Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Jewelry Designer Trudy James

January 31, 2019

Jewelry maker Trudy James in her California studio, photos by Emily Hodges

Trudy James’ gorgeous jewelry designs, like her Nest Egg Necklace and Elephant and Her Little Peanuts Necklace, quickly became some of our bestselling gifts for daughters, mothers, and grandmothers. The artist handcrafts her nature-inspired pieces using high quality material that she’s collected from around the world. I dropped by her workspace in Oceanside, in between Los Angeles and San Diego, to discuss the concepts behind her sentimental pieces–she often celebrates motherhood, gratitude, and love–and to learn about her everyday inspirations. (And, of course, to try on all of her beautiful treasures.)

Trudy includes 1-4 little amazonite eggs to represent your baby birds in her Nest Egg Necklace

Trudy’s workspace is located in her home, in a room 100% dedicated to her craft. Her sweet dog, Layla, greeted me at the front door when I arrived and, alongside Trudy, led me into the well-lit studio. Stacked and organized against the back wall were “in-progress” and “completed” jewelry pieces inside labeled boxes, and her desk space proudly showcased tools and the necklaces she was currently tinkering with. At every corner of the room, I spotted photos of family and friends, travel keepsakes, and…bird’s nests, lots and lots of bird’s nests! Trudy’s space, like her designs, is truly one-of-a-kind. The moment I stepped in I could easily see that she put her entire self into her special oasis to reflect herself and her passions.

I later learned that the nests sprinkled around her studio played as small reminders and tokens of gratitude for the success of her Nest Egg Necklace design–inspiring her to not only focus on her business, but also to keep her creative vision alive. Read on to learn how Trudy came up with the concept for another design hit, how Albert Einstein influences her day-to-day work, and when her creative chaos usually begins!

What are your most essential tools?

Pliers are the tools I use the most. However, my favorite tool is my rawhide mallet. I’ve had it since my first high school jewelry class in 1971. That class was an ‘aha’ moment in my life. When I use the mallet now, it always reminds me of that moment.

Where do you find inspiration within your space?

I surround myself with objects that evoke happy memories. Whether it’s a small trinket, photo or memento from a place I’ve traveled to or times I shared with friends, they all hold a story and inspire me.

Where does downtime fit into a day in the studio?

When I’m working in my studio, the time seems to fly by. I’ll sit down at my workbench and the next time I look up, it is three or four hours later! Since I’m inside most of the day, I like to spend time outdoors, taking my four-legged best friend Layla for a walk, strolling on the beach, or enjoying my small garden.

What was the toughest lesson you learned?

At the age of 64, there have been many tough lessons I’ve learned, so it’s hard to pick just one. I know it sounds cliché but life IS short. I’ve learned to listen to my inner voice and not be afraid to take chances.

How do you come up with the concepts for your products?

My ideas are mostly sparked by experiences I have that are meaningful to me. For example, several years ago, I was visiting the San Diego Safari Park and ended up spending a couple hours watching the elephants. They were so playful and caring of each other. It was an amazing and inspiring afternoon. The next day, while sorting through my many boxes of gemstones, beads, and charms, I came upon a tiny peanut charm that I had acquired many years before. That’s when the idea came to me of the Elephant and Her Little Peanuts Necklace.

Trudy wore her Elephant and Her Little Peanuts Necklace for the visit

What’s your process when making your products?

I use and combine different techniques so the process is different with every design. Some techniques I use are metal stamping, dapping, 3D printing, lost-wax casting, and wire wrapping.

How often do you come up with new designs?

I always have design ideas percolating in my brain–but translating them into jewelry is another story. Sometimes I’ll sketch a design at a random moment or simply play around with raw materials (wire, sheet metal, wax, and beads) until something clicks. For me, my most successful jewelry designs happen organically when I least expect it.

Oh, hi Layla!

How do you set goals for yourself?

I’m not great at setting goals. When I was younger I was more scheduled and task-oriented but as I’m getting older, I realize it is more important to “play” and not travel in a straight line. It might take a little bit longer, but I accomplish just as much and enjoy it so much more.

Describe a perfect day in your studio.

The day after I clean it! Everything is in its place and orderly. Then the creative chaos begins again!

How and when do you decide to celebrate a victory?

The fact that I am able to make a living doing something I love is, in itself, the victory and I don’t mind celebrating it as often as possible. I love spending time with friends and loved ones going to unique places, near or far, drinking a good glass of wine, and laughing.

What quote keeps you motivated and what does it mean to you?

I’ve never been one for motivational quotes per se. The work itself keeps me motivated because I love it so much. However, I do like the quote attributed to Albert Einstein, “Play is the highest form of research.” This is so true of how I approach my life and work. I don’t take myself too seriously and every experience serves as an additional tool for my toolbox. To me, the quote represents a balance of right brain/left brain thinking. It has an aspirational quality but not too heavy and it makes me smile.

How do you recharge your creativity?

Go out and do something fun!

Trudy’s latest design, the Love Bug Necklace, lets you pair a mama lady bug with little baby bugs,
photo by UncommonGoods’ Creative team

Shop Trudy’s collection here>>

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