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Artist Interview: Jaime Brawdy

When Jaime
asked for a meeting with the Burchfield Penney’s Director to
explore the inner workings of a successful local gallery, she never
expected to be asked to sell her jewelry in their gift shop. She
explains that her day job as a hairstylist has allowed her to “sculpt
client’s perspectives of themselves in a positive way,” and that same
energy comes through in her jewelry designs, which is what people are
attracted to.

Over a coffee and a pizza pod lunch, I discovered that energy she
was talking about. Jaime has a casual way of projecting encouragement
and carrying the conversation, but even her general demeanor is
cheerful. I can imagine that the women who surround her are clamoring
for a piece of that liveliness. But after spending most of her time
fabricating for these women: suburbanites, city dwellers and brides-to-be, Jaime is venturing down a new path, men’s jewelry design. With a
teacher as widely loved as Irwin Franco and a list of clients to be envied,
Jaime hopes that she can combine her beloved soft lines with the edgy,
geometric shapes that boys crave to complete her portfolio.

Buffalo Rising: How did you start jewelry making? Were you that little girl,
always bedazzling everything?

Jamie Brawdy: Not quite, I was bored. I’d
just quit bartending and when I quit that, I was going home at night
thinking: what am I going to do with all my free time. I can’t just
watch TV

My sister had a gift certificate to The Bead Gallery and I took her
shopping. I bought some beads and dilly-dallied around making a few
necklaces, then I made a few more, then even more. Eventually I had
acquired so much stuff, I realized I had made an absurd amount of
necklaces – around fifty.

BR: Were you wearing it all, or giving it away?

was wearing some of it, but I was making a range of different things,
not necessarily in my taste. So I gave them away as Christmas presents
to my best clients. They were so excited about the necklaces, and when
they found out I made them they said I should sell them. To me they were
just beads on a string, nothing special. But I asked my boss at the
salon if I could put them in the display case. I put them out initially
for three weeks over Christmas and the first week I made between
$700-800. The next week I made about $1500. It was good timing, during
the holidays, but I was only pricing the necklaces at $20-25 a piece. I
was selling so many of them and I was whipping out 5-0 necklaces a
night because they were so easy to bead.

BR: So where does the metalworking come in? When you started
working with Irwin

JB: I got hooked up with Irwin through my dad. He
was always around when we were kids, I just hadn’t seen him in years. He
made my mom’s wedding ring and still does work for my dad and his wife.

I went to his studio, but I was embarrassed to show this professional
jeweler my bead work! I had some silly little wire wraps I had done
with copper or steel, nothing expensive; he looked at my work, analyzed
my personality and broke me down. He said “I like what you’re doing
here. I hate beaded necklaces, But I like what you did with color
choices, symmetry and the arrangements. How about you come hang out with
me, watch what I do.” I was excited! I think that I have a job, but
it’s not really a job, it’s just me going to his studio and learning.

So I watched him fuse metal, solder, hammer things out, arrange
things, pick out stones. I watched everything. It was easy because he
was enjoyable to be around and I looked forward to spending time with
him. He taught me the proper way to channel my energy and what to point
my energy towards, how I can turn my thoughts into something you can
wear. He always preached that jewelry needs to be moveable. A flat piece
of jewelry does nothing for anybody. It has to be three dimensional and
the back of the piece should be just as detailed as the front.
Execution is crucial, if you don’t have clean solder marks, you have to
start over. And even if it’s soldered nice but it’s not flowing well,
get rid of it. Craftsmanship is number one.

BR: He’s tough! It sounds like you learned a lot apprenticing
with him. How else has he influenced you?

JB: I think learning
from him was important to my career but he’s also always trying to get
me to veer away from the style I typically lean towards – the S curve.
That movement is always in whatever I make. I can’t help it! I love soft
lines and lines that move into each other! I don’t care for hard edges,
though I’m experimenting with that now. It’ll be a step for me.

BR: Just flipping through your website, I can see that almost
everything has an organic shape. How do you describe your jewelry?

I would describe my work as asymmetrical, natural, definitely organic,
layered and colorful but muted. I work mostly in silver but I do a lot
of gold accenting. Depending on who the client is, I can work with an 18
karat gold, but usually it’s a 12 karat gold fill which is just as nice
but brings the cost down.

BR: Is your supplier local?
JB: A lot of my metal
comes from suppliers around the country, though if I could find a local
person consistently, I’d rather do that. But I go to a lot of local gem
shows so I can find interesting stones and that’s also where I’m
inspired. The natural shape of rock is influential. I like to recycle
old jewelry. Many clients have a a few broken necklaces, so I say bring
them all to me so I can take them all apart and design a brand new

BR: Did soldering come naturally to you?
JB: No, it was
very frustrating when I first started! You’ve got to wipe everything
down with alcohol pads and the metal has to be pristine clean or it
doesn’t work. I’ve melted a lot of metal, worked on hours on end, cried…but eventually I got a knack for it. Usually what I do now is make a
bunch of pieces, cut everything out, hammer them, arrange everything
just so, then, like a production line, I’ll start soldering. If I’m in the
flow, it becomes easier, the heat’s even and my marks are clean.

And messing up has forced me to make things that I didn’t think I
would make. I save everything, even the metal that I melt, I shelve
above my bunch. One day I may look at it and be inspired for a new item,
saw off the melted part, re-twist and solder. I recycle everything,
nothing goes to waste, I rarely even return scrap metal. I make these
scroll beads that consume about five feet of wire, sometimes I run
short, other times they’re obnoxiously huge, but I can never justify
throwing them away. That all goes on the shelf. Some of my best work has
come from all those screw ups, that scrap. If I think about something
too hard, I’ll ruin it.

insetjb.jpgBR: Where does your commission work come from?
Usually when I get commission work it’s for a wedding. I try to find out
the specifics of the event and then fabricate the jewelry around that
style. The client usually has an idea of what they want and so we’ll
draw it out together. I love to work that closely with the client
because it makes the experience more personal. I don’t like to repeat
myself but I do duplicate some designs because I feel like they are a
staple. If you reproduce a design too much, you lose the personality of
the piece.

BR: Do you prefer to make one type of jewelry over another?
I have a ton of fun making bracelets. That’s tough though because a lot
of jewelers make bangles which means stiff competition. I love making
pendants and the combinations that you can put together for those. I
make my own stone settings but I hate setting stones. It’s a huge pain
even if it does look a lot more professional.

BR: How do you get around setting stones?
JB: I have
found a lot of ways to use stones, and I don’t mean wire wrapping
because I think that’s a whole different trade in itself, but
enclosures. I’ll take a thick gauge wire and coil it, open it up to
stick a stone inside then close it again. I cage a lot which gives a
dimensional look.

BR: You made me a beautiful cheese set – is this a new type
of project for you?

JB: Well, like I said, I like stones and
beads, but you have to incorporate them in the right place at the right
time. I was screwing around one day and made wine charms but thought
that a cheese set to match would be even better. I found these large
furnace beads with big holes, a production item, and I started putting
them together. I actually had a Christmas show last year and set out 20
sets: forks, knives, salad servers, wine toppers, wine charms. I sold
them all. It’s not completely original work but they’re fun to put
together and it’s a new market. I think it’s a quick way to make money and they’re fun gifts. The fun for me in all of this is creating
the pairs and colors.

BR: Is there a project you’ve been waiting to do?
Yes. I have the diamond out of my mom’s wedding ring and I’m terrified
to work with it because like I said, I don’t like setting stones. This
is a diamond. I’m really looking forward to eventually doing a project
with that but I’ve had it for over a year now and I’ll probably have it
for a few more before I do anything with it.

To see a complete list of Jaime’s designs online, visit,

Or in person at:

Burchfield Penney
1300 Elmwood Avenue
Buffalo, NY
(716) 878-6011

Salon Salon
9570 Transit Road
East Amherst, NY 14051
(716) 689-1919

Market Street Art Center
247 Market Street
Lockport, NY 14094


Laura Duquette is a former ballerina who now dances with words
and punctuation. She has a knack for asking questions faster than the
speed of sound, and her interviews are often off the cuff and personal.
She is Co-Owner of 12 Grain
, a Buffalo based creative firm that gives typical web design a
kick in the ass.

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