Sharing Sources: How do you ask?

by Monica Donohoe.
(Birmingham, Alabama USA)

question-marks-005I have found myself in this position more than once. While admiring someone else’s work, I find an element I’d like to try, but can’t find a similar material.

In the past I have taken a chance and just asked the artist. Occasionally, I get an answer. Because I understand many are territorial about sharing any info, I only ask after I have exhausted all of my own sources and searching capabilities.

Do you ever ask fellow jewelers for their sources?

Is there a right way to ask?

Thank you,

Monica Donohoe
Monica Donohoe Jewelry

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  • Rain says:

    To be honest, I rarely ask anyone about sources because I know how I feel when someone asks me. I’ve worked really hard to find the best prices from the best vendors and that’s just not information I share with anyone who asks. My answer when someone does ask is something like, “Oh, I have all sorts of vendors that I buy from.” Usually people take the hint.

    The one time I remember asking for a source was when a seller on etsy stopped carrying some beads that I wanted to reorder from her. She was happy to give me the name of the wholesaler because she wasn’t selling the item any more.

    The only other time I ever remember asking about a source was with an actual bead store a few years ago. They carry Parawire, which I buy a ton of, but the brand name was nowhere on the label. I knew there had to be a source that wasn’t as expensive and I was right. The employee was kind enough to give me the name of the brand (although I didn’t tell her I was trying to find it cheaper somewhere else). I shop with them regularly, so I’m sure that had to do with why she felt comfortable giving me the information.

    If you’re going to ask the question, I’d tread lightly and know that you might get a non-answer.

  • Nancy says:

    I’m not clear … are you talking about resources for materials or for “how to” instructions?

    Some people are fine about sharing resources and techniques, others are not. Don’t feel hurt if the artist refuses, and be thankful for the ones who will help. Just be very sure and very clear that you are NOT planning to copy the artist’s work!

    If you are seeking actual materials, this is a great place to ask. People here are good about sharing information.

    If you are seeking instructions and can’t find them here, you might try an internet search.

    Also, keep asking artists. You might be surprised at the results! I have been blessed with an amazing jeweler who is eager to mentor. I was hesitant to ask at first, but his work is so beautiful, and he has mastered just about every technique there is, so I did ask how to do something or other, and he was very happy to share. It does happen!

  • Jeanine Hughes says:

    I agree with Rain. I spend a lot of time looking for vendors, which adds to my costs, which makes my prices higher. Part of differentiating yourself in this competitive market is unique materials, which becomes important to an artist’s collection.

    There’s also something called “paying your dues”. Do your own research and you will be a better person for it.

  • Vivian says:

    There’s also something called “paying it forward”; if a person is only asking for a component source, what’s the harm? She is not copying your design nor is she asking you to share a technique you may have developed. Are you who disagree worried about your source running out of your wholesale item ? If this person is not directly competing with you, why not share the info.? We artists need to support each other in any way we can.

  • Andrea says:

    I’d like to jump in here if I may… While I may admire someone’s particular style, I’ve been making jewelry long enough to know that even if I were to try to make a piece resembling another artist’s work, it wouldn’t come close to looking the same. Why? Because along the way to the finished product, I would naturally incorporate my own style and talent, not to mention my own elements.
    Along the learning path, there have been others who are confident and secure enough themselves, to know I’m not going to take any business away from them by asking where they may have gotten a particular bead or stone, and they have been generous and helpful with their information.
    If someone has shown or taught me something along the way, it’s my way of ‘paying it forward’ to also help someone else if they should ask. I look at it as Good Karma, what goes around, comes around!

  • Tammy says:

    Every artist has a unique talent of their own. Helping someone else makes you a better person but jealousy doesn’t. You shouldn’t be worried that if you help someone they may make something prettier than yours or get a better price. You should be thankful for the talent you have, and take pride in the fact that your knowledgeable enough to help someone else.

  • Shandee says:

    I agree with Tammy. True most of us have worked very hard to learn and develop what we consider our talent. But, Passing it forward is the best feeling that anyone person can feel. I teach a class for jewelry making and I freely pass on all resources and tips I find. It is the best part of the class when we share.

  • Mary Morris says:

    I have offered to sell some of my supply to someone asking for a source. I have made a couple sales that way. Some sources I gladly share, others I consider a trade secret.

  • Caron Lambert says:

    When I was in business, I was happy to share what I could. If someone used an unusual material, I would ask what it was and try to find it myself. I usually found other things I “had to have” during the search. Now I am buried in beads. Oh well…there are worse things.

  • Lyone says:

    There are so many sources that require a person to have a minimum order of $50-$100, so I am never really worried about being out-competed for supplies, from a wholesaling perspective. There are often so many different places to find any one item. If an item is really that unusual, chances are that I actually made it myself, or someone else handmade it–and why not give that other artist the business?
    So, I am very generous with sharing sources with others, and I always say to folks “If you find it for less somewhere else PLEASE let me know!”

  • Autumn says:

    I’ve never had anyone ask me about my sources, but I freely tell them to fellow customers if I’m in a store. Several crafters and I have talked about Fire Mountain Gems and Harbor Freight as suppliers (my suggestions) standing in the middle of Jo-Ann’s! At a local craft store, the employees and I even started talking about FMG and how we prefer it. I don’t see any harm in it. Materials can be found EVERYWHERE. Honestly, I think it’s a compliment. They find my work to be of such quality, they want to know what *I* use.

    I’ve also had experiences where business owners have shut me down. One of my former spiritual teachers made jewelry, and I asked where to buy wire. Our town had two craft stores, and I knew nothing at that point. I just wanted to know which one to go to, and what to buy! She refused to tell me! She wasn’t rude about it, but really hurt. I hadn’t even made an item yet, and I felt like she thought I was trying to compete with her. I can appreciate researching your sources…but come on. Really? I didn’t want an itemized list, I just wanted of the stores sold the wire she used. It was silver plated and I liked it.

    I asked another person who I have a professional acquaintance with about selling gemstones and crystals. I didn’t ask for his sources, just how I should go about it. And he flat out told me he wouldn’t tell me where HE bought from, or how to find quality wholesale suppliers. Just suggested one company he’d dealt with a few times (in the past), and was very vague otherwise.

    Anyway, the whole point of the last few paragraphs was that I don’t think it can hurt. If someone asks me, I will tell them. What use is knowledge, if it’s not shared? Supplies don’t make the jewelry/art, the PERSON does. They can have the exact same supplies and tools…doesn’t mean their products will be the same. Even copying your item, it will still be a replica. You are two individual people, and that will show in your work.

  • Tammy says:

    That was great Autumn. I think the really talented people are compassionate and caring people. Those traits show through in the things they make. Greedy people like the ones you experienced may make something pretty, but I believe it’s sterile lacking warmth and imagination. Imagination takes a certain amount of innocence and greed has done away with that. May we never get to the point we have to hoard information.

  • Rain says:

    Wow, Tammy, that was unkind. I’m not greedy or sterile and I’m definitely not lacking in imagination. What I am is someone who has worked REALLY hard to build my business and find the best resources I can. I think it’s unkind and greedy of someone to expect me to just give them (and usually it’s a total stranger) all of that information freely. I live in a very competitive market where there aren’t many high end shows and there are LOTS of jewelry designers. I have to do whatever I can do to keep getting into those shows and selling.

    I share my sources with friends, but not with random people who just walk up to my booth and ask. I’ve had people literally tell me they want to make the exact item instead of buying the one off my table. Why would I make that easier for them? I don’t care about imitation being flattery and all that. It still means someone is copying my design and making money from it. Maybe they’ll do that anyway, but I’m not going to help them. I love what I do and I love being part of a creative community, but I’m also a business owner who worries about getting the bills paid.

  • Tammy says:

    It is definitely wrong to copy someone elses design, and that person should be informed of that. It’s never wrong to help someone else along though, to encourage others talent. I have severe heart problems and only leave home for Dr appointments. I sale to help with meds and Dr. bills. I don’t know anyone else who makes jewelry so I have no one to ask. What I’ve learned has been from generous people on the internet that were willing to share their knowledge in blogs and videos. I’ve purchased books, videos and researched resources for hours on end. I understand the need to make money but being afraid someone else might make more is not a feeling I want to have. Maybe you could sale a few tutorials and supplies, so when someone asks you could help them and make money at the same time. I’d love to share what knowledge I have. You are truly lucky to be able to attend the shows and have the opportunity to pass it on. If I offended you or anyone else I apologise and wish you all the best.

  • Nancy says:

    Everyone has an opinion. And a right to that opinion. I believe in paying it forward, and I fail to find requests for information threatening. Yes, it’s wrong to copy someone else’s design, though some don’t understand that. But let’s face it … this is jewelry. Wire is wire, Swarovski is Swarovski, gemstones vary and there are never two quite alike. So what is the problem? Helping someone find lower prices or a more reliable dealer, to me, just seems right. I am also so thankful for the mentor whose jewelry is the best I’ve ever seen and who loves to share techniques or answer questions. He has become a treasured friend through his willingness to help. My jewelry has improved through this, and it’s great fun for me to find a source he doesn’t know about or a sale he hasn’t discovered. Even this website, thanks to Rena, is a source of information and sharing.

    So, you who don’t believe in this, you’re okay, keep doing what you think is right. The ones who do believe in paying it forward, keep it up. And for the ones who just love to give and share, kudos to you, too.

    There is room for us all!

  • Joan says:

    I have had many people ask me for my sources, and I happily tell them some of them, but the sources where I buy very unusual pieces I keep to myself. I grew up in NYC during the fifties and there were two major department stores that were in competition with each other and sold similar products at similar prices: Macy’s and Gimbels. It was common in those years, when asked for sources that one did not want to share, to say, “Does Macy’s tell Gimbels?” 😉

  • Rain says:

    Exactly, Joan! It’s not about Swarovski crystals or Fire Mountain. Everyone knows about the basics. I’ve certainly shared sources on this site when someone has asked.

    It’s about those special pieces that you find and no one else knows about. I have several design components in my inventory that I haven’t seen anywhere else and that sell very well for me. I’m not sharing those sources with just anyone. They’ll be my little secret.

    I once had a customer ask if I’d sell her the components for one of my designs….at cost! I thought it was beyond nervy! That was definitely a new one. Right up there with the customer who wanted me to cut the pendant off a $70+ necklace because she only wanted the pendant!

  • Autumn says:

    Rain, I can see where Tammy was coming from. I don’t think she was referring to all artists who keep their resources close to heart. I know I wasn’t. My teacher tends to make the exact same design for all her items. Each category has a standard design. I don’t think she’s “sterile” so much as “stuck”. When she realizes she’s stuck, she starts creating new items all together…which influences the rest of her work. Evolution is necessary.

    Honestly, I can see both sides of the argument. I don’t have any “special” sources yet, but if I did…I bet I’d keep them close. Those rare, “only I have them items” are different than the mass-marketed components. I’m not going to make a list of where I buy items and for what price, and then posting it online for everyone to see. That’s undermining my entire business! Not only profits, but my experience and hard research. But if someone asks me for a specific wire within their price range, I’ll tell them. It’s the same as suggesting to my students where to shop.

  • Thomas says:

    I have found that assuming knowledge of other people’s motives usually ends up badly. The person who asks for components at cost may think of that as a “kit” and that you (as a wholesale buyer) get the components below “cost,” and therefore making a profit in the carry trade. Likewise, the customer apparently liked the pendant you made, but preferred a different necklace. Some kindly conversation and gentle education might have ended up with a sale, future repeat customers, and maybe even some new friends. Assume the very best in a customer’s motives (unless you have definite knowledge to the contrary) and everyone is better off.

  • Rain says:

    Thomas, I really did understand perfectly. You’re assuming that I didn’t actually ask questions and find out what the customers wanted.

    I had the finished piece on my table, but the customer asked if I’d sell her the components for MY cost because she said she could just make it herself.

    The pendant the other customer wanted was not one I made. It was something I bought – a simple puffed abalone pendant on a bail. It was a piece that cost me maybe $5. The rest of the necklace was loaded with quality beads – pearls, labradorite, etc. – and it took a good deal of work to design and put together. The customer in question had gone back and forth with herself about various items – me answering questions and giving suggestions about how each piece could be worn – for at least 30 minutes without settling on anything. Her request that I cut the pendant off the necklace so she could just buy that was the last thing she asked (I politely told her I could not do that) before she left without buying a thing. She wanted the pendant ALONE so she could put it on a chain. She didn’t want me to make a different necklace for her with the pendant.

    If it had been a pendant I had made, I would have offered to make her another one. I’ve done that a number of times and the customer is always happy with the offer and the finished product.

  • Nancy says:

    Wow! Talk about a hot topic……
    I was a teacher for 40 years and sharing information was what I did. I’m willing to share sources with other jewelry artists when the request is a general one: What is a good source for wire? Where is a good place to buy pearls? What is a good source for pendants? The list goes on and on. There are very few places that I won’t share specific information on but I’m willing to give suggestions: Google the item you want and check the references there or Have you tried finding it on ebay? or You might want to check your local bead store, if they don’t have it they will probably be willing to order it for you. That usually takes care of the questions and no feathers get ruffled.

  • Ruth says:

    I’ve encountered all of the above philosophic arguments in the 50 years I’ve made jewelry. My story is a simple but common story. I started making my own jewelry because of severe allergic reactions to certain metals. When I was young the jewelry I made was of organic items of wood, shell, etc that directly touched my skin. As I got older I used more expensive gems & components. I needed to make my own jewelry to control the material that was used would have no nickel or palladium in its construction. The choice of purchasing jewelry from a reputable vendor or making it myself was always based on my budget. Back in the days before the internet, finding resources was problematic – on a good day.
    With the internet came availability & the jewelry industry exploded, it’s no wonder the competition is intense and can seem defensive. Maybe the word ‘proprietary’ should be used in the case where someone needs to have an edge in the market. On a personal note I’ve been insulted and/or accused of underhanded tactics, but I’ve also been helped immensely by understanding individuals.
    I do not sell to the public. I just make jewelry I can afford to wear. I have never made earrings and will always have the massive scar tissue in my earlobes where they swelled five times normal size & split wide open from wearing inexpensive hoop earrings. It was such a bad experience that to this day I cringe when I hear the word “earring”. We all have our reasons for how we ended up making jewelry.

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