I met Barbara Tilley at the Philadelphia Beadfest last August. We have had a fun correspondence and I love her tutorials on Wubbers U.
She’s been so wonderful to work with, and her personality shines through in all her work. Author of several eBooks, check out her Bio and projects, and we are proud to introduce you to Barbara Tilley. –Lexi Erickson
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Lexi: How long have you been making jewelry? What inspired you to start making jewelry?
Barbara: I’ve been making jewelry about 12 years. I remember surfing the web and seeing these amazing wire wrapped pendants. My every waking moment was consumed by trying to figure out how they did it. I finally found a site on line that sold the instructions. It was a “Start your own jewelry business” wire wrapping kit. It had all the jewelry tools and wire and best of all, it had hours and hours of instructional DVD’s. The only problem was that it cost about $700. I day dreamed about it and went to the link a million times a day. Finally, my sister couldn’t stand seeing me in such agony and purchased it as a Christmas present for me. I can honestly say that it was the gift that kept on giving. The kit also encouraged you to sell your jewelry at shows. Because of it, I learned how to make jewelry and market and sell. I had many years of fun and extra money.
Tell us about your jewelry heroes, who do you admire and why do they inspire you?
My first jewelry hero would have to be Preston Reuther, Master Wire Sculptor. He was the creator of the “Start your own jewelry business” kit my sister purchased for me. He tells of learning how to make jewelry during his stay at a mental health institution. I loved that he wasn’t worried about impressing anyone with his education or mentorships. He just made his jewelry and had super success and shared everything that he had learned and experienced. He has since sold that business and opened up another site called Wire Jewelry Bootcamp. I emailed him once about something and he answered back with a very long and interesting email. He is a regular guy with some pretty impressive skills. His videos were so great because he made mistakes and kept on going. That way you got to see how to fix your mess ups. He is a great example of why you should pursue your dreams and never worry about measuring up.
Do you have a favorite artistic quote you can share with us?
“As my artist’s statement explains, my work is utterly incomprehensible and is therefore full of deep significance” ~Calvin and Hobbes
I love that because all of us have read artist’s statements that are “deeply significant”. (Said with deep sarcasm)
If you weren’t a jeweler, what would you be doing?
If I were not making jewelry, I would be painter. I love painting and my favorite subjects are my dogs. So I guess I would have an online shop selling paintings of corgis. Or maybe I would be a clay artist. I could also see me designing websites. I love leatherworking and glass fusing. But….I also make really good balloon animals. So maybe a clown?
Do you listen to music in the studio, and if so, what kind?
I love Roy Orbison, Elvis and Willie Nelson. They would be the sound track to my life. I love the angst of love lost.
What was your first piece?
I wish I still had it. I didn’t want to waste a “good cabochon”, so I made one out of polymer clay. It was purple with sparkles. And I was so skimpy with the wire that I cut the pieces too short and I didn’t have enough wire to go all the way around the piece. But I was so proud of it that I brought it to my local bead shop to show them anyway. They were so good to me. They oooooh and awwwwwwed and made me feel super talented. They kept up the praise and I now teach all their wire and metal classes. www.studiobaboo.com
Do you have a favorite tool or tools?
Do I have a favorite tool? Yes, it is whatever latest and greatest tool I purchased. I do have to say that I love my disc cutters. I have them in all the shapes; oval, square, heart, star, rectangle, and circle of course. They make everything so easy. Just don’t make me do the math to figure out how many precut shapes I could have bought for the price of the cutters. I don’t want to know that. I will just take them to bed with me and sleep with them like a child does with their favorite toy at Christmas.
Can you share your favorite jewelry making tip with us?
Do it, then do it again, and then about 20 more times. Everything becomes easy with practice. People say I make working with wire look easy. I tell them that it’s because I’ve been doing it for 12 years and it is easy. It will be easy one day for them too.
Do you have one piece which is your favorite? Why is it your favorite?
This is one of my favorite pieces. They are clay dogwood flowers and leaves that I made and then wired onto a wire frame. I added some pearls and Waaaaa Laaaaaa. Virginia Spring Necklace was born. I like it because I used my pottery skills to make the flowers and leaves and then use my jewelry skills to put it all together. Making your own beads is one of the most satisfying things you can do.
What’s your favorite color palette?
I love orange. Everyone tells me to stay away from orange, that many people don’t like it, but I love it. So I use it when I really love something and want to keep it for myself. When I want to sell something, I use purple. Purple sells but orange makes my soul sing!
What do you do for relaxation? Is it something which inspires you?
The best relaxation is rubbing my dog’s tummy. I have two corgis that seem to be all tummies with four tiny little legs. When I rub their tummies, they just melt into the sofa and it is the most relaxing thing in the world. It usually puts me to sleep along with them. My dogs make me happy, and being happy is the best way to get inspired.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received from your mentor?
I was working for the best boss I ever had at an architectural millshop. Although I was his accountant, the owner knew about my jewelry business. He asked me how things went the Monday after a big show. I remember mumbling about how I sold a fair amount of stuff, but after figuring out the hotel stay and this and that, I only had about $200 of profit for the whole weekend.
He nodded and said. “You know my hobby is fishing.”
“Yes”, I answered.
“Nobody ever paid me to go fishing.” He reminded me.
Is that the same advice you would pass on to your student?
I would pass that advice on to my students. If we get to have a hobby or interest that can somehow generate some income, then we really are lucky.
What gives you the greatest joy in making jewelry?
My greatest joy is sharing and inspiring my students. I love being able to share a tip or trick that helps. I love making something that seems so complicated easy by breaking it down step by step.
Throughout history, jewelry has been assigned a status, for example, it shows wealth, political power, employment, marriage status, spirituality power, etc. Do you feel your jewelry has any type of symbolism?
What’s in the future for you? Would you mind sharing a few of your goals?
My goals for the future include continued work with Wubbers and Craftartedu.com. I also would love to write articles for newsletters or magazines that are jewelry or craft related. I continue to teach locally and write on line tutorials.
Got any funny jewelry story to share with us?
I promised myself that I wouldn’t do any shows that year. The economy was so bad and people just aren’t going to shows. But when I got an email specially inviting me to this Art Award Show in Richmond I let the compliments go to my head. I decided to do the show.
Since I had travel to Richmond the afternoon before to the show our, display was pretty much done when we arrived Saturday morning. I planned it so that we were there about an hour before the anticipated mad rush of the opening of the convention center. Jackie, my best friend, and I used this time to set up our seating area and take a small look around.
Other vendors were also using this time to meander around the convention hall. One of those vendors that strolled into our booth was a fella dressed in what I like to call safari garb. You know….khaki shorts and tan shirt, hiking boots and I’m remembering a hat (I could be wrong about the hat). He was walking around looking at stuff while eating directly from a can. He had opened it with a can opener and the top was still attached. (I think hobos use that lid as a handle to suspend the can in the open fire to heat the contents of the can.)
It was such a strange thing to see….. (Who the heck eats directly out of the can (pointing a finger at my sister)….that I had to ask him what he was eating. Okay….what do you think? My sister (the directly from the can food connoisseur) guessed all of the Chef Boyardee’s or Clam Chowder (her newest favorite). But she was wrong…..and so would any guess that you could come up with. What was he eating?
Okra! A freaking can of cold okra. So…of course he became known to us as Okra man for the rest of eternity.
Okra man makes a second appearance in this tale of woe and misery.
My set up looked great. I was fully loaded with merchandise. The doors opened for business…..and nothing. The whole day of Saturday there were only 30 customers that paid to get in the door. I sold one “Sassy Saying” item for $7.00. It was the one that says “I’m in an abusive relationship, I have a cat”. I only mention which exact one because on Sunday two ladies came by looking for it. They were going to buy it. Oh well…..I only had one of them. My sales could have doubled. $14.00 Yikes!
Terri from Studio Baboo offered to sell me her Pipe and Drape, but I don’t think that I mentioned that Terri bought it before the invention of aluminum. This puppy is made from steel. I think that they lined the inside of the steel pipes with lead. Can’t prove it……but really believe it because it is simply the heaviest thing that I have tried to carry in a long time. Terri helped me put it in my car. My ex-husband helped me take it from my car into my trailer. And gravity helped me take it out of my trailer at the convention center.
Pipe and Drape
At the end of the show, we got everything taken down and packed away into the trailer with the only thing sitting on the floor of the convention center being the bag holding the pipe. It comes in a long narrow bag. Imagine a gym bag….but about 6 feet long with gym bag handles that you could put over your shoulder. (If you were a giant). So Jackie and I are looking at each other and back at the bag. Hmmmmmmmmm. I’ve filled the trailer, and in order for the pipe to go in…..it has to go ON TOP of the rest of the stuff. Okay….she and I are not going to be able to do this. I look around for someone….and guess what? Okra man is walking our way.
“Hey…..anyway you could help me get the last thing in my trailer?” I asked him.
Okra man declines because of rib issues but offers up his brother. Now…I don’t know if okra helps grow boys like this brother….but man o man…..I’m trying hard to get the next Mister Tilley to enjoy him some okra. This fella was Gooooood Looking. Yes sir eeeee. Young and all muscled up and just the guy for the job at hand.
I almost feel guilty asking this beautiful creature to break a sweat. “Please, can you help us pick this last bag and put it on top in the trailer?” I asked Okra man’s brother. “Sure”, he says and reaches down and without testing the heaviness of the bag at all, grabs two handfuls of material from the bag and jerks it up like a bar bell.
Holy crap….I thought he blew his inners out across the convention center. But he didn’t stop, he was on a mission and had an audience and inners be damned, he was getting this bag into that trailer if he died doing it.
Jackie and I had the hardest time not laughing at this stud muffin trying to walk this bag over to the trailer and lift it up and onto the pile already in there while his insides were trying to wiggle out his belly button. I’m sure that he had to have some surgery when he got home.
Wow….that really made me appreciate the older men in my life’s common sense. They may not be the stud muffins that they used to be, but they would have kicked it with their toe first…..then gingerly tried to pick it up a little….and then finally announced that it would have to stay at the convention center, cuz it was not going into that trailer.