My Christmas present to myself

I am not a big one for Christmas presents, but on Christmas day I will be opening gifts with my husband and mother. The children and grandchildren will be with their Dad/Grandpa so this will not be a “family” Christmas in the true sense. Nick will be cooking and we will go to our favourite pub on Christmas Eve. I hope to watch a few old films (admiring the outfits), maybe a card game or jigsaw with my mum.

Anyway rather than expect my husband to read my mind I thought I would buy a present for myself. Jewellery is traditional at Christmas.

I had a hard time choosing what to give myself from Jill Bell’s amazing collection – in the end I went for the Gekko.

Jill Bell designs UK
Mummified Gekko pendant

I love this pendant, and if I was richer, I would have bought the falcon skull too.  Anyway I had such a nice time talking to Jill that I asked her if I could interview her.

Have you been involved in art and making all your life?

I loved art at school but I wasn’t very good at drawing. Now I keep a sketch book diary and by doing a sketch each day I have really improved.  Also when I was young  I used to love crafts, pottery, making things from kits. In the 1970s I was given candle kits, resin kits and even had a very small enameling kiln as Christmas presents! I still have the enamelling kiln – it’s just a simple electric plate on legs, with an aluminium cover – but it worked!

You started in textiles – is there a relationship between that and your jewellery designs?
 
I learnt embroidery at primary school, and loved it. So once my own children started school I joined a sewing class.I knew within a few weeks I had fallen in love again and it would change my life. I went to a local college in Harlow where I got City and Guilds qualifications in Design; Soft Furnishing; and Embroidery Part 1 and 2. The Embroidery qualification took eight years and everything from hand to free machining, bookmaking, beading. It was so good no one wanted to actually qualify as we would have to leave the course! Then I saw a local course in jewellery making, I thought it was probably going to be beading or simple crafts, but it  was silversmithing. This was a new beginning and a new love. Although starting in textiles, the knowledge I gained just helped me slide straight into it. The design element over the years has helped me so much.

You have your own studio – do you work every day and how do you use your time?

My kids are now grown up which means I should have loads of time but it just disappears.  I try to run the house – paperwork, washing, cleaning, shopping – and the gym in the mornings; then go into my studio each afternoon. On Thursday I study silversmithing at Morley. It is a great class of advanced jeweller friends. We often experiment with new techniques and themes, and we bounce around new ideas. Once a week I usually go to an auction,  or a boot sale. I am on the lookout for very small plastic toys for Delft clay casting or just interesting pieces that I may use. Sometimes old buttons and medals, there are even a couple of Mudlarks selling their finds.

How you do casting?

Jill Bell designs
Delft clay with silver key
 
Home casting is done with a product called Delft clay.
  • You need two aluminium rings and some Delft clay –  a sand-like substance that doesn’t dry out.
  • Pack the clay into the bottom ring very well, press down the object you want to cast place the top ring on top fill with the clay.
  • Split the rings and remove  the object.
  • Make a hole in the top ring to the void where your object was placed.
  • Add the molten silver, let the rings cool, split the rings and you should have a solid silver copy of the piece.

If you are interested please watch Andrew Berry on YouTube.

 

Where is your inspiration from?

I am a very bad sleeper – I often get up at 4am and often find myself thinking about a piece and how to create it. I love Pinning (on my web site and links page is a link to Pinterest ) When clicking on links it is amazing where you get to! I love organic matter, there are so many designs that come into my mind when I pick up something new, with the negative and positive of flowers, leaves, even the textures of animal skins. I made a texture book all on trees. It is amazing when you start to study trees how many patterns there are actually out there.
 
What is your favorite piece, and why?
 
Normally my favorite piece is the one that I am working on. My brain tries to work out how to make each piece, as most are one offs. This normally happens at 4am! I can dream about how a piece will work and wake up with a completely new idea.

I have a few favorite pieces. One is my specimen quartz which I bought a couple of years ago, I loved it but couldn’t think how to set it safely. While trying to set a couple of opals I came across a plastic called Polymorph. You mould it in hot water and can create organic shapes with it. The plastic is then sent off to the casters, to be turned into a silver mount for the quartz. Another project was “Space, the final frontier!” I think my favorite piece at the moment is my Star Wars ship. This includes a couple of Argentinian meteors! I managed to cast a starship and set the meteor on the top.

Star wars pendants with real Meteors
Star Wars pendants with real Meteors
 

How should your most dramatic pieces be worn – such as the nail bracelet or the skull pendant?

Silver Bracelet made from ancient Scottish nail Jill Bell
Silver Bracelet made from ancient Scottish nail
 
The first skull pendant happened when my husband found a dead rat in the garden; he started me off by saying “how cool would that be in silver?”. This started the thinking process.  Gordon the Gekko was given to me as a dead animal. He just said Hello to me. (I know they can’t really talk but the designs do). The nail bracelet happened when we walked along the beach in North East Scotland.  I picked up a piece of driftwood with a very old hand-made nail driven into it.  I envisaged it as a bracelet, so I curved it and had it cast. How should they be worn? Well, just don’t keep them for best! Wear them every day and enjoy them. I think they necklaces look most stunning against a plain top.
 
 If you want to start making silver jewellery how would you go about it?
 
If you are young you can do a degree or similar in jewellery making.  If you are older use your computer to look for beginners courses in silversmithing. I would recommend a day or two-day beginners’ course. If you don’t like working with silver try something different – anything from beading to polymer/metal clay to enamel or paper – see what your area can offer. Whatever you may choose to do, working with your hands is great, and a huge stress reliever. Just try it and I think you will be hooked.
 

17 Responses

  1. What an interesting piece it makes me wish I had more time. I hope you all have the Christmas and New Year that you wish for.

    • Thank you as ever, dearest Linde. You do so much already I am not sure how you could fit in jewellry making. Sending my love and best wishes for 2016.

  2. Makes me wish I could do the eight year course. My husband and I did an evening silversmithing course many years ago and we made napkin rings. They come out at Christmas and I still love them.

    • Well Jenny an eight year course might be a bit long, but I would love to learn. And homemade napkin rings sounds like a wonderful thing to have. Do send me a photograph if you can. How is the wedding outfit coming along?

  3. Really interesting to read about the Delft clay casting. Amazing pendant. Have a lovely Christmas Kate, hopefully we will meet up again soon.

  4. Another wonderful interview. So inspiring- I don’t know how you do it. It’s funny, I had the same thought the other day of buying myself a statement piece of jewellery for Xmas, if I see something special on my travels. Yours is amazing. Merry Xmas Kate

    • Yes – that is a great idea. Maybe a vintage bird brooch, or something very modern. I am so looking forward to meeting you next year Stephanie. I hope we can pull it off!

  5. Nice choice. I’m very fond of geckoes but used to be terrified of them after finding one in my porridge (and everywhere else) in Sierra Leone. I feel I have to love them twice as much now I’m ‘cured’.

    I’m delighted you might attempt a jigsaw with you mum. The activity has been replaced by phone-ogling for the generations who have one. Tomorrow is our no internet day so we might do a jigsaw instead, or at least start one. Best wishes to you and Nick.

    • Hmm. I guess they like porridge just like we do! I really enjoyed doing the jigsaw – it was so hard – puzzling in fact. Until I discovered there were 10 or so pieces from a different jigsaw in the box…

  6. What a lovely and inspiring post. Your gecko is stunning, lovely design. I’m sure he will adorn many your outfits! Happiest of holidays to you Kate!

  7. It’s so neat seeing different artists’ inspiration! I find lots of mummified geckos in my yard, and I never would have thought to make them into jewelry. >_< 😀

    • I don’t think I have ever seen one in the UK although they do exist. I guess you can make jewellry out of anything if you put your mind to it!

  8. Your pendant is stunning, maybe we will get to see it play a supporting role on a future blog post.

    I have so enjoyed reading your blog this year, you write such interesting posts, have a lovely Christmas Kate.

    • Thank you so much Annie for your lovely feedback. I am so grateful for your interest and support. I hope you have had a lovely day today and I send you my very best wishes for 2016. xxx

  9. Thank you so much Kate for buying Gordon, it was so lovely to meet and talk to you. The blog is fantastic it has inspired me to start a blog of my own..I can’t wait to read your next one.
    Thank all your viewers for your kind words about Gordon and the few questions I answered. If anyone has any more questions please don’t hesitate to contact me.

    Many thanks again for your kind words

    Jill Bell

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