Jewelry Business: Notes From The Other Side of the Counter with Andrew Thornton

May 31, 2013

Andrew Thornton is a fine artist who resides in western Pennsylvania.
As a well-known jewelry artist and now the owner of the fine art and craft gallery, Allegory Gallery in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, Andrew Thornton has a unique perspective to share with anyone who wants to get into the jewelry business. Recently, Andrew wrote a wonderful series of posts on his own blog, The Writing and Art of Andrew Thornton, called Notes From the Other Side of the Counter:  Candid Advice from a Brick and Mortar Gallery Owner. As the former owner of a fine craft gallery and bead shop, I found his advice to be right on target when it comes to forging a successful relationship with gallery and store owners who can help your jewelry business succeed.

What struck me was that the information in these posts could be just as helpful for a gallery owner as it is for the jewelry artist. Andrew was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me about what life was like on the other side of the counter:

Q: What motivated you to write these blogs about being on the other side of the counter?

A: The inspiration for writing these blog posts came from seeing a comment on Facebook from a friend who had just cold-called a gallery and was nervous about the process of selling her jewelry through a third-party.  In response to her status update, I saw all kinds of wild misinformation and horror stories galore from artists who had bad experiences, and I wanted to help clear that up and provide an alternative perspective.  It started off as a short list of suggestions she might make to improve her chances, but then grew into a ten-part series.  It can be a daunting task and there's no need to add additional fear and anxiety.

Q: What's the most difficult part of owning your own gallery? What's the most rewarding?

A: Owning your own gallery is a difficult challenge in of itself.  It is definitely a labor of love.  The hardest aspect is time, or rather, the lack of time.  Despite your best efforts, there is never enough time to do everything you'd like.  If I ever feel as though I've crossed everything off my to-do list, it's probably because I've forgotten something.  The thing that I find most rewarding about having a gallery is that has become a focal point for creative individuals.  By opening the shop, we have encouraged creativity within the community and created a place to share ideas and art.  I love showing people something new that they maybe wouldn't have had an opportunity to see before and then seeing it spark creativity and inspiration.

A display of handmade jewelry by local artist Connie Parsons at Allegory Gallery.
I owe a huge thank-you to all the other artists, jewelry-makers, and shop owners who have helped shape my experiences on both sides of the counter. Even the less-than-pleasant encounters have been highly educational!

Q: If there's just one thing you want a jewelry artist to take away from your series of blog posts, what would it be?

A: The most important thing that I want people to take away is that the best working relationships are a partnership.  It's more than just a business agreement, but a mutual goal fed by respect, hard work, and if you're lucky, a friendship. Don't give up!  I've been told that I wasn't good enough or that I would fail.  Prove them wrong!  If you're passionate about something, the Universe will find a way to help you achieve your goals.

Make Your Jewelry Photos Stand Out

Whether you're looking into selling your jewelry online or expanding your jewelry business through sales at fine craft galleries, you'll need to make sure that your jewelry photographs are outstanding. Poor photographs can make or break a sale! Even if you're not a photography expert, we've got the resources to help you get started.

No matter what kind of digital camera you have, understanding how to use it can be the best investment you make for your jewelry business. Get expert advice on how to take those tricky but important pictures of your jewelry from Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist photographer Jim Lawson in How to Photograph Your Jewelry. Because it's an instant download, you'll be watching and learning on your favorite desktop or laptop computer in just minutes! Find out about lighting, backgrounds, and even how to use computer software programs to get the most out of your digital photographs. Download your copy of How to Photograph Your Jewelry today and see for yourself how better pictures of your handmade beaded jewelry can boost your jewelry business!

Have you been on both sides of the counter? What would your advice be for someone who wants to start selling their jewelry through third-party shops and galleries? Leave a comment here on the Beading Daily blog with your advice or your question about the jewelry business.

Bead Happy,


Andrew Thornton is a professional fine artist who left the hustle and bustle of New York City for rural Pennsylvania. His work can be seen in private collections around the globe. He is a regular contributor to books and magazines. Andrew is also the Creative Director of Allegory Gallery in Ligonier, PA. For more information, check out Andrew's blog, The Writing and Art of Andrew Thornton, and the Allegory Gallery website.

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ArdentTie wrote
on May 31, 2013 11:53 AM

Thanks so much for interviewing me.  It was an honor and a pleasure to share some of my experiences and insight on the subject.

mellissa2 wrote
on May 31, 2013 5:55 PM

Always nice to hear the success story, how they made it to where they are now, it is as daunting as for people like me who wanted to start a journey on that path... Thank you Andrew and thank you Jan!

.... and I too is moving to a quiet town in the south Island which I know there is alot of  hidden artist over there....again thank you Andrew.

tcwhit wrote
on May 31, 2013 8:34 PM

It doesn't matter if someone tells you that you will fail. You need to know in your heart that you won't. IMHO: You've already succeeded. Anything else coming down the road is just icing on the cake. I wish you a bright future.

AnnaYoakum wrote
on Jun 5, 2013 12:44 PM

Wonderful interview.

When I first decided to turn my pass time of making jewelry into a business, I remember a financial advisor warning me of all the pit falls.  He was pretty adamant that it would be a no win venture and that I was wasting my time and money.

I would love to paint a rosy, "and she lived happily ever after" portrait but the truth is that I am still a struggling artist.  I have some of my items in a local gallery and I have an online etsy shop where I can go every day to listen to the crickets chirping.  Though I don't feel like I'm a loser I do feel like this particular market  has become super saturated and it has become very difficult to stand out from the crowd or to find that special niche to cater to.

I'm also finding that a great many new jewelry makers who are overly anxious to make sales are under cutting prices in order to make pocket change.  Unfortunately I've also seen many of this same artists going out of business.  Therefore offering a product at rock bottom prices does not guarantee success.  And at this point in my career I'm not sure exactly where success can be found - but I continue to search for it.  Perhaps this is determination or just stubborn hardheadedness.  :D

on Jun 11, 2013 12:40 AM

I love what you had to say,  Andrew, and totally  agree that being positive and giving it up to the Universe when people say you won't succeed is the best way to go.  I have  sold my beadwork online in a "shop" (a lot of work - not so lucrative) and  in a couple of upscale boutique  stores in San Francisco and the East Bay (quite lucrative even with a 50/50 split!), and partnership and respect  with the "behind the  counter" person is key to both individual's success.  Follow  your bliss!