Andrea Bonelli gets JobShadowed about her job as a Metalsmith. You can find Andrea and all her creations at www.andreabonelli.com.
What do you do for a living?
I work as a full time Metalsmith out of my Bay Area studio creating pieces from precious metals and various gemstones and diamonds.
How would you describe what you do?
When people ask me what is a Metalsmith, I have to go into a sort of long winded explanation which at times I feel still doesn’t give the full effect of what I do. I work with raw materials such as sheet metal, wire, and stones to create pieces that are a reflection of who I am and what I like.
What does your work entail?
It entails first and foremost, not being afraid to try new things. I’m self taught so I first started out wire wrapping then went to PMC work, enameling, resins and finally Metalsmithing. I’ve always been the kind of person to push myself to learn new things so if I had fear I would not be where I am now. I would purchase books and practice until I could figure techniques on my own and basically learned that way. All in all my work entails creativity, determination and perseverance.
What’s a typical work week like?
I work a LOT of hours so that’s the one slight drawback. I never turn it off so even if I’m out running errands I’m still looking at objects for inspiration, textures or backdrops. It can be pretty maddening. I typically work from 8:00am until midnight with breaks here and there throughout the day. I’m either torch firing something, working on my blog, promoting my line through Facebook and Twitter or doing photo shoots and photo editing. It’s pretty much never ending.
How did you get started?
I got started with this being a hobby not really taking it seriously. I found it to be somewhat therapeutic to go into a creative process and it enabled me to wind down from my job at the time.
What do you like about what you do?
I love creating something from nothing. It’s a wonderful feeling to have a little idea in your mind be formed with your hands into something material. Nothing beats it really.
What do you dislike?
The hours and time that is required if you decide to do it full time. Competition is fierce and with a fair amount of companies having their products made out of the country for very little it can be difficult to compete. I’d rather stay small and be an eco conscience jeweler than have pieces made cheaply by sweatshop workers.
How do you make money/or how are you compensated?
I have a website and sell on more than one online venue. Selling wholesale to stores as well as doing shows is a good way to bring in extra income.
How much money do metalsmiths make?
It’s really up to the Metalsmith and how much they’ve grown their line. You could be a starving artist or make enough to pay off your house so it’s all about going for whatever opportunities exist. I’ve known artists that make as low as $15k and I’ve also heard of others making as high as $100k+. I’ve made anywhere in the beginning from $60 – $80k+ and it’s basically contingent on where you focus your business. If you get into wholesale which can put you into a lot of retail stores, your income could double. As long as you create great pieces and market yourself,work hard at it, and be smart, there’s no reason you couldn’t make a full time living of $100,000+ per year.
How much money do/did you make starting out as a metalsmith?
When I started it was only a hobby so I made very little but If I was depending on what I made in the beginning to support myself I would have literally been a starving artist. There is a lot of competition out there so unless you can make a niche for yourself it could be hard in the beginning to make a decent living wage.
What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?
I didn’t go to school, I just bought a lot of books and videos in order to hone my craft. If you have the opportunity to go to school then do it because there are so many tricks and short cuts that I wish I would have learned in the beginning instead of years later. If you can apprentice, even better.
What is most challenging about what you do?
The most challenging thing is having to always push yourself to succeed because success literally depends on you alone. There are times I don’t want to go near my tools or computer but I don’t have that luxury yet.
What is most rewarding?
Having customers that love what I make. It truly makes me want to keep pushing myself to do more and this is really only the beginning for me.
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
My advice is to sit and really think about the direction that you want to go in. There is FIERCE competition out there and you can find yourself easily lost. Unless you have a plan and know what you really want it’ll be a difficult and frustrating journey.
How much time off do you get/take?
Hmmmm, well… I hate to admit it but I haven’t had a vacation in over 6 years. Some Metalsmiths take vacations every couple months and some are like me.. it’s really up to you and your workload. If you have assistants that make your pieces for you, that really frees up time in your schedule but I don’t so….
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
It’s either that I sit around all day playing with jewelry or that it’s not a “real job”. As long as you believe in yurself and your goals it really doesn’t matter with misconceptions people have about what you do.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
I have plans to one day open a studio in the Bay Area and offer metal working classes as well as having a small retail shop to offer eco friendly goods from various small businesses. My goal is to have this open within 2 years.
What else would you like people to know about your job/career?
Being a Metalsmith is something that I fell into and I feel to this day that it was the right decision for me. My best advice to give anyone is take a class, buy a book or two, or watch youtube videos and give it a try. You’ll never know unless you do.