Have you ever wondered how an artist began his or her career? Backstories are usually interesting, and this one is no exception.
I would like you to Meet Kathy Raino Gampo, a Jewelry Artist here in the South Carolina Lowcountry. She graciously allowed me to tour her home, garden, studio, and the flagship store where she sells her merchandise. I received way more than I expected and was blown away after seeing how all of her spaces reflect the things she loves and who she is as an artist. On top of that, I saw all the pieces of her past life in her surroundings.
First, I’ll do my best to tell her story, then you can read her answers to the interview questions at the end.
Before I Entered the House, I was Captivated by the Garden
When I stepped out of the car, I immediately wanted to see her garden. “Can I take pictures of the garden first?” I asked. I didn’t even know she had a green thumb.
Pictures of her garden are worth a thousand words. Look at her giant blackberries, play area, greenhouses, pathways, a wagon spilling over with flowers, vintage gas cans, bird cages, and angels. As she told her story I was eager to hear more about her great love of plants, flowers, and jewelry- making.
The Path to Becoming a Jeweler
I’ve known Kathy for a long time. She and I worked together at a local credit union around thirty-five years ago. “So what happened after you left the bank?” I asked.
Kathy remained in banking for sixteen long years. She didn’t like working at the credit union and was held back by the fear of leaving. Finally, she decided to make a change and take horticulture classes after losing her parents and sister. She applied her education at a few local nurseries over the next fifteen years, but had to find another vocation after having neck surgery.
After leaving horticulture, she worked in the production area for a local jeweler for about three years, then co-owned a downtown store, The Greenfish Gallery, for several more years. Finally, she took the leap to work from home and develop her own jewelry line. What an encouragement for us late bloomers, or people who just want a change of scenery in their lives.
The Vintage Rain Studio
The Interview Questions (my favorite part)
The interview is the best part!
What made you decide to go out on your own?
A long-time friend gave me the confidence to believe in myself as an artist and sell my work.
As a painter, I have to curate a career and earn money in different places. How do you curate a career as a jewelry artist?
I have an Etsy shop (Vintage Rain Jewelry), two stores here in town, a store in Michigan, and a store on Amelia Island.
Do you make custom jewelry?
I make heirloom pieces, with bits of vintage fabric from family members, remembrance pieces, and jewelry and heirloom pieces for the members of a wedding. Also, I do lots of personalized jewelry and ornaments.
What do you love about your business?
Soldering is my first love. I taught myself how to do it. Creating something new, words, and cabbage roses are other things I love. I buy old dictionaries and bibles and use them in my work.
Do you like working at home more than working in your own retail store?
Yes! I can work in my pjs. I can drink coffee all day, and I get to make my own schedule. My dog is here. If someone calls me and wants to go thrifting, I can turn off the light and go. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
Do you make seasonal jewelry?
My color schemes are seasonal. I also use lots of flowers in the spring and vintage seed packets. Christmas is not my busiest time, although I do well at Christmas. I have some Christmas jewelry and I sell ornaments year round.
How do you prepare for the slow times?
I save for the slow times, like January and back to school.
What mistakes does an artist need to avoid in the beginning?
Don’t go into business with friends or family. Keep your relationships conflict free. You may have the best intentions when you start out, but money can change things. If you do go into business with friends or family, you will need strong boundaries.
What words of wisdom do you have for fellow artists?
When Urban Nest gave me a bigger spot, I got lost. I started buying tables and repurposing furniture, and I hated it. Then I had to stop and go back to my roots. I like rhinestones, vintage fabric, lace, crochet pieces, and the small bits, just like my mother did. Don’t get lost. Think about your passion and bring yourself back into focus.
Personalization is a huge thing.
Don’t limit yourself to one medium. I work with clay, glass, solder, fabric, paper, and metal.
*(And to think, I’ve been listening to all those “find your niche” people!)
I sell more in volume because if I charge based on my time, no one could afford it. Don’t listen to all those formulas about how to price your stuff.
*(mind blown, again.)
What is the one piece of advice you would to give to a new artist who is just starting out?
Don’t be afraid. That’s what kept me at that bank job all of those years.
I hope you enjoyed reading Meet Kathy Raino Gampo, Lowcountry Jewelry Artist. I’ve known her for a long time, and I was still surprised by her talent and wisdom. I hope you’ll take her advice and step out in faith, then stay true to yourself and your passion.
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