Five years ago, Savannah College of Art and Design student Alison Bear discovered she couldn’t really draw. Her plan to pursue the art of comic books came to an abrupt halt. But what to do next?
"Why don’t you try jewelry?" her mother suggested.
"So I took one class and I loved it," Bear said.
"When they first gave me a flat piece of metal and said, ‘Here, cut this out and make it into jewelry,’ I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’"
Now an experienced metalsmith with her own business, Alison Bear Jewelry Design, Bear, 23, is a pro with her talents and tools. The highlight of her new career: The blow torch.
"(I use it) every time I work on jewelry," Bear said. "It’s the main thing that I use besides my saw. I was really scared at first of using a torch, but now it’s just really fun."
When Bear is not at her compact work station soldering necklaces, rings and bracelets, she spends her time expanding her business through jewelry and art shows, festivals, boutiques and online shops. Bear’s next stop is AthFest, a music and arts festival in Athens June 25-27.
Her pieces are colorful, vibrant and unique, mirroring her fun and friendly personality.
"All my work is very me," Bear said. "I use the materials in different ways than most people."
For new ideas, Bear sometimes looks to the past and puts her own spin on things with the incorporation of different mediums and motifs.
"I really like the Victorian period of pieces," she said. "I like to take different things to incorporate in my jewelry and that’s mainly where I get my inspiration for it. I also like the ’60s style stuff, too."
Bear’s pieces include a lot of imagery with fabric silhouette rings and necklaces in the shapes of birds, pears and even sewing machines. Her unique aesthetic doesn’t stop there. With vintage glass buttons, Bear creates one-of-a-kind jewelry you won’t find in every boutique.
"A lot of work you see is only silver or only beaded or only hammered," she said. "My stuff just has a different vibe to it."
And Bear spends a lot of time and a great deal of physical labor creating her designs. From start to finish, there are several steps to making one of her gems.
"I toy around with different ideas," she said. "With my silhouette stuff I go to the computer and make my template in a program … Then I have to cut out the metal and file all of it and assemble all of it. With the bezels, I have to sit and measure the buttons and solder it all together."
The work’s not always glamorous, either. Bear said most people don’t realize the amount of work that goes into her pieces.
"(It’s) hard physically," Bear said, sporting a finger splint — a jewelry-making casualty. "Usually I have cuts all over my hands … Everybody thinks that jewelry is such a girly thing to do, but in reality it’s not."
Bear started up her business about six months ago after having trouble finding a "real job" after graduating from SCAD in May 2009. Her options ranged from being a bench jeweler doing repairs, a production jeweler working for another designer or working as a designer for a big company using 3D computer software creating the company’s designs, she said. But no one was hiring.
"Because the economy is so bad, they don’t want to hire people who don’t have experience in the work world," Bear said.
After being defeated by the lack of job openings, she started out on her own.
"I’m my own boss," she said. "I get to design what I want to design, what’s my aesthetic. And I don’t have to do what someone else wants me to do."
In the short six months Bear’s been in business, her designs have quickly spread. Her pieces can be found through her website, alisonbear.com, as well as The Beehive boutique and shopSCAD in Atlanta, shopSCAD in Savannah and Beehive Co-op in New York.
Bear’s jewelry has even been purchased by the European Editor-at-large for Vogue, Hamish Bowles.
"(Jewelry making) has definitely captured my heart," Bear said. "It really is fun."