Interdisciplinary. Community. Advocacy. Humor.
Hello again, fellow intrepid makers! Today I’m sharing some tidbits and insights from a lovely conversation I had with Aurélie Guillaume, a fabulous art jeweler and enamelist from Montréal, Canada. Currently she is the artist in residence at Lillstreet Gallery, and will be their featured jewelry artist for the month of July. I spoke with her about her work, her current career path, and her thoughts on making a living in the “art jewelry world.” I’ve snagged some pictures for this post from her website, and her fab Instagram feed. Seriously, go check them out for yourself. (Aurélie's website has photos of the BACKS of her work, which are as stunning as the fronts! I stole a couple to share here, but trust me -- you want to see the rest.) Her work is incredible and her Instagram is full of process shots. Aurelie is an incredible craftsperson and artist, and should definitely be on your radar.
Aurélie: How it’s happening now
Amarette: Yeah, and for them, because I think it’s very personal and different for everybody too, like it’s not like there’s a right answer that’s the perfect solution. Because I’m at the very beginning, I’ve been working full time for about two years now, and I’m just starting to get work out in the world and meet people and stuff like that, and so I’ve been really interested to hear how other people have gotten where they are, and where they’re looking to, or maybe they’re not, just other people’s thoughts…
Aurélie: yeah, yeah, and how they got where they are.
Amarette: Yeah, so the first question I’ve been asking is, if you were to describe your career right now, what does this moment look like for you, like what are you doing, what are you working on.
Aurélie: I am working on a million different things at the same time, and it’s good and it’s not, but, yeah. It’s just like, I feel my career right now is just like saying yes to every opportunity that comes my way as much as possible, because I’ve only been out of school for about two years now… I had my graduation two years ago.
Amarette: for MFA?
Aurélie: No, I don’t have my MFA, undergrad. And it’s been kind of a rollercoaster since then, like in a good way, which is exciting the whole way. But it’s just like I think it’s a bit all over the place, you know, because it’s hard to figure out what you’re exactly... I mean I know what I want to do in terms of jewelry right now, and I know you can evolve from that, and keep working and making your work better, but I find it’s just like in terms of trying to settle in your career and, you know, finding your galleries, and then collectors and it’s kind of at the moment I find it’s like a little bit of everything. It’s just taking any opportunity really, so I’m doing a residency right now at Lillstreet art center and I’ve had a show recently at Reinstein and Ross (http://www.reinsteinross.com/gallery/) in New York, and since then it’s just been people contacting me and I’m like, “Ok, yes yes yes!” And then I’m like, I said yes to everything.
Amarette: Yeah! Awesome! That’s great, though. So, did you know that this was what... like did you say, “I want to be an art jeweler, I want to be an artist, that’s what I wanna do,” or have you come to it, kind of..
Aurélie: No, this is not, like, first, I didn’t even know I was gonna be a jeweler, like I was doing a graphic design program, and I really hated working on computers. And then I started jewelry and I really love working with the techniques, and I did the jewelry school in Montreal, and then I went to Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, on the east coast of Canada, and this is where I discovered enamel work and this is where I discovered I could put two and two together, with illustration and working with the techniques, and still feel challenged by working with metal working with my organic elements such as enamel. But still having my own artistic input into the work, and settling in for… like enamel is helping me exactly get what I want from paper to metal, or glass, I would say.
Aurélie: Oh yeah! The thing is, I did my thing, and I was just like, I don’t know about jewelry, I’m more interested in art jewelry than traditional classic jewelry, like working in a store as a goldsmith, and I’m like, I’ve always admired art jewelers, and I thought it was an interesting world. And you know all the events that are put together just like Schmuck (http://www.munichjewelleryweek.com/) and Joya (http://www.joyabarcelona.com/index.php/en/info) and SIERAAD (http://www.sieraadartfair.com/), and like SNAG, and all these things, y’know, and it’s super exciting and it kind of helps you travel to places and meet people.
Amarette: Yeah, that’s what I want to do! So have you done any of the overseas, like Sieraad and...
Aurélie: No, not yet.
Amarette: Ok. That’s my goal.
Aurélie: But the thing is, it kind of came by surprise because for a while when I was doing my undergrad I was not doing what I’m doing right now, and I really didn’t like what I was making, and then I just decided to do… because I think if I didn’t see anything like that before, like oh people don’t really do like young illustration like I do… Or like, in enamel, I don’t know if I was gonna be received, but then at some point you can’t think just about what people are gonna like.
Amarette: Right. Well, cause if they like it because...then they’ve seen it before, they have to have seen it before in order to like it, so… you have to do something new.
Aurélie: Exactly, so I’m just excited to do it, and I have so much pleasure making these characters out of enamel, and for me it was just like I just felt I was finally myself, and I was doing something that was getting me to the bench every morning, and keeping me away from my bed, you know? And I feel like when you make… I’m very honest with what I make. And I’m not trying to please anybody, and I’m not trying to be somebody else, or compromise.
Aurélie: It’s very authentic. And, I feel like people can see that through the work, you see my work and they’re like “oh it makes me happy.” and for me it’s a compliment, you know? it’s just like if this is making you happy then like, I’ve done my job. And it’s almost like I just happen to be part of this world because I mean, I don’t know, I just gave something that was very genuine to the world, and it was very well received, and… Cause I don’t think you, like, I mean - people, if they really want something, they can get it. But I feel like, you can’t be like “I’m gonna be a contemporary jeweler “ So like, people will make you, I find. I don’t know if I’m wrong.
Amarette: That’s what I’m saying, I don’t know that there is a right, I think.
Aurélie: There’s not a right way, but the thing is that you can participate to these foreign countries and all, but if people don’t want your work, then you can’t be this artist. Unfortunately, it’s really sad to say. You know, I mean it’s like...
Amarette: Yeah, well, I guess you could, but just be for you. If you couldn’t make a living, maybe, at it.
Aurélie: It depends where you want to be.
Amarette: Yeah. So that’s the other thing that I’ve been wanting to talk to people about, and kind of part of my idea with the blog, is to ask some of the questions and talk about some of the things that are kind of “taboo.” Like people don’t like money.
Amarette: Cause people don’t really talk about it, so if you’re uncomfortable with anything...
Aurélie: [Laughs] We’ll see, depending on the question!
Amarette: ...just don’t answer it. But just from a basic standpoint: how do you make a living?
Aurélie: Haha [both laugh]. I don’t know if I make a living… I think I’ve been very lucky because I just had a solo show in New York, and so...
Amarette: And was it good, were there lots of sales from it?
Aurélie: I think I sold about half the works.
Amarette: Wow, awesome!
Aurélie: And so, selling half the show obviously was really great for me. But you know, it’s really hard. Like, I maxed out my credit cards many times, and it’s like - in terms of money it’s a roller coaster. You cannot be in this field and do this for money. This is - no. This is...no.
Aurélie: And I don’t think you can - I mean, you can only be an artist, but it’s really hard. And I’m working as a teacher, I try and sell production jewelry, and once in awhile I sell a one-of-a-kind piece. It’s not necessarily sustainable yet, but I feel like when you’re an emerging artist, this is how it is: you get out of college, first you have like thousands of millions of dollars of debt, right? That you’re in Canada or in the US. It’s a little bit less in Canada, but you still get out - you know, I have debts, but - You know, you have to invest, a lot, and maybe be in a situation where it’s, you’re maybe eating pasta every day. But then, eventually, it’s gonna come back. But you know, it takes time, and - I think, if you are dedicated and you really love what you do, money is the last thing that comes to mind. Of course, I’m stressed out everyday. Like, I bought a ring yesterday.
Amarette: [laughs] I know!
Aurélie: I bought books today, and -
Amarette: I bought a bunch of books, yep.
Aurélie: - I’m just like “Fuck, I’ve been spending so much money! But then I talk to my gallerist, and she’s like “Oh we sold a piece!” I’m like [sighs]
A: Perfect! [laughs]
Aurélie: No, but it’s just like, I live month to month, and I’m not an established artist. I’m just starting my career and it’s hard, but we’re creative, right? So like...
Amarette: You make it work.
Aurélie: You make it work. And eventually, it’s gonna work. And if it doesn’t, then I don’t know what I’m gonna do.
Amarette: I don’t think you’ll probably have to worry about that, I think you’re gonna be fine [laughs]
Aurélie: But you know, I think one thing that I’d like to have in my career is maybe be teaching, because I also really love transmitting what I know, and to give tools to people to make something of their own. So, for me, I think I cannot only be an artist, because I think it’s also nice to have students that really challenge you. Like, “how do you do this?” And, “how can I make this?” And you will research and, eventually - Even in the past year, I’ve been teaching at Lillstreet Art Center, and people have asked me questions, and I have never tried these techniques, and then I want to try them just because maybe I can teach them something about it. And I learn so much from myself, too. So it helps me - And it’s good to do something else than just your work.
Amarette: Right, yeah. Get out of your bubble.
Aurélie: But, money is not something that’s… no.
Amarette: You don’t have a bunch of hundred dollar bills in your pocket all the time? [laughs]
Aurélie: No...I don’t know if I wish, though. I would be like “Ugh, money, whatever.” As long as I can live and eat and be happy, I’m fine. Oh and also grants, grants grants, [into microphone] apply to grants. I bought a kiln recently because I got a grant.
Amarette: Are most of your grants Canadian?
Aurélie: Well, I got a grant last year from the government of Quebec. But I don’t - Because I am in the US right now - But I’ve had this grant last year. But because I’m living here, it’s kind of hard to get grants from there. But grants, grants. I mean, I have a lot of friends, even here, that are applying for grants. And that’s also a big part of, I think, an artist’s income.
Amarette: Yeah, I hear that from other people, too.
Amarette: So, I’ve talked to you, I’ve talked to Nikki Coupee. I really want to talk to Jillian Moore. She said she would talk to me... I just got brave enough today to be like, “Come talk to me!”
Aurélie: Oh it’s ok, don’t worry, I’m like a normal person.
Amarette: Well, that’s what I’m really loving finding, is like “Oh hey, we’re all humans, it’s fine. It’s great.”
Aurélie: It’s like we all have this - we’re all going through the same struggle.
Amarette: Yep, absolutely.
Thank you, Aurélie, for your time and great answers to my questions! Next week I'll be back to share another conversation I had at the conference. Tune in then for a new perspective!