Sara Schwittek, Author and Jewelry Designer

Sara SchwittekSara Schwittek is one of the creators of Shy Siren, a line of stunning jewelry handcrafted with semi-precious gemstones, pearls, crystals and glass beads.

After graduating from Cornell University's College of Architecture, Sara ventured to New York City to work in the architecture design industry. In 1998, she left the profession to launch Four Eyes Productions, a web design & development studio, with her husband Michael. A decade later, they still run Four Eyes together.

Sara's diverse background in all-things-design gives her a unique lens through which to view the world of jewelry. Sara creates each design with an eye toward both aesthetics and functionality, taking pleasure in the play of light and colors of the materials she works with.

She also enjoys photography, yoga and more recently, learning how to sew. You can see more of her work at

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Interview with Sara Schwittek
by Robin Hampton, Editor at North Light Books:

Interview for - June 11, 2008

Perfect Match was born from the success of your online store, Shy Siren. You carry necklaces and bracelets in addition to earrings on this site. Why do think earrings appeal to artists, whether just starting to create jewelry or experienced designers?

By far, our best-selling products are earrings. Earrings are generally the easiest to wear, since they are less reliant on the neckline of the sweater, dress or top you are wearing. Earrings are also a perfect frame for the face.

From the perspective of the jewelry designer or beader, I believe earrings are the most fun to create! Earrings can be easily made using just a handful of beads, so they are quite budget-friendly. Earrings are also time-friendly. Literally in under five minutes, you can whip together the most gorgeous new earrings. It makes a very gratifying project - it's immediate satisfaction!

Also, since earrings are usually so visible, there's a lot of positive reinforcement from admirers who will compliment your earrings. It's easy to become addicted to making earrings for all your outfits.

Earrings also make a perfect handmade gift. You can customize the designs with your friend's favorite colors to make a truly heartfelt, personal gift that will be treasured.

You were an architect before opening Shy Siren? How has this background influenced your designs?

After graduating from Cornell's School of Architecture, I worked in the architecture industry for three years in New York City. Architecture school was all about the “process” and having respect for the inhabitant and consideration of the materials.

In many ways, jewelry has a similar philosophy: how does the user (the jewelry wearer) interact with the jewelry design and materials? How does light interact with the materials? For example: the play between the opacity of turquoise or coral, versus the translucency and glow of faceted gemstones... Or how does the coldness of metal, such as sterling silver, have a dialog with the softness of lustery pearls?

You grew up in Vermont, lived in New York City and are now in the South. How have the different surroundings and cultures affected your designs?

This is question that I still struggle to reconcile: growing up in rural Vermont for the first 20 years of my life versus living in NYC for ten years. Now I live in Charlotte, NC, which seems to be a really suitable combination of the two. One part of me simply can not escape the tree-hugger, granola-eating days of my Vermont childhood. A part of me longs to be that image of “out-doorsy,” with glowing healthy pink cheeks wearing hiking boots. However, my true being is drawn to the urban lifestyle, a culture of crowds, noise, lights, buildings, diversity.

You can see this dichotomy in the designs featured in the Perfect Match: Earring Designs for Every Occasion book. I am still drawn to organic designs that remind me of trees and the forest, yet I love the simplicity and graphic qualities of simple silver shapes and geometry.

Now that I live in North Carolina, I have been more influenced by the incredible gardens and plant life that are so abundant here. In NYC, trees and flowers were not a part of my vocabulary. Now I have containers of flowers and herbs growing in my backyard; this observation of plantlife can be seen in my new Vintage Botanicals and Vintage Chic lines, which are heavily influenced by the intricate flowers and rich colors that we're surrounded by here.

Many of the designs in Perfect Match appear to be full of movement—they swing, or have spirals, etc. Was this intentional?

That was not intentional, but I can't say it was coincidental. I think it was subconscious. Similar to my response above about the interaction of materials and light, I also feel that movement is an important design consideration. I think of jewelry, and especially earrings, as little sculptures... wearable pieces of art. I like to think of my earrings as being “alive” (i.e. being with motion), not just non-animated beads. Ideally, the materials in combination should have a synergistic effect and should “speak” to you!

What advice do you have for someone just starting to design jewelry? What if combining colors intimidates them?

I think walking into a bead shop can be very overwhelming and actually scary for some beginning jewelry designers. Where to even start?? Don't be nervous to just TRY. It's just wire and a little time. I don't consider a “failed project” as a waste of time. It's a learning experience. If you don't like what you've made, try not to become too attached: just cut it apart and start over.

In terms of getting over the fear of color: I find that looking beautiful scenic photographs is an excellent place to go if I'm feeling stuck. What is it that you love about that photo of the setting sun, or the ocean lapping the beach, or a field of flowers? Mother Nature's got the color thing all worked out. Borrow some tips from her.

I also have a huge bulletin board covered with my favorite photos, postcards and magazine clippings that I've collected over the years. Subconsciously those images sink into my brain... preparing me for the next set of creations.

Inspiration can come from ANYWHERE. Next time you're sorting your laundry, take that big heap of clothes and play with the colors. Seriously. This has worked for me many times!

Most importantly: try not to get too stuck on an idea. Take a break if you need to. Have a look at some of the books and great magazines out there.

Just one recommendation for beginners: Don't copy. Respect another artist's work and intellectual property. Use books, magazines and web sites as inspiration, but be sure to make it your own.

So, what’s the secret to your perfect wire wraps?

Just like everything: practice, practice, practice! I figure I've probably made several hundreds of thousands of wire wraps, and they didn't start out perfect.

In addition to plain old practice, good tools definitely help. Select chain-nose pliers with a small sharp point, and round nose pliers with a small diameter. When making the loop at the top, really give the wire a nice clean 90 degree bend before making the loop. That will really help. Some designers will draw a line on their round nose pliers with a permanent marker to assist with making consistent size loops.

Your twin sister, Amy, creates the handbags that you carry on Shy Siren. Do you ever have to buy gifts for the women in your family?

I have to laugh at this question. We are never at a loss for jewelry and handbags in our family! My sister, Amy, has a company called Belle Bags. She designs and sews all the handbags, totes, wristets, belts and yoga mat bags that are on I am the proud owner of 8 Belle Bags handbags, 1 tote, 3 wristlets, 4 belts and 1 yoga mat bag. Reciprocally, she owns more jewelry than she can possibly wear.

My Mom also owns dozens and dozens of pieces, as you might imagine. I love making jewelry for her because her tastes are so broad, and she loves lots of bright colors and big, bold designs. She often inspires pieces that are garden, flower or earth-themed. The Rose Garden Hoops in my Perfect Match book were designed specifically for her.

I also have a certain freedom when I make pieces as a gift that I don't have with pieces that are designed for Shy Siren. When I design pieces for Shy Siren, I need to be sure that I can re-create the designs to sell it multiple times. With jewelry that is a gift, I can enjoy the creative freedom of making a piece that is specifically for that one recipient. It's liberating because I can design a one-of-a-kind piece, and not be concerned whether I have enough materials to duplicate that necklace 10 more times.


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