Megan Archer is the jeweler and business mind behind Aflame Creations. She works in copper enameling, process that combines a metal base with powdered glass. We caught up with her to talk about studio spaces, the business of being an self employed artist, and, if she’ll ever make an owl.
Hey there! Thanks for speaking to us during this kind of brutal winter. I know that you have recently moved into a studio space, which is probably different versus working from home?
I worked from home for three years and was like “I need to get out”. Initially it was really fun, but after a while I found it was too easy to let things slide when you’re at home all the time. You don’t see people as much, and if I know that I have to get up to go to a place I find I organize my time better. I have to drive over to Dartmouth and I have to drive back so I don’t want to be in rush hour. My time management has gotten a lot better since I got the studio. I’ve only had it for three months though. In the long run it’s going to help as I can do studio sales and pop-ups.
I can imagine that even now that you can’t just roll out of bed in your pajamas you’re probably getting a lot more done.
Yeah, I’m super efficient when I’m there because there aren’t any distractions. My cat’s not there, I don’t even have internet there, so there’s nothing there to do but listen to music, do work, and leave. It’s awesome. Getting dressed like a real person is a bonus. Working in your pajamas loses its novelty pretty quickly.
The luster goes off that gemstone pretty quickly.
Really really does.
Seeing from work you’ve done in the past, you’ve definitely had an evolution in your work over time. What’s the guiding light towards what you make today?
I started making jewelry because I had a day job and I was bored. I was taking all these different classes in the evening. Textiles and pottery making. Other types of jewelry making, I did silversmithing for a little bit. I just really loved enameling, and I found it came really naturally and as I kept doing that the other stuff fell away.
When I started at the farmers market I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just took everything I had made jewelry-wise and brought it down. People responded to the enameled copper pieces more than the other things like some felt and glass bead stuff. That was what was selling, so I ended up experimenting more with it. Of course since I was working more with it my designs got better, and so on and so on, now that’s all I do.
You’re at the market every week and that’s pretty much your career now?
It has expanded! I’d have to crunch the numbers to do the percentages. The portion of my revenue from wholesale and craft shows has increased. The market is still pretty huge. In the beginning that was all I was doing, but it’s good not to have all your eggs in one basket.
Continuing down that road, the market probably gives you some instantaneous feedback from sales. Do you find that’s one and one with your vision, or has that lead you down some interesting roads?
I tend to just make what I like, and I like a lot of different styles. There are a few general themes to my work and a few different collections. Most people will find something that speaks to them. Sometimes a customer will make a suggestion and I’ll think “That’s actually a really good idea” and then I’ll make it. People will suggest things that I know for my body of work really won’t fit. I honestly won’t do it if I don’t like it.
It’s a fine line. People say “You should do an owl, you should do an owl” and I want to respond with “You can get an owl at the dollar store, I don’t want to do an owl”. So I’m not going to do it. Maybe I could have sold two thousand dollars worth of owls but too bad, my loss. You need to draw a line somewhere or else your stuff ends up looking like everything else. It becomes all over the place.
So even though you said you had a few different collections, you see the value in a unified “This is what I do”?
You can tell! By collections I mean I have a few pieces that are botanical, a group that are nautical, and then a group that is geometric and more abstract. Thematically they’re a little different, but the style is similar, and it’s the same materials. You can tell I made it. If someone has a suggestion and I think “Oh yeah, that will work”. Ill try it out and once I’ve made one if I think it’s great I’ll keep doing it. My joke is always someone requests a lobster waving from a lighthouse and no I’m not going to do this.
My mother retired and started doing these big huge loose oil work painting. She’d always come back from craft shows with the same frustrated, “Everyone wants these diddly-dee paintings”. Peggy’s cove and whatnot.
Yeah, totally! I feel I’m pretty lucky as the farmers market is a great market. The demographic is such that people don’t want the really typical stuff that you can get anywhere. They want something different, and they want to buy it from the person who made it. Once and a while someone will come in from the cruise ships and they want a Canadian flag. You can get that anywhere, I’m not going to make that.
The difference between selling Megan’s work versus Megan’s owl. Speaking of selling your work, you had your first studio sale recently. How’s that versus the way you’ve been selling before that?
It was great. It was the first time I ever did something like that so I didn’t know what to expect, and I don’t know if it would turn out the same way if I did it again. I think it turned out so well because I already had an existing customer base. I post a lot on social media and have access to them as well as telling people at the market. A lot of the people that showed up are people who buy my stuff at the market all the time. If I didn’t have that who knows if anyone would have showed up.
I did well in a little three hour window without having to pay anyone else rent. But! It’s the type of thing you can only do once an a while. If you’re already selling regularly do it too often and people will just wait till there is a sale.
Out of that stuff that never took off is there anything close to your heart that you think “Why aren’t people paying attention to this?”
That doesn’t happen all the time, but it definitely happens. I’ll make something and say “Ah I love it it’s great” but clearly it was just for me. Usually I’m really lucky with the nature of my work as I can make one, put it out there, and see what happens. I know with a lot of different mediums there’s so much overhead that you have no choice but to make fifty of something and then you’re hedging your bets. I can literally just make one, so usually I’ll make one or two and see what happens. If it sells I make more immediately and just keep going like that.
I might make a bunch if I think “Yeah this is going to be a winner”, but hey I’ve been wrong.
You can get an owl at the dollar store, I don’t want to do an owl. Maybe I could have sold two thousand dollars worth of owls but too bad, my loss. You need to draw a line somewhere or else your stuff ends up looking like everything else.
Any particular examples?
Some of the geometric ones I’ve done recently. Most of them have done fairly well, but there was a couple I was like “I just love this” and now I’ve got a big pile of them. But that’s fine. Probably a couple of years ago I had one I thought was super great but nobody cared. It’s fine though, I have so many designs that it doesn’t bother me. If one isn’t to someone’s liking it’s okay.
Would you say that a part of the process, not to give it less weight than it deserves, throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks?
Not really, but when I first started that was what I was doing. I was new to jewelry, I was new to sales, I was new to interacting with the public. It was all completely new and I had no clue. It was a crash course at the market with thousands of people every weekend giving feedback, as you said earlier, immediately. Because I needed to make stuff every week, the more I did it the more my process and my technique got better.
One of the things I’ve learned is jewelers tend to have collections of work and people tend to do things thematically. It’s not really the fashion industry but it’s adornment, it’s something you put on your body. People tend to dress themselves really seasonally, and colours change seasonally. I like to go “Spring/summer stuff is here!” and to release it at the right time I have to have it all planned out beforehand. So I’m working spring/summer designs in January.
[at the market] it’s a community of artists! We talk about things we’re thinking of making, we talk about the business, how things are doing, and how we can promote stuff. Even if one of us is a painter and one of us is a jeweler, it’s all still the business of being a self employed artist or craftsperson.
That’s got to be a lot of fun to look out the window in January and think “SPRING!”
Exactly. It’s not easy. I can make things really quickly and don’t have a lot of turnaround time. In the fashion industry they have to make things a year and a half before. It’s out of this world, I don’t know how they do it.
Basically I’ll make a collection and attempt to sell it. Then judging on how people react to pieces, I’ll keep making some and let others fall away. That’s generally how I do it. It’s not piecemeal like it was when I first started. Now that I’m doing wholesale as well it’s really important as most stores and buyers do their buying in February and March. By end of February you have to have your collection together and send them your catalog, so they can have a look and place their order. It’s forced me to be really on the ball with it and get really organized. It’s great. A lot of behind the scenes work I didn’t think about when I started.
A good grip of the folks reading this are people who work on commission or individual piece by piece. Do you do wholesale reactively, or is it more “Here are the proven pieces”?
For stores that I’ve been working with for a while they know what I have. Then I’ll send them my new collection: “Here’s my new stuff just so you know when you place your order”. If it’s a brand new customer I send them all the photos and info and let them know what sells at the market. But the thing is what sells can be really different between the farmers market and one store or another. It can vary, things that sell like hotcakes at the market may not move at a store. You never know.
They’re the ones buying them outright so they have to take the chance. They know their customers and I can make suggestions. If they order a bunch of things and I feel that’s a really weird collection, I might say something, “Hey may I suggest these as they sell well”.
Where you talked how getting out and not just working in your pajamas have been great; how has being able to see people, outside of the people you’re selling your work to, influenced you?
When I’m working and making stuff I’m always by myself still. Then at the market other than the customers I have the other vendors at the market, and it’s a community of artists! We talk about things we’re thinking of making, we talk about the business, how things are doing, and how we can promote stuff. We’re talking about our work a lot. Even if one of us is a painter and one of us is a jeweler, it’s all still the business of being a self employed artist or craftsperson. There’s a lot in common. I’ve made some really good friends, and learned a lot from some people while getting really good advice.
With the e3c as well I’ve met designers who have helped with my website, and talked with other people who are self employed in other fields. Even with the general business of getting your thing out there it’s good to talk to other people who are doing that same thing. Generally I’m the only jeweler there but I still find it super helpful to go. I’ll hear about events, or a person, I always end up learning something new or hearing about something that could be helpful. Or even just for moral support or getting out of the house. I make it sound like I have no life, which is not true, but busy times of the year like leading up to the holidays. When I’m really working a lot during those crunch times, to go to an event is a resounding “Yes”.
Megan will be at the Halifax Crafters Society spring market April 18th and 19th.