Shawna Tabacznik: Jewellery Designer

How an OCAD grad created a career out of her love for the third dimension


I graduated two years ago from the material art and design program at OCAD University, specializing in jewellery design. After I graduated I was accepted into the artist-in-residence program at Harbourfront Centre, so I have a studio space there where I make all my work.

I run my own business and sell jewellery in seven stores around Toronto, from the Distillery District to the AGO. When I graduated from OCAD I really wanted to get my pieces out there and start selling online and in stores to get recognition.

I make everything by hand. I combine traditional hand-cast materials, mostly sterling silver, with 3D-printed materials. I also use stainless steel. Most of my collections are inspired by stories: the Legacy Collection is inspired by family, the Bridge Collection by the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. 

I’ve always loved jewellery, but when I was younger I didn’t know it was going to be part of my journey. I love the tactility of making it. I love the process and finding inspiration in my everyday life. I like working with precious metals. There’s just something really nice about polishing a ring.

When I applied to OCAD, I started off in the drawing and painting program. I switched from drawing and painting, which are two-dimensional, to jewellery because of my huge interest in 3D art. I did research and thought the jewellery program would be the best place for me to continue developing that work.

At OCAD, I discovered I had a consistent style across each project. A lot of my inspiration came from my family heritage. I’ve moved a lot – I was born in Israel, grew up in Colombia and moved to Toronto six years ago. My one-of-a-kind pieces are based on my family and connecting with the past. My style is very simple, with clean lines that emphasize an abstract feel. For example, you can see the star in my abstract Star of David from different angles depending on how you look at it. It’s like a hidden message.

In the jewellery program, I learned about concept development, picking subject matter, doing research, finding imagery, being able to sketch and develop a specific piece multiple times. We did a lot of prototyping to work out different issues you run into before you start fabricating it with precious metals. The program also had a professional practice course. A lot of the contacts you make at school are important after graduation. 

The jewellery industry is quite competitive. You have to find your niche market. While I was in school I decided to get professional experience to see what it was like out there. I worked for Dean Davidson as a production jeweller, starting as an intern and working my way up. I’m currently working part-time with Leif Benner, who’s a fine jeweller. 

In the last year of the program they gave us a lot of independence, which was important. Once you’re out of school you’re on your own. To make your way in the industry, you need contacts. It’s a small industry, and everybody knows everybody. To get my stuff in stores, I approach them, show them my work and tell them I have a collection. They may or may not be interested, but the only way to find out is to ask. 

Visit Tabacznik’s website here.

Where To Study: Jewellery Design

Fleming College (Haliburton) Jewellery essentials: $6,015.69/program. flemingcollege.ca

George Brown College (Toronto) Jewellery arts program: 5,249/year. georgebrown.ca

Georgian College (Barrie) Jewellery and metals: $4,063.06/year. georgiancollege.ca

OCAD University (Toronto) Material art and design: $6,807/year. ocadu.ca

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