Jewelry artist April Hale created a full-time business by designing for her customers. Here is her story.
ABI: How would you describe the concept for your line?
AH: I make sustainable, handcrafted jewelry by combining blacksmithing, enameling, and fine silversmithing into an unconventional, yet graceful and refined aesthetic.
I enamel on copper and steel, both of which are reclaimed from scrap metal. By using reclaimed materials, I am breathing life back into the metals, connecting our past cultures to the present through my view of the contemporary landscape. A rosehip in winter or the first glacier lilies in spring are visual elements that may be incorporated into a necklace or a pair of earrings.
By tying colors and forms from the environment into the jewelry, I bring the landscape onto the body of the wearer. In making pieces, I focus on design, function, comfort, and simple beauty.
ABI: How were you able to transform your business to a full-time job?
AH: I have been making jewelry for over ten years and hold a Craft Certificate in Metalsmithing from the Appalachian Center for Craft in Smithville, Tennessee and an MFA from Montana State University in Bozeman. During my first year of graduate school, I was asked by the owner of a Bozeman gallery to have a show of my conceptual jewelry that addresses my relationship with the wilderness and is crafted from natural materials such as bones, fur, plant seeds, and felted wool.
Since this body of work is not very sellable, the owner asked if I could create a line of jewelry that would be more wearable and appealing to consumers. From there, April Hale Jewelry has grown into what it is today. I currently sell my work via my website, regional craft shows, and at eight stores around the country.
I initially held other part-time jobs, dividing my time between my business and teaching art at Montana State University and, later, working part-time for another metalsmith. Earlier this year I moved to Missoula and decided to devote my time fully to my art and my business.
The process of becoming a self-supporting artist has been difficult, enlightening, frightening, and fulfilling. To make a living at what I love is incredible, and I have only been able to do it through stubbornness and the support of many other folks.
ABI: What is the Artrepreneur Program that you joined, and how did it help you?
HA: The Artrepreneur Program, created by Montana Arts Council, is an incredible 9-month course that helps artists understand business. The program covers everything from building an inventory, branding, and marketing strategies to setting short- and long-term goals, creating a studio budget, and writing a business plan. We also do two mentorships – one with another artist and one with a creative-sector business.
Thanks to the Artrepreneur Program, I have cohesive branding for my jewelry, I am starting to understand who my target customer is, I have a mission statement, and am writing a business plan. Through the mentorship, I worked with another metalsmith to troubleshoot problems that I was having with enameling on steel. Overall, I am far more confident in my business skills after having been through the program.