Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: First Year of the Gallery

In front of the Point Richmond gallery on our first year anniversary party. Photo by Steve Holloway.
Mon dieu, 2014 was quite the year. I loved it, am grateful for it, but damn in put me through the ringer. Here are some of the more notable experiences and reflections on my first year having the gallery in Point Richmond:

  • Launching a brick-and-mortar business in an area with no foot traffic is not for the faint of heart. It really builds character to open your doors and then have nobody walk in, sometimes for days. I knew it would be like that, especially in the beginning (Point Richmond has a wee downtown plaza with some commerce, but sustaining a retail space here is hard), and I created my business model to be compatible with zero foot traffic, but still. No matter how many times I reminded myself that I am not a jewelry store, and that my success is not measured by the number of people who come through the door, it was tough to keep a positive perspective. Many a night I would close the gallery and then go cry into Rico's sympathetic ear. I found it disturbingly easy to slip into a "retailer" mentality, focused on being busy, hoping to get slammed with shoppers, feeling pressure to keep longer hours, offer more, do more-more-more. But I am not a traditional retailer, and I don't want to be a traditional retailer. Therefore much of 2014 was about resisting that impulse, and trying to remind myself (and others!) that it is possible to find success through a different model.
  • What is that model? A hybrid of creating custom pieces for clients, selling my own limited-edition jewelry designs in the gallery and online, and selling work from select guest artists in the gallery. About half of my business last year was custom work. The other half was gallery sales, of which one-third was from the guest artists I featured. I find it fascinating to have one full year of numbers to look back on, concrete information that will inform next year's activities.
  • Speaking of numbers, I am excited to report that my predictions for 2014 were majorly on point. No big surprises in expenses, and I exceeded my revenue goal by 15%. So there may not be people streaming in the door, but hey, something went right. ;)
  • Last year brought many intangible successes that don't show up in my numbers. Like Point to Point Richmond, the community event I helped conceptualize and launch over the summer. Together with a crew of fellow artists and small business owners, we encouraged people to rediscover and reinvent Point Richmond one day each month through collaborations, pop-ups, performances, and spontaneous and creative use of our spaces. It was a grand experiment, completely and totally grassroots, that allowed me to connect into a community of peers and meet many new people. Point to Point was not in my business plan, and I never could have imagined dedicating so much energy to community organizing...but I allowed myself to follow my gut, and I can honestly say it was worth it. Not just as a personally fulfilling experience, but as a great way to get people into my space and talk to them about my work (see bullet point #1 about there being no foot traffic..."event-driven" is what we are!).
  • In 2014 I showed work by six guest artists in the gallery, often holding opening receptions on Point to Point days. It was great to be able to show a mix of styles and materials and price points, to showcase local art, and to have my creative friends alongside me in this experience. There were some bumpy times, but I am so proud of the professionalism we all showed, the way we found solutions to whatever wasn't working. In 2015 I look forward to showing more work by guest artists, but with a slightly different format to keep things fresh.
  • I am so grateful for the help and support I've received over the past year. My family, Rico, my assistant Marie, my studio mates, my guest artists, my teachers, my clients, our neighbors, and our friends near and far. It has not been an easy one, but I am aware I'm not in this alone, and that anytime I need to talk or cry or celebrate, I have great company by my side.
  • My favorite comeback of 2014: "What?? You've been here a year? I've never noticed you! You need to advertise more!" "Oh yes, we have been here for a year. We're a hidden gem, just like Point Richmond." Works every time. People like the fact that our neighborhood is undiscovered and under the radar, and I love using that analogy to open their minds about what my business model is all about.
  • Low point of 2014: there was a flea infestation in the gallery. It was horrible and required great discretion and took so much longer to get rid of than I ever though possible. It's all gone now, no more fleas, and I'm at the point where it is really funny to look back on. Hilarious how life throws you a really good curve ball every once in a while, just to make sure you remember you can't control it all.
  • Speaking of, I downsized my planner. After three years using a gigantic paper calendar with scheduling in 30-minute increments, I'm now down to a 5x7 weekly view planner with space to write one or two things per day. This is a good limit for me. Getting through school and the first year of my business, it was super helpful to have tight planning and a to-do list on every page. But now, I can relax a little. I have to relax a little. If I can't write it in the little space allotted for the day, I probably shouldn't take it on...
  • And so goes the first year. There are a lot of takeaways that I didn't list here, but that's okay. This doesn't have to be exhaustive. It's New Year's Eve, and it's time to celebrate. Rico and I are feeling really exhausted and under the weather, and instead of being out at a party we've elected to stay home and chill. My mom said we're getting old. I say we're getting comfortable. There is a fire in the fireplace, cats and blankets on the lap, and White Collar on Netflix. Here's to a quiet end to an unforgettable and intense year.

Monday, December 29, 2014

A Royal Finish

One of my major custom projects this year involved making a crown using my client's Nana's clip-on earrings and brooches as the inputs. When I said yes, I wasn't even sure I *could* make a crown, but we figured it out. The end result used Nana's vintage costume jewelry mixed with golden grass shapes (capim dourado from Brazil), labradorite, Swarovski crystals, and hundreds of tiny rivets to attach everything to the brass structure. I am still amazed by what came together.

I've been working on another big project, too: creating the structure and content for my new website over at It's still a work in progress, but it's close enough to soft launch and share. I know there are several dead end links, and lots of images and captions yet to upload, but after building this site from the ground up over the past 1.5 years, I'm ready for it to be a thing, out there in real life, a tool to be used.

My new site has a blog, which you can access here. I'll be sharing all of my major jewelry stuff there, writing about my experiences as a creative micro entrepreneur, posting inspiration photos, talking about process and techniques. I hope you'll follow me there, and bear with my dust while the site is still in construction.

Also in the works for early 2015: a revamped online shop! Yay!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Video: Interview with Richmond Confidential

This feature on Ali Amaro | Art Jewelry & Objects is part of a series about small businesses in Richmond, California. We had a really fun interview, and I hope you enjoy the result!

Check out the full video and text here:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Textures and Surfaces of Avignon and Les Baux

Last September I visited southern France for the first time, part of a super family bonding trip with my mom, uncle and aunt. One of my favorite things to photograph is surfaces, in particular those that are worn by the elements and marked by time. I am drawn to walls, windows, doors, pavements, and natural elements like roots and soil. Here are some of the textures that caught my eye in Provence:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Craft and Cats and Point to Point

That's what seems to rule my photo stream these days.

Point to Point Richmond is this Saturday and we have two new pop-up guest artists who will be showing their work (Wei Lah Poh and Tony Esola).

We're also preparing a make-your-own prayer flag activity using hand-dyed samples from my textiles classes stitched to sail cloth, ready for embellishment by participants.

Here's my trusty assistant Marie sewing amid a desk full of CLUTTER.

Thankfully that desk situation is a little more under control this week. When my work environment is clear, my mind can be creative with more ease. The challenge is my process, which involves making a mess, creating different compositions, spreading materials around all over the place. Here's a new series of Mozambique Island shipwreck trade bead necklaces I made recently. I'll be debuting them at the Ali Amaro Gallery for Point to Point.

Maybe one of these guys can help me get a handle on the organizing. After all, they're good with laundry and tablecloths!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Imagens do Dia a Dia

This is what life has looked like over the past three weeks...

 Maybe it doesn't reflect in the photos, but I've been feeling really overwhelmed lately. Like I'm being suffocated by my own momentum, my own relentless organization, my own ambition. It feels very heavy and condensed. Definitely one of those "learning a lot of lessons" periods, where I'm pursuing lots of opportunities and figuring out which ones are worth the hustle and which are not. Like I said in a previous post, it's a lot of work, and I feel exhausted.

Today Rico and I made a spontaneous decision that makes me feel more balanced, less stressed about all that is currently on my plate. I will be joining him for a very, very short holiday in Brazil next month. Rico's mom is having surgery, and he will be in Rio for a bit helping her out with the recovery and logistics of it all.

Initially I was going to stay here, because I have so much going on, but today we found a ticket using miles and I thought fuck it, why not? It gives me something to look forward to, a reason to really get it in gear in terms of studio efficiency (I am working on several custom projects and it will be nice to just knock them out before I leave), a natural deadline by which I need to have certain things finished or off my plate.

The trip is also a welcome reminder that my physical presence is not necessary for the gallery to be open, for my business to move forward, for things to work out. It's okay to take some time off, especially if I am feeling burned out.

Now the hurdle is that I need a visa for the trip to Brazil. Although I'm married to a Brazilian, I'm still on a tourist visa (mine is expired, of course), and the consulate in San Francisco has at least an 8-week turnaround and no available appointments until the day I'm supposed to leave. So clearly that won't work.

Rico and I are currently figuring out how to get an expedited visa when the consulate for your jurisdiction is seemingly incapable of providing one (only Houston and Atlanta emit rush visas, according to the official sources, and you need to be a resident of those jurisdictions to qualify for that service). Looks like there will be a despachante in our future...

In the Ali Amaro Gallery: carved granite sculptures by Martin F. Rickert. They remind me of hedgehogs and pineapples, and I want a trio of them for our porch.
Mano and Nina, enjoying a nap on our messy piano.
A new series of necklaces I made with Mozambique Island trade beads. I love gradients so much.
Rico built us a bed using reclaimed wood from part of our deck that we tore out (and are replacing/expanding). It's beautiful, as are the new master bedroom and bathroom we are enjoying these days.
Wine tasting event a Brock Cellars in Berkeley, together with Tarryn and Bridget from the 4 to 9 Wine Bar (the best neighbor a gallery could ask for)
Friends from Brazil who now live in the Bay Area joined us for the event.
I've been working on a crown design...a lot of things still have to come together before it's made a reality, but I hope it happens. It's a really cool concept, as the crown will be covered with clip-on earrings from my client's nana.
And of course, let's not forget Point to Point Richmond! It's happening again this month, and Marie (my assistant!) and I are busy prepping sail cloth and hand-dyed shibori squares for a prayer flag interactive activity outside the gallery.
What's new in your world these days?

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Freeflow thoughts some 6 months after opening the gallery

- I am tired. No surprise there, I knew what I was getting into. But yeah, really tired.

- I often feel like I am faking it 'till I make it, even more so than in Mozambique. I guess I got good at being a self-employed cheerleader!

- Community organizing (Point to Point Richmond) is where I put a giant part of my energy these days, along with old-school marketing. This is a surprise to me, but totally makes sense.

- I think the most effective strategy is one that involves face-to-face connections, visiting and getting to know your neighbors, doing outreach, creating a reason for people to visit, using the phone, writing a thank you letter, helping carry furniture, giving advice for free, hearing people's stories.

- Sometimes I feel reckless and irresponsible for spending so much money on my business. I am able to think of it as 'investment' and I know it's a necessary part, but it's scary nonetheless.

- Money is something I think about a lot, but it's not my main driver. I don't hope for sales, I hope for relationships.

- I cry a lot. While watching America's Got Talent, at Visa commercials, at dinner with Rico, while looking at photos. Art school brought out my feelings big time, and apparently that level of sensitivity is here to stay.

- I constantly worry about not being organized enough, not being prepared enough, not being on top of it, whatever 'it' is...even though I realize I'm one of the most organized and prepared and on top of it people I know.

- Often I don't know what to do, but my to-do list is always a mile long.

- Just buckling down and getting to work, no matter what the task, is a certain recipe for alleviating anxiety.

- I need a vacation every 6 weeks seemingly.

- I track certain things every week in my hyper-organized paper planner. I find it soothing to mark the days I exercise with a circle and the days I make it to studio with an X. I keep a weekly tally and have specific goals.

- It seems to me that no matter what the craziness at hand, if I make it to the studio 4x a week and exercise 4x a week, everything will turn out okay.

- The main thing, really, is exercise. I recently had to go two weeks without a lot of movement and it was the pits.

- There's definitely an image/appearance that comes along with the gallery. I have three "public" days per week (Thurs-Sat) and I feel it's important to dress up, wear my own jewelry, and look the part.

- Sometimes people do judge a book by its cover. Being nicely dressed with fancy jewelry definitely influences how seriously people take the gallery. It sure seems that way, at least.

- My best allies are my family, my husband, and the group of people I was in school with who I now call colleagues.

- I totally under-appreciated how much I'd come to depend on people I was in school with. They are my peers, my friends, my support system, my contract labor, my inspiration, and my motivation.

- I also really appreciate the friendships I have that are not work related at all. They are few and far between!

- There's a lot of gray area in my life (family businesses, my own business with friends, etc.) and it can be really hard to navigate.

- Not walking on eggshells is key. You just gotta say it like you feel it, and ideally as soon as possible. There is no easy way to navigate all the gray, but keeping stuff in and cultivating resentment is definitely not the answer.

- Still, it's really hard to be emotionally authentic and filter-less.

- Things are going really well, I think, but it's hard to have perspective. Sometimes it feels like failure cubed. And other times it feels like I am on the top of the world. Let's see how I feel at one year. :)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

July Point to Point Richmond Recap

Thanks to everyone who came to this month's Point to Point Richmond. We had a triple lineup at the Ali Amaro Gallery and Design Studio: we celebrated jewelry by pop-up guest artist Alyse Lattanzio, enjoyed colorful face paint masterpieces by Brandy Esparza of Painted Wonderland, and jammed to live acoustic music by the Blue Ribbon Healers.

Helping create a hub along our block, 39 Washington Emporium of Cool Stuff brought out some funky vintage treasures, plus Richard's one-of-a-kind art car. I got to sit in it and pose for some photos, which was very cool. Across the street Steve had guest artists and clocks galore, and the new furniture and jewelry shop Maison d'Etre opened their doors for a sneak peak.

My one regret is that I wasn't able to make the rounds this time and check out what my creative neighbors and friends were doing around town. A tree limb fell on my car halfway through the event, leaving me and Alyse to hold down the fort at the gallery while Rico took care of that little situation. Amazingly there was no damage to my car. Thanks, universe! It was a fun and memorable day!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Casa Cali Cat Life

This is pretty much my ideal state of being: sound asleep, surrounded by cuddly cats, secure in the fact that Pria's got my back.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Muir Woods

My dad came to visit last week, and one of the highlights was a visit to Muir Woods. In the nearly five years we've lived at Casa Cali, I'd not yet visited the giant redwoods. They sure are huge, but what really impressed me is how crowded Muir Woods is. Think hordes and hordes of people. But even so, it manages to be peaceful. I guess ancient trees trump tourists!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Julho Nervoso

Man, July has been quite the month when it comes to anxiety and nerves. There's been:

* World Cup (enough said).

* Fraud using my business credit card.

* A medical procedure that was pretty straightforward but had me absolutely terrified, shaking and crying the entire time. I have some major phobias surrounding cutting, stitching, and just knowing that someone is "messing with" my body. I am still exhausted from the emotional energy spent at the doctor's office.

* Results from said procedure: basal cell carcinoma. What????? Yep. A dot of skin cancer on my shoulder. Highly treatable, very unlikely to give me future problems, but still. Que susto! If you've spent lots of time in sunny-ass places like New Mexico, Brazil, Mozambique, and California, go get your spots looked at. I was shocked at this diagnosis, especially because I'm young, my skin seemed ok, nothing overly suspicious or strange going on. Just a routine skin check, and boy am I glad I went!!

On a much more pleasant note, Rico and I had our 6 year wedding anniversary at the beginning of the month. We went to the Fogo do Chão churrascaria at Santana Row in San Jose. It was pretty delicious, but not quite up to par with the Fogo in São Paulo. Still, it was a relaxing getaway and allowed me to baby my stitches.

Hard to believe it's been 6 years already...

Monday, June 30, 2014

Fraudulent Booker

Someone used my business credit card to try and purchase $1,400 worth of tickets on a travel site called

When the bank called to notify me of the fraudulent activity, I heard Hehe.

Either way, someone's plans for a real good time were spoiled because the charge was blocked.

Now I'm having the fun experience of getting a new account, reconfiguring all of my auto-pays, and catching attempts at additional fraudulent activity (even though my card has already been canceled).

On top of training an assistant, watching World Cup, helping organize Point to Point, working on a bunch of custom orders (yay!), working out, and generally hustling a hard hustle.

The life of an entrepreneur...the good, the bad, and the hectic!


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Que Pasa, Calabaza?

It's been a whirlwind month since we arrived back from Portugal. Lots of community organizing, work at the gallery, custom orders, and moments of observation and relaxation. Here is a visual record of how I've been spending my days:

Living and working in Point Richmond, there are always opportunities for a moment. Cool cars, old houses, and a neighborhood full of friendly characters. I try to walk between our house, the studio, and the gallery as much as possible. It's about 15 minutes between any of them, the ideal distance for a meander, a pause, a reset on my perspective.

This is a house where a hoarder lived for many years. It used to be full of giant nutcrackers in the windows. At a certain point it was condemned by the city. Now it's been sold, cleaned out, and is undergoing a renovation following what seemed to be a continuous, 3-week garage sale.

Speaking of chaos (albeit the beautiful, tangled, physical kind), I am so obsessed with Martin Rickert's ceramic sculptures. We have three of them in the gallery right now and I feel like they mirror my brain state much of the time. Lots of connections, a lot going on, trying to figure out how everything links together.

Martin also does stone carving. He apprenticed in Germany in the traditional guild system and is a serious craftsman. He lives and works here in Point Richmond, and is someone we're enjoying getting to know.

I've been working on a custom headdress for a client that she will wear on her 30th birthday at a beach party in Jamaica. The inspiration is a runway piece done for Givenchy. We will put a unique twist on the design by using my client's grandmother's clip-on earrings as the focal sparkly points in the headdress. I'm super excited to see this come together.

I'm also working on a big cocktail ring that has an oval blue topaz flanked by round green tourmalines. I'm creating custom basket settings for the stones, which has been an exercise in precision and geometry. Hopefully this piece will be done this weekend.

Amid all this custom work, there's been some priceless (in)action from Gato Preto Pria:

Excitingly, people from CCA alumni and career development got in touch and did a field trip to the gallery. I'm super pleased that I got on their radar, because not only am I an alum, there is the work of three other CCA graduates in the gallery right now, plus two more CCA guest artists lined up to do shows over the summer. It's a CCA party! Plus Martin!

 It's been fun to feel the gallery come into its own. The word is getting out, and increasingly it feels "real". Nothing like a sign out front to remind me that yes, this is happening. :)

The gallery participated once again in Point to Point, the pop-up community event I've been helping organize and facilitate. I offered an interactive metals stamping booth (which was a major hit) plus a little world cup and samba action (not so much of a hit, but ya gotta try, right?).

Not only did we stamp up a storm, I managed to re-home my grandfather's sparkly red accordion that has been sitting at the bottom of my coat closet for about 10 years.

 I'd left the accordion on the gallery stoop, hoping to find someone interested in playing it that could become its new owner. Lo and behold, that happened. A gentleman picked it up, rocked out, and accepted the gifted instrument. It was a magical moment.

The new accordion owner jumped into some jam sessions that were happening around the downtown area for Point to Point. It was a treat to watch!

And of course there was the solstice. A beautiful, calm, light-washed evening. It's been a good month. :)