My business was named Shadow Dog Designs almost 13 years ago to honor Chase and Loki, the two rescue dogs my husband and I had the privilege of sharing a life with. The Shadow Dogs followed me everywhere; naming the business after them seemed the most logical choice. I am an ardent supporter of adopting dogs from shelters and donate a percentage of my total sales to the local Humane Society. I try to create jewelry that is like a dear friend, pieces that you will reach for over and over again and enjoy each time they are worn. Nature is always a huge inspiration; I revel in the colors, shapes and textures that I see all around me. And I love to incorporate other artists’ work into my creations, whether it’s polymer clay, lampwork, ceramic, stamped metal or PMC pieces. Sometimes when I am out shopping for stones or other components to add to my already hefty stash, I instantly see a design and can’t wait to get home to make that piece of jewelry. I’ll collect my supplies, sit down and make it without many deviations from what flashed in my mind. Other times, I might play with the stones for hours or even days, stringing and re-stringing, adding and taking off and re-arranging, until the Muses tell me it’s done. Even though I keep up with current trends, I definitely create what is right for me.
The journey of making jewelry seems to have started from an early age. I have a long love affair with stones. As a kid, I was always picking up stones to put into my treasure box. (To tell the truth, I still do that!) If I found stones with holes in them, I would tie them on fishing line or string and give them to friends. When visiting during the summer and holidays, my Grandmother always had necklaces for me to re-string. I remember spending many happy afternoons with her wonderful old beads. In college, I created simple leather chokers strung with African trade beads and sold them for a little extra spending money. It wasn’t until much later, however, that I became hopelessly addicted to the whole process. A friend and I walked into a newly-opened bead shop in Warrenton, Virginia, and were dazzled by the possibilities: there was a whole wall of amazing gemstones waiting for me! My friend and I signed up for a basic jewelry-making class before we left the shop that day, and I took other classes over the course of several years. The shop owners, Norma and Nick, are very supportive and gave me invaluable advice when I first started selling my jewels at shows and in galleries. Besides taking classes, I read a lot and browse the internet to learn new techniques and keep up with the newest stones. Going to gem and mineral shows is also invaluable – I love hanging out and talking with the vendors. I also like to study about stones, their geological formation, their history through the ages, and so on. Right now, I am re-reading a book by Victoria Finlay called “Jewels: A Secret History” – it’s absolutely fascinating!
One of the bedrooms in the house we’re renting became my studio, and I spend a lot of time creating and looking out over the amazingly colored desert and the mountains beyond over into Mexico. The play of light over the land is such an inspiration and it is definitely showing up in my jewelry designs. Mother Nature is my biggest inspiration, but sometimes the Muses go on vacation and I hit a creative block. During those times, I can’t push a design, or else I invariably end up taking it apart. To help boost me over that, I load Seamus into the Dog Mobile, drive out to a hiking trail and just look at and breathe in and feel what’s around me. The desert is subtle in its absolute beauty and something always triggers an idea and the need to create. After coming back from the Australian Outback, most of what I designed for months after was inspired by the trip, stones of a rich earthy red color that mimicked the soil of the Red Centre.
A few years ago, I was visiting one of my favorite bead stores, one of those comfortable places where you could hang out, talk and create. It was a slow day, and the lady who worked there asked me if I had heard about a new venue that was going to be launched, a site called ArtFire. Even though I was selling jewelry then, doing anything online wasn’t yet in the cards. In early 2010, after being hounded by friends to open a shop on a different online marketplace, I did — and felt totally lost and unhappy there. After months, I had only sold one piece to a friend who I think took pity on me. I remembered ArtFire, did some research, and really liked what I read about. I listed my first necklace on October 2, 2010. From the very beginning I felt extremely comfortable, felt a sense of community and started making artist friends right away. even though I have a shop on a few other online venues, ArtFire is definitely my online jewelry-selling home.
I have a hard time looking years into the future. Because of my husband’s job, we move often. I have enjoyed everywhere we have lived, have made good friends and have great customers who keep in touch with me. With an ArtFire shop, there is more of a sense of continuity instead of having to basically start my business from scratch with each move. One big thing on my To Do list for 2013 is to take a basic silversmithing class. I hope in a year or so to start offering bracelets, rings and earrings set with gemstones, along with the jewelry I so love to make. I know my jewelry and means of selling will evolve, but who knows how? I have two short and sweet pieces of advice, given to me when I was first starting out. The first is, “Make what you feel.” And the second is, “Do NOT undersell your jewels.” I think both of those are invaluable, and have followed them as best as I can from Day One. — Catherine has up-to-date announcements and other goings on at Shadow Dog Design’s official blog. You can also find Catherine on Facebook here.