||Meet the Designer-Artist
Renowned chainmaille jewelry artist, author and instructor, Sue Ripsch recently filmed a series of instructional videos at the Fire Mountain Gems and Beads® video studio. In between taping sessions, Sue and her husband and business partner, Steve, sat down with us and talked about her life as a jewelry artist, their flourishing business and some exciting plans for the future.
How did you get started making chainmaille jewelry?
Sue: Well, I started by learning the basics of chainmaille. I learned the basics and then, all of a sudden, I started to develop designs. Initially, I developed designs based on a traditional chainmaille weave. Then I started adding twisted jumprings for texture. Then, I added bling for the shine.
What inspires you?
Sue: My designs are inspired by nature and fine art jewelry. In the past, chainmaille jewelry has mainly been biker jewelry. My work goes more towards fine jewelry. I'm the first chainmaille artist to take it to this level. Also, a combination of creativity and teaching guides me.
You travel across the country offering chainmaille classes. Teaching, and your students, are very important to you.
Sue: Teaching is very important. In college, I made the choice between teaching and nursing, and chose nursing. But now, with jewelry, I can be the teacher. I really enjoy teaching.
What would you like to share about your teaching experience and philosophy?
Sue: I care about the success of my students, especially when they're taking their first steps. My students and I get to the end of a class or project, and they're so surprised. Many of them start out discouraged, but I encourage them to keep going and they're so excited when they finish! I've never had anyone fail. My students always learn something. Even if they don't finish, I know they can go home and complete something on their own.
Do you see any similarities between your approach to teaching jewelry-making and working as a nurse?
Sue: The caring and nurturing side of nursing comes through in my teaching. Nursing is about caring, which I carry through to my students.
How do you balance a creative and business life?
Sue: Steve and I are partners. I design and teach. Steve puts together the kits to sell, works on costing, and, very important, makes the jumprings.
What are some of the most rewarding aspects of the business for you?
Steve: My son and I make all of the jumprings. You'd think making all of those jumprings gets boring, but I get inspired by jewelers who come up to me at shows and say how much they appreciate the quality. It really makes it worth it.
Sue: I love meeting the people!
Steve: And, we now have customers from all over the world: Europe, Asia and the United Arab Emirates.
Sue: The books seem to inspire our international sales. And, I've started my third book.
Do you have a title for your book?
Sue: I have a working title: Classic Chainmaille with Bling. It's tentatively scheduled to be published at the end of 2015.
What are some of the challenges you face in your business?
Steve: One of the biggest challenges we face is the volatility of precious metals prices.
Sue: Our niche is precious metals and we want to continue offering a quality product to our customers and students.
What do you see when you look towards the future?
Sue: In 2014, I'll be teaching at Bead Fest Texas, Bead Fest Spring and the Bead and Button® show. And, I'm looking forward to going full-time as a jeweler.
Steve: If you had asked us ten years ago, we would never have believed where we are today. It's more than we ever anticipated.
View all of Sue's resources here.
Browse books by Sue Ripsch available at Fire Mountain Gems and Beads.