THE SPA IN ME
Interview With Gay Isber: Visual Creative, Writer, Instructor, and Designer
Gay Isber has owned three of “The Sugar Factory” stores in Kitchener and Toronto, Ontario and Austin, Texas. These stores held her creations of jewelry, artwork, furniture, chandeliers, and décor. She has also hosted over 300 jewelry making parties called “Sugar Parties.”
Gay Isber currently writes full time for a global brand and teaches jewelry at Austin Community College. She also designs for companies and creates art and jewelry for clients.
This summer, she opened a rentable version of her old Sugar Factory, which she named the Little Star Ranch. Her quirky cottage on four acres of old oaks is filled with jewelry as a décor element, her art, and all things handmade. It’s near Lake Somerville, Texas, about an hour from Austin, Texas. Her design inspiration is to have her grandson, who’s three, to walk in and say, “Wow.” She also has plans to someday host artist retreats.
Were you artsy as a youngster?
Yes, I’ve always been artsy. I remember at the age of five, my bedroom had to always be clean and decorated. I had chosen a hot pink fabric with little yellow hearts for curtains. Those curtains mattered to me, I loved them. In Brownies, I created a ceramic bowl that today holds pins in my studio. It was a pretty good bowl. I also loved chatting up my fiends’ parents and talking to strangers. I loved exploring nature and learning about plants and bugs. Girl Scouts was a perfect fit for me. I was in Scouts all the way through college. I really learned a lot as a Scout.
I was fearless but my dimples and smile opened many doors. It’s been such a fun life. I am still that same person.
My mom enjoyed art, so her art supplies were available. I liked watching her iron, but I loved watching her paint.
My grand mom Ruby was a patient teacher. She taught me hand sewing, embroidery, and crochet. My jewelry is much like sewing. She grew up during the depression, so she also cooked, canned, and gardened. I’ve held on to a few treasures I made under her watchful eye.
How did you get into jewelry?
I got into a big art show in Toronto, and I wanted a small product I could sell alongside my large artworks. I created tassels and bracelets using shells, string, and beads. They were a hit, as they looked like my art. Happy and juicy.
Later, I gave a bracelet to a friend. A rep for Proctor & Gamble saw it and asked me to design a necklace for a Cover Girl promotion. They ordered 9000. It was so fun hiring creatives to help me make those pieces. We made them in six weeks.
Soon, I was selling my house so I could rehab a 1900’s electric switching station into a design destination. I designed it so I could live on the top floor. The old building had great bones but had been a mechanic’s garage. It was the first work/live conversion in the region. I had to really jump through hoops to pull it off. I hired men from a local homeless shelter, and we created a beautiful space.
I didn’t know how to make an earring at that point, but I knew design. It was all pleasure and many great memories and so many friends since then. It was destiny. Soon the building was full of giant chandeliers and customers.
Do you remember the first set of jewelry that you sold and how you felt?
It’s a bit of a blur as I was making many items about that time, but I remember when I heard a customer explain the beads in her bracelet to another, pointing to each one. She said it just like I had told her.
At that moment, I realized the story behind the piece was as important. The story gives the person wearing the piece something to talk about. Where and how I got beads was very important to me, but it gave them a story to tell.
You design “traffic stoppers” and I most certainly agree with that description! What are your key ingredients to designing unique pieces?
If I only had to put a dot on a chain and call it finished, I would have been bored out of my mind. I lived in a world of abundance, so I crammed as many wonderful beads on each piece as possible. I also called them “WOW” bracelets, as people would say, “Wow!”
Women and men bought those early crazy good bracelets. They were attention getters. They would report back to me that people would stop and ask about them.
Each piece starts out as a one of a kind. Sometimes, I’m hired to make multiples, for example, a wedding party might need a dozen matching necklaces or earrings. I specialize in vintage pearls, as pearls photograph the best. I can never use all of the pearls I have amassed.
Mostly, my entire career has been making one piece then photographing it to document. Then, I’ll send it out to a photoshoot. I work with photographers all over. When it comes back, it’s ready to be priced and sold. Documenting your work is important.
What are your thoughts on the connection between color and how it makes us feel?
We are all connected to color, think: yellow flowers, orange fire, red blood, blue skies, green trees, purple onions, white clouds, and black nights. Color defines our world. We get signals from the colors: red stop, yellow caution, green go, etc. One of my favorite colors is aqua, like water.
Colors are light waves perceived by our brains as colors. There are shades we can’t see like ultraviolet plus. Purple is a color not even in the rainbow but our brains fill it in for us. It’s a combination of red and blue, but it’s not a color in a rainbow.
The study of how color makes us feel is a science. McDonalds uses yellow to make us happy and red to make us eat faster. Colors signify aspects that companies want us to instantly identify them with: green is environment/money and banks, orange is youth and energy, blue is trustworthy and sadness, purple is regal, but you don’t see many brown or grey logos.
The meanings of color have been passed down forever through early superstitious beliefs. Red, like our blood, was a life force. Rubies, coral and garnets were worn as protection. Purple was reserved by law for royals as spiritual and holiness, because ancient emperors that wore the color were considered as gods. It was also so expensive to create. There’s a great book, “The Color that Changed the World” about the first commercial dye. Hint it was mauve. If purple is your favorite color, find it. It’s a super history on the color.
You can also look back in time and know the era because of the colors like avocado, green, and harvest gold. Those colors will be back on trend one day, I’m sure.
How can people find their favorite color?
Simple, go into your closet or open your drawers, visually remove the blacks, whites and browns. What do you see? We impulse buy colors we love. You shop a sale table piled with colorful sweaters, for example. What color do you buy? Your favorite color, usually.
You can have more than one favorite color. Don’t limit yourself. Colors and color combos are wonderful. Declaring them your favorite is free!
You also work with brides. Can you share a story about your inspiration for creating your beautiful and breathtaking bridal crowns?
I don’t always meet the brides in person that I create for, but I do listen and ask many questions. I learn about the: invite, color scheme, theme, groom, their hobbies, dress, shoes, flowers, bridesmaids’ dresses, what other jewelry will be worn, anything sentimental, time of day, day of month, budget, etc. I get every detail so I can envision it.
Then I sleep on it. I let my brain run through all of the information.
I remember one of my first brides. We connected over the internet. I never met her. She had a traditional gown to make her mom happy but had purchased shoes that looked like a Monet painting. The colors were greens, purples, blues, with pops of red.
I remember wrapping the crown and pieces to look like giant pieces of candy. When she received the jewelry, she said she was so in love with them she even wore them in the shower. We’re still friends.
We've been through a lot this year. Can you share why you believe we can reset our souls with green, as in trees, plants and grass?
Surrounding ourselves with the opposite of death is life; that color is green.
It’s proven that even looking at a photo of trees reduces our stress hormones. Go sit in grass, change your screensaver to photos of a forest, walk in the trees, bring plants into your home, buy something green, paint something green, wear green stones, anything that reinforces life.
We looked for a property for many years. In March, we found a property with a circle view of just green grass and old oak trees. The leaves weren’t even out yet but we could see how the green would soon be shades of green. We bought it instantly.
Now, we sit on the porch and just watch the trees, hoping to see a deer or a bunny. We don’t make a fire or turn on any lights, we just watch the day turn to dusk, the green leaves turn to lace against an indigo sky and then finally to stars. The world washes away. Our hearts are happier. They are enchanted oaks. Those old trees know we love them.
What are some of the ways that people can work with you if they want to purchase jewelry from you, or, if they want to learn how to make their own jewelry?
Jingle me baby! I like working over email or the old fashion phone call works perfectly. I love to repair and restyle your treasures or create something just for you using the best ingredients and your budget.
Below, you can find contact information for Gay Isber.
Phone Number: 512-944-3766