“My whole life I’ve been completely wrapped up in writing,” says jewelry designer and writer Tara Walker. “At a certain point though, I think I just longed to make something with my hands, something physical that could just be done when it was done – unlike a piece of writing which never really feels finished to me.”
Walker’s jewelry line, Lucky Whale proved just the outlet Walker craved.
“For a while,” she says, “I had a hard time seeing the connection between [writing and making jewelry] until I realized that one process frees me up for the other. I think the reason I make jewelry, in some ways, is to refresh my sanity for my writing.”
This week Lucky Whale bobs up at The Andersonville Galleria, where Walker is proud to begin showcasing her designs.
Our Town How did you come up with the name for your store?
Tara Walker Completely by accident. I have a really good friend in Denver who draws the most wonderful things without even thinking about it. One day we were at a restaurant in Denver and he started doodling on the children’s menu. One of his doodles was the whale with a shamrock in his hat. At the time I was looking for a name and a logo for my jewelry business and suddenly there it was, in front of me. There have been times when I’ve thought, weird, I have a smiling whale for a logo. But overall I think it actually fits with the playful aesthetic that I bring to my designs.
OT What sort of things inspire your designs?
TW Right now the majority of my inspiration comes from hunting for interesting things to reuse. I don’t want to make things that are just pretty. Pretty is fine, but I want to make something surprising, something that stretches my imagination in the process. One of my favorite things to do is repurpose images from unexpected places. For instance, I found a bunch of brochures from the ‘50s at the Brown Elephant – (my favorite was about the “father of steel”) and they had these wonderful illustrations in them. The most fun thing for me is seeing something like that and imagining what it can become.
OT You’re a writer and your visual art often contains literary elements. Coincidence? Conscious choice?
TW A little of both. There seems to be an obsession with putting birds and butterflies on jewelry. (“Put a bird on it!”) That’s fine of course, I like birds and butterflies – but I am always looking to push myself away from the traditional aesthetic. I like books and poetry so I think it was inevitable that they end up in my jewelry. One of my favorite literature-inspired pieces features the Dorothy Parker poem Resume. The whole thing fits into a 1x2 inch pendant so it works really well. It’s a pretty gold pendant so it looks like there’s going to be a prayer or something inside it, but you look closer and suddenly it’s Dorothy Parker’s quippy “Razors pain you, rivers are damp, acids stain you, and drugs cause cramp…”
OT Isn’t it hard to let your creations go?
TW Sometimes I think I won’t be able to let a piece go, so I keep it for a while and wear it until I decide it’s time to move on. Lately I’ve become better at letting things go, because most of the fun comes from finding new materials to play with. But there are some pieces that have sentimental value to me. When my grandmother died, she left an entire storage unit full of everything from postcards she received as a child to receipts from the milkman in 1963. I’ve used a lot of her things in my jewelry designs. My favorite piece was a pendant I made from a hair appointment card she’d been given, probably 50 years ago. I wasn’t able to give that one up. If I do let a meaningful piece go, I like to make sure that the person who buys it knows the story behind it. I try to give a little bit of information on the back of the tag that explains what the piece is made from.
OT How impactful is Etsy for an artist?
TW I love Etsy, however I have to admit I haven’t exactly had a cascade of sales. To really succeed on Etsy you have to work hard at promoting yourself and your work, and I don’t do that nearly enough. So, in terms of sales, it hasn’t been that impactful for me. I’ve done much better in stores. However, what’s been really great about Etsy is the inspiration it provides, and the community of artists and designers that it has created. I’ve gotten so many ideas from looking at what other artists are making and how they’re selling their work. There’s also a lot of advice provided on Etsy for up-and-coming designers and I really appreciate that. Overall, I think you can get a lot out of Etsy, but you can’t expect to just put a piece up for sale and wait for someone to find it.
OT How did you get involved with the galleria?
TW I’ve always loved the galleria and fantasized about having a booth there. I recently quit one of my part-time teaching jobs, and it freed up a lot of time. However, it also put a hole in my income, so I decided that instead of getting a different part-time job, I would put that time into jewelry. I applied for a booth on the their website and the wheels were set in motion. I’m very excited and super grateful that I get to share this space with all of these incredible artists.
OT Advice for aspiring jewelry makers?
TW I never thought I’d be asked that question, especially thinking about how seven years ago I couldn’t even figure out how to open a jump ring. I guess my advice would be to look at the work of other artists and learn from them. Keep messing around until you make something you like. I’d say most of what I’ve learned has been through trial and error. There are still a lot of errors, by the way. And a lot of messes.
Join Walker Friday April 6th at 6 p.m. for her grand opening at the Andersonville Galleria. All Lucky Whale items are 25% off for one night only.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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