Sunday, April 3, 2016

Yoo hoo, got a jones for cool jewelry? Lisa Gaffney talks about being a jewelry-maker, stamping metal and so much more.

Anyone who knows me knows I can't live without cool jewelry. Earrings, bracelets, necklaces--I crave them. ALL. THE. TIME. And Lisa Gaffney makes the coolest. She's worked in publishing, fashion and entertainment, and found her true calling designing jewelry. So of course, I had to interview her because a. I love jewelry and b. I love people who give up what they think they should be doing and find what they really should be doing.

Thank you, thank you, Lisa!

I always want to know what sparks creativity?

People's stories spark my creativity.  Life in general sparks my creativity.  One of my elevator pitches for my business is “Inspired by life events, Heart and Sol Designs creates whimsical, handcrafted-hand stamped jewelry, accessories, pet tags and ornaments.”

The “about me” blurb from my Amazon shop is “Heart and Sol Designs was born out of the desire to make a difference and be creative in my daily life. I wanted to do something that would get me out of bed in the morning without hitting the snooze button. I now have the opportunity to make gifts for significant events in people's lives. A day doesn't go by that I am not moved and touched by people. I am also very fortunate to have a great support system - a wonderful husband and family and great friends and two hilarious rescue dogs. Every day I am filled with gratitude for my life and that I have this opportunity to run this business. People and their stories inspire me!”

What got you interested in doing jewelry with words? (Words have such power, don't they?)

I have always been a writer.  As a teen, I loved to write.  I would write poetry and short stories.  It was cathartic for me.  It helped me get through Junior and Senior High to be able to write.  I kept a diary from the time I was Junior High all the way through college and into my “adult” life.

In a sense, it was a natural progression for me to start writing on metal.  I remember being in Junior High and going to a mall and seeing silver rings with words stamped on them.  I was mesmerized by them.  They each had one word stamped.  One had “DREAM” and one had “BELIEVE” and so on.  They had inspirational words on them.  I never did buy one but I did to back to the store often and “visit” them.  Funny, I know.  I didn’t need to own one to be inspired by them.

How do you train to be a jeweler, especially when you and your passion in junior high school!  When was the moment when you knew--this is what I want to do.

I didn’t train to be a jeweler.  I have always needed a creative outlet.  If I wasn’t writing then I was stringing beads and making necklaces, bracelets and earrings.

One of my first “jobs” was working for a scientific book publishing house.  I definitely needed a creative outlet then.  I started my own business then of making brooches out of puzzle pieces and vintage watch parts.  I was also making beautiful (if I do say so myself) eyeglass leashes.  I sold to a few small boutiques.

A few years later, when stretchy bracelets were all the rage, I was making Swarovski crystal and silver bead bracelets.  Even though they didn’t have words I found that creating something beautiful had a cathartic effect on me.

Years later, my husband and I were visiting San Francisco and I stumbled across a book about jewelry.  In the book was hand stamped jewelry.  In that moment, I knew that I had to do this.  Memories of my childhood came flooding back.  Those rings, so vivid in my mind, were inspiring me 25+ years later.  I knew I had to figure out how to stamp metal and make jewelry.  That was the beginning of the reinventing of Heart and Sol Designs.

You've told me that people have amazing stories about anniversaries, births, deaths, weddings, that you are deeply moved emotionally. Can you share some of the stories? I think that making jewelry is akin to creating a character in fiction is so many ways. Would you agree?

Oh, yes.  I cry all the time in my job.  I get moved to tears ALL the time.  Sometimes the stories are fun and happy occasions.  Like when a couple bought a cabin on the Oregon coast.  Their whole family helped them renovate it and make it beautiful.  They came to me to make personalized key chains for everyone who helped make their vacation house a home.

One of my most popular items is a key chain for Dad.  It is mixed metal with top copper disc having the year he became a Daddy, the middle disc has a quote like “a daughter’s first love”, and the bottom disc has the name or names of the children.  Often times I will make this key chain a week or so before the delivery so the mother can give it to the father at the hospital.  That one always moves me!  Truthfully, it moves me when a daughter is buying this for her dad and she is my age too.

Some of the sad stories, of course, involve death.  I had a woman contact me and ask if I could make 3 bracelets for a grandmother whose whole family perished in a house fire.  She wanted me to wait a day or two and she would get back to me as one of the children was still in the hospital and she wanted to hold off on the names until she knew if the infant was going to make it.  Knowing that I am stamping names of loved ones that recently have passed is heart-wrenching.

Usually, around Christmas, I get requests from men and women who are deployed overseas to make gifts for their loved ones.  That too always is remarkably moving.

I commissioned some artwork to be made into stamps – a dog angel and a cat angel – so I could make memorial gifts for when people have lost a loved furry companion.  Literally every time I stamp them I well up.  Honestly, when I was talking to the artist about them and received the artwork I cried.  They are so sweet and so evocative.  Plus, I am a HUGE softy anyway, so the idea of a kitty angel or a dog angel…it just makes me well up.

I have stamped some funny things too.  That is always a pleasure when someone has a sense of humor.  A mother asked me to stamp a bracelet for her daughter that said, “I love you, Poophead!”

I love that you and so many different jobs before you found your calling! I've been a Valium-giver for two poodles, worked at a dirty puzzle factory, answered phones, wrote high fashion copy while coming into work in jeans and a black t-shirt, and wrote about movies. What were the jobs you had and which was the worst? The best? And why?

Over the years, I have had many jobs - RA in the dorms in college, Sales and stock in a sporting good store, assistant manager of a plus size women’s clothing store, photographer’s assistant, executive assistant to a radio mogul, accounting assistant to a CPA group and more.

In High School I worked for the San Diego Zoo.  I loved that job.  I mostly worked in the gift shops.  But once in a while they would put me in the information booth.  That was fun!  And, what a fabulous place to take a lunch break.

I worked for a fashion company for a long time.  I worked in the office managing human resources and the legal end of things.  I learned so much about running a business during those long 8 years.  I think the most important thing I learned is that I really love working for myself.

What's obsessing you now and why?

Because so much of my business is online, the thing I am obsessing about the most right now is the best way to be found.  Most of my online presence is on Etsy.  There have been a lot of changes there and there is a lot of competition as well.  So, I would say, the thing I am obsessing about the most right now is how to be sure my gifts show up in the Etsy search and the Google search.  The words that are buzzing around in my head a lot right now are “algorithm” and “relevance”.

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

The question you should have asked is, “How do you stamp metal?”  All of my work is done with individual steel stamps and a hammer.  Each letter, number or design stamp is stamped individually.  It is different than engraving.  Engraving is done with a machine and usually there is more precision with machine engraving as well.  Engraving takes metal away to make the impression whereas hand stamping presses into the metal, distorting it, to make the impression.  Hand stamping has a more organic look and feel.  It’s never perfect either, which I love.  Even when I stamp the same thing over and over it will never be exactly the same – kind of like a snowflake.

Find Lisa's designs at Etsy.
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