I wandered into a holiday bazaar several years ago and met the easy-going, elegant, and highly creative Amber Lawless. I keyed into some pale blue, enameled metal earrings beside her that she was selling. They were imperfect, flowy circles and I loved the color, but then I noticed the display they were on. It was a rustic, earthy design with moss, lentils, tiny bowls, and wooden crates. It was the most creative display I could recall seeing and it pretty much captured me–like gave me butterflies! Scanning over the artful array, with the the hammered metals, thin strips of leather, and muted enamel tones of the gorgeous jewelry–I was completely smitten!
Since then, I’ve met Amber at other art shows around the valley and her aesthetic just stands out from the crowd. I’ve given more of her jewelry away as gifts (she makes pieces for men and women) than I’ve kept, but luckily I’ve got some of my own Plum designs and I’ve got more in my sights, for sure. I’m so excited to introduce you to Amber. She pretty much epitomizes, to me, what a true artist is, and I am thrilled she is a part of our Wildly Wonderful Women series.
Salt Lick Lessons (SLL): Tell us about your creative work.
Amber Lawless (AL): I am the owner of Plum – organic and modern metal, which is a line of hand-fabricated metal, leather and beaded jewelry.
Prior to starting my company, I doubt I had owned 10 pieces of jewelry in my life. And it was not for a lack of trying. I have just never had any appreciation for polished, shiny metals. I’m not much of a shopper, but the two or three times a year my kids dragged me to the mall I would walk the jewelry loop through the department stores. Every time, I would say to myself “Seriously? No one has come up with an alternative to this stuff?” When the construction industry went sideways, I left it, bought a torch, and Plum was born.
Metal is so soft and buttery when it’s finished well. I think of a well-loved sterling signet ring my grandmother had. The monogram was nearly worn away, and the finish looked almost like pewter. I work very hard to honor the organic nature of metal, because I believe that is its highest form. I work primarily in sterling, copper and steel, and I want you to see my solder joints and the oxides that coat the metal once it’s heated. We also torch fire enamels, which is kind of a crude form of the medium. I don’t want precise application of the enamel. I want the surface to be irregular so the metal shows through. Handmade things have soul, and I want you to see the evidence of our hands and feel our intention in every piece. I want every piece to be perfectly imperfect, just like you and me.
AL: I really love all the dirty and unpredictable parts. I love taking a perfectly good ring and melting it a little, just to see what happens. I like oxidizing things until they turn black. I like over etching pieces of copper then melting enamel into the recesses. I am happy that there are great metal arts programs in the world, but I am so grateful to be self-taught. There’s no nagging voice in my head telling me the right way to do things. As a result, I have tried everything imaginable with metal. I swear I didn’t have fingerprints for two years because of all the hot things I accidentally grabbed. I really love experimenting and trying things that are destined for failure. Most jewelry designers draw pieces but leave the making to a bench jeweler. That will never happen to me. When I’m 80 years old, I will still want to run to the bench at 4:00 on Saturday afternoon to make some earrings to wear out to dinner.
SLL: What are the biggest challenges you face?
AL: Everything else. Just kidding—sort of. Unlike a lot of artists, I really like business and enjoy the marketing and administrative tasks. But, balance is always hard. When possible, I separate production days from administrative days to cut down on interruptions.
AL: You gave me a really nice compliment once. You said, “Every time I see your jewelry, I think, ‘This is the only kind of jewelry I want to put on my body ever again.” That’s the height of rewarding for me. I want to help women feel really beautiful and confident.
And then selfishly, I feel so fortunate to have found work that continues to challenge and excite, while still allowing me to be a present and relaxed mom.
SLL: How to you stay creative?
AL: I start by not demanding creativity from myself every day. Sometimes there’s too much going on in work and life for me to access that part of myself. When I need to come up with a new collection or several new designs, I’ll begin to plan a few days ahead by clearing energy vampires (phone calls, administrative tasks, anything I’m avoiding), replenishing materials, cleaning the studio, etc.
I love my ritual on design days. I head to the studio with an entire pot of coffee. I open the overhead door, regardless of the temperature, turn on NPR, sit down at the clean bench and play for about 12 hours. My family keeps me fed and watered. Immersion is the key for me.
AL: I started Plum with an image in my mind. It’s a Polaroid of a young brunette woman in shorts and a tee walking Venice Beach in about 1978. The photo (which doesn’t exist) has that yellowed solar flare appearance. She is wearing layers of easy jewelry in mixed metals and leather, with color coming from enamel and Native American beading. The pieces are a collection, gathered over time, completely interchangeable. And those same pieces are perfect with a cashmere sweater and worn jeans. I make jewelry that is substantial and sometimes bold, but not heavy. Sometimes when a new trend comes around, I’ll make a few pieces just to see if I can find a wrinkle that feels good. For example, arrows and chevrons have been popular shapes for jewelry lately. I’ll have the pieces in front of me, and they’re cool. I like them. But then I end up giving them away to my daughter and her friends without ever selling any. That just isn’t what I’m about. Plum means “highly desirable” and my women want to feel strong and beautiful and classic, not trendy.
AL: I am having a great time welding with a friend of mine, Amber Conger of Refinerii. She is a kind, generous and brilliant artist. I am working on some bigger, more architectural metal projects for the new year. I really do like the dirty work.
SLL: How can people find, follow, and support you?
Thanks for reading and getting to know Amber. Check out her amazing artistry on her website and keep in mind that she takes custom orders. Feel free to leave her a comment or ask questions here, or on her site.