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Ways We Work

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Anna Vasquez

Jewelry Maker & Owner of Nested Yellow

I was first introduced to Anna's work almost four years ago when a very close friend of mine was given her knot ring as a gift. The ring was so unique and beautiful that I needed to see the rest of her jewelry. I've followed Anna's work on Instagram for years now and was curious what her path to designing jewelry full-time was like and what the challenges are being an independent creator and entrepreneur. Anna's story is as unique and interesting as the pieces she creates.

Tell me about what you do?

I’m a full-time jewelry designer. Formerly I was trained as an architect and I was in that industry for about 8 years. Towards the end of that I discovered my passion for making jewelry by hand and in 2013 I went full-on into jewelry. I've discovered a passion and I enjoy connecting and listening to stories through the process of making the pieces.

Can you tell me more about your path to what you're doing now? What was the transition from architecture like?

Architecture has this very masculine energy and I feel as if I was a different person in that setting. There was just something that I really wanted to do much more deeply and I really loved the poetics of making things with your hands.

With architecture, I would often spend two years on a project before I would see it actually begin to materialize. I really loved it and the professional experience that I acquired through it, but I wanted to connect with my feminine energy and be able to create every day. I wanted to connect personally with my community instead of being in an office on the computer, connecting with paper.

The transition to jewelry-making really materialized itself. Every day I grew more indebted to it, I could not stop thinking about making jewelry and new ideas would come up constantly. It became clear in 2013 when I was working at a dream job on the Ace Hotel with my close friend. Things were happening in my jewelry business that I was just so excited about, that I had dreamt about happening and so here I was at my dream job in architecture and my dream passion job was calling me to pay more attention to it and invest in it. So I made that transition quite clearly cause it was pretty much in my face.

So you started doing jewelry on the side before you left architecture full time then?

Yes. It happened in 2009, I was attending my close friends wedding and I was walking through the streets of Savannah. I was drawn into this shop and there was the owner of the shop, and she was hand-making jewellery using all these tools that I was familiar with from architecture and I literally just stared at her, watching her. She started to engage with me and we began having a conversation and I just knew I wanted to learn more about this. She gave me instructions of how to begin this process and I went back home and found someone to apprentice under.

I started doing it once a week while I worked architecture 50 hours a week and I just really, really loved it. I started off going once a week to this apprenticeship class and then it grew more obsessively to wanting to do it every day. I ended up getting a studio in this old cigar factory in the city I was living in, which was a dream because I was working in this beautiful architectural space.

I would go there after work and create pieces. Then things just started happening from there - I was in shows, I started being approached by shops that year and I thought "okay, this is a lot of fun!" At the same time that's when the economy tanked in 2009 and so I also started thinking strategically. I needed to keep my architecture job because it was salary and just build and nurture this jewellery business and allow it to mature during those years but to have a backup if architecture jobs weren't available because of the economy.

What are some of the challenges that you currently face in your work?

I’m still doing everything myself so most recently I’ve been really eager to go in a new direction and I can be impatient but I can also be the other counterpart thinking “I don’t know if you’re ready!”

I just completed a large order and I spent a lot of hours making it and I was able to complete it, but I was exhausted afterwards. I really just wanted to rest, but you have to keep going and you have to communicate with the smaller orders, the individuals who I love connecting with. So you have to muster this energy to do that but you really just want to go into a peaceful quiet space and regain that energy.

That’s the struggle for me right now is that I have to think like a business and know that communication is very important, you can’t hide and recuperate. You have to think of it like a system and a thing that has to occur in order for things to happen. That’s one of my major struggles is maintaining the energy to communicate - efficiently and consistently.

How do you find managing the more business side versus the creative practice and blending the two?

I feel they work well together. It's like a dance. There's a layer that I feel is my creative side and I need to understand when it's more optimal for me to create. So I say "okay yeah go create something when an idea comes through or you have this urge to make a ring or try out this stone or material". I allow that part of myself to go and do that, even if I have to go and do business work because if I don't allow that creative side of me to be expressed or release that energy then eventually I'll forget about that idea and when it is time to come up with a new piece then I’m stuck just staring at blank canvas.

So you have to learn how to dance with the two parts. If you're zoning out in your creative side then you have pull yourself out of it and give yourself a time limit of how much you can work on something or play with something creatively. The business side creates the structure for my creative side and then I feel the creative side of me fuels the passion for the business side.

What are some of the tools you use on a regular basis?

My laptop - That's really my go-to for my website and creating content, any marketing or graphics. It’s one of my major tools because it's my way of communicating with the customers as well.

Hammers - I've always had my hammers. I'm very minimal I guess, I select high quality tools but also old tools. I love texture and I've found hammers at like Home Depot with this gnarly texture instead of perfecting it like some of the metalsmith tools that are out there.

Then there's pliers, a mandrill, rawhide hammer, and my leather pillow for placing pieces on.

I've just recently started to use a power tool, it's like a drummel, it has different kinds of bits and sanding elements and this has become really essential because I've branched into cast pieces and right now I'm just learning about the material itself before I actually get help to finish the pieces. So I really want to understand the material, how it gets finished, how it works with the tools and what not. It's not actually something I'm creating from my own hands but instead the carving of the wax occurs with my own hands at the beginning and it's a different material and it only requires a couple of tools and so I'm learning how to work with it.

I use a tumbler for all the high polish finishing. Every piece goes in to tumble and they'll tumble for four hours and there's just basically tiny little hammers that then also polish the piece so that it's strong and durable and shiny.

Oh and my torch.

Do you find it important to keep up with trends in your industry and how do you do that?

I don’t really pay attention to the trends too much. I look and observe what’s around me. So I’ll watch and observe how women are wearing their necklaces. Are they wearing long necklaces and where does that hit? It all depends on their neckline and the clothes that they’re wearing. So I’ll watch out for that but then I’ll also say “well maybe one of my pieces could actually compliment the kind of garment that they’re wearing a lot better.” So I’ll design it to compliment the feminine lines.

In Portland a lot of women will just wear a very simple dress that you can make a home. The pattern is very boxy and plain so then having a piece that’s a bit more of a statement piece would be just the right kind of accessory for that type of clothing. So I observe that. I think the trends come through people and I don’t want to impose a trend onto others because of what designers in the fashion industry are doing.

My approach to designing jewellery is that I want it to be casual and I want you to wear it everyday and love it because you find it beautiful but also because there’s meaning behind it. Either through story or because it was a gift or has symbolic meaning. I want it to have depth and I want you to feel beautiful wearing it so I’m thinking about how much it weighs when it’s worn, how it feels. So just being aware of what others are wearing and how they’re wearing it so that they do feel beautiful.

Best way to stay on top of email and communications?

When I’m not exhausted like I have been, I always make sure I’m responding to email within 24 hours. Sometimes hopefully it’s sooner than that if I’m at the computer working, because with internet interaction is very different than one-on-one personal interaction. When you’re online you don’t know how serious a person may be with a question they have. I don’t know what their reason is for looking for the gift, whether they’re in a rush or in love and just want to be able to get this as soon as possible because they want to keep in that momentum of finding it, me fulfilling the making aspect of it and then also delivering it in time for them to still be in that same feeling and energy for it to be a success story for them. Communication is very important because you need to be able to connect authentically with them and be able to help them, and be of service to them for whatever their reason is.

In the morning is the best time and in the evenings so that they first thing that they see is your response. It’s just managing time and making that a priority.

Best career advice you've been given or would give?

Just live for your passion. That’s really what matters. How you feel about yourself and what you’re doing. When you live with passion you discover your purpose and what your strengths are and weaknesses are. I feel you end up achieving your dreams that way because it’s your own path and not someone else’s, or not walking behind someone on their path because you’re not sure what your is.

So finding and investing in the time to discover what your drive is, what your passion is. It’s really essential, no matter what career you’re in.

Why do you do what you do? What makes it all worth it?

This was a childhood dream of mine, and what I really dreamt of was connecting with people. I say that because my family moved from Honduras when I was 7 years old and I was coming from an environment where I had cousins, I had family and neighbours and everyone was always getting together and hanging out an the [] with a coca cola and a candy and the owner would sit outside with you. It was very romantic to be able to connect with people and so when I came to the US I was not connected with people, people didn’t connect with me the same way and I wanted to but it was awkward for them. You know, the hugs and kisses to say hello and goodbye, people didn’t get it. I felt very alienated. I’m a really full hearted person and all I want to do is love people and be happy and have harmony. This is who I am.

What I’m doing now is I’m connecting internationally with people, I’m connecting with people all over the world who are coming to me with this generosity. They’re wanting to give a gift to somebody. I’m getting people who are in love and they share with me these romantic stories of how they met and it’s so many positive feelings. The ability to connect with them and create for them something that they will cherish and have forever, as long as they are able to hold onto it. That’s really special. It’s really an honour. The fact that I get to create every day is just this happy place to be.

Who would you want to see?

I think I’d like to interview you! I'd love to know where your curiosity for choosing people to interview comes from.