Spotlight: Karen Meador, Jewelry Artist
I had the great opportunity to first see Karen’s work at a Christmas bazaar two years ago. Walking away with three gorgeous and unique pieces that combined wirework, metal folding, cabochons and enamel, I knew that I wanted to interview her for Create Whimsy! I was so excited when she was at the same show the next year, and I added to my collection of Karen Meador Originals! She blends different techniques to make amazing statement jewelry.
How did you get started making jewelry?
I started making jewelry in 2000 when I was running my own consulting business training teachers of gifted and talented youth across Texas. I was spending a good deal of time on airplanes and alone in hotel rooms and working on jewelry filled a need for something solitary to do. At that time, I was working a good deal with seed beads and I can only imagine how many of these tiny elements ended up on airplane floors.
Your work is so amazing and you combine a lot of different techniques. How did you learn all of the jewelry techniques that you use in making your unique pieces? Ceramics, metal smithing, wirework and more?
I’m mostly self-taught and like to experiment until I figure out a particular technique. I diligently study whatever I can put my hands on about the arena and then give it a try. I’ve only had a couple of jewelry-making classes. As a former professor, I don’t think I make a very good student. Unfortunately, I tend to want to “help” the teacher.
I did, however, do considerable article and tutorial writing for a gemstone company for a while and the owner coached me on wire working techniques. This gave me a good foundation that led not only into making my own findings (clasps, ear wires, etc.) but also set the stage for weaving wire.
The company owner established a free group called “Faux” and I took it over when she moved. It was a pretend bead society with no by-laws, officers, minutes, etc. Someone different led the group each month and I learned a huge amount from this little group. We stayed together for 10 years. It was through this group that I ventured into metalsmithing and torch work.
What’s your favorite jewelry making technique?
The day that someone demonstrated how to do torch enameling, I was hooked and I would say this is my favorite technique. I set out to learn how to do this and am still working at it through more advanced techniques. Torch enameling involves sifting powdered enamel atop a piece of metal, firing it from below with a torch, a process which turns the powder into glass. I’m now also working with liquid enamel which provides all manner of different possibilities for techniques including crackle enamel and separation enamel.
I’ve developed something that I’m calling the Chaos Technique with liquid enamel. It’s based on the process called a dirty pour used by some acrylic painters. It took me about 6 months to figure it out since the properties of enamel are so different from acrylics. I’ll have a tutorial and pictures of this in Lapidary Journal in June/July 2018.
Do you plan your pieces ahead of time? Or just pull out some supplies and start playing?
I plan my pieces prior to initiation; however, I seize the opportunity to capture and develop unexpected happenings. In other words, I often say “what can I do with that?” This often requires walking away from a piece or just laying it on my workbench amongst other UFOs (unfinished objects). Days or weeks later an idea usually comes forth.
How has your work evolved over time?
My attitude toward the work has changed over time. At first, I was focused on doing the techniques the right way. Now I know that if the technique worked for me, I don’t need to have concern for whether someone thinks I’m doing it correctly. I’ve also been able to utilize more of the creative thinking techniques which I taught to others for so many years. This helps me think more about process than product and allows more freedom in the work. The creating is what I enjoy as opposed to any satisfaction that may come from viewing what I’ve made.
I’ve also changed my ideas about marketing. While I used to focus on what others wanted to purchase, now I focus more on what I want to create. It has taken me years to think of myself as an artist, but finally through much encouragement from others, I’m focusing on what I want to make. This brings me joy and oddly enough, my sales have not suffered.
Where can people find you and your work?
I currently regularly write tips and tutorials for Wirejewelry.com, an online jewelry company. I enjoy sharing my ideas with others and although I taught jewelry making for many years, I no longer give lessons.
Where does the magic happen?
I have two designated art areas in my home. A spare bedroom serves as my bead and metal work arena while a concrete room in my basement is the hot room. I do all soldering, enameling and torch work in this spot. It houses butane, propane and map gas torches and is the safest place in my home for hot work.
Liquid Enamel Station:
What keeps you inspired?
I try to learn a new technique or style each January. One year I focused on fold-forming (metal) and another I perfected use of separation enamel. This year (2018) I’ve worked on a new product line of sun-catchers and plant pot stakes. These have been a nice diversion from the jewelry. A juried art show recently accepted a couple of these pieces.
Do you dabble in other mediums to create?
Diversions from the jewelry work include sewing, crocheting and science and art activities with my grandchildren. I’m also a pianist, having taught lessons for 20 years, and still enjoy a little Bach each day.
I practice a growth mindset (Mindset, by Dweck) and applaud by own effort and “stick-to-it-ness”. I seldom give up when I’m trying to learn something new and have the attitude that any movement toward my goal is good. I’m not concerned with perfection, but rather with progression.
Where can people find you and your work?
Three stores in Texas market my designs and I participate in three or four craft markets around the holidays. As a retiree, I’m fortunate that I do not have to make a living with my art.
A little more about Karen:
After teaching elementary education, I taught piano lessons for about 20 years while my children were at home. Then I got my masters in gifted education and PhD in Early Childhood Education with a minor in Gifted Education. My writing focus was both early childhood gifted and creative thinking. I published a number of articles in scholarly journals.
I taught at a couple of universities and worked briefly at Texas Education Association. Then I started and ran my own consulting business training teachers of the gifted and helping school districts align their procedures and curriculum with the state standards.
At the same time, my husband had retired and we were running a registered Black Angus cattle ranch. We used a process by which embryos are retrieved from donor cows and put into surrogates. It was quite labor intensive as we worked with about 20 high-dollar donor moms at about 250 surrogate moms. I eventually closed my consulting business to help at the ranch. We sold seed stock cattle, about 100 bulls and 90 cows, at our annual sales until retiring 7 years ago. We still live on our 210 acres here at the ranch and recently put the property in a Conservation Easement with the government so that it will always be a ranch. Our property is over the Edward’s Aquifer and the San Marcos River so it’s ecologically very important that it is never developed. Now we have it protected beyond our lifetimes.
I taught local jewelry-making classes for a number of years: basic wire work, wire weaving, metal-smithing, enameling, etc. but retired from that last year to focus on my own art. I found I was spending my time thinking about what my students needed rather than propelling myself forward through challenges.
Step-by-Step Wire, no longer published, featured a number of my projects as well as in special editions like Easy Metal and Enameling.
Here are some of Karen’s articles: