Shortly after I was first hired here at Rio, I went to my first Rio Associate Arts and Crafts Fair. I was amazed by the beautiful craftsmanship and uniqueness of the jewelry my creative colleagues were making and selling. But, there was one piece I came across that I couldn’t get out of my mind.
It was a carefully crafted ring with antique-looking gears and watch parts that were slightly magnified under doming resin. My friend Debbie, who was in training with me at the time, told me that this style was called “steampunk.” Hmmm…steampunk was a very fitting name, but what did this mean? I was curious about this really cool style called steampunk. The piece had been made by a Rio associate named Jaimie Verlander, and I recently had a chance to talk with Jaimie about her perspectives and techniques:
Bernadette Bennett: When did you start making jewelry?
Jaimie Verlander: I started making nice, wearable jewelry when I was about 17. One of my best friends’ dads was a Rio customer; he bought all kinds of beads and wire. I learned to make linked necklaces, earrings and bracelets from those materials with pliers. I started buying my own tools and supplies from bead stores, and sold a few things here and there, which was encouraging. Now that I’m almost 32, I can say that I actually own more jewelry that I’ve made than jewelry I’ve bought!
BB: How would you describe your style? What kind of jewelry do you make and what type of materials do you prefer?
JV: The jewelry I sell the most are the steampunk-themed pieces: the ones made with antique watch parts, clock gears, etc. I adore the strange, curious little adornments those materials allow me to make. I am also a metal clay fanatic, and I have started working PMC and BronzClay parts into my pieces. I was ecstatic when Rio started carrying the new Victorian and steampunk clay stamps—I bought them right away. I do enjoy making other types of jewelry too…mostly very organic things involving earthy or watery themes, with natural stone beads, silver, bronze, and the like. I love working with fossils and I adore images of the Green Man.
BB: For those of us who are unfamiliar with steampunk, could you elaborate a little on the characteristics of steampunk style?
JV: Steampunk…so I think a dear acquaintance put it best when he said, “It’s the future that could have been…but never was!” Steampunk is the idea of what would have been if steam technology had kept on advancing—it is like the writings of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells brought to life, with dirigible airships flying in the skies over a steam-powered, futuristic Victorian world. Gears, pocket watches and things like that are heavy in steampunk art and costume.
BB: How are you able to express yourself through this art form?
JV: Oh my….so many ways. I make a lot of jewelry. I also make costumes and costume pieces from the same kinds of components I use in jewelry. I’ve seen people and friends do SO many amazing things with steampunk. It’s definitely not limited to jewelry/adornment and I want very much to start making some larger pieces, things that can be displayed in a gallery or a home. My tattoo artist /friend opened his own shop this year with an adjacent art gallery and has been asking me to do some larger pieces along with jewelry for an all-female art show in the spring. I’m very excited about that because I have a couple of ideas brewing that could turn into really great art pieces.
BB: What is it about this style that appeals to you?
JV: I think it’s organic to me in a different way than water and trees…mechanical skeletons of things that once worked, created by people, repurposed into these intricate art pieces. There is also something so industrially beautiful about steampunk, and it embodies a lot of things I loved growing up. I have always been in love with clothing of the Victorian era, since I was a little girl. My dad is a huge sci-fi geek and when I ran out of my own books to read, I started reading his. I’m like my dad—I love the far out and unusual, the thought-provoking and the intricate. In my teens I did a lot of drawings from my dad’s books. Steampunk adds a sci-fi edge to the Victorian style I’ve always adored. Steampunk’s miniature-ness also appeals to me—putting all those tiny watch parts together into something lovely and artful. I blame my mom for that—she loves miniatures too and she did a lot of diorama-style art when she was younger. She always made sure that my sisters and I had plenty of art supplies.
BB: How has your style evolved over time?
JV: When I first started making the watch pieces in 2008, I didn’t know how to solder so I was gluing gears in place. I picked everyone’s brains when I started working at Rio. I bothered the techs nonstop about how to do all kinds of things. I owe a lot to all of the people in the tech department, because they always encouraged me, supported me, looked at my stuff, and showed me how to do things right. I started soldering my pieces and that was a big thing that set me apart from a lot of other people who do steampunk jewelry—my stuff is really well constructed and high-quality. I also learned to use metal clay in 2008 and that has pushed me to find more ways to incorporate metal clay and steampunk. I’m always looking for things that inspire me and push me to do things no one else has done.
BB: Can you describe your first steampunk creation?
JV: My first piece was made with watch parts that I got from a local repairman who specializes in antique watch repair. He sold me a box of unusable parts for $10.00. I made my friend a necklace I believe, and then I made myself one like it. I still wear it. It’s still one of my favorite pieces. The gears are still on with glue too! One day I will probably dismantle it and solder them.
BB: Do you plan your designs or is it more of a spontaneous inspiration?
JV: With my beaded or stone-set pieces and my strictly metal-clay pieces, I do plan them out ahead of time because I have to buy the right supplies for those. With the steampunk stuff, I have these little ideas swimming in my head about what I’d like to do with certain pieces; it’s hard to plan them in my mind because all those watch parts are unique and they need to fit together just right. For those it’s very spontaneous, I just start laying out pieces. I can work for any amount of time from minutes, to hours, to days on a piece before it satisfies me enough to solder it and finish it. My favorite thing ever is when I find a grouping of pieces that are so perfect together… AND that I have on hand! Then I do a little happy dance around my bench!
BB: Do you have any advice for others who are just starting out in metal clay or steampunk…perhaps even some advice on where to get materials?
JV: Do your own thing. Don’t discount any of your ideas until you’ve tried them, because sometimes it really does work. With metal clay, you can literally do anything you have dreamed of. I’m always trying to talk people into at least trying it. As for where to get supplies….RIO GRANDE! (At least for clay, tools, findings and stones) Watch parts are very hard to come by anymore. I used to buy lots of them from eBay, from watch repairmen, wherever I could get them. I have a stockpile and I dread the day I run out. Recently a customer sent me a box of watch parts, and that was the best gift ever! I was so grateful because he sent a lot of things I was running out of.
BB: Have you encountered any major stumbling blocks with this art?
JV: As I mentioned, getting watch parts can be extremely difficult and/or expensive so that’s a definite bottleneck. Beyond that I can be as creative as I want to be and I love it. As for other jewelry, I’m slowly learning the skills I need to get better, but there’s a lot I still want to learn or get more practice with, like stone setting. Mostly I really just need more tools!
BB: What new directions do you hope to move to in the future? Do you have big plans, new ideas or designs you will be exploring soon?
JV: It’s hard to really describe all the ideas I have, but I want to incorporate more stones and beads into my steampunk work. I also want to get started on some of those larger art pieces I mentioned, because it’s something I haven’t done before and I see it as a really fun challenge. It also gives me a chance to use some of these huge clock gears and parts that I can’t use in jewelry.
BB: Are there any steampunk or metal clay artists you look to for inspiration?
JV: In metal clay I love Hattie Sanderson’s work, the swirling organic mermaid-y quality of her stuff is just WOW. Patrik Kusek was my PMC certification instructor and I love his earthy, fabulous work and his teaching style. Terry Kovalcik was also one of my certification instructors and his stuff always blows me away. Yvonne Padilla, who is one of Rio’s techs, gave me my first instruction in metal clay and I go to her often for advice—she’s wonderful!
For steampunk, I have a lot of friends who do the craziest most amazing things and they always inspire me. My dear friend Katherine (to whom I owe my steampunk obsession) makes fabulous pocketed tool belts and costume pieces. My friend Kimric is like a walking book character and makes the most outlandishly awesome contraptions I’ve ever seen. He can turn anything into something wonderful. And then there is the Neverwas Haul crew, including the people above and several others. The Neverwas Haul, devised by Shannon O’Hare, is a 3-story Victorian house on wheels, powered by an engine. It is an art car and one of the best things I’ve ever seen. I love going out to the Bay Area to visit these folks because everything they do inspires me and they were my first steampunk experience at Burning Man in 2007.
BB: Can you describe your favorite piece?
JV: I have several favorite pieces. I love the first steampunk necklace I made for myself, and I have a silver ring that I made earlier this year with watch parts and doming resin that made me do that happy dance around my bench. I love that ring. I also have a necklace I made for my 30th birthday with PMC, moonstone, labradorite and raven’s wing pearls. It was a lot of work and I’m really proud of it.
BB: Do you sell your work?
I actually do have an Etsy store that has been painfully bare lately! I’m in the process of nursing school so it’s often difficult to keep up with making and adding new items. The store is still open though, and I’m hoping to add more items for sale very soon since my hardest schoolwork is over now for a while.
My work has also been sold at Paxton Gate on Valencia St. in San Francisco, CA, and I travel at least once or twice a year to themed events such as Maker Faire where I sell a lot of my work at once – I often concentrate most on having stock for events like that. I am really hoping to be a merchant at SteamCon in Seattle, WA this year.
BB: What does Tempus Fugit mean? (Tempus Fugit is the name of Jaimie’s Etsy store…I was curious!)
JV: Tempus Fugit is Latin for “Time Flies”. And it does indeed! It seems like yesterday I was just starting out.
What I really like about Jaimie’s jewelry is just how distinctly it represents her style and personality. So many of us have a story to tell and jewelry is such an excellent medium for that expression. We would love to hear from our readers about how you got started and where your inspirations come from.