I am really excited that tomorrow evening I will be doing a little pop-up shop thing, for one evening only, in Beckett’s Coffee Shop, Skinner Street, Whitby. I will have loads of jewellery for sale together with some new enamelled copper bowls. It is the first “late night shopping” event in the run up to Christmas and I am looking forward to meeting lots of people, selling things and enjoying the festive atmosphere.
I have had a quiet couple of weeks but been busying myself here in my studio. This included testing a few red and pink enamels on copper. I have also been doing a few experiments in print making on paper, on fabric and on enamel. As the autumn closes in it is always a time for reflection and planning for me. I will try and upload a few pictures of my experiments in the next few days, watch this space and thanks for reading!
I recently had a commission to make a pair of cuff links using pale green and pink enamels and as it has been quite some time since I used pale colours I thought I’d better makes test piece. I made this dainty pendant with a pale pink rose on it, enamel on fine silver. This would be a great wedding gift I think.
I realise I often use roses in my work, I learned how to make them from a Japanese tutor on a conference at West Dean many years ago. Here on the lidded vessel I made in Lesley Messam’s class a few weeks ago.
I am still running some classes through the autumn and winter but on a one-to-one basis so, if you would like to learn to enamel or have a go at silver clay or traditional jewellery making just contact me through the comments box (I won’t publish your comment).
Today I have been reflecting on the coastal inspiration for new work. I have made a few trips out to the beach this summer and although it is only a few miles from where I live I realised there were quite a few places I hadn’t visited, alongside all the favourites like Runswick Bay. Kettleness turned out to be dramatic and beautiful with breathtaking views across the bay and out to sea, although the beach is inaccessible. I simply sat watching the restless motion of the waves and the way the sea changes colour as the light changes. I find that I am drawn to water – pools, ripples, splashes and reflections. I love the strength of it; the way it changes the shape of things, eroding rocks and wearing pebbles and glass to smooth, edge-less jewels. When the wind stirs it’s surface the ripples sparkle and dance, seeming soft and frothy in sunlight but deeply dark and dangerous in the shade.
I have begun to collect images to create my own ‘mood board’ and am attempting to make jewellery with this undulating surface in silver to enamel onto, using the wealth of colours from this varied landscape. I am planning to use the white, turquoise and pale greys of the summer sea but also the dark grey green and blue black of autumn and the winter steel grey reflecting the dark and stormy clouds. I can include shades of ochre and golden brown of the cliffs and sands and a deep slate grey of the wet shale beds and fossils combined with the yellows, golds and green from the cliff tops.
My first step in designing new work is to doodle and sketch. I keep returning to the shapes of the beach glass fragments, lining them up in different combinations, making patterns on my workbench. I have begun to make small reverse printing plates in styrofoam, using the outline shapes of the glass fragments and filling them with rippling lines in an attempt to express the waves and splashes I see. From this I will begin to form the basis of small pieces of jewellery with intricate textured patterns over which I can apply transparent enamels.
A friend recently asked me about my learning processes and it made me wonder how you would set about learning to enamel today? It was once possible to take a traditional apprenticeship, slowly and precisely learning all the processes needed for enamelling in the commercial world. I am not sure whether that avenue exists at all today. There are very few places within UK colleges and universities where enamelling is taught. This means most learning will be through self directed study (books and DVDs) exactly the way I began back in 1999.
I started by buying a small electric kiln and a kind of starter pack that contained a few basic tools and a small selection of copper shapes and enamels. I joined the Guild of Enamellers, used their library and began to try things out. Being a member of the Guild of Enamellers has brought me into contact with some amazing Enamellers, teaching and sharing their skills at regional meetings and the annual conference and I would highly recommend it as a starting point for anyone who is interested, even just vaguely interested, in enamel.
Anyway, here I am now, it changed my life – I now have the freedom to design and make work in whichever part of the week I want and I am teaching and passing on the things I have learned along the way. I am loving the flexibility it has given me. Ok, I may not earn as much as I did when I had that salaried post but that is far outweighed by all the other benefits. Today I have been in the studio finishing off a few outstanding projects and photographing them.
This ring is called Ripple and Splash and is inspired by all my little trips to the nearby coast. It has seven little pearls to evoke that memory of bubbles and the foamy edge of waves. It is very much a ring for special occasions and I am thrilled with the way it has turned out – just as I envisaged when I designed it, quite some time ago.
If you are interested in learning to enamel I do run classes and am happy to teach on a one to one basis. There are lots of other talented Enamellers around the country who are also happy to share their skills and can be found via the Guild website (link above).
Today I will be spending some quiet time with my ‘to do list’. It’s not very long (I’m not a great list maker) but basically goes something like this
Check and pack tools and equipment for tomorrow’s class
Write application for online directory
Tomorrow I am teaching a class making little silver pendants using Art Clay Silver at the wonderful Joe Cornish Gallery over in Northallerton in North Yorkshire. We will be making tiny little reverse prints then converting them into pretty pieces of jewellery. I think there is still a place left if you fancy a go at this, just contact the gallery (I understand there will be cake).
Anyway, off to get started.
See you later!
… And later …
Well the tools, materials, lesson plan, class notes are all safely packed into the car ready for an early start in the morning. As for that application, on reflection I realise I want to finish a couple of new designs and photograph them to include. It is always a bit of a dilemma for me knowing what to include. Often these applications arise months before an event and in the intervening period I find I have produced a different kind of work altogether. At the moment I am working on a series of small beach inspired pieces of jewellery called “pebble, ripple, splash” and I think it would be good to enamel and finish them. That does mean scheduling myself a couple of days of enamelling next week and probably a day for photography.
And just to bring me back to the quiet thought about completing one task at a time a friend posted a link to this blog on taking care of the present moment . Very timely and thanks !
The best piece advice I’ve had was to get on and teach it, you have the qualifications and if you don’t then someone else will!
Over the past few years I have spent and lot of time and effort learning new skills and then really practicing to reinforce them, all the time trying to ensure I know enough to deal with any question or problem that may arise. This has particularly been the case with my work using metal clays.
Metal clays are not really clay at all but actually very fine particles of metal with an organic binder and water. You can form them like you would work clay but generally on a much smaller scale before drying them and firing them at high temperatures in a kiln. You then polish and finish them and the result is a solid piece of metal – in my case I often then continue to work on them by adding enamel.
In 2005 I attended a one day introductory course taught by Glyn Mitchell at a Guild of Enamellers conference. I could immediately see the potential for using this fabulous material in my own jewellery making and went on to complete an Art Clay Level 1 certification course. The following autumn I was persuaded by another Enameller Joy Funnell to study for the Level 2 certificate which I did alongside her in Jersey with Glyn. In October 2006 I received my Senior Instructors Certificate. I then spent ages learning and testing my own skills by creating all kinds of pieces, often combining other materials. I used it to develop a range of pieces of jewellery that were produced commercially and then, after a bit of a nudge from Joy, eventually began to teach it.
As a teacher I have learned a huge amount but I think it is in my nature to be a little cautious and I would not describe myself as an expert. All I can say is that after 7 years of constant teaching and learning I have begun to develop an acceptable level of understanding – there is always more to learn and that is what keeps me interested. Up until now I have tended to specialise in designing for enamelling and in creating unique textures. I did this firstly through the use of photopolymer plates, converting my drawings and text into low relief printing plates. Then in a very low tech approach I developed a technique for creating texture plates using embossed patterns drawn directly into watercolour paper. I even did a few experiments making a reverse print of these drawings into polymer clay, which worked fine but for me just added an unnecessary layer of complexity as, if treated carefully the paper texture plates are very durable and can be used numerous times.
In February 2012 the artist Wanaree Tanner wrote an inspirational blog post about scratch foam, a styrofoam sheet material sold for easy and safe printmaking. Her generous spirit brought this fantastic new tool into my studio and I quickly adopted it as a way of creating jewellery in silver clay with deep edges, cells and unique background textures perfect for enamelling into. It is a great way of introducing Enamellers to silver clay, giving them a new approach to try and of course by using Art Clay Silver they can create a beautiful fine silver surface and can incorporate findings to avoid having to solder them on, thereby moving two difficulties, particularly for the relatively inexperienced enameller. That said it still takes quite a bit of practice to develop skill in this material too.
While enamelling remains my first love I have long been interested in Japanese metal work (and indeed in many aspects of Japanese culture). In autumn 2012 I was fortunate to be able to learn New Mokume Gane techniques to create patterns in mixes of silver and copper. This was on a programme developed by Aida Corporation, manufacturers of Art Clay Silver and Copper products. They have been able to draw upon the skills of esteemed Japanese artists in the development of their course as well as the technical expertise within their own company. I attended an intensive four day workshop taught by Henriette van Battum in the Netherlands and, after submitting pieces for the assessment, was honoured to receive my certificate in October 2012, making me the first New Mokume Gane Certified Instructor in the UK (and at present still the only one).
After much practising to ensure that I am confident about making work using these techniques I am pleased to say I am ready to launch myself into a programme of teaching it and it will be wonderful to be able to pass on some of these beautiful techniques. It is very exciting – if a little nerve-wracking.
On reflection I will give a little advice here – whatever it is you want to do – just do it!