Lauren Neal is the designer and artist behind NEAL Jewelry. Her work is bold and understated, designed for a woman who is nuanced and unfussy. NEAL transcends form and time; each piece becoming part of a personal narrative. Lauren has been designing jewelry and objects since 2009. Formerly Carrier Pigeon, Lauren relaunched as NEAL in 2014. NEAL Jewelry is thoughtfully and carefully produced by hand, with integrity in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Photo of Lauren taken by Eliesa Johnson.
Talk about the beginnings of Neal Jewelry. What inspired you begin this endeavor?
Jewelry Design is definitely not my first career. I have a degree in Social Work and spent most of my 20s working as a counselor at a Charter School and as an Outreach Worker at a local Non-Profit. I have always, however, been interested in the arts and have taken lots of classes and worked on projects to express myself creatively. In 2008 when I was supposed to take the GRE for graduate school, I happened to also take a jewelry making class and knew instantly that that was what I wanted to do. The economy was in the toilet and I thought about how great it would be to learn a trade/skill that I could do no matter what. Over the years, it just organically grew into a full time business. I love that every day is different and full of possibility.
Have you always been creative? What forms or channels have you explored in your creative journey?
Yes, for sure. As a kid I spent all of my free time writing, playing music, making weird home movies with friends and creating random projects to work on. I went to an Arts & Sciences school as an adolescent and dreamed I would become a writer. I'm from a working class city in Michigan and it just didn't seem prudent at the time to pursue a career in the arts, so I abandoned that dream for some time. I still managed to learn photography, ceramics, candle making, knitting, you name it. I've really crafted it up over the years! It was just kismet that I took that jewelry class when I did. I felt fully ready to commit to the process and believed that I could make things for a living.
Photo by Lauren Krysti.
How have the items you make evolved? How have you evolved as an artist and businesswoman?
The jewelry has evolved quite a bit since I started designing and making in 2009. Most of the pieces I made back then were hand fabricated and I experimented a lot with different materials. Over the years I discovered that I really loved lost wax casting as opposed to hand fabricating. I love the sculpture making aspect of carving wax and I feel most comfortable and creative working in that medium. I certainly think it took me some time to discover my "style" of jewelry and to also be comfortable with the fact that although my core style is the same, that my tastes and interests change quite frequently which is definitely reflected in the pieces I make.
I certainly started out thinking more like an artist and less like a businesswoman. I think the true evolution for me was striking a balance between both. Although I have a degree in jewelry making & manufacturing, there was NO formal business education in that particular program. So, I had to figure out how to do everything from pricing jewelry, making line sheets, photography and website building on my own. It can be overwhelming to do everything yourself, so it has been imperative for me to actually schedule my design time. I love collaborating with other artists, designers and business people and have found that to be an education in itself. I have learned so much over the years just from networking and staying involved.
Photo by Colleen Eversman (2nd Truth Photography).
There's an ease of movement in your work - a fluidity and motion and simplicity. Where do you find inspiration to make jewelry? In your community? In nature? In the materials?
Thanks so much! I find inspiration everywhere. It really depends on what I'm into at the moment. Sometimes, I'll find myself on a reading jag and I'll be inspired by a character, a time period, etc... Lately I've been inspired by modern architecture, furniture design and art. Nature is always present in my work, as I am most comfortable and inspired when outdoors. The best times are when I sit down with a piece of wax and start carving with no specific design in mind and an idea materializes organically.
How has living and making in Minnesota influenced your creative work, specifically through Neal Jewelry?
I love Minnesota for its seasons. Every few months our experiences and day to day activities change so drastically due to the weather that I feel this constant cycle of newness and energy shifts. It definitely has an affect on my creativity and productivity. I tend to do my best work in colder weather!
Photo by Brian Bradshaw.
Do you like to experiment with different materials or techniques in your work?
I experimented with materials quite a bit in the early years. Mostly I've been focused on bronze, sterling silver and gold. Metals are my thing for sure. I get to experiment with different golds, stones and techniques in the custom work I do, which definitely influences my NEAL line of jewelry. I would love to work with more stones and plan to incorporate that in the coming seasons. I would also love to find some time to take a sabbatical to take classes and expand my carving technique. Hopefully soon!
Do you feel like your work allows you to contribute to something bigger than yourself?
Oh boy, that's tough. I would like to think that running my small business in an environmentally and socially responsible way has an impact. I've created jobs (although small) for my contract worker and production assistant here in Minneapolis. I also feel as though the maker's movement has raised awareness about the harmful affects of fast fashion and unsustainable production on the earth. It has brought the focus back to well-made, long-lasting products that people can enjoy for years to come. Being a part of that movement and getting to share that knowledge with my friends and family has been rewarding. As for the jewelry itself, I hope that it helps women feel confident and strong.
Photo by Lauren Krysti.