saskatoon, Canada but not long enough to finish an English degree since I decided to marry my man and moved to The States. That old scrap of paper documenting my intelligence haunts me constantly and I'm yenning to finish it up! I also attended a community college in Lake Havasu City, Arizona for 4 semesters to learn a few silver smithing basics as well as lapidary techniques. In terms of my craft, I am largely self-taught.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find plenty of inspiration in the stones I use in my pieces. I consider myself rather lucky to have studied silver smithing in the Southwest where more often than not, a piece is designed around stone, silver is allowed to be brightly polished to a blinding sheen, and color is paramount. Southwest style is right up my alley. When I find a big free form cut cabochon in an amazing color, or struck with a fantastic matrix... I can't help but be flooded with inspiration. I'm also inspired by shapes I see in nature, the work of other jewelry designers, and other times the inspiration simply finds me. Sometimes I sit down with a few pieces of metal and a stone and the piece just builds itself slowly and steadily as though the design is being breathed into me as I work. It's a really great workday if such a thing happens.

What motivates you?
Selling 20 pieces on a weekend and having to make them all lickety-split so I can ship by Monday afternoon is quite motivating! Also, when I have a new design idea, it's difficult for me to tear myself away from my workbench, I want to stay there until the moon is high and all the desert critters are sleeping. I really like to finish what I have started in one go. The thought of seeing a finished piece of jewelry brightly polished and ready to photograph really elevates my pulse! When a piece is nearing completion I am bouncing off the walls with excitement, practically voice turns into a high-pitched squeak. I'm sure it's frightening and ghastly to watch, but it sure feels great!

When did you start doing this?
I started silver smithing in 2005 when I was taking classes in Lake Havasu. It took a while to actually get set up at home with the right tools and start working independently of the workshop at school.

Do you remember getting into art as a kid?
I was a funny blend of jock and art-geek when I was younger. My father fostered the athlete in me and I must thank my mother for cultivating my creativity when I was a youngling. She enrolled me in piano lessons as soon as I was out of the womb, as well as playing violin and trumpet for a few years; she also popped me into drawing classes with a local Saskatoon artist. She taught me to sew (she's a master seamstress). I was really into photography and graphic arts in high school and took a few semesters of painting as well. I used to stay up until 3am on school nights making beaded jewelry in my bedroom. I was continually crafting.

When and why did you decide to start your own business?
Last summer I took a trip to Europe with a girlfriend of mine and whenever we met someone new in a hostel she would introduce me as her friend who was “a maker of fantastic jewelry.” I thought about that title a lot while on that trip and realized I didn't want to make a liar out of my friend and I had best get serious about making jewelry. Looking back, I think it was really a sort of quarter-life crisis in that I didn't really love being a librarian, and was in desperate need for a creative outlet. At any rate, I came home and told my husband I wanted to open an Etsy shop and make and sell jewelry. We drove to town to buy a digital camera, photographed some of the pieces I had already made, and opened my Etsy shop that very same afternoon on July 18, 2007.

How did you choose the name for your business?
I actually picked three words and said them over and over to myself to see if the sound of them falling off the tip of my tongue was pleasing to the ear. It was.
Also, no one on the planet earth has ever been able to correctly pronounce my last name on the first go, so I thought I would spare you all fumbling your way through "JillianLukiwskiDesigns". Blah. That last name of mine is a Ukrainian mess. I confess.

What do you love most about creating your work?
I love that all of it is mine. From the start, each component that builds a piece of jewelry is designed by me, sawed, cut, dapped, formed, forged, sized, set, buffed, and polished by me. This work is MY work, no one else tells me what to do. It comes from my heart and my soul, and is crafted beneath my furrowed brow with joy and obsessive attention to detail. I really make exactly what I want to make. I don't worry about whether or not the item will sell. I just make the things that are in my mind and trust that someone, somewhere shares my taste in jewelry. If I wouldn’t wear it, I don’t make it. My art is really the epitome of selfishness but I have to feel like a design is true to my ideas and my style. I have turned down a few commissions in the past because I wasn’t willing to be untrue to my style. For example, I don’t “do” Celtic jewelry… I do what I want to do. I love feeling like I have appeased my need to create at the end of the day. Anything that jeopardizes that feeling is not allowed in my workshop.

What's the most fascinating place you've been?
I need to give you five:
1. A glow worm cave in New Zealand (Rob and I collected a nalgene bottle full of the little guys to make a romantic sort of flashlight).
2. Every inch of the 230 miles of the John Muir Trail.
3. The Havasupai Falls below the remote Supai Indian Village on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
4. Alone.
5. The chain lakes, and river systems of Northern Saskatchewan… in a canoe.

A book you love:
Good grief! I really adore books. Books have always been such good friends to are some of my favorite authors/poets instead: Gene Stratton Porter, Diane Ackerman, Annie Dillard (swoon), Willa Cather, Roald Dahl, Chaim Potok, Zane Gray, Leonard Cohen, CS Lewis, Flannery O'Connor, Madeline L'Engle, Rilke – each one of them continues to change my life and widen my eyes.

What is the most interesting thing about you?
My lifestyle. I grew up in the National Parks of Canada doing backcountry patrols by horseback with my dad on the weekends (sometimes on school days too). I know how to chop wood, fly fish, paddle a canoe, start a fire with wet wood, and clean a horse's hooves among other things. I am most at home in the natural world and prefer the freedom and simplicity of the country life.

What achievement are you most proud of?
Knowing at the young age of 25 exactly what I want to do with my life, and doing exactly that. Every day.

What advice would you give women starting their own business?
Just start. If you try to get everything organized perfectly from the very beginning you probably won't ever begin. Don't be afraid, just go for it. It's ok to start small and build your way up into a bigger and better business. It takes a lot of courage to put oneself and one's art out into the world for all to see, don't ever doubt the courage that lies inherently within you. It's there. Draw on it.

What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?
My dial-up internet is my greatest challenge. It's positively medieval. I can't get a faster connection because of where we are situated on the reservation. We are lucky to even have a telephone! My internet speed makes me crazy and drinks up a lot of my spare time and workshop time. I used to have to do all of my uploading for my Etsy shop from the library in town a couple of times a week, but I bought a new computer and am able to do all of my work from home now. What a nightmare it was.

What do you love to do in your free time?
I love to bake. I bake my own bread once a week. It's a happy thrill every time I see it rise up.
I also sew, rock climb, walk my dogs, do a heap of yoga in the living room, garden, run, explore the desert, collect honey from the wild bee hive in the bulldozer, play my piano, make zines, write poetry, and read. I am also a member of "The Letter Writers Alliance" and write many, many, many letters to friends and family.

What are you working on right now?
As soon as I finish this interview, I've got to polish up a few pieces of jewelry which were ordered over the weekend and ready them for shipping. This afternoon I am working on a few pieces featuring Alunite cabochons. In the larger scheme of things, I just completed my wholesale catalogue for 2008 and am going to be posting those out to a few different boutiques in Alberta, Canada and Oregon.
Interestingly enough, I'm just working hard at being me.

What do you hope to achieve next?
I'd love to live someplace where I could apprentice a goldsmith. How I would love to get my little fingertips on some gold and dip my small hands into buckets of faceted gems. I'd also like to write something worth publishing someday. I'm much more into short term goals as it's difficult for me to see past lunchtime.


  1. Jillian really is the most lovely person. She is very inspiring and creates the most beautfiul pieces of art. I own a few pieces and am constantly stopped and asked where I found such unique jewelry. It's all truly one of a kind... just like Jillian. Thank you for showcasing her work!

  2. What an inspiring interview! I loved reading this and gaining more insight into Jillian's jewelry making process! Her work is really beautiful.

  3. Great interview, you captured Jill in a nutshell: smart, unique, wise, surprising, delightful, and inspiring!! I've known her since we were 6 or 7 years old and I'm proud to say she's a friend of mine.

  4. that Noisy Plume flies away with my heart evvvery time... le sigh.

  5. I love how her jewelry is as poetically photographed as it is made!

  6. Susan Lukiwski says

    I am proud and happy to be MOM to such a creatively fascinating artist. I'll take one of everything in the shop and have a party--something like Suzie Wong's Pearls of Beijing.