Physically Challenged Jewelry Artist: Tips for Success

spotlight-post-button-1-124x100-gby Jenny Ashley.

My name is Jenny and I have been a jewelry artist for about 4 years. I am also someone who has had severely debilitating health issues, including ongoing chronic pain and an upcoming back surgery.

My journey started back in 2009 when during an emergency room visit it was discovered I had a fist-sized benign tumor sitting under my breastbone. I could never have imagined that this would be the beginning of a different kind of life for me! I am 33 years old and had been working as a physical therapist assistant for over 10 years when the tumor was discovered.

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Due to the severity of my health issues I had to stop working in the career I loved and choose a different path in life. While I was in the process of recovering and going through more surgery I decided I wasn’t satisfied with just wasting my days sitting in front of the TV. So I had a friend show me how to make a simple single stranded necklace.

This was the start to my passion for making jewelry.

I started to realize that making jewelry was more than just a fun hobby, it was also something that gave me purpose throughout my recovery and made me feel like I had some direction in life. I started to see just how important this “hobby” had become. It has helped me to keep my sanity in dealing with the chaotic barrage of doctor appointments and bad pain days.

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Once I became more immersed in becoming an artist, I recognized the difficulties my disabilities would present and how they could interfere in my jewelry making. I couldn’t let my pain be an obstacle to doing what I love.

So I started to come up with ways around these so-called obstacles in order to transform them into mere challenges. One of the biggest problems I deal with is having so many pain days in a row that I am unable to finish a project, or am unable to even start a new one.

The following are some suggestions to my fellow disabled artists that you can put in place to ensure your being able to continue working with jewelry design.

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1). Conserve Your Energy
This is number one on my list of what helps me.
Basically this means balancing out how much time is spent on a project. It’s so tempting to work as long as you can on good days but as you may have noticed that always makes your bad days worse and they last longer.

Instead, you can limit the time you work on jewelry on your good days and then maybe do just a little bit on your bad days. You will get more done overall.

Try not to be too rigid on where you actually make your jewelry. Although I currently have a studio room set up, I sometimes need to be lying down or at least be near a place to lie down. So on those days I might put up a TV tray next to the couch and work on a smaller project from there.

2). Organization is Important
The less time you have to put into finding the materials you need and gathering them, the more time you can actually spend working. And don’t be afraid to package a partially completed project into a resealable bag to continue later. Doing this saves you from having to gather all of the supplies again. You can also organize the materials you use most often within easy reach so you’re not bending, twisting, or reaching as much.

3). Invest in an Ergonomic Chair
Have a really good solid supportive office or wheeled chair for your studio. It’s easier on the tush and it’s got wheels so you don’t have to get up as much. You can’t beat that!

4). Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
You would be surprised to find who is willing to help if only you would ask. I recommend joining an online forum of those who share similar circumstances. I personally have been involved in developing an online community of other disabled artists like myself called The Physically Challenged Artists Support Group at Big Tent.com. It’s invaluable to have the support of others who share your issues and also your passion.

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Jenny Ashley
Jenny Ashley Designs at Facebook

Spotlight Posts are noteworthy because in some special way they embody the spirit of Jewelry Making Journal as a community for sharing artistic jewelry design, personal growth, and empowering business practices. ~ Rena

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Comments

  1. Hi Jenny, thanks so much for sharing these fantastic tips for creating jewelry around physical challenges. I know a lot of people will find them very helpful!

    I’m glad to hear the Physically Challenged Artists Support Group is going strong. I agree, it can make a huge difference to have the support of others who share your issues and your passion.

  2. This is such a wonderful and practical article. I know the author, Jenny Ashley, and she didn’t mention that she also attends classes (on a campus, not online) in addition to making jewelry. All of this in spite of suffering from very bad chronic pain. Of course, we are all different and each one has their own threshold, but someone like Jenn is an inspiration to us all. Thank you, Rena, for continuing to shed light on the plight of those of us who are disabled artists!

  3. Oh Jenny,
    You are so special.
    Thank you so much for the above article. I know that you are not a quitter and have continued with the new sight ands making it into a wonderful place for people like me who want to break the pain barrier and be a valuble member of the human race.
    You are an inspiration as Laura P. says.
    Diana Redlin

  4. Hi Jenny
    Great article.
    Thanks for sharing this post and the tips. Like you I suffer from chronic pain (neck and shoulder) and find it often hard to get creative because I tend to overdo things and then the pain gets worse, so I will try some of your ideas (I already have a good chair for the bench). The problem for me is that I get impatient and frustrated as I have a million projects in my head and the thought of not being able to get stuck in and make my designs a reality is annoying. I think next time I will work on a longer project – mostly my polymer clay designs take a long time – I will try and work with an alarm as I tend to get engrossed in my work and notice the signs when to stop too late. I will check your link out. I am currently attending a pain management course and hopefully that will help me as well.

  5. One thing I didn’t mention is in regards the the last comentor. I usually keep a sketch pad by my place where I lay down either the couch or my bed. That way when the inspiration hits and you can’t possibly tolerate working in your studio at least you can sketch out the idea as not to lose the thought. Also feel free to email me privately.

  6. Thank you, Jenny, for being another inspiration for me! The pieces you show in your post are beautiful! I have followed Elizabeth Wald for a long time now, and have been so inspired by her work! Now I will follow you as well. About a week ago I finally put a few of my pieces on a Facebook page, then I made a wrong move, and made my back pain worse, so I haven’t been able to take more pictures and get more on there. I will check out your group, as well.
    Keep up the good work! You are awesome!

  7. Hi Jenny. Thank you for sharing this article. My name is Jenny too and I also have chronic pain and have had low back and neck surgery and have another neck surgery coming up so I deal with a lot of neck, shoulder and arm pain and spend a lot of time on the heating pad. I also have functional issues with my hands due to the nerves involved in my neck. I am a nurse and did homecare and hospice for many years but needless to say I can’t do that anymore. I needed to find a new passion in life because nursing is the only thing I ever wanted to do. A friend of mine who has fibromyalgia and issues with dizziness is an awesome jewelry designer and we started hanging out and she taught me the basics and it just took off from there and I am addicted to making jewelry and trying new techniques all the time. I have a really hard time some days sitting in my bead room at my bench working so I got a couple of cafeteria trays and put a bead mat in it and I can sit on the couch on my heating pad with no problem and work on almost any project. The tray has the lip around the edge so my beads and components won’t roll off and there is plenty of room on the tray for me to work on. There are days that I work on projects all day on the tray and it doesn’t increase my pain because I am in a comfortable position and can still have my heating pad. I can also take my current project with me to my friend’s house on the tray and don’t have to pack everything up. I like having more than one so that I can have a couple of different projects going at the same time. Just another idea for those of us that have trouble with sitting for long periods bent over a table.

  8. thanks for the beautiful article and the nice tips!

  9. I also wanted to let people know if they have specific questions for me regarding making things easier or more doable please let me know. I used to as a PTA work with patients on how to set up their homes to make things easier for them. So I have many ideas and couldn’t possibly put them all in the article.

  10. Jenny you are indeed very special! Thank you for sharing.

  11. Thank you soooooo much for all the kind words of support! It means a lot to me that my article may have helped even one person to be able to continue with the same passion I have.

  12. Jenny you are very inspirational. I also am a disabled person who does jewelry making and beading. When I do shows, I ask for help in getting my canopy up and ready. The rest of the things I do by myself. I have everything packed so that the first thing I need, table linens on top, etc. I try to keep a smile on my face all day no matter what amount of pain I am in. I am on pain meds. and have a small container on my key ring to carry my pain meds with me. This way I don’t forget them (again). It usually takes me about 3-4 days to recouperate from doing a show. But meeting all the new people makes it worth while. I love talking to people and hearing all the kind things they say about my things. My friend Alice had some of her beading things in a snap together plastic container. I took her idea and put all my beading/sewing necessary things in one small top container, I then put the beads etc in another larger snap on underneath with all the things I need for that project. This keeps all the items together and I never lose another thing. Best of luck on all you beading projects and shows.

  13. Hi
    I’ve just come across this website this morning and already found it invaluable. I’ve suffered from Chronic Fatigue since the age of 12 (I’m now 30) when I had Rhumatic Fever and also have many other health complications including heart problems (I had a pacemaker implanted in 2006) and Psoriatic Arthritis affecting every joint in my body. I have been making jewellery on and off for about 10 years but have started to concentrate on it since loosing my job at the end of march and coming to the realisation that I’m currently not fit for work. Jewellery making has been my absolute saviour. In the past I have concentrated more on papercrafts and i have a good size office upstairs with all my stash laid out. The problem is that at the moment upstairs is a strange and foreign land that i have no access to and the great thing about jewellery making is that you can do it just about anywhere. I currently work on a bean-bag backed tray (the type for tv dinners) which means that i can craft pretty much anywhere. My favourite place is on the settee in the living room where I can watch life go on outside (another foreign world) but I can also craft in bed and in my wheelchair.
    When I’m making jewellery I feel like i’m making some sort of contribution to the world which i am otherwise unable to do and keeping my fingers busy stops my mind from wandering and wards off the depression. The trick is to do as much as I can without impacting on my fatigue levels and triggering arthritic flares, also ensuring I can do a little bit on the bad days when I can barely hold my pliers to make me feel much better about myself.
    Any further tips in managing this would be very helpful.
    Elliexx

  14. Jenny says:

    Ellie,

    Check out our group for physically challenged artists on https://www.facebook.com/groups/PhysicallyChallengedArtistSupportGroup/
    Jen

  15. Hi, I have gone through the same experience with my 7 lb. lipoma which was discovered under my arm. My life changed drastically. I was a music teacher and had to give up playing piano and guitar., and quilting. The sense of loss was deeply depressing. After many months of physical therapy I have fairly good use of my hand but the sensation of pain is sometimes acute. I have always loved gemstones so I started reading about them and decided to try to make myself some bracelets that I could wear. I can’t work most clasps. My new hobby was born and has become a passion that makes me happy and fills the void. Working with gemstones has taken away my depression and given me a new life full of new friends and adventures. I have my good days and bad days and you are so right that we have to pace ourselves. I have learned to be kind to myself and treat myself with care. The energy that I absorb from working with natural gems has been a wonderful experience. Blessings to you. 🙂

  16. Hi Jenny,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story! I, too, suffered chronic intractable back pain for years and surgery didn’t help me at all. Finally, with the help of a wonderful friend and therapist I got my life back. I love the fact that instead of just giving up you came up with a plan to still be able to create what you love. It is so important to not let something like that rob you of the good things in life! You are setting a great example in how to deal with it and I hope that many people will benefit by reading your story!

  17. Karin,
    Thanks so much for the kind words. I wanted to let you and everyone else know that if they would like to hear more about my story and how I advocate for myself etc. you can find my blog at:
    https://lifecoloredbypain.wordpress.com
    Jen

  18. Hi Jenny,
    I’d like to chime in as well… I had no idea so many people were in the same boat as I am. I only discovered jewelry making after being sick for quite a long time; I picked up a children’s beading kit as a distraction. Unlike most art forms (the kid the art teacher would have loved to fail, you know?? 😉 I discovered I had a knack for it! Now I’ve got a very respectable collection of tools and beads and all kinds of fun things… More not-quite-finished projects than I would like… I want to finish them but I also need to be careful and, I hate this phrase, but “take care of myself”.
    Probably what I relate to best, in this particular post of yours, is keeping oneself to certain limits. Once I start something, I get stubborn and want to finish – but the aftermath so often becomes a day or more of worsened pain – and then I run into times that I can’t do anything at all.
    Thank you for writing of your struggles and some of the ways you get around them. I often ask a family member to “make” me stop after a pre-determined amount of time – before I get worn out. I do this with the gym too – I found working out a little bit eased my pain….but I finally had to ask a family member to chauffeur me, to keep my workouts reasonable lengths of time – (like, 15 minutes and not an hour and a half!) I find it so incredibly difficult to get myself set up to do *anything*, that once I manage it, I hate to stop. That’s one of the biggest issues I have been working on at the moment. It’s NOT good to follow through on things, but then end up even more debilitated for the next couple of days! Thanks again for writing. You’re brave. 🙂

  19. I find such healing in being able to see others overcoming challenges that physical pain cause (and I know that physical pain is not the only things, as so many mental health problems can create great challenges also – or be tied to the physical pain) – but – I think for anyone who deals with chronic pain and cannot hold a full time “regular” job – finding your own abilities that you CAN work around is so fantastic a discovery. I was unable to hold down a job by my late 20s’ and am 49 now – underwent a thoracotomy and then a lobectomy at 44 (lung cancer) that has left me that much more unable to do certain things and gave me quite a challenge – but I am grateful for many reasons. I have survived 5+ years, and I found out that making jewerly and working with beads, natural stones, rocks (rocks and more rocks!) is great. I do have to do many of the things you listed – I have several other old injuries and diagnosis’ that challenge each day and need to be in a different position often, etc. – but if you do manage to limit yourself when you need to – rest when you need to, etc. I believe there are so many people out there who could find things that they can learn to do or find out they have a knack for that can be done as permitted and probably from home. I may still be on some disability – but I am trying to help others, keep myself positive, and earn what I can for myself. Thank you for sharing your journey – and to everyone else out there facing things who is willing to share – please do, for it helps those who really need to hear it!!

  20. Kristy Jo, it’s wonderful to hear that you’ve survived 5+ years so far! And so glad you have jewelry making – it’s such a wonderful “therapy” for mind, body, and spirit! 🙂

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