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