Stepping into Katie Ferris‘ home studio in Brooklyn, NY gives only a taste of what goes on inside of her mind. An artist, jewelry designer, and maker of wearable sculptures made to protect and bring good energy to its wearers, Katie’s space is brimming with nostalgia and personal meaning. From her great-grandmother’s furniture and her uncle’s paintings, to each and every curbside treasure she’s collected, her studio is a constant source of inspiration and an ongoing reminder to stay true to herself.
While her work is meticulous, tedious, and sometimes debilitating, Katie derives strength and courage from her surroundings as much as she does from her spiritual connections — which is evident in every handcrafted piece she puts her heart into making. Today, Katie is joining us to share more about her inner workings, what makes her her, and the beautiful things that can happen if we all just embrace our individuality. –Sabrina
Tell us about yourself.
My name’s Katie and I’m an independent jewelry designer living and working in Brooklyn, NY. I make jewelry for protection using blinking doll eyes as a gem to watch over you. I’ve always had a love for art and working with my hands, and knew from a young age I’d never be a “company girl.” My first love was painting, and although I still paint, my new love is working with metal, making little wearable sculptures.
What does home and this space mean to you? Describe it.
This is my studio/office. It means a whole lot to me because it is where I make all of my work and where I spend almost all of my time. I use my great-grandmother’s dresser as a jeweler’s bench. I built the long table I’m standing in front of with my good friend Jess, and everything else I either found on the side of the road, or bought for 5 bucks. I can’t imagine working in any other space, as it is my driving source of inspiration every day.
What makes it so comfortable?
I’ve spent a lot of time making this room into a space for inspiration, a place where my mind can wander. I’ve covered the walls in my friends’ and family’s artwork. The Native American paintings were done by my uncle, one of the most influential people in my life. When I was younger, if I ever had an issue or problem, I would always say to myself, “what would Uncle Danny do?” Sounds silly, but you don’t know how cool my uncle is. And I definitely find comfort in being surrounded by weird doll heads and pieces created by the ones I love.
What makes you uncomfortable? What is your biggest fear?
My biggest fear is losing the ability to work with my hands. When I’ve been working a lot, my hands start to kind of lock up and ow, do they burn! When this happens, I have to stop working and stretch it out– making jewelry is physical work!
Have you ever thrown caution to the wind and departed from your comfort zone? What happened as a result?
I have! After I finished jeweler-school, the owner, Robert, got me a job as a polisher for this badass woman, Connie Bates. I looked up to her so much, so I worked my ass off for her. But wait, let me back up! I polished for her, and if you know anything about making jewelry, you know a hundred-pound little chick has no business polishing huge belt buckles, but I did it. Anyways, I had been working there for about a year, and at the same time I was starting to put my own collection together. A blogger had posted a photo of one of my rings and I got a bunch of online orders. This started to make me wonder if I could make enough money with my own line to survive in New York City.
I’ve always turned to signs from my Grandma and Grandpa. It sounds weird, but it’s guided me through life and helped me to make some of the best decisions. I kept asking my Grandpa for a sign. “Grandpa, give me a sign that I should quit this job and focus on my work.” I asked him for a week, and on that Friday I got my sign. I was finishing up the last belt buckle, almost done. The buckle got caught on the polishing machine, spun around a few times to build up momentum, and flew out to nail me in the neck. I fell out of my chair, the wind knocked out of me, and Connie came rushing to the back of the studio to see what had happened. I was okay, but it scared the shit out of me! I took that as my sign — thanks, Grandpa. I then quit that job and really started to focus on my own jewelry line. I’m so thankful for that moment, because if it hadn’t happened I’m not sure if I would have had the courage to start my own business when I did.
What would you do if you had a day, a week and a month all to yourself?
And a whole bunch of money? I’d go explore Berlin. And for the last eight days, I’d lock myself in my studio and just design.
What have you learned as an adult that you wish you knew when you were younger?
The value of a dollar. I’ve always loved fashion (like really, really loved fashion), clothes, and expressing myself — from a really young age. When it was time for back-to-school shopping, I was in heaven! My mom, on the other hand, was in hell. I grew up in a humble home, and we had a budget that I was very unaware of. I remember begging my mom for the overpriced sparkly top at the mall, and every year it was the same sort of fight, and mom always won. I’d end up with Kmart jeans and JCPenny shirts, but somehow I always managed to win the paper plate award for best-dressed. Looking back, I feel bad — sorry mom!
How do you unplug, recharge and unwind?
Honestly, a night out with my friends, dancing, being silly and laughing is the best after a long week of work.
Have you ever experienced burnout? How do you get back on your feet and stay inspired?
I have definitely experienced burnout: this past Christmas season was insane. I was making so much jewelry every day, working ridiculous hours, and my hands would constantly cramp up to the point where they just kind of stopped working. Some days — actually, most — I’d have to stop working every twenty minutes or so, stretch, then get back to work. My hands are pretty important and if they’re not happy, I’m not happy. The way I get back on track is just taking it easy for a few weeks. I get the fire back in my belly pretty quickly, so staying inspired is easy, thank God!
What do you think the world could use less of, and more of?
Less judgment and more acceptance — everyone’s different!
What’s one question you wish you had the answer to?
Why exactly am I making the things I’m making? I’m still figuring it out!