Why I Left my Teaching Job to Make Jewellery

She left a high pressured job, as head of year at a Hampshire secondary school, to pursue a creative dream: to make jewellery for a living. Ten years later, Joanne Tinley talks motherhood, jewellery-making and surviving cancer…

Joanne Tinley, 43, lives with her partner Tony and their two sons Ben, 10, and Jamie, five, in Southampton.

Jewellery maker Joanna Tinley on mornings…

What time are you up in the morning?
7.30am if I can get away with it! The boys wake up earlier and play downstairs for a bit before we get up. That only gives us about an hour before leaving for school, but I much prefer to get everything ready the night before so that the morning is a bit more relaxed and I can chat with the boys about what they’re doing at school that day, or which friend is coming round after school… a nicer start to the day.

What wakes you up?
Either one of the boys or one of the cats. Or the dustbin men much earlier than 7.30am on Thursdays.

How do you feel?
It depends on what day it is. Usually looking forward to the day but takes me a little longer to get going on Wednesday and Thursday mornings because I teach evening classes until 10pm the nights before so I’m more tired.

jewellery maker Joanne Tinley sons - theearlyhour.com

What do you do first thing?
Check that the boys are dressed and are having breakfast and check that the cats have been fed – feeding the cats is Ben’s job. Then it’s time to make sure that all the packed lunch bits that I got ready the night before are in the bags and  that reading diaries are signed. I hang up the washing I put in the machine the night before. I try and leave the kitchen tidy before we leave – I don’t like coming home to a messy house.

How might the rest of your day pan out?
I usually have my breakfast once I get to the studio, and check my emails at the same time. The rest of the day depends on what I’ve got booked in. If I’m teaching then the rest of the day is focused on my student – or students if I’ve got a group in – and what they want to learn.

I’ve been trying recently to plan my week out, spend Monday and Tuesday on orders for galleries, Wednesday on new designs or researching possible new stockists, Thursday on admin, Fridays filming tutorials (a new venture!). Otherwise I can get carried away and spend all my time working on new designs. Being self-employed means that you have to be flexible though, so if a client phones up with a project or a gallery needs a quick top-up of work, plans change.

Leaving the teaching profession…

You set up as a jewellery designer and tutor 10 years ago, after the birth of your elder son. Why did you decide to leave your teaching job?
By the time Ben was born I was a head of year at a large secondary school in Hampshire. I really enjoyed most of my job, the actual teaching and spending time helping my year group, but not the meetings, admin and politics.

I felt I was never able to do the job well enough with all the new things we were expected to do and it was starting to affect me too much. Also, the hours I was working were getting crazy – I know most teachers will recognise that –  and the teaching profession has got even more pressured since then.

Something had to give, and I certainly didn’t want to start a family only to put my child in childcare most of the time, if I had the choice. Thankfully, with my partner’s support, I did have a choice.

How did you feel about going at it alone?
Looking back I’m surprised at how relaxed I was about it. I was excited but not nervous, I think because I was already going through a bigger change in my life (starting a family). I really felt it was ‘now or never’ and after all I could go back into teaching if I absolutely had to. I did feel that the phone call to HMRC to register as self-employed was anticlimactic though. They just asked for my NI number – I wanted a fanfare to celebrate!

Starting out in jewellery making…

What experience did you have in jewellery making?
I’m mainly self-taught. I’ve always made my own jewellery, moving from stringing beads and basic wire work as a teenager to more complex wirework when I was at university. Teaching myself to solder opened up a whole new world.

Joanne Tinley Jewellery studio shot Keum Boo Golden Collection (2)

I went on a weekend course when Ben was a baby to make sure that I’d got the basics right and hadn’t picked up bad habits, and I’ve been teaching myself new techniques ever since. There is so much to jewellery making that no one person can ever learn every technique – but the constant challenge is one of the things I love about it.

Who do you tutor?
I teach everyone from complete beginners upwards. I offer private tuition for one or two people at a time, run weekend workshops and also teach two evening classes a week. Some of my students have been coming to my classes for seven years.

I start beginners off with simple bangles or rings, moving on to projects that will help them really practice their sawing and soldering skills. I encourage my students to design their own work, helping them to break the designs down into smaller practical steps.

That’s the key to making jewellery – breaking things down and working through one thing at a time. Teaching also helps to keep my jewellery designs fresh, challenging me to become confident in new techniques that my students want to learn.

How was it, bringing a second child into the mix?
Jamie was born a few months after Ben started school, so in theory it should have been easier than it was, but I was diagnosed with cancer when he was six days old. It was rather stressful for the whole family but we got through it with wonderful support from our family and friends. I’ve been all clear and had no operations for nearly 18 months now. Ben and Jamie have the usual ‘he did this/said this/he started it’ sibling arguments but actually get on brilliantly.

My jewellery is…

Tell us about your creations…
I work mainly in silver but add gold and more recently merino wool into the mix. I’m starting to experiment with oak too. I love sawing and so most of my designs are cut from sheet silver.

Joanne Tinley - silver jewellery - theearlyhour.com

Give me a pencil and paper and I’ll tell you I’m hopeless at drawing, give me a jeweller’s saw and piece of metal and I’ll cut you out any shape you like. I also love building up textures with hammers and punches, and use these a lot on the whimsical creatures in my Woodland Collection.

Another popular collection uses an ancient Korean technique called ‘Keum Boo’, which literally translates as ‘attached gold’. At the right temperature, with help from burnishing the metals, 24k gold and fine silver bond together. I use 24k gold foil which is thick enough to cut with scissors, hundreds of times thicker than gold plating. It’s a magical technique.

Where do you sell them?
I sell my work on my own website, through Not On the High Street and through From Britain With Love. There are also about 20 wonderful galleries and boutiques from Argyll down to Cornwall that stock my designs.

Who is your typical customer?
I think that my different jewellery collections appeal to different women. The Golden Collection appeals to women who love the luxury and warmth of gold contrasting with cool crisp silver, in designs that are easy to wear and won’t date. The Woodland Collection and the spinner rings I make are more fun, a little whimsical.

joanne tinley jewellery maker - theearlyhour.com

How’s business?
Growing. Although I’ve been self-employed for nearly ten years I’ve only been able to spend full time hours on it in the last three years as the children got older. I’ve started exhibiting at trade shows in that time and now have my work in galleries and shops from Argyll to Cornwall but I feel that I’ve still got a way to go to get to my full potential.

The teaching side of my business is also growing, and I’ve recently started producing jewellery video classes that I publish on Skillshare. I’m really enjoying doing them, although I never thought that, as a jewellery designer, I’d learn how to edit videos.

Can you describe your studio…?
My studio is one of sixteen in Royal Mail’s old Sorting Office in the centre of Eastleigh in Hampshire. It still looks rather severe from the outside – chain link fence and metal bars on the window, although we’ve tried to soften that with some bunting and hanging baskets!

Although we’re all running separate businesses, we’re all supportive of each other and there’s lots of laughter during the day. My room has a big window along one wall and the sun shines through it beautifully. We have a big room at one end of the studios, our Production House, and that’s where I teach my classes.

Juggling motherhood and business…

What’s most challenging about running your own business while raising two children?
Most definitely trying to manage my time and keep everything going at home. However, running my own business means that I can do the school runs, go to assemblies and other school events so it’s all worth it.

How do you make it work?
I don’t, always. It’s taken me a long time to learn that I can’t do it all, and I still have to learn that lesson again, at times. As much as I’d like a clean and tidy home all the time other things are more important.

Thankfully my partner and I work well together as a team (most of the time) and he’s a wonderful dad. We share childcare and he’s not the type to leave a basket of washing sitting there until I get home if I haven’t been able to hang it out before leaving to teach an evening class. Moving to a studio outside the home has really helped separate out work and home life better.

What’s your dream for the business?
Short term to sell my work in more galleries and shops as well as more sales through my own website. Longer term I’d like to find a studio space that is big enough to teach my classes in so that I don’t have to keep setting things up and taking them back down again in the big room we have for teaching and meetings at the Sorting Office. But I’d also want to take at least some of my wonderful studio mates with me.

And in your personal life?
For my family to be happy and healthy, for my sons to grow into confident, determined and considerate young men.

If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would it be?
I wouldn’t say no to a couple of week’s holiday in Barcelona. It is such a beautiful city. We took Ben a couple of times when he was younger and Tony took me away to Barcelona for a weekend for my 40th birthday, but we haven’t taken Jamie yet.

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