Most people grow out of the fantastical as they get older, but that never happened to me. From story books for children to Lord of the Rings, Lost in Space, or Asimov, from Thunderbirds to Star Trek and from The Dark Crystal to Star Wars (the original, I’m that old!), there was always something to exercise my imagination.
In the decades of my career in IT, escape could be found in other worlds. I spent many years commuting into Central London, spending hours on the Tube reading in the science fiction genre.
I have always needed a creative outlet. For years I did needlecrafts; I also did some drawing, painting and got into a bit of jewellery making using beads and wire. And there we have it. Jewellery making. I wanted to make my own beads and focal elements and tried with other materials, but they didn’t excite me.
My life changed when my son was diagnosed with cancer in December 2009. It was a tough year of treatment, but it paid off and he is still with us. During those times and in the wee small dark hours on the ward in the hospital, I could take the time to escape it all by watching a sci-fi show or reading a book. I also brought jewellery-making magazines and saw some silver clay projects. What was this alchemy? An ad for a 2010 class with Gordon Uyehara at Metal Clay Ltd’s offices in Corfe Castle caught my eye. I took the class and never looked back.
After my son’s treatment finished, I used the following 18 months to take courses and certifications so that I would be able to share my love of metal clay with others. I built my studio, left the corporate world behind in 2011, and ran my first beginners metal clay class in 2012.
The question we all face at some point is how do I make money from this? I made mistakes early on. Great learning experiences, every one of them, but painful at the time. My mistakes included booking into craft fairs, local and regional (competing with mass produced jewellery and a downturn in people spending money at these types of event), selling online both directly and through Etsy. With Etsy and Folksy, the best approach is to sell the same kind of thing over and over, that is not the way I work.
After a prolonged break, I returned to the world of sci-fi conventions – which I’d regularly attended since 1995 – with the purpose of selling my jewellery in the Dealers Room. The well-known conventions like Comic Con are all about official merchandise, but many of the non-US based events are run by fans for fans and are not for profit. These are the ones I went for. People will usually spend the entire two to five days duration at these events staying at or near the venue. For them, the conventions are their holidays, their opportunity to meet actors, authors, attend panels, discussions, activities, indulge their inner geek and buy everything from official merchandise to the quirky, unique, derivative and downright fun items on sale in the Dealers Room.
A dear friend and I, both of us with many a convention already under our belts, did our first convention in the Dealers Room together in 2012, selling our wares (she does beadwork) and it was a huge success for both of us. Since then, we have made it a regular thing, sharing costs, driving and accommodation. Along the way I have approached the conventions’ organising committees to offer to make badges for the committee to running metal clay workshops which have since become a popular feature of many regular conventions in the UK.
As far as designing for fandom is concerned, it may surprise you to learn that fans wear non-themed jewellery, too, and I sell a lot of it to conventioneers for their own use and as gifts. That said, of course they also want dragons, elven style jewellery, and ideas and themes from shows, books and movies. This gives the maker a huge amount of scope without infringing rigorous copyright restrictions.
The words “inspired by” are a maker’s best friend. I can reasonably produce a pendant with a green stone and say that it was inspired by Arwen’s gift to Aragorn (Lord of the Rings). The books state that it is a green gem (that’s my inner geek speaking there). However, if I were to make a replica of the one from the films, that would infringe copyright. It is not rocket science to work out what can and can’t be done. If in doubt, do something else.
Other ways of using sci-fi and fantasy memes is to be nonspecific. As an example, if I made lightning strike jewellery and mentioned Harry Potter, I could get myself into trouble. However, I could make and sell it anyway. I would make no claims, the lightning bolt is a generic symbol. I wouldn’t be copying the specific design, so no foul, everybody is happy.
Humans have been telling stories since we lived in caves. There is a huge well of non-copyrighted material to draw from, from cutesy to the horrific, vampires to dwarves, dragons to the fae, spirits, aliens, retro rockets and all things planetary – I will never run out of things to inspire me.
Fandom, and particularly conventions, has given me an important outlet for my jewellery in the form of a captive audience prepared to spend money on the things they want. They come from all walks of life (Stephen Hawkins was a huge Star Trek fan), they are largely over 35 (not the spotty youths you might be thinking of), and are well-read and imaginative people. They like merchandise but they like the quirky, they appreciate handcrafted work, and like to talk to a fellow maker especially if they are a fellow geek. I get a lot of commissions directly and indirectly from conventioneers.
Sci-Fi is my own passion. Yours might be something else. Whatever your passion, see if you can use it to inspire your own designs and to find new outlets. A keen gardener may wish to approach a local horticulture society and take a table at a local show; re-enactment societies are always looking for historic jewellery and embellishments; and the knitting, golfing, equestrian scenes, social clubs and a myriad of other interest groups may allow you to indulge more than just your metal clay interest. Look at their shows, meetings and websites and approach the organisers, create some themed jewellery, and see where it leads you.
Live long and prosper!
Guest Blog: Helen Foster-Turner
Helen Foster-Turner is the owner of the London Metal Clay studio. Find her online at LondonMetalClay.com, on Facebook at londonmetalclay or silverbridalworkshop, or on Instagram at helen.fosterturner