Dear Design Doctor
I have been a jeweller for nearly 15 years but I feel I have reached a ceiling. I am selling ok with some good galleries and online boutiques, but I am not getting any new clients, no exciting commissions, no serious press interest.
I feel there is a gap between me and the next generation. To be honest my dream would be to become one of the big names in the field of contemporary jewellery. Or is that too pretentious?
Patricia van den Akker, Director of The Design Trust, answered this question as The Design Doctor in Crafts Magazine January/February 2015 (page 23) where it was titled ‘Planning your climb to the top’.
‘I think it’s wonderful to have a dream, to have the passion and determination to continue to develop yourself, and your career.
Recently I have seen a couple of creative clients in their 50’s who are more than ever determined to make the most of their career.
It’s often the best time in your life to be ambitious, as you hopefully have the self-knowledge, experience and confidence to make it happen.
Firstly I would ask you to name your role models: those creatives that you are looking up to, maybe even be a little envious of.
Who are they?
They could be contemporary jewellers, but also other makers, fashion designers or actors even. Create a list of say eight role models. Then research each of them in detail and start writing down your notes:
Why does this person specifically inspire you?
What are they known for?
What else do they do (to make money)?
What kind of work do they make specifically?
What’s the size of their business (in £s and employees)?
Who have they worked or collaborated with?
Where do they sell and exhibit?
What awards have they won?
Who has written about them?
What have they got that you haven’t?
What is it that would make you feel you have reached the top? A prestigious award or solo exhibition, an invite to be the key speaker at a major conference, a professorship or MBE, or would you just ‘know’?
You can learn so much from this exercise if you take your time to research and contemplate your answers. The better you know what you want, and what others have done before you to reach the top in their profession, the easier it is for you to identify the steps to turn your dream into reality.
Secondly ask yourself: Why this is so important to you?
What would reaching ‘the top’ mean to you?
Is this about your drive to be always the best?
Do you want recognition from your peers, be famous or rich?
Do you want to teach (in the broadest sense of the word)?
It will help you too to look back at your role model list to see what exactly inspired you in each of them to find your own motivations.
Be as specific as you can with this, and be honest with yourself too!
It’s so important you listen to what YOU really want.
Knowing WHY you want this will help you to get closer to your values and motivations, and what ‘the top’ really means to you.
Start to think about the people that need to know about you, who you want to focus on. Who are the decision makers, the galleries, curators, collectors and journalists that you want to get to know?
It does take time, patience, risk and consistency to build relationships to reach the top.
It will help enormously if you become an expert: Focus on your particular niche, talents and passions, and get known for that.
People love experts, because they are the best in their field.
As an expert your work will become more valuable, you will be invited to exhibit and speak, which will lead to other opportunities, and so on.
It also helps to start collaborating with other creatives or work in partnership with more prestigious galleries or brands. You and your work will have become more ambitious and you might need others to execute your bigger vision.
And since your style and vision is defined and recognised you may feel more secure within collaborations, and find that instead of diffusion and conflict there is a new creative friction and energy, enabling you to explore very innovative solutions within a partnership.
To reach the top it’s not just your creative skills you’ll need to work on, but broaden out and become more than ‘just’ a maker.
Could you become involved in curating or organising exhibitions or events?
Write a specialist book about jewellery, become a critic or writer for a jewellery magazine or blog, a speaker at major events, a mentor, or judge for awards or events?
Think about joining non-profit organisations like studios or jewellery support organisations or other creative committees to organise, network or influence decision making.
When you start to develop your profile and professional network in this way you will become more visible at a higher, more strategic level, which will lead to more opportunities again.
Heading for the top is a great destination. But the more you know WHAT you mean by that and WHY it is important to you, the more likely it will be a wonderful journey with amazing people and experiences too! Enjoy the ride.’