2013 Instructor Interview - Patti Bullard

Discover Jewelry with Patti Bullard

Patti Bullard

You probably know Patti Bullard best as a jewelry artist and the inventor of Wubbers Pliers. But did you know she had an early career as a painter - even having her paintings published on greeting cards?

This is our final instructor interview, and it's a great one. Listen in on Patti's interview with Heather today and discover how Patti loves to make wire and metal jewelry, and how much fun she has teaching others the art of jewelry making. Plus, learn her secret to never getting discouraged with how a piece of jewelry turns out, even with a new technique!

Patti Bullard

(audio not playing? click here)

Explore Patti's Classes this February in Tucson:

Silver in Motion - Sterling Silver Spinner Ring

Silver in Motion - Sterling Silver Spinner Ring

Feb. 6, morning

Take a Look

Sterling Silver Stackable Rings

Sterling Silver Stackable Rings

Feb 7, afternoon

Take a Look

Transcript of our interview with Patti Bullard

Heather: Hello everybody we are on the phone with Patti Bullard. How are you Patti?

Patti: I'm doing well thank you!

Heather: Good, let's start off this interview; let everybody know what medium you primarily work in.

Patti: I'm mostly a metals girl, I love working with metal. It's really funny: when I started making jewelry, I was first interested in making lampwork beads, because I love torches and fire and glass.

And I kept making so many beads, they piled up, and I decided I better learn to do something with beads. So then I started pulling out some metal, and once I got started in metal, it's my biggest passion. I still make lampwork beads sometimes, but I absolutely love fabricating with metal.

Heather: Great. What tools do you use most often, what kind of tools make your work possible?

Patti: That's a hard question because I'm a tool-a-holic and I know a lot of people can identify with that!

Heather: Absolutely!

Patti: I think the thing I use the very most are my pliers. It has to be my pliers and my cutters. The other thing I really use a lot is my steel block and chasing hammer.

Actually, if you took all my tools away, if you left my pliers, my cutters, my hammer, and my block, I could still make a ton of stuff.

Heather: Great. Have you ever improvised a tool or repurposed a tool?

Patti: Yes, and it has a hilarious story! I decided I was going to make my own texturing hammer.

I have a grinder, and I went and randomly ground on the face of it and made it where it was uneven and had grooves and stuff in it. I loved that hammer! It was just a little hammer, it was nothing fancy, and it just made a cool pattern. I could never reproduce that hammer if I tried.

Heather: One of a kind!

Patti: I also sold the hammers that I use to make that hammer from. And what was funny was, I'm notoriously messy with my tools. I leave them laying around, I can wreck a room in record time! Haha!

My staff would help me clean up sometimes when it got unbearable and I couldn't stand it anymore - I'd get overwhelmed, they'd come out and clean up. The funny thing, was one day I got a phone call from a woman in California and she said "I ordered this hammer from you, and I think something is wrong with it!" I said "Well, what's wrong with it?" She said, "Well it's supposed to be a little ball pein hammer and the face of it is all messed up." I said, "Well, we'd be happy to replace it…" and I thought and thought: Oh my goodness, somehow the staff thought that that hammer had just gotten pulled out of inventory, so they stuck it back in inventory. This woman had my special hammer!

So I said "Oh my goodness, I think I just figured out what this hammer is," and I told her the story of how I made it, and said "But I am happy to replace it!" And she said "NO NO NO! Can I keep it?" And I was like "Yes, yes you can."

Heather: That's great!

Patti: She has my very special hammer.

Heather: Lucky lady! What is your favorite way to finish a piece or your favorite effect?

Patti: My favorite effect, it doesn't work on every piece, aesthetically, it's just not quite right, but on the ones that I can do it, I love doing a brushed finish with liver of sulfur or with a deep patina that has a brushed look. I just think that it is so interested and so elegant. That's my fave!

Heather: What advice would you give to a beginner who may be intimidated by how intricate the process seems?

Patti: That's a great question. I would tell them several things: Find some friends or a group that loves to get together and make jewelry because that makes it so much fun.

I love this world of jewelry making because jewelry makers are so generous with their knowledge, share, and encourage each other, so I would say maybe finding a group or some classes to go to.

The other thing, I think is really hard for beginners, and all of us has been in this spot at one time, you hate to invest a lot of money into tools and supplies until you're sure you want to do it, which seems rather smart. But at the same time, what I've seen happen over and over is the tools and supplies they buy are not of good quality, and so their results don't turn out nearly as well, and they end up fighting the tools instead of really being able to create.

So the two things I would tell them is find some jewelry making friends, and then go ahead and invest in some good tools, and a good way to try that is perhaps take a class where the teacher provides the tools [like ours!] and that way you can experience using quality tools and learn at the same time.

Heather: Great advice! Once you make a piece that you're happy with where does it go?

Patti: On my body! HAHA!

Heather: Perfect!

Patti: I no longer sell my jewelry. Every once in a while, I'll donate a piece for an auction or something, but I keep mine to wear and for examples of what the tools can do, and to photograph for a tutorial. I used to sell it a lot but now I keep it, and I love wearing it.

Heather: Great! What gives you inspiration to try new things and what keeps you motivated?

Patti: Oh my gosh! Getting up in the morning! Haha!

I follow the magazines a lot. I like to read about new products, but also, another thing that brings me a ton of inspiration is getting to look at other people's jewelry. When I go on a trip, I love to go to artisan shops that feature other people's jewelry.

I think also one thing that causes me to come up with designs is a challenge. We had a bead club here that was part of the International Society of Glass Beadmakers and I learned from them. We would say, the challenge this month is to make a bead, and you can only use black and white glass, and so we had to take black and white and create with that.

One of the things that I have found is really fun for me is to limit myself to a certain two or a certain metal or bead and see just how many things I can make out of that, or a shape. I'll play little games with myself like that and a lot of times, good things happen.

Also, I try to keep a playful attitude, even when I'm making a piece that I consider upscale or higher end or more intricate. I try to not take it so seriously that it I get discouraged and if something doesn't go the way I want it to, I love the challenge of seeing other direction it can take me and perhaps what cool things can happen from that.

Just experimentation is really great. I benefit so much from being with other artists, and that keeps me motivated. I love the social piece of making jewelry.

Heather: That's a great attitude to have. Two part question here: why do you think people love to wear jewelry, and why do you think people love to make jewelry?

Patti: This is why I have found my calling. I don't think many people know, but in my first career, I was a painter for galleries in Carmel, California, and I was published by a greeting card company for 15 years. One of the things that was a little discouraging about selling through galleries was I never met the people who got to see my paintings, I never knew where it went.

Often a painting just goes on someone's wall. You have no control over the lighting. The cool thing about jewelry is it's a personal item, people treasure their jewelry. They wear it and it goes with them wherever they go. It brings a lot of joy to a lot of people.

I think that people love to wear jewelry because also it's a self expression or they can carry something sentimental with them. A lot of our jewelry has a sentimental meaning or it reflects what colors we love, what textures we love. It's a way to make a statement about your own preferences and taste.

And then I think people love to make jewelry because it is something personal and special that people treasure. It is something that doesn't hang on a hidden wall. Jewelry is just such a fun thing to share and do, and you can put these hidden sentimental meanings or overtly have them displayed like the birthstone. A birthstone bracelet is a good example. You can carry those you love with you in a birthstone bracelet, so I think that jewelry is such a personal item. It makes it very special.

Heather: So you're teaching some sterling silver ring classes that look like the finished pieces could be in a high-end jewelry store, what are a couple techniques that jewelry artists need to practice to elevate their pieces from looking homemade to looking like beautiful designer jewelry?

Patti: Quite honestly, I'm gonna say this but I don't want it to scare a beginner or anyone who does not view themselves as detail-oriented, but it's in the teeny details, the tiny details, that are very easy to add to a piece, very easy to learn and do, and it takes very few tools.

A good example is the polish that you put on a piece. The way you finish your edges, that's one of the things that doesn't take much time, but it makes a huge difference. It doesn't take expensive tools, it's something that is easily learned, and I think that learning what matters and what doesn't is important.

I tend to be a perfectionist, and I did get a Ph.D, and they told me when I went to grad school, my task was not to complete every assignment (this sounds terrible!) it was to learn exactly what I had to do to get by, and what to let go of, and what I didn't have to do. It's not about achieving perfect, it's about learning the simple little things that do matter and letting go of the things that don't. A piece of jewelry does not have to be perfect to look amazing.

I keep trying to find a balance where it doesn't have to be perfect, but you have some simple easy-to-do finishing techniques that just give it that extra pizzazz.

Heather: That's a great philosophy, I like that. What gave you the idea to develop a tool line of your own? Did you have to keep a lot of different pliers and mandrels around, or did you use found objects a lot, before you designed your Wubbers pliers?

Patti: No. I think one of the things that actually really influenced me was when I was a painter, I did the same thing.

I started with really inexpensive, very economical paintbrushes and materials, and then the more professional I became, the more I gave myself permission to buy the nicer paint brushes and the high-quality paints. I was honestly quite shocked at the difference it made in how easy it was to do my work, to have the proper tools.

Well when I had made a lot of lampwork beads and I started to make jewelry, I knew the importance of tools. I don't believe in buying a tool just because it's expensive; I like to look for tools that have a good value and that meet my needs.

I had bought top of the line tools, and I was getting very frustrated because I like to work with heavy metal, but also I like to work with a variety. Contrast is big to me. I love contrast! So I might be sitting there working with a piece of 12-gauge silver and want to turn around and wrap it with 26 or 28-gauge fine silver, and I'm one of those people who hates to changes purses, I hate to change pliers! I just like to be able to grab what's in front of me and not have to worry about having 20 million tools to do each little thing.

The tools that I had, I found, they were quality tools, but I was going to wreck them if I used them the way I wanted to. That's kind of what set me on the road to developing the line of tools. Some frustration I was feeling, in actually using the tools. It wasn't that I just decided one day that I was going to make tools, it was the experience of needing something different. I developed the tools actually before I developed the idea of to sell them.

Heather: That's wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing all your knowledge and for this wonderful interview. Patti is going to be back teaching with us in Tucson this year at the JOGS Show and everybody needs to sign up for her classes. Not only is she a knowledgeable and jewelry artist she is actually wonderfully charismatic person and we love having her. She's an absolute joy. Thank you so much Patti for doing this interview.

Patti: Thank you! You just make me feel so special, Heather, and I look forward to seeing everyone. We have so much fun! I'm so excited to be back!

Heather: We do! Thanks Patti, have a good one!

Don't Miss Patti in Tucson!

Silver in Motion - Sterling Silver Spinner Ring

Silver in Motion - Sterling Silver Spinner Ring

Feb. 6, morning

Take a Look

Sterling Silver Stackable Rings

Sterling Silver Stackable Rings

Feb 7, afternoon

Take a Look