Liz Cowee is the artist and jewelry designer behind Small Ant Workshop, a wonderfully edgy collection of pieces made of resin and laser cut acrylic. The colors Liz fuses into her jewelry appears both freestyle and deliberate, which shows the true nature of her artistic craft.
Where did your business name come from? Is there an interesting history behind it?
My very first line of resin jewelry was a collection including large leaf bangles with cast silver ants walking on them. Ants and their complex working environments fascinate me. For such tiny creatures, they are so human like and magnificently evolved. I work solo in my studio (or shall I say my workshop), so consider myself to be one of the small ants creating away with fury.
Have you always been passionate about design?
I have always loved to make stuff. Whatever it is, I am happiest when I am creating. It’s one of those things you are cursed with or blessed with – depending on the day.
When/Why did you start working in this particular craft/field?
I obsessively wore plastic charm necklaces, rubber glitter bracelets, and those stick on plastic earrings as a kid. I knew I wanted to be a jewelry designer. Creating jewelry is a spiritual meditation for me – an attempt to slow down, recharge, and be more in touch with the present moment. The global connection that art creates is inspiring, the melding of the souls of artist and wearer.
What do you think sets your designs apart from others?
I have taken the more traditional art of landscape painting and combined it with jewelry in a medium that is not seen very often. The funniest part is that I cannot paint on canvas, I don’t even draw very well. But resin has its own magical way of flowing – filling spaces, and mixing in the molds with its own energies, almost as if it’s alive; that adds so much beauty to the process. Every SCAPE piece is one-of-a kind!
Have you had any major failures? If so, what were some important insights gained?
Everything always works out the way it is supposed to, even if it doesn’t seem that way in the moment. Every mistake is an opportunity to learn how to do something differently… to be better the next time. I don’t believe in failure. There just isn’t enough time in my day to focus on anything but solutions.
Have you sacrificed anything to create your business? If so, what was it, and do you have any regrets?
It’s funny that now, in my mid-30s, the older and wiser people in my life have accepted that this is the life I was meant for. They have come to realize that my spirit thrives without walls and that they are okay if I live with a less than steady paycheck, no 401K or benefits, and a very busy schedule. But it’s hardly a sacrifice to be doing what you love and what you were meant to do.
What has been your proudest/favorite moment since creating your business?
In February, I debuted my work at my very first ACC Craft Show in Baltimore. The response was exhilarating. I felt like a celebrity and the whole experience gave me a huge confidence boost. I spend so much time with my pieces alone in the studio that when I see how others react to them and their desire to wear them makes me so warm and fuzzy.
How does the city you live in influence your work?
I live on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. What is lacking in stimulation it makes up for in natural beauty and simplicity. It is quiet and has that close knit small town feel that helps me not get lost in the world.
What valuable experience/knowledge did you have before starting your business?
Running a business and being a creative are strengths that don’t always come hand in hand. As an art student, I did not have to take one business class. I am a trained goldsmith, have worked in studios and showrooms of well known jewelers, owned a retail store, been a manager and salesperson. Most people think that being an artist is all fun in the studio, but balancing the behind the scenes is a huge part, too. You have to be dedicated to teach yourself what it takes to be successful.
What made you take this leap into being your own boss?
Two years ago, I realized if I am going to be working on anything I should be working on my own dream. On a whim, I scaled back to part-time at my position as an event planner, and opened a retail store carrying the work of small studio artists. I had made the leap and fulfilled a life-long dream. It is awesomely rewarding and comes with a never ending to-do list.
What are some inspirations for your work?
There is so much color and beauty around us if we only stop to pay attention. Each SCAPE piece is a painterly representation of some of the most gorgeous places on Earth. The ARMOR hair combs and bun crowns are rooted in the regalia and ornamental symbols of the the ancients, their meaning and beauty of which I am continuously in awe. My work is an ongoing attempt to articulate the wonders of a world that is often overlooked and of times gone by and forgotten.
What are some tips or suggestions you’d like to offer to fellow makers?
I love how an idea for one thing, once started, can drastically morph into a whole new concept that works even better. No idea is a bad idea, sometimes it just takes awhile to get to the really good ones. Just keep doing what you love and surround yourself with amazingly supportive people. Be patient and kind to yourself!