Monday, November 29, 2010

Interview with the artist - Kathy Johnson from Feathered Gems Jewelry

By N Valentine Studio

Featured artist - Kathy Johnson from Feathered Gems Jewelry, Detroit, MI

Kathy has some wonderful unique pieces for dog lovers, check out her rings!!

My personal favorites are these skull and cross bone earrings!

How long have you been working in your medium?
I became interested in making jewelry when I was a kid. When I was 9, I got a rock tumbling kit for Christmas from "Santa". My dad wouldn't let me play with it because it had "dangerous chemicals" :)
So he played with it, and I got to help make things from the tumbled stones by gluing on findings. From there I moved on to stringing beads while dad went on to learn how to cut cabochons from stones. It always made me crazy to see him set his beautiful cabochons in boring commercially purchased settings. 40+ years and a much longer story later I can finally make custom settings for cabochons.
I just wish dad was still around to cut the stones. He taught me how to cut cabochons when I was a teen. I inherited his lapidary shop equipment and a huge stash of rough stones when he passed away. But I'll never be as good at it as he was.

What drew you to this medium?
I like sparkly things.
I've always loved to create things with my hands, and I enjoy showing off what I've made. Jewelry is easy to show to people wherever you are, unlike less portable crafts like stained glass.

What is your favorite thing about your art?
There's always something new to learn if I begin to get bored with a technique.

What's your favorite piece?
Without hesitation, that would be "Butterfly", a piece I made during a college metal working class I took last winter. It's a copper greyhound pendant made using a hydraulic press and repoussé and chasing techniques. It has an ornate multi-layered sterling silver collar decorated with tiny 3 mm malachite stones, and a 3-d silver butterfly perches on the dog's back. The reverse side has a heart-shaped opening that lets the viewer peek in to see a sterling silver heart charm inside. It hangs from a hand-made rosette chain maille sterling silver chain. There are over 50 hours of work in that piece and I'm extremely proud of it. Butterfly is now in a private collection, so I'm glad I took lots of photos while I was making it.

What's the hardest piece you've ever made?
That would also be "Butterfly". While making it I used several techniques I had just learned. There were several times I didn't think it was going to work, and a few times I was sure I was going to ruin it. I did some of the soldering with an enormous acetylene torch that scared me half to death because I thought it would melt the whole piece. I'm proud to say that I'm the only student in the class who completely finished my class project before the semester ended.

What's the one favorite tool you cannot live without?
That's hard to say; I have a lot of favorite tools. If I have to pick just one, I'd have to say a particular pair of box-joint chain-nosed pliers that I've had for over 40 years. I don't know who made them so I can't get another pair - all they say is "Germany" on one side. But they come to an extremely sharp flush point, the faces meet accurately, they're sturdy and the grips fit my hand perfectly. I reach for those every time I need pliers for very small pieces. I panic a little if I misplace them.

What's your favorite thing about your workspace or studio?
I recently annexed another part of our basement so I could separate the "dirty work" metal casting and metal grinding area from "clean work" such as wax carving and bead work. Now I have a new, well-lit space with a large work bench where I can work without metal shavings in my wax carvings or getting casting investment dust all over finished pieces.

What is your other craft?
I think I've tried just about every craft at some point. I can sew pretty well; for a while I made all my own clothes, including jeans. I used to crochet a lot until repetitive motion injury wrist problems forced me to quit. I did counted-cross-stitch for years, until I got serious about making jewelry. It's too time consuming now, takes too much time away from the jewelry.
I also did stained glass and glass fusing until a family member had to move in with us for a while. The only place we could put an extra bed was in the room where the glass bench was. So I packed all the glass and tools away and haven't gotten it out since. I really need to, though - I have a ton of ideas about how to work glass into my jewelry designs.
Oh, and I carve awesome Halloween pumpkins using a Dremel :)

Who or what inspires you?
When I first got into casting silver, I found a niche market made up of owners of retired racing greyhounds. My main inspiration for my designs in wax carvings and metal casting is my greyhounds. I love the dogs. They're the perfect subject for jewelry. They can be depicted in so many design styles - classic Art Deco, realistic, cute, athletic. I don't think I'll ever run out of greyhound-inspired ideas for jewelry piecees.
Aside from greyhounds, I love organic designs and get a lot of inspiration from nature; textures and colors of stones spark ideas all the time.

What's your favorite inspirational saying?
"You must do the thing you think you cannot do." Eleanor Roosevelt

What's one thing you've never done you always wanted to do?
I have always wanted to go to Australia and Hawaii. Oh wait, you probably meant jewelry related, didn't you?
I would really like to go to the upcoming Rio Grande in Motion event at their headquarters in New Mexico. The classes on the schedule are taught by people who are the best in their fields in the jewelry industry, and there are several classes I would love to take.

Don't forget - it's the SATeam Wrist Candy Holiday Giveaway and you can win a fabulous charm bracelet if you enter until November 28th!
Click here for more info!

The SATeam blog features artisan handmade creations by the etsy starving artists jewelry team. SATeam members create handcrafted jewelry and beads. More information about our team and its current etsy shop owner members can be found at


tjrjewellery said...

I was just looking at all your pieces on FB - beautiful renditions of greyhounds!

mcstoneworks said...

I have always loved Kathy's greyhound jewelry. Butterfly is amazing. Nice to read a little about Kathy.

BeadSire said...

Kathy is a wonderful and talented artist - I love her work, especially her dedication to the greyhounds. I enjoyed reading and learning more about her.