While most CraftOptics’ creators specialize in one art form, Erika Martenson is a bit unique in that she’s both a lapidary artist and a silversmith (and as you’ll see from the photos below, we all win from Erika’s decision to master both!). Erika is a long-time fan of CraftOptics. In fact, she loves them so much that she has two different pairs—one for each art form—and is seldom seen without a trusty pair, both in her studio and even when she’s out and about (hey, you never know when magnification or the amazing DreamBeam light might come in handy!).
I’ve always loved to create. I’ve kind of skipped around over the years: I’ve done braiding, weaving, beading, stamping. If I’m not making something I’m not satisfied with my day—every day, I have to make something pretty much.
I wish I could put into words how creating makes me feel: I just flat out admit that I’m addicted to it! I’m hooked on bringing something together out of absolutely nothing. I have ADHD and creating busies my mind and gives me a sense of quiet peace. I love every second of it! Including helping other people when they have questions about creating. I’m entirely self-taught and I like helping other people learn how to do the things I’ve found so fulfilling.
I’m a military veteran and after I left the Coast Guard, I had kids and became a stay-at-home mom. I realized pretty quickly that I had to find an outlet and taught myself how to hand stamp silver. I did that for about 15 years—making and selling pieces—and it went really well. Over time, as an artist, I just kind of evolved. I started dabbling with a torch and making bezels.
I was making things that incorporated stones and got tired of spending money on them, so at the beginning of COVID I bought an old machine and taught myself how to cut the cabochons or cabs. And now that’s all I want to do—it’s so much fun!
I have a necklace that turned out well, but I can’t even tell you how many times I wanted to throw the towel in when I was making it.
It was a situation where I’d done all this work to create the setting for the stone and then I hit the stone with my hammer a little too hard and put a hairline fracture in one of the top stones. I was so upset. All that work, down the drain. I felt like, “No, I’m done. I’m not even going to deal with this.”
But that guy kept staring at me like, “You’re gonna finish me.” So, I spent another three days trying to fix that stone and I did! I don’t know how I managed, but I’m not a quitter. I will see things through to the end. I knew that I’d be even more upset with myself if I walked away—I thought about all the time I’d invested into it already.
The necklace that almost wasn’t! (Aren’t we glad Erika didn’t throw in the towel?). Erika incorporated a Great Grey owl face from artist Laura Mears into her design.
I recently took a silversmithing class with Nicole Ringgold, a phenomenal silversmith who’s also self-taught. The first three days of the class, I just went back to my little cabin and sobbed thinking I wasn’t good enough to be there. But then I realized that was so dumb—you’ve got to feel pain in order to feel growth. I finally got it—and then I completed the most amazing abalone shell in silver.
Erika fabricated this piece entirely by hand. While it might look like a casted work, this design was actually created through a process that included strategically melting sheet wire, milled wire and scrap sterling silver, then carving it. The shell took over two weeks to complete. Erika learned this technique during her class with silversmith Nicole Ringgold.
The lesson I’ve learned in life in creating and teaching myself how to do all this stuff, is you don’t grow in the comfortable spots. When you’re posed with challenge after challenge, that’s when you grow. You learn not to make those same mistakes and you’re mindful. You just get better and better.
As I age, I was finding times when I felt frustrated because I just couldn’t see well enough to do different tasks. I’d seen CraftOptics on Instagram and at first I thought “Geez, 800 bucks—no way!” But the more frustrated I got, I thought, “I owe this to myself.” I figured the CraftOptics were going to make my life so much easier, and I was right. They’re just amazing. They’ve changed the way I do everything.
Today, I’m lucky to have a pair for each task, which I need because the distance I work at is different depending on whether I’m doing silverwork or lapidary work.
One thing I love is the service. I got on the phone with Jeff (CraftOptics owner) after I bought my first pair for silversmithing and told him, “Dude, I don’t work like other people.” A normal silversmith will have their work on a bench and I like my work up on my chest. Jeff told me I needed a dental hinge (puts the optics at a sharper downward angle)—boom! That was exactly what I needed.
I tried to use my silversmithing pair for lapidary work and got on the phone with Jeff again. He realized I needed a different range and I got a second pair.
Once I had my CraftOptics, I quickly realized the things I’d been completely overlooking because I couldn’t see them. Thanks to my glasses, I pay a lot more attention to detail—it’s almost an obsession! Now I can see the flaws—things that you’d never be able to see with the naked eye. It’s really changed my silversmithing game.
I didn’t get it at first because I wanted to save money. I felt like I had good lighting all over my bench and I didn’t need it. Jeff told me “You’re gonna want the light.” He was so convinced that he told me to get the light and if I didn’t like it, I could return it. Of course, he was right.
When you’re filling out the Product Wizard questionnaire to order your CraftOptics, you might not be sure how to answer all the questions. Get on the phone with Jeff or Lynn at CraftOptics. They’ll walk you through the process and if things don’t seem right when your glasses arrive, they’ll work with you until they are. In my case, I sent them a video of me doing both of my tasks and boom, boom, boom, they worked with me and got things working perfectly.
Please visit Erika’s website for more of her work and a complete listing of her social media channels.