I recently got the pleasure of catching up with Mia Atkins, a jewelry extraordinaire I had been following on Instagram for quite some time and admiring from afar. I’ll let you get to know her.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
My name is Mia Nicole Atkins. I am 20 years old, I am an artist specializing in Jewelry design and fabrication, out of St. Petersburg, FL. I'm a cancer, which consequently has dictated a lot of how I act, think and feel- I am a deeply empathetic and intuitive individual, and emotions are the center of my universe. My emotions and intense passion fuel me- creatively, romantically, and socially- which can sometimes be more trouble than it's worth. I'm always struggling to get a grip on those parts of myself so I can focus and see what's truly important and real.
Jewelry is not usually the first, or second, fine art that comes to mind when fine arts are mentioned. How did you get into jewelry design & creation?
I've always loved jewelry- being a little girl, I can remember being so excited when I’d receive jewelry on birthdays and holidays. Although, I was young and I’d usually lose my favorite pieces. I think that's why I'm so organized now, I never want to lose anything I love again! A piece of my heart goes when I lose a piece of jewelry- but it's pretty much inevitable, so I've been trying to grow less attached to material items.
As far as getting into making jewelry- it kind of runs in my family- before I knew my grandfathers (on my mom’s side) dad and his dad and every grandfather before him crafted fine jewelry- often times in gold, in Israel- (Palestine at the time), I just thought my aunts did it for fun. On my dad’s side, two of his sisters make jewelry - one does fine beadwork / crafting sort of stuff, and then the "crazy" one- Aunt Lisa- who’s always inspired me the most artistically, is a self-taught silversmith, but she's all over the place and just does it for fun, her designs don't really have any rhyme or reason. On my mom’s side, my Aunt Beth creates sacred malas and sometimes sustainable jewelry. I never realized how heavily jewelry was engrained into my being until right now, putting all of this into writing- haha. But anyways- when I was 15 I went to visit family in AZ and my Aunt Lisa taught me what she knew and I learned how to use an acetylene torch. It was like magic! I just knew what I was doing and loved it. To this day, I still wear the ring and bangle I made that day. I didn't think much of it but I thought it was cool. At the time I was living in NC, when I finished high school I moved to Sarasota, Florida with my parents. I graduated early and took almost a year and a half off school and worked 4 jobs. I was in a really unhealthy relationship and my mental health wasn't doing well. I realized things had to change if I wanted to be successful; I had to get out of my parents' and I needed to go back to school- but a 4-year school just wasn't an option for me at that time. I'd always been passionate about jewelry, already had a background in it, wore it in excess amounts, and felt like it was something I could do for at least a while until I figured out what was next. It was a no brainer at that point- I found a technical college offering an 18-month long course on Jewelry Design and Repair about 45 minutes away, and a month later I was enrolled and moved into my first studio apartment in St. Petersburg, FL. Since October of 2017, I have spent 5 days a week, 5 hours a day (7am-12pm) at this technical school. It has been the hardest period of my life- socially, mentally, and emotionally. I have been met with challenges trying to stay true to the fabric of my almost child like being, while also growing up and being taken seriously. So many things and past traumas have come up to the surface and challenged me living alone- and without the structure and presence of peers a 4-year college often provides for people my age, I often feel isolated. Staying in touch and having conversations with my grandpa, grandparents, parents, brother, aunts, uncle, and a select few friends from past lives (all of which being long distance) are who make me feel loved and appreciated when I’m able to reach out and break my silence. I am one of 19 in my class, most of everyone in here is double my age, doing it for fun- but my sights are a little different. In April, I'll be finished, graduated, and accredited- completing the required 1,650 program hours. From there, I'm really excited to see what direction jewelry making takes me.
It- jewelry making, that is- may not seem like an extensive creative process at first glance, but all of your work seems to be extremely thought out, and many times, near and dear to you. What are your biggest influences when making jewelry?
I think for a lot of people jewelry is just another way to make money, so it's not that deep of a process for a lot of people. For me, my work is methodical, precise, cathartic, and sentimental. My emotions- love usually being the strongest- are my biggest influences in making jewelry.
In terms of renowned jewelers, or just ordinary people, whose/what kind of style inspires you most? What do you find yourself geared towards making?
In terms of renowned jewelers and styles, I draw inspiration off everyday situations and encounters I find myself trying to work through. I don't tend to look at others work because I want my jewelry to be me, completely original and different. With that, I will say, I have massive amounts of love and respect for artist Rocio Marie Cabrera- I have been following her since her humble beginning, and although our work is completely different, I've never related to anyone more. If ever I have any questions about life, or how to cope, or even just need to talk, she's always offered consistent love and support when I can't find it in myself. My instructor, Mr. Do, is a huge inspiration. He's Vietnamese and Laos, English is not his first language and he's the hardest worker I've ever met. He came here knowing no English. He wanted a better life for himself and his future family. He learned jewelry making in Asia and came to America when he was 21. Although he had impeccable hand skills and was well qualified, nobody would hire him because he didn't know English. He became a janitor and learned English watching the 3 Stooges.
He's been teaching the jewelry program here for 30 years now- he's 69. He talks about how he made a life for himself and his family- his daughter has 2 BMWS. He's so proud and sharp as a tack. He keeps us all in check, and often says opportunity is what you make it. "America is a free country- we do the best we can- but you're the only one who can make a better living for yourself". Himself along with my dad, an entrepreneur who's every bit of as passionate as me and struggles with moderating his own intensity, as I do, are who I model off of. He built a whole life out of nothing for my mom, my brother, and I. Whenever I need business advice, emotional support, or help keeping my head above water- my dad's always a phone call away. I feel like I can't praise my dad without praising my mom- because I owe them everything- in moments I couldn't get out of bed for days at a time, couldn't grocery shop, couldn't brush my hair or my teeth, wasn't eating- my mom would come up and bring me homecooked meals in Tupperware. She'd spend the night and make me feel like everything would be okay- helping me catch up on mounds of dirty laundry, giving me pointers on how to keep my apartment clean and kept up. I don't know where I’d be without their support, patience, and undying love.
What do you find yourself geared towards making?
I find I'm most motivated to make rings- particularly big, chunky, statement rings. Who doesn't love a good statement ring??
Has this changed since you began making jewelry?
No, really nothing has changed since I've started, I've just gotten a lot better with practice and now I can execute visions to precision- and I don't get upset anymore if something doesn't turn out, because I always learn something.
Where do you make all of your jewelry?
I make everything out of my school, or my studio at home. My lease was up and I moved into my first house mid-October of 2018. There's a detached garage in the back in fairly rough shape, the windows are boarded up and I want to fix it up one day soon, but it's everything I need for my set up.
Describe your process- how do your pieces start? From sketches? Already existing hard copies?
My pieces usually start as a concept in my head. I'll take the base concept and draw it in my notebook, or if I don't have one handy, the back of a receipt, business card, napkin, digitally in my iPhone notes, really anywhere I'll be able to see later. From there, I look at what materials I have on hand and work around what I already have.
Besides jewelry making, what other hobbies do you have?
Besides making jewelry, I'm into photography, I paint, draw, write, journal (often- everyday, many times a day) do yoga, I’m really into cooking, and enjoy riding my bike to the parks nearby my house when I need to get out of my head.
I love going to local shows and markets. It's amazing to be living in a community surrounded by talented artists who are just as passionate- it keeps you motivated!
Lastly, why do you make jewelry?
I make jewelry because it keeps me going. Being able to make wearable art, coming from my heart and mind, made with my hands, sent to someone else’s- is a gift. That gift is my purpose. I have on-going battles with severe depression, and horrible generalized anxiety. I am very high functioning, but when it's bad, it's really, really bad. My work is the only thing I’m sure of. Because I know, if I follow all the right steps, with patience and love, it'll always turn out. And even if it doesn't, I’ll have learned something. I'll always have a product of my being as long as I make jewelry. I'll always leave the best pieces of myself behind, even in times I didn't have the will to keep going. I think everything happens for a reason- and I whole heartedly believe creating and loving is my purpose. If I'm not making, I'm failing myself. When I'm in a position where I can't make jewelry, I paint, I journal, I take photos. If I'm not taking photos something is wrong- it means I've stopped in time and I’m actively resisting life itself, trying to find a reason and way to prevail past pure mental agony and exhaustion. The bottom line, is always creation. I don't care if its scribbles, words you can't read in my notebook, as long as I am creating, I'm barreling through. Creation is the only thing that's stayed consistent in my life- through moves, friendships, relationships, loss, abuse, and everything horrible imaginable. I owe everything to my creation- busy hands allow me to escape my mind. Jewelry is my baby, but creative expressionism is the essence that carries me through life.
Mia is currently making jewelry for fun, and also as commission! DM her if you see anything you like or if you want her to bring any of your hardware dreams to life.
Photos of Mia by Eliza @gold.sols