For the second edition of our “Coffee with” feature, we sat down with Amber Lea Smith an artist and jewelry designer who has managed to take her designs to the global market. Amber’s mission is to bring art to daily life with designs inspired by the colors of the New Mexican Desert and products that support an active lifestyle. She combines the simplistic lines of mid-century design with a unique style to create innovative and balanced designs using clay, translating thought and inspiration into a tangible object. She is truly a talented and inspiring lady, and we consider ourselves super lucky to have had Coffee With: Amber E Lea.
Coffee With: Amber E Lea
What does a day-in-the-life of an artist and jewelry designer look like?
I wake up early, feed my dogs, grab a cup of coffee and head straight to the office/studio. I’ve usually made myself a to-do list the night before and find this helpful before the caffeine really kicks in. I hop on the computer to check and answer emails and get shipments packaged and ready for the post. The majority of the day is spent making jewelry, planning, and designing. I like to make the time to get lost in my work – this is when my creative juices can really flow. I do my best to squeeze in some exercise to help maintain balance both mentally and physically.
Did the transition from fine art artist to jewelry designer come naturally for you?
To say the least. I didn’t intend to become a jewelry designer, it honestly just happened. I’ve been working with clay since I was a kid – going to the local art center, taking private classes in high school and eventually studying fine art in college. This is where I fell even more in love with ceramics and discovered installation art. When I graduated, I found it difficult to find the space to make this type of art and to find a gallery to display it. I continued experimenting with clay and searching for my true aesthetic, which took a while but slowly exposed itself after years of practice and research. It’s always bothered me to have waste of any kind and this is how the jewelry happened. These small bits of clay were left over and so I chose to make jewelry pieces from them. My family and friends wore my first pieces, giving me feedback along the way. I found a box of my first designs just last week. It’s fun to see those how those first pieces compare to what I’m creating now. My aesthetic was very organic and used earth tones. Now, it’s a bit more contemporary and I’ve spent time developing my color palate. I can’t help but wonder what I’ll be making five, ten years from now.
How much do trends influence your designs?
I tend to stay with classic designs that, hopefully, won’t go out of fashion. But I do pay attention to current trends and so they’re always in the back of my mind. I travel quite a bit for work and find myself paying attention to the jewelry that’s worn in each location. It varies from city to city and I find this so fascinating! I try to make something for everyone.
What advice would you give to someone considering creating their own jewelry brand?
Don’t give up! It’s a competitive market and there are many, many jewelry designers out there. It’s important to find and express your true style and make your brand one that’s unique.
What is the favorite thing you’ve ever created?
Oh gosh, I’ve made so many things. I think my very favorite thing is a table inspired by cave formations. It’s made of hundreds of ceramic tubes of varying lengths and was definitely a labor of love.
I’d like to make more furniture in the future, and also lighting! I’ve been dying to make ceramic sculptures that would double as light fixtures.
Do you have a trick for getting over a creative slump?
I can’t say that I have too many creative slumps; I’m typically overly ambitious and have WAY too many designs pouring out. But creative blocks do happen and I’ve tried several different tactics over the years. I think the one that works best for me is to step away and get some fresh air and a new perspective. It also helps me to work in a different medium. I mostly work in three-dimensions so it’s nice to take a break from that and draw or paint.
What inspires you and your designs?
It’s a combination of things in daily life. Right now I’m enjoying simple shapes and well thought out details and the play of textures, colors and repeating patterns. I’m really into contemporary architecture both interior and exterior and all mid-century furniture and home décor.
How do you achieve work/ life balance as an entrepreneur? Do have any tricks that help?
That’s one thing I’ve yet to perfect. It’s easy for me to get in the mode of “work, work, work.” But my work is also my passion and I truly enjoy it. I’ve definitely missed out on spending time with my family and friends lately and that’s one of my goals for 2018, to stick to a schedule and not work so late. The one trick I have is exercise. It’s important for me to take a break from the studio and make time for myself. Plus, it’s a great stress reliever!
Do you have any social media tips that have helped you to grow your brand?
I think that great photography speaks volumes. I need to spend more time in this department, but I think Instagram, Facebook, and emailing customers directly are all easy and effective ways to reach people.
What is your number one productivity hack?
That’s another thing I’m working towards this year. I still make each jewelry piece by hand from start to finish: hand carving the porcelain, firing each piece three times, hand painting the 22k gold and even the fine metal assembly. I’m a bit of a control freak and I’m having trouble letting go of some of these steps, but it’s going to be necessary for production to move quicker.
Do you listen to any podcasts or have any books that you are loving right now? (Either that help you grow your business or just for fun!)
Yes, music and podcasts are my best friends! I’m really into instrumental music right now – I can zone out and focus better when lyrics aren’t entering my thoughts. I listen to a wide variety – Pretty Lights, Big Gigantic, Yoyo Ma, Miles Davis, and I throw in some Tiesto for the afternoons. I listen to several NPR podcasts: This American Life, Fresh Air, TED Radio Hour and my new favorite is How I Built This – it’s perfect for any entrepreneur.
What’s next for you?
I’m in the process of building a new studio right now and can’t wait to get in there and start creating! I have so many new ideas for jewelry designs and am going to be using different materials aside from porcelain and fine metals. I’ve had to put my sculpture and larger scale making on hold for a while so I’m anxious to start making vessels, wall hangings and interior design pieces again. Also, I’d like to get my lighting design company going soon. Writing it all down makes it seem like a lot – it doesn’t look like I’ll be bored this year lol!