(Photo by Collin Richie: Madeline Ellis)
Jewelry designer and craftsperson; founder, Mimosa by ME
Annual income: up to $55,000
Handmade jewelry is one of the most competitive areas of specialty arts and crafts. It’s difficult for burgeoning jewelry craftsmen to break into retail or online markets, because many of these outlets are saturated. Metalsmith Madeline Ellis has found a way to stand out.
Since 2012, Ellis has worked exclusively as a jewelry designer and artist, selling her handmade bronze and silver items online, in stores and through special events and markets. The impetus for a full-time career in the arts came when Ellis, then a landscape architect who made jewelry on the side, had her first child.
Ellis’ available time was dramatically shortened, and while she tried reducing her landscape architecture hours, she ultimately found that jewelry making had the potential to provide both a solid revenue stream and the balance she was looking for as a new mother.
The key, says Ellis, has been to establish the same systems that keep savvy retailers on track.
“It’s not about producing what I like, although that is part of it,” she says. “It’s about paying attention to what people want and staying up on what they might want next.”
Her work has also required establishing a rigid production routine to meet online and retail demand. Ellis sells through the online arts marketplace Etsy and through her own website. Her work also is available at some local retailers, and a large part of sales occur through the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge’s monthly Arts Market, Fest-for-All and other large festivals in south Louisiana. She also designs and produces custom pieces for individual clients.
The festival circuit, including the Arts Market, is “extremely competitive” among jewelry artists, says Ellis, but such events represent about half her current income. She suspects that customers find her pieces familiar, accessible and affordable. She doesn’t undercut competitors, but she has enough affordable options to entice a festivalgoer to spend at her booth.
During her nearly three years in business, Ellis says she has worked to refine the way she operates, especially the production process. Many of her ideas came from the professional development boot camp Stationery Academy, she says.
“I know I’m more creative at night, so I take care of tasks during the day that don’t require creative energy, like cutting pieces to use later or getting shipments ready,” Ellis says. “After I put the kids to bed, I go into my studio and sometimes work until two in the morning.”
Even in the throes of creativity, Ellis is goal-oriented. If she needs to produce several of the same pieces of jewelry, she has learned to complete the same stage of production on multiple items, whether it’s stamping a design or bending metals in a certain fashion.
“I used to complete one piece at time, but it’s more efficient for me to do several at one time because my brain is working one way, and I don’t have to shift gears,” she says. “It’s all about maximizing your efficiency.”
Ellis also uses an integrated shipping and inventory tracking program to chart supply and to see what items are selling best and where they’re moving.
“It’s different everywhere,” she says. “What sells at this festival doesn’t sell as well at another festival or a retail store.”
Ellis says she believes the arts thrive in a community when patrons are educated about what goes into creating a piece of art and artists keep reaching out to audiences.
“It’s our job to be accessible to potential customers and to give them an excuse to order our stuff,” she says. “I create stuff all the time that’s not accepted. But it’s my job to constantly get better.”