5 Feb 2011

Cufflinks born on a woodland path

I end up particularly fond of some of the pieces that I make that have more of a story behind them – some feature that makes a piece unique to me – either the way it evolved, the materials used or the thought process that inspired it. Some pieces just end up more personal than others.

Please click on any of the photographs to see a larger view.

I saw a TV program many years ago where a sculptor was making big metal structures in a barn attached to his home – one of his comments really struck a cord with me and I think of it very often.

He said that the work he did reflected his daily life and he didn’t worry too much about always trying to make it perfect. If he woke in a bad mood and his tool marks went a little deeper that day, then his mood was embodied in the work. If his cat came along and rubbed his head against his arm as he was working and the nudge caused his tool to make an additional mark, then that mark was a permanent declaration of his cats love for him. His life was an important character in the development of the art.

I really like the idea that a piece of work reflects our lives in this way – they become personal and organic and much, much nicer than something impersonal churned out in the thousands from a machine.

I have always been fascinated by fir cones. I simply cannot resist picking them up and putting them in my pocket when I walk – they’re perfect little natural sculptures – I love the regular geometry of their appearance and the spiral patterns of the open scales. I have a house full of cones picked up on walks, little tiny wee ones still on their branches and even one mahoosive one (well over a foot long) that I saw drop from a specimen tree in a stately home garden. I figured that as it nearly brained me, it was fair game to keep it.

I have favourite trees that I know drop particularly pretty cones and even though I have more than enough cones to decorate my home, I still can’t resist picking a few up when I pass by. They even get to play a part in presenting my jewellery.

So it was a natural progression to me to encapsulate the abstract of them into an etched design. I have spent some time since I started making jewellery, trying to figure out how to bring my love of cones together with a jewellery project. I had the idea that using the regular geometric shapes of a cone I could make an abstract pattern for a texture to etch. Not necessarily obvious as a fir cone image, but a unique texture inspired by one.

I picked up a long cone from the path as we walked through Beacon fell in Lancashire, a place I’ve mentioned several times in my blogs – they had been doing a lot of tidying of trees and there were a lot of cones and trimmings on the path edges. I also took some nice needle-clad branches for the same purpose. Once home, I took an assortment of photographs to use as my reference and settled on one particular cone photograph that I thought would lend itself well to making a texture and set about digitally manipulating it into a two tone image that would be suitable to etch from.

For etching, the image needs to be just black and white – not a black and white photograph, but the image must only have black and whites – white is the area to be etched and black protects the copper surface and prevents it being etched. If the image is recognisable, like a photograph, the image needs to be both mirrored and made into a negative, as the white areas within the image will be removed from the copper surface and once oxidised black, will be the darker areas that form the image.

So I worked several versions of the photograph, until one looked like it would work as I hoped, which I then mirrored and made a negative of it, ready to apply to the copper sheet for etching. Whilst it is now very much an abstract from the original photograph, I hope you can still recognise some of the structure of the pine cone bracts.

I wanted to make this design into a pair of cufflinks for a gift, but was working on them far too close to Christmas to have time to get suitable fittings in a copper finish (appalling winter weather had seriously impacted on postal deliveries) – so I had to design and make my own. So I settled on a short chain and toggle bar for fitting them in wear. I attached a small D loop to the back of the etching and a couple of links of chain, to a two part toggle bar, much as I make for my toggle bracelet clasps.

7 Sep 2010

My work this week

I’m just working on a series of photographs of a dipper we watched in a river for a while last weekend, to post, but as I seemed to spend most of yesterday working on product photographs in order to create listings, I thought I’d do a quick post on my work of the last few days, as it gives me chance to give a little more background about how a design came about or evolved from something different.

I had an enquiry to re-make a pair of earrings in my sold portfolio, but it transpired, through conversation, that the customer didn’t actually have pierced ears, so I sourced some matching screw earwires to allow her to wear them straight out of the parcel, as she normally adapted them herself for wear.

The design featured some gorgeous glossy golden coloured honey opal briolettes which were heavily wrapped in fully oxidised copper, polished to the lovely burnished black of gunmetal, really setting off the colour of the opals.

Please click on any of the photographs to see a larger view.

The original earrings on round hoop earwires. I made another pair while I was working.

I’d forgotten how gorgeous the honey opal briolettes are, so whilst I had them out and had got my eye back in for the wrapping technique, I re-made some of the original design with round loop earwires and also a different style, also with darkly oxidised copper. These featured two chunky hoops of copper, wire-wrapped at the top to form a hanging loop and a more simply wrapped briolette hanging below.

I think that I might make another pair, but selectively polish back the copper on the wrapped sections and leave the plain areas dark, to give a two-tone finish, as I’ve already done on some designs. Alternatively, I could just use different metals for a mixed metal finish.

This necklace features large beads of stabilised chalk turquoise – a composite manufactured bead from the chalks associated with turquoise mining, but formed into a new stone when mixed with a resin and dyed – presumably the matrix is added in much the same way that I would do it making faux turquoise in polymer clay, as I have in the past.

Turquoise always lends itself to being worked with copper, the colours just always work so well together – and of course, the actual colour of turquoise originates from the copper minerals in the source materials where it forms.

The necklace started life as a bracelet – by the time I’d spiral wrapped and connected (with my own hand-sawn jump rings) enough of the chunky beads to get to a bracelet length, it became evident that it wouldn’t work that well as a bracelet, the beads were just too large, making sizing it appropriately for a bracelet to be an impossibiity without compromising the design – 6 beads made it too skimpy for most people, which would then necessitate the addition of several extra rings on the clasp – but then spoling the visual balance of the design. But with 7 beads, it would be rather too generous for most people.

So I left it on my bench for a few days whilst I thought about it, thinking that maybe a different feature clasp would be the answer, but decided that the scale was perhaps more appropriate for a necklace. As soon as I started looking at a chunky chain to add to it, I knew this was a better solution, it works very much better as a necklace than it did as a bracelet. I antiqued the copper and polished the chain back to co-ordinate with the greeny brown colour of the matrix in the ‘turquoise’ to get the finished look.

The last piece I photographed yesterday was a pair of earrings with long feature earwires. A customer had asked me for something along these lines, so I had a tinker with some new shapes for longer earwires that in themselves would be a strong feature of the earring design. I liked this shape and just added a simple but chunky dangle to the bottom.

In this case, they’re black spider web jasper beads hung on a chunkier than usual headpin, hammered into a flat paddle pin which has been shaped and polished and then double wrapped above the stone for a little extra weight and balance, then antiqued to bring out the warm tones of the copper and enhance the wrapped texture. I liked the simplicity of this arrangement, so I plan on adding more to my portfolio with different stones.

Some pieces need time to develop – and then you go back to your first idea anyway!

I finished another piece this week too – one I think I posted some time ago when I made the initial central component. This knotted piece of Sterling silver sat in my WIP box for a long while, so that I could think of how to use it/finish it off best. I was working on the principle that as a design didn’t immediately come to mind, my sub-conscious would sort it out on its own in due course if left to work in peace.

I hate forcing designs, I never feel that they are fully satisfactory if you have to labour them to make them work. Most pieces come together pretty rapidly, but the occasional one just doesn’t fall in place immediately and this was one such element.

In the end, turning it over in my fingers one day while I finished my breakfast coffee, I decided that I was simply trying to over-complicate it. So a simple approach might be better in this instance. So in the end, all I’ve done is attach it to some chain by using two sizes of graduating jump rings, to bridge the gap between the weight and width of the end of the knotted section and the finer chain, even though it’s quite a chunky belcher (rollo) chain.

But that in turn left me with another dilemma – the additional weight of the chain has now made it too heavy to sell without being hallmarked.

Oh dear, it looks like I’ll just have to keep it for myself then!