Artist and jewelry maker Robin Urton of Dreambird Art shares her thoughts on inspiration, creativity and selling wholesale.
ABI: You are a painter and also make jewelry. Where do you get inspiration for your paintings?
RU: I credit my dreams for leading me on a path to creating art. I began with journaling about my dreams, then painting them. Eventually I became less interested in illustrating an experience that had already occurred, preferring to be in a more open process of “dreaming” while I paint… allowing myself to be open to whatever appears out of suggested patterns and textures in the paint. Or sometimes I begin with a collage that flows from a free association process of images.
Frequent themes include birds, trees, botanicals, the “sacred feminine” and dreaming Buddhas. Because of the surreal quality of much of my work, I decided to call my art and jewelry business “Dreambird Art” (I am the dreaming bird which makes a frequent presence in my work).
RU: I started out with creating jewelry that only included images from my paintings, so from the beginning there’s been a lot of birds and flowers that were zoom images from own art, which is both nature and dream inspired. I am drawn most to images that derive from the natural world, and I have also found that these are the images that others are most attracted to.
One of my most popular pendants is an image of a bare tree from one of my own photos. I make the image transparent so that metallic leaf (silver, gold or copper) shows through the image. I also have a “moonrise tree”, a “sunset tree”, an oak tree, and redwood tree. I think the image of the tree connects deeply with many people because on an unconscious level people understand that their own vascular system closely approximates the branching of trees. This is why the tree is such an apt symbol for life itself (the “tree of life”). The upper structure of the tree symbolizes reaching out while the root system can be seen as a metaphor for reaching in.
I think people are drawn to such images on a subconscious level without fully realizing why. Occasionally customers would ask me to do a pendant based on a specific animal, plant or flower, and if I’m already attracted to the idea, then I’ll follow a suggestion. I am actually very gratified by the idea of functionality, and that people can wear my art!
ABI: How do you balance your working life?
RU: I’ll be the first to confess that my time management skills need some fine-tuning so that I do a better job of separating my business and personal life. Running a start-up business on your own is a lot of work, and it’s easy for one’s creativity to be sapped by the business side of the equation… especially if you are not great at self-imposed schedules.
I am finding that it’s absolutely necessary to feed the creative impulse regularly, or else I completely lose touch with it. I used to require large blocks of time to get into my creative mind, but since that’s not been available to me lately, my studio practice is changing into one where I can utilize smaller chunks of time more effectively.
I always keep paper on my drawing board and have everything ready to go so that when I take a break from the jewelry business I can jump right in. Instead of creating complex paintings that take months to finish, I am now creating small drawings and paintings that can be finished more quickly. I have a lot of image files that I collect for ready inspiration. I also keep a journal of my dreams so that I have some ideas that can be easily snatched up whenever I decide to turn to them. My favorite past-times include nature walks and visiting museums and galleries, so all of this feeds back into my creative inspiration.
ABI: What lessons have you learned from selling your jewelry wholesale?
RU: I have learned a lot from both retailing and wholesaling my art, and they serve complimentary purposes. What I enjoy about retail is the direct interaction with customers, seeing what they respond to. It’s very valuable to have that experience before attempting to bring the work to a larger audience where I don’t have the opportunity to meet the customers directly.
Wholesale is a completely different ball of wax, so you are learning how to relate to the needs of a store instead of an individual. Pricing your items either too high or too low can be detrimental, so it’s very helpful to have enough experience with your product (and your competition) to know where to begin.
Many artists entering wholesale aren’t familiar with the idea of a proper markup from wholesale to retail price. Retailers need to mark up more than 2x to cover the costs of running their business. Developing a long-term relationship is the goal, so you strive to do whatever it takes to help them be successful with your products. It requires much research to come up with your policies, and you should have a firm foundation in all of this before approaching the stores so that you aren’t changing your policies down the road.
Good photography and advertising regularly is essential. Most of all, learning how to run a business takes a whole different kind of creativity than being in the studio. If you aren’t good at any of the aspects of running a business (accounting, record-keeping, public relations, etc), it’s not a bad idea to hire someone who can help with these roles. I’ve been a one-woman show all along, so I really need to follow my own advice on this.
My goal is to expand my business model to include other persons to help me with some of these roles. Ideally, I’d love to create a business which becomes a creative cooperative, where other artists are helping me with production.