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!