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Interview

What do people use to get the job done?

Iris Willow

Iris Willow

Jewellery designer

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Iris Willow and I make colorful hand-crafted enamel jewelry, mainly earrings and necklaces. My process entails fusing powdered colored glass enamel to copper sheet metal by kiln-firing the jewelry at 1500°. I work out of my home studio in the Mission district in San Francisco.

I began experimenting with enamel while living in Santiago, Chile and taking jewelry classes with a local Chilean jeweler and have been enamored with it ever since. I love being able to play with different colors and seeing how they interact. I'm mostly self-taught and enjoy learning through experimentation. Lately I've been playing with screen-printing designs in enamel on my jewelry. I sell my jewelry on Etsy as well as a few stores and craft shows throughout the Bay Area.

What hardware do you use?

I have acquired quite a lot of jewelry equipment and tools over the years. My Satellite J-100 enameling kiln is the most important equipment in my studio for enameling. I picked it up on Craigslist and it's over 10 years old, but still burning hot - it heats up to 2000°. To prep the copper before enameling, I use a jeweler's saw and saw blades or metal shears to cut copper into desired shapes and needle files and sandpaper to smooth out the edges. I use my dapping block set to dome the copper on some of my jewelry like my drop earrings. I also have a flexshaft that is a huge time-saver. I use it to drill holes, sand out imperfections and file down unwanted enamel.

I have an old crock-pot that I picked up at a thrift store that I use to create a pickle bath to remove oxidation and clean the copper in between firing the front and the back of my jewelry. Each piece of jewelry is fired at least two times to cover each side in enamel. I sometimes use rivets to join two enameled pieces together using a steel block, riveting hammer and fine silver wire. I make my own ear wires using wire cutters, pliers, a ruler, a pencil and sterling silver wire.

I use Thompson lead-free powdered enamel that I have in a rainbow of colors which I keep organized using IKEA spice racks displaying their sample fired colors. To apply the enamel, I sift the powdered enamel onto my jewelry using a sifter while it is supported on a trivet. I then place it on a mesh firing rack and use a firing fork to load it into the kiln.

For safety, I wear a respirator when sifting the enamel onto the jewelry so I don't breath in the dry enamel particles. I also wear heavy duty leather gloves and tinted glasses when using the kiln.

I photograph my work with a Canon 60D, EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lens, and a homemade lightbox. I also use my 13" Retina MacBook Pro and iPhone 5 all the time.

And what software?

I use Photoshop to edit my photos and Illustrator and InDesign to design promotional materials. I use Gmail for email. I just started using Wave for managing business expenses, but still do a lot of tracking in Excel and Google Docs. I use Tumblr for my blog, MailChimp for my email newsletter and Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr and Twitter for social media and sharing photos of my jewelry and process.

What would be your dream setup?

My dream studio would be much larger so I could spread out and have different stations for each step of my process. It would be filled with jeweler's tools and have a solid jeweler's bench to replace my desk that wobbles every time I hammer on it. It would be cool if my studio had a space for teaching larger enameling classes and maybe add a new Paragon kiln with a digital temperature controller. It might even be fun for it to have a little retail space as well.

If I'm dreaming big, I would also love to get a hydraulic press so I could easily make custom 3D copper shapes to enamel and a laser cutter that I could program to cut out specific shapes in copper sheet metal to eliminate me having to cut them out by hand, which is super time consuming.