Jake: Let’s get started! Just tell me a little bit about your shop.
Anna: The name of my shop is the Artisan Alchemist. I chose that name because in alchemy the idea is to take something of little value, like lead, and turn it into something of great value, like gold. I chose this name because I work in a medium called “precious metal clay” that transforms from something of little value — clay — to something much more.
Jake: I’ve never heard of precious metal clay — what is that?
Anna: Precious metal clay was invented by Mitsubishi because they wanted car designers to be able to work in clay, but be able to turn that clay into metal to test prototypes of engine parts. So the company invented this material that can be sculpted just like regular clay, but it’s been infused with microparticles.
Once you sculpt your creation, you put it in a kiln and fire it between 1300 and 1800 degrees fahrenheit, which causes the clay to burn away and you are left with pure silver, copper, or bronze in the shape and form that you sculpted.
I work in bronze and silver, but I like bronze the best. Few artists work with it, but it has an incredible lustor. It comes in rose, yellow, and white, which provides a whole palette of bronze colors to work with!
Jake: That’s actually really cool. I feel like I always learn something new from Etsy sellers. So what did you do before opening up the Artisan Alchemist?
Anna: Well, I’ve been in the arts for 40 years. Before I retired, I ran the largest cultural and heritage agency in the United States. We were in museum work and arts for people with disabilities, with a focus on folk arts or the arts indigenous to various cultures. My own art has been influenced by my years as an arts administrator. A lot of the patterns you see in my work come from art I’ve seen all over the world! For example, I might take an english tapestry or a 19th century Russian wooden box and use that as a basis for a pattern.
Even when I was working, I was always an artist, and I’d make sure I did something creative in my spare time. For a while, I was making Victorian flowers — a very old art form that’s influenced by English tapestries in this particular case, where the tapestries include flowers and are made from ribbon. They look so authentic that when you touch them you are surprised that they’re not real flowers!
Starting on Etsy
Jake: What made you decide to open up your Etsy shop?
Anna: I heard Etsy was the place for people who make one-of-a-kind things. When I was thinking about starting, I looked through various artists on Etsy because I was wondering if I’d be the 100th or 1000th artist doing the same thing. While there are so many jewelers on Etsy there wasn’t anyone who did what I do! I thought to myself, “this must be a good place to be: there are a lot of jewelers, so people looking for jewelers go to Etsy, but if I am unusual in the medium that would make me stand out!”
It turns out that it’s not that easy and it takes lot of work, but it’s very rewarding. And with enough work, you find that you don’t really need to be anywhere else on the web if you’re on Etsy.
Jake: Do you have any tips for sellers on getting through a tough day?
Anna: If I’m feeling less creative, what I do is go hunting on Etsy or other artists websites to see what inspired other people. A lot of times I’ll do that and say “you’re not as bad as this day is! So just go to it!”
Jake: Can you give us a brief overview of your process for taking photos? Did using Whatify cause you change that process?
Anna: I set up with portable lights. I usually have some kind of a form that I can lean my pieces against. I always take 10 or 12 photos if I want 5 or 6. Before using Whatify, I used to try and be as artistic as possible with all my photos. However, you guys showed me that my cleaner and simpler photos generated more traffic!
Another interesting thing I found from your photo tests was that my photos that showed scale almost always performed better. My thought is, if people realize the size of something they may be more interested in it because they see it as something they can wear on their body.
I used to try and be creative by taking zoomed in photos to get all up close and personal with my pieces. I thought “wow people are gonna love that!” but Whatify showed me that it wasn’t what people are looking for. Sure, I thought it was cool, but that didn’t mean the rest of the world did!
Jake: Ha! We think you’re plenty cool. Do you have last words or bits of advice?
Anna: I used to stay to my staff “don’t ask a question if you’re not willing to hear the answer.” Sometimes you may think something is perfect, but when you ask a question and find out that you’re absolutely wrong, you need to be willing to put your own desires aside and listen to the answer! If you’re not willing to be told you’re doing something that’s not in your best interest, why are you asking the question in the first place?