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NANCY WALLIS: JEWELRY DESIGNER AND SELF-PORTRAIT ARTIST



This week, talented creative, entrepreneur, mother of two, jewelry designer, and self-portrait artist, Nancy Wallis joins us for a Self-Portrait Studio Spotlight. Read on to hear her share all the triumphs and learnings on her journey—including following her instincts to join the Self Portrait Studio and her earliest foray into her first life, interior design, at the young age of 13. I always leave conversations with Nancy feeling calmer and better about the world. We know you will love her thoughtful reflections, be inspired by her joyful self-portraits, and appreciate Nancy's goal to be more intentional this year by slowing down to enjoy the sweet moments in life.






 

Welcome to the blog, Nancy, I'm so happy to spend this time with you. Tell us about yourself.

Thank you for having me, Lisa. I’m so happy to be here. I’m a Canadian jewelry designer, working out of my home studio. Often though, you will find me working and creating jewelry from my dining room table, where I can sit in the light of the window and see outside to the trees and birds on the feeder. Nature just fills me up and inspires me. It also helps me to be close to the back door so I can let my dog in and out, as she loves nature too!


A fun fact about me is that while public speaking is definitely not my forte, I can sing in front of a 1000 people, no problem.


Nancy Wallis, Self Portrait Studio

Where do you live? Where would you love to live?

I live in Whitby, Ontario, just outside of Toronto, with my husband (high school sweetheart) and our spunky little dog, Rylie. Our two daughters are in their 20s and both live in downtown Toronto pursuing their careers. Whenever we can, we drive two hours east to our little country home in Prince Edward County. It is nestled between a farming community and white sand dune beaches on Lake Ontario. It is beautiful and quiet there and we spend a lot of time outdoors.


We would love to go to Ireland, revisit Australia, maybe somewhere hot to break up the winter or maybe another European destination. We are pretty spontaneous about travel so you just never know when or where we might be headed.

I am a bit of a homebody and love living where we are. Wherever we end up we would want to be close to family. So, for now we will stay put near Toronto. We love to travel and it feels so great to be able to dream about it again. We would love to go to Ireland, (our 2020 trip was canceled), revisit Australia, maybe somewhere hot to break up the winter or maybe another European destination. We are pretty spontaneous about travel so you just never know when or where we might be headed.


Nancy Wallis, Self-Portrait

Do you know your human design type and/or astrological sign?

I’m a human design Generator and Scorpio.

I’m not sure if this follows my design type and astrological sign, but I have a strong intuition and follow my gut. I have an uncanny sense of awareness and am able to pick up on cues and assess a situation quickly. I am extremely calm in emergency situations and quickly get to work to resolve. I am a brightsider and can find the silver lining in almost any situation.



Tell us what you do and why you love it.

I am a jewelry designer and have been creating and selling my jewelry line for almost 15 years. My designs have a quiet simplicity and focus on the natural beauty of gemstones and sterling silver. I can get lost staring at the calming aqua colour of Chalcedony or the luminescence of Labradorite or Moonstone. I love to feel the coolness of a strand of gemstones against my skin and feel the texture of a bead rolling between my fingers. Most recently, I love making gemstone necklaces by hand knotting each bead onto silk thread. This technique itself is so rhythmic in the stringing of the bead, and tying of the knot, that I find it very calming and therapeutic.


My designs have a quiet simplicity and focus on the natural beauty of gemstones and sterling silver. I can get lost staring at the calming aqua colour of Chalcedony or the luminescence of Labradorite or Moonstone. I love to feel the coolness of a strand of gemstones against my skin and feel the texture of a bead rolling between my fingers.

Alongside making jewelry, I look after all aspects of my business. From designing and running my website to taking all my product photography, creating graphics and packaging and shipping. Although some of the technical parts of e-commerce can be frustrating, I am a life-long learner and google is definitely my friend for these situations. It is empowering to control my business from the ground up.


Like most artists and designers, I have a number of creative outlets. I love interior design and my family can attest that I always have a paint swatch book handy, ready for the next project. I’m a singer and musician and I love photography and writing.


When the girls were quite little, I decided to go to night school and over four years, one course at a time, I graduated as a certified Interior Decorator. This was the beginning of Wallis Designs before it transitioned into jewelry design.

Is this career part of your first or second life? What was your journey up to this point?

I think I might classify this as my third life. Initially, after graduating from University I went into the corporate world working in admin and marketing, communications, payroll and benefits and I left as an HR manager for a national organization. After the birth of my first daughter, I became a full-time mom. I love being a mom. It really was a gift to spend so much time with my daughters, and it also allowed me to think of what I really wanted to do outside of being a mom. I couldn’t imagine going back into a corporate office. When the girls were quite little, I decided to go to night school and over four years, one course at a time, I graduated as a certified Interior Decorator. This was the beginning of Wallis Designs before it transitioned into jewelry design.


When I was about 13, I designed my bedroom with a dark blue wallpaper with a white floral. The man at the store highly discouraged this choice for my small room and he said I would be better picking the opposite version, white with blue flowers. I stuck to my choice and my parents supported it. It was stunning.

Were your parents creative? Were you encouraged to follow your passions and dreams growing up or did you have to discover this path for yourself?

That’s so interesting to think about. My grandma Viola, on my mother’s side, was quite creative and always making crafts of some sort. I would not describe my mom as particularly creative, but my dad was. He was an engineer by trade but probably could have been a fashion or interior designer, he was very much into the feel and texture of fabrics and he loved talking colours in depth, whether it be paint or sunsets. When I was child, I was always making things and my mom encouraged this by signing me up for classes such as candle making, sewing, drawing and oil painting and buying me supplies. When I was little, I made clothes for my dolls without any patterns, and I reinvented my doll house with wallpaper and paint. When I was about 13, I designed my bedroom with a dark blue wallpaper with a white floral. The man at the store highly discouraged this choice for my small room and he said I would be better picking the opposite version, white with blue flowers. I stuck to my choice and my parents supported it. It was stunning. (I always wanted to go back to that store and let him know!)

My parents gave me a lot of opportunities to be creative which I am thankful for, but a creative world educationally beyond high school was not pursued. It was not really something my family was familiar with. I don’t regret any of my educational choices, but if I was to go back, I would convince 18 year old me to pursue music and/or interior design.



Nancy Wallis, Self Portrait Studio
I had a vivid dream of making a delicate crystal beaded necklace with fine silver chain. The dream stuck with me and later that day I ended up at a bead shop buying chain and crystals and some tools.


I read that your career as a jewelry designer came to you in a dream.

Would you share the details with us?

This is such a cool story. One night, before I even started making jewelry, I had a vivid dream of making a delicate crystal beaded necklace with fine silver chain. The dream stuck with me and later that day I ended up at a bead shop buying chain and crystals and some tools. Self-taught I learned how to attach those beads to the chain with a few twists of sterling wire. At the time, I didn’t know, but it was the beginning of Wallis Designs Jewelry.



Nancy Wallis, Self Portrait

Any new dreams? What’s next for Wallis Designs?

My dreams for this year are of the gentler kind. I feel like the last few years have been exhausting and difficult and focused much on family issues and health. I’m looking at this year as a time to finally breathe and to fill up my cup a bit. I would like to carve out time for songwriting and spending more time playing guitar and piano. I want to finally buy a mitre saw and a nail gun for myself and learn how to use it and install new trim in our house. I’m looking forward to expanding our flower and vegetable gardens this spring and I have plans to redo our basement family room. I’m also committed to more reading, walking and knitting, and of course somewhere in there, a trip to somewhere far away.

For Wallis Designs, I want to continue and expand my work with hand knotted beaded necklaces, and I have some visions of using some different gemstones and colour combinations for some designs. I’m also thinking about expanding into some local markets. I love having a home studio, but a downfall is definitely the isolation, and I think it would be great to get out and have more real-life contact with customers and other artists again.


I loved designing jewelry for these opportunities because you really had to be creative and keep the characters in mind. You also had to keep in mind the bright lights of filming, the durability of your piece for action scenes and the physical attributes of the actors. It was a really fun creative process.

Your designs have been featured in a number of television shows, tell us about your first opportunity. How did it come about?

My very first placement was in The Vampire Diaries. My brass and red crystal Swoop necklace was worn by one of the lead characters, Bonnie Bennett, played by Kat Graham. It was indeed a thrill and there was a lot of dancing and squealing in our house that day.

I belonged to The Artisan Group (TAG) for about 5 years and over that time had over 13 placements on TV shows such a Law and Order: SVU, Bones, Mom and Riverdale. TAG is based in California and led by an amazing woman, Valerie Guerrero. As a group, we would participate in celebrity giftings and swag bags for award shows. The first one that I participated in was the Golden Globe awards in 2017 and that year Golden Globe winner, Viola Davis was one of the actors that received the swag bag with one of my necklaces in it. We also would submit our designs to the stylists of popular TV shows in the hopes of having our designs selected. I loved designing jewelry for these opportunities because you really had to be creative and keep the characters in mind. You also had to keep in mind the bright lights of filming, the durability of your piece for action scenes and the physical attributes of the actors. It was a really fun creative process.




Nancy Wallis, Self Portrait Studio


You also have a very sweet personal blog called the The Gin Finch about navigating your 50’s and life with an “empty nest”. How has blogging helped you find your way through this next phase of life?

Any tips for others?

I was one of those early bloggers but stopped several years ago. I found I missed writing and I wanted to express other parts of my life such as interior design, gardening, cooking, etc. and that’s when The Gin Finch came to life in early 2020. Both of my daughter’s had recently moved out and I really threw myself into rearranging, redefining and decorating some of our rooms. In February, I had transformed our guest bedroom into my new home studio, little did I know that in a few short weeks it would inevitably become my husband’s home office. With the changes in our lives and new coats of paint in the rooms, writing really helped me to work through some of my feelings. It was also a strange time to start something new and with all our life changes and my husband working from home, I didn’t really find my rhythm with blogging regularly. With a new year I have started back up again, and I plan to write more consistently this year. I think my only tip for myself and others is to just keep writing and build up your blog so you have a great library of posts.


Would it be overly dramatic if I said life changing? In the last couple of years, I think I’ve been gradually building up to more and more self-acceptance, but being in the Self Portrait Studio gave me the opportunity and the supportive nudge to put self-acceptance into action.

Nancy you just completed your first 8-week challenge in The Self Portrait Studio, how has the experience been for you?

Would it be overly dramatic if I said life changing? In the last couple of years, I think I’ve been gradually building up to more and more self-acceptance, but being in the Self Portrait Studio gave me the opportunity and the supportive nudge to put self-acceptance into action. I don’t mean I love every photo of myself and I don’t have self-doubts, because I still do, so let’s just say I’m more self-accepting now than I was. I’m definitely a work in progress, and I hope I always am because I want to continue to learn and grow. Happily, I am in such a lighter place now and I want to keep moving forward.


What initially drew you in and what has changed for you?

Well, it was YOU, Lisa. I found you on Instagram a couple of months earlier and I was intrigued with your self portraits. You kept drawing me back in with your posts and when you mentioned not recognizing yourself in photos and not liking photos you are in it really registered with me. Although I was really looking for a photography course to learn how to use my new camera, I saw that a new challenge was starting in October, I thought to myself that ‘I just have to do this’.


I’m definitely a work in progress, and I hope I always am because I want to continue to learn and grow. Happily, I am in such a lighter place now and I want to keep moving forward.

Looking back to your very first self-portrait session and your most recent, what has surprised you the most?

My feelings about myself are shifting and my thoughts are more gentle and kind. I’m starting to feel like my own friend and I feel more comfortable and more present in my self-portraits now. With repetition and the encouragement and support of the SPS community I just felt free to be really creative with the prompts. Now I’m more willing to try new ideas and set ups and just see where it takes me.




Nancy Wallis, Self-Portrait

I’m starting to feel like my own friend and I feel more comfortable and more present in my self-portraits now. With repetition and the encouragement and support of the SPS community I just felt free to be really creative with the prompts. Now I’m more willing to try new ideas and set ups and just see where it takes me.

How has your experience in SPS influenced other parts of your life, business, and creativity?

It really opened up my creativity again. It was always there but SPS woke it up and grew it into something beautiful. It has definitely helped in my business with opening my eyes to new opportunities and wanting to present more photos of myself as the face of my brand and in my product photography. Personally, I have sparked the light and joy within myself.



I’d love to hear your thoughts on the community of women inside SPS. What do you love most?

It is a really special group of women that are creative, engaging, successful, motivating and so supportive. We all celebrated the progress of each other and the encouragement and inspiration from the group just kept raising me to new levels. I felt comfortable sharing my photos and I came away from the weekly meetings feeling lighter, inspired and excited about the next week’s prompt.


Try different angles and camera positions. Have fun and be creative with it. It is such a liberating process so just go for it.

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting to explore their creative side through Self-Portraits? Where should they start?

Take a lot of photos and don’t be quick to delete the ones you initially don’t like. Often, you can go back later and see the positive in a photo with cropping and editing. Try different angles and camera positions. Have fun and be creative with it. It is such a liberating process so just go for it.


Nancy, what are you most proud of? (personal, professional or other)

I am proud of single handedly creating and running Wallis Designs for 15 years, all through the ups and downs of running and sustaining a business. I am proud of my daughters and what beautiful human beings they are. I’m proud and thankful for my husband. If it wasn’t for his unwavering support in all my creative endeavors, I would not be where I am today.



Nancy Wallis, Self-Portrait

Where do you find inspiration and motivation on the days you are not feeling it?

I push myself to get outside and into nature. A walk with my dog around the block or on a trail, some music in my earpods and I can usually change my frame of mind pretty quickly.




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BIO

Nancy Wallis is a jewelry designer and the owner of Wallis Designs. She lives with her husband and their dog named Rylie, just outside of Toronto, Ontario. It was a vivid dream one night that guided Nancy into jewelry design over 15 years ago. From design concept to finding the perfect gemstones, to the rhythmic twisting of wire or thread, the love of her work is evident in her collections. She finds inspiration from her reflective moments outdoors, her flower gardens and dog walks along the shores of Lake Ontario. She is drawn to the colours of blue skies, tree lined paths and waves at the lake. Her designs have a quiet simplicity and focus on the natural beauty of gemstones and sterling silver.

Nancy’s jewelry designs have been featured on several network TV shows, such as Law and Order: SVU, Riverdale, Mom, Bones, The Vampire Diaries and The Young and the Restless. Her jewelry is loved and worn by woman all around the world and it is the connection with these women and their love for Wallis Designs jewelry that keeps Nancy doing what she loves.



 

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