So you’ve become this totally amazing jewellery designer. Your fabulous collection’s all lined up and ready to go, and you’re SO pleased with it. Now what?

Running a business means you’ve got to find a whole lot of brand new skills. But so often it’s difficult to know where to find them!

The Vanilla Ink workshop – photo by Aglaé Photography

That’s why I was so excited to hear about Vanilla Ink. I’m totally in awe of Kate Pickering and the not-for-profit organisation she’s set up in Glasgow (with her business partner, Scott McIntyre).

Not only do they run jewellery making classes for all levels, they also run their unique INKubator course – a business development course for jewellery designers. It’s perfect if you’re just starting your brand or if you want to take your business to the next level.

Kate working behind the scenes – photo by Aglaé Photography

Find out why she thinks business development is so important for jewellers, how her love of tea inspired her tattoos and how Prince Charles came to visit one day…

First things first, coffee or tea? 

Oh definitely tea, I’m not grown up enough to like coffee. I can handle a weak mocha and that’s about it. I’ve always been a tea belly, used to have it in my sippy cup when I was wee and I love it so much I have a tea cup and tea pot tattooed on my feet with the words, ‘I’ll gie you a cup o’ tea tae keep yir belly warm,’ from a song my Granddad used to sing to me.

Jewellery by past INKer Ruth Morrison – photo by James Anderson

What do you love most about contemporary jewellery?

I love the unexpected in contemporary jewellery and the statements they make. I’m a big Karl Fritsch fan and the uniqueness of their rings I feel gives a sense of power. Almost like, ‘no one is going to wear this but me’, kind of vibe!

When I visit degree shows, it’s the contemporary work I’m drawn to. Whereas my business partner is more traditional and often can’t see the value in it. I’ve never worked in gold or platinum and have never set a diamond, so unusual and mixed media catches my attention.

Jewellery by past INKer Elizabeth Armour – photo by Louise Carnegie

You originally trained as a jeweller yourself – do you still make jewellery? What are your inspirations?

HAHA!!!!! You find me behind the scenes on the computer and very rarely at the bench. I miss it sometimes but I also know that it’s quite a bit of pressure I’ve put on myself, I’ve created this space and many wonderful jewellers have walked through our doors.

(Photos by Aglaé Photography)

I feel somewhat inferior to them or if I was to bring out a collection everyone would be like what the heck is that?! When I did make jewellery it was very narrative. It had to have a story, it had to have meaning and my work was focussed around peoples connection to music and the memories that sparked. My degree show was basically about an ex-boyfriend of mine and our love for Biffy Clyro, I thought I was being so subtle at the time but turns out it was rather obvious. 

Kate and Scott

However, I’m in discussions with Scott (business partner and bench trained Goldsmith for over 20 years) to become his apprentice for a year as of January 2020 and document our journey. I’m not sure if it’s going to do well for our business relationship (I don’t take being told what to do very well) but we shall see…

You’ve recently opened a second site – The Smiddy – why did you decide to do that? 

The opportunity presented itself to us actually, I shared it with our now Silversmith who helps run the facility and suggested she go for it, then the more I looked I thought we should go for it and she could work for us. Thankfully she preferred that idea and we applied. They were looking for a jeweller or silversmith to take over a newly renovated building (an old smiddy) in Banff, Aberdeenshire. 

Workshop in The Smiddy

It had been on my radar for a few years as they did a feasibility study on the area of how best to use the building. Then the concept for using it as a centre for jewellery or silversmithing arose, as Banff used to be a silversmith town. Over a period of 200 years, 24 silversmiths based themselves there making jewellery for the Royals. 

Banff silver is highly collectable and so the council were very keen to redevelop Banff as a Silvertown. We applied, we got it and a year later Vanilla Ink The Smiddy was born and it’s about to turn one, which is incredible. They’ve worked so hard and built an incredible facility up there under our guidance. 

The Vanilla Ink team at the Smiddy

It’s super exciting and quite frankly we would love to live there but someone has to manage our Glasgow branch! The Smiddy’s right on the beach and it’s fully kitted out with all the tools you could possibly need to be a silversmith. A true haven!

Workshop in The Smiddy

Vanilla Ink’s such a great name, but where did it come from? 

Good question and one we get a lot. Prince Charles asked the same question when he visited our second location, The Smiddy in Banff. Quite simply a good friend of mine told me that a colour and word sticks. We sat and spat out loads of words until we found something that stuck. I love that it doesn’t naturally attach itself to jewellery, I love that people question the name…cause it sticks.

Jewellery by past INKers – photo by David Anderson

Hang on a minute…Prince Charles came to visit?!  How did that happen?

As I’ve said, Banff had many silversmiths back in the day, and that was because Banff was a royal burgh, and what do royals need…silverware! When we were setting up The Smiddy we received a phone call from the then Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire, Claire Russel. She was really excited about what we were setting up. 

Prince Charles visiting The Smiddy

She wanted to have one last shebang before she retired, so she invited Prince Charles to visit The Smiddy and a few other places in the area. It was incredibly surreal, not even a year open and we already had a royal visit! He was very interested in what we were doing and he talked to everyone in the building and he knew his stuff…I was impressed! 

We even got him having a go at silversmithing. At the end of the visit, we gifted him a silver Quaich (a traditional Scottish drinking vessel) that we all had a part in making (I’m sure he needed another one!). And he was very humbled by it, so that was nice. A moment we won’t forget that’s for sure.

The silver Quaich gifted to Prince Charles

Why did you want to set up a jewellery school? 

It’s always been in my nature to help people (or boss people around under the ‘helpful’ guise, I can’t work out which). My mum’s a teacher (and also bossy) and she always told me to never get into teaching. But when I began teaching in 2010, I kinda loved it! 

Vanilla Ink never began as a jewellery school, however. It’s focus was on helping jewellers navigate themselves around running a creative business. The teaching was a side hustle. As time went on, I was noticing that jewellers were lacking the confidence in their own making and I could only teach so far with the skills I had. 

Photo by Aglaé Photography

So that’s when I brought Scott, my business partner and incredibly talented Goldsmith, into the business. We joined forces and created the Vanilla Ink Jewellery School Community Interest Company. A not for profit organisation teaching jewellery to all walks of life trying to, educate, inspire and empower each person that walks through our doors.

What kind of courses do you teach? 

We teach a range of classes from the complete beginner right through to professional level. Taster sessions for those that just want to dip their toe and advanced stone setting for the sadists, then everything in between.

What makes your courses different to other ones out there? 

Hmm…that’s a tough question as I haven’t been to them all or know how or what others teach, but we pride ourselves on our relaxed and fun style of teaching. We like to keep ourselves approachable so people aren’t scared of making mistakes in our class, in fact, we encourage them because that’s how you learn. We also have some seriously good tunes to go along with our teaching.

Photo by Aglaé Photography)

How did you come up with the idea for the INKubator?

The INKubator was what Vanilla Ink was founded upon. It’s a business development programme for jewellers who already have learned their craft and more for putting their craft into practice. Having left Uni with a degree in jewellery making, but zero idea on how to be a jeweller, I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t better prepared for the real world. 

Past ‘INKer’ Scarlett Erskine

How to price work, how to apply for craft fairs, how to get funding, how to build a clever brand, how to market yourself, how to do tax returns, how to write a business plan, the list was endless. All I knew was how to make jewellery and even then I wasn’t that confident. I surely couldn’t have been the only one…

Jewellery by past INKer Kate McLaughlin of Align Jewellery – photo by Stark Studio

Turns out I wasn’t. And that feeling of being lost, and not having a clue resonated with a lot of my peers. So I spent the next five years researching, developing, applying for funding, building relationships, writing and rewriting business plans to create a fully equipped workshop space, with a programme that bridged the gap from education to industry in a co-working environment and safe space to learn, fail and grow together.

The INKubator has developed and grown over the years, it’s also taken a break now and again to recharge its batteries. But it is the strongest and best it’s ever been as it’s about to go into its fifth year! 

Work by past ‘INKers’ – photo by David Anderson

What’s your biggest challenge running Vanilla Ink? 

Running Vanilla Ink! Ha! The past couple of years have seen the highest and the lowest I guess. It grew quickly when Scott came on board which meant we had to learn quickly! We are still learning! I recently said in a talk that every day we try, we fail and we succeed, not always in that order and not always each every day. Though it has to be said, I’m definitely a slow learner!

What’s been your proudest moment running Vanilla Ink?

I’ve been running Vanilla Ink for 10 years this year…I’m pretty proud of that! I have made this dream a reality and my life through grit and hard work! It has given me the best friends and life lessons, wouldn’t change it for the world!

Lucie Hunter Jewellery (past INKer) – photo by David Anderson

What have your former students gone on to do? 

Our former INKers have gone on to do lots of stuff, some are full time jewellers, others have left the jewellery trade, some have set up other businesses and others went on to have a family. It’s been a mixed bag but around 80% are still working with design. We’ve interviewed a couple of them for our ‘Get INKspired’ blog series 🙂 

Past ‘INKer’ Lois Jane Jewellery – photo by Stark Studio

What’s your biggest tip for jewellery designers starting out? 

Get to know what you truly stand for and what your values are as a maker and learn how to make them explicit. There are thousands of jewellers out there and literally nothing is new, you’ve just got to be the best at being you.

Photo by Aglaé Photography

What skills and qualities do jewellery designers need to succeed, do you think? 

Resilience and tenacity. You have got to learn how to fail good! How you pick yourself up, dust yourself down and continue on your path or have the courage to change is unbelievably important. They are the best skills you’ll learn as a designer. Understanding that it is ok to ask for help and you do not have to be good at everything are also some good skills to keep in your pocket. 

Our most important session that we teach on the INKubator is ‘Business Resilience’ – how to learn to hear no. Having the confidence to say, ‘That wasn’t for me,’ or, “It wasn’t the right time’, or, ‘Perhaps that’s not where my market lies.’ Rather than beating yourself up and thinking you’ve failed. How do you roll with the punches and not put all your eggs in one basket.

A collection of past INKers’ work – photo by Stark Studio

What’s your long-term vision for Vanilla Ink? 

We’d love to expand and turn the Jewellery School into a centre of Craft for Scotland. Think Goldsmiths Centre in Scotland. Lots of studios, big workshops, learning areas, gallery, coffeeshop and shop. I just visited the Edinburgh Printmakers who recently went through massive change and expansion. That’s the dream (along with smaller pots of Vanilla Ink dotted around nationally and internationally) …no biggy!

Jewellery by past INKer Joanne MacFadyen – photo by Gillian Gamble

How can people find out more information about the INKubator? 

The INKubator Programme is now open for applications and close at the end of September (midnight 29th). We’re so excited as we are launching our first residential too. The first time the chosen INKers will meet will be for a few days in Banff at The Smiddy hammering the hell out of some metal! 

The programme itself begins in February 2020. You can download the application pack and criteria via our website. In the run up to applications closing, we’ve been running a blog series called Get INKspired. This is where we’re interviewing past INKers, Industry INKsperts, Industry Insights and a podcast coming soon. You can catch up on the blog posts over here.

You can find out how to apply for The INKubator programme and get more information here.

Hi I'm Victoria - journalist, jewellery designer and comms/pr expert. I'm obsessed with original, contemporary jewellery and helping other designers create successful businesses to help spread the jewellery joy! I'm also completely addicted to pancakes.