Artist: Ashley Akers
Business: Ashley Akers Jewelry
Web sites: ashleyakersjewelry.com, ashleyjewelry.etsy.com, ashleyakers.blogspot.com
Location: Fort Worth, Texas
What do you create?
Hand-fabricated jewelry with a modern, organic aesthetic. Mostly utilizing sterling silver, semi-precious gemstones and pebbles.
Where and when do you do your creative work?
Ideas are always brewing. When I come up with a design or even a component I have to sketch it. I have books full of sketches for jewelry designs going all the way back to my beginning jewelry class in college. Of course many of those have never come to fruition, so looking through them provides more inspiration. My studio is in my home and I work seven days a week and anytime of day based on what needs to get done. I do get up at the same time every day and get to work about the same time. I am a very much a schedule and habit-oriented person.
Do you have another "day job"?
I worked for seven years at a charming local garden shop, Home to Garden. I just got up enough courage to quit that job this past December. That move was one of the most exciting and scariest things I have ever done and I have absolutely no regrets. I do continue to work part time on my husband’s and my other endeavor, which is a landscaping and lawn care business.
Where and what did you study?
I studied at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas under master metalsmith and enameling genius Harlan Butt. I majored in jewelry and metal-smithing, and minored in anthropology, graduating with a BFA in 1999.
Where do you find inspiration?
My design process is very much informed by my materials. I will play around with gemstones and pebbles until I find a pleasing combination. The metalwork usually plays a supporting role to whatever material I employ for color and texture. I also get excited about trying out new materials like fiber or polymer clay. I feel like I gather inspiration from all around. I am a very visual person and cannot help but be inspired by my surroundings. I am attracted to pattern, both natural (plant structure, pebbles on the ground and wood grain) and man-made (textiles, recycled metal, and architecture). Color is a huge inspiration and ingredient in design for me. I love creating and surrounding myself with color combinations of all types. I have a love of mid-century modern design and I think that is reflected in the simplicity and organic lines of my metalwork.
What motivates you?
Motivation goes hand in hand with inspiration. I thrive on design challenges and definitely work better with deadlines, such as submissions for exhibitions.
When did you start doing this?
My first jewelry class was during my sophomore year of college in 1994 and I have never looked back. Wow, so 14 years ago.
Do you remember getting into art as a kid?
I don’t remember a time of not being interested in creating things. My mother is an art teacher and fiber artist and my father is a talented wood worker. I always loved to paint and draw as a child. In high school I took watercolor classes and already knew that I wanted to learn to make jewelry.
When and why did you decide to start your own business?
I worked part time after graduating from college, but always did jewelry on the side. Before discovering Etsy I was selling at local craft fairs and to friends and family. I started my business out of a need to create and wanting to love what I do for a living.
How did you choose the name for your business?
I just used my name. I feel like it is important for my name to be associated with my work.
What do you love most about creating your work?
Gathering inspiration, designing, and the finished product. I enjoy the actual process of creation as well, but many jewelry-making tasks are quite tedious and unglamorous. The more enjoyable pieces for me to make are more complex and involved designs.
What's the most fascinating place you've been?
Definitely Mexico. I spent a month in Xalapa, Veracruz for a college anthropology course and was able to travel to Oaxaca as well. I love the indigenous crafts, the colors, cuisine and the warmth of the people in Mexico. I also aspire to travel throughout Latin America.
A book you love:
Rain of Gold by Victor Villasenor. I particularly like novels based on historical fact.
What is the most interesting thing about you?
I am a plant-oholic. I can peruse public gardens, cool garden shops and gardening magazines endlessly. Even when I worked at Home to Garden I visited other garden shops while on vacation! I love succulents, cacti and agaves especially.
What achievement are you most proud of?
My college degree and taking the leap to quit my day job are my most proud achievements.
What advice would you give women starting their own business?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek advice from your peers and mentors. Try to join a group of fellow artisans. I am a member of the Etsy Metal street team, and I have learned so much in the past year and a half from my fellow Etsy Metal members. Their knowledge has been invaluable to me.
Also, be prepared to balance many different aspects of your business and do everything yourself in the beginning. You must serve as an accountant, marketer, customer service specialist, photographer, web designer, as well as designer and maker. Sometimes the creation part comes last, unfortunately.
What's the biggest challenge you face in your work?
Staying on task and off the computer!
What do you love to do in your free time?
Spending time with my husband and two dogs. Going to the bookstore to read magazines. Visiting the weekend flea market and local antique mall. Watching travel and food shows, preferably with the two combined. Favorites include Mexico One Plate at a Time with Rick Bayless, No Reservations with Anthony Bordain and Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmer. Seeing live music. Traveling, but don’t get to as often as I would like. Ditto for camping and swimming.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on three trades with fellow Etsy Metal members. I am really enjoying building up a collection of jewelry by friends. I feel like these pieces will become heirlooms and each has a story behind it. I’m also working on several more involved pieces to enter into exhibitions.
What do you hope to achieve next?
Not so much one particular thing as the big picture. I hope to continue to be able to grow my business and be a self-supporting artist. I want to learn new techniques, improve my skills and have a successful lifelong career as a jewelry artist.