This month as we continue our interview series of jewelry artists…’Everyone Starts at the Beginning’, I’d like to introduce you to a very moving, unique and compelling story of a jewelry artist that came to jewelry making to get her life back.
From that necessity this survival turned hobby grew into a beautiful jewelry business.
Tara Hutchinson’s jewelry is very different from “the mainstream”.
Tara was never meant to be an artist. She was born to be a soldier; a leader of soldiers. But fate had other plans for her.
Tara was born in Anchorage, Alaska. She grew up following around her older brother, tagging along to his every adventure. Thus, her formative years were spent playing Army in the mud. This set her up perfectly to play Army for real as an adult, and she spent 10 glorious years as a Military Police Officer.
On Valentine’s Day 2006, she was serving her first tour in Iraq when she was seriously wounded in an enemy attack and instantly her life’s blueprint was redefined. Her right leg was severed above the knee, she suffered a movement disorder due to severe traumatic brain injury, she had a third degree burn requiring a skin graft, she was subjected to multiple back injuries, and she also had long lasting PTSD.
As one might expect, hearing this information caused another challenge to appear on her injury inventory list: severe depression.
It was during this depression that Tara capitalized on a life changing initiative.
An occupational therapist suggested she try a hobby that used her fine motor skills; she implied it might help her gain control of her then-useless hands.
Tara slowly started making jewelry in the summer of 2006, using inexpensive crystals to make necklaces, but this singular action caused her to become incredibly curious about the world of jewelry arts.
It also helped her body heal – amazingly within one year, her movement disorder was almost invisible!
This harmonizing of her body was the fuel that her internal fire needed, as suddenly she had a passion to learn her craft like never before.
She spent the next two years unearthing every bit of information available on jewelry creation and design, and studying.
By dedicating herself to learn in this way, she turned, a hobby that started as therapy into a profession with passion.
I got the opportunity to meet Tara quite by accident. You could say it was an intentional accident. Tara reached out to me via about.me asking a simple question about a bead I had displayed. As I am always curious as to what fellow beading buds are doing and interested in their stories I was not expecting to find what I did when I read her story.
I was completely moved and knew I had to include Tara in this interview series.
So without further delay…Tara Hutchinson Fine Jewelry.
Thank you Tara so very much for joining us. What a very powerful opening to your story!
Let’s begin by telling us a little bit about your bead-ginnings…
My mission in life since my injury has been to share my story, and this sounded like another avenue to do so.
I needed a fine motor skill to help me gain some of the control back in my hands that I lost when I suffered my brain injury. I started by threading a large holed-wooden bead with leather cord – a task that’s incredibly difficult when you have involuntary tremors in your hands.
I started late in 2006, early 2007-ish. The most amazing part of my story, is that before I was injured, I didn’t know diddly-squat about jewelry. I couldn’t tell a bezel from a baguette, a cabochon from a culet. It wasn’t authorized with the uniform, so I never wore it. I owned maybe 2 pairs of earrings, both junk jewelry. After my injury, I became almost an idiot savant.
My first project was a bib necklace – of sorts. I made multiple strands of seed beads that connected to a central curved festoon made of sterling silver. The bottom of this festoon component had soldered loops, so I daisy-chained pink cat-eye glass beads together and strung them from these loops. Overall, it was horrible. It took me forever to make, therefore I didn’t see it with an objective eye; I looked at it as a proud mama would eye her newborn.
Everybody I knew got to see it. I should have taken their melancholy attitude towards my creation as it being sinfully ugly, but I was so proud of it I just overlooked any resistance.
When I first started with the jewelry in 2006-2007, I was in a very favorable financial situation (I was still active duty Army, and I was married to another active duty Soldier who was deployed for most of the 2 years I was so despondent) I tried everything I could get my hands on, knowing my fiscal situation would soon change.
I started with beading, then moved to learning how to solder (note: this is the only formal class I attended when learning to make jewelry. For safety purposes, I would recommend anyone mixing combustible gasses in their home to learn from a professional), tried enameling, then got hooked on metal clay for a while.
I think this may be the point in time where I developed my fascination for gemstones.
I started fabrication with natural gemstones after this and sold my kiln (!!) but because I still wasn’t selling my jewelry yet, I was able to take the time to make some elaborate pieces.
Looking back, this was such a carefree time for me!
My business didn’t exist yet, my jewelry was still just a ‘Hobby’.
Even after I learned to solder, I was terrified of my torch for many months – I would sit and stare at it, knowing if I turned it on I would blow up my home and possibly my neighborhood.
So I wire wrapped for a while, taught myself to prong set gemstones via wire wrapping, then one day, just decided to go for it.
Now, my focus is mainly on using natural gemstones in organically shaped jewelry, using forging, chasing & repoussé, and fusing.
Tell us what you are doing now…
I am still very active growing my business doing all the jewelry fabrication.
- I now have an assistant that helps me keep the business moving forward working to stay current with our customers’ needs.
- This past December I just finished commissions from Shoppe Artisan in Atlanta.
- I am currently working to gain more recognition of my work with a series of ‘press previews’ with Accessories Council and WJA – Women’s Jewelry Association.
- In addition, I am so blessed to have just been featured in the March release of the Jewelry Consumer News. [SIDE NOTE: Pay close attention to the piece that Elaine, the hostess of JCN, is wearing.]
- Later this year I will be participating in the Junior League of San Antonio Holiday Olé Market with my wares.
My ultimate long-term, most outrageous, scandalous goal for my biz is to be featured in the Sundance Catalog. That’s when I know I have made it, and all these years of struggling through depression, not knowing if I would have enough money to feed my cats this month or feeling sick from 3 squares of oatmeal for as long as I can remember.. will be worth it.
While I continue to work toward that goal I look for other means to help support the business. It takes time and money to build a business and one way I look to offset the expense is through fundraisers. The most current one I have completed is through ‘Go Fund Me’. You can see an example of this last fund-raising campaign here.
I will also be focusing on taking a couple of months to play around and learn how to use granulation with Argentium. Argentium silver is my favorite material and I LOVE working with it. The fusing properties are what I am most excited about.
Above all, anything that gives me an excuse to play with gemstones makes me feel alive.
For more views of my work and what I am doing you can follow me at my website Tara Hutch Jewelry, through Facebook as well as Pinterest and most recently YouTube. I would love to have you follow along my journey.
Share your words of wisdom for our beginners just getting started…
- Michael David Sturlin once said (something like), “If I had to choose between a tool and raw materials, I would pick raw materials. You can make something from raw materials without tools, but it’s pretty darn hard to make jewelry with tools and no raw materials.”
Whenever I make a purchase of new raw materials, I’m always tempted to throw another hammer into the bin as well. But, do I really need another hammer? I did a tool audit in 2013, and the answer is – NO.
- Know your audience!
If you are just starting and want to make a business out of this, you have to know who you are going to sell to.
You must know everything about them, what they eat, where they shop, and the kind of car they drive…This information will be priceless as you go forward in your career, and it will help you establish what shows are best for you, the area of the country (or the world!) where your jewelry sells the best, and how to focus your marketing efforts.
My last bit of advice from something I learned while soldiering…
- AAR is an acronym for After Action Review. This is something I learned in the Army, and was drilled into me as a Non Commissioned Officer. After every event (whether it turned out profitable or not) I sit down with my assistant and we create an AAR together. The basic format is this:
Narrative of the event:
What went well?
What didn’t go so well?
What can we improve on next time?
Specific action steps to ensure a better outcome next time?
(I include the budget and actual numbers on the last page, broken down as much as possible. i.e. by sales by category, by item, by customer, by time of day, by zip code of customer’s home address, etc.)
Backwards Planning is also an invaluable tool I use for every show or event that involves more than 2 or 3 planning steps. This technique involves starting at the event, and working backwards.
Event – Polka Dancers Jewelry and Homemade Jam Show March 31
Right before the event, you know you will need to do a trial run and load up the car. So that goes next on the list. Oh, and then don’t forget to get change! (I would NEVER remember this step if it wasn’t in my BWP) So then your list would look something like this:
Polka Dancers Jewelry and Homemade Jam Show March 31
Load up car: March 30th
Dry run: March 30th
Get Change: March 29th
Next on the list, for me, would probably be doing a jewelry audit to see where we were standing with inventory.
Polka Dancers Jewelry and Homemade Jam Show March 31
Load up car: March 30th
Dry run: March 30th
Get Change: March 29th
Jewelry Audit: March 15th <— or however long you need to replenish your inventory.
Next would be coming up with a sales plan, after looking at the numbers from last year, demographics, the anticipated weather, etc. Compile all this information into a spreadsheet and give it categories, such as:
The most bracelets, earrings, necklaces, etc we need to have (dollar amount and # of pieces)
Total amount of inventory we should have on hand And so on! The BWP is a VITAL step in planning any event, and helps you organize the millions of things going through your mind before a big event. Some other things you might want to add: assistants pay schedule – Don’t forget about how you are going to pay them! If you need to draw up a legal contract, add it to the BWP. Also, hotel arrangements, budget, (including revisions), packing list revision, car maintenance (I always include a thorough cleaning – inside and out – if going on a road trip), etc.
all photos published with permission from artist – Tara Hutchinson©
Thank you Tara so very much for sharing yourself with us today, opening yourself up to encourage us and thank you for your service to our Country.
That…my dear beading buddies was a very moving story of struggle turned victory.
Tara is an inspiration to any beginner trying to get started in jewelry making.
You and I have spoken in previous conversations of beading as a therapy and this is a prime example of that very case, needing therapy to exercise the motor skills and beading jewelry was the prescription.
You might wonder after hearing this story that Tara just shared with us how can anyone say they cannot learn how to make jewelry?
But struggles are real…at all levels in learning anything new.
It takes the right motivation to make it happen and keeping yourself moving forward.
Bead At Home Beading Jewelry 101 is here to help you with those struggles, we provide the lessons and the support to learn how to make the jewelry, but it’s up to you to provide the motivation.
You heard Tara say, along with some of our other featured jewelry artists, they only took one ‘formal’ class.
If you are feeling lost or alone in getting yourself started then we invite you to reach out. We are a community exclusively for beginners and I’m the head of the pack. Having dealt with those same struggles in getting the right information in my hands so that I could move forward. The motivation was right and that is what gave Bead At Home birth and a home for you to come to learn as well.
We don’t have all the answers and we don’t offer all the classes at this level of jewelry making, but we do focus on the beginner and building that foundation with some basics to get you started, while building that confidence that can get you moving in the direction you would like to take your jewelry making skills.
It’s okay if you don’t know where you want to take those new skills yet, but we always know where you need to start, because…
‘Everyone Starts at the Beginning’
You are not alone. We are here to help because that’s what we do.
Now it’s your turn…share with us at least one take away with our time with Tara. Join the conversation and share some beading love.
We’ll leave the light on and we’ll be waiting to hear from you.
Until next time…beaded blessings.