Today I'm chatting with Amy Ambroult, a jewelry designer and teacher living and working in the Boston area. She has a BFA in fine art and never wanted to be anything but an artist. Although she started out her creative life as a graphic designer, after taking time off to start a family she enrolled in jewelry classes to help save her sanity and AG Ambroult Designs was born.
Hi, Amy, thank you for chatting with me today.
As a self-taught artist I’m always curious about the experiences other artists have had in art school. You received a BFA in fine art and after graduating worked as a graphic designer. Can you share a bit about your art school experience? What was your major or concentration? What aspect(s) of your art education was(were) most beneficial for you?
Art school was a dream come true. I concentrated in graphic design but, being required to take classes in most mediums, I got to sample some courses that I never would have taken otherwise. It definitely made my experience as an artist a little more whole.
And then there's the smell. I have joked before about making a candle that smells like art school. It would be equal parts paint thinner, charcoal, and saw dust.
Before you began your life as a jewelry designer you dreamed about creating art with your own two hands (and not a computer) what sort of art were you making (or dreaming about making) at the time? How did that aesthetic later become translated into metalsmithing and jewelry-making? What other art-making do you enjoy today or do you even have time for anything else with your full schedule?
I was doing a lot of painting when I was working in graphics. Acrylics were a quick and easy way to fit some hands-on art into my day. I was also making some jewelry -- stringing beads in creative ways. I loved working with that palette of colored stones and beads, but I dreamed of being able to make my own findings and beyond. These days I dabble in knitting, and, very recently, rediscovered watercolors, a medium I have always struggled with. I need a few pointers from you, Anne!
You seem to have a quirky sense of humor, to be down-to-earth and real. You’re a mother to two girls. You keep chickens. You work with your hands and are proud to have “rough hands that are put to good use”. You don't have room in your life for down days, but I'm sure, like everyone, you have your share of downs as well as ups. How do you handle those days? How do you bring back your joy when you’re not feeling joyful?
Down days are never fun, but I read a quote once that I try to keep in mind. I forget who said it, or exactly how it goes, but it was something like, "you don't have a bad life, you're just having a bad day." It's a good reminder to just ride the wave of life, and take the ups and downs as they come, without overreacting. My weeks incorporate running and some yoga, which *always* help in mood boosting and shaking off any grumpy mindsets. I also try to remember I can find small joys in the every day busy-ness. The afternoons are full of sports practice drop-offs and pick-ups, and meets and scrimmages, which can feel hectic sometimes. But, I've seen some gorgeous sunsets at late-evening pick ups that I otherwise would not have seen. I take advantage of being stuck at a practice and go for a run in a new place with new scenery. I've learned there are some simple ways to turn "hectic" into "unexpected pleasures."
Sketchbooks are something that haven’t always been an easy part of my art-making, but I’ve slowly become more comfortable with them and today they're an important part of my process. Because of my own history with them, I’m especially curious about other artists’ sketchbooks. Do you keep a sketchbook? What’s your sketchbook practice like – frequency, media, themes, techniques? Do you have a favorite brand or type of sketchbook or favorite tools to use?
To be honest, I wish I made more time for my art (outside of work-related metalsmithing), because, on the rare occasion that I actually sit down with a sketchbook, I find myself soothed and inspired. I find myself stuck in the habit of sketching only when I am designing new pieces for AG Ambroult. I know that a habitual sketchbook practice would lead to more creativity, more ideas, developed concepts, etc... but for some reason I just don't do myself that favor. You and I met in Dana's 30-day sketchbook class, remember? I loved being held accountable for sketching during that course. Perhaps I should just set a new challenge for myself and get back into the habit. I use all different kinds of sketchbooks, never finding one brand/kind that I attached myself to. My favorite tools are Microns, and pentel "graph gear" drafting pencils. You can get them in the tiniest (.5 and .3mm lead size) sizes, and they make a great clicky noise when you need more lead.
Your art is inspired by nature, but also “things like conversations, movies, books … [your] kids, dreams, other artists and [your] husband”. Can you share a bit about your design process? How do you go from that first grain of an idea to a finished piece of jewelry?
As you mentioned above, my ideas come from all over the place. If they require research, I will search for images or information, so that I have something to work from. I usually do some sketches, and plan out the steps and supplies that will be needed to execute the piece. Sometimes, I skip the sketchbook altogether, and do my "sketch" in brass or copper. I usually make a few mistakes while making those practice pieces, and so once I'm ready to move on to silver or gold, I have more confidence and less risk of wasting precious metal.
In addition to making jewelry you also teach others how to create their own pieces. Last year you taught at Squam (congratulations!) and your wedding ring workshops are a stroke of genius (I wish I lived closer so my husband and I could take one to craft new rings for our anniversary). Was teaching something you always wanted to do? How did you incorporate it into your business?
Nope. I never dreamed of teaching! But, someone actually approached me and asked if I would teach them to make their own wedding rings (the woman had read a story about a company in NYC that runs ring-making classes). I somewhat reluctantly agreed, and the rest is history. Turned out, I felt completely at home leading students through the steps. I felt proud after helping a student who, in the beginning of the class, was really intimidated about using power tools and hammers and sharp things. By the end of the class she was a drill-wielding bad-ass. It was fun to watch that transformation, and I don't think empowering people (especially women) will ever get old.
Of course teaching at Squam was a dream come true, and getting to do it 2 years in a row was beyond my wildest dreams. There's something about that retreat -- the setting, the people, the vibe. It's an absolute must for anyone who wants to have their fire lit and be more inspired than you ever thought you could be.
When you first began taking metalsmithing classes (to keep your sanity after becoming a mom) did you plan on crafting your jewelry-making into a business? What sort of business planning (and/or learning) did you do as you went about creating AG Ambroult Designs? What has been your biggest challenge or steepest learning curve? What is next on the horizon for you?
I really didn't go into it with a plan to start a business. I was just looking for something creative that didn't involve toddlers. Surprisingly, I fell in love the the hands-on, gritty process of fabricating jewelry, and within a few weeks my husband had built a workbench for me in the basement. A couple months after that, I approached a boutique in a hip neighborhood of Boston about selling my work, and shockingly, they said yes. It has grown slowly since then, as I continued to make my small children my priority. Finding a good balance between being a stay-at-home-mom and a jeweler/small business owner was the hardest thing so far. The girls are older now, and I am finding a bit of my own independence again. It's much easier now to travel for shows or teaching, and to schedule teaching sessions on weekends. I would really like to grow the Wedding Ring Workshop portion of my business. It's so fun to guide a couple through the process of creating each others' wedding bands, while they tell me all about how they met, how they got engaged, all about their wedding, etc... I love hearing those stories! Those sessions are all kinds of warm and fuzzy.
Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Amy!
Dear readers, I hope Amy's story and her jewelry have inspired you today. You can connect with Amy on Instagram (or here for her Wedding Ring Workshops) Facebook and Twitter. And be sure to visit her website, too.
Be sure not to miss the other posts in my Artists Series; they can be viewed here.
*Photos in this post © Amy Ambroult. Used with permission.