Looking at the fallout of the summer craft events, one of the cooler trends in local jewelry to come up has been an affinity for hand made works with intricate parts. (A nice notch above that whole feather thing that looks odd and makes no sense.) One of the main designers on the forefront of that look is Mïa Vollkommer, founder of the local jewelry brand 2 Dots Over The I, who has been combining beading and metalwork into patterns that stand alone as great works from a far and fine pieces of art up close. Today we chat with Vollkommer about her jewelry and being a part of the local craft scene. (All photos courtesy of Vollkommer.
2 Dots Over The I on Facebook
Gavin: Hey Mïa, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi Gavin! Thanks for inviting me to do this interview for your blog. I am a jewelry maker, a teacher and a lover of kung fu movies and a good bowl of pho
. I am a recent transplant to Utah, having previously lived in Washington, DC and New Orleans with a brief stint in Iowa City in between. I have two degrees in photography, and spent my working life up until 2013 (when I went more or less full time as an artist) both in the arts and in festival production. As to my jewelry, it was in 2007 when I merged wire-work and bead-weaving to create my current line – wire-wrapped frames in arrangements of circles filled with woven glass and metal beads. My work draws its strength from both the colorful nature of the beads and metals that I use – sterling silver, gold-fill and copper – and the textural structures of the bead-weaving and wire-wrapping techniques. The work is at the same time simple in its design, yet intricate in its structure. The best complement that I get when people view my pieces is: “I’ve never seen anything like that before."
Gavin: What first got you interested in jewelry making and what specifically drew you toward beads?
I first became interested in beads when I was getting my MFA in Photography. I was the TA for the photo department, and every Friday I was in charge of an open lab period for undergraduates. I couldn’t work on my own photography during that time, but really needed a project that I could do in between questions from students. DC has a really amazing bead shop, Beadazzled, and one day it drew me in like a sparkly magnet. I bought some seed beads and a book on bead weaving and I was hooked! The tiny, colorful glass beads were also a great balance to the very large, black & white photos I was making for my degree.
Gavin: Prior to starting up your own business, what was it like for you learning the craft?
Learning both bead weaving and wirework were very natural to me. I’ve always been able to figure things out from books and instructions and am 98 percent self-taught in jewelry. I taught a lot of bead and wire classes in DC, and many times I would teach myself how to make something interesting just so I could turn around and instruct others. Also, I worked at Beadazzled for a number of years, during the beading hey-day of the late '90s and early '00s, and my co-workers and customers were a constant source of inspiration for me.
Gavin: How did you develop the style you currently use of using dozens of beads within metal frames?
Well, like I said, I started out with bead-weaving techniques, but the things I made were usually flat pieces (no frames involved) or beadwork around three dimensional objects like bottles. After a while I got a little bored with that, plus I started working in the store and my interest turned more towards making things that I could wear while I worked. I wanted to get into metals but I couldn’t afford the gear for metal-smithing, so wirework was the best way to fulfill that need. When I decided to make my jewelry into a business, I wanted to have as unique a product as possible – which is pretty tough in this field! It was then that I had the “chocolate in the peanut butter” moment of combining the wire-work with the bead-weaving, and I’ve been working that way ever since.
Gavin: When did the idea come about to start up your own business, and why choose the I in your name as the company name?
The idea for my own business came to me around '03 or '04 when I started selling some of my jewelry here and there. I wanted to be “legit,” and also have some of the wholesale buying advantages a tax ID number brings! So even though I was very, very small scale up until just last year, I went ahead and got my name and logo put together. As to the name, first I’ll explain a little bit about that tricky umlaut. I love both my name (pronounced “Maya”), and also how it’s spelled: Mïa or as I always say “M-i-a with two dots over the i.” To be honest about it though, it’s been a real pain in the neck all my life. I have always been called “Mia (Mee-ah)” by people who first meet me and don’t know that there’s an umlaut over the i, and I’m even still called “Mee-ah” by people who casually know me because, I think, they visualize my name before saying it - without the umlaut. Even now in the age of computers, the umlaut often doesn’t come across correctly in emails or forms, and most people don’t know how to get it to show in Word, etc. That being said, I’ve often thought that if I had a dollar for every time I’ve explained/corrected my name, I’d be rich! Getting back to the business name, I really wanted for it to be something to do with my own name but I didn’t want it to be mispronounced all the time. I also wanted to have a strong stand-alone logo that people would immediately identify with my brand. I went with two dots over the i right off the bat (perhaps to try to earn all those ‘explanation dollars’ once and for all!) I had a different logo until 2006 when some idle doodling produced the graphic of the eyeball with the two dots over it, and the rest is history. What’s delightful to me is how many people really like the name – so much so that I get at least a dozen comments on it any time I do a show. What’s weird though is that out of all the times it’s mentioned, only one or two people ever ask what the name means! Now I know that it works as more than just the inside joke to myself that it originally was, and for that I’m really thankful.
Gavin: You launched the business in 2007, what was it like for you starting out and getting both products made and your name out on your own?
I actually launched in 2004, but it was on such a small scale that I don’t usually count those first couple of years. Even from '07-'13, it was quite small since I was still working full time for other people and didn’t quite have the guts to leave the world of steady employment. That being said, when I did go out on my own I knew I was ready for it thanks to the jobs and experiences I had along the way. At first, I was just selling in a couple stores and had an Etsy site, and while putting your work out there for others to judge is always kind of scary, I was sort of acclimated to it from my experience studying photography – doing critiques, submitting to juried shows, etc. I also had the experience of working in the bead store where we sold jewelry, so I knew about consignment and wholesale and how to work with a store as an artist, etc. I guess I’m trying to say that the work I had done for others up to the point when I first launched 2 Dots Over the I made that experience easier than it might have been otherwise.
Gavin: Rather than a storefront or retailers, you sell most of your items online and some at public fairs. What made you decide to go that route?
In truth, I sell most of my work at festivals and fairs. My website is definitely lacking right now, and beefing it up always seems to be an item on my to-do list that doesn’t quite get done! Anyway, in my employment background I have worked in museums, stores and galleries, and I also have a lot of festival production experience. My favorite work environment was always festivals – being outdoors, the energy of the crowd, the nuances of different venues, even the challenge of weather - all these elements keep things fresh and exciting. That atmosphere is my comfort zone, so it’s kind of natural for me to take my business there as well. After working solo on my product in between events, the real pay-off is to get outside and see lots of people, talk to them about the work, and perhaps about jewelry they’ve made, etc. That’s a lot of fun. From a purely financial standpoint, getting to meet customers face-to-face is also definitely beneficial to my sales. My work is not necessarily straightforward when you first look at it - often times shoppers think that the beads are somehow glued or melted into the frames, when actually they are stitched in, one at a time; I’ve been asked if the coils on the frames are pre-manufactured springs, when they are really straight wires that are all wrapped by hand; and sometimes the very low cost of beadwork from other countries, which some customers are more familiar with, can cause some confusion in regards to my price points. Once a potential customer is educated about the process though, they understand the both the uniqueness and value of the piece. At a Festival I can offer all the most important information to every single person who looks at my work, and employees at a store or gallery (understandably) don’t have the time to do that on your behalf.
Gavin: How was it for you watching your business grow and starting to meet the demand of the new customer base?
Watching my business grow is pretty amazing – and a little daunting sometimes. My absolute favorite thing is to see one of my pieces “in the wild,” meaning worn by a customer who has purchased from me at some point. It’s a real thrill to see my artwork being worn by someone as part of her own means of personal expression. Meeting demands is something that I’m still learning at this point, and I think that for me it kind of breaks down into two different areas – one being inventory management/production, and the other being retaining customer enthusiasm/excitement. Since I mostly work by myself (though my boyfriend is learning how to wrap some frames and is a huge help on-site at the shows) it is always a challenge to find enough time to make all the things that I hope to bring to a show. The more shows I do, the more I learn what kinds of items and price points sell best at each venue. But my technique is just plain time consuming! So even the best efforts to “streamline” production don’t produce enough hours in a given day to meet my own expectations. Retaining customer excitement is a challenge that is still a little bit on the horizon, but is one that I still think about a lot. Eighteen months in and I am a relative newcomer on the scene, so my work is fresh and exciting to people every time I do a big show. Once I’ve been a repeat at an event, it will be essential to keep up my new designs/color combinations so that former customers will want to buy again, and new customers will have an even wider range of items to choose from.
Gavin: What's the process for you when creating a brand new piece?
Usually I start with a sketch of an idea, either in pencil or pen on paper. Then I’ll start doing what I call wire sketches, where I’m using low cost craft wire to actually make the piece I drew and see if it’s feasible, balanced, visually appealing and “bead-able”. If all those things come together, then I’ll usually make one finished piece in sterling silver or copper, and start wearing it to see what kind of feedback it gets. If the feedback is good, then the piece will go into production and from there, sales will ultimately determine if it continues on or gets retired.
Gavin: Do you do a lot of customization for people or do you mainly create what you feel like?
When it comes to the shape of the frames, those are usually 100% what I have created although maybe a customer wants that shape in gold instead of silver, for example. Most custom requests are for certain colors of beads, and when a customer has a request I can put images of the actual beadwork in those colors “into” a frame using Photoshop. That way we have a virtual photograph of what the finished piece would look like to be approved or tweaked. I’m always happy to work with customers on their own colors (or shapes) and I appreciate that a technology like Photoshop makes the process of getting a piece “just right” so much easier.
Gavin: How was it for you to become a part of the local craft scene in Utah?
It was amazing! I moved here at the start of 2013 as a part of a huge life change that included trying to make my jewelry my full time job. Not really knowing about the scene, I started applying for anything I could, and ended up getting into both the Downtown Art & Craft Market, and Craft Lake City DIY Festival. From Craft Lake City I got the chance to do my first public artwork/sculpture as part of Celebration of the Hand, and from the Art Market I got to meet Amy Schmidt and am now teaching classes at Silverschmidt Design Studio. I also was able to participate in holiday events at Finch Lane Gallery, and the Swaner Eco Center. This year I had the good fortune to get into both the Market and Festival again, and added the Utah Arts Festival to my schedule. It has been such a crazy snowball effect of “good stuff” that sometimes I have to pinch myself. I’m so thankful for all the opportunities available for an artist here, and also proud that I have a product strong enough to allow me to participate in them.
Gavin: What's it been like for you becoming a part of the festival circuit and getting your name out there beyond an online presence?
As I said before, I actually don’t consider myself to have a very strong online presence (yet!), so the festivals are really my bread & butter. I had the amazing opportunity to manage The Arts Market of New Orleans for just over a year before I moved to Utah. I learned so much from the talented artisans at that monthly show that I was pretty confident about taking the leap into the circuit myself once I had made that decision. I started out last year by focusing on just those local events that I mentioned above, and this year I’ve had some good growth by adding six out-of-state shows and the Utah Arts Festival to my schedule. As positive as that is, I have had my share of disappointments in not getting into some shows I was hoping to do. Jewelry is such an incredibly competitive category – I applied to, and was rejected from, one show where the total number of jewelry applicants was more than the total number of booths available for all media! I do get down on myself when I don’t get into something, but I’m definitely learning how to submit better applications with every show I apply to.
Gavin: Aside from necklaces and earrings, do you create any other types of jewelry, or are there any kind you're looking to start adding to your line?
Definitely. I’ve made a ring design that I’m already wearing and getting feedback on, and I’m hoping to have some bracelets (bangles and cuffs) introduced for holiday shopping season.
Gavin: Is there a chance you'd be down to sell through local retailers more down the road?
Currently my work is carried at The ArtShop at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, and while I’d never rule out the possibility of more local retailers in the future, right now it isn’t a priority per se. First of all, as I mentioned, I think that it’s so important to educate my buyers personally about the work in a face-to-face setting. And then secondly, I’m kind of worried about over-saturating myself in the SLC market. I’m doing so many things here in town where people can come and meet me and get excited about the work and I don’t want it to turn into a “Oh, there she is again” kind of situation. But we’ll see, I’m sure more brick and mortar locations will happen at some point.
Gavin: What can we expect to see from you over the rest of the year?
Quite a lot! I am working with my first bride on jewelry for her bridesmaids, which is cool because that is definitely a market I am hoping to break into; I’m developing a course for the U’s Lifelong Learning Program on jewelry as sculpture, in which students will look to the amazing jewelry of Alexander Calder for inspiration, and then will work on making sculptural pieces of wearable art; I’m working on a collaborative project with Joe Norman Sculpture to create two sets of bike racks for the city, via the Salt Lake City Arts Council, and those will be installed in October; I’ll be making two New Mexico to Arizona trips (for a total of four shows) in the Fall. I’ll be making lots, and lots, of jewelry with new designs and colors to come for the holiday season. Whew!
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Well, certainly I’ll plug all my digital outlets like my shop
(with more products coming really soon, I promise!), Facebook
, and on Instagram
. And can I thank some folks here too? If so it would be my family, Jason Markey, Dave Rodrigue, Jacob Brace, Joe Norman, Amy Schmidt, April Norby, The Downtown Art & Craft Market, Craft Lake City, The Salt Lake City Arts Council, the Utah Arts Festival, UMOCA and Bad Dog Arts. Thanks to all of you, and the part that you continue to play in my artistic journey!