Joy SmithFine Jeweler and Sacred Artist

Joy Smith

Fine Jeweler and Sacred Artist  •  Los Angeles, California, USA

  • Interviewed by Emma Koi
  • Edited by Alissa Zimmerman-Exley

Joy Smith’s work as a jewelry designer is deeply rooted in her spirituality, always tapping into something greater than herself to create her unique pieces. Her career was born around the same time that she became a mother, just after deciding to leave a stressful job in public relations in search of a more artistic vocation. Joy works from an ancient practice of wax carving to design her rings, pendants and earrings in her Los Angeles studio. She lives with her husband and their nine year old daughter, Leilani and she feels proud of the fact that she is setting an example of empowerment for her daughter. Joy’s name speaks to her personality. She radiates happiness and healing, and there was something very therapeutic for me, meeting and talking with her over the phone. She strives to live a happy life, and her joy is inspiring! Thanks for reading. Love, Emma

When did you start making jewelry? My husband and I have been together for 14 years, and I started making jewelry around the time we met. I always wanted to be an artist, but I was more interested in painting and mixed media. 

Joy Smith, with her husband and daughter, Leilani.

My background is in communications. I went to school at the University of California, Santa Barbara and I studied communications. After I graduated I worked in public relations for most of my twenties. I worked at Dreamworks, and I worked with celebrities. It was fun when I was younger, but I got burnt out and I don’t think my skin was thick enough for that kind of work. I was always breaking out in hives and rashes, and getting crazy eye infections from the stress. I couldn’t process the stress, so I quit. I looked at the women who were in higher positions than I was, and I thought to myself, I don’t want that life. Why am I doing this? I decided, Joy, you know what you really love. You love art.

I had taken art history as an elective in college and loved it. I loved learning how artists were able to express themselves through their work. I thought that art was very healing, not only for the artist, but also for the people who interacted with it. Art is subjective, so the artist is pouring themselves into the art. However you perceive it, there is always some sort of transmuting of energy, and it can be very healing, or it can stir something up inside of them. I wanted to be a part of that.

Guardian Star Burst Ring, Communion by Joy. Photo: Stacie Hess

I thought I would go to art school, and I love France, so I was looking for art schools in France. I literally wanted to escape my life. But that didn’t pan out the way I thought it would. After I quit my job in PR, I moved back in with my parents. I needed to reevaluate what I was doing, and I knew the art was there. I was a server at a restaurant, and eventually was promoted to manager while I was taking all of these art classes. But I didn’t stumble on jewelry until later, when I had already met my husband.  

I didn’t know if I could be an artist, because I didn’t think I was very good at it. I didn’t know how I would survive financially doing it. I ended up working in an art gallery, working with all of these amazing artists and I loved it. I thought maybe I could own a gallery or work as a curator in a museum. But then, as I became friends with these artists, and learned about the passion they had for the work they were doing, the message they wanted to get across, I started to have that fire inside of myself. You know, that inner artist fire. And I knew that I needed to find some sort of creative medium to express myself. If it wasn’t going to be painting, it would be something else.

Joy Smith, at work in her studio. Photo: Stacie Hess

I thought, maybe an interior designer, maybe a makeup artist, but eventually I found a jewelry making class in wax carving, near where I lived. My creations were very abstract, but I felt I could express myself through them. I fell in love with miniature sculptural work and I could really pour my energy into it. I didn’t think I was going to be a jewelry designer; I thought it would be something I could try for now.

Then my husband and I got married, and I got pregnant. My husband is in insurance with his dad, and they had just sold their company. Basically he said to me, “What do you really want to do? We have this money from selling the business. Think about what you want to do. Take five years, and pursue that. If it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to a normal job.”  

“I saw that people were gravitating towards my work, and resonating with it. And I schlepped my daughter with me everywhere.”

I knew that was my time. We had just had our daughter. I was trying to figure out if this jewelry thing was going to work for me. I was also working part time at the place where I was learning, helping the jewelry designer there while taking care of my daughter. She was three months old at the time, and I didn’t even know what I was doing. I wasn’t quite sure that was my path, but I knew that I had to make something work. I thought, this is right in front of me now. Let’s see if this can work. I poured myself into it, and over the next five years I learned more and more. I saw that people were gravitating towards my work, and resonating with it. And I schlepped my daughter with me everywhere.

Joy Smith of Communion by Joy. Photo: Stacie Hess

That is a big ticket to receive: try whatever you want to do for five years, during a time when most people feel a lot of pressure to create an identity for themselves. Did you feel like you had the freedom to explore, or did you feel pressure to come up with an identity? I was exploring. I was already figuring out what kind of artist I wanted to be, and when he told me to take five years, I realized jewelry was right in front of me. If it could bring me any money at all, I would just try it. I started seeing that people were buying my things so I thought that must be it.

Joy and her husband welcome their daughter, Leilani into the world.

What was it like for you to become a mother? My husband is 11 years older than I am. I am 41, and my husband is 52. He had already had a previous marriage, and he has two kids. So when we got married, he brought up the idea of not having any children. I never saw myself as a mother when I was younger. I never said, “I can’t wait to be a mom.” I am an only child, and I never babysat or anything. I like kids, but I never thought of having a child until my husband and I got together.

He has grown children, and he was unsure about having a child later in life. When he asked me what I thought of it being just the two of us, I basically told him I never wanted children, but for some reason in the past couple years I have grown a desire to have a child. I felt that if we got married, I needed to have a child for some reason. I wasn’t even quite sure why. I love him so much, but if he wasn’t going to have a child with me, I felt like that was a dealbreaker. And he thanked me for telling him that, and told me he would have to get over his fear. And he did.

When I had Leilani, it was three months after we got married. I wasn’t expecting it. I was terrified. My husband was terrified because he thought we would have more time. The jewelry was already happening, but I was worried about creating while I was pregnant. I didn’t know if the fumes would be dangerous. I started having a fear around my work. But I also was very excited to have a baby at the same time. I felt very bipolar.  

Were the fumes a serious issue or an illegitimate fear? It was an illegitimate fear. I even asked my doctor, and he didn’t think it would affect the baby. I was just worried about how I was going to do everything.

Joy Smith, with her husband and daughter, Leilani.

Did you take a break from making jewelry after you had your daughter? I took a little bit of a break. When I was pregnant with her I did very minimal waxwork. I was doing mostly wire wrapping, nothing that I felt was toxic for my baby. I was also crazy. I was nuts about not wanting to harm her at all. I took a break when I had her, and allowed myself to recover. I don’t think I started getting back into working on that level until about three months later. I felt like I was in a weird fog when I had her. I felt like I couldn’t do anything, assemble anything. It was very weird.

I understand that. It’s a combination of a huge emotional and physical shift in life, and also you’re just tired all the time, not getting any sleep, so your brain just isn’t functioning. Yeah, exactly. So, I allowed myself to have a moment. I actually wasn’t even thinking about making jewelry or anything like that. I wasn’t even worried about my career. I was so focused on trying to maintain my sanity for the first five months. But during that time I started doing little carvings here and there, with whatever spare time I had, which was hardly any. By five months I started doing a bit more.

What is the process of making one of your pieces? I do wax carvings, making jewelry the really old way. It’s sort of an ancient, lost practice. I build up melted wax, and then carve away the design. When I have a finished wax piece, like a ring, I take it to a caster who casts it into whatever metal I want, and then I have stone setters set the stones. I create the design, and I have other people do what they’re good at with casting and stone setting. 

Joy Smith’s process for jewelry making was featured on the Zoe Report in 2016.

A lot of your work is rooted in spirituality. Has spirituality always been a part of your identity? It has changed since I was younger. I grew up Catholic. My mom is very religious and my dad is not so much. I grew up around my mother, so I went to church every Sunday and went to Catholic school. I always felt connected to saints and their stories, and Mother Mary and her story. To me, the bible was an amazing story of all of these characters that I related to. At the same time, I didn’t really relate to the dogma of religion, so when I graduated from high school I rejected all of that, still keeping the things that I love and related to.

I would try to think about how God could protect us, and my relationship to him, giving him all of my troubles. When I graduated from college, I started exploring more about world religions and different spiritualities. That’s when I started working with shamans and healers. When I started working as a jeweler, I would have all of these interesting visions, and my work became a form of meditation for me. In the same way that people do automatic writing, I would do automatic creative work, letting myself be a vessel. I would have the spirit come through me, and I would ask them what they wanted to create through me. And I would create my jewelry. I would get intuitive guidance saying, this is a piece to help someone radiate love; it activates the center of the heart. This piece will help someone with inner strength.

Joy Smith, doing wax work in her Los Angeles studio. Photo: Stacie Hess

I don’t know what anyone sees when they look at my pieces, but for me, when I look at them, I feel there is a power of heaven behind them. They speak to me. They look back at me. And they reflect things to me. But that’s just me! People see different things when they wear my pieces, but there is always a general idea of “it makes me feel strong inside,” or “it makes me feel like there is hope,” or “it inspires me,” or “it makes me feel that things are possible.” Even though I create it, I don’t feel like it belongs to me. I feel like it’s divinely guided. I know that may sound strange to some people!

“I don’t know what anyone sees when they look at my pieces, but for me, when I look at them, I feel there is a power of heaven behind them. They speak to me. They look back at me.”

Of course, it may sound strange to some people. But I think it’s interesting that the way that you’re making is a completely authentic process. By taking yourself out of the process, you’re also taking out anyone else’s potential opinions of your work. The judgement is released and you can just make. Then because of that, people see that reflection in your work. That is really wonderful. It takes practice, too. In my beginning stages, I was just trying to make things to sell them. It changed when my spirit started to grow, and I started practicing more meditation. I see my work from before, when I was just trying to fit into a box of “what is selling,” to where I am now, not thinking about selling. I think about the message now. How can I be of service to the work that I create? How does God want me to be seen through my work? How can it have a profound change in another person when they look at it? Even though I don’t even know if that is happening, that’s what I am asking.

Joy Smith, with her daughter Leilani.

I think that’s a place that a lot of us are trying to get to: being able to release all of the things that get in the way of just making from an authentic place. Yeah, because my human mind thinks, “I don’t know if that’s going to sell, Joy, because that’s very out of the box.” You might turn off some people by talking this way about your pieces, because they’re going to think it’s too religious or just wonder, “What is she talking about?” But now, my idea about what I’m doing is bigger than myself. I used to be very conservative with how I spoke about it, but I can’t hold back anymore. I feel very called; it’s a mission of mine. I just let it all go.

“I wanted to pursue my dream so that she knows she can do the same.”

Do you think motherhood has ever been an obstacle to that idea of living your best self? I thought it would be, but it has actually helped me. Having my daughter, and my interactions with her have inspired me and driven me to make it work, and to go beyond. It wasn’t easy. I schlepped my daughter around downtown L.A. at six months, in a stroller, through rain, changing diapers in the dingiest bathrooms downtown. I wanted to pursue my dream so that she knows she can do the same. Even though it was challenging and I was exhausted, I just pulled it out of myself. I thought, I want this. I want to be happy. I want my daughter to know that it’s possible. If she had something that she really wanted to do, she could do it. I’m trying to be the best example I can for her. It wasn’t always a walk in the park, but I always had a goal. And I still have such a big goal now.

Working so hard to be that role model and be an example for your daughter, have you seen it influencing the way she is and her personality? I don’t know if I had anything to do with what’s happening with her right now, because she is very strong. She’s always been a very determined child. I don’t know if I had anything to do with how amazing she is right now. I hope to be an example for her, but I’m not quite sure if she even sees me as an example, because she just sees me as her mom. Aside from being determined in my work, I also allow her to see when I am struggling and when I feel like I am not my best self. I want her to know that that’s okay too. I don’t know if what I’m doing as a mother is the right thing. I ask myself every day.

Joy Smith, at work in her studio. Photo: Stacie Hess

What are you excited about for the future, for your business and for your family? For my business, I just opened up a space for my studio showroom, and I’m having workshops there for empowerment and spirit, and I love that. I love being of service to people in that way. Otherwise, I am excited to start delving back into painting. Having worked as a jewelry designer for so long, I’ve learned that I am able to express certain things through painting that I didn’t realize before.

I’m working on a project—and I don’t know what it’s going to look like yet—but I want to paint people’s authentic selves, whether a living person or someone who has passed on. I want to explore what that looks like in all of its magnificence. I don’t know how it’s going to come about, and I don’t have the time to do it at the moment, but it’s one of the projects I’m excited about when I have the time. 

I’m also working on building wealth for myself so I can give more. I’ve realized that I can’t give what I haven’t created for myself. I just want to live a beautiful life. I want to do things that I love and engage people, and give people something to think about spiritually and creatively. I want to be an inspiration for something better.

“I just want to live a beautiful life. I want to do things that I love and engage people, and give people something to think about spiritually and creatively. I want to be an inspiration for something better.”

Do you have any advice for other Mother Makers? Be easy on yourself. You don’t have to be perfect. Go with the flow, and remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. I tell this to myself. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t take things so seriously, whether in your artwork or home life. It’s okay to let things go. I used to struggle a lot, thinking “My house isn’t clean!” or “I didn’t finish this on my list!” and now I’m just like, “Oh well!” Self care and release are also important. I love myself a good cry; in fact, I did it last night! I was feeling overwhelmed and I decided to cry. And I felt so much better. Motherhood, with all of its challenges, is really beautiful. And as mothers, we are amazing.

The Communion by Joy studio space in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Stacie Hess

  • Published March 23, 2018
  • Interviewed by Emma Koi on March 8, 2018
  • Edited by Alissa Zimmerman-Exley
  • Photography from: