Moose Spotlight: Guided and Project-Based Jewelry and Metalsmith Learning With Renee Ford Metals

Renee Ford is an artist and a jewelry teacher based in Franklin, Tennessee. She has been teaching for about 15 years in different ways and has taught at different jewelry schools, not necessarily as part of the staff, but as a guest jewelry teacher.

Renee Ford Metals Jewelry School The Hammer and Advil Interview with Turquoise Moose

 Renee Ford Metals

For the last five years, she has been actively travel-teaching in various communities such as private studios, other artists’ studios, and even small groups. According to her, it’s a super fun thing to do as she loves the travel aspect and she gets to see different parts of the country.

Our team at Turquoise Moose had an opportunity to interview Renee Ford and her quest both in jewelry-making and teaching jewelry to aspiring artists. Let’s get to know her more!

What is your motivation to continue what you do?

Renee finds it rewarding the most when she watches a student GET IT. From the time her students try to start a project to unfold, grow, even in the course of a weekend workshop and where they started, and where they end up with a finished piece.

She explains that a lot of what she teaches is project-based learning. This way, she has a project on-hand to be done by students and at the same time she also teaches skills - so her students build on that and end up with a finished piece versus simply teaching a technique or a skill set but ending up not being able to apply it. To her, this is her most effective teaching technique.

How do you balance traveling and your actual jewelry-making process?

She travels-teach, some years it’s once a month, sometimes it’s one in every six months. It depends on where she goes. A lot of times she talks to other places, but then their schedule is so far out. She has got some booked for 2021, but they have been booked since 2019… For her, she travels anywhere between once a quarter on the average to travel-teach. She usually coordinates it with other things. Usually, if she wants to see something around where she’s going, she travels there and has an art show.

What do you see as most rewarding in teaching?

Being able to mentor students into adding specific skills and all the little things that people don’t really think about; she continues that people can watch tutorials, read books, go to workshops, but there’s a lot of subtle things that get glossed over. To Renee, being able to try to make that a little demystified is one of the things [that’s rewarding]. Sometimes, she also gets to learn from her students such as techniques that maybe she doesn’t know yet, or different ways of doing things. Renee finds these back and forth interactions so rewarding, she explains, “You kind of help them and you see that light bulb moment they get when they go “OH!” - makes it so much easier and those are the things I get excited about.”

All of her students are from different types of backgrounds - as far as where they live, where they at are their journey at metalsmithing. Most of which are self-taught, a lot of them what she likes to call ‘weekend warriors’ who take workshops. She finds them both fun to work with because of how excited they are with what they do.

Do your students take your classes to pursue jewelry-making professionally or they’re mostly hobbyists?

She shares that it’s probably 50/50 in the sense that some of her students have day jobs and don’t necessarily want to pursue jewelry-making as a career, but there are a lot of her students that come in and are looking to have this become their career or side hustle. Renee thinks it’s because they love it.

What is your earliest memory working with jewelry?

“I picked up a hammer at 19 and I haven’t put it down. I’ve done a lot of things in my life, but I have done a lot that surrounds jewelry-making.” Renee recalls that there isn’t any part from when she left college that didn’t involve jewelry. She states that it’s always been jewelry, it’s always been in that realm of things. It has always been a passion of hers and it will always and continue to be as she can’t really imagine doing anything else.

In undergrad, she first picked up a hammer, and then when she went to grad school for jewelry and metalsmithing so it just didn’t stop. After that, she owned a fine jewelry retail store nine months out of college and had that for 16.5 years.

As per the first piece she had commissioned during undergrad, she recalls it being a pendant with a malachite in it, to a woman that she met in a bar in college! That one’s the first pieces she has sold. The first piece she made was a belt.

What is your favorite gemstone/material to work with?

“Turquoise!” Renee exclaimed. She explains that she loves the diversity it has; it can be cut into just about any shape and she loves that it shows traces of the earth in it. She adds that she finds it appealing whenever she finds a matrix or different minerals trapped in it too. The colors from green to blue are something Renee gravitates to and she always has. According to her, t’s a fun stone to work with. She finds that whenever she makes something with it, it’s very easy to sell because people love it! It’s one of her favorites and her collection shows that.

Jewelry Design by Renee Ford Metals | Turquoise Moose 

Jewelry Design by Renee Ford Metals 

As far as outside gemstone, she loves silver and gold combination and she loves working with platinum and just any color of gold.

In light of the pandemic, how do you find ways to stay in touch with students? How do you adapt to the situation?

“Online has always been my mode for this part of my teaching, so it’s not been difficult as far as that goes,” Renee declares. Her connection is through email and Zoom and she keeps office hours for her students so they can text and email and get a response within the hour. Adding that she makes herself available and accessible to her students so they have support when they are going through tutorials.

In addition, she also has a couple of groups, one embedded in her website that she explained is still in its beta stage, and a Facebook group for students to connect and build a community to be able to ask and share.

Renee does weekly Zoom meetings with her students while the tutorial is open. During these times, she tells us it’s been pretty easy to stay connected, but she also finds that not everybody is at the same pace so that’s a challenge to manage since the pandemic. She thinks other people struggle to focus and get into all of it, so it gets a little challenging at times.

Since the pandemic, one of the things Renee learned is truly working on the details and making sure that the instructions for her tutorials are really thorough. She puts more details in the tutorial, but also she has done a couple of things to make that a little easier.

For example, if a student already knows a specific step, she added a feature wherein they can opt to skip that part and jump into the next step. Her booklets are also upgraded from the last ones, which she feels is a huge advantage. She adds that she’s constantly learning, like different types of software to give the best user experience for her students.

One of the things she does is a dual-screen. This way, her students are going to have a screen pretty much down looking at her hands and a side view coming in, giving and getting more visual and watching the two views at once.

Can you share with us a meaningful memory with a student?

“I could think of a workshop that I’ve done, it was demystifying soldering. It was a small workshop with 3 accomplished jewelers in a private studio.” She shares that the group struggled with soldering one way or another, so they spent the weekend figuring out what they find frustrating. Teaching them different techniques and watching it unfold and see where her students started from the frustration level to the end of the weekend, Renee shares her students were like, “I solder every day!”

From that kind of understanding and making them feel much more comfortable and adept in doing soldering is fun and seeing how their work unfolded. Moreover, being able to know her students have mastered that in a much more effective way is also memorable for her.

Renee Ford Metals Soldering | Turquoise Moose

“I always get invested in my students and I want them to achieve and make sure they’re learning, succeeding, growing, and taking their businesses and skill levels where they want to go,” Renee declares.

What is your number one piece of advice for rising creators?

“Pricing. This is a big thing people struggle with and understanding where you should be pricing your work at and understanding your value - it is an important step in the process of your metalsmithing and jewelry journey and understanding what it looks like,” she answered.

She expounded that there is a lot of pricing out there that’s quite loose, so what happens is some artists do not really keep track of how much time it takes for them to create and how much materials are being used, so they just kind of like being able to stick to a formula that works for and make more comprehensive in taking in all of that time.

So, if an artist makes a piece that takes them an hour to make and they’re only charging an hour’s worth of labor, the labor better be covering that one hour and a half it took to photograph your work, the time you listed it, and devoting your time in marketing.

Renee adds, “Keep your value. Value what you’re doing for where you’re at, whether you’re beginning, intermediate, or more advanced, the value that you have - you’re providing something!”

Balancing marketing with your art-making is definitely a juggle, says Renee. She finds that you truly need to devote your time to it, but the biggest part is consistency. For her, social media is draining, it’s a lot of energy you’re putting out there and a lot of energy you’re putting into to get the content that looks good. She says that some artists do not really realize putting an effort into producing a decent photo of your product is important or else your work can’t be seen well.

At the same time, the ability to show behind-the-scenes can also be interesting for people to see your process and letting that be part of what you share. Inspiration is also worth-sharing! People want to see you!

What do you see as the future of jewelry-making?

“Jewelry and adornment have been around forever. I think it’s always going to be a part of our cultures in different ways and it’s going to be relevant. The handmade aspect of it is still important today, more than ever.:
Living in an instant culture, for example, wanting something and getting it on Amazon in 2 hours depending on where you live… Renee thinks people still do appreciate the slow-making process, that artisan-made creation and unique one-of-a-kind jewelry where people try to find meaning in a world where we get instant gratification.

“We are searching for something indisposable, something that becomes a talisman or something that gets passed down from generation to generation,” she explains. She finds it fun and a meaningful way to celebrate milestones, which she thinks is relevant.

With her school, having her students experience the process is something she emphasizes. To her, it’s not about how quickly one can make this piece, it’s about learning the processes and enjoying the discovery and part of the process. It’s also about understanding your expectations are only your own and to be gentle on yourself with that. It’s essential to take your time and understand the process and let it develop. Lastly, she says it’s important to be okay with where you’re at in the process.

What are your thoughts on the market for jewelry-artists?

Renee believes it is a flooded market. A market wherein it’s a competitive one. Being able to get that kind of exposure is difficult, but it’s a matter of doing something unique, having a unique voice, and not doing what everyone else is doing. She says to take time in developing that voice because you aren’t going to instantly have it. She added that it might be a saturated market, but if you’re creating a voice that is uniquely yours, there’s room for everybody.

“Jewelry is very personal - one person might resonate with you and one might not. It’s all going to be a matter of balance and there’s going to be plenty of rooms for all of us.”

The same is true in the teaching realm, Renee thinks there’s room for people who are doing tutorials and teaching. In fact, she still takes classes! She expressed how she wants to continue learning. If you can learn from other people and be able to keep that up, she says you’re just going to be more well-rounded.

Anything else you want to share?

“If you’ve got a passion for jewelry, take the time to develop that. It’s one of the big pieces of the pitcher I try to instill in students. A lot of times I find that people struggle with the creative side of things, maybe they technically pick up stuff easily, but struggle with creativity.”

So perhaps, try to ingest any part of the art world in any way you can, your world, your surroundings... Renee encourages artists to learn from that and make sure they are creating things that have these three factors: a unique voice, a good balance, and a design sense. Most of all, she hopes that each artist has fun and not let a creative passion become a chore!

Check out her website:

Find Renee’s project-based tutorials here:

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