Sunday, October 19, 2014

Vancouver Island Etsy Shop Feature - Shirley Alexander

Tell us about who you are and how you got started doing what you do. Did you gain formal training?  Where?  If not, how did you develop your art? 

My name is Shirley Alexander, and my business name is Layali Jewelry.  I got started silversmithing around 2010, in Edmonton, Alberta.  I had signed up for a few basic silversmithing classes after needing to fill a void that was left when I could no longer indulge in another passion of mine; Middle Eastern dance (or belly dance as most North Americans know it by).  My feet had suffered multiple injuries that just made dance too difficult. 

I was pleasantly surprised to find that when I was creating jewelry, the hours flew by and time had no meaning… I had found where I ‘belonged’!

Shortly after finding my new-found passion, my husband retired and we moved to a home we had purchased in Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island.  Our first year here was filled with renovations and acclimating ourselves to our new home, but soon the itch to create reared its head again!  I was disappointed to find that there really was next to nothing here in the way of classes and/or supplies, but I was determined and so I slowly started to build up a home studio filled with supplies and continued my silversmithing education through books and online. 

Tell us about your studio. Do you have a room or workshop especially dedicated to your art? Or is it the kitchen table or a corner in your child's playroom?
I do have a room in my home I use for a studio….originally my husband and I had shared it…he for his music, me for my silversmithing, but as time went on he graciously moved his stuff to another room as I was quickly outgrowing my allotted space--- I am a bit of a ‘tool junkie’!! (Thankfully, my husband, who is also a ‘tool junkie’ when it comes to wood, understands completely!)

The main anchor in my studio is an antique watchmakers desk, which is where a lot of my work takes place…..when you are working on jewelry, in order to have the best ergonomics, your table surface needs to actually be higher than a normal desk or table….this is so you don’t strain your neck and shoulders by hunching over something you are working on (although I think we all do this to some extent anyways). 

Tell us about your processes. How do you work? Do you listen to music or need quiet? Is it sporadic or do you dedicate set hours to work?
I love all types of music, and usually have a great playlist going while I am working!  I tend to switch playlists as the mood strikes me, but when it comes down to something I really have to focus on, only instrumental music will do, my current favourite being a playlist of Vienna waltzes (yup, I know…weird).

I do try to maintain a sort of schedule for working in my shop… I find if I don’t, there is always something that gets in the way of me being there.  I am not the sort that can pop in and spend an hour…once I’m there, I’m there, and prefer to have at LEAST four to five hours work time.

What are the toughest challenges you find in keeping consistent hours?  What other challenges do you face in your work and what ways have you been able to address them (if you have)?
I think that keeping a consistent schedule of getting into the studio can actually be the toughest thing! The rest of life doesn’t just stop…other responsibilities and commitments have a way of eating up that time!  I say this, and yet I know there are a lot of other artists out there with small children and full time jobs that somehow manage it and I have NO idea how they do that!  I am very fortunate to have a supportive husband who will often tackle the housework etc. on a day when I really need some ‘studio time’!!

What types of materials do you use and why?
I primarily work in either sterling silver or copper.  Gold is just way too expensive, at least at this stage of the game for me.  Sterling silver can be expensive as well, and so often if I am trying a new design etc, I will make a prototype in copper first.   I do love working with copper and wish more people would really consider it when it came to jewelry… looks beautiful with many skin tones, and there are many solutions if you are one of those who get the dreaded “green marks” from a reaction with that metal….copper can easily be coated to prevent that!  I have been experimenting with some copper-etched designs this fall, and that is a great deal of fun! 

I never work with silver plate or any base metal that is silver in colour (one exception are the stainless steel clasps I have on my leather cord necklaces).  It is always my hope that when I am making a sterling silver piece of jewelry, that it will become a treasured keepsake.  To me, sterling is always preferable over silver plate, as you can polish it forever and it will always look great (I have some Victorian era pieces that will attest to this!)…silver plate DOES wear off in time …..great for fun and fad jewelry, but if you are paying for, say, a beautiful cameo necklace, it should be something that will endure.

Where else do you sell your work?  
In addition to my Etsy shop, my jewelry can also be purchased from my website at

Where else are you on the web? 
My internet links are as follows: (Click on each link to follow Layali Jewelry online)

Why do you think people should buy handmade?
You know, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately!  I know that I love buying handmade and had long before I was a jewelry artist!  There is a certain care and attention that goes into a handmade item, and it shows through in the workmanship and attention to detail! You also wind up with something very unique….an interpretation of the artist’s own vision!  I can almost guarantee that if you sit a couple of jewelry artists down with a general pattern and the same supplies, you are likely going to wind up with two very different pieces!  In my own field, when you buy something handmade from a jewelry artist, they are going to be able to tell you a lot about the piece you are purchasing. Also, unlike a mass-manufactured piece, it is likely that before releasing that item for sale, the artist has looked it over to ensure its quality!  I know that for me, I never will release anything for sale that I feel I wouldn’t purchase myself!  As a long time antique jewelry collector, I can get pretty picky, and my customers benefit from that!

What goals do you have?
Well…..I started to sell my jewelry simply because you get to a point where you can’t wear it all!  It has been a wonderful experience, and I believe that you become a much better craftsperson by making the decision to sell your work.  All of a sudden, you are producing more work, and in some instances, when you are creating multiples, you learn to refine your process.  This actually was my initial goal – just to become a better craftsperson. I am now at a point where I would like to see my studio being supported by the work that I sell and to perhaps have it become a part-time income opportunity for me.

What are three items in your shop that you are particularly proud of? 
1.      My 'Victorian-style Cameo Necklace'.  In addition to being a beautiful piece of jewelry, which I feel could be handed down as an heirloom, it was the first time I had actually made a brooch clasp!

2.       My 'Keepin’ It Together' set of 3 sterling silver bangles with hinged keeper.  I was very happy with how the hinged keeper box came out on this….it turned out exactly how I had planned it, which is always nice!

3.       My 'Having a Ball' Sterling Silver and Jade earrings.  These came about as a result of a tricky soldering exercise.  They appear to be deceptively simple, but three different strengths of solder are used, and they are quite difficult to keep in place while they are being soldered.  Conquering them made me feel much more confident about tricky soldering tasks!

Will you be at any art/craft fairs this year?  Any other place you will be (or have been) that you would like us to know about?
I will be at the Kris Kringle Craft Fair in Nanaimo, BC this Christmas season, from November 20 – 23rd, 2014, and will be at the Out of Hand Xmas Artisan Market which will take place at the Crystal Garden in Victoria, BC from November 28 – 30th, 2014.

Have you been in the news or featured elsewhere?  
Shortly after I launched my website at, Jewelspan did a featured artist interview with me, which can be viewed HERE.

I have also been named Jewelspan’s 'Jeweller/Jewellery Website of the Day' a couple of times since fall of 2013.


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